Tanzania journal

13 Oct

Day 1

In Chicago, it was eventful getting from the Hampton to O’Hare – first I got locked out of my hotel room.  Then the shuttle driver insisted all flights check in at the domestic terminal – he was wrong.  I found the train and made my way to the international terminal, checked in, got to security, and the woman says “you’re early, you know there’s no food past this point, right?”  Thank goodness she told me or I’d be sitting there for four hours starving.  So I went back to the food court and tried to kill some time – random observation: people from all over the world love McDonald’s coffee.  At this point I’m not so nervous anymore – just ready to go!  I can’t believe the day is finally here and I’m actually going halfway around the world by myself.  The adventure begins….

P.S. Already feel lost without my cell phone – how did we ever live without them??

Day 1 – Part 2

As I was sitting waiting to board, an American Airlines 747 came into the gate right next to mine on fire?! Didn’t see any flames, but fire trucks followed it all the way from the runway to the gate, spraying it with water.  That’s comforting to see right before getting on a plane….

The KLM flight was awesome!  I’d never been on a 747 before.  My seat was right next to the stairway (upstairs is more 1st Class seating).  Each seat has personal tv’s with on demand programs.  It really makes the time go fast. I watched movies and tv shows, and even played games like Solitaire and Sudoku.  They also give you tons of food.  An 8 hour flight has 2 meals and 2 snacks.  As we landed in Amsterdam, the first thing I saw was windmills.  And the airport is full of tulips.  How stereotypical…all we need now are wooden shoes.  One thing I don’t like about this airport – they make you go through security again at each gate!  So, I bought water in Chicago after security, but since I had to go through again, they confiscated it!

Day 2

The flight to Kilimanjaro was basically the same.  I was able to sleep a little bit.  I could see the mountains of Germany and the Mediterranean as we flew over.  I think I also saw part of the Greek Isles.  Once we landed in Africa, I could tell I had just stepped into a whole other world.  The airport is a tiny place – we’re talking Lawrenceville airport tiny.  Everyone from the flight crowded into the building, most of us in the visa line.  It was probably 90 degrees in there and just as well all got inside, the power went out! I had heard that Tanzania is prone to random power outages…guess it’s really true!  I have to admit, it was a little scary especially being nighttime.  I’m glad I had a flashlight in my bag.  Another guy from the plane was also traveling alone, so we decided to stick together in the massive crowd.  I stood in line for at least an hour.  I finally got through and was relieved to get outside and see my driver waiting.  His name is Protty and will be one of our safari drivers.  He was very friendly and welcoming and I felt safe having him drive me.  The drive to the lodge took 40 minutes.  The road wasn’t bad.  I noticed lots of people on motorbikes and lots of people walking in the complete dark.  Protty told me a lot about Tanzania and about how our tour would work.  When we got to the Outpost Lodge, a night watchman took me to my room.  It’s very basic but clean, except for a few bugs that are probably inevitable.  It has hot running water and a tv (that gets some world channels showing American tv shows) so at least there’s that.  The restaurant is right outside – it’s an outdoor restaurant.  I’m interested to see what the place looks like in daylight.  Hopefully I can sleep tonight and won’t be too uneasy about strange sounds!

Day 3

I must have been really tired because I slept pretty well last night.  I woke periodically because I kept hearing stuff hit the roof – some of it was rain, some of it was the wind knocking down nuts from the trees above onto the room’s metal roof.  The garden area around my “chalet” (that’s what they call it) is covered with really pretty purple flowers.  I went to the restaurant for the free breakfast – nothing spectacular.  It was basically bread with jam, some fruit, and some really bland scrambled eggs.  I then went to the main office and exchanged some money; $1 = 1600 shillings.  I also surfed the internet a little.  It’s a bargain – 30 minutes for 1000 shillings (or 63 cents).  I then went back to my room where the world channel (it’s actually based in India…all the commercials are Indian) was having an American sitcom marathon (Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, Rules of Engagement).  There was one 10 minute power outage.  I was a little leery about venturing into town by myself, so I was pleasantly surprised when there was a knock on my door.  It was the lodge’s tour guide, Peter.  The front desk had told him I was there and didn’t want to venture to town alone, so he asked if I wanted to take a walking tour with him and another guest who was also going to be on my Gap tour.  So I went walking with Peter and Shawn from Ottawa, Canada.  It was great walking with Peter since he knows the city, knows areas to avoid, etc. Also, since a lot of the townspeople know him, they were okay with us taking photos.  My favorite phrases of Peter’s are “you are happy to take a picture” meaning it’s okay to take one, and “those are bad boys, they sniff the glue” when referring to the street kids.  Peter took us all over – to landmarks, the city market, and to a shop to buy authentic souvenirs.  The market is just like you’ve seen on tv.  People selling produce, meat, women balancing fruit baskets on their heads, shoulder-to-shoulder people and cars.  All of the women wear really colorful dresses.  We saw some Masai too – they were wearing their traditional garb and talking on cell phones!  There are lots of interesting flowers and trees here like African tulips, mango trees, and fig trees.  The weather isn’t as hot as I thought it might be.  It’s 81 degrees with a pleasant breeze.  I expected a lot worse for being practically on the equator!  In the evening, I met my tour group and we all had dinner together.  I think this is going to be a fun group.  I’m the only American!  There are 4 Australians: Melissa and Christina from Sydney and Vivienne and Norbert from Brisbane; and 9 Canadians: Shawn from Ottawa, Jill, Jen, Kristen, Janet, Tanya, and Lindsay all from Ottawa too, and Etienne and Julie from Quebec.  Even the people who came as a group seem very welcoming (no cliques) so I think we’ll all get along just fine.  The highlights of dinner include an acrobat show by the Hakuna Matata Acrobats (they eat fire too!) and some of us mistaking a leaf for a snake LOL.

