I left for Arusha on a cramped bus at 8:30am on Friday. The bus ride was so long and with my knees starting to hurt and the sun going down, I was beginning to wonder if it was worth the hassle. I showed up in Arusha and the touts were in full force. Like Zanzibar but worse and knowing that all of them are full of shit is unsettling. I learned "Toka" in Swahili which means piss off. It worked. I got hooked up with a tour operator through my friend at U Dar, Jessica, and we set everything up. I slept in a sketchy place and ate some beef and chips. I locked everything up and went to sleep with more holes in the mosquito net than George W. had in his reasoning for going to war.
The next morning I awoke and met my Safari partners
. Mr. Giraffe, from Arusha, was the uncle of the tour operator and a fine gentlemen. Stephen, from France, who was so incredibly French that it was hilarious. Everything about a stereotypical French guy with his speech "Ahhhhhh, what is word, oh-la-la, mmmmmmmmm yes" and his appearance was what you would imagine. The only thing that didn't fit was that he was so incredibly cool. He is a Buddhist and lives in Madagascar. The driver, Mike, knew great English and was a thoughtful and awesome driver. He has a girlfriend in Colorado so we kept joking that we must be family. The first place we went was Lake Manyara.
Beautiful backdrop on a beautiful day in the lush African forest and savannah. That's Lake Manyara. We went to the visitors center first to read some info and blah, blah, blah. The welcoming committee while we were there was a troop of about 40 baboons that were just traveling through. We left the visitors center and started our safari. It wasn't long before we saw our first animal. An elephant the size of a small apartment was standing right next to the road eating a tree. Eating a frigging tree. Are you kidding me? We went along and saw another troop of baboons who were walking along the road. We then turned a corner and I got to see my giraffe, eating the high leafs on a tree by a small river. He saw us come up and stood for a moment and then decided it would be best to bounce
. Watching that creature move is amazing and the way they stare at you gave me a sense of their wisdom. We continued on and saw monkeys, impalas, and all sorts of stuff and then we were in the savannah. Wide open plains filled with zebra, wildebeast, 100's of different kinds of birds including flamingos. There was a hippo pool and in the far, far distance we could see a couple of lions. Wow. We went and had lunch under a acacia tree, my favorite tree in the world I think and what Mike told me they called, "the shade of Africa". After lunch we ended up observing these three elephants who Mike said were brothers. One of the little guys was acting skittish about getting in the pool to cool off. He kept sort of inching towards it but wouldn't go in. Finally, the BIG brother pushed him into the pool by running his head into his but. If I had a big brother, I would have felt even more sentimental than I already did. We left soon after and it was off to Mosqutio village to spend the night (that's not a cute name it actually is called Mosquito village).
We woke up early the next morning and headed off to N'gorongoro Crater west of where we were staying. We entered into the conservation area and the fog was everywhere. It was one of those, "felt like I was in a dream moments", but even more surreal because it looked like the middle of the jungle. We came around a corner and all of a suddenly there was a clearing and we were looking down on a plain that went as far as my eyes could see
. Mike told us that it was the Serengheti. They are part of the same ecosystem and even though we were officially a hundred km from the park, there it was. We started our descent into the crater and I have to tell you, I've never seen anything like this. A volcano exploded in this area a million years ago and now this flat surface remains with a couple lakes, a forest, and grass when everywhere else is dry. It's surrounded by an escarpment 500 ft. straight up on all sides. Wow. We got to the bottom and met some Massai people who were tending their cattle and wanted money from us, I said "hapana pesa bwana, pole sana", and we drove on. I can't tell you how teaming with wildlife this place is. Everything we saw yesterday, sans giraffe, plus warthogs, rhino, gazelle, jackal, ostrich, more birds, buffalo, hyena, and more. When you ride on safari you stand out the top of the roof and take pictures in awe. My head was on a swivel trying to take everything in. The wildebeest would number in the hundreds with the zebra and gazelle. It was dusty as hell but that's all part of the gig and Mike had something cool to say about every animal. The coolest thing I saw on safari was a pride of lions that had just killed two zebras. Four lions were sitting by a pool and two were patrolling the kills, protecting the food from scavengers. The jackals had the biggest balls as far as I'm concerned, walking right up to the kill and taking bites before Ms. lioness was like, "uh-uh, no you dit-int", and ran over to scare him off
. We had lunch by a hippo pool and there were these birds, like hawks, that would bomb people who were eating out in the open. Serves em' right, this is their turf. Which leads well into my next story. After we started again I had to go to the bathroom and I asked Mike if we could stop and to my surprise, he said yes. I stepped out onto the floor of the crater with nothing around but 1000's of animals and as I looked out I had the strangest feeling. I am quite simply, just an animal. That's all we all are, and being surrounded by all these animals was humbling and wonderful. As we moved on I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a zoo, this is how they live, this is WHERE they live. At the end of the day I got inexcusably cheesy and I got my disc man and played, "The Circle Of Life", from The Lion King, while we were going past a herd of wildabeast, and yes, I got goose bumps. Hey, at least my kid is going to dig when I do shit like that. We left too soon for my liking anyway (I could have stayed there for 4 more days) and headed back to Arusha.
The trip home was as long as the trip up. As we left the roof of Africa which was cloud covered when I came up was out in full force as we went past Moshi. I got to look at Mt. Kilamajaro and it isn't quite as high as I expected but it is enormously wide and regardless of any size, it's beautiful. When I got to Dar I made my way home via a dalla-dalla and realized quickly that I was leaving Africa soon. This time has, at the risk of sounding like everyone else who comes to places like this, flown by. I feel so fortunate to have had this time, wait, you know what, not yet. I still have another week.
peace & balance,