Friday, January 18, 2002 Very cold in Amsterdam; warm in Arusha
We left Amsterdam at 10:30 AM and arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport about 9:30 PM. There is a two-hour time difference
between the Netherlands and Tanzania. We were flying business class on KLM and so had a pretty comfortable time of it.
Serengeti National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Rift Valley, Various Villages, Arusha
Arriving at the airport was exciting. Because it is a small airport, jet ways are not used. As we walked down the steps we
were met by the steamy, sultry night air of Africa--very exotic and exhilarating. Going through customs was simple as was
getting our baggage. Once through that we found our guides, Robert and Samson, holding a sign for Thomson Safaris.
They were warm and welcoming--very personable right from the first greeting. We then met our 8 safari companions, with
all of us sizing each other up, trying to decide if we would travel well together for the next 14 days. As it turned out, we
did all get along well and enjoyed each others company--there were no prima donnas, complainers or difficult people in
Our duffel bags were loaded on top of the two Land Rovers, which would be our transportation for our adventure and off
we set for the Mountain Village Lodge outside of Arusha. It was a 30-minute drive with new sights and sounds all along
the way. We were met by the charming hotel staff offering us sweet, satisfying, cold glasses of passion fruit juice. It was a
perfect welcome. Robert handed out our room keys, gave us a brief overview of what we will do tomorrow beginning with
a briefing meeting in the morning. Hotel staff led each of us to our own charming individual thatched hut. The beds were
ready for us with the mosquito netting in place and the bottled water on the vanity.
I went outside for a few minutes just to see the night sky and stars and then proceeded to walk into the wrong hut while
announcing to whom I thought was Ken that he should come out and see the glorious stars. A strange voice came from
the bed saying, " I think you are in the wrong room." I quietly apologized and backed out. This was a quick and
unexpected interaction with two of our traveling companions.We all laughed about it the next day.
Saturday, January 19, 2002 Cool and beautiful in morning; warm and humid during village walk
I woke up this morning at 6:40--as usual before Ken was stirring. After crawling out of the netting, I opened the curtains
to a most glorious sight--a beautiful scene of green, gorgeous flowers of many colors, a sparkling lake and a cacophony of
insect sounds--absolutely, exotically breathtaking. I had entered another world it seemed--"This must be paradise," I
After showering, exploring the grounds, digging through the duffel bag (a process I mastered toward the end of the safari),
and waking up Ken, we went to the lodge for a sumptuous breakfast of all sorts of tropical fruits and juices, eggs cooked
to order, bacon, sausage, sweet rolls and various breads, cereal, etc. This was just the first of the incredibly wonderful
meals we had throughout the trip.
After breakfast we met on the lawn for a briefing from our two totally awesome guides--Robert Chama and Samson
Johnson. It was amazing what a good night's sleep had accomplished for all of us long-distance travelers. No one looked
the same in the morning as we did when we dragged ourselves out of the plane and met in the airport last night.
Remarkable Robert was our head guide. He reviewed the itinerary for the next 14 days and provided some detailed
information about what we would be seeing and doing--along with some do's and don'ts. The chief don't is not to take
pictures without checking with either him or Samson for appropriateness. Since all of our fellow adventurers seem to be
culturally sensitive, this should not be a problem. He also brought us up to date on the type of "facilities" we would be
experiencing during our travels--they will run all the way from sparkling, modern conveniences to the pit-latrine we will dig
when in the Kidero region visiting the Hadza people. During wildlife viewing times, if the need arises, we either find bushes
or men to the front, women to the back of the vehicles.
After the briefing, we began the day's adventure--the ultimate destination being Mt. Meru, a local village whose leaders
are working at introducing modern agricultural methods, building schools and providing education to the local children and
teaching how to make and use methane gas for cooking. But, the first culturally awakening sight was when we were 3
minutes from the lodge and in the middle of the Saturday market. Colors-vivid and pure-, sights, sounds, smells,
people--all assaulted our senses in ways that were beautiful, mysterious and breathtaking. If there were ever any question
that we were embarking on an entirely new travel experience, the question was erased forever. Vendors in their colorful
garments of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and more sat on blankets, cardboard, whatever, with their items for sale piled
around them. For some it was fruits and vegetables, others had piles of used clothing, many people were selling charcoal.
