Thursday August 9
In the middle of the night Luca calls out “mom”. I don’t respond. “Mom” he says again. I ask “what” and he replies, “a zebra!” I smile, knowing he’s having sweet dreams.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzziiiiiiiiipp….zzzzzzziiiiiiiipp. What the What is that noise?! I lift my head and realize it is S unzipping the windows to let the day in. Unfortunately we only get two nights in the Treetop Lodge. This place is so special and we are sorry to leave. We are wishing for one day of just sleeping in and then hanging out to watch the resident elephant. However, we are like a modern day Masai tribe – on the move again headed towards our next camp at Ngonrongoro Crater.
The resident elephant is exceptionally close to the dining area this morning and Steve the Manager is adamantly keeping an intentional eye for guest safety. Regardless how close they come and how harmless trampling over the flower beds they appear, they remain wild animals. I am actually sad to leave this place. Justin, Steve and Luca’s Masai dance partners walk us to our vehicle where Spiros is waiting. We say our goodbyes and are on our way. I look back and they are all still there smiling and waving. My eyes well with tears. We head out on the same road on which we drove in except this time we see giraffes, zebra, impala, an ostrich, a waterbuck, elephants and monkeys. “They’ve all come to say goodbye,” says Spiros.
Suddenly Spiros pulls over and stops the vehicle. “Sorry. Four cups of coffee.” He must mark his territory. “Being on safari without marking your territory it’s like you’re not on safari,” he declares. I love his African safari humor. He has been such an integral part of our trip in just a few short days. We spend 8-10 hours a day with him and in addition to learning his safari character we have also learned stories about his wife and two girls. “It’s good for marriage that I travel. Think about it – I have three girls!” We drive about two hours to a local village in the “basement,” or eastern arm of the Riftee Valley before we make our way to the higher elevations of the crater rim to our camp. There are more than 125 Tanzanian tribes and roughly 99% of them represented in this village.
The beauty of traveling through Abercrombie + Kent is all of our travel plans and movement is so well orchestrated. As much as we typically enjoy some leisure time, this is such a far-away land with so much to learn and explore. We arrive at the village center and are greeted by a guide who shares our 1.5 hour itinerary. We hop into the two person (+driver) tuk tuk (those little cars built and widely seen in India) and head to our first stop-an outdoor, fresh produce and meat market. I am riding in the tuk tuk with the guide and we must pause for a herd that is crossing the street. “Here in Africa everything has the right to use the road: goats, chickens – we all share.”
He shares with me the rules of the tribes. I comment how friendly all the children are, happily waving and saying hello. He explains they are taught to say hello to the elders of all the tribes. Any elder from any tribe can punish them. As they grow if they are disrespectful the elder has the right to call the tribes people together and hit the offender 70 times. For those who are exceptionally bad troublemakers after the beating the next stop is the police. Yikes! It’s a functioning method they use to keep peace and harmony.
We stop at the local market where farmers have come to sell their produce. The vegetables are bright, vibrant colors. The children run around barefoot and dirty. Many try to sell us something. We take the tuk tuk and drive to the local woodworker from Mozambique who left his state due to civil war and now employs local artisans who carve, sand and paint wood sculptures. We see the work in progress and gain a heartfelt appreciation for each carve in the wood. There is detail and pride in this craft; skillfully carving, sanding and finishing each piece.
Next stop is a banana plantation, followed by an outdoor art gallery. We see homes made of mud which risk destruction if floods occur. The Banana represents a full circle of life: its skin to make robes, food, fruit, beer, build house (roof), water, manure to grow new trees! We meet Soma Morris, an artist from Arusha who came to this part of the country to share his artistic talents and empower other younger artists to go to school and perfect their trade. There are beautiful works of art hand painted with oil on canvas in this outdoor gallery. We meet Grace, the nine year old timid neighbor who watches us with intense curiosity. We invite her to join us and give her some phonics books and colored pencils that we brought with us from the United States. She is so happy and most appreciative. You see it in her eyes. “She will never forget you,” says Soma. Nor we, she.
We head back to our vehicle and see two young boys walking home from school waving to us. We give them some books and markers. They are so happy though I think we may be more so. It is hard not to be affected at a deep level within walking through this village. They are a kind, friendly people who live with very little. We have heard “peace and harmony” mentioned again and again. It is humbling and encouraging. Simplicity exists and humans can be so kind. We are ready to go and Spiros breaks some sad news to us. The plan has changed and he will not be going with us to Serengeti. The road to Serengeti is long and difficult on the drivers and the vehicles. He shows us the rock marks on his windshield from last week’s drive. I am sad and I am crying. This has been a richly emotional experience to share with him, who we have quickly admired and adored. We drive on in silence to our next camp, Sanctuary Retreats on the outer rim of Ngonrongoro Crater each of us reflecting on the change.
After an hour we arrive at the camp. In front of us are two large tents made of tarps, warmed by heat lamps and canvas interior ceilings. One is the lounge complete with sofas, cocktail tables and board games; the other is the dining tent where we will eat our meals. We are introduced to our butler who shows us the Bush TV – it receives only one channel and that is the light from the fire that burns center to the chairs which surround it.
We make our way to our tent. It is complete with a mahogany floor, beds, toilet and shower…a real bucket shower to be precise. You know it will be an interesting experience when the shower requires directions! Here we cannot drink the water so are provided with glass carafes to brush our teeth. Luca is outside playing with the flashlight pretending he is a ninja. Suddenly two staff members arrive at our tent in a hurry. We are not sure what is happening. Apparently Luca called the “flashlight siren.” We were unaware of this method to call the “front desk.” A waving light means you need an escort to the base camp! Even though it is a very short walk, zebra roam the camp at night and you require an escort for safety. So much so that provided in your room is a whistle- they chomp so loudly at night and if they disturb you, you blow the whistle! Welcome to the Bush!
Q: What is the name of a group of giraffes?
A: A Tower, because they are so tall!