Tanzania 2014 – Day 10 March 2 and 3

We spent the next day down in the crater. We saw many of the same animals we had seen in the Serengeti, but they were much more abundant and closer together in the crater. It was stunning. The landscape diversity was crazy – there were marshy parts, forested parts, dry parts, and lakes/ponds. We saw flamingos, rhinos, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, ostrich, jackals, hippos, and many more. We got the best look at lions we had on the trip. We saw one pair (male and female) lounging about. They got up and walked right next to our truck, not more than five feet from us. They were beautiful creatures.

Two Lions

We ended our safari around noon and started our trek out of the crater. The road our was even worse than the road in. It was more narrow, in worse shape, and right on the edge of the crater. One wrong move and the truck would plummet over the edge. Our driver was very confident, I’m sure he had done it dozens of times, but the rest of us were white knuckled passengers. The route seemed to be right out of Jurassic Park. We stopped at the final outlook point and snapped a few pictures and went to the restroom.

On the way to the airport we stopped a curio shop and had our box lunches. We did some shopping. Alana and I had a good bit of Tanzanian Shillings we had to get rid of, so we picked out some items. The vendor drove a very hard bargain, however every time we walked away, showing him all that we had, he accepted. After shopping were on our way back to the airport. We arrived at the airport around 630 PM and started the lengthy check in process. We filled out our customs cards, we were given a survey by the customs agent. The line to check in was very very long, and growing by the minute, so we sped through the survey and handed it over. As we started walking towards the line, the customs agent blocked our path and started questioning Alana about the survey. She asked why she didn’t put how many people were traveling in what age groups, if the money spent was for both of us or just one, etc etc. We humored her for a few minutes then just kind of walked away.

We stood in line for some time, the airport getting hotter and more crowded (no AC). Eventually we reached the counter, Jamal went first and had some trouble. They asked to see his itinerary, but he didn’t have it even through we specifically told him to bring it. We gave him ours to try, but the guy said he couldn’t find him in the system and couldn’t do anything since he wasn’t listed on our itinerary. He was sent over to another counter to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, Alana and I checked in with no problems.

We went over to help Jamal at the other counter. The guy said he couldn’t find Jamal in the system and wanted to see the itinerary. Jamal managed to pull it up on his phone. When we were looking at it, it became clear why they couldn’t find him. He had booked a flight for the next day, not the same flight we had. Panic ensued. They weren’t able to move him onto our flight because it was already oversold by 14 people. We tried getting in contact with Holly, but were not able. I went through customs to get Clarence’s phone, the only international phone in the group. We couldn’t get a hold of anyone. We ended up giving Jamal about 400 dollars and then put him in a cab to find a hotel. We went through security and got on the flight, only after Alana shed many tears. We had sent Holly an email through Clarence’s iPhone requesting her help. When we arrived in Dar es Salaam, she had responded back, and so had Jamal. He managed to get to a swanky western hotel in Arusha without any problems. Our driver was going to meet with him for drinks to make sure he was alright. Alana was able to relax.

The rest of our flights went off without any problems. In the Amsterdam airport we got a “fish foot spa” treatment. Little fish eat all the dead skin and grossness off your feet. It was ticklish, but felt quite good after the long flight and the long week of dirt, grime, and working. Our flight to Ohio was delayed by about two hours, which was very frustrating. We Finally arrived home around 730 pm.

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.

safari truck

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.

Tanzania 2014 – Day 5 Feb 25

Today I took it much easier than yesterday. I was not feeling very well when I woke up and had no appetite all day. I had to force myself to eat breakfast and a small snack during the day. I had a little hunger at the end of the day. We arrived a the site around 9:15, I went to check in at the dental clinic to find out what Lisa had planned for the tablets. My goal for the day was to get them distributed to the people who are need them and train them how to use them. The first one went to the Charles, the headmaster of the school. I sat down with him for a bit and explained the tablet. He picked up it very quick and said he generally knew how to use them. We tried putting his SIM card in the tablet to get internet, but were not able because he did not have credit. I then met up with Holly, the American who is managing the project for Lisa. I showed her some of the basic stuff she needed to know on how to use the tablet, she also picked it up very quickly.

I ran into Jamal and wandered around a bit with him. We went to see how progress was going on the house being built for Anna, the head mistress. They painting was nearly complete, and it looked good. We then went and found Mr. Gilbert, the biology, physics, and chemistry teacher. We were able to sit in on one of his classes, which was very interesting. The students were very smart and involved in the class, very different from my experiences in school. A small group of students had prepared a lesson about sulfur dioxide, how to product it, what its properties were, effects on the environment, etc. They taught the other students, with the teach interjecting where needed. The teacher had the class ask several questions of the group presenting, then the group quizzed some of the students. Each time a student spoke they had to stand at their desk. Many seemed to be shy about us being in the classroom, they would cover their face or mouth when asked a question and try to suppress their giggles. After class was over I was able to attend tea with a small group of the teachers. We were served a sweet corn bread and some sweetened barley tea. I had a good time chatting with the teachers.

