Tanzania 2 – Serengeti Tent Safari

Tanganyika became an independent nation in 1961 when the British Empire left.  Zanzibar, which was an island nation off the coast of Tanganyika became independent in 1963.  In 1964 they decided to merge to become one nation.  They took Tan from Tanganyika and Za from Zanzibar and added nia from Swahili for united.  Thus we have the nation of Tan za nia, accent on the “za”. The northern border was drawn, by the British, to keep the “Roof of Africa” Kilimanjaro in Tanzania rather than in Kenya where it might more rightfully belong, if you were into drawing straight lines.

Within Tanzania there are National Parks, National Reserves, Game Reserves etc.  I lost my concentration at some point, but the most protected areas are the National Parks where vehicles must stay on established roads and are permitted only during the daylight hours.  No one is permitted to dismount from a vehicle except in certain controlled areas.  This made planning to “check the tires” (the accepted euphemism for toilet stop) very important.  It became clear to us that the reason for these limits had two important purposes.  The first is to prevent poaching.  It is harder to poach if it is a crime to dismount your vehicle and any vehicle moving around after dark is also in violation of the law.  The second reason is safety of tourists.  We saw lions that were upset with each other within touching range of our vehicles.  We had to stop to let elephants and Cape Buffalo cross the road and in one instance we had to wait for a spotted hyena to get out of a puddle in the road in its own good time.

Our first national park was Tarangire.  After a visit to Shanga Shangaa a sheltered workshop located in the middle of a coffee plantation

and a walk through the street side market

 outside Olisiti our in town lodge where we had an opportunity to shop and see the way the locals in Arusha, the third largest city in Tanzania with about 1,500,000 population and two traffic lights, lived we had a second night in Olisiti.  Then we headed out for Lake Burunge Tented Camp.  We had our first game drive as a complete group in Tarangire on  the way.  The next morning, bright and early, 5:30, we were awakened to have an early breakfast and get away for another game drive in Tarangire.  The only cat we had seen so far was cheetah.  We saw one mother with two cubs and the second day we saw a single cheetah somewhat distant.  Elephants were plentiful and right on the road as were baboons and of course gazelles large and small, Hartebeast to Dikdik.  Our guides were calling the smaller gazelles Cheetah Snacks.  We also saw plenty of warthogs.  I’ll get to the birds later.

Cheeta with cubs

Leaving Lake Burunge Tented Camp we headed through Ngorongoro Conservation Area to Serengeti National Park and our Mobile Tent Camp located at Prince Charles Campsite.

  We were to return to Ngorongoro after 4 nights in Serengeti for a game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater (really a caldera geologically).  When the national parks were created, initially the Masai were the only people permitted to continue to live in the park.  They are a nomadic people whose livelihood is based on cattle, goats and sheep.  They do not hunt wild animals and have centuries of coexistence with the natural wildlife.  Eventually it was decided to move them to the Ngorongoro Conservation area where there was more water and better grazing land.  They were agreeable to this move.  We visited a Boma in this area and were greeted by the women dancing and singing to welcome us.

 Our ladies were swept up by the women and wrapped in kangas, the native cloth and jewelry.  Carol participated fully and they all helped with the refurbishment of one of the lady’s houses.  This entailed carrying the materials to the house, thatching the roof and plastering the walls with a useful mixture of mud and dung.  The men did what men do, stood around and watched, mostly.

An aside on the Masai culture.  Men may have have more than one wife.  They create a Boma which is walled with brush to keep wild animals out and domesticated animals in at night.  The wife builds her house with tree limbs, mud and thatch.  The first wife may recruit her friends to become additional wives.  She also has approval over any wife the husband may introduce.  Each wife builds her own house in the Boma.  On occasion brothers may share a boma and two groups of wives may live there, or a son may take over leadership of his father’s Boma.  The Boma is a temporary camp.  If the grazing is depleted or the water is short they may move on, generally to another Boma that they have left for similar reasons in the past.  We did visit a temporarily abandoned Boma in the north.

Before we left the Masai we presented them with the four water filters we had purchased earlier in the trip.  Eli set one up to show them the process and later, before we left I tasted the water which had been filtered.  We hope that this gift is a gift of health for the community.  It is only a shame that it is only this one small community that will benefit.  We are going to do more.

