Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tanzania

Trip Dates: July 18th - 26th, 2014



We were picked-up at the airport by our new driver/guide, Charles, from Bush 2 Beach Safaris.  We were all pretty tired from the red-eye flight from Uganda, but it was hard not to be excited at the same time.  Charles drove us to the Ilboru Safari Lodge in Arusha where we'd be spending the night before embarking on our first real safari the next morning.  


Tanzania, officially known as the United Republic of Tanzania, is a coastal country in Eastern Africa.  They have a population of 44.9 million people.  The capital city is Dodoma, but the largest city, in terms of population, is Dar es Salaam with 4.3 million people.  The official languages are Swahili and English.  For the most part, our time was spent in the north-central part of the country where we visited Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Serengeti National Park.  

Tanzania (dark blue) as located within Africa (light blue)
A map of the different regions and parks in Tanzania
As previously mentioned Bush 2 Beach Safaris was our main contact while booking this trip and they were phenomenal throughout the entire process.  I would highly recommend them to anyone looking to travel in East Africa.  Ingrid, one of the owners, met us at the Ilboru Safari Lodge just to check-in with us and make sure everything went smoothly in Uganda.  She also gave us a briefing on the next couple of weeks and what we could expect.  Everything was very professional and courteous.  It was the little things, like meeting Ingrid, that were unexpected and unnecessary, but very much appreciated and indicated they were willing to go above and beyond.

Our drive/guide Charles, was a very quiet, soft-spoken individual, but extremely knowledgeable.  There wasn't a single question he couldn't answer for us and once he warmed up to us, was more willing to show his sense of humor.  Unlike in Uganda, Charles shared many meals with us and this gave us a chance to really get to know him and find out more about his background.  Although I don't have a lot to compare them to, Charles and the entire Bush 2 Beach team, were all terrific and get my full endorsement!


Charles picked us up the next morning and we were off to Tarangire National Park.  Tarangire is the sixth largest national park in Tanzania and is famous for large herds of Elephants and Baobob Trees.  Aside from the Elephants, Tarangire is also home to numerous other animal species including, Waterbuck, Impala, Warthog, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Jackal, Lion, Cheetah, Zebra, Cape Buffalo, Ostrich, Reedbuck, Eland, Dikdik, Baboon, and Vervet Monkey, all of which we were fortunate to see.

Tarangire National Park
Baobob Tree
Waterbuck
Wildebeest dashing across the road
These Elephants are eating the innards of a Baobob Tree
The Tarangire River flows through the park and is the main source of water during the dry season
Our lunch spot came with an amazing view of the park
Vervet Monkeys were stealing food directly off plates in front of people.  It was pretty entertaining to watch, as long as it wasn't happening to you!
It didn't take long for the Baboons to show up either
Reedbucks along the river
This baby Elephant was trying to cool off in the water, but had lots of trouble getting back to his feet
We found another group of Elephants using a mud hole to cool off.  The mud acts as a shield from the sun and also prevents the flies from biting them.
Male Ostrich
A couple of birds hitching a ride on the back of a Giraffe
We stayed at the Tarangire Safari Lodge for one night.  That evening, as Mike and I were walking from our tent to the lodge, we noticed a small herd of Elephants walking among the tents.  We quickly grabbed our cameras and started snapping photos of the enormous creatures.  I ran and got the girls, as I knew they wouldn't want to miss this opportunity.  The staff of the lodge had named them as they were frequent guests to the area.  The mother was Doris and she had three of her calves with her.  The two older ones were Happy and Ronaldo, who received his name because he liked to kick things!  The youngest calf was still unnamed at the time.  It was an amazing experience to watch them up-close outside of a vehicle.

