Margaretville resident heads to Tanzania

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Margaretville resident Iris Mead toured Tanzania from May 31-June 13. The following is a recounting of her adventure.

By Iris Mead
Thirteen days in the East African country of Tanzania included thousands of animal sightings, the vast plains of the Serengeti, an introduction to Tanzanian foods, crafts, coffee cultivation, interaction with physically challenged craftspeople, stepping back into history at the site of Louis and Mary Leakey’s discoveries at Oldupai Gorge and dancing and singing with Masai women in their village.

Each day was a new adventure. Tanzania’s third largest national park, Tarangire, is known for its Baobab trees, herds of elephants and the largest concentration of breeding bird species in the world.

In addition to the elephants, there were herds of Impala, Thompson Gazelle, giraffe and baboons to name a few of the kinds of animals we saw. Surprises like seeing an eagle eyeing fish in a stream, a Monitor lizard emerging from the streambed, the beautiful seven-color lilac crested roller and two love birds nestling together in a tree kept us alert, as did the elephants crossing in front of our Jeep. Two nights at Lake Burunge Tented Camp where we passed by cotton fields and dined under the stars was the perfect place to reflect on what we had already experienced.

A favorite stop
One of my favorite days was the visit to the Masai village where we were introduced to the son of the chief. Then the women of the village greeted us in native dress in a line singing. Each woman in our group was then wrapped in a brightly colored blanket, taken by the hand and included in the singing and dancing. Then, since the Masai women do all the work, we were given something to carry on our head and taken to a hut that was being built. I got to carry a bucket of water on my head. We then climbed a ladder onto the roof and laid straw and finally plastered the side of the hut with cow dung by hand! The men in our group thoroughly enjoyed watching us do this. After our hands were washed, we sat in the hut of the son’s 73 year old mother and learned more about their ways and history through our guide who interpreted for us. Their beautiful bead work came home with me in the form of a bracelet and a bowl.

We left here for a lodge near the Ngorongoro Crater leaving the desert and the wandering Masai with their herds of Brahma cattle and goats to a more lush and higher altitude area of Lake Manya. Here at Tloma Lodge they grew bananas, coffee and a many-acre organic garden that supplied two lodges and our tent camp with fresh vegetables and greens. It was also here that I had the biggest room I have ever slept in.

Tanzanian food incorporates a lot of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, small amounts of meat and always a soup first course for lunch and dinner. Since there are people from all over the world, the cooks must prepare familiar foods. There was always a “salad buffet” of fresh ingredients. Some unexpected foods for me were macaroni and cheese, beef stroganoff, bread pudding and flan. A nightly treat around the campfire or at the lodges was fresh roasted nuts, cashews or popcorn.

Arriving at camp
After a long dusty drive on very bad roads, we arrived at our remote tent camp in Serengeti National Park. We all wondered how the guides knew where to find it. A herd of grazing zebras greeting us as did our camp staff with warm washcloths and cool juice. There were 12 tents, a dining tent and tents for the cook staff and kitchen. Small solar panels by each tent gave us light in the tents and a large panel heated water for the 3 minute showers we had each day after the drives. The flush toilets in our tents were a nice surprise.

Again, each day was more exciting as we continued morning and afternoon game drives, usually being awakened at 6:00 or 6:30 to eat a quick breakfast and then into the Jeeps as the sun was rising. The first day we saw 7 lions in one tree sleeping or just hanging on the branches, baby elephants and zebra trying to keep up with their herd, a mother leopard and her cub who was up in the tree with their kill, hippos looking like rocks in the water, fording a stream in our Jeeps, two female ostriches trying to get the male’s attention by fluffing their feathers, two young teenage bull elephants playing, a lioness stalking a zebra, and flames behind out tents one night as they were burning the grasses. We all were ready to evacuate before they beat out the fire.

On Day 9, four of us took the balloon flight over the Serengeti. We were awakened at 4:15 a.m., splashed water on our faces, dressed warmly and rode for an hour, nearly missing a huge hippo that darted out in front of the Jeep. Watching the sun rise and the balloon fill with air at the same time heightened our excitement. The basket on this balloon was filled with 16 people from all over the world who were staying at different camps in the Serengeti. Lying on our backs, hooked to a safety harness in one of the four-person compartments heightened the anticipation. Once the balloon filled with air and started to rise, the basked righted itself and we all standing up. 45 minutes later we landed, had the champagne toast and then taken to a site in the middle of a plain where a table set with linens, china, silverware and a full English breakfast served by three waiters awaited us. This was an amazing experience to look around and see nothing but plain, a few trees and a “loo with a view” in the distance.

Photo ops
More twice daily games drives gave us many photo opportunities and exciting things to see. We visited a kogje, an isolated rock group that had been a healing place for the Masai, watched six lionesses drinking and lounging by a stream, two crocodiles tearing apart a zebra that they had dragged into the water, and relaxing evenings by the campfire before dinner. Lights out around 9 p.m.

The last day in the Serengeti was spent in discovering Ngorongoro Crater which is a collapsed volcano that was probably the size of Mount Kilimanjaro. The rim is 7,500’ above sea level. Most of the wildlife stay in the crater because of the availability of water and the balance of predator and prey. We saw a large old elephant whose tusks touched, herds of wildebeest, zebra and two of the 32 black rhino who live in the crater. It was thrilling to see one of the rhino walk across the road between two of our Jeeps heading for a lake on the other side. We had a picnic lunch by a small lake watching the hippos in the water. Riding around the crater, we came upon two male Black Mane lions sleeping near the road and three lionesses right beside the road. One of them attempted to get some shade by lying down next to our Jeep. The drivers don’t like that because if a tail or foot gets near or under a wheel, the Jeep can’t move until the lioness does.

We headed out of the crater back to Karatu and Tloma Lodge for our last two nights. On the way out we encountered many Masai with their donkeys carrying wood, water, and food. There are few cars on the road as most people walk or ride a bicycle. Seeing men on bicycles with loads of wood on the back, you wonder how they manage to balance the bicycle. One of the best named bars I’ve ever seen was here – New and Improved Bull Washing Bar.

In the morning we visited a school where the Headmistress Anna talked about the students, the needs of the school and how proud she was of the students. There is no running water at the school and her wish list included toilets and eaves for the buildings among the 10-item list. OAT, our travel company, had asked us to bring school supplies for the students. We visited a classroom where the students sang for us and we had to sing for them.

Humorous tale
A funny coincidence was that the song we were going to sing for them ended up being the song they sang to us! They also proudly sang their national anthem. We then did a walk-through on a very narrow path of the local outdoor market and a visit to a local bar where we tried banana beer (sweet) and a walking tour of a small cooperative brickworks run by the local Iraqw tribe filled our morning. The chief of the tribe, Moses, invited us to his home where we were served beans and corn by his wife and wrapped again in cloth (both men and women) as we listened to him play a stringed instrument similar to a fiddle and sing. The music reminded me of southern bluegrass music. An afternoon of relaxation ended by dinner under the stars on the deck of the ledge.
Last bumpy ride of the trip back into Arusha and Olasiti Lodge, where we started from. The roads that are paved have speed bumps every few miles to keep people from speeding. These, along with a road construction project that apparently has been going on for years, made us yearning for American highways. After lunch and three hours of rest in a room, we were fed before traveling by bus to Kilimanjaro Airport for our 9 p.m. flight to Amsterdam, a 10-hour flight. After 30+ hours, I arrived home. This truly was the trip of a lifetime.