Archive for February, 2004

26
Feb
04

Safari

(Footnote: I remember after I sent out this email, my friend Wesley, who looks at life through a zodiac lens, affectionately teased me for my Virgo ways, by thanking me for including a list of considerations for others interested in safari’s.)Hi everyone! I have been MIA, out roaming the African wild. Got back from the safari a few days ago – bailed on the Mt. Meru hike due to vile stomach illness. Will spare you the details on that, but I am recovering. Apparently a rite of passage for the mzungu abroad, but still. shudder.

But the safari…wow…First, let me just say that if you are remotely an adventurer or animal lover, I hope you will go on safari someday. I will try to offer some do’s and don’ts at the end of this that I was thinking about while we did it. We went on a 4 day safari, which was the perfect length for me, as I am relatively ambivalent about wildlife. But even I thought it was amazing. We started in a small game park called Lake Manyara, where we saw endless baboons and lots of elephants, hippos, and giraffe. The baboons and elephants and giraffe got really close to our car – we were in a land rover w/ 3 rows of seats and sunroofs you can stand up in above every row. Throughout the animals get pretty close, and they are much more blase about us than we are about them. Lake Manyara was very pretty, and we were traveling w/3 other people, and were able to share their binoculars.

The pain about rushing thru a safari here is there is long driving distance b/w each of the parks we went to. So we spent half of each day on a game drive and the other half commuting. It’s a really long time to spend in a car, esp. w/the gear of 5 people and a driver and a cook, even w/half the stuff tethered to the roof. So we spent the equivalent of a day in the Serengeti, and truthfully it was the low point of the trip. We did an afternoon drive there and saw among other animals, some lions and a leopard, the latter at great distance away. The plains are dry and brown and endless, and the campsite there was mediocre. The night there it rained heavily, but we were snug in our tent and it sounded pretty cool. We did a sunrise drive in the Serengeti and that was unreal. The sky was so beautiful, and it was still nice and cool out. We got out at and watched hippos splash around in a pool. There were tons and they were playing, and one even got out and sort of trotted to another part of the pool. Fat but quick. They smell. But neat anyway. We also saw some gazelles in the early stages of the courting/mating process. Hilarious, as the male gazelle’s cry is like the most gutteral nasty belch you have ever heard and it lasts for about a minute. Charming. As we left the park we saw herds of wildebeests and zebras as part of the Great Migration that occurs this time of year. Animals everywhere in search of water. 🙂

We left the Serengeti in the afternoon and went to Ngorongoro Crater, which was the highlight of the trip and a MUST SEE if you ever venture this way. Lush and green beyond compare, hills and valleys for miles and miles and cool, crisp air. I can’t get over the colors and how endless they were. Well kept campsite on the crater rim, perfect for sunrises and sets, and elephants wandering thru, including drinking out of our water tank! I have never in my life seen a sky like I did that night, who knew there were so many stars. This we miss out on in NYC. Another sunrise drive and this time we saw more lions, including cubs, just sleeping in the road. A lioness got up at one point and sort of stared at our car before deciding we were not yummy snacks and she wandered off. Then we saw a cheetah, also sort of wandered towards us before ambling away. We saw rhinos and ostrich and hyena and buffalo and more wildebeest and zebra. These latter and the giraffe are the most common, and I really like giraffes. They’re so chill and just kind of stare at you munching on leaves as you roll by. It’s also so neat seeing the animals at play or engaging in social behavior. You don’t really get what they’re up to but it’s fascinating to watch. I think our guide was making up a lot of his explanations as to what they were doing.

So the drawback to the trip was the lack of organization involved. We were 4 independent groups of tourists lumped together w/a freelance driver and freelance cook, so there was no real captain and no agreed upon itinerary. Our driver was not really the work-hard, take-charge type, and though he was nice and showed us lots of animals, incl the Big 5 (lion, cheetah, buffalo, rhino, and elephant), he would wander off at night w/the car to meet “black lady friends” (he said this to Nabila and me) w/some of our supplies in the car. Also, the other clients had been sold different expectations so they were let down by the trip and it’s no fun to travel w/cranky strangers. So if you consider doing this:

a) Definitely book w/a reputable company and not an independent agent or middle man. There’s a good US-based company called Safari Makers that people really like.

b) Consider organizing your own group of ~4 people to go. You don’t want to travel w/much more than this for comfort reasons, and you don’t want less otherwise it gets more expensive or you have to travel w/strangers.

c) Don’t go for less than 7-10 days. Yeah, you could do 5 but probably you’re traveling pretty far to do this so I would say 7 is the shortest you should consider. We definitely felt a bit rushed and had a lot of distance to cover in a really short period of time.

d) Consider waiting until you can go a bit more upmarket. If you don’t mind the camping/backpacking lifestyle, then fine. But that’s what we did and it is minimum $100/day. For $150/day you graduate to lodges and quality control is not a concept well-known in Tanzania yet so the campsites definitely varied. (especially the toilets!) It’s an expensive trip regardless but well worth it if you’re into this kind of thing.

e) Think about the time of year to go. We went during the migration so we were fortunate cuz there are animals everywhere at this time.

I think that’s enough to get you started. It’s was a fabulous experience and someday I will get my pics online so you can all see!

Ok, time to feel sorry for me. I start work on monday! Ha, I bet you’re all chuckling at my expense. Wish me luck! But tomorrow we’re off to Zanzibar for the weekend. Can’t wait!

