Wednesday, December 28, 2011


We got to Olasiti Lodge on the outskirts of Arusha on 12/24.  The OAT group left at 5 p.m. to catch their flight back to the U.S. and I was the only one of our group of 12 who stayed.  I did get lunch with them and an early dinner.  I was walking with some discomfort but it became much worse on Christmas Day and I had to stop several times just walking from my room to the dining area because of the pain in my knee from my fall in Serengeti a few days ago.  This was very discouraging.  I made it to breakfast and lunch and just stayed in the hotel lounge for several hours catching up on email with my laptop.  I was glad I had it and could use the wifi, because the hotel charged $5 an hour for internet.

Fearless leader with his vehicle

OAT group picture

The Texans and our tour leaders

They set up lovely tables around the pool for Christmas dinner with table cloths and .  We lined up at the buffet.  A large group of maybe 40 Japanese tourists were ahead of me in line so by the time I got to the end there was only a little piece of carved roast turkey left.  The chef said there was another turkey and to come back, but by the time I finished what was on my plate I was too full to eat any more.  So my Christmas dinner was mainly rice and vegetables.  There was pudding for dessert but I was too full for that, also.  I did have a glass of wine.  I made my painful way back to my room and took a couple of extra strength Tylenol, hoping things would be better in the morning.

The morning found me in much less pain.  I was able to walk pretty well and took a taxi to town to check into the East African Hotel Suites, which I had arranged on the internet so I could be in town for a couple of days before flying to Zanzibar.  I rested my leg the rest of the day, venturing out only for dinner at the hotel.  My room is much more than I expected, with a living room, bedroom, large bathroom, and kitchen, even better than my suite at the Grosvenor Hotel in London.  I had wifi but no controller for the TV, not that I was interested in watching it.  You really get out of the habit

The next day I walked the half mile to town to try to find lunch and a pharmacy.  I met a couple of girls on the way who had just finished secondary school, and they accompanied me to town.  Soon after reaching town I met up with a Francis, who is a certified tour guide and showed me where to go the bank, market, etc.  We went to an outside cafe down a dirt road which had a view of the oldest church in town, from which emanated lovely music.  We chatted over coca colas and he advised me to go the Seriani Hospital, which is apparently where all the Wazungus go.  Walking from the cafe I felt a little dizzy, so I went back to the hotel instead of the hospital, thinking to go there later or the next day.  After a few hours, all I could manage was to go across the street to the Everest Inn for a late lunch.  It is a Chinese restaurant and has some rooms in the back for travellers.  I had a pizza and beer and went back to my hotel.

Francis at the mid point between Capetown and Cairo in Arusha

Thursday, December 22, 2011


We had four nights total in the tent camp in Serengeti.  The food was always fabulous.  Breakfast and lunch were usually buffets, and dinner was served to us.  Drinks (wine, beer, soda) were unlimited.  My favorite was the barbeque chicken pizza, but the chef also did great soups, spaghetti, banana stew, pork chops, and salads.  I have probably gained back a lot of the 25 pounds I lost here just in these few days.

After a couple of hours' drive, we reached the rim of Ngorongoro Crater, a large, level, mostly treeless plain teeming with animals.  There were many baboons at the top. We were unable to see the crater due to clouds that hung over it, obscuring the view below.  It felt very mysterious, like you were descending into a lost land.  The road down is steep and you need four wheel drive to negotiate it and the occasionally muddy dirt roads at the bottom.  One of the first animals we saw was a hyena carrying an antelope in its mouth.  There were many wildebeests and zebras, which seem to go together.  We also saw abdini storks, lions, crested crown finches, and elands.  There were hundreds of pink flamingos at the lake on the bottom of the crater.  The most notable sighting was of three black rhinos, since they are so rare, but they were at such a distance I could barely make out their shapes, much less take a picture.  I have now officially seen all of the "Big 5" though.
Hippo skull in the riverbed

