Rare opportunity to see lions mating
Eleven-Day Safari in
Please allow time to buffer the videos by playing them through once, and then sliding the button back to start for smooth playing.
Raising an eyebrow, the Customs Agent in Amsterdam said, "You have three days left for your stay in Schengen." We knew that, but couldn't believe he took the time to count. The Schengen Visa (European Visa) allows us 90 days in 180 days. We nodded and directed him to the page we hoped he'd put the stamp to preserve precious pages on our passport.
Eight hours later, we touched down in Arusha, Tanzania, the starting point for most people on safari. It was dark, otherwise we could have viewed Mt. Kilimanjaro while being transported by Walter, our Galloping Safari tour agent and driver to our first hotel.
After sorting through the paperwork and making payment to Walter, he said, "Good bye”. In the morning, our open-roof jeep Safari tour will begin.
Introduced to Ayubu’s (pronounced IUBOO), our safari guide, we started the day with a walk through Arusha, followed by a trip to a local school (at our request) where we wanted to leave a few things. Ayubu introduced us to the principal of a private school funded by donations and her money. "Little by little, our school is coming together," she said.
We left a bag-full of pens, pencils, erasers, as well as a duffle bag full of toys, a camera, jacket, and a bag of beads I'd purchased in Vietnam last year. I'm sure they can be put to better use here having passed many sandal makers with intricate bead work stitched beautifully. The kids were happy and eager to recite English to us; in return, we said our few Swahili words back to them.
Thank you: “Asante” and you’re welcome: “Karibou” and no worries: “Hakuna Matata” (thanks Lion King for that one). (See video.)
We stopped in town again, and while Con wandered into the bus stop to take a few photos I chatted with a few local men who had swarmed me, eager for me to be their fiancé. I showed them my wedding ring; they apologized; I said, "Hakuna Matata" and everyone had a great laugh.
At the end of the day, Ayubu moved our suitcase to the front passenger side, where it swiftly slipped, hit the fire extinguisher, releasing a thick white power in the land cruiser. We piled out seeking fresh air and fell nearly into the lap of a curious woman who after studying our situation decided we should pass the time while Ayubu cleaned the jeep, viewing the crocodiles, porcupines, giant turtles and a King crown bird the size of a large turkey across the street.
It's winter in Tazania and our arrival city Arusha is about 1500 meters altitude above sea level creating a cool morning but warming by noon. Our cabin was set in lush green with Dik Dik's (mini deer-like animals -- an eagle's delicacy) running through the grass and through the dewy spider webs which held healthy-sized spiders.
On our drive to the Tarangire National Park we passed women going to market with heavy green banana stems balancing easily on their heads. We tasted the green banana meat dish later; it was okay. Everything is Hakuna Matata and Poli Poli (no worries and go slow), except for the local buses whose drivers butt up behind the slow-moving trucks (two in a lane) jockeying to pass. Ayubu has a Hakuna Matata attitude, so we relax.
We pass Maasai tribal people, the boys tending the cattle, women filling water at the watering holes. The men marry many wives and the wives do all the work. Once the boy marries his first wife, he lays back and enjoys the cattle her family granted him. He will take many wives, growing his stock.
The female is assigned to a man by the age of seven and sometimes even before birth. By 13 she leaves her family to go live with the first wife who teaches her everything. The modern Maasai live in houses but the traditional ones are nomadic moving when the cattle need more grass.
In Tanzania, the law was passed that people could marry into other tribes, and all tribal warring ceased.
Entering Tarangire National Park was on a dusty, bumpy pot-holed road, "African Massage" Ayubu joked. It's 2,850 square kilometers above sea level. Five minutes into the park (traveling by open-roof land cruiser) we stopped for about 30 elephants who crossed the road in front and behind our vehicle. We stood to watch them, our bodies exposed to our chests in the jeep.
We pass so many herds of zebras, many standing in their defensive style, neck to neck, to appear larger and confuse predictors. They're like a donkey, only they have weak backs, meant for quick turning. Not quick enough for one zebra who had lost its tail, "likely a lion," Ayubu offered.
