The Road from Tarangire to Endallah

We left Tarangire and started the long ride that would take us to the village of Endallah.

Even outside the national park we continued to see beautiful animals, including this giraffe with very interesting spots.

We reached the paved road, heading down the A104 and then the B144 highways.  These are very nice roads, but still we had to stop once in a while….

We had to wait for these donkeys as well…

Masai men can marry multiple women, and according to Stephano you can tell how rich a man is by how many wives he has.  The man lives in one hut, and each woman lives in her own small hut, so you can count the huts to see how many wives.   This compound is the home of a man with 35 wives and over 100 children!  Pretty rich guy I guess…

We were driving through the Great Rift Valley, and eventually we reached the edge of the valley (the rift), where the land rises suddenly 2000 feet and continues as a flat, elevated plain.   Amazing.

Near the base of the cliffs there is a lush jungle and a village called Mto wa Mbu.  As Stephano told us, the people here are very fortunate to have so much water and food.   But there is one problem, the name of the village means “river of mosquitos”.

Later in the trip we would fly over this same area.   From the plane we could see where the land drops off 2000 feet into the valley.   It looks like Mto wa Mbu is getting even more rain.

After zigzagging up the cliff, we finally reached the road that leads to Endallah.   But Endallah is not on the map, so a man named John from the village met us at the paved road and then led us up the dirt road toward the village.  (If you can really call it a road…)

As we drove, I asked John what he did – what was his job?   He said “Villager”.   I asked what he did specifically and he again said he was a villager – one day he might help out someone in the fields, another day he might guide someone like us to the village.   A very simple life, and seemingly a very happy life, as we saw elsewhere on the trip.

But also a very tough life…   John had walked down to meet us.   After about an hour of driving along the rutted road, I asked him how long it had taken him to walk down to meet us.   He said he had started at 5:00 A.M. and it had taken him four hours.    We would soon learn that people have it very hard in Endallah.

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Tarangire

After a beautiful drive we reached Tarangire National Park.  The national parks in Tanzania are not fenced in – animals migrate freely between the parks and through the countryside.

We were immediately greeted with amazing groups of zebras and elephants.

This adult elephant was covered in dirt, which it shook off in a big cloud of dust while the two baby elephants played.

We drove along ridges with incredible views including gigantic Baobab trees.

A group of zebras crossing the river.

And another zebra…

And more zebras…

Also large groups of waterbucks.  Not as flashy as the zebras but still beautiful.

After several hours, and several hundreds animals, we arrived at Tarangire Safari Lodge, locating on a bluff with a breathtaking view.

The camp has about 20 permanent tents and small bungalows in a line along the ridge.  This is the view from our bungalow!   Best view ever.

As we walked to our bungalow, we heard a commotion in the valley – animals running and screeching.  Down below near the river, a lion had killed a zebra!  When we walked back over we could see the lion in the distance guarding its kill.

On the way back, this bird landed next to us – a Superb Starling.  This was the most common bird we saw – they were everywhere.  Beautiful.

We headed back out in the Land Rover in the late afternoon when the animals would be active again.  The Land Rover had two sun roofs – we stood up to look at the wildlife.  Here Nick watches some elephants cross the road as it starts to rain.

Stephano would stop once in a while and peer out through his binoculars – he had an amazing ability to spot animals in the distance.  He found these lions sleeping under a tree.

And then they started moving…

Stephano said it appeared the lions had eaten recently.  They were lazily walking and playing – not really hunting for anything.  One headed over to a big rock, just across the river from us, and then posed for some photos.

As the lions walked back toward the tree, we drove off in search of more animals.

And then the Land Rover broke down…    At least it was scenic – this is the view from where we were stuck.  (Actually everywhere was scenic.)

After some jokes about fending off lions and hyenas during the night, Stephano calmly called back to camp on his cell phone.  Fortunately we were close to camp and he had a good signal – we had very good cell phone coverage throughout the trip, even in remote areas.

And this is how we got back to camp…

And we made it back safely to the lodge in time for dinner.

The next morning, we were up at the crack of dawn to head back out, now in our temporary replacement Land Rover due to the breakdown.   Nick was a trooper throughout the trip – he barely complained about getting up early.

As you can see, our new truck had no doors or windows (or sides.)  It’s just a platform with seats and a canopy.  This would lead to a scary moment later that morning!

The beautiful scenery and wildlife continued.  Here a lone elephant heads somewhere in the early morning.

This baby baboon played in a tree.   (You can thank me for not posting more baboon pictures with their gross red behinds – I’m not a big fan of monkeys…)

And we watched these elephants eating breakfast.

