**Susan takes on......Africa!**

Welcome all to my haven. Grab a cup of tea, and sit down to enjoy the adventures!

Monday, September 06, 2004

The lion sleeps tonight...after scaring the crap out of us

I have returned from another great adventure filled with wild animals, dangerous roads and even more dangerous food. The adventure almost never began because the night before we were scheduled to leave, I was clever enough to get some sort of traveler's diarrhea. I have always been one with impeccable timing. After some consultation, I decided to take one of my rounds of Cipro to alleviate the problem, but when I went to bed, things weren't looking good. Cipro is my new favorite friend. We traveled together on the safari the next morning and were literally one until Sunday morning when he went away. Friday morning, day one, I woke up chipper and ready to go, extremely excited that I could do the safari because you all know how much I love animals. The land cruiser picked us up at 8:30, and having been sick the entire night before, I woke up at a nice 7:30 to afford myself plenty of packing, showering, eating, organizing time. So at 8:45, I flew out the door, wet hair waving and my unzipped backpack (with various clothing items sticking out) in hand. What I didn't realize until about an hour later was that in my leisurely ambling of the morning, I had forgotten my sleeping bag. The safari included three days at the parks and two nights camping. The first day we did Tarangire National Park, followed by Ngorogoro Crater, and finally Lake Manyara. For the entire trip, we had to pay 140,000 shilling which is about $130.00. That included food, gas, cook and guide. The camp site (that turned out to have beds for the same price in an adjoined hostel) cost 6,000 shillings a night and the park fees (after the student discount) were $5 each. If you add it up, you'll find that it was an amazingly sweet deal. The thanks goes to Deus, one of the Tanzanians that is on staff with SIC. The group that I went with included Deus, Ibrahim (an American coordinator from Stanford), Kim (roomie), Michelle (another American volunteer from Stanford) and myself (oh, plus the guide, Saidi, and the cook, Kirenga). If you want to go on a great safari in Tanzania, but don't want the extravegant price, contact Saidi. Let me begin by saying that the safari experience rivals that of rafting the Nile in terms of the most fun I have ever had in my life. In Tarangire, the first things we saw were the massive Baobab trees that have trunks the size of houses and branches that reach out like arms protecting the land. They are so impressive and actually quite important for the elephants that like to munch on them. You'll see a picture of me in front of one that has a hole through the middle of the trunk, after having been eaten by elephants. The Thompson's gazelle claims the victorious spot of first animal of the trip closely followed by the Bushnell zebra. I won't go through all of the animals but the noteworthy ones include elephants, leopards, baboons, giraffes, and one very special lion. Tarangire was probably my favorite park because of the lion experience that we had. We had been riding for about 4 hours in the park, when another guide told Saidi where there was a lion close to the road. We drove over there and after 20 minutes didn't see anything. I sort of gave up seeing the lion and started to make noise right at the exact same moment that we passed a big tree on the left-hand side. Underneath that tree, reclining out of view, was a massive male lion with piercingly gold eyes and a large fluffy mane. He was about 3 to 5 feet from the car. Michelle, IB, and I were hanging out left side. When we saw the lion, Michelle ducked down into the car and started to roll up her window, I just ducked down and IB (who filmed everything on his camcorder) zoomed in - so there should be some pretty awesome footage of that. My heart, instead of skipping a beat, sped up like it was trying to run away inside my body. We were so close that I could have leaned out and touched him. If any of you have been on safari, you know that getting that close to any of the big cats is near impossible, so it was really a spectacular experience. That was definitely the highlight of Tarangire, but there was so much more to come in Ngorogoro and Lake Manyara. We spent the night at Jambo campsite, and since I had forgotten my sleeping bag, I was not a happy camper - literally. But, as I said, there were hostel rooms for the same price so we all ended up sleeping in nice beds. The food that night was great and after dinner there was an African drumming extravaganza complete with traditional dancing. IB got it on video so I'll bring home a copy to show you all my adventures - I can be the guide bringing the flora and fauna of Africa to you (it will cost you though). The next morning, we headed out to Ngorogoro - the paradise of Tanzania. We entered early in the morning and were greeted by the welcome committee composed entirely of baboons. We drove up the windy burnt dirt road that lined the entrance like a Hollywood red carpet premiere. The greenest plants I have ever seen flashed by like an emerald smear of paint as we climbed higher up the crater wall. The