I can't count the number of animals and birds we saw on our first day: elephants, zebras, giraffes, impalas, gazelles, ostriches, yes, even lions, wildebeests -- no leopard yet, or cheetahs.
We watched the female ostrich do a mating dance right in front of us. The male came running at a sprint from our right. He was so excited and pumped out his neck turning shades of pink. He knelt down and did a feather dance for her. She watched. He got up and approached her still fanning, but she took off -- playing hard to get? Or, she didn't like his dance. It was fantastic.
By 5 pm we entered the tented camp, our hotel for the next two days. They are literally tents, but luxury plus. It's about 600 square meters with a deck and outdoor shower. The tent is made of canvass with large six-foot screens all around so the outside is inside without the bugs. There's electricity, but not for hair dryers, and there's no Wi-Fi. The shower is outside, but there's also an inside shower and toilet, somewhat private and a king-size bed. It's peaceful, quiet, with the song of birds all around us.
At night, the sand path is lit by lanterns but we are told not to leave our tent after sun down without an escort. Last year, a tourist was attacked and eaten by a lion on the path. The guards carry rifles. How sad if it came to that. This is their neighbourhood and their way -- survival of the fittest. We could hear the lions roaring in the night. Wild!
Dinner is served at 6:30 with the other guests (two other couples) with we enjoyed cocktails around the "bush TV" a campfire. The food is gourmet style and the large straw-covered open hut is stunning. There we can recharge our computers and camera batteries. We all shared "safari" stories and returned to bed early, sleeping like baby hippos (they sleep soundly).
About Elephants, previous hunters, & poachers
We came across elephants, the matriarch, the oldest female had already crossed the road heading to the swamp a few kilometers away. The rest followed. We waited for them to cross the road. Elephants raise their foot to use their nail as sensors to wind and gun powder to warn the others. When in distress or warning trouble, they tramp and raise their trunks. These guys had Kuhuna Matata (no worries). This area was once the gaming area for the British prior to 1961 (when Tanzania became independent) who for leisure hunted the magnificent creatures. The rhino, for instance is extinct in this area, mostly because of poachers. They're being reintroduced with success into the Serengeti which we'll visit in a few days. Because poaching is still good business, we must be out of the park, or tucked into our tent at sun down and can leave just before sun rise, otherwise the rangers must mistake us for poachers.
At 5:30 am, we heard a gentle voice, "Jumbo, good morning." I slipped on my housecoat and opened the tent door (shaped like a door made of screens with a wooden boarder. Our morning wake up call arrived with a tray of delicious coffee and two freshly baked butter cookies. We would depart in 30 minutes and the smiling, gracious guard told us he'd be back to get us because, "The wild animals aren't discriminatory".
Flashlight in hand, Con and I followed our escort the few hundred meters from our tent to Ayubu who was waiting, always ready for us with the cruiser cleaned inside and out, and a breakfast picnic packed. As we climbed into the cruiser, he said, "Listen, the lions". Loud roars filled the serenely quiet early morning and it was coming from just over the rise. The birds and animals respect the lions and when they roar they don't make a sound. We were filled with expectation for our morning's adventure and were not disappointed. The sun rose spreading an enormous pink glow across half of the African sky lighting up the golden grasses as we quietly drove down the red-dirt road. The beautiful Acacia trees (the large canopy trees usually seen in the National Geographic photos of Africa) dotted the landscape. It took my breath away. The animals were rising. Zebras, impalas, buffalo, wart hogs, and a lone jackal (small fox-like animal) who ran ahead of us for a few kilometers, continually checking over his shoulder. No lions. A bat-eared fox sprinted in front of us and stopped, turning around to look at us, pose, then run off. Large termite hills were plentiful, some small mounds the size of over-sized exercise balls and some two and three meters tall with a stove top where they'd devoured a tree. Inside each mound lives a large queen termite who mothers thousands of termites every day, and lives incredibly for twenty years. Birds, birds, hundreds of them. Love Birds, Red & Yellow Barbers, long billed, short beaked, long legged, fat and awkward, brilliant blue, green, rainbow coloured, spotted, red headed, red billed... vultures, buzzards, each with distinctive flights and different purposes to keep the delicate balance of this eco system. I see a low swing-flying bird. One flap, then he drops as if he'll crash, and then he flaps once again.
