Tanzania 2014 – Day 9 March 1

The next day was more safari, and driving to Ngorongoro Crater. There were more amazing animals, views, and more rough roads. Ngorongoro is a conservation area, not a national park. This is because the Tanzanian government allows the Massai to live in the area and raise cattle in their cultural tradition.

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On the way to Ngorongoro, one of our trucks broke down. We were miles from anything and anyone when the driver mysteriously started slowing down and pulled of the side of the road. He jumped out and started talking to the other drivers. We found out his brake pedal had sunk to the floor and stayed there when he tried to brake for an animal in the road. The rear brake line was heavily leaking. The driver simply cut the line, and crimped it off with some pliers. He pulled out some “86 lubricant” and refilled the brake fluid reservoir. Our truck only had three brakes for the rest of the trip, and I was worried that he didn’t use real brake fluid.

On the way into the crater we stopped at a Maasai village. For a small fee (23,000 Tanzanian shillings, about 15 dollars), the village men and women performed a traditional “Welcome” song and dance, and the jumping dance. You also get a short tour of one of their homes, get to see the kindergarten class, and get to shop. The whole thing was clearly put on for tourists, the village clearly supported by tourism at this point. A lot of the items for sale were hand made in the village, but they had many items that we also saw elsewhere for sale, so it wasn’t clear how much and what items were actually hand made by the villagers.

The welcome song and jumping dances were very cool. They do a harmonized throat singing that is very interesting. Jamal was filming them with his GoPro. When they saw this, they pulled him into the group to get a cool shot. During the jumping dance, we were invited to participate. When given the jumping stick you enter the middle of the group and jump your highest. I think I was able to get close to their vertical jump. I’m hoping someone got pictures of it. The tour of the hut was very quick because they are very small. It is three “rooms.” One area for the mom and dad to sleep, one for the children, and one common area. When entering the hut our Maasai host started pointing out the different areas, but we could not see anything. It was completely dark except for the glowing embers of the fire. Alana pulled out her iPhone and turned on the LED so we could get a bit of a look. There wasn’t much, just a few blankets in the bed areas, the fire, and small sitting area around the fire.

After our hut tour, we did some shopping. The village was built around a small circle that was set up with souvenirs. Our Maasai guide acted as our personal shopper. As we looked through the items, he would pick up anything we showed any small amount of interest in. After we had finished looking over the items, he pulled us back behind some of the huts and started pricing items. He was a little pushy, Alana had done most of the shopping, but she didn’t negotiate with him. I think they pulled us behind the huts to separate the groups of people so we couldn’t hear the prices other people we were getting. Since we didn’t negotiate we certainly paid more than most. We ended up spending 395,000 Tzh (about 245 USD). We bought a lot of jewelry and a few wood carvings, basically anything that looked truly hand made. After shopping we given a tour of the kindergarten. It was a small building made of sticks out behind the main village. The Maasai laughed when we sat down next to some of the children on the small benches in the room. There was a small heavily used chalk board and that was it. In the center of the room was a small locked metal box with a slot in the top. They asked for donations for the children when they go to primary school to pay for supplies. We put in 10,000 Tzh. One of the children kept poking me in the side when he thought I wasn’t looking. I got the impression he was checking to see if I was real. Maybe he didn’t get to touch white people very often.

After the village we continued our drive to Ngorongoro. It was a mountainous climb on some very rough roads. We ended up with another truck break down. The alternator froze up and the belt was melting. We moved all the people and as much luggage into the other two trucks. Several people had to stand for the last 1.5 hours of the drive to the hotel. The truck was left behind. When we were in the process of changing trucks, several Maasai that were walking by came up and tried to sell us the bracelets and knifes they were wearing. Dr. Clarence ended up trading one of them a paracord bracelet for one of theirs, we also gave them many rubberband bracelets that Dr. Clarence had brought to pass out. We gave them some of our extra food, and they asked us for any pens we had. Pens and pencils are very rare in area, we gave them the few we had on us, and they were very grateful.

After arriving at our hotel for the night, we were stunned by the view. The lobby had a deck/eating area that was built out of the edge of the crater with a gorgeous view of the entire thing. We checked in and went down to our room, only to be stunned again. It was definitely the nicest accommodations we had while in Africa. The view was outstanding, best I’ve ever had and probably ever will. The shower was excellent, almost as good as my home shower. If you go on Safari here you must stay at Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge.