The view from the lodge was unbeatable
Doris
Doris would head-butt the trees so the thorns would fall off and then they'd all pick them up with their trunks and eat them.  You can also see how close they were to our tents!
We were up before the sun the next morning for a dawn game drive and then returned to the lodge for breakfast.  We had a short game drive on the way out of the park before making our way to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

These young Baboons were sitting in a large pile of Elephant dung.  They would sort through it and decide on the best parts to eat.  They couldn't have been happier about it!
A Lion paw print in the sand
Dik Diks are the smallest members of the Antelope family
When startled, Warthogs will run through the tall grass with their tails straight up in the air.  This is so the other members of the family can see the leader and follow along.
As we were leaving Tarangire we spotted these three Cheetahs sitting under a tree in the shade.  A nice parting gift as we moved to the next park.
We left Tarangire behind and made our way to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is home to the famous Ngorongoro Crater.  The Ngorongoro is classified as a conservation area instead of a national park because the Maasai people are allowed to live within it's borders, although they have been evicted from the crater itself.  The Maasai are not hunters or farmers, so they don't pose a risk to the resident wildlife, nor do they disturb the land, and have therefore been granted access to live within their traditional territory.  

We would be spending two nights at the Rhino Lodge near the crater's rim.  Shortly after our arrival we were taken on a nature walk by one of the Ngorongoro Rangers.  We learned about the area and how it was formed, as well as some of the traditional uses for many of the native plants.  The Ngorongoro Crater is home to the densest population of predators in all of Africa.  For this reason female Elephants and their young don't venture into the crater, only the largest bull Elephants will do so.  25,000 large mammals call the crater home, including approximately 20 Black Rhinos, which account for about half the remaining population in all of East Africa.  

A panoramic shot of the Ngorongoro Crater
We work up to a herd of Cape Buffalo just outside our hotel door.  The rim of the crater is quite high and this morning we were fully enveloped by clouds.
After a good night's rest we hopped back in the Land Cruiser for a full day safari on the crater floor.  The safari gods were looking after us again as we saw all of the following species, Thomson's & Grant's Gazelle, Warthogs, Wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Hyena, Jackal, Hippopotamus, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Zebra, Ostrich, Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Hartebeest, Black-Tailed Mongoose, and Serval, which are apparently extremely rare to see.  

Cape Buffalo
This male Lion was dozing beside his brother
This next series of photos captures one of the best moments of the entire trip.  We noticed a large gathering of parked vehicles, so Charles drove over to see what everyone was looking at.  Shortly after we arrived we saw a female Lion sitting in the tall grass and then we spotted her cubs.  We thought that was pretty cool in itself, but then the mother began walking through the grass towards the road.  She popped out of the grass directly in front of our vehicle and her young cubs weren't far behind her.  We had front-row seats as her and her cubs strolled along the dusty road for more than ten minutes.  There was a line of about 20 vehicles behind ours, all trying to get the view and the photos we were getting.  She dropped down to a pool of water for a drink and then came right back up in front of our vehicle again.  At this point Charles thought we should leave the Lions and let someone else have this amazing experience.  We were more than satisfied by what we got, so we gladly left the cluster of vehicles behind and continued exploring the crater.  We knew this was a rare sight as Charles, who has been guiding safaris for eight years, pulled out his cell phone and was taking pictures of the Lioness and her cubs!

Mama Lion
Charles guessed the cubs were between two and three months old
Mama and her cubs walking in front of us
Cute little cubs
Zebra
We stopped for lunch near this small lake.  It was filled with Hippos, which gave us some entertainment while we ate.
Jackal
Thomson's Gazelle
According to African legend the Wildebeest has been put together by God using leftover spare parts from other animals including the stripes of a Zebra, the mane and tail of a Horse, horns of a Cape Buffalo, and the face of a Grasshopper.
We were lucky enough to see two Rhinos, but this was as close as we got to them
After seeing an abundance of wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater, it was time to move onto Tanzania's flagship park, the Serengeti.  Serengeti National Park is the country's oldest park and continues to be one of the most visited.  It's popularity likely stems from the great migration that sees 1.5 million Wildebeest and some 250,000 Zebra travel through the park searching for fresh grazing grounds.  We weren't in the Serengeti at the right time to witness the vast herds on the move, but that didn't stop us from having an amazing time in the park.  There was a noticeable absence of Wildebeest, but we did see quite a few Zebras.  Other wildlife we saw in the Serengeti were Elephant, Topi, Hartebeest, Lion, Cheetah, Reedbuck, Cape Buffalo, Rock & Bush Hyrax, Dwarf Mongoose, Hippopotamus, Nile Crocodile, Hyena, Giraffe, Serval, and Leopard.  