Ayubu stopped, "Hyena track," we carried on, he added a moment later, "leopard tracks, " we drove on, "lion nearby." We were silent and drove on slowly.
About 100 meters further was this sight below, far more than we could even have imagined. Four cubs and two mothers were feasting on a wildebeest kill made just hours before in the night. One cub was curious about us and moved toward us. The mother didn't like us watching and dragged the kill trying to tuck it behind a clump and out of our sight. One cub protested the moving of his breakfast and tugged back, jumping on the mom in playful protest. (See the video -- remember to allow buffer time.)
We moved on.
Enormous water buffalo, a cantankerous bunch, stopped in their path as they were about to cross ours. We stopped and watched them watching us. They were on their way to the marshy waters a kilometer on the other side from where we were. They gathered in a thick line staring, snorting, and getting more agitated, but not as much as the bird whose eggs were in a ground nest at their feet. She flew straight up flapping and making a ruckus. The big heavy awkward looking buffalo politely moved back and around her eggs.
There are so many partnerships where the large animals rely on smaller ones. The buffalo kicks up bugs the birds enjoy as well, they sit on the buffalos back eating ticks and flies.
We carried on, the buffalo crossed behind us.
Ayubu announced that we were in search of a leopard. It's a rare find, but Ayubu has a sixth sense about the animals watching for signs in the birds, other animals, and I don't know what. The leopard is a lone hunter, who doesn't like to share his/her kill and often drags it up a tree to hold for later.
We carried on, me checking trees, Con snapping pictures, and Ayubu checking tracks driving us deeper into the tall grasses, where it didn't seem to be much of a road any longer. I didn't want to think what would happen if we got stuck. Our vehicle can go where many others cannot, it's a special Land Cruiser, built like a tank, but comfy inside, as much as it can be as we're driving over the rocky plains, loaded with holes and ground shrub.
We spotted vultures and moved toward them. Standing up with our heads out of the roof, we could smell the kill. "It's near," Ayubu said. We moved a few feet and sure enough is was near, we were practically on it, a dead giraffe, killed likely two nights ago. The vultures had feasted following the lions' first eating. There wasn't much left but the African "Kill" smell.
Half an hour later, a beautiful female giraffe appeared right beside us. We stopped and stared in wonder. These could be my favourite animal. After a few pictures, we looked over our shoulder to the right and incredibly, another mother giraffe stood with two babies, both less than a week old. Their umbilical cords were still attached. "They'll lose them within a week of birth," Ayubu told us. Both giraffes had given birth within days of each other.
We slept like "baby hippos" again -- soundly -- in our luxurious tent on a plateau overlooking the incredible African plains, rising at 6:30 to have another early start.
The breakfast was delicious on the outdoor patio, and just 200 meters ahead were a mother elephant and her baby. They slowly made their way up the hill toward us. Elephants eat for twenty hours a day, consuming grass and chewing on trees. Their favourite is the Boabab tree, an upside down tree. They love the bark and fortunately, the tree doesn't die even when they eat right through it. It makes me chuckle when human's try to outsmart Mother Nature.
We said, "Good bye" to the hotel staff who walked us to our vehicle. We heard the lions again. The staff reminded us about the lion they lost having to put it down when it attacked and killed the tourist, "The young lion would have a taste for humans," which apparently is pretty good -- salty.
We saw lion tracks again, a female and lion cubs.
In the trees were vultures, Ayubu said, "There's no smell, so they've devoured the prey." Hyena tracks were nearby too. We haven't spotted them yet. Ayubu says with confidence, "We will."
We passed more ostriches, fantastic birds, incredibly big and awkward. Ever had a bird poop on your head or shoulder, I have a number of times. The ostrich pooped in front of the jeep and it flowed like a mini river!
Two male gazelles were fighting, locking horns and really going at it. When we arrived, they both stopped and looked at us, then carried on with their fight. Ayubu explained that they're practicing for the next chance to have their herd of women. The loser goes into the separate male group and this sort of fighting goes on until they're good at it and then they try for the herd again.
