04.18.08

Day 4: Fun with Maasai

Posted in africa 2008, personal, travel at 11:48 pm by wingerz

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Day 4: March 18, before bedtime

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after-dark frisbee
(ishan)

It starts with a silly after-dark game of tossing around Saadiq’s tiny glow-in-the-dark frisbee. Before long just about all of us have arranged ourselves in a rough circle in the open dirt area between the tents. Liz goes to see if the Maasai want to play with us. They are intrigued by the frisbee. One of them, expecting the glowing red frisbee to be hot to the touch, flinches a bit when it is handed to him. The frisbee whizzes back and forth through the darkness; its tiny size and high speed make it quite difficult to grab so we cheer whenever one of the Maasai is able to catch it.

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the aggressor
(ishan)

We’re told that the Maasai want to perform a dance for us. They line up together and begin guttural chants. They plod towards us, keeping their arms at their sides. We don’t really understand what’s going on at first. Their song is completely foreign to us – it’s a mixture of sounds rather than melodies. All of us form a circle, with the women on one side and the men on the other. The Maasai, one by one, enter the circle, hop towards the center, face the women, leap as high as they can, and retreat back to the outside of the circle. The higher the jump, in theory, the more it impresses the ladies. They hand off their spears to us and we each take a turn in the middle – guys first, then girls. When it gets to be the girls’ turn, Jen picks an unfortunate quiet moment to declare, “I like being the aggressor”, making her the butt of jokes for the rest of the trip (and beyond).

After we all have our turn, the Maasai show us another patten. A man and woman enter the circle from opposite sides, face each other in the middle, then conclude with one final twisting jump to the side.

It’s quite an amazing experience, and we get the feeling that they are grateful to have been our hosts. Meanwhile each of us is touched by our inclusion in this world that is so far away and so different from ours. One of the things that Mark Thornton Safaris prides itself on is supplementing the typical safari experience of viewing animals from atop a jeep with activities that help visitors forge a stronger connection with the land and its people. In this respect the safari is a brilliant success.

The nighttime activities attract the lions’ attention, so they come to visit after we’ve all gone to sleep. The jeeps are turned on so that their sounds and bright headlamps will scare the animals away.

(Thanks to Ishan for all of the pictures shown here.)

04.13.08

Day 4: Eulogy for a Goat

Posted in africa 2008, food, personal, photos, travel at 11:01 pm by wingerz

Day 4, March 18, Campsite

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gary: before

When we first saw you we asked, “Who does that pet goat belong to?” Then we realized we were going to eat you. Some of us were distraught. Jen tried to garner support for your freedom. Saadiq wanted to name you to make the omnivores feel guilty, so we named you Gary. The first night, you were quite terrified as you tried to sleep in the back of a truck because the hyenas were harassing you. This morning you probably knew something was wrong because you started bleating at 6am and continued for most of the morning, waking us all up. To be completely honest you were pretty annoying.

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gary: after

Two of the Maasai suffocated you so that your blood would not attract wild animals to the camp. They ate your kidneys raw and roasted your meat over the campfire for several hours. You were delicious. Jen refused to let you die in vain, so she ate three of your ribs for dinner and more of you for lunch the following day.

04.10.08

Day 4: Lion Tracking

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 11:35 pm by wingerz

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Day 4: March 18, Afternoon

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lion viewing

We are on our afternoon stroll through the steppe when Simon raises a closed fist, signaling us to stop in our tracks and not say a word. For the next fifteen minutes we hurry excitedly along the trail behind him, flanked by several Maasai. There are lions somewhere off to our left. Their roars are surprisingly loud, making the faraway lions sound as though they are tens of feet away from us. There are three of them. We find a small hill to observe them from, but because there’s only space for two people at a time the lions get away after six people have seen them.

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real lion food

We hike through the grass to the lions’ previous location. The stench of sun-baked rotting meat hits us before we notice the carcass of a partially-eaten buffalo covered in buzzing black flies. We move on to a nearby watering hole where we find lots of lion tracks in the mud. There is a heated debate about where to go next. Later we learn that several of the more experienced guides had (successfully) argued strongly for heading back to camp rather than pursuing the three lions, now aware of the presence of twenty-two clueless tourists.

After we get back we enjoy brief “showers”, agreeing to each use 2 liters. Very refreshing, though not enough to cleanse our bodies of the accumulation of sweat, dust, sunscreen, and deet.

04.09.08

Day 4: View from Above

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 12:15 am by wingerz

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maasai
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dagger, cell phone
(saadiq)

We wake up at 7am, excited to be traveling on foot for the day. After breakfast we hike to the top of a nearby mountain. The walk offers the possibility of elephant, giraffe, and buffalo sightings (but all we encounter are their droppings). The views are astounding and a family of elephants is spotted in the grasslands below. It takes me a few minutes to locate them, even with a decent pair of binoculars. Lots of buffalo, looking like small black bugs, are huddled near a watering hole in the faraway distance. The steppe stretches in all directions, a broad expanse of green at the beginning of the rainy season. Normally it is quite dry and the large mammals head to Tarangire, where a permanent river provides a more dependable source of life-supporting water.

We are accompanied by several of our Maasai guides, who have joined us for our time on the steppe. Their clothing is predominantly red. The most conspicuous part of the typical male outfit is a thin blanket-like piece of vibrant red cloth wrapped around the shoulders. Their earlobes have been stretched out and they have large holes in them. Maasai sandals are made from motorcycle tires, and apparently once you get used to them there’s no going back to sneakers. Our Maasai guides carry intimidating spears. Abhinav interviews one of them with his video camera, and he says that he has killed a male lion. This seems to have been a more common rite of passage in the past but now it’s done mainly out of necessity to protect cattle herds. Nowadays lion-hunting is done in groups to maximize the number of young men who get to participate.

