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Tanzania, Kili, Camels and Horses

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Oct 3rd, 2013, 08:14 PM
  #1
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Tanzania, Kili, Camels and Horses

Earlier this year I set out to find a safari outfit to work with me on creating a set of adventures in what has turned out to be one of the more expensive (live and learn) countries in Africa. I got suggestions. Sent queries. Got ignored (the word budget will do that). Received some eye-popping numbers for people who live in houses far larger than mine and who get far more than my VA benefits to live on. Then some kind soul suggested E-Trip Africa.

Ben Jennings, the head honcho at E-Trip, has a young company that he has directed into the midst of the feeding frenzy of safari operators who are competing hard for the tourist dollar. He has most assuredly earned mine by

-listening carefully and responding to my interests, desires and budget limitations
-taking into account my previous Africa experience (four trips) and the need for something different
-hearing my desire for adventure, physicality and roughing it vs luxury
-being available, responsive and clearly caring about what I wanted to accomplish.

As a result, the trip that leaves in just a few short weeks will include a walking safari, camel safari, a climb up Kili (note I didn't say summit, that's not guaranteed), and a horse safari that I booked before I met Ben.

Ben may operate out of CT, USA but he has strong African networks, experience and connections based on years of experience, and as I watched him bring them to bear in my favor it was impressive.I like to get dirty, sweaty, tired and exhausted, and the idea of a five course dinner in the middle of the African wild is, well. Give me a piece of fruit and let me take in the stars.

On October 30th I leave for Dar, and Ben and I meet to begin this journey. I will be writing whenever I have a connection to provide stories and feedback. For those of you who want to know what to expect from a journalist and author, please see my 30-day thread on Argentina last May. I hope to be able to give you insight on Ben's operation, a little different look at Tanzania, and the experience of a 60 year old athlete taking a shot at Kili after taking five months to train in Colorado. As far as Kili is concerned, we Coloradans respect the mountain. She gives, she takes away. And when she has beaten you, you come down. Porters and tips be damned.

If anyone has favorite places, ideas, loves, experiences, I'd love to hear them. Fodor's has proven to be one of my most beloved places to play. My thanks to all in advance for what always ends up being wise, useful, wonderful, funny and insightful advice from people who know considerably more than I do. Bless you for all you do for us.
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Oct 5th, 2013, 12:53 PM
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What does your itinerary look like?
How many total days in country?
Where will you be visiting, where staying?
Where will you be doing the camel safari and the horseback riding?
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Oct 9th, 2013, 01:21 PM
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Sandi sorry for the late reply, I'm in serious training mode while also attempting to run a business.
I land in Dar on the 1st November and head to the Selous/Ruaha for six days (3 each). I will be doing a three day camel safari, then head to Kili by the 14th to do the Rongai Route. on the 21st I head over to Arusha to meet up with Kaskaki for the six days on horseback. Total days in country: 30.
The camel safari and horseback riding are both very close to Kili. To the best of my knowledge there is only one camel camp- and I simply don't know of others at this time, others might- which is run by the Masai. It's called Mkuru, www.mkurucamelsafari.com.
I'm staying in Lake Manze Camp, Mdonya Old River Camp, African Tulip, Stella Maris and Shangazi House. Pretty much all of these were places that came with the location rather than my choice-although two of the main events, the Kili and the Kaskaki will involve tents, and that makes me very happy.

The Southern Circuit camps are pricey, which is what happens when there isn't a lot of competition. The trade offs are fewer crowds, prime viewing and the potential for more intimate encounters. More time talking to guides, staff, locals. More education and experience.Or at least that is the impression from this side. I don't know yet and can only guess from previous experience in SA and Botswana. I'll find out when I get there.
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Oct 10th, 2013, 11:33 AM
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jhubbell - interesting itinerary especially the camel safari. Am familiar with those done in Kenya, but this in Tanzania new to me. Of course you'll spend sometime stop a camel, but remember 'camels are not pets' and can have attitude, besides they like to spit. More time is often spent walking, but still an awesome experience. Do look forward to your report on this segment of your trip.

Yes, the southern parks do tend to be expensive, but you've got a good mix there as mid-priced camps (these sure aren't the more luxe ones)... but the environment completely different than the northern circuit. Certainly less crowds and vehicles.

And from what I've learned over the years - never do compare one country vs the next. Even though Kenya and Tanzania are similar, they are also quite different and so too you will find that South Africa and Botswana do not compare. You've got to take each individually and on their own merits which they each offer - game, people,
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Oct 10th, 2013, 11:35 AM
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.... ooops, sorry about that

- game, people, landscapes, accommodations, food, general services.

Safari njema and looking forward to your report on return.
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Oct 21st, 2013, 08:30 AM
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Sandi, all well said. Tanzania is half a continent away from SA and as a result, my expectation is that it's going to be massively different. I've always been tickled pink when I hear someone say that they've "been to Australia" because they went to Sydney. Or they've "been to Africa" and therefore know all about it because they've been to Joburg. Well, they've been to a tiny fraction of an enormous continent. I did SA and Botswana together on one trip and there was no comparison as you point out.

It's interesting how hard it was to research camels on line- from trying to get insight on riding information to valuable understanding about the animals themselves. I do know some of their idiosyncrasies but found most of the online posts were from extremely young travelers who complained or who didn't provide particularly useful information for those of us hoping to learn. What I am aware of is that their handlers are very protective of them and that relationship is to be respected, which I would anyway, and that their propensity to spit means bring more bandanas. As a rider, you get used to getting horse spit on you, but not actually spat AT you, which I find hugely amusing. In my supplies there's a fat collection of wet wipes which is good to bring anyway. Any time you're dealing with OPA (other people's animals) you ask permission to touch, and you ask how they like to be touched, and what they like to eat, if anything, and what bad habits to watch out for. The other thing is to remember that you're temporary, and that relationship is permanent.

I've been reading up on some of the advice for those who want to hike Kili, Sandi, and it really strikes me how varied that advice is. From "be sure to start an exercise program" to the real rigor of "Fit for Trips" which is more my style, it runs the whole gamut. This morning I slept in four hours because of the rigor of the weekend workouts- a reminder that rest is as much a part of a workout regime as the hard work especially as we age- but I think that the exercise portion of prepping for Kili is a bit understated for average American tourist especially those over forty. Some of the emails I've exchanged with folks on this forum really indicate how little people prepare for such a significant trek.