There were furniture, shoes, beauty products, laundry supplies--everything one uses in daily life. People were interacting,
gossiping, laughing, bartering, playing, singing, gambling, drinking--it was one large social occasion which repeats itself
every Saturday. Many, many children ran around while eyeing us go by. We really wanted to take pictures but Robert
cautioned against it. Tires were a big item--they are used for many things, including shoes.
One of the multitudes of amazing sites was to see a small van, serving as a bus from surrounding areas, lurching down the
street with 20-30 people inside. Guinness book of records--where are you? It was not uncommon to see a vehicle along
the side of the road with its passengers sitting in the dirt as a flat tire was fixed or the driver peered under the hood.
When we finally arrived at the village, low in the mountains, we were met by Mr. Loti and his wife--the primary movers in
the attempt to modernize a village that has been much the same for generations. The area was beautiful with lush
vegetation and colorful flowers: the cows were in pens not too far from the house. Mr. Loti provided a very gracious
greeting, inviting us into his home where we were plied with fruits, coffee and juice while he explained what he and the
village were doing and what we would be seeing as we walked. The term village is somewhat misleading as it is not a
cluster of houses.Rather, small houses are situated within the hills and along paths. At most 3-4 houses group together in
compounds. There are many children with older ones looking after the younger ones while all the women remain aware of
all of the children and what is happening.
After Mr. Loti's introduction, a young man took us on a walking tour, explaining the crop rotation processes being
implemented and the way land is obtained. We visited one farmhouse where we saw how by using cow urine, people are
able to create methane gas, which is then sent through a hose into the house and used to light a cooking burner. The cows
are penned right outside of the house with the urine flowing down a trench where it is stirred and treated before being
converted into gas. Most houses do not have electricity, running water or inside bathrooms. This methane gas process is
new and exciting for them--one that they greatly appreciate.
From there we walked to a compound of several houses-really
huts. We were able to go inside one of them which was basically
one large round room. On one side, with a small barrier to
separate it from the rest of the interior, was the area where the
goats and sheep stay at night. In the center was a fire ring and on
the other side was a raised and partitioned area, which serves as
the bed for the mother and children. A smaller partition at the
doorway was the man's sleeping area. There were about 4 such
huts in the compound. Beautiful children ran around, warily
watching us and caring for each other.
Walking along trails and past other house/huts, livestock, children,
waterfalls where children gather water in plastic buckets, and more
beautiful vegetation eventually took us to the school.Â The people
are very proud of this school which consists of 8 classrooms for
800 students. We sat in one of them while our local guide shared
with us. The room we were in had bench tables and chairs, which
were large enough for two children; however, 4 children sit at
them for hours at a time in sweltering heat. The curriculum consists
of math, science, English, Swahili and history. Very few children
progress beyond seventh grade and, unfortunately, under their
current way of life there does not seem to be a way for them to
use their education. Those students who continue through the
upper grades and college do have options.
After this walking tour, we returned to Mr. Loti's home and found
Mrs. Loti and her family had prepared a wonderful lunch. There
was so much food-more than our group could eat and yet we felt
we were insulting their hospitality by not chowing down and eating
it all. The dishes were African and good. The warmth and heartfelt
hospitality of these people overwhelmed us. We were made to feel
like honored guests while we felt we should be honoring them.
As we drove back to our lodge, we passed the scene of the earlier market--closed up for the day, now. Unsold avocados,
mangos, and papayas were left in small piles--I guess for the taking. A few people were still around, laughing and somewhat
Once back at the lodge, we rested a bit and then went to the garden area where a trio of quite talented local drummers,
acrobats and jugglers entertained us. We sipped our drinks, drank in the sounds and sights of exotic Tanzania and let
ourselves be entertained until it was time to move on to a superb dinner.
Later we tiredly, but still with a sense of exhilaration, climbed through our netting and slept.
