December 8, 2011

I’m sitting in our comfortable bed in the Sleep Inn Hotel in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania’s capitol), with an air conditioning unit providing a cool environment while I watch Kung Fu Panda on a flat screen television. We have come a long way from Karagwe, and have enjoyed traveling along the tourist track followed by thousands of visitors each year in Tanzania. Walking along a path well-traveled is a great breath of fresh air after living in rural Tanzania for a while. The past ten days have been full of is-this-a-dream? encounters.

We started our journey by leaving Misha Guest house at 5:45am on Monday, November 28th to catch our bus in Kayanga. Carly, Sarah, and Isabel had said their good-byes to all of their friends. The previous night they gave Deo a donation so he could buy a mattress (he was sleeping on the floor the whole time we were at Misha) and a letter. He cried when they gave it to them, and brought the letter and money to show Paul and me. I translated the letter in Swahili for him, and he started crying again. Paul comforted him with a hug and he only cried more. Deo and Egbert were very sad to see us go. When I tried to comfort our friends by reminding them that Paul and I would return in January, it wasn’t enough because Isabel, Sarah, and Carly would not. The morning we were to leave, we got a call from Egbert at 5:15am and looked out of our window to see Deo and Egbert standing there expectantly. They said farewell one last time and we taxied to Kayanga town with our friend Ruta.

The bus arrived packed with people, and after putting our luggage in the bottom of the bus, we boarded to find no empty seats. Some of us sat, and some of us stood for the two hour journey along unpaved roads to Bukoba. We arrived in the closest city to our TZ home around 9am and had the whole day to explore and wait to board our overnight ferry across Lake Victoria to Mwanza which departed at 9pm. We walked around a bit, visited a few places, and then walked to the ferry port from Spice Beach hotel at 7:45. The ferry was much better than its first impression. I had bought first class tickets, and we were fortunate to stay in little cabins with a set of bunk beds, a closet, a sink, and a table. We watched as hundreds of green banana bunches were hauled and packed onto the ferry (Paul joked that we were on Donkey Kong’s boat), and retired to our cabin before disembarking. Paul and I were wiped out, and fell asleep before 10. During the night we heard a man yelling, ‘Parachichi! Parachichi!’ (Avocado). We learned the next morning that we had stopped somewhere and vendors had boarded to sell their wares.

We left the ferry at 7am, and met our safari driver named David at the port. He picked us up in a sweet dark green land cruiser with a pop up hood for excellent safari viewing. He took us to a nice semi-outdoor restaurant and we ate a filling breakfast. We would have a day full of safari through the Serengeti Park, arguably the best National Wildlife Park in Africa. We began driving and were excited to see zebras and gazelles in the distance.

Throughout our two days in Serengeti we spotted elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, wildebeests, buffalo, jackals, marabou storks, zebras, antelope, impalas, vultures, a crocodile, fish eagles, hippos, dic dics, warthogs, baboons, gazelles, hyenas, giant tortoises, porcupines, big lizards, ostriches, fervor monkeys, an arax, and lots of big termite mounds (Paul was sure to list them all).

Giraffes on safari

A major highlight from our safari… We came to a spot where there were many other safari vehicles, and spotted two leopards sleeping in a tree. David looked at the time (about 4:45pm) and said we should wait because the leopards would soon leave the tree to hunt for food. There was a large herd of elephants which moseyed their way past the tree, not knowing about the predators above. There were two baby elephants, no more than a few days old, with the herd. The leopards woke up and slowly made their way down the tree, stalking the baby elephants. We were freaking out, wanting and not wanting the leopards to pounce at the same time. We watched a nerve-wrecking scene of the leopards stalking the baby elephants, punctured by different adult elephants charging the leopards, threatening them to stay away. After about an hour and a half we left disappointed by the seeming lack of courage of the leopards.

We saw many groups of elephants, giraffes, and zebras close up and almost couldn’t believe the animals were real. I thought about God’s sense of humor.

That night, we camped in the Serengeti Park at a camp site set up with maybe two dozen tents, a pavilion for cooking, a pavilion for eating, and small covered buildings for toilets and showers. The girls stuffed themselves into a two-person tent and had a good time. We all loved the food. We had popcorn and cookies to start, then a delicious soup, spaghetti with ground beef, and a delicious balsamic salad with avocado, tomato, and onion. We were all happy to have something different than our typical meal in Karagwe. We slept well and woke up the next morning at 6am to get a head start on seeing the animals. We watched the sun rise over the horizon and a small group of elephants picking grass with their trunks to eat. After a good breakfast back at the campsite, we packed all of our stuff back on the truck and set out to leave the park by our permit’s noon deadline. David drove us off the main road down small paths to show us the thousands of wildebeest grazing in the middle of their migration to the southern parts of the park. We spotted a half dozen female lionesses chilling on some boulders before we left the park.

