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TZ Report: If there had been a million wildebeest there would have been a hundred million flies,

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we consoled ourselves as we sipped gin and tonics on our last day at Nomad’s Ndutu camp, February 13. Despite my initial disappointment about the absence of the migration, I had come to appreciate the Ndutu landscape and I was reluctant to leave. Then it started to rain, the first rain in our 11 days, and it seemed too harsh to have to write in my journal-- “it rained the day that we left Ndutu.” After a quick consultation with my SO, Fred, and our TC, Mark, we asked if we could shift one of our days at our next destination, Nomad’s Loliondo camp, and stay one more night. Ken called Nomad’s office in Arusha learning that we could stay but we would have to pay an extra day’s camping fees because the camp was in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, at one of the “private” campsites. Staying at Nomad camps had been a splurge to begin with, it was crazy to spend even more money and we made the very practical decision to leave. But then Fred saw how sad I looked and said, it’s OK, we can stay if it means that much to you. A moment to come up with a rationalization–it would be valentine day presents–and it was all settled, we would stay. My instincts proved correct when we went out on the afternoon drive and experienced one of the highlights of the trip when we found . . .

Ah, but I am 11 days ahead of the story, so let’s go back to our arrival in Arusha on February 2. (How is that for a teaser, hee, hee!)

Arusha: Ngare Sero, the U.N. Tribunal, a School Visit, Canoeing in Arusha NP

Arriving at the Arusha airport, it was comforting to see the sign with my name on it held by our driver from Ngare Sero (www.ngare-sero-lodge.com). On the 30 minute drive to the lodge, Mark spotted his (Fred and I missed it) first African animal–a dik dik Symbolic perhaps because shortly after we left the well paved road at the turn off for the Dik Dik hotel. The dirt road became quite bumpy by the time that we reached Ngare Sero’s car park. We had experienced our first “African massage” as our driver J4 called it. (There are seven staff members at Ngare Sero whose names begin in J and so they have nicknames of J1, J2, etc.) Mike, the owner of the lodge, greeted us and surprised us when he said that they had dinner waiting for us. Our first meal made the next two days look promising–the lodge has a trout farm and they served us fresh trout that night.

Our two rooms (suites), located on the second floor of the original 100 year old lodge, had been the owners living space at one time and were incredibly atmospheric, with a sitting room, a separate bedroom with a large Zanzibarian bed, and a very large bathroom with an oversized tub with a “phone style” shower (Mark’s tub did not have the shower handle). The toilet was built into the wood tub deck, the lid lifting up to reveal the toilet bowl. In addition to our two rooms, the second floor had a sitting room that other lodge guests could use (although no one seemed to use it–downstairs there was a very large sitting room with a fireplace and the room opened onto the downstairs verandah). The other lodge rooms are located in a row on the grounds–all newly renovated including the bathrooms. I had wanted the two main lodge rooms, despite the fact that they had not been renovated, because all of the rooms on the second floor opened to a balcony that ran the full length of the building.

The next morning I walked out on the balcony, and beyond the trees bordering the grassy lawn in front of the lodge, I could see faintly the misty peaks of Kilimanjaro. A moment later I saw Colobus monkeys scampering in the trees–what a great start for my first day in Africa. At breakfast, we met Stacia, Mike’s daughter-in-law, who with her husband Tim, is co-managing the hotel and with whom I had been corresponding over the last 9 months. She told us that she had scheduled the massages that I had requested. At that point I realized that I would have to choose between the massage and attending the U.N tribunal for Rwanda genocide crimes. I decided to go to the tribunal and Mark and Fred would stay for the massages and then we would catch up with each other in Arusha. Fortunately, the lodge had a car and driver available–J4 once again.

Attending the tribunal is easy and requires no advance arrangement. You sign in at the security desk, present identification which is held at the desk until you depart, and pass through a metal detector. I used my passport but a government issued picture ID such as a U.S. driver’s license would have sufficed. The courtroom for the trial that I attended is a very long rectangular room, one of the long walls of which is made of glass separating the actual courtroom from the visitors area. You are offered a listening device with earphones–the official languages are French, English and Kinyarwanda. In the trial that I watched, the prosecutor spoke English, the defense lawyer spoke French and the witness spoke Kinyarwanda–all of which I was listening to in English. The courtroom lay-out has the interpreters at one end in a glassed-in section, then the prosecution team, the 3 judge panel sits along the middle of the other long wall facing the visitor’s gallery, with the defense team on the left. The witness sits directly in front of the visitors’ wall facing the judges. The day that I attended the witness was screened from the visitors by curtains. I later learned that this meant that the witness was a protected witness-had it been one of the defendants, he would not have been screened.

Watching an hour or so of a multi day (or more likely, multi week) trial is seeing a small piece of a puzzle. I learned that the witness had been a member of the Rwandan army, that he had married a Tutsi (he needed to receive permission for the marriage from the commander of the army). He was being examined by the defense lawyer and the focus seemed to be on certain meetings at the military camps and about the evacuation of the soldier’s families from the camps. Although most of the questioning was not very dramatic, and I had not expected it to be, there was a chilling moment when it became clear that the witness’s family had not survived.

I stopped by the press office on my way out to see if by chance they offered tours so that Mark and Fred could come by in the afternoon (it was a Friday and court sessions end 12-12:30 pm). They do not offer specific tours but a staff member was nice enough to agree to show them a courtroom later in the day which we did.

