Out of Africa, alive and well

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I’m not sure when the travel bug hit me; I do love to travel. Most of my life I’ ve been taking road trips around the United States, but as I got older, my permanent tenant and I started flying to faraway destinations. Africa may be about as far away as you can get.

We have a bucket list of places to see and Africa was on my list. Planning a trip to Africa can be daunting, so we used a touring company, Overseas Adventure Travel, OAT. It was our second trip with OAT and we’re two for two with smooth sailing and great trips.

We wanted to see animals and decided to spend most of the trip in Tanzania with a side trip to Zanzibar. Before 1964 the countries were called Tanganyika and Zanzibar Archipelago (one of the Spice Islands). After their independence from Britain in 1961 and 1963 they merged (combining the names) to form the United Republic of Tanzania. Zanzibar is a little like Northern Ireland; it’s part of Tanzania but many think that they should be their own country. They’re tied together by their currency, diplomats and military. Zanzibar isn’t a very big island, only about 45 miles across, so they are dependent on Tanzania for their electricity, too.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when we flew into the Arusha airport, at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but the adventure had begun. I should note that we never saw Mt. Kilimanjaro; it was always overcast, cloudy and invisible, or we flew by at night.

Most of the trip was a safari to the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a giant volcanic crater. One of our goals was to see what they call the big five (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino). Sherri had hippos on her list and I was curious about giraffes and zebras.

We had tour guides that drove us around in Toyota Land Cruisers that were built for safaris. The roofs lifted up so you could stand up and look around. They drive on the wrong side of the road and the vehicles all had right-hand drives. Toyota dominated most of the cars and light trucks that we saw in Tanzania. The dirt roads were rough and dust flew everywhere.

If you asked our team leader, Goodluck Kombe, if we were going to see lions or any other animal, he would respond, “I promise, but no guarantee.” On the first day driving across the Serengeti to our camp we saw plenty of lions, a leopard in a tree next to the warthog he had dragged up the tree for his dinner, elephants, giraffes, cape buffalo, zebras, hundreds of gazelles and a cheetah. At dinner the guides were joking among themselves about what they were going to do for the next four days. I’m not sure if they were just joking or if we had really seen a lot of animals on our first day.

We slept in pretty good sized tents with a room with a sink, shower and toilet. We had five gallons of hot water each day to shower, which made for quick navy showers. They’d fill a bucket with solar heated water and lift it up with a rope and pulley. It had a hose on the bottom and a valve next to a shower head. It worked better than I thought it would.

After a couple of days of seeing more animals than I could have imagined, Sherri asked about hippos and I asked about seeing a rhino. Goodluck said that he would try for the rhino, but that he promised and guaranteed hippos. He was good to his word and drove us to a place where Sherri, and the other 13 tourists with us saw hippos. At first there were just a few, but as he kept driving across the plains he found a place that looked like it could be the Garden of Eden. Green grass, plenty of water, and full of hippos and other animals.

Along the way we visited a native Maasi tribal village and it was like looking at National Geographic pictures, except the women were covered in brightly colored material. They have been living the same way for thousands of years. They have their cattle and live in mud huts with thatched roofs. I can’t see how they’ll last many more generations with society closing in on their grazing land; their lifestyle doesn’t look sustainable.

You can tell where the Maasi live because the land has been over grazed. Where the government has pushed them out of the parks, the grass is healthy and wild animals thrive. It’ll be a tough decision on what to do with the native tribes, but tourist dollars and their own expanding population might make them adapt.

I’ll write about my run in with a cape buffalo next week.

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