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Tanzania and the Crater Part 3

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

We all heard lions around 4:00 am!! I heard other things periodically through the night, but have no idea what they were.... Between 5 and 5:30 this morning, we both heard some animal brush up against the tent and emit a low guttural, grunting noise. Have no idea!! The staff said there were buffalo behind their tent this morning, so maybe it was one of the buffalo.
We had another good breakfast, took a few pictures of the 5 staff, told them "thank you" ("asanti asana" = thank you very much), tipped them, loaded up and was on the way around 8:00.
The morning was sunny and cool with some clouds. By 10:00 or so it had heated up pretty well.
The animals we saw were:
warthogs zebras topi ostriches impala wildebeests
a hyena out for his morning jog giraffes a mouse a lizard
more hyena--one couple with the male lying in the grass and the very pregnant female lying in some mud on the side of the road.
jackal kori bustard (OH, this is the largest bird that is able to fly!)
dung beetles
We passed an area that Simon said was good breeding grounds for the zebras and wildebeests. It was considered good, because it was an expanse of flat land with no trees. The ground underneath the grass was from volcanic ash which gives good nutrients to the grass, making it very fertile and rich for the expectant mothers and babies. The wide expanse of land enables them to detect predators, so it's a bit safer. We saw jackal and hyena there--just one or two. But the others could see, and probably smell, them--so stay their distance.
We drove to Olduvai. When we got into the area, we began to see Masaai herds being tended by the Masaai. Their brightly colored clothing is absolutely beautiful against the plains and the horizon. The vibrant reds and blues are in stark contrast to the land. We passed a number of bomas.
Bomas are areas of land that the Masaai have encircled in a barrier of prickly shrub. In some of these they set up their village. In others, they use it to keep their cattle. In both instances, the thorny barrier serves to keep the predators out and the herds in the area.
A Masaai man will/may have many wives. Each wife will have her own home in the boma for herself and her children. The man has to pay cattle to the woman's family in order to marry her. The number of wives and cattle indicates a man's wealth. He may have up to ten wives. The more children he has, the better: the more sons- the more help he has herding the cattle; the more daughters he has, the more opportunity he will have to obtain more cattle as he marries them off.
We saw the area of the Shifting Sand. It is the result of a volcanic eruption. The sand is grayish black and is very fine. There is a magnetic quality to it, so the grains stick together. The result is this HUGE mound of black sand that shifts gradually as the wind blows. It is constantly moving. In 1969, they started marking where it was located. Over the past 25 years or so they have marked it every 5 years. It appears to be moving at a rate of 50-60 yards every five years.
We went to Olduvai Gorge where the oldest remains of a human were found in 1959. They have determined that he is 1.7 million years old. There were footprints found in another nearby gorge that were approximately 3.6 million years old.
While we were down at the site, a young Masaai boy ran to greet us. He had conversations with Simon which sounded a bit like negotiations. Simon gave him a coin. He then came up to Larry and me and without speaking English, we understood that he'd let us take his picture for money. Larry ended up giving the child a quarter, which did not make the child very happy. He kept showing us that he wanted local money...which we did not have.
We then went to the Olduvai museum. We sat in a covered rest area overlooking the gorge to eat our lunches that were prepared for us at our last lodge. I think what they prepared for us in that primitive camp was even better than what the Serenera lodge had prepared! They had the perpetual chicken thigh/leg, apple, cheese, chocolate bar, juice box. However, instead of sandwiches and plain yogurt, they had a slice of quiche that had some meat and veggies in it and a boiled egg. They even made a tiny foil pouch and put salt in it.
There were several tour groups at the museum/rest site. We smiled as they would come up, but we didn't get much of a response. Most of them appeared to be English speaking, and many appeared (sounded) American. We've both noted that a lack of response seems to be common when we speak or smile or nod to people (tourists). I did strike up a conversation with a French woman and her husband. They seemed very nice and are traveling from Ngorongoro to Serengeti. (opposite of our itinerary) They are retired, although they appear fairly young--early 60s? They are from Versaille, and had lived in Connecticut for 3 years.