Finally we got the the Mobile Tent Camp we had been talking about.  It is indeed tents, under canvas covers with a dressing room space and a shower and toilet.  The shower water is supplied by a staff person who works behind the tent where there are no windows.  The process begins by one of us calling out, “ready to shower” and the staff person pours 20 liters (about 5 gallons) of shower warm water into a bucket with a hose in the bottom and raises the bucket on a hoist above the tent.  We then take a “Navy Shower” (wet down, soap, rinse) which Carol and I are used to doing when we camp in the desert.  When finished we call out “second shower” and the scenario is repeated.  Although it was possible to ask for more water, we never had a need.  The toilets left a lot to be desired.  They are normal commodes set in wooden crates for transport and it appeared that they emptied into a hole in the ground.  Enough said.  The entire camp is packed up and moved about once a month as each area needs to be left fallow so as not to disturb the normal movement of the animals.  We were not permitted off the path from the central dining tent to our tents and we were not to be out of the tent after dark without an escort.  We did have to watch for fresh droppings on the path after any period of inactivity.  One night Fred and June could not get to their tent until the staff brought up a car to scare off a Cape Buffalo that was on the path.  At night we heard elephants tearing the trees and lions calling in the distance.

Our third morning five of us were awakened extra early to be picked up to go on a hot air balloon ride. For those who have been on a balloon I do not need to go on about the silence of drifting with the wind and the roar of the gas heaters that keep the balloon aloft.  The take off was interesting as the basket, for these very large balloons holds 16 passengers in 8 compartments.  The basket was on its side and Carol and I had to get into an upper compartment lying on our backs such that when the basket became upright we would be standing in our compartment.  All 8 compartments were filled on three balloons while the balloons were being inflated by fans.  Finally the pilot boarded and lit the burners to heat the air and the balloon rose taking us with it.  We drifted over the Serengeti at altitudes as high as 1,200 feet to a low of 7 feet which put us at eye level with a giraffe that happened to be in our path.  The flight landed after an hour on a road where our chase team was waiting and we were served champagne on the spot followed by a white tablecloth breakfast served by waiters in white turbans.

Sultan picked us up after breakfast and we rejoined the group for another game drive.  By now we had seen all of the “Big Five” elephants, cape buffalo, lions, leopard except for rhinoceros.  The designation of the Big Five was by trophy hunters.  In Serengeti there are reported to only be 18 black rhinoceros left.  There are many more in Ngorongoro, but we hoped to see one in Serengeti before getting there.  And we did!

Our trip was approaching departure day and we returned to Tloma Lodge with a lengthy game drive through Ngorongoro Crater National Reserve which enabled us to see two more rhinos and to run up our lion count to over 50.  We also saw vast herds of wildebeests and dazzles of zebras.  Finally we got to the lodge and settled in for our last two nights in Tanzania.  The next day was devoted to meeting the people.  We went to Tloma Primary School which was not fully in session as the faculty were traveling the bush to complete the national census.  Only 7th graders were attending, preparing for the national exam which gives access to secondary education.

Ely wanted to show us more of the town so we walked through the local market where we attracted every hawker and vendor of beaded wear and cloth within running radius.  They were hard to fend off and we ended up adding to the collection of material we were carting home.  Finally we were directed to “Culture Bar” where we were treated with banana beer and music.  This bar was located on a side street and clearly was not a tourist destination.  Before long we were dancing with the locals and spending more money on more “stuff” that the very persistent vendors continued to push on us.

Our final day saw us returning to Olisiti Lodge after a stop at the Tanzania Culture Center where we had only 30 minutes to run through exhibits of art from ancient to modern.  Carol and I needed another hour, at least, and some of our cohort really needed more time to shop!  Different folks, different strokes.  We had a break at Olisiti with day rooms to freshen up for the flight – we were 33 hours on route home – and on the drive to Kilimanjaro International Airport the clouds that had covered Mount Kilimanjaro whenever we were in a place to see it finally lifted to reveal the mountain.

The pictures included in this blog post are a bare sampling of the album I have shared.  Here is the direct link to the album