Later I found Anna to teach her how to use the tablet. She had many questions but seemed to be a quick learner. I gave her my email address in case she has any questions in the future.
After I was done teaching Anna, I went to find Lisa so we could go into town to purchase SIM cards for the tablets and to get Maaru some tools I want o get him. Holly had already taken the truck with some other members to deliver soccer balls to another village, so we went to see the new land Lisa had purchased.

She bought a 1 acre site for 2.5 million Tanzanian shillings (about 1700 USD) and another 4 acres for 10 million Tanzanian shillings (around 8000 USD). The plots are nice and abut directly to the orphanage property. We went to meet the woman who sold Lisa the smaller plot. She was probably in her 60s or early 70s. She invited us into her home, which was a small compound with two mud huts and a small cement building. There were a lot of baby chickens running around and a small, completely adorable, puppy. She thanked Lisa for buying the land and said it made her able to send her grandson to school, but she was sad she could not afford to send her daughter. She asked us to help her. Lisa said we would think about it. As we were leaving the woman picked up a chicken and gave it to Lisa as a gift, “for dinner.” I think it was the first time I’ve ever been asked to hold someone’s chicken for a moment while they tied their shoe.

Later we went back to the school, I helped cover some children’s books with plastic protectors, and there was a girl who passed out so I ran and got our dentist with the most medical experience. She recovered after a bit but was very shaken up. She was on some kind of medication and forgot to take it. We are not sure if she at an asthma attack or seizure.
Once that was cleared up, there was a small dedication for the sewing building that was recently built in honor of a girl who passed away. Her parents donated the money because their daughter loved to sew.

We made our way back to he hotel and had dinner, it was a chicken curry with mashed potatoes. It was very good.

Tanzania 2014 – Day 3 Feb 23

Today was our first full day at the orphanage/school. We loaded on to the land cruiser about 9:15 in the morning and headed out to the site. We started by going through all the cases to find the dental equipment, then carting those cases out to where the lab was set up. It took several hours to get everything sorted through and carried up to the dental lab, because it was quite the hike. Once it got a bit later, some of the school children got back from church and started helping carry stuff out and it went much quicker. I started unpacking the dental gear and helped set up the lab for the rest of the morning. Once the lab was in decent shape I left it to the experts to finish and went back down to the main building to help setup for the “shop” we had for the staff families.

Lisa organized donations for the staff to come through and pick up things for their kids, such as backpacks, clothing, pencils, crayons, a few small toys, soccer balls, shoes, towels (a huge luxury item there), some toiletries, and the flashlights Alana and I purchased with the money we raised. The idea was to have each family have a helper, to get things for them and help pick out clothes, most items they were only suppose to have one of (like the flashlights), however it sort of turned into a free for all. We tried to keep them from taking more than their quota, but as soon as we turned our backs they started stuffing extras into their bags, so we eventually gave up and whatever they got, they got. We set a side a few extra flashlights to check with the staff members tomorrow to make sure everyone got at least one.

Before the store event went happened, Alana, myself, Lisa, Lauren, Matt, Maaru (Anna’s husband/contractor for the school), Anna (one of the head teachers), and our driver William went into town to pick up some extras for the night’s party and some hardware that was needed to repair the swing set. On the way, we stopped at Williams’ house. He has been driving for the school since it started and saving all his money. He bought a plot of land near the school with his savings, and has been building a house by himself with the help of his friends for the last 2 years. The house is very impressive and very large compared to the shanties and huts most families live in. It was quite amazing to see what he was able to do with the help of the orphanage.

After we left William’s house we went back to the hotel for Lisa to change some money. We then went to the gas station to fill a tank for the generator and the pickup truck we were riding in. We were all hanging out in the back of the truck for the ride. It was a true African experience. Lauren caught the eye of a guy a the gas station, he pointed at her then winked at me and gave me the thumbs up telling me he liked her. We then went to the hardware store where Alana, myself, and Maaru got out. Lisa and the others went off to by plates, plastic tubs, and silverware. The hardware store was in one of the shanty shops back in the heart of town. The roads were all dirt, only the two main cross roads in town are paved. The first shop we went to did not have the size bolts we were looking for. I thought saw some in the counter and asked to see, they would have worked, but where just a bit too long. Maaru insisted we not buy them and check elsewhere. The shop keeper did not like this and started slamming the screws back into the bin. He shouldn’t have been so upset as we did buy about 12 meters of rope from him and a piece of plastic tubing, so it wasn’t a complete loss. We went down a small alley to another hardware store to check for screws, they did not have what we were looking for either and sent us across the street. How many hardware stores does one town have? The last hardware store had the screws we were looking for (sort of), so we purchased them. The shop was run by an old married couple and only had a few small bins of screws on the shelves. They seemed happy to have the business.

