Monday, July 03, 2006

More about the Safari

Did you know that the swahili word "safari" really only means "journey"? For most Americans, it means a trip to Africa to see animals, but it can actually be any trip. So, here's more about my "safari" this weekend.

(See for pictures)

We left Friday morning from Arusha and stopped at a Masai Cultural Museum not too far out of town. It was really interesting to see and hear about traditional Masai culture without feeling super voyeristic. At the museum, there were also women from a coop selling jewelry and other items and I had a lot of fun looking at things and practicing my bargaining skills. I think I keep offereing prices that are too high becuase they are accepted immediately. I did manage to get a better price for that item after buying a few more things too (I ended up paying half as much as I originally offerend and 1/4 of what she originally asked). It was a good opportunity to practice Swahili and I know that by buying things from the coop, I was more directly impacting the women rather than middlemen who buy and sell the jewelry at high prices in touristy places.

It was very interesting to watch the landscape change as we drove. Arusha is very lush and green, but as soon as we got out of town, it was significantly dryer. Lots of Acacia trees and scrub brush - very much what people picture when they think of Africa. Between Arusha and Lake Manyara, we passed quite a few Masai villages and saw many Masai boys and young men herding cattle and goats. It is a very intriguing life and I've always wondered what it would be like to be a Masai and to see the world as a Masai.

By the time we got to Lake Manyara National Park, it was very green again, like Arusha, and had sections of deciduous forest. It's really amazing how quickly the landscape changes here. one guy in the group speculated that the farther south you go (which I interpreted as the closer you are to the equator) the more varied the landscape/climate is within a particular area. Can anyone else shed some light on this?

As we were almost to Manyara, we had to go around a cow that was lying in the middle of the road. Inside the park, there was a Zebra in the middle of the road. On the way to Ngorongoro, another car had to stop and wait for an elephant that was in the road. It sure helps you to remember that we are actually invading their space when we build roads to come see them.

We saw some interesting animals at Lake Manyara - giraffes (lots!), elephants, baboons (lots of those too), hippos. The Lake itself is a soda lake and changes size dramatically based on the season. The rainy season ended in May, so the lake is relatively small now. Lake Manyara is also right at the edge of the Rift Valley, so we had great views of the Rift Valley escarpment (the edge of the valley, which is VERY steep).

After Lake Manyara, we traveled to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which includes Ngorongoro Crater, Oldupai Gorge and several volcanoes (mostly extinct). At the western edge, it adjoins Serengeti National Park. The main road from Arusha and the rest of northeastern Tanzania to Lake Victoria and northwestern Tanzania passes through the conservation area, although not too many buses and vehicles choose that route because of the steep fees and BUMPY roads. The alternative is to fly or to go north via Kenya.

The crater itself was incredible. It is about 20 km across and is completely surrounded by the crater wall. It's almost like being in the valley beside a mountain except that mountain goes all the way around you. Because of the unbroken walls, the crater has its own little ecosystem. We saw a lot of wildebeest (including two that were almost breakfast for a lion), zebra and buffalo. We also saw flamingos, a variety of birds, warthogs, elephants, hyenas and a several kinds of antelope. We saw a pride of lions eating their prey. At the end of the day, we also saw a cheetah, which was really fun, partly because it's not one of the more common animals.

Throughout the day, we joked about seeing "wazungu" (the other tourists) and talking about them like we did all the other animals. I did see a few very interesting wazungu, though. As we were driving along, I happened to look behind us at another vehicle and was a little surprised that they guy driving the vehicle looked a little like a friend of mine who lives in Kenya. All at once, I did a double-take, realizing that the people in the vehicle behind us actually WERE my friends Travis and Lydia. I yelled, "Stop! Stop! Stop!" in Swahili while wildly waving my arms, afraid that they would pass by without see me. So, both cars stopped and we had a chance to talk for a few minutes (all in Swahili). The took a picture of me and I took a picture of them. My teacher told them where and when we were stopping for lunch, so they met us there. After they drove off, another girl was surprised that we had the whole conversation in Swahili, but assumed that we just always spoke Swahili to each other. Actually, we write emails in Swahili, but the last time I saw them in person, I hadn't really started studying it. So, it was a little wierd that they whole conversation was in Swahili, but fun too.

So, we met Travis and Lydia (and Lydia's parents, who live and work in Nairobi) for lunch and I got a chance to talk with them and catch up a bit. I was hoping to stop and see them on my way through Kenya in August, so this was a good opportunity to touch base with them! It was really a blessing to be able to see them and definitely a shock! We were both there only one day, and it happened to be the same day and I happened to see them. Of course, I don't think that anything just "happens," so I'm grateful to God for the chance to see them and the excitement of the surprise.

Well, that's probably enough for now. Maybe more tomorrow. I found out that Dave's home early today, so I'm going to give him a call before it's time for bed. I love Skype! I figured out how to set up and use it and now, imagine, I can call America from Tanzania for 2 cents a minute. Is that crazy or what!?

Love you all,

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