23
Feb
04

Jamaica Lite

(Context, posted on 4/13/06: On March 13, 2000, on the first day of “spring break” with my b-school friends, I shattered one of my vertebrae cliff diving at Rick’s Cafe in Negril, Jamaica.  I sent this email from TZ to my friends on that trip with me, whose support – emotional and financial – got me thru the nightmare of that day and the remaining week, as well as the official 18 month recovery that followed.)
No worries, nothing serious.  But felt reminsicent of Jamaica in the last day. 
So I’ve mentioned we were supposed to do a 4 day hike of this mountain Mt. Meru.  ~4500 meters, up in 2 1/2, down in 1 1/2.  Well, while I am on safari I have this stomach bug, but it’s just cramping and aches.  I am definitely worried about when it is going to “break”, given the impending hike.  Well, wouldn’t you know, my stomach gives way the morning of the hike, and though I valiantly hike for 2 1/2 hours, I have to stop to use the “bathroom” (mountain) ~6 times in that period.  So in addition to this discomfort, I am also tired and dehydrated.  So I throw in the towel, one of our guides has to walk me back down the mountain (total distance covered is only about 2-3 miles, but mostly uphill), and random friends of his arrive w/ a car to drive me the 1.5 hours back to Arusha, the town that is the base for such excursions.  So picture me driving along w/3 random Tanzanians, ill.  Along the way we stop at the guide’s house cuz we were storing some of our stuff there.  Turns out he lives mostly in a room (I think the kitchen area is shared w/neighbors – I couldn’t quite figure this out – and the “toilets” are outside in the yard) w/his wife and 3 of his 4 children. They serve me tea, the wife speaks no english and we watch what I think was Tanzanian news for a bit, which is first christian preachers and then Tanzanian Parliament.  I am shocked that our guide is old enough to have 4 kids, but turns out he is 43 and his wife is 32 (their eldest is in high school, you do the math).  This visit by the way comes after he and his friend inform me the guide is going to the UK in November to visit his white girlfriend.  I am not 100% sure if this is true but other than the foreign white factor the girlfriend/wife combo would not be unusual.  Charming.
Finally they get me back to my hotel and tell me I owe them $60 for the drive.  (To compare: the hour ride from the airport to Kristina’s apt in Dar is $6.)  I give them $40, promise to pay the rest today and bolt into the hotel, which is $10/night, $12 if you want breakfast included.  I have spent most of today reading and sleeping and munching on crackers, waiting for my antibiotics to take effect.  My friends are still on the mountain with 90% of my stuff.  I will see them in Dar in a few days.
Hey, as we all know, it could have been worse!
(The side plot to this adventure is that pre-hike at base the guide was caught trying to scam the national park and we had to advance him $60 for them to let us go up.  I have his cell phone as collateral and he has until tomorrow 8am to pay me before I get on the bus for Dar.  Cell phones here are highly valuable.  This is ridiculous!!)
04
Feb
04

Pole Sana

(polay sahn-a).
This means very sorry.  This is what I should be hearing from hotmail as this is the slowest connection in the world.  It’s what I say to you all for the group email, and not responding directly to those of you who have been sweet enough to write.  I’ve included brief shout-outs to some folks at the bottom, and am thinking of you all.  Keep the messages coming.  The internet cafe is at least air conditioned.  🙂
So here’s the latest. Yes, Go Pats!! One of the marines was from Maine so we definitely had a great time watching the game. 

I had my first independent experience yesterday when I took K’s car to this place called The Slipway and wandered around. This was a safe first adventure. I’d been there once before and it is this fancy outdoor mall/restaurant place w/apts overhead inhabited mostly by wealthy ex-pats. Explored the bookstore for awhile and made a list of African and English fiction to consume that I won’t get to while I’m here. Also found a golf course that I want to try. the green is black, looks like it might be tar.  Cruised around town for a bit before picking up K at work. Am taking to the driving.   Good thing I was raised in MA to really prepare me for defensive driving.  Though anyone w/weak vision will struggle at night since there are no streetlights.  The puddles here after a rain rival those that block passage onto sidewalks in NYC after storms.  Most cars are SUVs and you definitely need it for most of the roads.  The other night I was driving and it was so bumpy that the horn short-circuited and beeped ceaselessly until I could fix it.  We have one pretty good radio station so I hope to be well versed in Swahili hip-hop by the time I get home.

Went out for dinner last night w/Kristina and her friend Bjorn. He’s a fancy German/south african who works for a big German multinational so our dinner was upscale and expensive, but fun. Drank lots of wine, cognac, talked import/export.  Not really.  ;)  Getting mixed drinks can be tricky here so I am working w/ vodka or jackdaniels on the rocks. Always a double, as they stringently measure.  Beer is good. All beverages are ridiculously cheap. I am going thru ~ 5 litres of water every ~24 hours.

Just came from a large meal at this Muslim family’s home. Friend of a friend of K’s. We thought we were going to talk apartments, instead we were fed robustly.  Excellent food, delicious mangos.  We were offered fried grasshoppers but I declined as (fortunately) my hangover did not allow for such adventure. Next time. K and her friend Derek ate them.

Lately our time has been spent looking for a new apt cuz we are illegally squatting in 1 right now. Takes time and is kind of annoying, but interesting. Really living here, it feels like, thus enjoying the counter effects of the more ex-pat high society/vacation things like schmancy meals and boats to deserted islands. 🙂 Last night I watched Kristina and her German potential roommate talk in Spanish so the Indian landlord would not understand their negotiation strategy as he would have had they spoke in English or Swahili. CNN in the background talking about Kerry’s sudden ascendancy.  Intriguing! 🙂

We are sailing this weekend w/some people to a place called Lazy Lagoon (I think). Out on sat, back on sun. Will remember to keep up on the sunblock this time. (To all my admonishing family members, I was wearing sunblock, it just wore off!!)

That’s all for now.  Talk soon.  Kwaheri, salaam alek (goodbye, peace be on you).