We were leaving Tanangire National Park, making our way to Lake Manyara National Park. We spot a cheetah and stopped to watch from a distance.
Under a tree were two of them about 300 meters or so from us finishing up their kill. We couldn't see what it was, but four zebras walked over to them tentatively, their ears forward. One by one they moved in close to take a look and then backed off. Maybe it was a baby zebra. Zebras have a reputation of being curious.
Ayubu is familiar with the area and rather than driving all the way around the lake by highway, circling the lake and then driving north again, we started from the south end and drove north, directly through small villages on sand-gravel roads, through rivers, over rickety plank bridges, and once having to make a run up a sandy bank where we nearly got stuck. During the rain season (or green season they prefer to call it) some of the sand we're driving over becomes quicksand.
Mini villages appear along the way, and young kids hearing our vehicle would sprint to the road/trail waving. "The parents tell them to run and beg," Ayubu offers. "Don't give them anything, it's not good."
Between villages, there was nobody else on the road, as the three of us are watching out the side windows for animals, we rounded the bend and Ayubu had to break quickly, skidding to a stop, dust quickly surrounding our vehicle. We were one foot from hitting a large elephant's rump.
That startled the elephant, not expecting us. He jumped with agility, turning to stare at us, then continued chewing, but as if an after thought to display his authority, he gave a loud perturbed exhale. He jumped with east sideways trying to intimidate us -- he did me. I held my breath and watched. The elephant waved his truck side to side, reaching out nearly touching Con's camera as he filmed the large animal -- windows down.
We had stopped completely and watched him. After a minute, the elephant made a lunge at Ayubu (in the driver's seat) again to let us know who was the king of the castle. Ayubu was fast swerving left barely avoiding the collision. The elephant passed ahead of us slowly, stopped to take another look as us and moved ever so slightly aside to allow us to pass. It was fascinating interacting with the largest animal in Africa.
Listening to African music, enjoying the great flocks filling the sky, Ayubu stopped on the small gravel path. High bush framed us on either side of the path. Often elephants tramp through without warning, but a lone baboon sat in a tree right in front of us. The tree covered both sides of the road.
We watched him out of our side window for a few seconds, our roof top open, and then Con and I were pilfered from above with small tree branches. Looking up through our open roof, about thirty baboon were looking down at us. Ayubu laughed as he accelerated. It was his little joke for us.
Climbing higher to the lake, with a bird's eye view, we saw pink. Pink as far as the eye could see. Flamingos. They eat the algae only available in a few places in the world, and one was right here in Tanzania and another is in Portugal. There were millions of them.
We drove down to the dry gravel moving closer to the lake. No other person was there, just millions of birds and two hippopotamus, under water with just their backs and ears showing. The hippo sweats pink, it's a sun screen to protect their delicate skin.
There were yellow-billed storks, saddle-billed storks and the third largest bird in the world, the Marabou stork -- thousands of them. Ayubu drove toward them but they didn't bother to fly away. Many were sunning their long wings.
Stopping for our pre-packed picnic lunch, we ate using the hood of the jeep, not moving too far from the doors.
Giraffe's separated us from the water, a group wildebeests ran by near the lake, and unbeknownst to us, about fifty baboons were just around the other side of the bush from our vehicle, as quiet as could be. We only knew that when we got back in the car, circled the bush and attempted to climb the sandy embankment. It took a few tries, but the cruiser made it.
That night, we drove through another village, up an incline to a beautiful hotel with a balcony that stretched across the valley.
NEXT DAY -- Cheetahs and a leopard
Today was a planned long day. Listening to African music again, interspersed with Celine Dion, we drove from the south Serengeti on a paved road, climbing higher to 2300 feet skirting the top of a crater where the stunning drops sandwiched us on either side.
We entered Noorongoro. The bush was getting thicker -- jungle -- and a cloudy mist covered the pass, clearing now and then so we could see the jaw-dropping depths below. We were now suspended over the canopy of the jungle on a narrow road-way. The terrain changed and so did the road. We were again on dusty paths, some looked like gravel road, but most of the time it looked like we were making our own path.
