Friday, February 15, 2013

Safari Day Four

Day Four – A Masaai is turning down my bed

After a good night’s sleep during which I think I heard zebras outside our cabin, we had the same breakfast this morning. Said wanted to be on the road by 8, which was later than a game ride day but still a bit early. I was having trouble getting to sleep without Ambien, so took one late and woke up groggy. I also think the adrenalin rush from the first few days has worn off and I’ve settled into a routine here and am actually starting to feel tired rather than just raw excited. Not that that is a bad thing, just that the travel and experience may have caught up with me. But hot damn, I’m still in Africa.

Our first stop this morning was a Masaai village. This particular village had 10-15 circular huts for the 85 family members living there. The Masaai leader came out and introduced himself and asked the four of us to line up. Next thing I knew, there were about 12 men and women from the tribe parading out in front of us, singing a welcome song just for us. It was mostly rhythmic chanting and African instruments. It was actually really impressive that they came out for us. Then, as if this isn’t enough entertainment, they invited us into the camp and put traditional neck pieces on us and made us stand and dance with them! As a white girl with no rhythm this was an embarrassment but I figured I had to do it. The women mostly danced while the men did that really high jumping that you always see them do.

They are fabulously dressed, with that really bright jewel toned fabric robes. Some of the women had dresses on but all of them had wonderfully beaded jewelry or copper bracelets.

Once we were thoroughly embarrassed by the dancing, one of the tribe leaders took us on a tour of the village. We went into one of the huts, which we maybe the size of two to three phone booths at home and completely pitch dark inside, but remarkably cooler than the hot sunlight of mid-morning. There were two narrow beds made of what felt like thick branches and small fire with two pots was smoldering on the floor. I was unsure exactly how a family of four or more would have been in there eating and sleeping together. The hut itself is an Acacia frame with plaster walls made of dung and straw and dung roof. Oddly enough the women are responsible for building the huts and keeping them up in terms of filling holes, patching ceilings. As a migrant people, they move often and when they do, they just leave these huts for whomever may pass by.

The guy who was taking us around was 23 years old. He let us ask him anything, so I asked him if he was married and how that worked. He said they don’t marry until 25 and at that time his father will go out and strike a deal for a woman for him.

After the hut tour, we were taken to the school, which was about the same size as the huts only made only of Acacia branches. There were about 10 little kids, mostly toddlers, inside. They were all pretty dirty with runny noses and were wearing rundown clothes but they were so happy. The smiles I see here on the kids are heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. The teacher got them to sing us a welcome song and then one little guy took the pointer to a chalkboard and led the class through reciting numbers one through 10, ten through twenty, the alphabet and vowels all in English. It is sort of funny that they sing the same alphabet song that we do.

After the school, there is a market of sorts run by the women of the village. It has a lot of bead and wood and copper works on display. We both picked out a few items we were buying not really because we wanted them but because we wanted to support them and the school that the older kids go to. The leader took us aside to offer us the “best price”, which came out to an exorbitant $250 for the mere 5 handmade items we’d found. We both laughed, having been to countries that bargain as a matter of course, but we felt that even with bargaining, starting this high was ridiculous. In the end we talked him down to about $150, but that was still a bit uncomfortably high. We just chalk it up to supporting the locals.

As we left, the tribe leader tried to “sell” us four of the almost eligible males in the tribe for just a dollar. We laughed and headed back to the jeep.

I enjoyed the visit but as time passes and I think about it, I’m more and more struck by the disparity between my life and theirs. Probably I will need to think on this more, because once the “cool” factor of being there wears off, I think I may find it more depressing than I do right now. While I learned a lot and learned to appreciate their lifestyle, I think it was also really a reality slap.

Our next stop was Lake Manyara National Park, which is known for its lush forests and vegetation. It was such an extreme contrast from the flat openness of Tarangire, and also attracted a different type of wildlife. Here we saw so many more baboons and monkeys, probably because of the more forested landscape. Manyara is also known for its tree climbing lions and leopards, but as we arrived around noontime, which is the known siesta for most cats, we didn’t see one at all.

The trip through Manyara was not a total bust, as we saw three hippos out in the hippo pool (rare to hit that right, Said said). We also got to see maybe a dozen elephants so close today that I could have reached out and touched them from my seat in the Land Rover. I am getting utterly spoiled by how close some of the animals are getting. It is so difficult to resist. I think we had to have sat and watched at least 150 different baboons on three or four different stops. They are fun to watch as they sit and pull up vegetation and chomp it down, or chase each other through trees, or pick bugs off each other. The interactions are just so human-like, it is amazing. There were also a fair number of vervet monkeys, which are the same as we saw at the entrance to Tarangire, but just in larger numbers. It is an awesome experience to sit in the middle of the path as these monkeys are climbing, playing, chasing and eating all around us, yet they hardly give us a second glance.

Today we also spotted about 6 more giraffes, but not very close up, and quite a few warthogs. Random impala, wildebeest and zebras too, but I think Said is skipping those as they are more of a highlight of where we are going next than they are at Manyara. I won’t say Manyara was a bust, but after the absolutely breathtaking two days we had at Tarangire, it was a bit of a letdown.

Lunch today was a box lunch we prepared this morning after breakfast. Mine was a chicken sandwich with lettuce, onion and carrot on a delicious homemade brown bread. Throw in a cookie, a donut and a pineapple juice and that is a great picnic lunch.

We spent from noon to about 5:00 in the park and then retreated for our next accommodation, which turns out to be the very lush Ngorongoro Farmhouse. We are again sharing a building (not a tent) with Connie and Marcia, with the separate units but shared porch. The grounds are immaculate and the room is really nice and modern. After we arrived we had cocktails on the deck outside the dining room and then headed in for a buffet dinner. The salad buffet was to die for, with a wonderful creamy potato salad, buffalo mozzarella, pasta salad, antipasto and regular salad. I could have eaten only this, but I did indulge in beef stroganoff on rice, a “bananas and vegetables” casserole and lemon tart and a brownie for dessert. I had a pina colada before dinner and sauvignon blanc with dinner, so I’m living and eating well. And they are obviously serving us foods we’re used to, which makes me wonder if that is to keep us from getting ill. All the food is fresh, the vegetables and fruits are wonderful and they reassure us that everything is washed with mineral water, to prevent us from getting any water-borne illness.

A Masaai escorted us to our room with all of our bags. He unlocked the door, gently unloaded all the luggage and then proceeded to turn down our beds and adjust the mosquito nets. Then he pulled the windows shut and let down the curtains. I was flabbergasted; a Masaai was turning down my bed for me!

Today was hot. I’m guessing it runs in the high 80s to low 90s every day but not humid like it can get at home. I sweat but not excessively so. The park today was cooler due to a lot of shade from the trees. Up here in the farmhouse, which seems to be quite elevated, it is much, much cooler, but a very vicious rainstorm passed through after dinner and really made it quite comfortable in our room here, so that we don’t need a fan and can keep cool with the windows open.

One mistake I made was to think that because I wore long pants today, I didn’t need insect repellant on my legs. Somehow the mosquitos made it into both pant legs, and I have upwards of 30 bites on my legs. Note to self, always use repellant. I.’m swimming in hydrocortisone now to get it under control for tomorrow.

Off to bed…

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