Maaru called his wife and they came by and picked us up. We went back to the orphanage and unloaded our purchases. We finished setting up the shop for later, then went back to the hotel for a short break, some water, and to freshen up (poop). We went back to the orphanage about 30 minutes later, and found out they had already eaten all of the food for the party (some of our group had stayed behind and started the party since they came out later in the day than we did). This was disappointing as most of us were very hungry. The party started with long introductions, the school teachers performed some native African dances for us, a small prayer service was performed. After all this we had the store event for the families (described above). We cleaned up and partied a bit, the African kids sure love to dance, and boy do they have moves!

We went back to the hotel around 8, ordered dinner and sat around bullshitting until our food arrived at 9:45. We asked the kitchen what would be quickest, they said fried chicken and fries, so we all ordered that. It took more than and hour and a half to prepare! I think they actually go out after an order is placed and buy the chickens, pluck them, and cook them (not joking!). I’m not sure what we got could really be considered chicken by US standards, it was more like bones with some skin attached. I got about three decent bites of meat off mine.

We paid our bills, then headed back to our rooms to shower and rest. I showered first, so I actually had some hot water, and I didn’t even get shocked! Let me clarify about the “shower”. Its not so much a shower as a navy bath. You wet yourself down with the shower head (that just barely trickles water), shut the water off, soap up, then do your best to rinse off.

Tanzania 2014 – Day 2 Feb 22

Today we had breakfast at the Nairobi hotel. It was buffet style, consisting of hard boiled eggs, small read sausages, cinnamon toast, baked sweet potato, an assortment of fruit, as well as coffee and tea. It was pretty good. We boarded our bus at 7 am and took off for a very grueling ride. We drove for about 2.5 hours and stopped at an over look for the great rift valley. There were many people selling curios, but they were laid back and not pushy. The view was gorgeous, the pictures do not do it justice. It is quite odd because it is not a national preserve of anything, so there are a few small developments in the valley. The most notable consisting of several very large telescopes.

We got back on the bus after about 20 minutes, and headed down into the valley. The roads got progressively worse as we went, but remained paved the whole way to our next hotel. They were very rough and full of potholes, and each cross road had a small town filled with shanties. At each little town there were several enormous speed bumps. These speed bumps grind everything to a halt because you have to creep over them. They are not like US bumps that just require you to slow down a little.

After another 2-3 hours of driving we stopped again at Kissi Mart, basically Walmart in Africa We explored the store a bit, and stocked up on water a 50 shillings for 1 liter. Most places sell bottled water for 150-300 shillings. Jamal bought some whole milk in a paper carton. It was like a large sized version of the icy triangle push pops we have in the US. Lisa purchased some trash cans and brooms for the orphanage/school. Back on the bus we went.

We drove another 3 hours and reached the border of Kenya. We drove across and parked in the neutral zone. We sat on our bus for a few minutes while Lawrence organized what we had to do. Several people from the orphanage/school met us at the border, they had been waiting since 2 pm, we arrived around 5 pm. While waiting for Lawrence, there was a very loud verbal argument happening on trucks next to us. It started getting out of hand, then a police officer showed up and calmed things down a bit. We went to the Kenya passport office, which was on the backside of a building down a very narrow walkway. It felt suspicious, but everything worked out. The customs guy just glanced at our visa, stamped it, and sent us on our way. We then walked across the boarder into Tanzania, and waited in line at their customs/immigration office. The line moved slow, but we got through without any issues.

The school people unloaded our bus while we were going through the customs process and loaded them onto the orphanage/school buses they came in. We brought so many cases that they had to organize a few extra cars to drive us. I ended up riding to the hotel in an old Toyota truck with three guys who only only spoke Swahili. As we drove, kids would look at us, and when noticing I was white, would start waving. The guys in the truck thought this was hilarious when I waved back.