Entering Serengeti National Park
In the Maasai language, Serengeti means "endless plains"
Hartebeest
There were two male Lions laying in the grass doing nothing but panting.  It was so hot they didn't want to move!
These three Lions were trying to nap in the shade.  Their bellies looked full, so we assumed that's the reason these Zebras were this close to them.
A herd of Elephants heading for the watering hole
Mama Elephant and her calf
Nine more Lions trying to avoid the hot sun
Topi
Close-up of a bull Elephant
One of the two Leopards we saw.  This rounded out the Big Five: Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Rhino, and Leopard.
While in the Serengeti we stayed at the Kati Kati Tented Camp,  which is a small camp situated in the Seronera area of the park.  There were no fences to keep the wildlife out and it was quite common to see Hyenas walking around the camp after the sun had set.  It was a bit freaky, but pretty neat at the same time.  We also heard rumors of a Honey Badger getting into the kitchen tent, but we still aren't sure if this was just the camp's staff messing with us!    

Serengeti sunset at the Kati Kati Camp
Hyenas have been known to chase a Cheetah off of it's own kill
We didn't see these Hyenas kill the Gazelle, but we watched them eat it.  Then, we watched them play keep-away with the meat from an Eagle and a Vulture!
Sisters on safari!
Giraffe
A couple of Nile Crocodiles sunning themselves
There was a large gathering of Hippos in this pool.  Standing on the bank, we watched them grunt, bite, and chase each other if one happened to get too close to another one's females.  Being the most dangerous animal in Africa, it was a bit intimidating being so close to them.
For some reason these guys turned out to be Christine's favourite animals!
The morning we were leaving the Serengeti this handsome fellow decided to pose perfectly for us!  In the Swahili language the word for Lion is "Simba".
We turned a corner and saw these two Cheetahs drinking from a puddle on the road.  Charles was amazed at how many Cheetahs we saw throughout the trip (12!), because normally Cheetahs can be one of the toughest animals to see.
Our next night was spent at Isoitok Camp, which was close to the Esilalei Maasai Community.  We had a tour booked with the local Maasai people and it turned out we were the only visitors in the camp that night.  Here is some information about the Maasai as provided by the camp:
Esilalei village has been a settlement since 1977, before which the Maasai, its current occupants, lived a nomadic life.  They still enjoy free access across the land, including across the country borders.  Nowadays, Esilalei village comprises over 500 people living in around 50 separate bomas (traditional Maasai settlements), covering the area between Lake Manyara and the mountain ranges running from the Northwest to the East.   
Each boma is of a particular shape, protected from wildlife by a fence made from spiky Acacia branches.  Additionally, in the middle of the boma you will find another enclosed area used to protect cows at night.  Goats are also kept in the boma when not out grazing. 
There are an average of five to six houses in each boma, depending on the number of wives the elder has.  The houses include a small cooking area and stove as well as sleeping areas.  A separate warrior house is available in each boma to house any travelling warriors as they pass through. 
The village has one chairman called the "mwenyekiti", but due to the size of the Esilalei community the village has been split into four parts, each with its own mwenyekiti.  These mwenyekiti's look after and resolve any conflicts in the area; any issues that cannot be resolved locally are then referred to the main chairman for resolution.