Ayubu says it's his "finger print" and he doesn't need a GPS. A few trees here and there, and mostly low grasses. Ostriches here and there, plenty of impalas and gazelles, and lots of fantastic birds. Song birds, birds of prey, their colours were magical.
We entered the cattle grazing lands of the Maasai, a nomadic group of people dressed in brilliant reds, blues, and with many beaded necklaces, weighted earrings on men and women stretching ears to their shoulders with beads.
They are not thrilled having their pictures taken, so we politely wave. Many signaled for a ride. I want to accept and ask Ayubu, but he said, "No, I never do that."
Masaais always have a spear in one hand -- they will throw it at the neck of a lion if they have to protect themselves. Masaai are identified by the blue and red colours. They are allowed to stay in the protected parks because they don't hunt the precious wild animals. At least four other tribes were kicked out because they were expert hunters, and that was using bows and arrows.
Masaai used to live in the Serengeti, but no longer, as the animals are not to be threatened. They pass through. The greatest threat to the animals are the poachers. They burn the Serengeti to get to the animals, the rhinos and elephants for the ivory. Many poachers are Indian and Arabic, and if they're caught by the rangers, they are shot.
Checking the bushes around the trees, and spying into the branches of the trees, we were rewarded. In the morning, we saw this cheetah and her cubs, (pictured above). They don't seem to mind us watching, but we're told if you open the car door and step out they'll be on you before you can blink!
Once again, we enjoyed a picnic lunch, but not too far from the vehicle.
We drive many more kilometers to see fewer animals in the Serengeti, but the rarest find of all is the leopard. Ayubu has a knack. He can drive the land, skirting pot holes, and still spot a cat in the tree from so far away. That's what he did today, and we crossed a small river, up an embankment, and there was the gorgeous male laying on its full belly, one leg and a tail lying over the branch.
He was exquisit, beauty beyond imagine, and his liquid green eyes locked on mine. Usually they don't like to be found and if you approach them in your vehicle they will quickly move. We didn't speak, drove up quietly, and he remained.
We had been on safari today for twelve hours, and arrived at our next camp, another tent out in the Serengeti -- with a flush toilet within and a shower and can you believe internet too! We were filthy, red dirt "powder" as Ayubu calls it, under my nails and in every pore. I loved it!
We fell asleep to roaring lions; the male was rounding up his pride.
The three of us, Ayubu, Con and me started our hunt early under the hot Serengeti sun seeking all kinds of animals to "shoot" with our camera.
Our first encounter was another beautiful creature, the giraffe, who stepped in front of our car tentatively determined to drink from the ditch on our left. Ever so gracefully, she bent her front left leg at the knee, shooting her foot forward enough for her long neck to reach the water.
Passing a baboon eating the bugs off an Acacia tree, Ayubu told us the same bugs that some people collect and boil into soup to heal diarrhea. It's the naturopathic way of life.
We did visit a Masaai village where a doctor from Arusha was being flown in by small aircraft. There are drugs pregnant women can take to ensure her child does not contract her HIV or AIDS.
We turned into a road overlooking a river and quite out of nowhere, there were hippos everywhere. Definitely, we were NOT to get out of the car here. The hippos stay in the water to protect their skin from the sun, secreting a red colour that acts as a sun screen. They do, however come out of the water to dry their skin in order to kill the algae that collects on them and can make them very sick. While enjoying the river, we spotted a few couples mating (in the river).
We drove over the dry Serengeti plains in search of anything that wishes to appear before our eyes, since we really don't have to look too hard (except for the leopard).
The hammerkop bird was standing on a rock, a unique bird who builds the most exotic and elaborate nest in the world, with four levels and a door. The nest is an upside down affair, where they enter with an opening and closing mud door at the bottom, next layers is where the birds mate, the next layer is where the food is stored, the next layer the babies live and the last layer is where the eggs reside. Snakes cannot get to the babies and eggs.
We drove on.
Our sensors were high, this was cat area. We spotted the female stalking a wart hog, crouching low in the grass all the while the male was watching her. The male lion eats first, followed by the female and cubs.
It was the noon-day sun and the lioness was too hot to give chase, the wart hog carried on across the plains. The male only took his eye off the female long enough to take a look at us standing in the open roofed jeep, our chest and head exposed. What a thrill!