As far as the countries are concerned, it's the same as in Latin America, in that from country to country, neighborhood to neighborhood, tribal border to tribal border, geographical delineation to geographical delineation there are going to be significant differences. The whole point of travel is to explore them and to be delighted, amazed, educated, humbled, exposed, re-educated, informed, and made better by those experiences. I was in a hostel in Buenos Aires talking to a very bright and fun young woman from the US and she told me about a man who was bored by his travels and couldn't wait to get home. He was jaded, annoyed, and ticked off by all the newness of his surroundings. He needed McDonald's, Subway, and Starbucks. She eyed him and asked why he didn't just get on an airplane home if it was that bad. Precisely. If it's sameness that we want, we don't belong on an airplane heading overseas.

Thanks for the sage advice. Looking forward to hearing more from you too.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 07:11 AM
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A couple of suggestions for those doing some serious shopping for climbing and hiking gear. While our good friends at REI provide fine options for many of us, I've found cheaper options by going to a website called Spadout which gives you multiple sites to shop on for the same items at lower prices. Sometimes you can find a killer deal, sometimes not. My best option has been a website called The Clymb, which repeatedly sends me announcements of sales that blow the top of my head off. From a $650 down jacket that I scored for about $179 to really good camping knives for practically nothing to sports gear to technical gear, The Clymb was amazing for preparing for Kili. Sierra Trading Post was another, but The Clymb almost always had better pricing. To wit, SmartWool layering pieces which run about $90 each were about half that on The Clymb while they were still $60-70 or so on Sierra. Another good set of options suggested by friends which I've already packed up were individual packets of almond butter, available at Whole Foods or REI or many other groceries. GU, Honey Stingers and other energy packets make for terrific energy sources on the trail. Those were also on sale at The Clymb. Another experienced Kili climber advised to bring your own spices, as they aren't available on the mountain, so a small salt and pepper shaker can be a godsend for those hardboiled eggs, and I am bringing twelve packets of rich hot chocolate for morning and night. I'm also bringing a pound of roasted almonds and dried mango, pecans and other rich snacks. Another excellent idea was that lots and lots of water, while helpful, isn't as useful as water packed with electrolytes and the other stuff your body is losing on such a demanding journey. Hence, energy drinks: Vitargo, available at limited vitamin shops and a super carbohydrate drink for Olympic athletes. And I'm adding something called Octane which is a fine tasting energy drink. Octane was strongly recommended by one of the Kili climbing companies and it's available on line. It actually tastes great and mixes easily in water (many drinks don't). While it's more expensive to do so, get the packets so that you can pack only what you need, as loose powder might make customs a little nervous.

One trick I've used in getting in shape for this trip was to put one of my bikes up on a trainer in front of the television. I train for at least an hour every single night while I watch TV or a movie, so that no matter what, there's at least an hour of leg work every day. Also, there are weights in the living room so that in addition to the bike work, I do weight training while the TV is on. Weighted vests are readily available online and you can use them to get your legs and body used to carrying loads. Also, finding a building where you can do the stairs for an hour or two if you don't have a gym membership is good training, just put on the music and climb. Build up to wearing your vest while you do it, and after a while you'll be amazed at how your cardiovascular and leg strength have improved. Other side benefits: muscularity, power, weight loss, energy.

Another great investment- and there simply isn't a way to get them cheap- is the selection of dry bags from REI or other stores. Sea to Summit makes them. They come in different styles and colors, and their purpose is to keep your stuff completely dry in case of rain, snow, etc. For your precious warm clothing, socks, shoes and all other things that must absolutely stay dry on the mountain, you can use zip lock bags -which tear- or you can use these beauties which are tough, especially the Dry River styles. For those intrepids who also travel to the Amazon Rain Forest this is a superb investment. I mark mine with permanent markers as to their contents or you can spring a bit more dime for the ones that have a clear window to the contents. They come in sizes from 1 liter, small enough for your tiny camera or a translator computer, to 35 liters, for all your warm clothing. I pack all my stuff neatly into Eagle Creek packing cubes to keep it organized, then slide that into a dry bag. The end product fits neatly into a big gear bag. Just one of those excellent, excellent handy packing organizers. Warning- they do get pricey, but if you are in a downpour, you will thank your lucky stars you had the foresight to buy them.

Another amazing source for gear has been TJ Maxx, where for example I found Marmot jackets for less than half price from previous season. Wicking layers from Hind, Northface and other quality providers are there in force for practically nothing (read- $9-16 instead of $40)so it pays to check them out. Marmot is one of the best on the market, and if you're not terribly picky about colors, you can score big time on uber quality gear, which is really the point. TJ Maxx was also where I found tons of training equipment for swimming and running for cheap- Tyr gear for lap swimming and the like, training gloves for the weight room, Pearl Izumi bike clothing and even Goretex hiking boots for $29 which is ridiculously inexpensive.

Kili is expensive enough without dropping another fortune on gear. The training piece is absolutely essential. You must work out and prepare physically. These are some of my insider tips on what to take based on my interviews with people who've already climbed Kili and what they wished they had brought with them (especially the spices). One of the MOST ESSENTIAL PIECES OF ADVICE is that all of them said they wished they had trained more for the downhill part of the mountain, as their legs simply weren't prepared for nine hours of downhill work after the summit. You must have poles, you must train for this. It's exhausting on the knees. Just wanted to pass that along. Definitely do your research on the mountain, take the gear lists seriously and research all your options on where you can find stuff for cheap. I hope my suggestions help. I saved lots and lots of money this year by going to The Clymb, Spadout and Sierra Trading Company, and all the other discount camping sites on line. REI has good sales too, sometimes. My very strong suggestion is to start physical training about 6-7 months out, especially if you're not an athlete. Test out your gear and your energy drinks and make sure your gear works. Break in your boots. Take things you WILL eat on the mountain because appetite wanes at altitude. Invest in extremely good socks. And finally, talk about an insider suggestion, here's the best tip I ever got about preventing blisters from my fireman buddy who does wildfire work all over the country, who himself got it from a hotshot. To prevent blisters from your boots (which they wear 18 hours at a time) wrap your tender areas in duct tape first. Yep, good old duct tape. Heels, toes, wherever you might feel the heat. Not AFTER they start getting sore, that's too late. Do it as a preventative measure. Once you have a hot spot, you've already got a blister started. These guys wrap their feet in duct tape and don their boots and never get blisters. I don't know about you, but I'm taking a roll. The last thing I need is a nasty blister coming down Kili with nine hours of hiking to go. Paul said that he's never used Moleskin again after using duct tape. That's good enough for me.