Day 4

I didn’t sleep well last night – there was a lizard in my room!  I kept telling myself it couldn’t get me in my mosquito net… I hate lizards.  I know it can’t hurt me, but they’re creepy and they startle you!  Anyway, today we headed to Mosquito River.  On the drive there, we saw people herding cattle and goats, using donkeys to carry water, a large tree that is supposed to bring luck if you hug it (which we did).  Before we got to the village Vivienne yells “giraffe!”  There were four giraffes grazing near the road!  It was the coolest thing – I never expected to see animals before we even got to the parks.  We were able to get out of the car and watch them.  I rode in a vehicle driven by Emilian (Emil) with Vivienne, Norbert, Etienne, Julie, Melissa, and Chris.  The safari vehicle is surprisingly comfortable.  As we drove through villages, I noticed two things – first of all, all the dogs look the same.  Lots of dogs running around, but they all look like the same mutt.  Second of all, Coca-Cola’s influence reaches everywhere.  These little businesses all have Coca-Cola signs, or the restaurants have patio umbrellas that say Coke on them.  Every sign you see is either Coca-Cola (a few Pepsi, but mostly Coke) or Airtel (apparently Tanzania’s mobile phone network).  At the village, we toured a rice field, carving area, village house, and a banana beer pub.  Banana beer is not good.  By this point, it was getting hot and we were all starving.  We were fed a traditional Tanzanian meal prepared by one of the families in the village.  It was rice, cooked eggplant, cabbage, flat bread, ugali (like polenta-not much flavor), banana soup, beans, and fruit (including yellow and red bananas…there are a lot of bananas here!).  After lunch we set out for our first game drive in Lake Manyara National Park.  As soon as we entered the park we saw tons of blue monkeys and baboons.  I never expected to see so many baboons – they were everywhere!  It was really exciting when we spotted out first elephant!  He crossed the road in front of us…he trotted across the field, stopped at a large dirt mound, and squatted and scratched his belly on it.  It was hilarious…even wild animals can be funny.  At this moment we also noticed we had a flat tire (not surprising on these roads – all dirt and very bumpy).  We all piled out of the car – kinda scary knowing elephants were so close.  We told Emil if another elephant came we were getting back in!  The view here was gorgeous so it was a good place to stop.  Emil, Protty, and Moses (our group leader) changed the tired really quickly.  Throughout the rest of the drive we saw more elephants, giraffes, impala, warthogs, jackals, and the most exciting – the famous tree-climbing lions!  Moses said he’s only seen them 3 times this year, so that was pretty special.  There were three of them, all female, sound asleep in the tree.  We came back to camp around 6:00 and had dinner.  This camp is a fenced camp within the village with restrooms so it’s not that bad.  I have my own tent, but others are right next to me.  Moses says the camps get more primitive after this…. I should also mention that it rained today.  Actually it POURED.  This is rare since it’s the dry season and East Africa is having such a severe drought.  The locals were so happy and kept saying “it’s a gift from God!”.  I guess we can’t be too upset about the rain.  It’s still hard to process that the animals we saw today were in the WILD in AFRICA and not just in a zoo.  It still seems surreal that I’m writing this in a tent in Africa.