We have arrived at the Olduvai Tented Lodge--about 2:00. They greeted us with fruit juice (as we are greeted everywhere when we arrive). A Masaai named Godego (phonetic spelling again) is our guide on the walking tours. He showed us to our tent (#6). It's higher up than the others and you can't see it from the main path.
There is a narrow dirt path leading up to our tent. There are wooden rails, a stone floor entry, then a small step up to a porch area which has a wood floor. There are two canvas/wooden folding chairs, a table made out of a section of wood like a butcher block, a tall table with a mirror hanging over, and a metal pitcher and basin on a straw mat.
Once inside, the queen sized bed is front and center with wool blankets in a Masaai design. There are a couple of small tables with lamps (run off of the generator). In a section of the tent behind the bedroom, there is a small vanity and area to put luggage. In a section behind that is a chemical toilet and the shower.
The toilet at our last camp had a handle you used to open and close the toilet. There was a knob you would pump up and down to put the chemical fluid in the closed toilet, then pull the lever out to open it for flushing. This toilet is open all of the time and you pour the chemical solution from a pitcher to flush.
At our old camp, you just told the guys when you wanted to take a shower and they'd bring hot water. Here, they bring hot water between 6 and 6:30. Not quite as accommodating, but they do serve more people than just us..... sigh..... I was just meant to be a Serengeti princess with a full staff!!! :-)
There is a power in the tents here for a few hours in the evenings which is generator powered. We only had solar lights at the other.
The roofs on our tents are thatched. The view from the porch is pretty amazing--plains in the foreground, mountains in the background.
The birds are tweeting and chirping and flying around the porch. Some really big honey bees are buzzing around. The day is cooling down (it's 5:25) and we're waiting to go on a sunset walk with a Masaai.
Our walk with Godego was amazing. We left the camp and walked across the plain. We saw herds of cattle, sheep and goats with Masaai children tending them.
We walked to a large kopje and walked up it a little and had a nice view. Larry was videotaping, and as he taped, he said, "And here we are at the top of the kopje"..... Godego interrupted and said, "No, you're not at the top.... the top is there" pointing to a higher level.
Godego had us follow him up, climbing the rocks of the kopje until we were at the top--at least 250 feet up. The vista was absolutely incredible! 360 degrees. We saw our camp; an old boma; part of a newer one; the mountains; the plains; other kopje, the herds coming in and the sun going down. It was an amazing experience.
While up there I had some panicky thoughts about how we'd get down and knew there were no options! (I'm not real crazy about heights, especially when I have to climb!) But Godego held my hand, showed me at times where to put my feet and "poli poli" (slowly, slowly) we made it down. Larry came down behind me and did great. At one point, Godego was showing me where to put my foot on a rock that was slick and vertical and had no foot holds. I kept asking him where, and he meant for me to put my foot on top of his as a foot hold, where there was none. I hated doing it, but did it. Godego's favorite saying: "Hakuna mata!"
Once back at camp (1 1/2 hours later) we showered and dressed for dinner. Godego mentioned on our walk that there was only one other couple at the camp.
When we came out of our tent for dinner, Godego and another Masaai were waiting quietly for us. Godego placed a Masaai bracelet on both of our wrists, proclaiming us friends. Little did he know that he became my friend when he helped me down that kopje!! He then walked us to dinner.
We saw the other couple there in the round, open air dining area. Who would ever believe that it was the French couple from the Olduvai Museum?! The only people there that I talked with!
We had a nice dinner, then sat out at the campfire, talking, sharing vacation stories, looking at the night sky and incredible full moon.
Back to our tent for bed, where we discovered that we really had no place to brush our teeth! We brushed outside and spit over the rail.

**On our walk we saw rock hyrax, dung beetles, holes in the ground that the fox digs looking for dung beetles.
At dinner we saw a genet, which looks like a cat, with a smaller head, spotted body like a cheetah and a really long tail that was circled like a raccoon.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Our day started early, after what was my best night of sleep on the trip. We were at breakfast at 7:00 and began our walk with Godego just after 7:30.