This male lion will lead the pride for two to three years until a stronger male displaces him and he has to leave. Their live span is only about fifteen years.
It might seem like I'm making all this up, so I've added video here and there so you can capture the essence of some of the moments we're experiencing. We were in the process of making a turn and in the clump of tall grass was the male lion laying patiently for the female in in heat, lying beside him. We were two to three meters from them both! Every twenty minutes they will mate for the next three days. We waited, he approached her three times, two of which she snarled and appeared ready to fight. The third time she accepted him.
We were introduced to the Serengeti's Poison Milk cactus trees. These trees are respected by all because a drop of the milk in your eye will blind you.
You can barely blink or you'll miss the next group of animals. The zebras hang out with the wildebeests. The latter aren't too swift, and the zebra is said to have a good memory so they remind the wildebeests what they should and should not do and of course which way they are to run. The way they like to stand is their let's-confuse-the-predator stand, crossing necks.
Did I mention, no two zebras are alike, their stripes are like fingerprints. Yet another amazing fact.
Further along, the giant buffalo caught our attention. He was with a group of aging males, four were lazing in the shade of a tree and this guy was standing guard and also trying to give the lion a message not to mess with them. We understood his communication!
The lions (two groups) were laying under two separate trees appearing to care less about the giant creatures. After all, they are THE KING OF THE CASTLE.
Heading back to our tent, Ayubu stopped, miraculously spotting a female leopard. I told you they're hard to find. She stood guard over the gazelle she'd killed earlier and hung in the tree to eat later.
NEXT DAY We drove to northern Serengeti in search of the Wildebeest migration.
Wildebeests are currently making their crossing.
We arrived at the Mara River, a treacherous place for man or beast (as in wildebeest) as it's filled with hippopotamus and crocodiles, not to mention the buzzards and vultures. The wildebeest cross two times a year in search of water and greener grasses to graze and then they return. Today, we passed thousands and thousands of them all on the move, and some had fallen along the way from fatigue or predator.
At one point, it was like a gravesite with vultures and buzzards everywhere. The wildebeests aim for the river like salmon and their need to swim back to their spawning grounds. The wildebeests aren't particular where they cross, but they'll do it -- or attempt to do it and drown because it wasn't the best place to cross, or the waiting hungry get them. Vultures and buzzards wait on rocks down river.
A large group appeared to be ready to cross, so our guide along with at least a half dozen other safari groups set off after them. The moment they saw the vehicles, the wildebeests changed their minds and backed away from the water. What appear to be rocks in the river are actually dead wildebeest who didn't make it across and the birds of prey are feasting.
Further up the river, we'd passed crocodiles who were filled to the brim on wildebeests. The hippos don't involve themselves, they eat the grasses, but just don't get in their way. They leave the water when the sun goes down, walk on a skinny path that they’re made from over use. Whatever you do, DON'T STAND on their path, well as a matter of fact, DON'T EVER GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE.
The wildebeests that don't make it are necessary to the eco system keeping every one fed and healthy.
We waited about five or ten minutes, and the first brave wildebeest, after dipping his hooves in the water a few times and retreating went further and then they all scrambled in, climbing up on the smaller or weaker, or just-in-the-wrong-place-wrong-time ones who drowned. Their noise was like music, as they all sang out their messages.
The dead ones fill the stomachs of the vultures, buzzards, and the Marabou Storks. One guy had his whole neck up the wildebeests butt. (If you can stomach that, it's on video.)
We drove on.
Stopped for lunch, after surveying the trees (for leopards) and the tall grasses for lions, we opened our doors and lunched again on the hood.
While Ayubu was munching on his sandwich, he sauntered down the incline a few meters and laughed. "Guess what this is?"
An ostrich egg! It wasn't fertilized, so I picked it up. Incredibly heavy and I'm guessing it could feed a whole Masaai family.
Today, we visited a Maasai Village for an eye-opening glimpse at an ancient tribe with ancient rituals, living a semi-nomadic primitive lifestyle. Maasai people are spread over a few African countries, the only tribe of 200+ tribes in Tanzania allowed to live so close to the Game Preserves.
