Friday, January 1, 2016

Lake Manyara National Park

It was really hard to say goodbye to a teary-eyed Emy this morning.  Last night’s beautiful sunset had marked the end of the year as well as her trip.  She had to get back to the states for a school trip to NYC and she was being picked up by Stacy’s husband (co-owner of Duma) to be driven to the airport right after breakfast.  She had put all her imagery and footage on a hard drive that Eric had and I promised to get her edited photos as soon as I could after returning home.  

After breakfast we met up with Reuben our Maasai guide who would take us for an intimate Boma visit at the nearby Maasai community.  Reuben knew English very well and was clearly the official Maasai guide for the camp.  He, as well as many other Maasai, wore sandals hand made from motorbike tires.  Very creative and very long lasting sandals I guess.  It didn’t take us long to reach the village.  We first visited the cattle enclosure made with a natural fence made of vegetation branches and bush where we saw a woman milking a cow and young boys getting ready to usher the cattle out for grazing.  We also met the village elders who all smiled back.  

We were shown around the small village and were ushered into a woman’s boma who was nursing a small child.  The small hut with just a bed, nook and cooking area was made out of dried cow dung and termite mound dirt with a thatch roof that needed to be replaced every year.  Besides some glass soda bottles and a plastic bucket, we saw absolutely no influence from Western culture while on our visit to their village.  We watched as they released the cows for grazing and were shown their herd of goats as well as a very cute little baby goat.  The smallest of children also made sure to keep the baby cows at home as they were too young to be out.  

Before we left the village we stopped by a small display where the Maasai women were showing off their beautiful beaded jewelry.  As I’m sure everyone does, we showed our appreciation for letting us into their lives by purchasing a couple bracelets from them.  While we were purchasing the gifts we noticed a small, maybe 2yr old girl, who’s face was literally covered with flies… like 30 flies, and her mother kept brushing them off in embarrassment I think.  This led me to many thoughts.  1.  The conditions they live in, live happily in actually.  2. What they must think of how we view them.  3.  The shock that they have chosen to live like this over becoming westernized which they of course they’d been touched in some way by.  The fact that they freely chose to maintain this traditional way of life was simply amazing.  Instead of money they measured their wealth in their livestock and children.  So very different from home.

After the village visit we stopped briefly at the Maasai Community Center which had been built in association with Isoitok camp.  There were small chairs for the children and they clearly were being taught the English words for all their natural surroundings and wildlife.  Again, showing that western culture was touching them, yet still deciding to stay informed yet traditional.  That’s not to say other Maasai, our guide Shange for perfect example, hadn’t given up the traditional living for a westernized lifestyle.  

From there we headed out from camp for a late morning medicine walk with Reuben who showed us all the various Maasai uses for the vegetation on the hillside above Isoitok.  Each plant seemed to serve a purpose for the Maasai from preventing Malaria, to healing wounds, even to simply getting a “high”.  (No Marijuana in this area).  He even showed us how to make a toothbrush and toothpick out a particular wood.  He also showed us the famous ebony wood that so many figurines are carved out of for tourists in cities.  In fact, the cities had demanded so much of the ebony wood from the Maasai that nearly all of it was cut down before they put a stop to it.  We were advised not to purchase any as it would just continue the demand.  We saw a lot at the tourist shop we were at while Shange fixed the steering wheel days earlier.  

We were just wrapping up the walk when we saw a very young boy probably no more than 5 years old herding a bunch of goats… with one of them crying wildly.  At first I chuckled at the silly goat before I realized that it was midway through giving birth!  The boy, being so young didn’t realize the significance I think so Reuben sprung into action and told the boy to go get a grownup.  After a bit of a chase Reuben and a Maasai man were able to tackle the goat to the ground and assist it in giving birth.  

After the Maasai pulled the baby out he sucked the fluids from the goats nose and mouth with his own and slapped the babies chest a few times to make sure it was breathing ok, then spat out the fluids to the ground.  We had literally just witnessed an act that had been conducted by the Maasai without alteration for thousands of years.  We had also finished off witnessing our “African Circle of Life” on the trip.  But… I’ll never forget the human-like screams of pain that mother goat made while in labor… Emily nearly passed out…

We then packed up quick and headed off with Shange just down the road to Lake Manyara National Park.   The park is known for climbing lions but Shange said he never actually sees them in the park and thinks it’s silly it’s marketed as that.  When Shange went to sign in a young man came up to us and asked us to sign in on some paperwork and then go for a walk with him around a display area away from the vehicles.  Eric and I, unsure of who he was resisted and instead told him we wanted to stay close to the UNLOCKED vehicle.  After some time talking with him we came to understand he was an ambitious guide in training with the park.  He new several languages (Italian, Spanish, English and Tanzanian) and his work at the entrance was to prepare him for actually taking clients in the future.  

When Shange returned we entered the very small park for a drive along the shore of Lake Manyara where we saw a bunch of baboons, elephants, wildebeest, and blue monkeys.  The highlight was the big hippo pool where we were able to walk up a wooden platform to look down upon them grazing in the distance and relaxing in the water.   On the way out of the park we had a pretty close encounter with some huge elephants on the side of the road that almost brushed up against the side of the car as they lumbered past us.  My long lens was useless and even Emily and Eric had to lean back to get photos as we could have reached out and touched them as they passed.  

We only stayed in the park for about an hour and half before heading back to Arusha under the first rainstorm we’d had on the entire safari.  On the way we got to see the Tanzanian Army practicing on a course along the side of the road which was pretty interesting.  I wish they would be deployed more often to the parks to put a stop to the illegal poaching of endangered wildlife.  Driving back to Arusha Shange reminded us to roll up our windows as we drove through a sketchy part of town where locals were known to dive into slow moving tourist vehicles and steal stuff.  Just another example of the sheer poverty and desperation around us in Tanzania.

We arrived back at the African Tulip mid afternoon and had a relaxing evening by the pool with another great dinner.  The hotel manager was there to greet us and again apologize for the booking mixup that resulted in us going to the Arusha Hotel after the climb.  He could see it was the three of us only and that Emily and I were together so he offered Eric a free room, all the rooms being spacious suites.  This hotel rocks and I can’t recommend it enough!  5-stars!  

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