Sleeping Lion

Ngorongoro Elephant

After Ngorongoro, we headed back to Tloma Lodge for two nights.  While there, we visited Bashay Primary School outside of the town of Karatu.  The vice principal took us on a tour of the school, including a schoolroom and kitchen built with Grand Circle/OAT funds.  We had been encouraged to bring gifts for the school, and they got quite a haul of pencils, pens, soccer balls, stickers, and the like.
Gifts for the school

Vice principal shows us the rain gauge at the school

 We also visited crafts markets and a local village which specializes in brickmaking.  They are seeking an ecologically superior alternative because they need to cut a lot of trees for wood to get the hot fires needed to make the bricks, causing concerns about deforestation and air pollution.  So far they have not found one, and the village needs the income from the bricks.


Nicole gets a new family

Getting ready to dance

We visited a family home in the village, and they offered us food, songs, and dancing.  My roommate was adopted as a daughter of the family.  Everyone enjoyed themselves.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We drove through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area with a stop at Oldupai Gorge, where Louis and Mary Leakey discovered fossil remains in 1959 that led to a new understanding of human evolution.  When I was here in 1975, our guide was a relative (grandson?) of the Leakeys.  I just remember a river bed with lots of rocks.  Now there are signs of more extensive excavation.  Mary Leakey discovered the remains of human footprints at a site nearby in 1976.  Presently the site is more set up for tourists, with a gift shop, observation deck, museum, and formal talks.  The dirt road to get here is still awful, with signs of many cars going off road to get through muddy and rocky areas.

Oldupai gorge
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area contains woodland and short and high grass areas.  It is a mixed use area, so the Masai are allowed to live there and raise their livestock, unlike in the National Parks.  We saw many giraffes, zebra, Thompson's and Grant gazelles, and cape buffalo.  We also saw part of the wildebeest migration, and could see thousands of animals in front of us to the distant horizon.  Debbie spotted a cheetah, which turned out to be a family of four walking casually across the grassy plain.  They came upon a group of Thompson's gazelles, who faced the predators with their little tails going very fast.  The cheetahs watched them for awhile, but seemed to lose interest and laid down beneath a tree.  The gazelles ran away.



entering Serengeti National Park


Zebra and wildebeest

Superb starling

Finally we reached the main gate into Serengeti National Park and stopped to have a picnic lunch of sandwiches and other goodies we had put together at the lodge that morning.  We drove another hour or so to Alan Root Tent Camp, a mobile camp named for a photographer for National Geographic who stayed here for about six months.  His viewing platform remains up in the rocks, but the tent camp itself is mobile.  It will be here for awhile, though, and is one of four OAT tent camps in Serengeti, so our group of 12 is the only OAT group here, unlike Tloma Lodge, where we saw two other OAT groups coming and going.  We are here for four nights.

The front of our tent has washing facilities

and chairs to relax in

Jude oversees the food
Driving here was a game park drive in itself.  We also went out for a few hours the next morning and saw many animals, including a leopard lounging in a tree.  This is apparently a rare sighting.  Peter told us that sometimes this time of year there would be 50 tourist vehicles around the tree.  There were about 7 coming and going while we were there.  We drove on and saw lions, hippos and one crocodile.  

Silver backed fox


Look for the tail

Vervet monkeys

Monitor lizard

Cape buffalo

There was a scheduled game park drive that afternoon after lunch and a rest, but it started raining after about five minutes and all the animals disappeared.  The road to the camp, which was already a quagmire, turned into a river.  Peter's vehicle turned back, but our driver, Stanley, wanted to go on across the river.  We could not go over the wooden bridge and went up the road to the concrete bridge.  Water was rushing over the top of it so we told him to turn around and go back.  We were slipping and sliding up the road, now about 2 inches deep or more in the previous big ruts which were now difficult to see.  Stanley kept saying "Hapuna mikata" or "No worries" or "Piece of cake."  About five minutes from camp, the weather cleared and we started seeing impala and topi again.