Incredible these people are able to farm and graze their cattle in desert and brush areas like no other people on earth. Their existence is thanks to the cow! The women milk the cows every morning, getting two liters per cow (not much, in North America a cow produces ten times that -- 22 liters). The Maasai mix blood in their milk to drink, which they believe is especially good for the young children.
Maasai live polygamist life styles, marrying more than one wife. A man will receive 10 cows, 3 goats, 2 sheep, for instance as a dowry for a women. The larger the man's cattle stock, the greater influence he has over the village, despite the fact that the land can't sustain all the cattle and the shilling they receive for a cow could make their lives a lot more comfortable.
The families live in huts made of cow dung and sticks which can be dismantled when the cows need to move to greener pastures. One man typically has four wives, but up to 10 is not uncommon. He will spend one night with each wife on rotation.
The children with that wife live with that women. We were invited inside. The man sleeps on the right, the women on the left, the fire in the centre and with no ventilation, you can imagine how difficult it was to breathe and how harsh it is for your eyes. Boys under seven sleep with the dad, and girls under seven sleep with the mom. At eight, the children live in a separate hut with other kids.
Inside a Maasai house. No windows, and a smoky fire in the centre in front of me. The man sleeps where I'm sitting (with his kids), and the woman sleeps across the fire.
At 17, a boy becomes a man by circumcision and ten years ago, he was to go out a slay a lion. Today, that's not allowed. Instead, he will go out and live on the land for a month and come back to slaughter a cow.
Seventeen is a big event for the boys.
For $50 American dollars, we were shown a dance. Maasi arrived to participate, because they will get a portion of the money. We were led into the sacred grounds -- the coral, thick with cow dung to watch, and participate if we want. We didn't, but I bet they would have enjoyed it had we.
The cows were ushered out where the boys around 10 years old look after them. The women do all the rest of the work in their culture.
The young Maasai dancers came in singing and chanting a primitive sounding dance, formed a circle and the men jumped high one at a time.
No bathrooms, in fact no out houses, sanitation is done in the trees and wash in the streams when there is water, where they wash their clothes. Drinking water comes from a fresher flow and often the same place the goats and cattle drink.
The elder men make all the decisions, and worked with the government which allowed for the recent successful cultural change for all Maasai. For instance, they can't go into the protected parks, can't graze cattle and agriculture wherever they want, can marry outside their tribe -- to avoid warring tribes, and cannot kill the lions.
After our visit, the women had their bead work laid out on blankets for us to purchase. Talk about intimidating. I thanked them all very much in Swahili, "Asante San ta" and told them they looked beautiful and so were their treasures and then we left.
Later that day, we were invited to a climb up the mountain beside our tents. Our tents by the way were beautiful with flush toilets, four-claw-foot tubs, electricity (not all the time) and a super comfy king-size bed surrounded by mosquito netting. The grounds were patrolled by armed guards day and night. They were protecting the camp mostly from lions who are night stalkers.
Wherever we walked outside our tent after sun down and before sun rise, a rifle-carrying guard led the way and sometimes two. Con took part in the Night Game Drive and saw a small tree monkey and a mongoose, but you never know who saw them. He received a small bite on his belly that over the days swelled.
Early the next morning, we drove the short-cut route near the Kenyan border back to the crater that we drove past on our first day. It was an eight-hour drive over harsh, rough terrain that you could swear was really the moon. The alternative would have taken a few hours more, and back through the Serengeti. The drive was a test in endurance. At times, we had to stop the jeep so the dust would settle (inside) so we could breathe again.
This route as most routes was without paved road, and in fact seemed like a dry riverbed. Only in the winter can you drive it; it's impassable in the summer wet season. The road way would be quicksand.
It was the road that went forever, leading to nowhere, in nowhere land.
For lunch, we pulled off the path, waited for the dust to settle, opened the doors and had a picnic on the roof.
I watched carefully for scorpions. Ayubu told me they hibernate in the winter; I didn't want to take a chance. If stung, it's inhumanly painful and medical help is needed within two hours.