Day 5

Africa kicked my butt today.  Up at 3:00am vomiting.  Got a total of about 2 hours sleep (it didn’t help that the village was noisy all night long, and then at 5:00am is the public call to prayer since there is a significant Muslim population).  Our first stop this morning was a Masai village.  We went into one of their houses (mud hut) and it was really warm in there.  I felt like I was going to be sick again but didn’t want to throw up in their home (even if it had a dirt floor as Tanya pointed out).  We all walked outside and I said to Melissa “I’m really dizzy”.  Next thing I know, I’m waking up flat on the ground and there are Masai tribespeople standing above me.  Talk about surreal…. Everyone in our group was so nice to me, getting me water, a cool cloth, etc.  Melissa sat with me (as did a couple of the Masai…they were so sweet even if we couldn’t communicate; they speak no English and my Swahili is limited to about 10 words).  I’m also grateful that Lindsay is an ER doctor and Jill and Tanya are nurses!  Luckily today was a long travel day so I could spend most of the time just sitting in the car.  After we left the village we drove towards the Serengeti.  We stopped at Olduvai Gorge for lunch.  This is the place where some of the earliest human-like remains were found.  It’s often called the Cradle of Mankind.  I ate very little but was feeling better.  Soon after lunch as we were sitting listening to a guy talk about the gorge, I started to feel dizzy again.  The girls went into ER mode again and immediately had me lie down, got me water with electrolytes, wet my hat and took off my shoes to keep me cool, etc.  We continued on towards the Serengeti.  It is awesome.  I can’t believe how many HUNDREDS of zebras and gazelles there are.  Soon after entering the park we saw male lions lounging by a watering hole – Emil said they must be brothers because otherwise males wouldn’t hang out together.  Just then we got a report over the CB of a cheetah (all the safari companies stay in contact over CB radio and report when something interesting has been sighted).  We found the cheetah hiding being a mound, poking his head up to look at us.  I think the big cats are by far my favorite.  I’ve always loved cats of all kinds…I could sit and watch them for hours.  I only wished I felt better today.  I was still too weak to really stand up for long in the safari truck.  Our campground isn’t as scary as I expected.  It’s remote and the toilets are just drop toilets but they aren’t that bad.  However I’m not sure about the showers.  I think I’m going for what we call “the 5 day look” since it’ll be a total of 5 days before we get back to the lodge and have proper showers.  Besides, I think at a certain point you don’t look any dirtier.  I’m really liking my tent.  I feel safe in it.

Day 6

Got a full 8 hours of sleep and woke up feeling much better.  Thank goodness it only lasted 24 hours!  Heard a couple of noises last night that were apparently a hyena and a warthog.  The hyena sounds sort of like an owl at first…until you also hear a growl.  We took a morning game drive in the Serengeti and saw pretty much every animal.  The highlight was a cheetah family (mom and 4 cubs) and two pairs of mating lions.  All were so close to the road.  The big cats fascinate me.  We also saw two leopards in a tree.  The leopards are apparently much more rare, because whenever one is spotted there is a “leopard jam” of safari vehicles.  After the drive we returned to camp for lunch and some rest.  Some of us played Catch Phrase to pass the time….I had the advantage being the only American because some of the clues are things that only Americans would know (like Rev Al Sharpton…..).  This morning we also stopped at a visitors center.  There were hyraks everywhere – they’re little guinea pig-like animals.  Around 3:30 we headed out for our evening game drive.  The first thing we saw was a mother elephant and baby playing in the mud.  They were so cute!  We then drove on to the hippo pool.  This is where hundreds of hippos congregate.  They really are rather disgusting animals.  They just lay around in their own floating poo.  And it smells like it too!  We also saw a crocodile sitting on the bank.  I should mention that last night we saw flashes of light that we thought was lightning – we learned today that it was actually strobe lights used by poachers.  The national parks have really cracked down on poaching, but unfortunately the place is so big it’s hard to stop them all.  It’s very promising to hear that the number of animals in the Serengeti is actually increasing.  Sadly though, the cheetah and leopard are still declining – mainly because they are solitary animals and mothers must leave their cubs to go hunting, thus leaving them vulnerable to predators.  Lions don’t have that problem because the pride takes care of all the cubs.