We walked across plains, which were crunchy in the dry heat. Godego showed us tracks of baboon, hyena and giraffe. We actually walked through an area of trees where we saw a giraffe. Then there were two. As our position changed, so did the number of giraffe, until there was a total of seven. Godego said that giraffes make a sound similar to the sound horses make when they are blowing air out of their mouths. The only sound we heard from them was the gentle thumping of their hooves as they moved away.
We walked through a dry river bed and saw where Masaai had dug a small hole for water for the animals. The Masaai herd: cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys go for longer periods of time without water than do the same in the states. They have to go 2-3 days at a time sometimes.
The direct distance between our camp and the Masaai village is about 6 kilometers (~4 miles). Godego took us a round about way, so it was closer to 5 or more miles.
On the way, Godego saw that Larry had a scratch on his arm that was bleeding. He asked if Larry wanted him to treat it with olduvai. He then broke off a leaf (similar in appearance to aloe vera; but much stronger and fibrous) and split it, rubbing the fluid on the scratch. By 5:10 tonight, we had to search hard to find the scratch. It had all but disappeared.
*The area of Olduvai was named such by the Masaai because so much of it grows in this area. They use it as medicine, and also take the fibrous strands, rolling them against their shins, to make thin ropes which are then used to make jewelry, ropes, etc.
While walking, Larry shared with Godego that he had once raised cows. This interested Godego quite a bit, and he asked several questions. When he found out that Larry had raised 20 cows, he was very impressed exclaimed that Larry was a very rich man!
We arrived at the Masaai village after walking about an hour and a half. Masaai children were bringing herds out of the boma.
Several men came out and met us. One spoke English and became our guide inside the boma. The chief came out to meet us, and Godego negotiated a price for us to be able to take pictures and videotape. For $40.00, we could take all of the video and pictures we wanted. (Well worth the price in the end!!)
They began by singing a welcoming song and danced outside of the boma. The men in one circle, the women in another semi-circle. Words just can't express the beauty of the dress, and the emotion we felt in being able to be there, see everything and be a part of it.
We were able to take pictures of the chief (72 years old) and have our pictures made with him. (Posted on the web site) They invited me to dance with the Masaai women. An older woman took her necklace off, fastened it around my neck, then took me by the hand and led me to the middle of their semi-circle. She and I began dancing--jumping up and down. What an experience!!
Our Masaai guide then took us inside the boma and on inside one of their homes (huts). The doorway was so narrow,we had difficulty getting through, especially while wearing the day pack. It was very dark inside and it took a minute for my eyes to adjust. The huts are made of straw/grass with some wood supports. The roof is made from dried cow dung.
The guide had Larry and me sit on a small narrow platform covered in cowhide. That was the bed. There was a small pit in the middle of the floor for fire for cooking, with some embers still glowing. There was a small shelf with some rudimentary bowls, kitchen things on it.
The whole makeup or structure of the Masaai was explained to us. Young boys, 8-14 or so years, tend to the animals and watch the herds. Historically, when boys were about 15 years old, they would leave the boma on their own, to hunt and kill a lion single handedly in order to become a warrior. They don't do that anymore.
Now, in order to become a warrior, boys, 14-16 years old, are circumcised without anesthesia. This takes place during a special ceremony attended by everyone in the boma. During the circumcision, the young man is not allowed to make a sound, flinch, or have any movement at all. If they do, they have to eat all of the ceremonial food themselves, because there isn't a celebration; and he is pretty much shunned and looked down upon by everyone for the rest of his life. Our guide said that all of the young men in their boma were 100% successful in becoming a warrior.
Once the circumcision has been done, the young man wears black clothing, paints his face with white paint and wears ostrich feathers. He will go out of the boma for 6 months to a year with warriors who will instruct him in everything he needs to know to become a warrior.
When a man is 18-30 years old, he is a warrior and works to protect his tribe against enemies, predators, etc.