I was glad that I went and recommend it for anyone with some time in Arusha. (Website from which you can access trial schedules

I met Fred and Mark at the New Arusha Hotel where Swala Gems is located. This is the company that Eben had mentioned as a reputable dealer in tanzanite. Their main business is as a wholesaler of cut stones but they also sell retail.

After Swala and the courtroom tour we headed back to Ngare Sero where we were going to visit the local school. We had brought school supplies with us–notebooks, dictionaries, an atlas, wall maps–taking advantage of the extra weight limit our international flights permitted versus the limited weight allowance for our internal flights. A few days before the trip, as I was going over the purchases I had made, Fred had said–well those are fine but what are we taking that will be fun for the kids. Fortunately we received a tip from friends who had traveled to Kenya last year. We have a store in town that is hard to describe–it is somewhat like an old-fashioned 5 and dime store that has party supplies and school supplies. The school supplies were more appealing–erasers with animals (lions and elephants) on them, brightly colored pencils. They had blow up beach ball type balls that were globes (even had Arusha marked on the Tanzania map), small globe balls that were spongy or hard and bounced really high, and my favorite, glow-in the-dark animal stickers.

When we loaded up the school supplies in the car, we showed them to J4 and gave him a selection of items for his two boys. We arrived at the school–it was an L shape with every room overlooking the courtyard where you drove up. So our arrival attracted the immediate attention of the children in their classrooms. There was what seemed to be an office but no one in it. Two teachers came out of their classrooms and we introduced ourselves indicating that we were there for our visit. It quickly became apparent that they were NOT expecting us. I was really dismayed after all of the planning that I had done and I had really looked forward to this visit. Fortunately for us J4 took over and after conversing in Swahili, the teachers led us to the office. One stayed with us and we showed her the supplies we had brought. The other teacher left returning in a few minutes with a man who introduced himself as the principal. In his best teacher voice he asked us to please sit down as he sorted out what was going on. The teacher who had stayed with us gave him a recap of the school supplies that we had brought. He then indicated that we should leave the books in the office and he would take us to visit the children where he would introduce us and we could give them the small items that we had brought. We visited each of the 4 elementary age classrooms: 25 to 65 students in a class, dressed in uniforms, extremely polite and well behaved, totally charming. Although the visit had started out very awkward, by the end when we said good-bye, the teachers and the principal seemed genuinely happy and so were we.

That evening we had another very good dinner at the lodge, after which we did some star gazing. It had been an excellent first day in Africa.

The next day we had our day trip to Arusha NP which I had booked directly with Mary at Green Footprints (www.greenfootprint.co.tz). We had scheduled a late start out of concern about jet lag, so we knew that we would not be able to see as much of the park as one might be able to cover in a full day. We would not be able to go for a walk on the trail up Mt Meru for example. But the focus of the trip was to go canoeing and to do some game driving in the park as we worked our way back to the lake where the canoeing would take place. Herman was our driver/guide–a very nice young man. We entered the park and within moments I felt the thrill of seeing our first large animals–giraffes. We drove to what Herman called the “little serengeti” section where we saw our first zebras, buffaloes, and warthogs. We then drove partly around the Ngurdoto crater, stopped to pick up the canoes which are stored within the park, and arrived mid afternoon at Little Momella Lake for a picnic lunch to be followed by the canoeing. This was participatory canoeing in that Mark and Fred would be in one canoe by themselves and I would be in a canoe with Herman (so I did not have to participate but they did!) When we first got into the canoes my immediate reaction was that it makes such a difference to be at water level rather than at shore level. After a few more minutes, I then thought, well this is pleasant but frankly it doesn’t really seem very exotic, I do not have a sense that I am in Africa. The very next moment we turned a corner to see a tree full of baboons. OK Toto we are not in Kansas any more. Herman knew where the hippos hung out and he canoed us toward an area where there were 3–one a baby. Sure enough there they were. He predicted that they would submerge and then reappear a little closer to us. They did and I have to say there was a little rush of adrenalin when they popped up closer to us making a sound that Herman interpreted as “don’t come any closer.” We did not but they submerged and reappeared one more time, yet closer, before we paddled away.

The rest of the time we paddled around the lake taking pleasure in seeing the various birds–the crown crane, grey heron, sacred ibis, egyptian geese and swallows among others. I have to admit that I took a perverse pleasure watching and waving to tourists in their vehicles on the shore. I was convinced they were saying, “hey, I did not know that you could go canoeing, that looks like fun.”

That night for our last dinner at Ngare Sero, we were pleased that they served trout again. (All of the food was very good, with an emphasis on fresh, and organic, produce. They had the best plain yoghurt of the trip–made by a local Greek woman..)

The next morning we said goodbye to the staff at Ngare Sero. We had been very satisfied with our stay there–everyone had been extremely friendly. Some other comments about Ngare Sero. If you are a yoga practitioner (or just interested) Stacia is a yoga instructor and will give classes. Also, they have just completed a bush camp near Lake Natron that looks quite interesting. You can see pictures on their website (www.ngare-sero-lodge.com/Natron_camp.htm).

We departed with Edward, who would be our MKSC guide for the next six days. [BTW, you can avoid the last, bumpiest part of the drive to Ngare Sero by meeting your driver at the footbridge to it, which connects to the road much earlier than does its car park area. For our next stay I would ask to be dropped off and met at the footbridge while the driver continued driving with the bags to the car park, or they carried the bags across the footbridge–which is what we did on our departure.]

Next, on safari with MKSC.

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