We are allowed 33kgs or 70 something pounds for our gear bag going up the mountain. Fully loaded, mine weighs around 48-50lbs, and much of that weight comes from the snacks and drink mixes, nuts and goodies. The actual gear is very light. That means that by the end of the trip that bag is going to be light for the porters and very light going home. Everyone is happy.

For those of you in the planning stages, I hope all this helps. I've interviewed a number of experienced climbers, people who have done big mountains, including Kili, and these are their suggestions. I'll be posting how all this stuff works later. I leave on Wednesday next week, happy to answer questions if anyone has any.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 11:12 AM
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Duct Tape - one more use for this amazing product... interesting!

Still must remember that regardless the amount of pre-training or having climbed elsewhere previously... if at any time you're not feeling well, get your butt down from whatever altitude you find yourself. Do not push ahead.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 12:18 PM
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Agreed, Sandi. I've written elsewhere in this Forum that when the mountain says stop she means stop. You don't argue. This is where people get hurt- and whether it's an argument with a tip-hungry porter or a summit-hungry tourist, it makes no difference. It drives me nuts when people lose sight of the real message that it's the journey.

Your comment reminds me of one of my favorite athletes, RGIII, whom most football fans will know as the QB of the Redskins. He played us yesterday in a losing effort- and in the process got badly injured, and even tried to sneak back on the field out of sight of the medical professionals who had just benched him. The profound lack of respect for his current limitations and the sheer arrogance that he alone can lead the team to victory will combine eventually- unless something changes- to cut short what could have been a remarkable career. That same kind of Mememememememememe thinking is what gets people in serious trouble on hikes. You get just so far, so close, and part of you thinks, quite irrationally, "hey, I can do this," despite every single indication to the contrary. "But I paid so much money. I want my photo at the top." Know what? Your photo at the top could be you coming down under a sheet if you don't back off. Kili is like any other massive, demanding climb. You can only do so much. Mitigating factors like altitude sickness, fatigue, illness, not enough food or water intake, who knows.
What I most appreciate about your reminder in the thread is that most of us aren't good at listening to our bodies for clues around thirst- which we more often read as hunger- for clues of disorientation or exhaustion because they may be unfamiliar, and all too often the American way of "I can do this on my own" leads us to carry on without asking for help.

Part of me thinks that we've all seen too many adventure movies and we somehow see ourselves as Indiana Jones or Laura Croft. I'm backing you up here, Sandi. I've put months and months into training and preparation. But I hold no expectation whatsoever of summitting. I do hold the expectation of having a fine adventure. What that holds, I have no idea. What will happen, I have no idea. Whether I summit is no guarantee. Nobody owes me that. Just because we plunk down x amount of cash to climb Kili is meaningless. We try. And if we're smart, we prepare. And when we reach a limitation, we back the heck off. Because hey, I've got Viet Nam in January, and Peru in April, and I have no intention of messing any of that up. What are we trying to prove here?

So many thanks for the comment, I can't agree more. And by the way, I put that duct tape suggestion to the test. This morning in the chill of oncoming snow here in Denver, I broke in a brand new pair of Goretex hiking boots for an 8.5 mile hike with duct tape on my heels, which is where I get my blisters. It worked like a DREAM. Who'd'a thunk it?
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Nov 2nd, 2013, 09:05 AM
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For anyone who is planning on a quick overnight in Johannesburg close to the airport, the Emerald property Airport Inn B&B was a perfect choice. Not quite on the airport but very close, it's a great rest stop for those of us who are moving on the next day. They offer a shuttle bus for pickup,which includes waiting for you while you shop at the airport Woolworth's for goodies to tide you over, and I found the staff to be very warm and welcoming.

A small, but very helpful, item they offer is adapters. I hadn't thought to include a ZA adapter for my trip and they provided one so that I could charge my Kindle and computer. Really thoughtful.

The only minor downside is that for those of us who are hostellers the cost of the dorm comes out to about $30 a night which is a lot for a dorm bed. However I scored big in that the dorm was empty so effectively I had that huge room to myself (therefore nothing to complain about), and the showers were nice and toasty, which can always be a challenge overseas. A private room is about $52.00. The grounds are nicely kept with blooming trees and bird's nests announcing spring, and small turquoise pools for toe dipping. The morning breakfast included eggs, sausage, mushrooms and plenty of carbohydrates, but also yogurt and fruit, and the dorm room also had coffee and tea supplies along with a hot pot. The dorm room was splashed with bright sunshine in the morning, too, a nice wakeup call. Shuttles take you back to the airport on the hour, you tip for the service.
As a place for a layover when en route elsewhere I strongly recommend it. Great place to take care of the jet lag and wake up refreshed.

Dar es Salaam's Transit Motel sits practically on top of the airport, literally across the street, about 10,000 TSH taxi ride to get you there. It's a nice facility; the only challenges the first night were no hot water and dim lights in the room. The shower refused to put out anything more than cold, so I waited until morning. When morning came, the power was out, the room was, well, warm, and at that point, a cold shower was ideal. The staff was working hard on the power problem (she shrugged and said "this is our country") - it's not a big deal, so you go out and explore. Happens at the Hilton, too. So I needed more shillings anyway and walked up the road back to the airport. The air was full of the smells of cooking fish, vegetables, sweat, spices and cooking smoke. The dirt road was potholed, patched, and full of people, kids and commerce. A riot of color, mostly on the women, purples and yellows and blues and reds and oranges, sparkled head scarves and billowing skirts. Beautiful. The short walk to the airport revealed barbershops featuring headshots of Obama and Jay-Z, lonely pieces of meat hanging on hooks in the heat, tiny shops crammed cheek by jowl, giggling kids cuddling up to mama's thigh. And massive Toyota trucks taking up the whole street, with motorcycles making their way around them. A circus for the senses.