Sunday, January 20, 2002 Very hot but cooled down at night
Arusha-Tarangire National Park-Treetops Lodge
After another, even bigger breakfast with omelets, crepes, and more, the porters carried our duffels to the two Land
Rovers which would be our homes on wheels for the next two weeks. The entire luggage was loaded on top of the cabs
and we took off, passing by yesterday's market scene, through the streets of Arusha and out into the Maasai countryside.
Today was the beginning of our love affair with Robert and Samson.
Robert is a native Tanzanian, has a college degree in philosophy and wildlife, went to seminary for a while, is incredibly
intelligent, has a wonderful, charismatic personality, loves what he does and loves people. His command of English is
awesome and yet he has never been outside of Tanzania except for brief visits to two other African nations.
Samson is a pure joy. He too is a native Tanzanian from a tribe in
the north. He grew up in a traditional tribal environment and would
probably still be living that but for an opportunity which came his
way when he was seventeen. An anthropology researcher from the
Netherlands arrived in Samson's village looking for someone to
accompany him to the land of the Hadzabe people in the Rift
Valley where he planned on conducting a three-year study of this
ancient hunter-gatherer tribe. Samson volunteered and thus spent
much of three years living with the Hadzabe, learning their language
and customs. He is one of the few people on earth to have
developed ties such as this. He is now 43 and has left the lifestyle
of his tribe far behind him although his heart and soul remain in his
roots. Samson's knowledge of wildlife-flowers, birds,
animals-impresses us as limitless. This is also true of his insights into
the various tribes and customs of the people of Tanzania. He
speaks a multitude of tribal languages along with English and
Swahili, the uniting language of Tanzania. There are 124 indigenous
tribes in this country with each tribe having its own language thus
the need for a common language.
Robert, Ken, Jane, Samson
As we passed through Arusha, people were congregating along the road, by and in the shops, coming and going to church
services. Along the main street were many shops, including computer stores. There was an aura of gaiety and enjoyment
in socializing with friends and community. Women sat together braiding hair or sewing on old, pedal sewing machines
while others balanced trays of bananas and other items on their heads as they walked through the streets. Children ran
around laughing and playing or, like the women, walked down the street carrying lumber on their heads for cooking fires.
But--ultimately, the awareness of poverty, poor sub-standard living conditions and rotting living quarters became an
overriding impression for me. In spite of the color, the laughter and the "busyness" of the scene, the exotic impressions
began to melt and a new awareness took over.It became difficult to reconcile life here with life as I know it. We live on
the same planet but in different worlds.
As we left town we stopped at a hotel and exchanged dollars for Tanzanian shillings at a rate of 860 shillings to our
dollar--better than Italy before the Euro! From there we visited the Tanzanian Cultural Center, which sells Tanzanian
products of all kinds from t-shirts to tanzanite to exquisitely carved figures. I discovered a section with antique masks
where one just fascinated me and said, "Buy me." So, I did. We will pick it up when we return to Arusha in two weeks. It
is a Wise Man mask, which belonged to a chieftain in western Africa who gave it as a gift to the chief of an eastern
Tanzanian tribe when he visited with them. It is 80-100 years old and clearly has been used as it is broken and worn in
places. I know that we will enjoy this as we place it with some of the other unique treasures we have gathered in our
Finally, we were on our way to SAFARI! As we drove through
the Maasai grassland savannah, we passed Maasai people,
dressed in their traditional red and blue garments, all along the
road. Many were leading cows, donkeys, goats or sheep while
others were intently walking from location to location. All of the
men carried walking staffs or spears. Children were out in the
savannah, tending flocks of goats and sheep. We passed six
young Maasai boys with white painted faces and dressed in
black. They had just recently been circumcised and will spend
two months outside of their villages before they can return to their
celebration rites. Many tribes, including the Maasai, continue to
subject girls to clitoridectomy (female circumsion.) What we are
seeing is National Geographic come to life! Again, everything is
so colorful but so poor.
Eventually, the scattered civilization thinned and disappeared and we found ourselves at the entrance to Tarangire National
Park. We made a pit stop while Robert filed paperwork with the park rangers. While waiting we had our first experience
with wildlife--baboons climbing the trees and rocks. Of course, we all became excited and had to take pictures.
