Lobo Lodge was located deep in northern Serengeti, isolated, gorgeous, and completely unoccupied except our group of four and the staff that outnumbered us. But boy oh boy were the views lovely in every direction. As the sun set, we saw the giraffes and elephants amble to the shadows and set down at night. Later on, as we enjoyed cocktails at the outdoor bar by the pool, hyenas yipped and barked. Not a bad evening to go to sleep to.
Tanzania is a nation of 40% national park, all of whom contain some elephants, but the Tarangire National Park is home to the majority of them, some 5000 elephants, 1000 of whom have been photo Id’d by the park service. On a warm and dry sunny day, we watched this group of elephants cluster under the great tree for shade. Note that baby is passed out sleeping on the ground beneath his parents to the left. Heavenly, peaceful, and content.
SAFARI – MAASAI VILLAGE VISIT
And now, for something completely different, and winding the clock back a bit. On our way out of Arusha on our first day of safari, we saw many colorful Maasai tribal people in their bright reds and blues and purples out in the fields herding cattle or goats, and we asked our driver Wenga if it was possible to visit a Maasai village. And for a relatively small price–$50, ostensibly to help fund the tribe and it’s little school–we met Chief Baraaka, who said he was chief over many villages, and just happened to be at the one we stopped at. So we were treated to a traditional Maasai welcoming and jumping dance, we joined in, then were given a tour of the small village of thatch roof huts (the women build them) smeared with cow dung for waterproofing, a tiny window, and a small fire pit in each. How do you keep the smoke out, we asked? The answer: they don’t, the smoke is used to keep the inside of the hut free of mosquitos. The chief then led us a to a small school hut, where the children counted off to ten and sang a little song. Then, of course, they led us to their little village “market”, to sell us jewelry their women had made. How authentic was the experience? Wenga said although the village supplemented their funding with tourists visits (most Maasai villages are government funded and stocked with tanks of government provided water), what we had seen was fairly authentic culture, traditions, and lifestyle. The chief and his 2 brothers were actually educated in Arusha and spoke decent to good English. We peppered them with questions about how they continue to try and live the pastoral life the tribe has always lived, while he asked us for emails.
The Maasai have a colorful and fascinating history, and were at their greatest population in the 19th century, before colonialism and disease ultimately reduced their numbers heavily by the 20th century. They are just shy of 1 million strong in 2015 census, one of the biggest, if not the biggest tribes of the 123 in Tanzania. They are polygynous – the men can take many wives…and do. The chief indicated his father had 23 wives. Interestingly, although they have a feared warrior history among the Tanzanian tribes, they have a long aversion to slavery of any kind, and have lived among wild animals but generally don’t eat game or birds, only their cattle and sheep. So what they did when the conquered and took great swaths of land in the 19th century was displace the people who they conquered (and kill many of them). There’s far more interesting facts to be found on Maasai, but in person, we found them very polite and somewhat shy (Except the chief). The women’s dances made Caryl and Irina a little uncomfortable, but Alex and I jumped with the boys on our still jammed toes while the chief snapped pics like a paparazzo with cameras slung all over him.
This is a photo blog series about my February 2015 trip to Tanzania, Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and go on Safari in western Tanzania. I’ll take you day by day through the trip, written after the fact because, after hauling a small army of electronics with me–a tablet, iPhone, GPS, PS Vita, everything short of an actual laptop–it turns out that Tanzanian internet is pretty feeble, still cable connected, and the country is largely all about cell service, dashing my dreams of any reliable real time WiFi blogging. Lesson 1 learned.
DAY 1 HIGHLIGHTS
- After having dealt with a last minute lost passport in San Francisco that delayed my flight by one day, I arrived the night of Feb 11 in Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO) to find my main and only bag of camping gear delayed or lost back in the US (thanks, Delta!), meaning I had only a pair of pants, the shirt on my back and a goofy grin–“I’m in Africa!” to start the hike. Guess we’ll figure it out, since this is unlikely to be the first time this has happened.
- An hour and half drive from the airport, then a quarter mile up a dirt road fully worthy of a four-wheeler, I enter a gated compound for Iboru Safari Lodge, an oasis of thatch roof huts and mosquito net beds. I crash, and in the morning, my friends Caryl, Alex and his wife Irina are waiting at breakfast.
- Our lead guide, Justin Thomas (JT), of the African Walking Company, briefs us on the 9 day climb up the mountain, and makes arrangements (paid for by me..but I’ll file insurance) to have a porter haul the missing bag up the mountain to wherever we happen to be and in the meantime, I’ll use rental gear to make up anything missing. JT is a sunny, articulate fellow who’s got great social skills and has guided clients up the mountain since 2004.
- There are four additional summiteers joining us on our journey: Kitt and her husband Rhys, US Marines currently posted in Senegal, Cort, a cybersecurity specialist from St Louis, and Paul, whom we call Buddha, an animator from the Carolinas.
- We drive 2.5 hrs ascending from dusty dry plains past an assortment of tin roof shack, half finished brick houses, vibrantly dressed locals and Maasai herding cattle, up into the lush green forested foothills to the Londorossi Gate, where we register for the trip. Then it’s another 30 minutes down twisting dirt roads to the Lemosho Gate, our starting point. We’re doing the newest route on the mountain, the Northern Circuit, which is a combination of routes from the wet side of the mountain–Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, plus its own stops.
- At Lemosho Gate, we first see the army assembled to help and guide us up the mountain: lead guide JT, Assistant Guides Said, Halid, Viviano, Chief Stomach Engineer (Chef) Joseph, 6 helping porters who carry our luggage, and a whopping 28 regular porters who carry mess tent, cooking tent, mobile toilet and tent, all food and water. The fellow with the AK-47 on his back is reassuring…wait, what?
- We start at last! It’s raining steadily and after donning rain gear, we first learn the meaning of the Swahili word “Pole Pole” – “Slowly”…as we take one achingly slow step after another behind lead guide Said with Viviano and JT following up the rear– enough so that it’s actually calf work to move that slow, ascending up through the plush green jungle to Tree Camp. One the way, the army of porters ascends past us, luggage precariously balanced on their heads, backpacks on, rock and rolling ahead to get the camp setup by the time we arrive
- Roughly 2 hrs and a 1000 feet later, we come into Lemosho Forest Camp, elevation 8700 feet, where we find our tents setup, along with the mess and cooking tents. JT then briefs us about the small blue tent he calls the Internet Cafe (pronounced with the long A), where we can send email, and do all manners of Internet activity. He’s referring to the mobile toilet, of course, but this will become our staple sense of humor for the duration of the trip, approaching the tent in the middle of the night and asking “Cafe in use?”
- Along the rim of the camp, we can see and hear the clatter of monkeys; with long 3 foot tails of flowing black and white, it’s the black and white colobus monkey; we rush into the trees to capture pictures. Later at night, we’ll hear the staccato chatter of an alpha, and the call and response all around us as well.
After dinner, JT briefs us on the hike next day Eventually, we drift off to sleep in the rainforest to a star filled night and the chirps of forest birds, a full and fulfilling day behind us, and more adventure to come.