Upon return to the hotel the sweat was dripping and a quick cold shower sounded divine. However, now there was no water at all, anywhere. Staff said to wait a few minutes. First thought: that this could be several hours. So I stripped down, opened the drapes to let some light in and was rewarded with the startled faces of two workmen who were walking by the back alley window just at that moment. I'm not sure who was more surprised. Needless to say, the drapes were immediately drawn tight and I chose option two: nap. Soon as I closed my eyes, the lights came back on, the fan started up, things cooled down and the water was available again.

Another note about Transit Motel, the staff came and got me around 10 am to make sure I was fed. This was extremely kind of them since I didn't realize breakfast was available. The staff had fruit, coffee, tea, and eggs out, and the cook was using a gas burner stove to make the eggs on a table in the dining room. They had extra fruit left over and gave that to me as well. What I've appreciated from other contributors on here is the advice on tipping, which has been so very helpful, and to remember to show gratitude not only by saying thanks for the service.

Of course that also meant to change a lot of dollars, and that means having great massive wads of several million TSH to squirrel away, which makes for tumor-like protuberances in one's pockets,and on one's person. But hey. Nobody said you had to be svelte on the veldt. So, off to find cubbyholes in the backpack. One trick I have used to great success is those plastic bandaid holders. Gonna need a lot of 'em.

Quick tip for those new at this, you old hands are pros. If you're washing stuff in the room, and have a fan,make sure you put all your damp stuff (dry it in a towel first) in the fan's wake. Bathrooms are wet and humid, don't leave stuff to dry in there. That way your fast dry AND your less than fast dry stuff will be done by morning, even in humid areas.

For those who are looking for feedback on E-Trip, as I was writing this, Ben and his wife Aurelie showed up today right in the middle of the penning of it. They hand delivered all my tickets and materials along with a loaned phone for any emergencies loaded with thousands of minutes just in case. If I go over I can buy more. This is a nice service, and they were right on time as promised. They also took me to lunch, an adventure that took us four and a half hours not because it was a long meal, but because we sat in traffic for most of the time. Josef, our driver, did a fine job with shortcuts, but that bought us minutes, and we still ended up with long intervals staring at the colorful rear ends of city busses. The good news was that I was able to watch people walking by, and talk to Ben and Aurelie and Josef, and that made the afternoon a joy.

Women in clothing sparkling with with silver threads glided by with a tower of buckets on their heads, and men pushed loads of fresh cut two by fours stretching two car lengths in front of them. The city buses held an overflow of humanity, arms and elbows and heads hanging out to escape the heat inside Many were reaching for the drinks and cashews being proffered by the long line of street vendors who showed up after we'd been sitting for five minutes or more. It was like Home Depot and the local 7 Eleven shop packed up for the road. Everything from bolts to CDS to flags to screwdrivers made it up and down the road. I was reminded of the impulse buy aisle of our big box stores; this was like that, only the impulse aisle walked up to your window. The only sad thing was that chocolate wasn't on the menu in this heat.

It also struck me how patient everyone was. There was no horn blowing, at least until we got moving again. While we sat, all was quiet. At one light the wait was nearly an hour. People left the busses and started walking, which was faster anyway at that point. And cooler by far.

As for the E-Trip team, Ben speaks Spanish, French, English and a smattering of Swahili and a few other languages, as does his French wife. My understanding is that their commitment in their business is to offer a more customer centered experience in the overcrowded safari field, as well as to find ways to benefit the communities they operate in. To wit, Kili climbs to help build schools and the like. They spend much of the year in country and close to the network of providers who know them well, so they can provide opportunities such as negotiating last minute deals (like they did for me)which might not always be available with larger operations. They treated me to a chicken dinner (BTW roasted doesn't necessarily mean "roasted," in this case it means deep fried to death, never assume)and I got to find out a lot about Aurelie, with whom I'm climbing Kili.She's a one time gymnast who still sports her muscles, still very much an athlete.

Then they packed away all my bags for transport to Arusha, and sent me on my way for Selous and Ruaha tomorrow morning.

One good lesson I learned today was that despite the fact that my gear bag weighs less than it needs to for Kili, that bag still has to be transported by E-Trips internally while I travel elsewhere, such as to Ruaha and Selous. Hence, it's subject to the same luggage restrictions- such as 20kg, not 33kg, on the smaller airlines. While obvious in retrospect it wasn't beforehand, so I need to cover the costs for E-Trip for the extra weight. Not much, but still. This is just a head's up for anyone who is doing more than Kili, and for whom there will be bag transportation involved.

Another note about the Transit Hotel, they offer dinners as well, a pretty varied menu, which makes it convenient when you don't want to fight the traffic. After being exposed to said traffic on a Saturday afternoon, I'm reminded of two things: why it's so great to get out of the city to the hinterlands as fast as possible, and why it's so great to have a super savvy driver and plenty of time to just sit if you must head out. This motel is so very close to the airport it's a 12 minute walk, and it's incredibly convenient to get back to for your next flight.

Hope everyone had a great Halloween!
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Nov 2nd, 2013, 01:11 PM
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Great read with interesting tidbits, though I'm still stuck on the duct tape
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Nov 7th, 2013, 09:55 AM
  #12
 
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Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Nov 9th, 2013, 09:38 AM
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Finally arrived in Arusha after six days on the Southern Circuit, no wi-fi of course, working on the reports. Here's the first bit. Trust that duct tape, Sandi!!

Three days in this luxury tented camp were enough to almost convince me to take my Rocky Mountain camping up a notch. Imagine showering in warm, solar powered heat while you gaze at billions of stars (remember them?) and pick out the big dipper.Possibly hear a lion's roar in the distance. You're perfectly safe inside on a nice firm bed where candles are lit on the headstand. No electricity- that would ruin it- but lamps, candles and a multifunctional torch take care of everything just fine. You have a modern toilet, so don't imagine the worst. In fact, if you're the right kind of traveler vs tourist, this is the place for you.

