Friday, July 11, 2008
serengeti, ngorongoro crater, and lake manyara
While Lisa was still here visiting, my little brother Moshi arrived from Mtwara. It was the beginning of his winter vacation, but instead of letting him relax, Lisa and I packed him onto another bus and brought him to Arusha. There we met up with four friends of mine for my first real wildlife safari to the famous National Parks! Two of the guys we went with are Peace Corps volunteers, and the other two guys are friends of theirs from the USA. Moshi had never been on a safari, of course, and had never seen most of the animals we would be looking for on our trip. I invited him because I thought it would be a fun – and educational – experience for him to see a part of his country that most Tanzanians will never visit in their entire lifetime. He was excited to go, although not too pleased about being stuck in a car every day… after the 20 hours he had already spent on buses just to arrive in the northern part of the country.
We spent our first day on a game drive through Lake Manyara Nagional Park. The animals were pretty cool in the park. Amongst other things we saw a cheetah, which is pretty rare, and we also had a good time watching the baboons and warthogs hanging out together on the savannah.
We spent that night in a campground in a town outside of Lake Manyara National Park. and after dinner, to celebrate, we dragged our guide out to the bar for a beer and a game of pool. The next day we headed for the Serengeti... but stopped on our way at a "genuine Maasai boma" for some "cultural tourism". I found it a bit strange - this whole community had built itself around the idea that tourists pay a lot of money to walk around inside, observe "genuine" dancing, and visit the nursery school classes in the village. I talked to a few of the Maasai when there were no other tourists around - I do think it is a real village, but certainly one that was moved here for this purpose. The whole community revolves around selling their heritage - but I give them a lot of credit for figuring out a way to preserve, respect, and financially stabilize their traditional way of life. Pretty smart, really.
Yes, Lisa IS jumping with mama yeyo. Sorry Lisa, it's just too funny not to put this picture in ;)
After leaving the boma, we went to Olduvai Gorge for a few hours. The cradle of mankind!
"The gorge is a very steep sided ravine roughly 30 miles long and 295 ft. deep which forms part of the Great Rift Valley. It is situated on a series of fault lines which, along with centuries of erosion, has revealed fossils and remnants of early humankind. The time span of the objects recovered date from 2,100,000 to 15,000 years ago.Excavations in the early twentieth century by the famous archaeologist, Dr Louis Leakey, uncovered some of the earliest remains of fossil hominids at Olduvai.
Seventeen years after the first discovery of human forms, Leakey’s wife, Mary, discovered the unmistakable fossilized footprints of a human ancestor who had walked along a riverbank three million years ago. Since then, excavators working in Olduvai have found skeletal remains of a number of ancient hominids – Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Australopithecus Boisei. Old campsites and what is believed to be a butchery site, as well as a loosely built circle of lava blocks was also found suggesting that crude shelters were also built here. Other findings include hunting weapons, basic tools and remains of dead animals once killed by humans.
The name Olduvai originated from a European misspelling of Oldupai, the correct Maasai word for this region of great historical importance – named after the wild sisal plant fibre growing in abundance in the gorge."
We then headed to the Serengeti, where we saw a leopard, amongst other amazing animals like lions, etc....
That night in our campsite, we couldn't help but notice that there was little protection from the savannah surrounding us. We were the last campers to go to bed that night, and we were not a little bit unnerved by the HUGE hyenas running through the campsite, only 60 feet away from our tents…
On Day 3, we spent the morning on a game drive through the Serengeti. We went back to the campsite for lunch, and that is when the disaster occurred. Our safari car broke down. We had chosen the cheapest safari we could find (we ARE peace corps volunteers, after all…) but unfortunately that meant that there was no fancy backup car to come rescue us. They tried to fix the wheel until sundown, and then we reverted to Plan B.
Our safari guide rented another vehicle, just for the night, to transport us to Ngorongoro Crater. It was actually pretty cool – all cars are supposed to be safely within the park gates by 6pm, but since we had broken down, we were given special permission. As the sun set over the Serengeti and the full moon rose ahead of us, we barreled through the savannah until 10pm that night. We saw jackals and lots of other shining eyes in our headlights.
We arrived at our campsite on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, and ate popcorn while we waited for our late dinner. After eating at midnight, we wrapped ourselves up warmly in sleeping bags (it was damn cold there!) and fell asleep to the sound of zebras chewing the grass only 15 feet away from our tents.
The next morning, we packed into a new car that had arrived from Moshi overnight. Unfortunately, the new car didn’t fit all 7 of us passengers quite as well as the first car had… so things were a bit tight. But the ride down into Ngorongoro Crater made up for it! What a magical place. Words cannot describe.'
After we finished our game drive, we returned to camp and packed up our things. We then began the 5 hour journey back to Moshi, which was particularly painful because of the number of us packed into the small car. The American boys did what any 22-year old would do in that situation: they bought beer. A lot of it.
Moshi and I kept a lower profile, and were relieved to get home and relax at 10pm that night.
Overall, the safari was an amazing and wild experience. I think we were a great team and I am glad I went on the trip with these fun friends. It wouldn't have been nearly as adventurous any other way. We decided, along the way, that there would be a band and an album made from this trip. Whaddya think of the album cover?
Posted by jen at 6:00 PM