Arusha and safari: 1 to 4 Sept 2006

7 09 2006

The bus to Arusha was very long and crammed.  We saw Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru and a lot of sisal plants, but otherwise the bus ride was boring and uncomfortable.  We stayed in a very nice hotel the first night, the Outpost, but had to leave the next day because they were booked.  We checked into one hotel, but it didin’t seem too promising.  Two men watched everything I wrote as I signed into the hotel.  Each time we arrive at a hotel the check-in is the same type of book asking for passport number, where you are coming from and where you are going (along with standard info like name, address).

We had been given a reference for safari from a couple at the Outpost, Swala Safaris, so I called them and arranged to go to their office to set something up.  In the meantime, we went to Cafe Bamboo and asked for the guy Damon recommended.  No one knew him, which is unfortunate, because at that point, I really needed a friendly face that wasn’t asking for or expecting money for one thing or another.  The first day, I felt pretty lost and frustrated in Arusha…and tired of being in cities.

When we went out to the safari company office, things began to pick up.  The manager was a woman, Ester, who was very nice and set us up with a 3-day safari to Tarangirie National Park, Ngorongoro Conseration Area, and Lake Manyara.  We stayed at an awesome tented camp in the town of Mto wa Mbu (“Mosquito River”).  There were permanent tents with solar electricity, water heated by burning wood and banana-tree roofs.  The meals consisted of many courses and were quite good…AND monkeys played on the front yard!

The safaris were amazing and we had a very good guide!  His English wasn’t the best, but it was pretty good and he kept rattling off Latrin names for all the animals, birds and plants we saw.  He would not only know the Latin name, but the Swahili and English names also.  And he was just really nice to us.  I took many pics which probably tell the story better than words.  I will say, though, that the best part of the safari was seeing so many animals in the wild.

On the last day, Andy and I did a walking “Cultural Tour” through Mto wa Mbu.  It was educational seeing the life of villagers up close.  We saw how banana beer is made and learned about banana types and production.  The best part, however, was visiting a local school and the teacher had the kids all get up and sing for us.  It really was pretty cool!  I saw a woman cooking ugali and asked if I could try, so she let me.  I think I messed things up more than anything, but it was a fun experience! (So, Mari, we’re on for the the African meal, but I need to do a little more learning, I think!)

By the time we left Mto wa Mbu, I was pretty tired and getting frustrated with this portion of my African experience:

The kids are friendly out of curiosity and sometimes so they can get a pen or money,
The men are friendly because they want money or to sell something,
The women are rarely friendly and just look at us as voyerists and intruders.

That’s a huge generalization and certainly not always true, but coming away from Mtu wa Mbu, that was my observation.  I certainly understand the difference in income and it isn’t hard to see poverty anywhere you look, but I was really frustrated by the lack of authentic interactions.  At this point, I changed my expectations, probably not for the better.  Now, I want to just learn, experience and see as much as possible (while respecting the people and culture), and understand that I AM an intruder and a voyer.

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