A well equipped (three weapons, and yes they've killed lions with them) Maasai accompanies you to the breakfasts and dinners in times of lesser light, making you feel like royalty, and ensuring your safety. When the enormous but remarkably mild bull elephant comes up quiet as a mouse to strip the local bushes of its early spring green, they stand between you and his great bulk, but out of the way of your camera shots. I was sitting at the lunch table when the elephant had come up all the way to my shoulder and I hadn't heard the slightest noise. He was no more than six feet away. Gets your attention, that.

The wait staff are eager to please, this is partly because they work for tips and partly because this is who they are, which is generous of spirit and smiles. The food is not five star- howevere it is well done, it is bought locally, not shipped in. And many other sustainable points are notable including things like recycled toilet paper and other goods, an emphasis on intelligent water use, and ensuring that what is sold for souvenirs is also made locally. I found that my requests for tons of fruit was cheerfully met and brought to my tent because I had to work at night. All kindnesses that I very much appreciated, and by that I mean not only verbally but financially.

Another valuable aspect of this facility are the guides. It's so easy to claim that a guide was great or fantastic or whatever. What makes a guide great is that on an all day safari, he knows precisely where the lions sleep. Where the hyenas take their midday siesta. Where the favorite quiet hidey holes are for the animals so that the time between 11-3 or 4 pm isn't a long string of looking at impalas gathered under spreading shade of branches at a distance. A good guide has taken the time to educate himself on the flora and the fauna and can tell good stories about why the hippo yawns. Many of them pick up bits of languages from all over the world and can do a fair bit of communicating in various tongues, but the lingua franca is English. A good guide can see the ears of a lion or its tail from quite a distance, and knows precisely how close his boat can get to a pod of hippos. One big plus is that the guides are very adept at finding the best angles for your camera shot, the light, and they are continually going off road to accomplish this for you. Since the population of travelers isn't so huge down here you won't find yourself in a circle of forty Land Rovers looking at a pride of lions. Maybe two or three. What a very nice change of pace.

This outfit has terrific guides, using this kind of measurement. And another. If they infer that you are curious about termite mounds, ten minutes or so later you are facing one that's at least ten feet over your head, and getting the entire background and history on how they are built. They tend to be very sensitive to the preferences of their charges and will do their best to deliver what you're interested in, if it's possible. Nature does the rest, which means that you may not see those wild dogs discussed in the brochure.I never did. But I wasn't disappointed in any way. The vast range of wildlife and the remarkable variations in the land made it so entertaining that you don't hold forth for one thing or another.

A few lessons learned, this by way of short story. Girl has camera that burns batteries fast. Girl buys six extras so as not to miss the big dramatic moment. The day of the morning boat ride, girl gets in Rover at 6:30 am, armed with three extra batteries. Not thirty seconds out of camp the BIG DRAMATIC SHOT happens: Massive male hippo charges the car. Does the girl get the shot? Hell no. Camera was off, conserving battery life. By the time the camera is on, girl gets terrific shot of hippo butt cheeks. So.....lemme see here, why again did Girl buy extra batteries? Moral of story, keep your camera on. To wit: on the way to the airport, I turned the camera on right away. Not 600 yards out we had some fabulous shots of magnificent birds of prey. This time I got them while everyone else was fumbling with their cameras. 'Nuff said. Buy the extra batteries and keep the damn camera ON. There are animals and birds and cool things absolutely everywhere all the time.

Can you charge up at this camp? Yes. Central place, the only place, international access. It's right next to the bar, everyone uses it. Should you bring a hair dryer? Nah. Don't ask that question. Hairdryers are absolutely positively useless. You're going to have hat hair (you did bring a big hat, right?) and you're in Africa. In the bush. Like putting on lipstick out there, or perfume. Chapstick with sunscreen, sure. Besides, you are so limited on the weight you can put on those small planes, why on earth waste space and weight on stuff you cannot, will not use?

About hair: another lesson learned: If you have long hair, men or women, the best way to handle it is to braid it up and forget it. However, given the dust, sweat and dirt out there on the savannah, there comes a time, and mine was during a conversation with Tricia, the manager.

A mud dauber wasp took serious interest in my dome and would simply not leave me alone. Not scary, it was just looking for a place to build. Ahem. A nest. My hair. Point taken. I shot for the shower, laughing.

All I'm trying to gently suggest here is that makeup, hairdryers, perfume and other city goodies don't belong on safaris. Not only do they take up room, they can sometimes draw insects (not good) and hey, this is an opportunity to really strip all the city away and experience nature raw- and yourself in the middle of it. How often do you get that gift?

Another lesson: Trust the guides. These guides - borne of long experience- know how close to get to hippos, lions, or any other dangerous animals including the extremely unpredictable water buffalo. I heard of guests who were terrified of getting too close, which costs other guests their best shots. Then you hear of yet other guests who insist on trying to get too close. Well hey. I figure these guides live with these animals. They know what they can can do. They have great respect for them. And their priorities for us are, in order: safety, safety, safety, safety, and then a joyous and magnificent experience. Trust these folks, they really do know their stuff down here. One guide shared with me his biggest frustration: people who demand to see a lion. Or elephant, or a rhino. Whatever. These guys are good, and they do their best, but they can't whip up a large mammal on command, or one which has been hunted or poached out of existence. One gentleman on my Rover did just that- demand to see a rhino. There aren't any down here. He was very angry. Not the guide's fault. C'mon man.

Other thoughts: Buy quick drying Patagonia or Ex-Officio tops. I ended up living in one pair of undies, two shirts, one tank, two pairs of socks and two pairs of pants for 3 days. Basin washing took care of everything. I had a fan in my tent and that dried the socks after I'd rolled them in the towel. Very economical for weight and space. I'd brought more, just didn't use them. I used one of those cooling bandanas that expand with water- it gets heavy, thumbs down, but it does help with the heat. What did work was getting the Ex Officio tank top soaking wet and wearing it as is. Keeps you cool as it dries, perfect.