A vulture headed off looking for something dead to eat…

And on we went in our truck (with no doors or windows or protection of any kind…)

And then we came upon some elephants.  We stopped the car, and then they moved very close to us.  They didn’t look happy – they seemed menacing, covered in red dirt.

One of the elephants walked right up next to the truck and stood there, waving its ears, lightly stomping its feet, and looking very threatening.

Stephano whispered that it wasn’t a problem, but stay very still and don’t make any noise.

And that’s when Nicholas, with his red striped shirt, decided to get further away from the elephant…

This was one of the few times we were actually scared, but I’m sure the risk of the elephant charging us was actually very low.  All turned out well.   (Although it would have been nice to be back in our truck that had sides…)

On we went…seeing a warthog that had just wallowed in mud.

And ostriches…

Beautiful Grant’s gazelles

And monkeys (black faced vervets) that surprisingly have one prominent part of their anatomy colored bright powder blue…

On the previous day, Nick had seen a cool-looking rock by the side of the road as we drove by, but we didn’t stop.  We passed down the same road and Nick found the rock again.  It’s a volcanic rock that’s been sheared in half with smooth glass on the inside.  (The entire area has been shaped by volcanos.)  We placed it back after taking the photo – there are very strict rules about removing anything from the national park.

We headed toward home, passing this group of elephants under a sausage tree as a storm brewed in the distance.

And after a day that didn’t seem like it could be any more amazing, we came upon dozens of giraffes.

Photos can’t capture how amazing it was to see these animals and nature at its finest – we won’t be visiting a zoo any time soon….

The Road from Arusha to Tarangire

After our day in Arusha , we got on the road to Tarangire National Park.

Our guide Stephano is from the Maasai tribe. Along the way, we saw lots of Maasai people, herding cattle or goats or just walking along the road.

Behind these cows you can see a Maasai Doma – a homestead for a Maasai family with circular houses.

One of the strangest and spookiest things we saw were small groups of men standing along the highway with faces painted white and wearing all black.

These are 14-year-old Maasai boys who have recently been circumcised. No anesthetic is used and the boys must remain silent throughout. Then their bodies and faces are painted black or white, and they are sent out on their own for 3 months. No food, no bathing, no contact with other member of the tribe. (Stephano had to go through this when he was a boy…he’s still not happy about it.)

Apparently, many of these boys hang out along the highway and make weird, threatening gestures at passing cars…

Along the way we passed Stephano’s uncle’s house. But Maasai have a habit of abruptly moving away. Stephano’s uncle left without telling anyone where he was going, and they have no idea where he is. Before he left he removed the roof from his house, presumably to use at a new house somewhere (although I’m not sure what it was made of or how he moved it.)

We arrived at Tarangire National Park. The national parks in Tanzania are not fenced in – the animals migrate in and out.

We immediately saw this zebra!   Our first animal sighting (other than cows, goats, dogs, and donkeys.)

More pictures and stories from Tarangire in a future post…

Arusha

On the first few days of our African trip we were in Arusha, a city of over 1 million people.

First we visited Nkoranga Orphanage, which currently has 24 kids ranging from babies up to about 5 years old. There were 5 or 6 adults working there, changing diapers, playing with the kids, etc. – there were actually more adults than we expected.  The kids were healthy and well-fed – Petra’s favorite baby, Frank, was even a little pudgy. (She carried him around most of the time.) But it was quite dirty, including the cribs and beds and some of the kids clothes.

We brought some books, toys, baby blankets, crayons, paper, etc.  (Thanks to everyone who donated stuff!) Everything was greatly appreciated, especially the baby blankets, but it turned out that what they need most is cloth diapers, so next time we’ll bring a load of those.

Nick hung out with the kids – this little girl was great at puzzles and gave Nick (a puzzle expert) a run for his money.

We asked about why most kids end up in the orphanage, but didn’t get very clear answers. Obviously their mothers or perhaps both parents have died, or they’ve been abandoned. AIDS is a problem in Tanzania, as in the rest of Africa – we don’t know if that was a factor or if any of these kids were HIV positive.

But they all seemed well-cared for and happy.

We ended the visit sitting outside and blowing bubbles.   Of course that’s Frank on Petra’s lap.

We headed out to our next stop. Driving in Arusha was quite harrowing because the roads are unbelievably bad – its’ a stretch to even call them roads.  And they’re packed with people. The video below is us driving on a major road – not a side street.. If you listen to the audio you’ll hear our guide Stephano saying that the “road” is going to be widened, so they’ve marked houses in the way with a red cross. They’ll be “wrecked”.

