Day two of our safari started out again with the special wake-up call of coffee and cookies. I really am training Scott on morning coffee protocol, and the sooner the better. We took our coffee outside and sat on the patio of our little house and listened to something or some things munching and crunching their way through the high grass. Shortly, a family of delightfully ugly warthogs mowed their way into view. Coffee and warthogs, life seemed sweet and funny and surreal at that moment all tied smartly together with a sharply starched ribbon of anxiety, firmly double knotted and pulled tight.
The second day of our ten day stint in Tanzania and reality of some sort for me had set in. So far it had been easy and I never expect anything to be easy. You know, hope for the best and expect the worst? That’s me and when you add planes and really faraway places that require shots and pills, well, I just hope for survival and expect the worst. We had boarded an airplane in Holland and landed in Tanzania, someone picked us up from the airport and transported us to a very comfortable place to stay. We spent a day driving around with a very nice guide who showed us a beautiful mountain full of animals. We had eaten good food and talked to nice people and slept in a huge room with both a shower and a bathtub. Very easy so far, but today we would meet our Planet Africa guide who would hopefully be taking good care of us for the next five days and I was feeling very anxious.
Ayoub, our guide turned out to be very nice, qualified and experienced. He had been guiding for 18 years and had three kids, two of which were close to Ashley and Grant in age. We sat in the safari vehicle at the Hatari Lodge and chatted a little bit. I was relieved that he was taking a little time to get to know us since we would be entirely dependent on him for the next five days. There were some problems with permits (we would be driving through Arusha National Park) and we were delayed. Ayoub was on the phone and running back and forth to the office. We sat in the jeep and waited. Like bubbles in a champagne glass, anxiety fizzed continually through my thoughts. Scott pulled the forgotten key to our room out of his pocket. I ran it in to the office. We waited and l spent the time worrying. I wondered if I had packed everything up. I had a nosebleed earlier while I was packing and since I never get a nosebleed, I considered it a bad omen. I was fairly certain I had left the toothbrushes and toothpaste near the sink. Should I check I wondered aloud towards Scott? He told me that I had in fact packed them in the bag. I didn’t check and I obsessed about it the rest of the day.
Paperwork in order, we finally drove away from Hatari Lodge and started on our eight hour plus journey to Tarangire National Park. Although the number one reason Scott wanted to take the kids to Tanzania was the animals, it was not the only reason. He wanted them to be exposed to a third world country. He wanted to open their eyes a little bit and he asked Ayoub to drive through Arusha so we could see the town. Arusha’s population is just over 400,000 people with another 320,000 living in the surrounding suburbs. It took us over two hours to drive through the outlying areas and through the town itself and just like many big cities around the world it was impossible to tell where the outskirts ended and the town began. There was a lot to see. We drove in traffic on the one paved road with bikes and people everywhere. There were so many people along the sides of the road sitting and standing; there were children playing. There were all kinds of things for sale like bed frames and couches just sitting right on the red dirt and in the dust from all of the activity. Vehicles were being signaled to pull over for inspection every few miles by uniformed police. Ayoub told us that if you got pulled over and didn’t have the “correct documentation” you would have to pay a fine. He told us they may fine you $50 but you can say “I only have $20” and then you pay it and they let you go.
There were many buildings in the suburbs, mostly shacks and half built brick houses. Ayoub explained that since there are no loans to build homes it often takes people years to finish a small brick rectangle with no plumbing or electricity. People build their homes a little bit at a time whenever they have money. Little kids would wave to us as we got farther out of town and then run towards the car with their hands held out. There were very young children out playing or walking near the road. It took us over two hours to drive through Arusha and its suburbs and then we were on the other side driving through a barren landscape. It was hot and windy and dust devils swirled in all directions. We saw Masaii walking along the roads tending their herds. Again, we saw very young and unaccompanied children alone only these kids were carrying wood or herding cattle or playing with sticks and discarded water bottles. We saw women washing clothes in lakes and hanging things in bushes to dry. It was like nothing I have seen before and still, I worried about leaving the toothbrushes behind.
Before we had left on our trip summer I had a conversation with a friend about packing. I was making lists and triple checking them. I was packing for eight weeks, two of which would be in Tanzania on safari. She was trying to reassure me and said, “Just remember, you’re not traveling to a third world country.” I laughed. Yes, we were traveling to a third world country and usually, it’s not a big deal to forget something on a trip because everything one might need is easily accessible, but what about traveling to Tanzania? What would I do about the toothbrushes? Ten days is long time to be without toothbrushes.
We saw Maasai dressed in black with their faces painted white walking along the road, sometimes in groups. Ayoub explained that these boys were all about fifteen and had just finished a three month rite of passage ceremony that includes circumcision. They spend three months recovering in seclusion and then wear the black cloth. Once they have completed the ritual they are warriors and can wear the red cloth of a Masaii warrior. http://www.maasai-association.org/ceremonies.html
Finally we arrived at the entrance to Tarangire National Park. Again there were permits to be arranged and then we enjoyed a picnic lunch while a group of banded mongoose played nearby.