From around the age of 15, all males train to become warriors, which involves learning to fight and tending the cattle.  Once circumcised around the age of 18 they will become warriors and spend the up to six months in the bush, utilizing their skills and living without water, either to wash or to drink.  Their only means of survival will be a cow, which they can use for blood and milk.  The final step in becoming a warrior is to kill a lion to prove mental and physical strength.  This tradition, however, in locations around national parks and wildlife management areas is strongly discouraged, although it continues in wilderness locations away from park authorities.  Once this is completed, the warrior supports and safeguards the community, tending to livestock, finding adequate grazing and water for 10 - 12 years.  During this time he cannot marry until the individual's father selects a first wife for his son.  Once married he can then choose other wives to his liking and in accordance to his status and wealth. 
Girls are often betrothed at a young age, usually marrying between the ages of 12 and 15.  Once married, the women play a critical role in running the boma.  Their duties include building the mud houses, maintenance, cooking, looking after the children, herding the goats, and milking the animals!  The women also make Maasai jewellery to sell in the market. 
When a warrior completes his years of service and becomes an elder by marrying, he will build his own boma for his wives and possibly his elder mother to live in.  He will be in charge of the day to day running of his own boma.  Elders are highly respected by the rest of the Maasai community.   
The Maasai of Esilalei are mainly Christians, but some retain their traditional beliefs, based on nature.  The Oriteti Trees are believed to hold a god to which the Maasai will pray.  The volcanic area of the Oldonyo Mountains is also believed to be sacred, with the active volcano, Oldonyo Lengai, being the home of the Mountain God.  Christian Maasai attend regular church services; there is one church in Esilalei village that holds a Sunday service that anyone can attend.
The village has a witch-doctor for traditional healing.  Witch-doctors come from a particular clan of people called the Engidong.  Payment for their services is by exchange of cows, thus allowing the witch-doctor to marry many wives and live in larger bomas.   
Both the warriors and women participate in traditional dancing.  For this the warriors gather in a circle to chant and jump while the women shake their bodies and sing.  Usually the warriors take turns to enter the circle and jump as high  as possible.  This dance is also used by the warriors to impress and show off to the young girls and is performed at celebrations and is also a common pastime. 
The Maasai diet is based around cows and goats with cow-milk being the staple ingredient.  In the morning, Maasai drink cow-milk.  Goat's milk can also be drunk, but needs to be boiled before consumption, hence the preference for cows.  During the day they will eat porridge made of corn flour and sheep's fat with milk.  In the evening Ugali is eaten, which consists of maize flour.  Goat meat is usually eaten once a week, with ALL parts of the goat being consumed.  The bones are boiled to make a soup, to which medicine is added to aid in digestion, prevent malaria, and maintain general well-being.  The Maasai drink the goat's blood, as they believe this will clean their own blood and keep them healthy.  Cows are only eaten for special occasions and celebrations; both meat and blood are consumed. 
The Maasai predominantly coexist peacefully with the wildlife.  Snakes, however, are feared and unfortunately , through lack of knowledge and wrong identification, are often killed whether venomous or not.  Predators such as lions, hyena, and jackal can be a threat to livestock and in the past were killed, however these predators keep a good distance from the Maasai settlements with cattle dogs also playing a valuable part in keeping any unwanted visitors away.  
Isoitok means "many stones" in the Maasai language.  It was easy to see how the camp got it's name because the ground was extremely rocky and dry in the area.
Setting sun
Inside one of the bomas
Giving the cows an injection of medicine
The elder of this boma
In this photo you can see the outer fence (right) that protects the boma and the inner fence (left) to protect the cattle
One of the wives carrying her child
A Maasai wife holding her one-year-old daughter
It was pretty incredible to spend some time with the Maasai people.  They are desperately trying to hold onto their culture in a rapidly changing world.  Although they still live, eat, talk, and dress in a traditional manner, it was easy to see the outside world slowly creeping in.  We witnessed the elder of the boma talking on his cell phone, for example, and some of the children were wearing western-style baseball hats and toques with their shuka.  Many of the Maasai children do not go to school, because the adults don't place a high importance on education.  It's much more respectable to stay at home and look after the cattle, in the case of young men, then it is to go to school, but even this right of passage is slowly starting to change.  We saw several Maasai people driving vehicles, speaking English, and even working in town (or as a dive master in Zanzibar), instead of staying home and embracing their traditional lifestyle.

We spent one more night in Arusha, back at the Ilboru Safari Lodge, before catching a short flight to the island of Zanzibar.  Ingrid met us at the airport to see us off on the last leg of our journey.  We said our good-byes to Charles and made our way to the nuthouse that is the tiny Arusha airport.  We had just over a week of vacation left and most of it would be spent on a white sandy beach!

4 comments:

  1. Lovely post.The photos are amazing.I am very excited to go for a tour.Thanks for it.

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  2. Thanks Mathews! Tanzania is a pretty amazing place. You'll have an incredible trip whenever you go. Enjoy and thanks for visiting the blog!

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