Day 7

Today started with an early morning game drive.  The sun coming up over the campsite was beautiful – I’m sure my pictures won’t do it justice.  Once it was light we realized we’d been surrounded all night by buffalo!  I saw something staring at me and thought it was my imagination…nope, it was a buffalo!  I heard another hyena last night and I think maybe a lion (it could have been someone in another tent snoring….but I’m pretty sure it was a lion).  There were lots of animals out early and we finally saw a hippo out of water.  We also saw a leopard in a tree with an impala it had killed over night.  The impala was just hanging over the tree branch – it’s amazing the leopard can carry that thing up the tree all by itself.  The leopards have really strong neck muscles!  Also saw a herd of zebra that had just migrated here from Kenya.  Not sure how Moses knew that, but I believe him. They were all hanging out at a watering hole.  Saw 3 female lionesses really close to the road.  Since they aren’t paired up for mating season, they are the hunters.  They were resting up for their hunt tonight.  The open plain was just full of gazelles, zebras, and ostriches.  After lunch I felt a little sick again…oh no.  I’ve barely eaten anything since I got sick so I wonder how much weight I’ll lose on this trip…. We drove through heavy rain on our way to Ngorongoro Crater.  There were also huge dust devils everywhere.  The dust devils combined with the black sky do NOT make a girl from the Midwest US feel at ease – they looked like actual tornadoes!  We stopped to take pictures of Masai boys by the road (we gave them cookies in exchanged for a shot).  They are on their year long journey where they live isolated in the wilderness and are visited by elders each day and taught the ways of life.  When they are done (these boys said they are done in February) they will be circumcised in the river and then must kill a lion.  Wow.  We are now at the campsite on the edge of the crater.  The view is spectacular!  We’ve been told not to keep any food or sweet-smelling items like toothpaste in our tent because of bush pigs.  The bush pigs are bigger than warthogs and have been known to attack humans.  We have two guards at the camp with guns – to protect us from animals and from any people who may wander into camp since there are Masai villages around.  I’m finally starting to feel really dirty and yucky.  No matter how many times I rinse my hands, I still have dirt under my fingernails.  We built a campfire tonight.  We all tried to sing songs from our home countries.  Vivienne is hilarious because she knows no lyrics….she thought “Land Down Under” was “Land of Under”…and she’s FROM Australia!  She also tried to sing The Jetsons, but sang the Flinstones theme instead (“Jetsons, meet the Jetsons, they’re a modern stoneage family…).  I tried my hand at God Bless America.  Two random guys from Spain came over to our campfire and we told them they had to sing us a song from their country if they wanted to stay.  They sang “Macarena”. LOL  A guy from New Zealand came over and sang Michael Jackson songs….don’t think Michael was from New Zealand…. Walking to the toilet in this camp is scary.  Melissa, Chris, and I went as a team.  I had path & poo duty with my flashlight, Melissa had perimeter left, and Chris had perimeter right.  We heard something…we decided to believe it was a zebra and just kept walking!  I think I’ve trained my bladder well to hold it all night.  No one wants to leave their tent at night…we all stop drinking liquid at dinner!

Day 8

Got up early to drive into the crater – it was gorgeous!  Last night there were zebras grazing right in front of all of our tents.  Tanya and Janet got up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and saw a bush pig!  They saw a buffalo too.  Supposedly if you wave your flashlight at the animals, the light scares them off.  I don’t know…. In the crater we saw elephants, zebras, wildebeest, and several lions.  We saw two lions with a fresh zebra kill.  That was kinda cool…the hyenas were hanging around really close but didn’t dare get too close (they are scared of male lions).  We also saw the endangered black rhino!  It wasn’t too close, but we got a good look through the binoculars.  There are only 25 in the crater and we saw 5, so we were lucky to see them.  That completes the Big 5!  We also saw an elephant graveyard.  Those things really do exist!  There were bones scattered around.  Also saw a hippo pool near the toilets – this one was much cleaner.  It was a pretty area so we took a group photo here.  On our way back to Arusha we visited an orphanage.  Wow – it is so small for all those kids.  They have all lost parents to either malaria or HIV/AIDS.  They sang us songs and seem so happy, despite their circumstances.  I gave the orphanage a donation – It’s not a lot of US dollars, but a US dollar goes a long way in Tanzania.  On the ride back, Emil played his reggae tapes.  LOL  Back at the lodge, I somehow was lucky enough to get the good suite in the main house.  It’s so much nicer than my chalet – solid walls that lizards cannot get into!  And the bathroom actually has shampoo and a bath mat!  It felt so good to take a shower, even though I still don’t feel 100% clean.  East African tv is showing the Young and the Restless…but it’s an episode from Christmas 2009. LOL  It’s been a great trip but I’m ready for American food and American accommodations.  I also miss salads and dairy products!  It’s so warm here, I’m dying for raw veggies and fresh fruit…but we have to eat everything cooked in order to avoid illness (I made that mistake on Day 1 and won’t do it again!).