Now that we were in the park, our travel would become a game drive through the park to our next lodge, Oliver’s camp. It was a steady 2.5 hour drive from the gates of the park to our lodge without stopping and we had three hours to do it. There are strict rules in the parks and because of poaching it is important to be off of the roads by dark so we would only be stopping for big and interesting things like lions or babies.
It was a different world in the park. There were trees and animals and vistas and a few safari jeeps. I contrasted our new views to what we had seen in the hours before. Even as we approached the gates of the park we bumped along dusty roads through tiny shack filled villages. There were people sitting in the shade of the shacks that advertised coca cola or groceries. We drove past fields where children played and ran towards our jeep waving and then holding their hands out. Why weren’t they in school? Where were their parents?
At the gates of the Tarangire we had gone from transit (driving to the park) to safari (driving in the park) and so after lunch , Ayoub popped the roof of the jeep up and seatbelts were no longer required. We could stand on the seats and enjoy the unobstructed view, albeit quickly moving view, as we had three hours to be in our camp. We zipped along the bumpy, dirt roads, Ashley happily standing on the seat with the wind in her hair.
Driving into Tarangire Park was like walking through Venice, it looks just like you thought it would, only better. There were herds of Zebra grazing serenely under Baobab trees also known as the “Tree of Life” or “Upside Down Tree.”
Not too long into our game drive we spotted a group of parked safari jeeps. I have decided that Safari jeeps are like flower pots and the binocular-ed people popping out are the flowers. Now, just as you would imagine a cluster of safari jeeps means one thing; there is something interesting to look at and as the days passed and our hours in the jeeps grew, we learned that the interesting things is usually a cat. This particular jeep cluster was admiring some lionesses. Our first look at cats, very exciting.
We bumped into Oliver’s camp right at dusk and just in time for curfew. Ayoub had jokingly told us that if were late we could always blame it on elephants in the road. It sounded like a great excuse at the time but we definitely waited for elephants to cross the road more than once during our time in Tarangire.
Oliver’s Camp was our first camp and absolutely perfect. We had been in the jeep for the majority of the day and it felt great to walk to the main tents for our camp overview. No walking from our tent to the main tents after sunset and before sunrise and stay away from animals wandering through the camp. We had about an hour to wash off the day and rest before campfire and drinks at 7:30 and family style dinner at 8:00.
We had a family tent. I know friends, tent and you may think camping, but if Oliver’s Camp is camping, than I am a camper. It was like no tent (actually tents) I have ever stayed in. Scott and I had a tent with real bathroom and shower and outside shower that was connected to the kid’s tent which also had a bathroom. We had a deck as well where we would enjoy our morning wake up coffee. I could have stayed more than two days. Laundry service was even included!
The highlights of the rest of the evening included one of the camp’s guides, Chris, who sat near us at dinner. Someone asked him how he decided to become a guide and he started talking about his childhood and how he was always curious about everything. He said when he was a very young, nine or ten, a corral at his grandfather’s house became flooded and he saw fish there. He could not imagine how the fish appeared out of nowhere. He was curious and went on to learn about how this type of fish would lay eggs in the mud and then when the rains came, the fish would hatch. He talked about how his curiosity is the driving force in his life and the reason he is a guide. I think he was talking to the kids but I heard it loud and clear. Never stop being curious because that is what makes life interesting and curiosity will take you far.
We didn’t get back to the tent until after ten o’clock. The day had been very long and we had seen so many different things in one day. Grant looked lost in thought as we tried to get organized for the next morning. Scott asked him what he was thinking about. Grant said he couldn’t stop thinking about the kids running up to the jeep as we drove through the towns and the poverty that we saw. Scott asked him if it made him feel guilty for all the things that he had. He replied no, he didn’t feel guilty for what he had but he said that he should feel guilty if he is not happy with what he has.
And what about the toothbrushes that I obsessed about all day long? They were in the bag. I had packed them after all and I had never been so happy or thankful to see toothbrushes. What did I learn from this? I learned that if you think you should double check something you probably should, it will save you worrying all day. Ironically, there were toothbrushes and toothpaste for sale in the little souvenir cupboard at Oliver’s Camp (the only camp that I ever saw toothbrushes for sale) so I must not be the only person to attempt safari sans toothbrush. I am positive that there are some profound lessons in my toothbrush saga but they are not yet concrete in my mind. Perhaps the lesson is as simple as truly appreciating simple conveniences or maybe the lesson is about choices, what thoughts does one choose to be the focus of an hour or a day or a year or even a life? The energy I spent on those toothbrushes certainly did not affect the outcome.