16 May 2010

10 Days in Tanzania!

On May 1st Nancy Chescheir and I headed out for a safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Here we are at the KIA Nairobi Airport, very happy!

I must say from the start that aside from being my boss here in Gaborone, Chief of Staff at the Hospital, doctor at UNC Hospitals and friend, Nancy is an extraordinary photographer. So if I neglect to credit her for the pictures on this blog post, just assume that all the clear, non-shaky and perfectly timed pictures are hers!

From Nairobi we landed near Mt. Kilimanjoro (no mountain climbing on this trip) and headed out for Arusha, which is on the western side of Tanzania and known for its coffee and banana production. It was a lush and colorful ride there.

I had been in Tanzania in 1983 as an undergraduate doing a field study in Dar es Salaam. I didn't travel much outside of Dar at that time, so it was great to see this part of the country. Arushsa today is a lot how I remember Dar to be 27 years ago. 

This is the local transportation all over Tanzania. The "dala-dala" is a mini van stuffed with passengers ("dala" refering to "dollar").

You never want to be too far from a "House of Lubricants":

We were shown around Arusha by a local guide and I told him that one of the foods I loved when I was in Tanzania years ago was roasted "mhogo."  That's cassava roasted and sprinkled with salt and pilipili (hot pepper).  He promptly took us to a woman roasting and selling mhogo and it was just like I remembered!

Then we went to a bustling farmers market.

We made our way to a lodge overlooking Lake Manyara.  It is a freshwater lake and covers about 90 square miles (230 sq km) in the midst of Lake Manyara National Park.
The Lodge pool was at the edge of the cliff overlooking Lake Manyara below.  (I was happy!)

The next day we drove around the Lake en route to the Serengeti.  One of the morning highlights was coming upon a hippo pool with dozens of hippos.  We were allowed to get out of the truck (the only time on the trip) and stand in front of a sign that said "don't go beyond this point" - which we didn't!

We drove around the rim of the Ngorongor Crater to get to the Serengeti.  The Crater (which we would see more of later) was filled with yellow flowers and it made it look like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz.

The Ngorongoro Crater is huge and it took several hours to get around it to the Serengeti.  And we were richly rewarded.  

We came upon a Kopje, granite stones that erupted from the volcanic rock and ash of the Serengeti and were made even more solid by the heating and cooling of the African sun.  They are a favorite hangout for lions and we were not disappointed to come upon a pride of females looking down on us from above.

The breathtaking thing about the Serengeti is that it is vast.  It is like an ocean filled with animals.

The most dramatic flood of animals into and out of the Serengeti is the Wildebeest Migration.

In October they travel south from Kenya into Tanzania looking for the rains and in April they travel back north.  We were there in May and just seeing a fraction of the numbers seen during the peak of the migration (about 1.5 million Wildebeest and around 200,000 Zebra migrate, along with antelopes and of course, the predators).

In the picture above the Wildebeest were streaming in from the right - as far as you could see. It was so dramatic.

On my birthday we visited a Maasai village.  I always thought the Maasai in Africa these days were dressing up for tourism - and that is somewhat the case when they are wearing all their jewelry - but they live all over the Western part of Tanzania in small villages much the same as they have always done.  And the colorful cloth wraps they wear are their daily dress in the village.

They are known for their jumping dance - and they jump very high!!

They invited us to dance with them.  The women sing and jump in unison.  Their beaded neck jewelry flys up and down in unison too.  I got the hang of it by shrugging my shoulders to pop the necklace up in rythmn.

That day we also visited Olduvai Gorge, a ravine in the Great Rift Valley and home to some of the earliest human fossils ever found - some dating back 1.8 million years ago.  Louis and Mary Leaky did their excavations there, and the fosil "Lucy" was also discovered there.

The Serengeti  is packed with animals and we saw all of the "Big 5":

Mom and baby Black Rhino

Male Lion

Cape Buffalo

Elephants crossing the river
We never got too close to the last (and most elusive) of the Big 5 - the Leopard.  We did spot one in a tree, facing the other side.  You can mostly see the back of it's head and the ear.

An amazing trip and a truly memorable birthday in Africa!!