Feb 25, 2010
For the last three days, we’ve been on safari. Our jeeps alternatively felt like spaceships flying over a newfound planet, or shoeboxes that trapped river blindness-carrying tsetse flies and our angst. There was a moment where I stuck my head out the top and thought that I must be the luckiest person on earth. There was also a moment where I was swarmed by flies and wanted nothing more than to take my chances with the lions outside the safety of the car. However, there is no denying that we saw a lot of cool animals.
My first animal pictures from the park are heavily zoomed pictured of a lone elephant’s rump hiding in the bushes. I was so thrilled to see an elephant, even from that distance. Not a quarter mile down the road, there were two gigantic bull elephants about ten feet off the road. Then there were herds of elephants, and zebras, gazelles, antelopes, and gaggles of giraffes, and thousands of flamingoes that made the water on the horizon look pink. We stopped at a pond that was absolutely overrun with hippos and storks. And at the end of the first day, we found a lion lounging on a tree about twenty feet from our jeep. Another joined, and we snapped pictures of the lions’ silhouette against the setting sun.
The next day, we woke up early and drove about an hour to the Ngoro Ngoro crater. This is a nine-mile wide gaping hole in the ground, which contains a huge lake in the center. Standing at the edge of the crater is an absolutely unreal experience; I got the feeling that nothing similar exists in the world. As you descend the crater wall it becomes significantly hotter and drier, then you approach a transition zone where the elephants have knocked over all the trees and the landscape becomes grassland.
One of the very first things we saw was a pride of lions lying in the grass. Just like what happened with the elephant the day before, we first squinted to see one lion way off in the distance, and suddenly we realized we were surrounded by perhaps twenty lions. Two lionesses were no more than five feet off the road. This was an auspicious beginning to the most diverse and abundant animal-watching I’ve ever experienced. There was never a moment where there weren’t hundreds of animals in sight: wildebeest, several types of ungulates, huge flocks of ostriches, zebras that walked right up to us, a handful of rhinos in the distance, herds of elephants, dingoes, hyenas, and of course the countless flamingoes hanging out in the lake. Everything was roaming the savannah, like a huge open zoo.
When we moved to the southeast side of the crater, there was a transition from grasslands to forest and we began to ascend the crater wall into the first tropical wet forest of the whole trip. So many times we’ve been promised tropical wet forests only to feel tricked. We have been told that this year has been unusually dry and so the forests have either become tropical dry forests, or desert wasteland (in the case of Haleakala). Our guide told us that this year had been unusually wet, so the foliage was quite unseasonably lush. Baboons played on the side of the road and we drove back to our campsite before the final day of safari.
I couldn’t have been more excited the morning of the third trip into the field. The previous two trips were beyond amazing, and we were going to one of the most pristine areas in Eastern Africa. About halfway into the bumpy ride, our guide told us to wear lots of repellant and long pants and shirts, because this area was a favorite of the tsetse flies. We covered up and sprayed DEET everywhere. This was about the time where I began to feel smothered in the small jeep with seven other people. I reassured myself that once the top of the car was up and there were lots of animals to see it would be like the previous two days.
I started to worry when we had only seen a handful of birds and a few giraffes about forty-five minutes into the drive. The landscape was beautiful – lots of hills with flat-topped acacia trees and a river. But the flies were quite vicious and didn’t care about the carcinogenic chemicals we had slathered on. It was hot and way too sunny and the roads were terrible. At one point, our jeep was horizontal and we all thought that we were going to certainly roll. Yesterday was one of those days where I needed to shake myself out of a bad mood and appreciate what was going on around me instead of being grumpy. I wish there was an easy way to accomplish that.
We drove back to Arusha, to our hotel, and ate dinner at the same place with the same strange dancers in animal print. They came out around the same time that we began to eat, and we were ravenous and found the performance a little tasteless, so we focused on our food and they left. We went to bed, and this morning had class early to leave the afternoon free to wander around town. Our hotel is on a quiet side-street and I was totally shocked when there turned out to be a very… vibrant… town right around the corner.
In India, people have a very different way of hassling: will would shove at you whatever they wanted to sell and shake it or poke you with it until you walk far enough away or say something very harsh. Here, people come up to you and begin a conversation: “Hello, how are you doing?” “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “That’s my favorite state! Do you like it here?” Often they will offer directions to a market or ATM. Then they will disappear, or call to a friend, and a collection of wares will appear. “This is the very best price. Do you want it?”
No. I don’t want it. I’ve never wanted it. I thought that I would want to pick up little souvenirs along the way to either give as gifts or keep as reminders of the places we’ve been. But the process of shopping for anything is so terrible that I haven’t bought much at all. I feel like my writing is what will be the significant souvenir from this trip, and any knick-knacks that I pick up along the way will be thrown out in five years when the house is thoroughly cleaned.
The other difference between here and India is the begging system. Africa on whole is far poorer than India, but I’m not sure how to gauge the relative socio-economic status of this particular city against all of Africa. It seems to attract heavy tourism due to its proximity to Kilimanjaro and Ngoro-Ngoro. Despite this, I feel like it will be a fair comparison because in India, no matter how wealthy the area, the begging was all the same. Hoards of children, or women with babies, or disfigured people would hold out their hands and whisper “Ma’am... Hello… please…” Begging was everywhere. Here, I saw six beggars in my three hours walking in town. Each was sitting down on the sidewalk, and none said anything to me.
The first man I saw had bandaged feet with no toes, and sat underneath an umbrella. There was a man walked on one foot and one hand with a flip-flop. His other hand was held out for money, and his other foot would drag along the ground. I saw several people with this same condition in India as well. There was a man with no eyes and sores all over his body. There were two women with babies. One of these women was missing a leg. There was a man with no legs and rubber disks attached to where his knees would be. And each of these people seemed unable to get off the ground so they just sat there and stared up at us. It was awful. The organized begging of India was gone and all that was left was the people who couldn’t do anything but hold out their hand.
India was just as tragic at times, especially when it was the children without arms that came up to you and brushed up against you with their severed limbs get your attention. But much more of it was just ubiquitously annoying and blatantly systematic: in different cities, the children wore the same outfits and had the same lines and the same little cups for money. I wish I never had to see any of it. Denny, Michelle and I picked up some postcards and walked back to our hotel. It’s a lot of work to walk around the city.