African safari

Once at the gate, we stopped to eat our packed lunches and take pictures. We had a 6-7 hour journey before us until we arrive in Arusha. We stopped at a good viewpoint of the Ngorogoro Crater and stopped at one point to change a blown tire. Once we were on the east side of the Serengeti, we saw people of the Masai tribe sporadically on our journey. They are a unique group of people who are holding tightly to their traditions, and have continued wearing their customary plaid blankets, shoes made from tires, and walking with a stick. The Masai is a pastoralist tribe, and wealth is measured by the amount of cows a man owns. We passed a group of young boys with their faces painted with white patterns and were told by David that this is a time when the tribe circumcises all of its boys in an elaborate ritual of manhood which happens every seven years. It was interesting to see glances of such a different life.

We stayed for two nights in Arusha, the place where Nyerere signed the Arusha Declaration to guide Tanzania in socialism during its first two decades of independence, and the location of the International Criminal Court to prosecute perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide. We really enjoyed walking around Arusha and visiting the Masai market to buy things for our friends and family. Paul and I bought a beautiful oil painting of elephants in front of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tanzania
From Arusha, we flew in a tiny airplane to the island of Zanzibar. We spent our first few days in Bwejuu, on the east coast of the island, at a unique, rustic guest house called Mustafa’s Place. The environment was very chill and land back, with the ocean only a minute walk away. We all decided to go snorkeling so after breakfast one morning we met a driver who drove us to another beach. There, we met two men on dhows, or simple dugout sail boats. We went out in the middle of the ocean and let down our anchor where there were brown and tan coral alive with a variety of fish. We got right in and spent an hour and a half snorkeling and watching the life under the sea. My favorite spotting was a couple of stripped angel fish about a foot in diameter. I finished the experience by climbing onto the boat and diving off a few times. It really felt like a dream. Ha, what wasn’t like a dream afterwards was the sunburn pain I experienced because I didn’t wear a shirt while snorkeling… good lesson for next time.

The night before we left Bwejuu, Sarah, Carly, Paul, and I went out to a party at a place called Teddy’s which was having their two year anniversary. The scene was very cool– wazungu from all over the world dancing and having a good time. We smoked strawberry hookah and I drank Paul’s long island ice tea, and Paul and I headed back early happy and tired. Sarah, Carly, and Isabel decided to spend some of their own money and went swimming with dolphins the next morning. They only spent about $30 per person and saw about a dozen dolphins while snorkeling. We left that day after lunch to head to Stonetown, which is on the west coast of the island. On the way, we stopped at a spice farm and had a tour of the various spices which are grown in Zanzibar. We saw, smelled, and tasted cinnamon, vanilla, black pepper, saffron, cloves, and many others. At the end we tasted some local fruits… we all loved the grapefruit which was much less bitter than the grapefruit in the US. A man showed us how to climb a coconut tree, and Paul and Isabel attempted to climb also. It looked so easy when he did it.

We stayed at Malindi Guest House in Stonetown, which was a very cool open-air accommodation. Stonetown seemed a bit sketchy (we were told not to go left from our front door), and there were cats everywhere. We ate dinner at Mercury Restaurant which is situated right on the ocean with a candlelit, new age music atmosphere. The food was delicious. Paul was excited to discover that the restaurant is named after Freddie Mercury, and bought a shirt for a friend. Afterwards, we went to an outside market type of barbeque where vendors and chefs were selling the catch of the day grilled and ready to be eaten off a skewer. I paid a buck twenty for a dessert of chapatti fried with nutella, mango slices, and chocolate syrup. I guess I would compare it to funnel cake at a carnival and a caramel apple, but with that tropical-chocolaty-melt in your mouth deliciousness.

The next day after buying our ferry tickets, we explored a bit, and bought some coffee from the island. Paul, Isabel, and I said farewell to Carly and Sarah at the ferry port. They will travel around the region for two weeks before returning home right before Christmas. I met with my friend, Stacey, who studied with me last summer during the Pitt in Tanzania- Swahili program. The ferry was fine to Dar. I popped out a deck of cards, and began playing the locally popular game called ‘last card’ with a couple of men and a boy.

December 9, 2011

We stayed at Sleep Inn Hotel in Dar and bought the last few things we needed for our friends and family. Paul and I had our last meal in Tanzania with an Indian man who is based in Mwanza. We all got the seafood platter and we enjoyed the conversation topics we had become accustomed to with our new friend- how every religion has more similarities than differences, his spiritual beliefs inspired by Hinduism, human nature in general, homosexuality, etc. This guy was deep and open and honest and we enjoyed his company. We met up with two of my friends, Nina and Cory, who were also with me during the Pitt in Tanzania-Swahili program last year. We went to a cool bar and enjoyed good conversation over a drink. It’s cool to have friends from the States also living in Tanzania. Paul and Cory are planning to be hiking buddies for a trek up Kilimanjaro next year.

Paul and I are on our way home now. We are happy to be on our way to our families and our country. We are also happy that we will return to Karagwe again and have another group of students. We have lots of ideas to make next semester even better than this one, and are happy we will see our friends when we return. Cold and snowy Pennsylvania, home-cooked meals, ice cream, loved ones… here we come!