Elephant Encounter

Trip Start Nov 19, 2004
Trip End Dec 06, 2004

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Tuesday, November 23, 2004

After a relaxing night in modest but clean rooms at the base camp of Tropical Trails, our safari operator in Arusha, a couple of hours drive brought us to Tarangire National Park. A less-travelled park, it seems we have the place mostly to ourselves. There are no other groups camping here, so it's just the 4 of us (Harold, Janet, Amy and me) in our own private Land Cruiser with our safari guide (Francis) and camp cook (Emmanuel), who introduced himself last night as our "stomach engineer". 

An incredible elephant encounter this afternoon. Between 15 and 20 of them in the shade of a grove of acacias, only 10 metres in front of the land rover, giving themselves little dust baths with their trunks. A bit of commotion at one point when one of them snorted about something and they all jostled and moved a few feet. Francis said they may have caught a whiff of us. Elephants are quite dependent on smell, he said, since they don't see very well. They probably didn't know we were there downwind of them. We watched for a full 20 minutes, fascinated by their giant peacefulness. How fortunate we were to experience this during our first hour on safari.

It turned out that was just the beginning. We saw many more elephants, some very close up.  Then there were the graceful giraffes, skittish impala, zebras galore, steenbok, warthogs, vervet monkeys, dik diks, ostriches, wildebeests, baboons, mongoose, and even a lone leopard lazing in a baobab tree. I never expected to see so many animals so close up in just one day. I will long remember standing up with my head poking out of the Land Cruiser, bright sun, wind in my hair, spotting animals left and right. 

Another memory, this one from the road trip between Nairobi and Arusha:  Masai men dressed in full traditional red robes, with the stylish addition of one or more of the following: a sideways baseball cap, a woolen touque, shiny gold watch, or occasionally a cell phone. Later we passed a group of adolescent Masai boys in black robes whose faces were painted in menacing-looking black and white "masks" with feathers sticking up from the backs of their heads. They shook their heads threateningly at us when we passed. At first I thought they were expressing dislike for our safari jeep and all it stood for, but Francis said they will do this for all passers by.It's meant to be a display of their might and a rite of passage. Aged 12-15, they have been recently circumcised and have left their homes and families for a year to "become men".  

Now back at camp, the moon is shining brightly over a baobab tree and the air is crisp and cool as Emmanuel is preparing our first camp dinner.  As we wait, we are relaxing on camp chairs at a fold-out table laid out with a bright checked table cloth, enjoying the hot chai that Emmanuel had ready and waiting for us. He calls Harold "Papa Wemba", after an African pop singer.  He is "pole sana" (very sad) that Harold is vegan. "No meat, no fish, no eggs, no cheese, no milk: Pole sana".
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Where I stayed
Tropical Trails
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