Best bug spray I ever found that worked with the tsetse files was Coleman's 100% Deet. Expensive, but it WORKED. I didn't get bitten by mosquitoes or tsetse flies once in three days. Cost about $15 and worth every single penny.

When you're on the channel for the boat trip, try not to argue when someone on the boat says that they see a croc up ahead and you think it's a log. They've probably got better eyes. It's a croc. You're going to feel foolish when your "log" eases itself into the water. Especially if it's right under the boat and you can feel those reptilian spikes scraping along the bottom under your feet. Yep. Log.

Buy your souvenirs here. It directly benefits the local community. This is a very eco-sensitive company- they watch their footprint. Admirable. Learn more from managers Phil and Tricia, and if you speak a different language, chances are Tricia can speak it, too. She's terrific.

Keep in mind that there are several good offerings in this area, but this was my experience of the tent camp. Since I prefer tents to hotel rooms, this was the best choice. Getting a super nice bed, the aura of a beloved movie (but Bob Redford was nowhere to be seen) short of the Mozart, you could hardly be more charmed. If you don't mind a little dirt or mud, a magical hot shower under the stars at day's end shared with the wild animals of the savannah, I heartily recommend this camp.
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Nov 9th, 2013, 09:46 AM
  #14
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I forgot to mention. Seasons. Yeah, everyone loves to come when the rains have made the world so green, and everything is happy and exploding around here. Well, something else explodes in November, and that's the birthrate. November is the only month you get to see babies babies babies babies and more babies. I don't care if after an hour you've seen as many impalas as you care to see, you can't see enough baby impalas, especially when twenty odd of them are gathered around one Mommy as though she's giving catechism class. Sorry, Sister Mary, was that capitalized? So here's my point. Sure you can come during high season. But I love to see very young things. And in lake, you can see baby hippos pop to the surface, and, startled, immediately pop back down like they're playing whack-a-mole with you. Funny as hell. Moms do it too but it's just not as cute as Tiny Tubby over there, and not quite as threatening as the nearly three ton Bull over there. Close to the boat. Uh, yeah.

The young hyenas have eye-popping spots, quite beautiful, not like adult Mom who is sinewy and gray.Young things are every reason in the world to come in November, along with sometimes better rates. And there is just nothing so cute as to see a tiny elephant waddling fast as it can holding on to Mama's tail. You wanna see cute? Show up in November. It won't be as green yet, but it will be worth it to be able to see the babies.
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Nov 9th, 2013, 12:02 PM
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OK so here's more this coming about Mdonya River Camp in Ruaha.

“Bring your DEET and enjoy the bush more”


Why? Here's a fine illustration. Our driver and a guide pick a few of us up at the airport and we head over to the park. I have covered myself with my Coleman 100% DEET. When the tsetse flies come, they come in droves. Avoided me completely: bare arms and legs, face, not a bite. However, they did swarm, annoy, and torture the poor workman who sat next to me on the second seat. Why? Because he was wearing blue.
So get this: All around this camp are tsetse fly traps. The colors they use to ATTRACT the flies are black and blue. I do not know which nitwit chose blue overalls for the workers but it guarantees their misery. I sprayed him and the misery was over with. That day.

So those of you even thinking about civilian clothes? Blue jeans? Those flies can bite right through denim. Bite the bullet. Get thee to Ex Officio and buy the safari colored zip off pants and the travel shirts, you can find them on discount sites, yes I know they're expensive. But they are fast dry, wicking, which really is important, they have lots of pockets, you'll love the shorts to pants option when the sunset is over with and it gets chilly (it's spring and it does get chilly just like it does in desert country), and the shirts roll up and stay there, and they also have a ton of pockets. The right gear is worth the money, besides, you'll be coming back. Betcha 10,000 TZH. More.

Here's the acid test to find out if this property is for you. You walk into your beautifully appointed tent, you are amazed. BBIIIGGGG bed, candles, lockbox with provided locker, canvas wardrobe, plenty of hangers. Cool. No place to plug anything in. GREAT! You walk into the huge bathroom and have a horselaugh, because a monkey has pooped in the shower, and on the other side, other monkeys have had their paws all over the toilet seat doing their best to drink the (very scarce) water. You take our your camera and photograph both, then clean it all up. If this is your reaction, you are prime for this place.

You hear jackals screaming and fighting in the night and run out onto the verandah to see what the fuss is about. You wear DEET to bed because stuff may have come into the room despite the fact that you diligently zip the tent closed every single time.You welcome 6 am because you have no idea what may be walking around the tent, maybe a lion (you're safe and you know it, just don't walk outside), monkeys with tiny babies hanging on to mommy's belly hair, impalas.

The Maasai greet you warmly on the sand path to breakfast and again at night to make sure you get safely to the dining tent, where Johanna scares up great regular and vegetarian fare and a mean fruit bowl. Mary, a Kenyan born woman of British descent who is lively, funny and one strong cuppa tea, runs the place and ensures everyone is well cared for, is in all places at all times. Sandy and dusty, this camp at the height of the heat in November is bullishly hot during the day and downright chilly at night. Which makes bundling up under those great big fat blankets all the more yummy,

Another reviewer of this camp spent a lot of time making points about what she didn't get, or what wasn't up to her expectations. We all have opinions, but perhaps it's fair to keep in mind where we are out here. Deep deep deep in the bush. No electricity. So when she says my drinks weren't cold, come on, man. We're in Africa, and there's only one charging station, it's all solar power, and in all fairness, this isn't the Hilton. You just aren't going to get icy chilled drinks out on the bush. that's five star. That's not who comes here. Tsetse flies are part of Africa and so is using elephant dung to keep them off you. The smell isn't bad at all, in fact it's not offensive at all. Would you rather have a bit of smoke or a swarm of flies that bite? Part of that is using old traditions that work.

I had two very talented guides in the three days I stayed in this camp. Talented in that they both knew the area extremely well. The network among the guides was excellent and on multiple occasions led to our being able to get underneath a fabulous leopard dozing away overhead. They have a policy of four Rovers around an animal at a time, so if there are more, they wait their turn so that the animals aren't surrounded by twenty grilles. They all share information when they pass each other and we found many lions- young males, females with cubs, a cranky old male.