We notice that one of the Maasai carries a cell phone and constantly marvel that the cell phone reception is better on the steppe than it is on the Sloan campus.

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heading back down

The early clouds give way to an intense, beating sun. The ascent is moderately difficult, and most of the group chooses a route straight up some rocky terrain while the rest of us take a more straightforward route. Our Maasai guide helps Joanna up. At the top all 20 of us share a very small bit of space and learn that we’ve become quite adept at spotting faraway elephants with the naked eye.

Towards the end of the hike, we end up talking to Douglas, one of our four safari guides. He has gone through 1 1/2 years of general safari tour training and an additional 1 1/2 years to specialize in wildlife ecology. His two sisters and fiancee are also tour guides. He carries a large rifle with a scope (which he used at least once to look at animals). He is very knowledgeable and is constantly smiling. Later I learn that he enjoys playing tricks on sleeping passengers (“Cheetah!”) in his jeep; this doesn’t surprise me at all.

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04.05.08

We’re on Safari! (Day 3, Tanzania)

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 12:46 am by wingerz

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Day 3, late afternoon, campsite, pouring rain
Today has been quite incredible even though we’ve spent about 7 hours in transit. In our jeep: Paul & Marina, Liz, and Joanna. The terrain is varied and beautiful. Muddy roads lead away from the city. We are passed by lots of trucks coming into town for the Monday market – they are overflowing, with passengers sitting on top with their legs dangling off the sides. As we get further from town the outfits become more colorful, and cattle and goat herders wave to us as we pass by. The shelters get progressively more primitive as we travel further from civilization. Our dusty road cuts through the African savanna, which is green thanks to the rains that mark the beginning of the wet season.

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driving through
the steppe

This area west of Arusha and southeast of the Serengeti is known as the Maasai Steppe, named after the native people. They are cattle-farming nomads, and a few of them will join us tomorrow to guide us on hikes through their land. Our campsite is somewhere in the midst of it, set up and awaiting our arrival. It feels great to have the wind in my hair as we cruise along; a few clouds give us a break from the sun. Despite being in Africa for nearly two days it hasn’t really sunk in that I am on safari until we see our first animal – an ostrich, followed by some zebras, then some wildebeest.

We stop frequently to view wildlife. Sometimes we only have a few moments to look before the animals flee; the elan (light brown) are especially sensitive to our presence. We come across larger groups of animals and are completely in awe. Towards the end of our drive we spot two giraffes in the trees (in very dim light). At this point the sky opens up and it pours for several hours until we are finished with dinner.

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first sighting:
the not-so-exciting
ostrich

The campsite is set up on the eastern side of a small hill. The two-person tents are blue and quite small, and we all simultaneously realize that ‘luxury camping’ simply means that someone else sets up the tent, cooks, and cleans up. Gone are the visions of huge tents with cots inside them. There are two bathrooms, each with a toilet and a shower. The toilet is a hole in the ground with a plastic (!) seat over it. The shower is a bag of water suspended from a tree. Both are enclosed by small four-sided tents, maybe 3-4 feet on each side and less than 7 ft high. No showers tonight though, thanks to rain and pitch-black darkness after the rain.

The food on safari is quite good, possibly in part because we’re completely famished at every meal. Lunch is usually make-your-own sandwiches and some sort of salad. The preservative-free bread is quite crumbly and keeping your sandwich intact requires a delicate touch, especially if you’ve got lots of cucumber and tomato slices in it. Dinner consists of several stews (at least one vegetarian), a starch, and dessert. The stews are flavorful and the meat is tender; warm, hearty food hits the spot on a rainy night.

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nerdy lion food

There’s a safety protocol for nighttime bathroom visits. Turn on your headlamp. Exit your tent. Look in all directions. If you see two green eyes, it’s probably ok. If you see two red eyes, get back in your tent. Wait until morning and be thankful that the lion didn’t get you while you were in the bathroom.

Photo album

04.01.08

Back from Africa

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 12:24 am by wingerz

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off a dhow, into the indian ocean
(samarth)

We arrived at home late yesterday evening, relieved to be home but missing our twenty wonderful MIT Sloan traveling companions and reliving our favorite memories from the past two weeks. The trip was amazing – it was a visit to an entirely new and fascinating world. I’m hoping to make my way through my travel journal and thousands of pictures to generate a series of blog posts.

To summarize: We spent one day in London, four days on safari in northeast Tanzania, three days in Rwanda, one day in Dar es Salaam (on the east coast of mainland Tanzania), two and a half days in Zanzibar (off the coast of mainland Tanzania), and several days in between traveling by jeep, ferry, and small airplane.

It was not a very relaxing vacation. Never slept past 8am. Applied multiple layers of sunscreen and DEET every single day. Sweat constantly. Never really felt clean. Worried about getting malaria. Got doused by pouring rain and beaten down by the unrelenting sun. Repacked our huge backpacks every day or two because we were on the move (Zanzibar was the only place where we stayed in one place for three nights, and that required a modification to the itinerary). But it was all a small price to pay to see such a wide variety of natural environments and cities. We covered a lot of ground, met a lot of welcoming hosts, and shared a lot of great experiences.

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at our resort in zanzibar

Our fellow travelers were great. We looked out for each other in crowded markets, gave each other wake-up calls, backed up each other’s photos, shared food and medication, entertained each other with card games and conversation, borrowed each other’s phones and laptops. This is a trip that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable taking on our own, so I’m thankful for having a good-natured group to go along with.

Jetlag and 22 hours of traveling are catching up to me. More to come…