Tuesday, August 7
Today we meet our safari guide, Spiros who will be with us through August 14th and is driving us 2.5 hours (four hours with stops) in our safari vehicle to Tarangire National Park.
Becoming a safari guide has been a notable accomplishment. Spiros studied wildlife for five years; has a Bachelor in Wildlife Science and must know the history of the animals, the animals themselves, their habitat, what they eat, gestation period, etc. Additionally, he must know some botany, insects and birds.
“This work is never boring with different clients. The same National Parks but seeing animals in different activities… we are going to their home. While I never promise I will work very hard to see everything you want to see,” he shares.
The drive gives us plenty of time to settle into the vehicle and get to know Spiros. Conversation is easy and we enjoy learning of the cultural nuances of this beautiful country.
Maasai Tribes are a nomadic people living in huts on the land and nicknamed “African Cowboys” because cows are integral to their life. Rarely do they eat them. Instead they sell them for local goods. Their diet is mainly made of goat meat and milk and so at the local markets they purchase corn flour, beans and other perishables to round out their diets. A Maasai specialty beverage is to drain blood from a cow and shake it with milk for a Cow Blood Milkshake! A Maasai type of “Red Bull.” Anyone?!!
On our drive we see the tribes people in different color dress. This variation represents different ranks within the tribe and therefore also the type of weapon you are entitled to: a stick, a club and eventually a panga (a big sword).
We see teenage boys dressed in black occasionally masked with face paint. We learn they were recently circumcised and sent away from the girls. To become a man, a warrior, you must endure the pain of the procedure. If you cry, they call the girls over to laugh at you. The boys we see thankfully seem to be doing just fine egging us on and pointing at us with typical teenage mockery.
Maasai men can have 7, 10, 20 wives! Why oh why do American men complain of one?! Clearly they are missing out!
We take in so much on our drive: rich mahogany trees; date trees (a favorite of giraffes); corn fields; villages; children no older than 5 years old herding goats; cows; bright cobalt blue iridescent birds; donkeys carrying water jugs; a man carrying a live chicken to market.
We turn onto a dirt road and travel another 50 minutes on raw, unstructured terrain, Spiros carefully attentive to the great ravines, boulders and humps in the road. It is about now that I am having full appreciation for the additional cushions they have placed on each of our seats. We don’t see much, but somehow we see a lot. Fences built out of sticks (boma) to contain the herds; children chasing down our vehicle while collecting the local fruits; and a vast, dry landscape.
Spiros stops the safari vehicle and hops out. He picks up a small, round fruit from the ground. They are ripened dates. Spiros cleans them with bottled water and cuts them open for us. They are quite tasty- and the ones that are overripe are actually used to make African rum. Sure wish we tried some of those 😉!
The four hour ride seemed to pass in an instant and after one hour on the dirt road we arrive at Tarangire Treetop Lodge just outside of the Tarangire National Park where we’ll stay for the next two nights. We were greeted with warm hand towels to wipe the dust that had accumulated on our hands and face through the open windows and fresh local juice made from the fruit of the balboa tree quenched our thirst from the hot, African sun. Dee and Steve the managers of the treehouse, Justin our “butler” and a host of other staff welcomed us with a barrage of warm, African hospitality.
I’m searching for a word better than special to describe the lodge. Noteworthy? Remarkable? But how can I describe the feeling you get when you see an 1000 year old tree with a cavernous hole that the bats call home? Or the vegetarian bats who hang from the ceiling near the main office and whose eyes seemingly meet with my own? Or the shop filled with souvenirs made by disabled Africans in the village of Shanga? Humble and peaceful may be a good start.
The over-accommodating staff prepared lunch for us midday. While we are waiting for lunch to arrive Luca is having a spasmatic fit. His paranoia of all things flies and bees has taken over and he is a swatting machine. Granted, there are quite a bit and annoyingly so, but by the end of a day spent mostly sitting on our bums, his Fitbit reads 34,000 steps!
After lunch I attempted to go to the restroom but encountered a small delay- due to elephant traffic. I was casually walking to the bathroom when I spotted him outside eating from the tree. I began to walk slowly as we were instructed to do. In an instant, Steve and a Masai jumped out of nowhere to stop me. Steve attempted to walk slowly towards the restroom and I softly followed but the elephant had no part. He grunted at us so Steve politely backed up. We waited a few seconds. Another step forward. I followed. Elephant turned to us, grunted again as to say, “Don’t bother me” at which Steve turned to me and declared, “Sorry, this bathroom is closed!”
Game we saw today:
giraffe, impala (nicknamed McDonalds because of the black M on their butts) zebra, grant gazelle, antelope, jackel, dic dic (antelope family who put their dung in the same place), vulture, ostrich, velvet monkey, spring buck, eland, wart hog, herd of 700-800 buffalo. mongoose, water buck
Though it’s magical to see all of the animals in their natural habitat, at the day’s end there are a few sights that remain deep within.
- A giraffe and her baby who Spiros estimated to be no more than one week old because its umbilical cord was still attached! (I may be mistaken but this could have possibly been the giraffe the social media world was waiting to be born! Actually, I’m pretty sure it was and we just saw it live! 😉 Lol
- An elephant who was laying down. Spiros thought it was sick or possibly dying. Fortunately it must have just been sleepy because it finally awoke! We did learn, however, that in the instance a guide sees an ill animal, he will call it in to the Rangers who will protect it for a few days and in the instance it dies they will have a memorial service of sorts.
- A herd of 700-800 buffalo!
The night was complete with outdoor dining under the charcoal black and star filled sky. Some Maasai members performed a tribal dance and were joined by a special guest. Justin asked if he’d like to learn the Maasai tradition. He was hesitant but agreed. “Do you feel it in your heart Luca? You must feel it in your heart.” He did and so he danced.
From 7 pm to sunrise, you are not permitted to walk the grounds alone. The zebra prints we saw earlier on the sand and the heap of fresh elephant dung reminds us we wouldn’t want to. We are guided back to our treetop by Loi, a member of the Maasai tribe. Loi has a kind mannerism and a big, white smile with etches of brown seen on his teeth. We enter our treehouse and say good night.
The canvas has been rolled up over our screens for us and we prepare for bed. “It’s unfair to sleep by myself so I have to sleep with you,” says Luca as he crawls under our covers and quickly drifts asleep.
Each day gets better. Read more here.