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Tanzania 2014 – Day 8 Feb 28

The last few days went by in a blur. We met downstairs around 7 to have breakfast and get everything in order. We were supposed to have our bags down and ready to be packed by 8 on the safari trucks. After breakfast we went back up to the room and finished up our packing, hauled everything downstairs, and met the safari drivers. We handing off our clothing and food that we were donating to the orphanage. We started saying our goodbyes while the drivers packed up the safari trucks (Toyota LandCruisers). The goodbyes took a long time, Sara and Anna came out from the school to say goodbye to the group. We took a few group pictures and loaded up into the safari trucks. There were 6 in two of the vehicles and 7 in the third. They were surprisingly comfortable for being heavy duty trucks.

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Holly had told us the night before to multiply anything our safari driver said by at least 1.25, she is was definitely right. The driver said it would take about 3 to 3.5 hours to reach the Serengeti park. Around four hours later we were still driving with no end in site.
Now I had been quite dehydrated the last few days from working so hard out in the heat and sun all day. I was drinking at least 3-4 liters of water per day, but could not keep up with the sweating. I wanted to make sure I was completely re-hydrated for the safari so I drank a lot of water the night before. I held off in the morning, knowing we would have a long drive to the national park.

The roads had become progressively worse as we got further and further away from Tarime (which is quite surprising since the roads in the area are not very good). My bladder was about to explode, even though I forced out as much pee as I could before we left. I had an empty water bottle in the truck that was looking better and better by the minute. I was sitting in the very back of the vehicle, so we played the telephone game and asked the folks in front of me to find out how long till we stopped. When word reached Tara (Tar-a), said she also really had to go. The driver said it would be another 1.5 hours till we stopped. We asked him to pull over somewhere for us to go, he just kind of gave us a nod, no real answer. This was pretty typical of an African person who doesn’t speak much English and didn’t really understand what you were saying. I became concerned because the driver really hadn’t spoken much since we started out. We passed several places that appeared to be good pee spots to me, as I thought about pissing my pants. We played telephone again as I asked to confirm he would be pulling over. I got a more affirmative response this time.

Several more minutes passed before the driver finally pulled over. I’m not sure what he was looking for, because the spot he picked didn’t seem that different from the hundreds of others we passed. After stopped, I jumped out of the vehicle and took the longest, most satisfying pee of my life. Everyone else had to very bad too, I’m surprised I was the first to say something.

We pile back in the truck and clamored down the road. The drive was very rough, the roads were nothing more than packed dirt, a single lane wide. There were lots of ruts, and many parts of the road were filled with long stretches of ridges, I’m not sure what these were from, but they were kind of like rumble strips in the US only raised instead of recessed. They made the truck vibrate front to end like you can’t believe and vibrated straight down to your bones. Our truck was built for these kinds of roads, but we passed many motorcycles and Toyota wagon sedans. I don’t even want to think about what they felt like on those rides. The roads never really improved once we got off the initial paved road until we got many miles from Ngorongoro and close to Arusha where they were paved again.

As we neared Serengeti Park, we started seeing lots of animals. The driver would slow down and point out what we were seeing, stopping occasionally for us to get long looks and photos. We saw the infamous blue-balled monkey (Cerocopithecus lomamiensis). He truly does have brilliant blue balls. According to Discovery.com, this monkey was not discovered and classified until 2007. I find it hard to believe since they were just hanging out by the side of the road. We also saw giraffes, elephants, and had a short glimpse of baboons before we got to the park.

We finally arrived at the park, we stopped by the ranger station to have our box lunches. Most of us were worried about what we would find in our boxes. It ended up being the best meal we had in Africa up to that point. It was a butter and jelly sandwich, delicious samosas, banana, mango juice, flat bread, and a sweet potato. A small group of us walked down to the main gate to take pictures. A few minutes later, one of the trucks came flying down the road at us. Apparently the rangers had yelled at our drivers because you aren’t allowed to walk in the park at all. We had to ride back in the truck, but only after our driver let us finish taking pictures.

After lunch we officially began our safari. We started driving through the park and saw animals right away. There were zebras and elephants in the distance, more quick views of baboons, and a few others. After about 10 minutes Tara asked the driver how long until the next stop. She had to go to the bathroom already, the group collectively groaned. We turned back as the drivers snickered among themselves, the other two trucks went on a head. Back at the gate, we all squeezed out a few more drops then piled back into the truck to catch up with the others.

The next few days were filled with beautiful views, lots of amazing animals, and good times. We stayed the first night at Seronera Wildlife Lodge. This lodge is in the middle of the Serengeti park, and is absolutely beautiful. If you ever go on safari, you must stay here. There is an amazing pool, eating area, and deck that over looked the whole Serengeti. Absolutely stunning. The dinner and breakfast were both very good, the best food we had in Africa. They had real bacon.

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