Dotting the landscape were small compounds called villages. Each consists of from one to several huts, surrounded by a
rough corral type fence. Each of these communities is really just one family--a man with his wives. With each wife having
her own hut, it is quite simple to count the number of wives. Our first lesson in tribal life came when Samson told us that it
is perfectly acceptable for one man or warrior to avail himself of someone else's wife. All he needs to do is place his
spear in the thatch outside of the woman's hut as a signal to the husband that he needs to go elsewhere. Any children born
to the man's wives become his--regardless of who fathered a child.
Driving along the dirt roads and paths of Tarangire was incredible as we saw elephants, lions, warthogs, impala, antelope,
baboons and exquisitely beautiful birds. Lions and elephants would be just a few yards--or in a couple of instances--feet
away from our Land Rovers. (Robert and Samson assure us that the animals do not concern themselves with vehicles--just
people if they get out..) We spent time just parked watching a group of lions lazily lying under trees by the side of the
About noon we found ourselves driving up a hill which just
seemed to be part of our exploration--but when we reached the
knoll, there under a spreading tree was an incredible site. The chef
from Treetops Lodge, where we are staying for two nights, had
spread out a veritable banquet. In the middle of unspoiled nature,
we feasted on beef, pork and lamb, delicious vegetables and
salads, rice and potatoes, breads, luscious fruit, and a choice of
desserts. We knew then that we had entered into a land of fantasy
and dreams--come alive. All around us were beautiful birds,
superb starlings and many others; a vervet monkey busily looked
for scraps; the vista over a river area was vast and impressive;
broad savannah trees spread their branches; the air was pure and
clean and soothing. Clearly, Thomson does things with class!
Later, the validity of Samson's lesson on not getting out of vehicles became quite clear. Lynn's hat blew off; so brave and
fearless Samson stopped the Land Rover and got out to retrieve it. Unfortunately, a nearby elephant became somewhat
enraged. We were safe but not so the other vehicle--which Ken was in. The elephant trumpeted a couple of times, raised
his trunk and then mini-charged them. As we had already pulled away, we missed seeing this but the rest of the group was
very excited and exuberant as they relived the experience for us later at the lodge. I understand that there were a few
moments of trepidation.
Because we are interlopers in a land that belongs to the animals, caution is needed outside of our treetop. In fact, once it is
dark, we are not allowed to leave it without being escorted by Maasai watchmen. When it was time for dinner, a Maasai
mysteriously materialized as we were walking down the stairs and walked us to the open thatched dining room where we
ate by candlelight and overlooked the game area. The guards are dressed as Maasai dress, in a red blanket type robe, and
carry flashlights, spears and clubs. While we ate, several of these men spent the time sitting around the campfire. When we
were ready to "go home", they walked us back and waited at the base of the steps until we were safely inside our
sanctuary. The men then patrolled the open grounds all night--we could hear their whistle signals to each other as they
protected us. Clearly, danger is present here.
The quality of dinner--food, presentation, staff, and service--was first class, all the way. How they manage to prepare
gourmet food in the middle of nature is a mystery. After a hard day in a Land Rover, bouncing over dirt roads or no roads,
making interesting pit stops, having every sense assaulted in new and wondrous ways, the total pampering at the lodge has
been one more glorious experience. What a day we have had!
While at dinner, the Maasai lowered the canvas sides on three sides-leaving one side still wide open, arranged the bed,
turned the lights on and straightened up Lying in bed we were able to see the stars, feel the air and hear the sounds. During
the night, we had a spectacular storm--thunder and lightening and heavy sheets of rain. We felt so protected inside our
hideaway while still having the sensation that we were out in the open. It was exciting.
Monday, January 21, 2002--Cooler due to last night's rainÂ
Treetop Lodge, Tarangire National Park
Woke up to the fresh morning air permeated by the aroma of last night's rain and alive with birdcalls and sounds. Actually
we had a wake-up call for 6:30, which came in the form of a Maasai climbing our stairs and quietly shouting "jambo" until
we responded. He then brought in hot, steaming coffee and biscuits.