About which there is a story.

Now this isn't my first rodeo but it's a classic case of how you can know better but still be a dolt.

Our guide had seen four giraffe facing upwind. Knew something was up. Snuck up to a big bush, very close. Sure enough, big old male lion inside. We are very very close. We start taking pictures. He says to me stay inside, I have no intention of getting out of the Rover. But that's not what he was referring to. My hands, holding a peacock blue camera with a yellow scuba handle, were outside the line of the vehicle and in the sun. Mr. Grumpy locked on me, and sat up. Growled. Tail switched angrily. The hair on my neck and arms prickled and we started up the car and headed off in a circle and came to a stop another ten feet away, He lay back down, satisfied. Kishembe explained, kindly and without looking directly at me, what Mr. Grumpy was having a fit about. He was being nice but I was the culprit. The trick isn't knowing, it's using the knowledge. It embarrassed the hell out of me but guaranteed I won't do it again. That's good guiding.

You're going to love this camp if you can pry the city goods out of your hands and leave them at home- stuff like the goo we insist on putting on our female faces or in our hair. Frankly, nobody is looking anyway, and if you do the full day safari (recommended) you will be sweaty, gritty, happy, smoky, utterly delighted and at some point, wondering why you ever bothered with that gunk anyway. You'll pick it all back up when you get home but for now, it's wonderful to be unbothered by beauty rituals other than moisturizers with SPF. DDF and Neutrogena both make good ones, and they aren't sticky and heavy which is good down here.

As mentioned in other TA posts I bought a small spray bottle of Coleman 100% DEET, it was priceless. I will never go anywhere there are biting things without it again. Here however you are provided with bug spray, and boy does it work. I had an enormous evil looking ant that was wending its way up my calf and went after it with this stuff. While it stinks like all bug sprays do, I never saw a monster ant expire so quickly.

All the tents face the Old River bed, which at night becomes something of a hotbed of activity. Lions, jackals, impala, elephants can all wander around down there, fight, make up, party down or have a plenary session of the UN for all we know, but it provides wonderful background noises for sleep. If you are the kind of person who like me grew up listening to the symphonies of the night, and can't sleep when it's too quiet, you'll love this place.It's magical.

The mistakes most people make are that they bring too much clothing, not enough tip money, stuff they just don't use. As mentioned elsewhere, in this November heat, because it is so like Arizona, you can basin wash a thick pair of hiking socks in the morning, hang them in the tent loops and they are dry by noon. So at night, if you have a very light (NOT COTTON) quick drying tank, the made for travel quick drying undies (these camps will not wash undies or bandannas for you), you can plop them in the shower with you or in your basin and in seconds they are clean, and they are ready for the next day.

Kishembe, as far as the animals went, drove home to the Italians who were in the Rover with me for two days, that finding one animal and watching it for a while just doing what it does: eat, roll in the sand, dig for water, whatever, was far more educational and interesting than running full tilt around the park searching for this or that mammal. And he's right. This one gentleman demanded to see the Big Five, he was heading home the next day and he was determined. He told Kishembe he was being graded by points as to which animals he could show this couple. He wasn't kidding. To his credit. Kishembe ignored him. He was polite, but he wouldn't be bullied. For one thing the park doesn't have all the Big Five, and for another, it WAS more interesting when we found an elephant herd, and one matriarch put on a fascinating show of how she would clean her grass of root dirt before eating it, and then how she ate.

One tidbit, when you're patient. Nature will throw you a circus show.To wit: We see one zebra. My favorite animal, so our driver stops. Lively little zebra walks to the left of the Rover, stops and faces right. Stage right, as it were. Now here comes the rest of the herd. One by one, they might have been holding tails. They walked in a perfectly straight line across our line of sight, until they filled the horizon. About nine of them. Meanwhile, perky Mr Circus Master on the left, ears pricked forward, is watching us with deep interest, and then he looks at the lineup, which has simply stopped. We take a whole bunch of photos, they just stand there like they're posing. Pretty soon we're done, and as if on cue, first zebra in line starts to walk, and then everyone else follows. Quite calmly, no running, until they disappear stage left. Then Mr. Circus Master, who has been watching their progress, turns and looks at us one more time, then makes a turn to the left himself, and follows his performers off Stage Left.

I am not making this up. I have pictures, Check it out. We were completely and utterly delighted.

If you are in such a doggone hurry to go find your lion because you have to see your Big Five, or whatever your mission is, you might miss your magic. Hey, just sayin.'

This camp doens't get a ton of visitors. That is a huge advantage for those of us who do come, because we get to see more. November. I wrote elsewhere about Lake Manze that the reason to be here in November is babies.The other reason is that you get to see the many many many baobab trees feeding the impalas and monkeys with their blossoms. You get to see a land just waking up. The trees with shallow roots apparently dead (dormant) and the ones with deep roots still a deep and abundant green. You see the giraffe with their babies working on the delicate beginnings of the bushes and trees, and learn how to tell males from females by their eating habits.

I personally like fewer people and small groups, relative isolation and roughing it. This camp delivers on all those, while delivering excellent food and very talented guides. I delighted in their extensive knowledge, their passion for their jobs, and their willingness to share their horror about the poaching and other challenges the animals are facing.


Bring enough money for tipping, ten dollars US a day is considered a good tip here, and it's always nice to remember the cook if she has had to do something special for you. Take some time to learn about Mary, she's fascinating in her own right.

So in sum, if you have a sense of adventure, can leave the city behind, are willing to get a little dusty in order to experience Africa, this is the place for you. I absolutely loved it here just like I did at Lake Manze. Two terrific spots on the Southern Circuit, same owner, same dedication to green, locally sourced foods, locally made souvenirs.
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Nov 9th, 2013, 10:38 PM
  #16
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I was reminded of how much we are our parents on this trip when I was at Lake Manze Camp. My mother was one of those unabashed, very bright, slightly unpredictable people who thoroughly embarrassed their teenage daughters (oh MOM!!!!!) by doing things like breaking into song without apparent provocation. Here's how we know we can't escape our parents. Sitting in a Rover and getting ready to leave on a safari one morning, a couple was sitting at the front of our Rover. Introductions were going around, and the German couple introduced themselves. The man said his name was Henry, for the life of me I couldn't contain myself and I broke into "I'm Henery the Eighth I am" from the Sixties, which some of you will remember. Their Teutonic sense of humor was NOT tickled, and they studiously ignored me the rest of the day. And the next, and so on. And in fact when they showed up at Old River Camp they continued to treat me as persona non grata, and no attempt on my part could melt the ice.