Day 9

I slept like a baby last night in my nice room.  As a bonus, the tv had the newest episode of the Amazing Race on!  They also show a lot of the show Masterchef Australia.  This morning I said goodbye to most of the group, who were going to Zanzibar.  Shawn and I were the only ones left, so we hired a taxi and went to a coffee farm and a souvenir shop.  The coffee farm requires reservations for a tour (which we didn’t know) but the man who runs it was nice enough to give us a partial tour.  He wasn’t even going to charge us for it, but we gave him some money.  The coffee farm area is so lush and green – such a stark contrast from the rest of Arusha.  Some random observations – everyone puts names on their cars (the Ice Cube car was my fave, complete with Ice Cube’s (the rapper) picture on it).  Even though I find it warm, the locals all are wearing sweaters and fleece jackets.  Also, the whole East African attitude really is “hakuna matata”.  Everyone takes their time, no sense of urgency….very different than most Americans.  I ate lunch at the lodge restaurant and had coconut chicken with naan.  A lot of the food here is very heavily Indian influenced.  So is the tv.  I wonder why.  The vehicles are definitely Japanese influenced.  I’d say 90% of the cars on the road are Toyotas.  I saw a couple of Ford work trucks.  I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned already that people here drive like maniacs.  At times when I was in the taxi I felt like one of the contestants on The Amazing Race!  After I ate I gathered my stuff and the same taxi driver from the morning took Shawn and I to the airport.  It was partly cloudy and I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see Mt. Kilimanjaro.  We weren’t even sure which direction the mountain was.  All of a sudden, I looked out the window and there above the clouds was the summit of Kilimanjaro!  It was the perfect way to cap off the trip – I felt like I had seen everything!  The airport is very interesting – the check in counter doesn’t even open until about two hours before the flight.  And as with most things here, there’s no real line, you are just expected to organize yourselves.  Security was fast and easy though.  There were a total of 3 flights this evening so there weren’t a lot of people around.  There are no shops or food after security, but there is a toilet with toilet paper so that’s a luxury.  I still love how there’s only one gate and everyone walks out to the plane, even the huge 777 that we are on.  I’m really looking forward to the comforts of home.  Africa really makes you realize how lucky we are in America.  We have more riches than most people will ever know.  As a female, I have more freedoms and opportunities than many women in other parts of the world.  This trip has been amazing.  Seeing the animals in their natural habitat is fascinating, especially when engaged in their behaviors like the elephants bathing, the elephant scratching his belly on the mound, the lions mating, the lions and the leopard with their kills, etc.  I’ve also enjoyed the people I’ve met and hope to stay in touch with some of them – nothing bonds you like being thrust out into the wilderness together and trying to avoid bush pigs!  Note to self – if I ever feel crazy enough to climb Kilimanjaro (or any mountain), do it over 11 days and not 5.  Some people from my group did a 5 day hike and they all got terrible altitude sickness – it sounded horrible.  The two older ladies I met at the airport did it over 11 days and said they were fine.

Day 10

Sitting in the Amsterdam airport(Schiphol).  Had a good flight to Amsterdam – didn’t pee once!  I think I got good at holding it all night while camping (no liquid after dinner – it was too scary to walk to the toilet at night!).  I slept about 5 hours on the plane; I think I’ll be okay on jet lag now if I just stay awake all day now.  The flight here was longer than on the way because after the plane leaves Kilimanjaro it goes to Dar Es Salaam to drop off passengers/pick more up.  At least we didn’t have to get off the plane.  I got a Fanta in the airport because Kristen Dyson says European Fanta is so good.  The airport also has a lot of good looking chocolate and cheese shops – too bad my bag is stuffed full!  The Amsterdam airport is also not as scandalous as people think – perhaps they’ve cleaned things up in the last few years but I haven’t seen a single drug, a person on drugs, or a prostitute.  Apparently you can’t exchange Tanzanian shillings anywhere in the world except for Africa…the currency exchange here doesn’t accept them and when I left Chicago they told me they don’t have them either.  I think I will save some for souvenirs and mail the rest to that orphanage we visited.  One flight to go until the good ol’ USA!

Day 10 – Part 2

As we were landing in Chicago, the man behind me (obviously his first trip to the U.S.) looks down at the neighborhoods below and says “wow, it looks just like Wisteria Lane!”  Ah yes, I’m home!  I headed to the Hampton, ordered a Chicago deep dish pizza for delivery, and promptly fell asleep at 8:00pm.  The hot shower the next morning was like heaven!

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