Today we take the ferry from Zanzibar back to the mainland Tanzania where we rejoin Raymond and the truckbus for the final stretch of our trip – the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater.
We drive to an unremarkable campsite and crash for the night.
It will be a short drive to Arusha today. The plan is for us to overnight at a camp where we’ll get picked up by smaller four-wheel drive safari jeeps for the ride into the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti wildlife preserves.
On our way to our campsite we stop at cultural center – one that sells tanzanite. Tanzanite is a precious stone that is most often purple with reddish highlights but can sometimes be blue or even green.
We get a tutorial on tanzanite from the dealer at the shop, who shows off some of the most expensive stones he has on hand. Nellu and I have no business buying jewelry on this trip. But don’t worry tanzanite, I’ll be back – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and I’ll have you for the rest of my life.
It’s safari time. We’ve packed a few belongings into smaller bags because we’ll be traveling for two nights once again without Raymond and our truckbus. I don’t know if you remember our discussion earlier about the two nights of “participation camping” – whatever that means. Well that little secret is revealed. Participation camping means that handlers at the campsite inside the wildlife preserves will set up our tents and we won’t be responsible for helping with the cooking or the cleaning – a small luxury.
Three jeeps arrive to take us on our trip and our group splits up. Nellu and I join our Canadian friends Bob and Christina (North Americans sticking together!) as well as the South African/Australian couple Brett and Angie, who came on board our trek in Zanzibar. The vehicles look exactly like what you’d want your safari jeep to look like, complete with pop-up roof for viewing.
Our driver and guide introduced himself. “I’m Emmanuel.” he said. “Emmanuel, like Jesus Christ.” He probably shouldn’t have said the last part because for the remainder of our days with him, we neglected to call him Emmanuel and just went with “Jesus.” We had way too much fun with him, shouting out “Jesus Christ” or “Thank you, Jesus” whenever we thought it was appropriate.
From our camp we drove first to the Ngorongoro Crater, where we stopped to take pictures at the crater’s edge.
We’ll get an chance to go into the crater when we return. We also stop at a “traditional” Maasai village. It’s actually not their real village but one that they’ve set up so that safari tourists can see what traditional Maasai life is like.
Mazza tells us to keep and open mind during our visit. We’ve come to realize that this is what she says when she knows that people are going to try to shake us down for money or pressure us to buy something. Which is what happens. Nellu gets pretty close to buying a spear from one of the Maasai but backs off when the reality of taking a spear on multiple airplanes sets in. But the guy kept following Nellu around calling him “a good business man.”
After the tour, we continue to the gates of the Serengeti.
As we approach, the scenery begins to change. Much of the green vegetation goes away and the wide open plain begins to appear. These next few days will be the most remarkable of our trip.
Our group hadn’t seen a big cat in our whole trip through Africa but there on the first day we saw a lion in the shade of a tree on a distant rock.
These next two days were all about the animals so I am going to let Nellu’s pictures do the talking. You can see more of his pictures by clicking here. The highlights on Day 26 – a cheetah, prides of lions, and the great migration.
Oh and on our way back to camp that night, we get a fresh sprinkling of what they call African powder – dust from the road heaved into the air by passing jeeps. We try to close the windows for a moment while the jeeps and their dust clouds roar by but Nellu still comes back with an interesting effect. We think he looks like Moses.
Today we descend down into the Ngorongoro Crater. The name is one of those spectacular words derived from a sound. They say “ngong, ngong” is the way the cow bells of the Maasai herds sound, hence the name.
Here not only do we see another cheetah and a rare black rhino, but we get to see lions in the honeymoon period where they mate several times an hour for days while being guarded by another male lion.
Oh and a lion came over and sat in the shadow of our friends’ jeep. The video is by Claire Walton. Our jeep missed it but it was just too amazing not to show.
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We return to our campsite in Arusha. While we are gone, Raymond has been tasked with the grocery shopping for our last dinner together. He picks up meat for a traditional South African barbecue, a braai.
We arrive back to camp in the early afternoon and spend much of the remainder of the day hanging out in tables outside the bar. A portion of the proceeds from the bar at the Snake Camp go to supporting the Camp’s charitable efforts, so we feel doubly good drinking a little for us and a little for charity.
While we drink a local kid shows up, joins the group, coming in with Nellu, and begins laughing loudly at the jokes. Raymond is disturbed by his presence and asks him what he wants. It’s clear that he came in to bum a smoke or even ask for money. He leaves.
But the situation gets me thinking again about compassion. I spoke a few weeks ago about the tension I felt in Africa because of the clear contrast between the visitors who have so much and the locals who lead far simpler lives. Raymond must be exasperated by the constant harassment he has to deal with for the job. It makes me wonder about my level of compassion (or is it empathy?). Too often I feel myself getting ruffled by encounters like these when I should give people a little more room. I’ve watched other friends on this trek engage people who bombard them for a sale, talking and laughing with the vendors when I would have simply brushed them off. Even Nellu seems to have gotten to a better place since India. When did I become so closed off?
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That night during our braai, Mazza and Raymond make an impassioned speech, asking us to tell others about the danger faced by the rhino populations of Africa, which are being poached at an alarming rate because their horns are supposedly important to eastern medicine. 203 rhinos have been found poached so far this year. (Their horns are cut off and they are left to die.) The issue has recently gotten some publicity in National Geographic and other publications. You can read more here.
Just a little more to come…