Well hell's bells.

What I finally came to realize is that my mother had a deep well of joy inside her and it burst to the surface in song, and I happen to share that characteristic. Show tunes, Beethoven's Ninth, doesn't matter. That I inherited it is a gift, and that I don't always know when that particular spring is going to overflow is one of the Great Mysteries of Life. I most certainly didn't expect to find a rich appreciation of my long departed mother here in Africa, but I can most certainly also thank the unamused Germans for causing me to think about and find some answers. Thanks, Mom.
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Nov 9th, 2013, 10:59 PM
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Another priceless moment from Lake Manze Camp, and another really good reason to go on the all day safari: the hot springs. When we headed out early in the morning, I predicted rain. The clouds were gathering in the distance but refused to get anywhere near us all day. It rained in the distance, on the periphery all day long, while we suffered in the heat. I continued to argue that we were going to get hit hard, but began to seriously doubt it as the clouds stayed grey and stayed away. However, I got my wish just as we arrived at the hot springs.

We took out our gear and climbed up to the springs' source, where the extremely hot- and I mean boiling, burning hot- sulphur waters came out of the ground. They cascaded down to the larger pool, leaving a stream of deep green algae and yellow sulphur. At the bottom was a warm waterfall as lovelt as a hot tub, and you climb right in. And as soon as I stuck my toe in the water, the clouds unzipped and all hell broke loose upstairs.

So there I am in this nice, hot, achingly wonderful springs, and my face and hair are being washed by clean, fresh African rain. I'm sorry, life does NOT get better than this. In the meantime, my two compatriots are standing poolside getting soaked. The driver high-tails it to the Rover to get rain gear and my guide hides under a towel- sure, that'll keep you dry- while the rain pours down in buckets. I'm warm and comfy, and there he is shoreside taking photos of yours truly while he drips. Fifteen minutes later after my guide is now soaked to the bones the drier shows back up with rain gear, and at that point I'm ready to brave the cold rain. The guide puts his hand out and as soon as my foot touches the shore, the rain promptly stops. You can't make this stuff up.

I crack up and accuse my guide of angling pretty hard for tips if this is the relationship he has with the weather, that he can call down the rain soon as I get in the pool, and call it off as soon as I get out. First, he doesn't quite get the joke, and then we laugh about it all the way home.

The hot springs are a huge highlight, soothing to the muscles and spirit, and if it does happen to pour down on you, it's a real treat. First piece of advice, if it looks like rain, take the gear with you. Second pieced of advice: don't miss this part of the area, it's just too beautiful. The waterfall of hot water is perfect to soothe aching shoulder muscles and is a special event you don't want to pass up.
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Nov 9th, 2013, 11:13 PM
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Another note which anyone in the business world will find interesting. I find it sad and interesting in kind. In the Old River Camp area there are a great many more baobab trees, which like the high altitude, and the elephants like them for their water. This means that many of them suffer the indignity of being regularly attacked by elephants, some all the way around the base, resulting in what the locals call the Coke or Coca Cola baobab.

In another example, the impalas are so plentiful, so ubiquitious, they also have a nickname:McDonald's.

I had multiple reactions to this: first it's a little funny, then it's amazement when you realize the extraordinary power of American branding. Billions and billions of dollars' worth of American branding. Coke is so ingrained in the minds of the world's people that people will choose it over water anywhere. McDonald's is so ubiquitous that a common animal earns that nickname. It's funny- and terrifying. Lastly, Coke is about the most evil product the US exports. Ruins teeth, causes diabetes and obesity, ruins female bones. Diet coke creates sugar craving. McDonald's replaces good indigenous food with pure junk, causing weight gain and bad food habits. I've seen it everywhere people adopt our exports in lieu of their own good vegetables, grains and fish or lean meat diets. While some may disagree with me because they like these products or are impressed with the supply chain that makes all this possible (I work in supply chain so I am also impressed, trust me), I don't respect the impact these products have on the physiology of those who consume them regularly. Right now Pepsi is waging a huge war for the hearts and wallets of Tanzanians, they are marketing everywhere. Oh well. All due respect to those who work for these companies, I just believe in good food, good things to drink, and excellent health for all, all over the world.
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Nov 9th, 2013, 11:18 PM
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I was reminded of how much we are our parents on this trip when I was at Lake Manze Camp. My mother was one of those unabashed, very bright, slightly unpredictable people who thoroughly embarrassed their teenage daughters (oh MOM!!!!!) by doing things like breaking into song without apparent provocation. Here's how we know we can't escape our parents. Sitting in a Rover and getting ready to leave on a safari one morning, a couple was sitting at the front of our Rover. Introductions were going around, and the German couple introduced themselves. The man said his name was Henry, for the life of me I couldn't contain myself and I broke into "I'm Henery the Eighth I am" from the Sixties, which some of you will remember. Their Teutonic sense of humor was NOT tickled, and they studiously ignored me the rest of the day. And the next, and so on. And in fact when they showed up at Old River Camp they continued to treat me as persona non grata, and no attempt on my part could melt the ice.

Well hell's bells.

What I finally came to realize is that my mother had a deep well of joy inside her and it burst to the surface in song, and I happen to share that characteristic. Show tunes, Beethoven's Ninth, doesn't matter. That I inherited it is a gift, and that I don't always know when that particular spring is going to overflow is one of the Great Mysteries of Life. I most certainly didn't expect to find a rich appreciation of my long departed mother here in Africa, but I can most certainly also thank the unamused Germans for causing me to think about and find some answers. Thanks, Mom.
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Nov 9th, 2013, 11:19 PM
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Whooops not sure how that happened.
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