After 12 hours of peaceful sleep, I woke up at 6 am to the chirping of birds outside feeling refreshed. The early morning sun rays were peeping into our room through the big French windows. My husband was already up and gearing up for the big day. I stepped out to the balcony to see a big brown mongoose enjoying the cool weather. We had omelette and fruits for breakfast and our eyes fell on a jar of hibiscus juice. Even though I come from a country with hibiscus aplenty, hibiscus juice was novel to us. My husband, being the gourmet that he was, had to try it! His facial expression after having a sip convinced me not to be over adventurous on the first day. Nevertheless, he ended up enjoying 2 glasses of it! I opted for a warm cup of black coffee. The African coffee indeed varied in taste and was a bit acerbic compared to its Indian counterpart.
After breakfast, we had a stroll through the Planet Lodge garden and even though most of the plants were quite similar to what we have in India, the size of their blossoms were huge! James was waiting for us in the lobby by the time we went to check out a few minutes before 9 am. Most of the safari vehicles are modified Land Cruisers that are specifically designed for the safari needs. The passenger seats are at an elevation compared to the driver’s seat and you could lift the entire roof such that even my almost 6 feet husband could stand comfortably without stooping. It had separate areas for keeping your water and your bags, not to mention multiple charging sockets! James once again introduced himself as our safari guide and ensured us of our safety for the next one week. Even though we had booked for a shared safari, fortunately there was no other group who had our same itinerary – a private safari at the cost of a shared one! He also encouraged us to ask him any questions that we had before proceeding to our destination for the day – Tarangire. From this point onward, all my wisdom about Tanzania, wildlife or national parks comes from James even though it may not be explicitly stated.
We travelled through Arusha, the third largest city in Tanzania. Our misinformation that Dar es Salaam (the largest city of Tanzania) was the capital city was corrected by James as the capital is Dodoma. Dodoma, being central in location, was chosen as the capital for the convenience of governance. On the way, we saw the Arusha clock tower which is supposed to be the midway point between Cairo and Cape Town but the actual midpoint is located in Congo. Just before we left the city, we had a pit stop at a shopping centre which was the last shop for buying any provisions that we might require for the next 1 week while on the safari. We could see a lot of tourists had stopped at this store similar to us. These shops were equipped to accept various currencies and even had a foreign exchange counter. James advised us to buy additional water bottles as Good Earth would provide only 1.5 litres per person which may not be enough in the hot dusty weather of the national parks. We bought some water and fruits and started our journey leaving the city behind.
On the highway, whose quality is extremely commendable, we could see various hoardings advertising Tanzanite. Tanzania is the only producer of Tanzanite, a rare blue gem. En route, James stopped at a local curio shop to have a cup of coffee while we loitered around to have a look at the innumerable intricate wood carvings and paintings of all sizes . Thanks to their extremely high marked-up prices, we dropped any idea of shopping from our mind. I saw my husband sneaking up to the Tanzanite corner and striking up a conversation with the salesman. My heart skipped a beat and I rushed to join him feigning indifference on the outside. After a long and detailed session where the salesman explained in detail about the processing of the gem, my husband enquired the prices and soon walked away. I regret to inform that I am not a proud owner of Tanzanite jewellery.
A Masai village
While driving, we could see Masai settlements and the Masai tribes herding cattle, sheep and goat. James explained to us that the Masai wealth is measured in terms of their herd size. The wealthier they are, the more number of wives they have. My husband secretly rolled his eyes thinking of the difficulty in handling just one and that too of the blogging variety. The Masai people are pastoralists who travel from place to place in search of grazing land for their herds. They are fierce warriors who live alongside wild animals but never hunt or eat any wild animals or birds and feed only on the animals they herd. Their diet consist of raw meat, cooked meat, milk, cattle blood and a mixture of blood and milk. They consume blood from their cattle by puncturing their jugular and resealing the wound without killing the animal. . Most of the Masai tribes have been relocated to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area by the Tanzanian government because of their peaceful existence with the animals. In the recent times, after various initiatives by government to settle down the Masai people, the women stay back with their kids while the males of the family move around.
The Masai men were clad in clothes of dark blue or red shades. They had covered their upped body with sheets of the same colour. All of them were sporting sticks for herding animals and some were walking barefoot, others with make-shift sandals. The women were also dressed similar to the men but wore a lot of colourful jewellery. All of them wore big bead necklaces, colourful bangles and had big earrings hanging from multiple ear piercings. Most of the women had vessels with them and were walking far to collect drinking water, with babies slung across their chest in makeshift baby carriers made of cloth. Their dresses and ornaments indeed added splashes of colours across the arid landscape that was spread all around us.
James had encouraged us to ask questions about anything pertaining to Tanzania, not just limited to the safari. We took full advantage of this offer and literally kept bombarding him with all sorts of questions. James was patient enough to answer them all and even asked us about India when we gave him a break from our interrogation. We discussed about a wide range of topics ranging from educational policies, family structure and even marriage. While talking, we saw Masai kids walking around wearing white coloured masks. These masks with their black clothes made them look formidable even though they were small kids. Soon we learnt that that these were not masks but white painting on their face. These Masai kids have undergone circumcision as a part of a ceremony initiating them to adulthood. They wear black unlike other Masai’s who wear red or blue, and paint their faces with white colour. After the ceremony, it takes 4 months to heal and the boys should wear black till then. After the fourth month, they take a bath and become an adult in their tribe accepting the status of a Masai warrior.
Boys with face painted
An add-on to our safari package was the option of visiting a Masai village and observing their way of life at an extra cost of 60 $ per person. We were convinced to take this package till a few days before we started our trip when we had happened to watch a televised travel show featuring Tanzania. The host visited a Masai village and telecasted the dance performed by the tribe. Watching this we felt that the visit was not worth the money for spending some time in the village and clicking few photographs. Also, my husband, being a skilled closet-dancer, categorised the tribal dance to beginner level and adjudged it to be not worth the money. So we took this item off our list.
Masai collecting blood from cattle
After more than 2 hours of departing Arusha, we took the deviation from the main highway towards Tarangire National Park. The road quality changed immediately as we started driving through unpaved mud roads. Whenever a vehicle came in the opposite direction, we had to close our windows to prevent the dust clouds accompanying it from engulfing us. The 20 mins ride to national park was bumpy, dusty and very slow. James warned us that our ride to Ngorongoro and Serengeti the next day would be worse than this. We reached the entrance of the Tarangire National Park around 12 noon to see lots of tourists like us. After James completed the entry formalities, we had our packed lunch near a small picnic site at the camp entrance. It is a practice during the safari to pack lunch boxes for the guests from the hotel they stayed in. We had chapatti (more similar to crepe), sandwich, chicken, fruits and some mango juice. We were accompanied by many velvet faced monkeys playing in the nearby trees and sterlings who were trying to peck from our food and they looked completely fearless of human proximity. After lunch, I decided to use the washroom as facilities inside the national park were extremely scarce. The washrooms were very well maintained and neat. Before we proceed to start off our true safari experience, James lifted the sunroof of our vehicle so that we could stand around and view the wildlife more clearly.
Continue reading here : Tarangire : Baobabs, Dik-Diks and More.