Dust Devils (dust tornadoes) sprung up from nowhere in nowhere land many gathering great height and poof they were gone, the dust suspended above ground like vertical clouds.
Termite and ant hills were as big as skyscrapers compared to the ones we'd seen.
Gazing out over the dry parched land, munching our tent-hotel-made sandwiches, a lone Maasai walking with his stick appearing in the distance, his blue cape flowing back with the hot wind. A dust path where his feet met the dirt. He came from nowhere and disappeared into nowhere.
We drove on.
Where there was a small oasis, there were Maasai.
About six Maasai kids were under a scrawny tree seeking shade and 100 meters further about 40 goats were under the next tree, all vying for shade. Where did they come from? Where will they go? There was no water to be seen.
In the middle of nowhere land, a gate appeared on the dusty lane and a man sitting in the shade of a tree. A fee was to be paid for the tourists to pass. A pretty young woman with a baby tied to her back approached the car with a string of bracelets and enormous necklaces for sale. "No thanks," I said with a smile adding, "they're beautiful."
She persisted. There was no easing up on her demands, so I talked to her baby. "Water for baby then," she said in understandable English. I smiled and gave her my bottle and she walked back to the shade.
Finally, by 3:30 we arrived at our beautiful hotel and the entourage was coming toward our vehicle to great us. I couldn't even put a brush through my dirt filled hair. She offered a white cool cloth and I said, "You don't want to give us that, it may never be the same."
"Karibou, karibou," she said, "Welcome." I washed my hands and face and handed back a completely red-sand-coloured cloth. She offered orange juice and champagne. "Orange juice please," we both said in unison.
Our Last Day
Keeping to our exhaustive schedule, we had a wake-up call for 5:30 am. I could barely find my way out of the mosquito-covered netting to get to the phone. After trying to answer the green light on Con's computer, I found the phone and thanked them. Breakfast was at 6 and then we'd be on the road. We were to see the nearly extinct rhinoceros, living in the unique crater of Norogono.
The parks won't reveal how many rhinos live in the 5 x 4 kilometer crater as they fear poachers. Poachers have hunted them to near extinction and are still trying to get at their horns. In Asian medicine, they believe it hold some sort of magical something. The rangers watch closely from above.
We drove around the crater for a few hours, spotting lions, wildebeests, male elephants, hippos, many different birds, hyenas, fox, jackals... and maybe the back of a rhino. It was lying in the tall grass, too cold to rise. The temps were maybe 21 degrees.
A hyena crossed in front of our car. The paths around him are made by the wildebeests as they use a migrating march around the 19 square kilometer crater floor.
We asked Ayubu to take us back to our hotel so we could enjoy a few relaxing hours. The safari was more than we could ever have imagined. We had the staff light a fire in our fireplace and pondered our past eleven-day adventure.
Tomorrow, we fly to Zanzibar for six days of relaxation and pampering.
Once we arrived at our beautiful resort on the island of Zanzibar, Con tried to open our suitcase which had been locked by someone at the airport by swinging the combination lock. We tried for an hour to open it hoping that a sequence of numbers in a row has got to work. Finally! "Way to go Con, you got it."
"No, I used the bottle opener."
Time to fly to the Netherlands. Con and I went to the ferry terminal to investigate how to purchase tickets. It was a mad house with people crammed so tight that their faces were up against the windows. A uniformed man called me over and I called to Con to follow. We were taken in the back door and stood with the cashiers and bought our tickets. Tower stacks of money was around us, behind us, ready to blow away or fall.
On the ferry, I saved the seat for Con who was too busy to come in, and the entire ferry filled up leaving him no seat. An entertainer stood at the front telling stories, and I was a big part of the story, but no idea what he was saying. THEN, a rooster stirred under the seat beside me. The smell! I was happy to know it was the rooster and not the nice young man beside me. He took the rooster outside to the bow and tied his bag closed with a string from the leaning mop.
Once on the Tanzanian mainland again, we had a driver take us to the airport. There was major traffic jams, and entrepreneurial people walked the centre line selling wares, from glasses to diapers, fresh foods to electronics. Our driver was busy trying out electronic gizmos various guys were trying to sell him while we moved slowly through the traffic.
An adventure of a life time!