Sunday, February 25, 2018

Magnificent Tanzania

We've been home for five days, but our hearts and minds are still in Tanzania.  Some adjectives like great, awesome, spectacular, amazing, or wonderful have been overused so much these days that they can't truly convey a magnificent place like Tanzania and our memorable experiences there.  But we'll use them just the same.

This was our first time to East Africa, and has it been one of our most unique travel experiences, ever.  To get a sense of what it was like (minus the mosquito bites, heat, dust, and smells) click on the links at the bottom of this post to some more photos and videos.

While a poor country, Tanzania is rich in wildlife, scenery, and friendly people, and very low on litter.  It takes great pride in its vast national parks and conservation efforts.  It has 12,000-15,000 lions, over three times as many as South Africa.  With over 40,000 elephants, it boasts 10% of Africa's elephant population.  Tanzania has 121 tribes and three major religions, so no one tribe or religion can dominate.  Thus, it is probably the most politically stable country in Africa.  We felt very welcomed and secure, except when an elephant threatened to charge our vehicle.
Religion, tribe, or gender don't matter
at the Mungere school.

This was half service project and half safari, with a fun group of 11, all connected one way or another with Willamette University.  For the service project, we stayed in the run-down town of  Mto wa Mbu, which means "Mosquito Town."  It lived up to its name at night.  We stayed in the Jambo Safari Lodge, definitely a one-star place, with a common kitchen and dining area, a few duplex bungalows, some tent sites, a pool, and very friendly staff.

The Red Sweater Project
Teaching the "Hokey Pokey"
We volunteered at the Mungere School for the Red Sweater Project, in the heart of Maasai country. This was quite an innovative school, started by Ashley Holmer, a Willamette Alum and the second most impressive woman I have ever met.  A few miles from town over dusty paths by tuk tuks (3-wheeled scooter cabs), the Mungere high school is a bright light in Tanzanian secondary education. You can learn more about it at this link.

Learning to jump dance like a Maasai
Working side-by-side with students, we planted over 600 acacia trees in the rock-hard soil, moved tons of rock, and hiked 6 miles round trip  to a jungle waterfall with some of the best students. We also visited two of the students’ homes and a Maasai village.  Getting to know the students and getting insights about Tanzania from Ashley were two of the highlights of our trip. We would have loved to bring a few of those kids, ages 12-18, home with us!

Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks, and the Ngorongoro Conservation areas
After five days in Mosquito Town, we started a five-day safari, staying one night in a luxurious safari lodge, two wonderful nights in a tent camp in the middle of the Serengeti, and two nights at a very nice coffee plantation.
Morning visitor near our tent

The animals were magnificent, the vistas expansive, the roads bone jarring, dusty, and rough. Serengeti is slightly larger than our Yellowstone.  The Ngorongoro Crater is 2,000 feet deep, 12 miles across, and rich with wildlife as we witnessed the majesty and drama of the animal kingdom.

Two of thousands of zebras in the Serengeti

Ruaha National Park
Kathy and I extended our trip five days and took a series of small plane flights to Ruaha National Park in south-central Tanzania.  Larger than Denmark (excluding its Greenland and Faroe territories), it gets far fewer visitors than the Serengeti region does, and much of it is roadless and rarely explored.  It has more elephants than all of Kenya, and until last year's drought, it boasted one of the world's largest hippo populations.

View from our tent at Kichaka Expeditions
From the airstrip and park HQ (three hours to the nearest town), it took five hours on a lonely dirt road to reach our tent camp of three tents.  It is the most remote camp in the park.  We were the only guests for the first two nights.  Moli, the delightful owner and our guide is a caucasian Kenyan who wrote the script and did the narration for Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando.  He could mimic just about any British stand up comic, so we had a lot of laughs over the dinner table with Noelle, his American wife.
Happy hour, bush style on my birthday with Ikuka Safari Camp

Our highlights of Ruaha were not only the beauty, animals, solitude, and the two different camps, but the four-hour walking safaris in the mornings, accompanied by a park ranger with an elephant gun.  It was fascinating learning about the little things and thrilling getting close to the game--especially the elephants-- who don't like humans on foot.

Toward the end of every other trip, we get eager to return home.  Not so this time. We didn't want this magical experience to end. But like all trips, it's the people we met and our adventure together that we'll remember most fondly.

"There's no such thing as a bad morning in Africa."
--Earnest Hemingway  (He nailed it!)
We took a lot a photos.  Here's a link to some carefully curated photos with some periodic narratives.  The animals speak for themselves.
Here are some very short Youtube video clips:
Hippos chilling

Fun Mungere school morning song

Juvenile elephants jousting

Lions mating

Dancing with the Masai

Mother elephant nursing baby

Baby elephant in reverse

Joe jumping with the Masai

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