We arrived at the Goldland hotel, which is actually surprisingly nice considering the location. We dropped our stuff off in the rooms, then headed right back down to the buses to go to the orphanage. Its about 20 minutes to drive out to the site, the first 10 are on paved two lane roads, then the last 10 or so is a single lane dirt path approximately 2 km long. It was very bumpy, we ran into several herds of cattle and had to wait for them to clear the road.
We approached the orphanage the children ran outside, extremely excited to see us, they were jumping up and down and screaming. They mobbed us as we got off the bus, hugging us, shaking our hands, asking our names. It was very touching. We unloaded the bus, which took quite a while. It got dark, so we loaded back onto one of our buses and headed back to the hotel. We had dinner, which was flat beef steak, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw. It was good, cost was 10,000 Tanzanian shillings. We checked our email on WiFi at the bar, then headed up to the room.

Alana tried to shower, but could not get any hot water. I went in to assist. I turned the temp up on the on-demand electric water heater. I then tried to turn the supply valve to the heater on, because Alana said it was just a trickle of water. I had her turn the shower on while I adjusted the supply valve as the water was running. I reached over to adjust the shower head and got the shit shocked out of me. There is definitely some faulty wiring. The power went in my right hand, across my chest, and out my left hand. It was very painful. Alana thought I punched here at first because my hand shot back so hard. I was very shook up the rest of the night.

Japan Journey – Day 14 – Utsunomiya Temple and Monkey Show

Today was quiet by design. I have been exhausted and feeling run down the last few days. I went to bed early and got up around 730. I ate a quick breakfast of yogurt and Japanese “granola.” I went to the gym to run for a bit, did what lifting I could. A hotel with a gym is a luxury in Japan, we are staying in a very nice hotel, but the gym is very small. There are a three treadmills, a two bikes, and two ellipticals. A machine for bench pressing, a machine for leg extensions, and an ab machine.
After showering, packing up, and checking out, we walked around downtown Utsunomiya a bit. We went to the main temple in town, which has a huge set of stairs leading up to the top. There were several vendors and people looking for donations in the square down below. There was an animal rescue organization with dogs out for people to pet. They were very friendly. I took a picture of two of them and a Japanese man came running over yelling something. I thought maybe I upset him by taking pictures, but he ran back to his bag and grabbed a pair of reindeer antlers, put them on the dog and wanted me to take a picture. Of course, I did and thanked him very much! Things in Japan always have to be dressed up and presented in some way.

We climbed up to the temple. It was small but beautiful. The temples in Japan seem to be a sanctuary for birds because they are really the only places in the city with a decent number of trees. The birds were out singing in full force since it was a warm and sunny day. We didn’t spend long at the temple, many of them are similar; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen most. I founding it interesting/sad that even in the temple, Japan’s most sacred ground, there are vending machines. That didn’t stop me from buying my favorite lemon and honey tea.

After the temple we went to an outdoor mall with many shops, both local and chains. It was similar to Easton in Columbus, except the walk ways have a very high glass cover. We saw the usual stores selling dried goods, snacks, and clothing. One had dried octopus on a stick (bleck!), as well the tiny dried fish that were on my broccoli yesterday (gag!). I’ve been doing well with the fish smell, but I think I’ve had enough, I couldn’t take much more today. We walked around looking for a decent place to eat. I was still hoping to find a good ramen shop, but we had no luck.

In the mall, there was a woman on the street performing with a monkey. It was quite an impressive display. He acted just like a little person, walking on two legs the entire time. He pretended to listen as she whispered in his ear and then whispered back in her ear. He walked on this hands, and jumped a huge gap (a good 10 feet) between two sets of stairs. He would land on his hands and walk down the stairs.

In one of the stores, they had fresh produce in gift boxes. Some of the prices were insane. The most expensive I saw was a cantaloupe for 15,750 yen, about $189 USD! It better be one hell of a melon for that kind of price.

We ended up walking back to the train station by our hotel and going to the food court. We found an Udon noodle place that made the noodles fresh in the shop. It had a long line so we figured it would be good. I got the torotama udon – regular udon noodles, a poached egg, some type of white “dipping sauce.” I also got a piece of deep fried sweet potato and a serving of rice wrapped in seaweed. The potato and rice were both excellent. The Udon was pretty good, but I’m just not much of a soup/noodle guy.

We went back to the hotel and picked up our suitcases. From there it was back to the station to board the bullet train to Omiya. In Omiya, we transferred to Kawagoe and checked into our hotel. I spent about two hours doing Christmas shopping. We met in the hotel at 6, with plans to go to Oatman’s because we were craving burgers. Unfortunately, Oatman’s was closed for a private party. We ended at a Korean BBQ place, which was good. They had an interesting suit of classical style armor (reproduction I’m sure) on display. They gave us candy and gum after the meal, I got a piece of hard blueberry candy that was very good, and some “dry” gum. Not sure I want to find out what the “wet” gum is.