Had breakfast at 7 and were out for morning wildlife viewing
at 8. Spent all day in the Land Rover. I knew that on safari
we would see animals in the wild but I hadn't known how
impressive and moving this would be. I don't think I will ever
again be able to enjoy a zoo or even the Wild Animal Park.
The animals belong here--free and unfettered. We saw herds
of elephants, trumpeting and exerting their ownership of the
terrain. Saw several lions, often just along side of the
road--lazy and sleeping. Impalas spreading in herds,
beautifully racing across the landscape. Birds of startling
colors. Large herds of zebras. Many baby and young
elephants protected and watched over by their mothers.
Awesome!! The elephant ears are very large when fanned
out as they sense intrusion.
Again stopping under trees, we had a box lunch prepared by Tree Tops. But--not a cafeteria style box lunch--this was a yum,
yum gourmet box lunch. Meat, salad, rolls, quiche, fruit and dessert. Wildlife viewing continued after lunch. Ho-hum, more of
Several elephants grazed in the distance which was exciting until that was surpassed by a herd just off the road from us.
The monarch became aware of our presence, sauntered over and planted himself between the two vehicles--and just
stood--as did we. Eventually, he signaled to the rest of his herd, females and children, at which point they all began to
move, crossing the road between us. It was quite a sight as they milled around on the road before deciding to reach the
other side. What a thrill!
The day's highlight was the herd of elephants that blocked our way and seeing our first lions. Robert and Samson keep
telling us to save our film as we will see more and better later. Since I have the digital camera, I can just delete later if I
want to. Really like the digital!! Everyone else is using up tons of film in spite of the advice. Ken is using his camera.
Geoff and Mario are both amateur photographers with fancy cameras so are getting some really good close-ups.
We returned to the lodge at 3:30. There was a guided walk with a Maasai tribesman at 4:15 but I elected not to
go--wanted to work on this journal, as finding time to write is difficult. Ken went and said that it was nice to actually walk
around the savannah and see things. They didn't run into any animals but the guide was prepared.
Tuesday, January 22, 2002 Raining in morning but cleared in afternoon
We left Tree Top at 8 am--a sad parting although we know that the next adventure will be just as wonderful. It was hard
though to leave our treetop, cross the bridge and wave goodbye. We were totally surrounded by the savannah--no other
structures anywhere around for miles and miles. The roads today were very muddy due to the rain--which at one time sent
huge, quarter size pieces of ice sliding across the floor of our treetop. Had to cross several deep gullies which were
slippery and deep with mud--not easy to do even in the Land Rovers. Wheels spun, we rocked back and forth and
eventually made it. Both Robert and Samson are expert drivers.
While driving to the village of Mto Wa Mbu we passed many Maasai tribes people tending herds and standing along the
road--many, many children gathering water and shepherding animals out on the savannah. Everyone appeared friendly and
waved to us, both adults and the children. There were many small villages of 2-8 huts scattered along the landscape.
Arriving in Mto Wa Mbu we were immediately surrounded and assaulted by hoards of young and not so young men trying
to sell, trade, barter anything and everything. They would have traded an assortment of handmade items for such things as
a pen or magazine. Aggressive is an understatement in describing their efforts. It was hard to move or walk two steps
towards our destination as I was completely hemmed in by these entrepreneurs--as was everyone else in our group.
Once inside a very dirty courtyard surrounded by small shops and eating places, we met Wesley, our guide through the
village. He was extremely articulate as he shared about the village (which is really a town) and the agricultural and
educational programs they have and are developing. Members of 124 various Tanzanian tribes live in this town--again the
reason for the need for Swahili. The people work and go to school together--apparently skirting tribal issues and conflicts.
Our walk through the town took us along mud paths past homes, fields, stores, schools and orchards. It was fascinating!
As we have seen all along the way, there were many children running around--some of them just toddlers. Older children
would often carry them on their backs. We saw sugar fields, banana plantations and many small crops. The banana tree is
very important to both Tanzania and this village in particular. Every part of it is used for something as well as being
exported. Of course, the fruit is the first by-product but its leaves, trunk, roots etc. are used for roofing, lumber and many
other purposes. There were several types of banana trees being grown--small bananas, big ones, yellow ones, red ones,
green ones. Interesting.