Also, you might have heard Nicholas asking why there is so much junk lying around (in his nasally voice – he had a cold.) Stephano didn’t really answer Nick’s question, but later he said that people need better education on the environment. However, when we went to his house, the front was relatively clean but the area behind his house, which was a large,walled-in, banana tree grove, was full of trash on the ground. All it would take would be one afternoon to pick up the trash. It seems to be a cultural thing – there just doesn’t seem to be much concern about trash and junk lying around.

We finally arrived at Plaster House, where kids recover after being in the hospital, often for orthopedic operations to straighten legs. Some kids were recovering from burns – others were waiting for their surgery. At the time we visited there were 25 kids living there.

In one room, three boys were lying in a row of beds – all with full-length casts from their toes to their hips. They seemed happy to have someone stop in to talk with them. A girl with full-length casts was in a separate room. She had a memory card game. Nick is normally great at memory games but he played her and was trounced! (Petra found her a special glittery pencil box and some fancy colored pencils.)

The rest of the kids were around a big table. They had bowls full of tiny beads and were threading these onto bracelets which they sell to make money. We brought them a stack of books.

Nick had his own Lego trucks in the car. At our suggestion he gave them to the kids (with only a little reluctance.) The kids were fascinated as he showed them how the trucks were put together.  (My sister Jennifer knows someone at Lego and forwarded another picture of Nick and the kids – apparently they’re going to send some Legos to Plaster House!)

Plaster House was very well-run and the kids were happy. They’re clearly improving the lives of these kids, and we’d like to return some day. For more information see  http://www.plasterhouse.org/   Consider making a donation!  (Although it’s not clear how to do that on the website – maybe through the Contact Us form.)

We ended the day at Stephano’s house where we met his wife Naia and his daughter Gladness. (He also has an older son who was away at boarding school.)  We are drinking Death’s Door vodka! We brought a bottle for Stephano. (He was Petra’s guide when she came to Tanzania in 2011, and they’ve stayed in touch. He’s become a good friend.)

Stephano’s house is very simple but nice. He has electricity but no running water. There is a pipe in the back yard where they get water, and they have a tank on the roof that supplies a shower. You can see that he has a TV – this was a recent gift from an American couple.

The entire yard is walled, including the banana grove in the back. In the front there is a separate store that they operate. They sell Coca-Cola (which is everywhere in Tanzania), beer, food, cigarettes, and various other items. The store has a refrigerator, supplied by Coke Inc., so we could have some cold Cokes and beers. (He’s actually not allowed to have anything in there except Coke products, but he sneaks in the beer.)

Gladness is 7 years old – the same age as Nick. She had never seen any type of computer. Nick showed her our iPad. At first she was afraid to touch it, but after only a couple minutes she was playing Angry Birds (and was actually very good at it!)

Toward the end of the evening the power went out, and never came back on. Stephano said “It might be an hour… or it might be three days before it comes back on.”  We finished up our drinks by candle light and headed back to our hotel.

As Petra had said before the trip, there is poverty in Tanzania but there is not misery. Most of the people we met have nothing. Even Stephano, who is “middle class” with a good job, lives a very simple and meager life with almost no material possessions. But everyone we met was very happy. Quite a contrast from life in the US!

A Day with the Hadzabe

We spent two nights at a beautiful camp on Lake Eyasi, and on Feb. 22 (day 7 of our trip) we had the chance to spend a half day with members of the Hadzabe tribe. The Hadzabe are the last pure hunter-gatherers in Africa – they have no permanent homes, they don’t grow crops, they don’t use money.  Each morning the men head out to hunt with bows and arrows.  What they kill becomes the food for the day.If they’re unsuccessful, the entire group (men, women, and children) head out to gather various roots, fruits, vegetables, and whatever they can find.

We picked up Hassan, our guide, and drove out to find the tribe, which is not always straightforward since they don’t have permanent homes.  Hassan speaks the Hadzabe language, which sounded somewhat familiar to Swahili to our untrained ears, but also includes ‘clicks’.  We couldn’t say the word for ‘Hello’ because it includes a click that we couldn’t pronounce.

As we drove, a man appeared – he was a member of the tribe and he was carrying a dead rabbit.  He looked at us but didn’t smile or greet us or offer to show us where to go.  He just kept going and we followed him at a distance.

Soon after we found the Hadzabe camp, which consisted of 4 or 5 grass huts.  The sun came up just as we were arriving.

The men were gathered around a fire, all very busy, either getting ready to prepare the rabbit or getting the bows and arrows ready.  Nobody was just sitting around.

They have visitors once every 2 weeks or so, and get paid in goods such as metal arrowheads.  They’re happy to see people and encouraged us (via Hassan) to ask questions and take pictures.

Several men were straightening arrows with their teeth – chewing on a section to true the arrow.  This boy (maybe 12 or so?) was a pro.  (He also turned out to be one of the better hunters!)