At the age of 30 years and up, men become elders. They make the laws/rules, settle disputes, make decisions for the community...sit out under the trees to discuss things and drink calabash (milk mixed with cow's blood) and another fermented drink that they make.
The chief of the boma is elected. In order to be chief, the elders examine both sides of the candidates family for 5 generations. If it is good for 5 generations, he is considered. There are also several assistants to the chief to help him. When the chief dies, the next one is chosen from the assistants.
Oh. Masaai girls/women look after the children, the home, and prepares the food.
Masaai generally tend to marry in their teens. The women have many children, a minimum of 6, but some up to 12. As mentioned a few days ago, the Masaai man may have many wives. When he sleeps in one wife's house, the children usually go stay in one of the other homes. Everyone is very open to that and has no problem taking in the children or allowing for privacy. (Which we saw firsthand is non-existent in those huts!!)
The Masaai diet consists of meat (their own, not wild) and blood and milk. They also drink the calabash. They use lots of herbs in medicine and cooking; so I guess that's the way they head off scurvy, unless their system is just accustomed to not having the fruits and veggies.
*The average life span for Africans and Masaai is about 45-55 years old.
Larry heard some women talking and asked our guide what they were discussing. He said they were discussing the shortage of milk. Everything is so dry that they aren't getting enough milk and may have to buy some. Many/most Masaai villages are nomadic and move with the rains, water, etc. Some, like this tribe, pretty well stay in this area. The nearest town is about 12-15 miles away, so it's quite a distance to walk and get the milk.
Our guide carried us to a bamboo hut type building on the outer border of the boma. It is a school for their children from 3 1/2 to 5 years of age. They were in the middle of their arithmetic lesson. (Not many bomas have schools or teachers. Older children have to go to Ngorongoro or another area to school which would be 12-15 mile away-so many children are not educated past 5 years of age in this village).
The children (about 12 total) sang a song welcoming us and telling how beautiful Tanzania is. A little girl (3 1/2) went to the chalkboard with a stick as a pointer and led the others in counting by 5's, from 5 to 100. The children clapped when Larry put money in the donation box.
The whole experience was absolutely incredible!
Simon was there to pick us up after we had stayed at the boma for one and a half hours. He brought box lunches and took us driving from the dry lands to the areas with more water. The two new species of the day were eland (the largest antelope) and flamingoes. We had lunch by a lake, then started the 1 1/2 hour drive back to camp.
Once at camp we rested, then went to the bar/lounge area. We drank cold Cokes (our first) and I wrote in the journal while Larry looked at some books they had on the area.
We came back to the tent and sat on the "deck" talking about this experience we've had--and waiting eagerly for the hot water to be delivered for showers! While out, a genet walked through, jumping up on the table where the basin and pitcher are, prowling around much like a house cat, then jumped on the roof of our tent.
After our showers, I was standing in the middle section of the tent at the luggage. I looked into the bathroom area (which is pretty well open, although it has canvas walls), and the genet was walking through. May make me think twice about any late night bathroom runs!!
There were more genets during dinner, which was okay. (the dinner, that is). There is a group of 6 French people here tonight, one English speaking young man who appears to be related to business at the camp; and a mother/daughter who appear to be American, although the daughter speaks fluent Swahili.
Godego walked us to our tent afterwards and we discussed with him about buying a Masaai spear.

**Animals of the day:
Goshawk genet impala giraffe jackal (one was eating a kill) Kori bustard baboon eland dikdik flamingo zebra
hyena ostriches on migrations vulture gazelle

I know I described the tent in Day 8, but I don't think I talked much about the bathroom area. The whole area is enclosed with canvas walls. There is a straw roof over the toilet area, and this section has basically a canvas shower curtain, that doesn't completely fill in the whole doorway. There is a section with a table/vanity/mirror which has an open roof, and the shower beside it has an open roof as well, with another heavy curtain that isn't as wide as the doorway. On both ends of the bathroom section there are service doors (not tight fitting at all) where the hot water is brought through for the shower and the pitcher of chemical water is refilled beside the commode. Small animals such as the genet could really have free reign.

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