Houses in the village are primitive but cultures ahead of the Maasai huts. They have dirt floors, communal living areas, no
running water. A few homes have electricity powered by generators. Adults watch out for children as a community--very
gregarious among themselves which translated to being very warm and welcoming to us. The village is very primitive and
poor by our standards but is considered to be somewhat advanced and large by Tanzanian standards.
mouse over picture
After Mto Wa Mbu we drove up, up the mountain to Gibbs Farm--a beautiful lodge at 5700' altitude. We arrived in a
blinding rain but the staff met us with large umbrellas and almost dryly escorted us to our rooms. Ken and I had a private
cottage overlooking the valley and flowers. The view was spectacular. Fortunately the rain stopped within minutes so that
by the time we walked to the lodge for lunch we had sunshine. What a lunch! The table was spread with at least 50
different items--meats, vegetables, salads, cheeses, desserts, relishes and more. The chef proudly stood over it all, insisting
that we try this and try that. It continues to mystify me as to how these native chefs in the middle of isolation prepare food
worthy of the best culinary schools. They are meticulous in their preparation and presentations. Flowers are spread on the
tables, silver is gleaming, candles are lit and the multitude of staff is solicitous and charming. Certainly "Your wish is my
command" is the byword of their service.
Gibbs Farm is stunningly gorgeous and elegant--tropical flowers in abundance at every turn. Lush green plants with huge,
spreading leaves, vegetable crops of every kind. It is a rich farm including coffee beans, which they have grown and
distributed for several decades. The vistas from the lawn and veranda areas reach for miles down into the valley.
After lunch two men from the lodge took us on a hike to an elephant lick and waterfall. The path wound around the
mountain, up and down muddy trails with lush vegetation and flowers all along the way. The salt lick is actually a large
mountainside that is rich in various minerals. Elephants have come for centuries to eat the soil and rocks in order to enrich
and supplement their diets.
By the time we returned to the lodge, our shoes had about an inch of mud caked on the bottoms and were filthy all over.
We were told just to leave them outside of our door and someone would pick them up and clean them. Sure enough,
within a half-hour, they were returned, spotlessly clean, looking like new. The level of service surpasses any I have
On the way back to the lodge, I began to kid Samson and Pascal, the local guide, asking what they were so boisterously
talking about in Swahili. I laughed when they told me--they were debating which and whose language had been the
common language before the Tower of Babel. We then had a fascinating discussion about the Garden of Eden and
creation. Samson is Lutheran and Pascal is Seventh Day Adventist.
This evening we again were treated to a royal banquet. After dinner, some of us gathered by the fireplace and talked for a
short while before wandering our separate ways, down flower strewn paths to our rooms and cottages.
After lunch we continued our first day of wild life viewing until arriving at Treetops Lodge around 5 o'clock. Another
stunning surprise. Here, out in the middle of the national park, was a hidden lodge. Each accommodation was a separate
"tree house" with open sides all around except for the private bath area, which had canvas sides--an incredible shower
made out of stone. The bed was huge with netting around it. As Ken and I looked over the surrounding landscape, which
we know is home to all kinds of wildlife--including mighty predators, it was hard to believe that we were really here or that
any other place really exists--quite a paradox.
At the schoolhouse, which was one structure, open on the sides
with a thatched roof, there was a separate structure housing four
individual toilet stalls. A focus of the training taking place in Mto
Wa Mbu is teaching children hygiene and health awareness habits.
The bathroom facility at the school is a part of that effort. An
interesting facet of the educational process is that only children
whose parents can pay for uniforms can go to school. There are
various humanitarian efforts to provide uniforms to more children.
There are several schools but each has its uniform. We saw
children walking off to school with their version of backpacks--all
dressed nicely and wearing shoes.
Tree Tops--Mto Wa Bu Village--Gibbs Farm
mouse over picture
|January 18-February 1, 2002