Then they cooked the rabbit – placing it directly on top of the fire, fur and all.

After a few minutes they scraped off the remains of the fur with a knife, then cooked it some more.

And then they served up the rabbit.  I had a bite – actually not bad.  Petra passed…

The women were sitting around a separate fire, a short distance away.  One of the men brought them half of the cooked rabbit. The women were much more relaxed, just hanging out.

The Hadzabe don’t keep track of birthdates or time in general.  This woman didn’t know how old she was, and didn’t know how old her baby was.  Cute baby!

You can’t see it in these photos, but this woman had cut mark scars on her shoulders.  This is where the “chief” had administered medicine, making a cut in the skin and inserting the “medicine” directly into the cut.  One of the men (you can see him in the video below handing out some food) had three large scars in the center of his chest.  He had fallen out of a Baobab tree while collecting honey.  His chest hurt, so the chief applied medicine, leaving him with the scars.

Meanwhile, Nicholas hit the jackpot when they let him play with one of the bows and some arrows.

Future Hadzabe warrior.   And that’s Stephano – our guide.

The Hadzabe use three types of arrowheads:  bone, for small animals and birds,  metal for larger animals like baboons, and poison arrows for kudo and other large animals.  They use barbed arrowheads for baboons because they’re smart enough to pull out the arrow and throw it in a tree so the hunter can’t pick it up to shoot them again.  Nick stuck with just wooden arrows.

After the rabbit breakfast, the men headed out to hunt for some more food, and we all followed.

The men shot at a few things, but didn’t have much luck.  Once they hit a bird which flew away with the arrow.

Finally the boy got a bird!

After walking for 90 minutes or so, it was time for a break.  The men built a fire – by rubbing sticks together.

Then they plucked and cooked the bird. You can see its feathers off to the right, and the meat on the fire.   Obviously it’s more of a snack than a meal…

Nick and I eating some of the bird.  Tasted good – even better than the rabbit.  Again, Petra passed…

During lunch we asked what they do when someone dies. Rather than burying the body, they take it to a cave, knowing it will be eaten by animals.  If an older person is not healthy enough to keep up with the group, they go to the area near the caves and build a fenced in area.  They kill something large like a kudu and have a big barbecue.  Then they leave the person there with the food.  After a week, they return: if the person is dead he goes in the cave.  If not, they kill another kudu and have another barbecue and the process repeats.

After the not-very-successful hunting trip, we headed back to camp.  On the way we passed a Baobab tree where the Hadzabe sometimes sleep.  Baobab trees have huge, wide trunks that are hollow.

Back at camp we had a short dance (only part of the day that seemed a little touristy) and then a shooting contest.  You can see the guys smirking at me – the pale dork.  But miraculously I was the only one who hit the target – not quite as dorky as they thought!

We said goodbye and promised to get them some arrowheads.  After grabbing lunch (sandwiches from the lodge…), we visited another tribe that specializes in metalworking and bought these four arrowheads.

We headed back to the Hadzabe camp, but they were gone. The camp was deserted.   They may have gone looking for roots and vegetables, or they may have moved somewhere else.   Hassan promised to deliver the arrowheads the next time he tracked them down.

The Kill

One of the most beautiful places we visited on our Africa trip was Ngorongoro Crater, a massive grass plain surrounded by the rim of a collapsed volcano. This was also where we were fortunate to witness an amazing and poignant scene.

We had been hoping to see a cheetah. Suddenly we spotted one (no pun intended…) sitting in the tall grass.

It was looking intently at something, and then it started walking. Hunting!  Once it walked we could it was a pregnant female.

But what was she hunting? For a minute we couldn’t find anything, but then we spotted a family of gazelles off to the left – a male, a female, and a baby.

And now there was no doubt the cheetah was after them.

When she got about 100 meters or so away, our guide Stephano said “Now she’ll get one – they can’t escape.” And at that moment the cheetah took off running toward the gazelle family.

And she was after the baby…

The male gazelle had taken off first, but the baby can’t keep up.

Then a fatal stumble…

And the cheetah, with what almost looks like a smile, is there before the baby can get back up. You can see the baby’s head in the grass just ahead of the cheetah.

The mother was the last to run – she appeared out of the grass after the male and the baby. She runs past as the cheetah pounces on the baby.

She seems to glance over at what’s happening as she runs by.

Then the male appears, but it’s too late, and they seem stunned as they watch helplessly. Are they experiencing some kind of emotions? Are they “sad”?

It’s over quickly. The cheetah easily suffocates the out-of-breath baby gazelle.

From when we first saw the cheetah, only 2 or 3 minutes elapsed. It was amazing. Just a regular event that happens all the time, but we were incredibly lucky to see it and catch it with the camera.