I share a tent with 24 year old Nicole.  Our tent has 4 sections: the main room, with two twin beds, a table and chair; the narrow room in back of that, with solar battery on one end and luggage rack on the other; the toilet area; and the shower area.  There is also an open but covered front part with canvas sink, mirrors, table, clothesline, and lantern holder for the light they put out every night.  We get 5 gallon buckets of hot water before dinner so that we can take showers.  They put the bucket on top of the shower part of the tent and you pull one string to get water and one to stop it.  The idea is to get wet, soap up, then rinse off.  I did not take a shower the first night because I had one that morning.  Last night I took one, stepped out onto the mat in the middle room, which slants downhill, and the mat slid out from under me, causing me to fall hard on my right knee, the one that the black and blue from the fall in Moshi a week ago was just fading from.  I had some twinges that evening, but it got more painful that night so I finally got up and took some Extra strength tylenol, which helped me go back to sleep.  In the morning it hurt to move but felt better standing up.  I got some more pain medication and an Ace wrap from BJ and Ellen, our Jewish mothers, and decided to skip the all day game drive today.  It hurt more when I bent my knee, and the Landcruisers are really rough on the muddy roads, with continual bracing of your body.  I had nightmares about needing knee surgery for a torn ACL or some such.  I doubt they have any MRI scanners in the whole country, and I don't think my trip insurance covers repatriation, since I came here on my own with frequent flyer miles.  Hopefully a day of rest and keeping my leg up will improve things.  At least I am catching up on writing my blog, even if there is no internet here to send it.  We are in the middle of Serengeti National Park, which is the size of Connecticut, with no permanent buildings for miles around.

The group got back from the game drive and reported four lions in a tree 350 yards from our tent compound.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


We drove to a Masai village this morning and were welcomed by one of the chief's sons.  He showed us how to get blood from the cow's neck and we were invited to drink some.  I just put some on my finger and tasted it.  Not as strong tasting as human blood.  

getting ready to get blood

Piercing the neck

Blood, anyone?
a calf born that morning
We then watched them building a new house and traditional round hut.  They use branches held together by wire for the frame then pack the holes with mud.  They use a steel roof but it is covered by thatch for shade and sound purposes.  We were invited to come on the roof and help thatch, but only Helga, who is in her 80's went up.  Lots of us don't like heights.

showing us how it's done

new style vs old

son and 80 year old patriarch of the family

The women came in a line from behind a building singing and dancing.  They then had the women in our group put on traditional Masai robes and beaded neck circlets.  We danced.  It is really hard to get those beads to bounce on your chest.  It's all in the shoulders.  Some of the Masai men then lined up to sing and took turns showing how high they could jump.  The Masai women then led us up to the men to  be "claimed."  We got hugs and then went back into our own line.  

Debbie and Kelly practice carrying wood

Afterwards, we went into a traditional round house.  It has a square central room with firepit in the middle.  The smoke goes up a hole in the roof.  There are four "rooms" created around the circle, for storage, cattle, and sleeping.  At first the head man asked and answered questions.  Their wealth is in cattle, and that is how they pay for land, dowrys, etc.  Our guide told us that after 9/11 the Masai took a lot of cattle to the American embassy for the workers who were helping rebuild.  They have no concept of how far away America is.  

Then the man left and some women came in.  They did not speak any English but our guide translated.  They are all wives of the clan's sons.  There is a patriarch and  his first wife is the matriarch.  They can have more than one wife, but each wife builds her own separate hut.  The women asked how long we nursed our babies.  They nurse for 3 years and do not have sex during that time.  They were surprised to find out that is not our custom.  They asked if the sperm did not go up to the breast milk and harm the baby.  This abstinence could be a reason why the men take more than one wife.  Our guide was translating and got very embarrassed by the personal questions.

We left the Masai and went to a Makonde tribe woodworking shop about an hour away.  They make carved animals, bowls, masks, etc and sell them to tourist shops.  I bought some rosewood salad tongs.

Makonde woodworkers

We drove past Lake Manyara and finally we came to our hotel for the night,Tloma Lodge.  It has huge gardens and they make and process coffee here.  We were welcomed with lemon grass juice and cookies with chocolate drops in the middle.  We had a beautiful buffet lunch, all very fresh.  They also had spaghetti with meat sauce, shepherd's pie, zucchini casserole, ugali, and two kinds of quiche.

