Day Six – Minor meltdown and then a really good game drive
Having slept again without assistance, I woke happy that I’d slept but sort of wishing that I had another couple hours. I was up before the alarm went off at 7:15 but wished that was 9:15 instead.
Breakfast was great, and what has become my standard: omelet with tomato and cheese, a muffin, pancake and a sausage. The coffee continues to be stellar here, and this one in particular is grown on the lodge’s farm, as are all the vegetables (carrots, eggplant, tomato, leeks).
We left a little before 9:00 for a village tour with a guy who we saw singing here at dinner the other night. Paulo (yes, it does sound Italian) led us around his village, showing us some highlights. Whatever image you have of a village in Africa, is probably completely accurate when it comes to this: ramshackle two room buildings with dirt floors, laundry hung along a thin clothes line with chickens and goats running amok. Little kids running around with no shoes, the girls wearing traditional long printed skirts. It was very overwhelming initially, walking the red soil road, leaving a trail of red dust behind us an taking this in. Paulo greeted us and asked us about ourselves, always reaffirming that he remembered our names and where we were from.
He led us to the village brickyard, where we saw the entire process being done by teenage boys. They chop the dirt down for clay, add water, pour the wet clay into brick molds and turn upside down on to the ground for drying. The dried bricks then are stacked into a kiln which is covered with mud and let burn for 3 days, then cooled. The mud is chipped off the kiln and then the bricks are done. I was surprised how young the boys were doing what is extremely manual labor. But Paulo explained to us that the work is best done by the young, and men only. Women have their place, if not nurses or teachers, at home with the kids.
Paulo took us to his home, which was a single story with a living room and kitchen with a dirt floor and single layer of brick wall. He lives here with his wife and 6 kids and they sleep in another building nearby. Paulo let us ask a bunch of questions about his life and told us how he met his wife and that he prizes her for her good behaviors over her beauty. He says beautiful women can be crazy and you wouldn’t want to be stuck with that type of wife.
His wife brought in a casserole of traditional breakfast, with silverware and plates. We were to share in their breakfast, and I have to admit the hypochondriac in me really reared its head. I wanted neither to eat food I didn’t know the origin of nor wanted to eat off plates from a kitchen with no running water, let alone dish washer. However turning it down seemed rude. I ate a few bites and spent quite a while afterward regretting that. So far I haven’t gotten sick, and I would like to keep it that way.
Paulo, his wife, two of his daughters and his son played music and sang and danced for us. Then the daughters dressed us in traditional skirts and we sang and danced with them. It was a nice experience and let us see part of their lives we might not have otherwise.
My favorite part of the visit was when we went to their church where the Sunday service was in progress. Paulo’s son took us and he joined the singers at the front of the church, where some very spiritual singing and dancing was already going on. While my travel mates joined him up front, I stayed back taking video and photos of them and the congregants. Suddenly, the cutest little girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old caught my eye and smiled. I took her picture and then showed her the picture on the playback display on my camera. She responded with the biggest smile and then she blew me a kiss. This was all so spontaneous and genuine that my heart just melted. I took some pictures of some other little kids and showed them, and they all seemed generally surprised to see what they looked like, and fascinated by my camera.
I ended up hanging at the back of the church and dancing with my new little friend. She would mimic whatever movement I did and she smiled the whole time. I think that face is one I’ll always remember when I think back on this trip.
By now it was about noon time and we’d spent nearly 3 hours there, and we realized we still had to eat and drive to Ndutu before our game ride of the day, and Ndutu, according to our itinerary was 3 ½ hours away. This would be tight. I started to get frustrated because the time at the village went longer than it needed to and was cutting into what I felt was the purpose of our day. Said didn’t seem concerned, but to add insult to njury when we got back to the farm house for our hot lunch, they didn’t know anything about our meal. I asked Said to sort it out but felt that our ride in what was supposed to be in the best area for migration now was slipping away and I was a little more than cranky about it. We had a heart to heart with Said about this and he made magic happen and delivered not only on the hot meal but also one of the best game rides of the trip. Of course, we should have known he would.
The area around Ndutu is completely different from where we’ve been already. It is absolutely flat for miles with nothing taller than 6-8 inch little patches of scrub bush as far as the eye can see. With that come more wildebeest, zebra and Thompson gazelle than you will ever be able to count. Some in single numbers, some in larger herds, some in the trademark migratory single file lines. Many times it was so hard to pick what to look at where, because all around us there was something going on. The best part though is that vehicles can go off-road here, so we could drive right up to herds or something of interest. And the herds hardly even give us any notice. In fact often times they would not even attempt to move as Said drove right up to them.
We happened upon several giraffe at different parts of our ride, and managed to get close up a few times. Said also found a different type of jackal than the ones we saw the other day, bat eared foxes and a couple more hyena.
I think what we all found most fascinating though was a wildebeest that had just been born. We missed the delivery by mere minutes, because when Said pulled up to it, it was still shiny and wet, with an umbilical cord still attached. The mom also still showed signs on her rear quarters that she’d just given birth. Said explained that when wildebeest are born, they need to be up and walking within minutes to avoid predation. The mother will drop the placenta quickly and move away from it, giving her time to clean up and get the calf walking by the time any hyena or other predator gets done with the placenta. It’s all really incredible if you ask me.
Mother wildebeests will lick clean the calf to imprint and remember the scent of the baby. The baby will also learn to recognize its mother’s sound. Zebra babies recognize the particular stripe pattern of their mothers. Again, this is stuff I want to know! Said seems to know everything.
There is something that is inherently liberating watching these animals running freely and unconstrained for as far as the eye can see. We stopped and did just that more than a few times this week, and it is a gorgeous site, whether it’s just one playing on its own, or playmates or an entire line of migrating beasts. Just to see them where this is all that is natural and good is incredible.
I have decided that I’ll never be able to explain the scope of what we’re seeing here. The vistas are beyond enormous and impressive. The fact that every one of the millions of specks we see from here to the horizon is an animal that most people get to see maybe one or two of in a zoo, is a privilege. Today we were easily in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of animals here. It is awesome, and I mean that in the “full of awe” way.
We arrived at the wilderness camp just as the skies unzipped and let unleash a quick moving thunderstorm. First order of business was to get batteries recharged on the only charging station in camp. I’d gone through two today. The camp has about 10 large camps, with twin beds in them and enclosed shower/toilet facilities. As I’ve never even seen a tent before, this is an experience.
The toilets are flushed with a hand pump. The showers are filled from the outside and provide about 2 minutes of water. The beds are amazingly comfortable though, just as all of them have been so far. There are battery lights in the room, but no other power. But, we are IN the Ndutu conservation area. Tomorrow’s game drive starts at 6:30 am from right outside our camp. What that also means though is that as I sit here typing this at 9:30 at night, I have already heard hyena, wildebeest and I think a warthog very nearby. I hope to hear a lion, just to know they’re out there. But not terribly close!
Dinner tonight was impressive. It was served in the mess tent and was lasagna with salad and cream of vegetable soup, and crème caramel for dessert. It was wonderful.
Going to sleep early tonight, as we are up so early. Also need to conserve battery power on the laptop so it makes it to Friday when I can recharge again.