mist was so thick at the top that it looked like we had reached heaven. But, it was friggin freezing (Mr. Bigglesworth!) and I had to layer on three shirts to keep the chill out. When we arrived at the top, we began out descent down the other side. Instead of the lush flora of the outer crater wall, the inside was lined with dead straw-colored grass waving their greetings as we met the wind and intense heat. Before reaching the animal section of the crater, we stopped at a Masai village that had been established hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago. We payed six thousand shillings each to get in and the men performed their traditional jumping ceremony complete with the sound effects while the women, wearing their traditional necklaces, joined in the song. Again, IB got all of this on tape. After entering one of the homes and speaking with the head man (who spoke perfect English), we walked around the village and saw all of the huts and where they keep the live stock. The head man told us of how he has four wives, one in this village and three more in another village. The most prosperous Masai of the area, the Shaman, has 49 wives and an uncountable number of children. They live the way their ancestors lived a hundred years ago, relying on the land to provide grazing for the cattle. They are supported by the government and the tourists, so I didn't mind paying a ridiculous 20,000 shillings for a necklace - you'll see it in the pictures. Ngorogoro has the most diverse population of animals and environments in one place. We went from misty jungle to dry plains to a swamp-like setting to a tall forest to a salty lake to anything else you can think of. It was in Ngorogoro that we saw all of the big five: rhinoceros, lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard. In addition, we saw more birds than I could count (Kathy, you were so right!), a ball python that had been stepped on by an elephant, more baboons, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, cheetahs, lionesses with cubs, hyenas, zebras, wildebeests, warthogs, all sorts of four-legged dear-like animals, hippos and more zebras. You get the idea. It actually started to rain while we were there but it turned out to be really nice because the smell of the wet land was unforgettable - it did have the unpleasant tinge of wet dog, but more than that, the overwhelming fresh natural smell that reminded me of a rainy day in fall in California. We got a little wet but Kim had forced me to take my rain coat, so I was prepared. At the end of the day, IB and Michelle got really sick - IB actually threw up....a few times. Turns out that IB had dysentery and Michelle had an amoebic cyst. I think I am sick now too, but the Cipro I was taking helped me fend anything off during the actual safari. We made it back to Jambo campsite and spent the rest of the evening trying unsuccessfully to get them to a hospital. In Tanzania, the roads close at sunset so unless you are authorized. In order to get the people to the main hospital in Arusha, we would have had to get a note from the doctor and taken that to the police station and gotten consent from them and even then we would have had to show the proper documentation every 5 feet along the road. So they stayed the night. The third day, Deus, Kim, Michelle and I left IB alone at the hostel as we headed out to Lake Manyara. Lake Manyara will be legendary in my memory due to a very exciting / incredibly scary elephant encounter. We caught it on the camcorder that IB had lent us (a bit hesitantly, but lent nonetheless so we could bring the safari to him). First, there were two male elephants having it out ten feet off the right side of the road. We could hear their ivory tusks crashing together as they butted heads. About 20 feet up the road, there was a mama elephant and baby...and two more giant elephants in the brush. The mama and baby were on the road. To the left, in the same spot, there was a one-tusked male elephant having his Sunday brunch. All of the sudden, the mama elephant started to charge our car, I think that we had gotten too close to her baby, so the driver threw it in reverse, but ho ho ho, the male elephant from behind had gone into the road too. We were surrounded. Thankfully, we made it out alive (said in my best Crocodile Hunter voice), but they came within ten feet of the car. Other than that, Lake Manyara houses some spectacular bird life including a pack of flamingos that absolutely blanketed the lake. We had a other encounters: one with a giraffe that I named Jack, because he just looked like a Jack and another with some baboons. Baboons are kind of mean and their butts are ugly - seriously, there is no hair and a lot of them had big red growths. In fact, it was disgusting. Butt-ugly baboons. On that note, I shall end the tale of my adventure. Three days was not enough. I would love to come back (maybe next year because Kim is going to be living here doing a research project - huhumm Pete). I highly highly recommend that if you have not been on safari that you get out here and do it. Especially if you want to see rhinos (I saw three black ones in Ngorogoro) because they are disappearing fast.

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