Paul and Mimi from Torrance

My room overlooks the gardens
Peter, our guide, took us on a one hour walk around the gardens.  They are very extensive with many fruit trees and herbs, as well as long rows of many kinds of vegetables.  Different kinds of lilies border much of the garden.  Banana and papaya trees shade the coffee plants.

Lilies surround the gardens

Sunflowers and papayas

According to our driver, Stanley, the dread locked young man we saw in the lodge owns this one and 69 others.  He also owns 600 Kibo company trucks, which he sells to other tour companies after 5000 km (about 3100 miles).  He is half German but was raised by his Tanzanian mother.and never knew his father.  Quite a success story.  OAT contracted with his company so we are staying in several of his lodges and using his trucks and drivers.

Friday, December 16, 2011


On Thursday we got in two Landrovers with drivers Peter and Stanley and headed for Taranguire National Park.  On the way we stopped at Trek Africa Art Studio.  The artist showed us some African art.  I did purchase one of his paintings, a very colorful market scene done in oil, but bargained him down from $450 to $300 and he will pay more than half of the $70 shipping fee.

getting ready to roll

We passed many villages with round grass huts and herds of goats and cows with young Masai shepherds.  Finally we reached the entrance to Taranguire National Park and stopped at their picnic area to eat our packed lunch.  After that was a 3 hour game drive during which we saw lots of elephants, warthogs, giraffes, ostriches, a bat eared fox, impalas, water bucks, banded mongoose, slender mongoose and dik diks.  We saw three lions sitting together in the sun but they were at such a distance I could not get a good picture.  Also interesting were the many termite mounds, which the termites build with saliva into large rust colored castle like fortresses.  They have large holes which mongoose and snakes inhabit.  We saw lots of birds, including Egyptian geese, guinea fowl, leopard striped swallows, reddish ploverine, white headed buffalo weaver, superb starlings, southern ground hornbill,  red headed spotted hornbill, reddish frankoline (quail), and colored lovebird, Not that I would recognize any if I saw them again.

elephants can be destructive

termite mound


Impala grazing

Baobab tree
We went to our hotel for the next two nights, Lake Buringe Tent Camp.  We have huge permanent tents with wooden porches and atttached baths.  You can see the lake in the distance from the terrace of the main building.  I sat there drinking a glass of wine and watching a huge rainbow form.  It seemed like a good luck sign for our trip.  Dinner was a nice buffet.  When it is dark (after dinner and early morning), Masai with spears escort us back and forth to our tents because there is a lot of wild game in this area.

Nicole sitting on the porch of our tent

the main building where we eat 

a good omen?

The next day we got up at 5:30 a.m., had coffee, bread, jam and cheese, and took off for our morning game drive.  There are tse tse flies here so we were told not to wear black or dark blue, which attracts them.  We saw many of the animals we had seen the day before.  There were many more elephants.  We were told the park is about 9,000 square miles and has 4,500 elephants.  We saw a few hundred, including many babies.  One young male trumpeted at us as a sign of warning, but seemed to conclude we were bigger so he eventually walked away.  

Additional animals we saw were zebra, dwarf mongoose, vervet monkeys, squirrels, hartebeest, and water bucks.  Birds included yellow necked spur fowl, vultures, wattle starlings, yellow necked spur fowl, marshall eagle, Von der Decker's hornbill, northern white crowned shrike, morning doves, tawny eagle, fish eagle, ibis, owlet, red chested cuckoo, fork tailed drumbo, orange bellied parrot, kingfisher, red and yellow barbet, and red bellied hornbill.  I am not a bird person, but include a lot of the names just to show the variety.  There is birdsong all the time.

We drove back to our lodge and had lunch, including a variety of African dishes and spaghetti Bolognese.  After a rest we had a nature walk with a local guide and a Masai with spear.  They showed us the purposes of many plants and also a lot of animal tracks in the dry, sandy river bed, including hyenas and jackals, which I have heard but not seen.