Days 26-28: Arusha/Tarangire/Ngorongoro

I’m writing at the end of three days of adventure. I feel dusty, tired, amazed, and ready to begin our journey towards home tomorrow. It feels as though we’ve lived out multiple lifetimes since the last time I wrote. We’ve seen and done so many things.

On Wednesday we left the sticky heat of Zanzibar and travelled to Arusha, in the north of the country. It was a full day of travel: a blissfully air conditioned boat ride to Dar, lunch in the city, and then a flight to Kilimanjaro, where we were picked up by our hostel owner and driven to Arusha.

We stayed the night in a funny little hostel, a house, really, only $11 for a meals and a bunk bed under low-hanging mosquito netting. We arrived after dark so I didn’t get much of a feel for Arusha, but a sign in the entrance to the hostel told visitors not to walk around the city at night. The temperature there was much cooler and the people and culture were less Arabic and Muslim and more Christian.

The next morning we ate breakfast and sat in the living room until a honking outside the compound gate signalled our departure time. We walked outside and found a huge four by four in the driveway. We piled into the vehicle and rollicked around the town, visiting an ATM, making our final tour payments, and buying water and snacks.

Then we were off, headed for Tarangire National Park: home to many, many elephants.

Again, the scenery in northern Tanzania struck us as completely different from Zanzibar, Dar, or anywhere in Rwanda. The diversity even within one country makes North American generalizations about “Africa” seem ridiculous.

On our way to Tarangire we admired huge fields of maize, stretching out to the base of blue-tinged mountains in the distance. Masaai men and women, in their checked shawls and rubber-tire-sandals, herded their cattle with long sticks. We saw homes of brick and mud and straw roofs, as well as huge, western-style buildings with white walls and red roofs.

Tarangire did not disappoint. The park was spotted with wide Baobao trees, some thousands of years old, their bottom halves stripped and worn by elephants looking for something to rub their hides against. We spotted multiple herds of mother and baby elephants, and some massive grey males travelling solo, their wrinkled skin sagging around their eyes.

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We spent about four hours in the park in total and spotted giraffes, zebra, buffalo, impalas, warthogs, jackals, multiple bird species, the backside of a lion, and a cheetah, in addition to the elephants. We had a picnic lunch in the park, shielding our food from thieving monkeys.

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We “camped” out at Haven Nature Lodge. The quotation marks are necessary because there was running water, flush toilets, and cots set up in our tents. Our cook, Moses, made us leek soup, rice, and meat stew for dinner. After dinner a local group performed some traditional dancing for all the tourists, and then we slunk into bed and called it an early night.

We were up for 6 a.m. breakfast the next morning, beating the Tanzanian sun by about half an hour. Then it was back into our safari vehicle for the drive to Ngorongoro crater. Ngorongoro was once a massive mountain, possibly bigger than Kilimanjaro, but a volcanic explosion caused it to collapse into a caldera. Today, the crater cradles a huge variety of wildlife, lakes, swamps, and grasslands, all ringed by mountainous walls of rock and trees.

The rim of the crater was cloudy as we approached and it was difficult to tell exactly what was down below, but Benny assured us that, on the crater floor, it would be clear.

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Sure enough, as we began to descend the inner wall, we broke through the clouds and found ourselves viewing one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen: brown grasses dotted with the dark silhouettes of wildebeest and buffalo, a shimmering silver lake tinged pink by countless flamingos, and the green ridges of the crater’s walls, rising up into the clouds.

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We spent the day driving around the crater, getting amazingly close to a variety of animals, many that we hadn’t seen the day before. Safari guides and goers use the “big five” checklist. It’s a list of animals that hunters originally coined when referring to the most valuable species of animals in the region: elephants, rhinos, hippos, leopards, and lions.

We saw elephants in Tarangire, and hippos and lions up close in Ngorogo. We also spotted a rhino from the distance, and the backside of a fleeing leopard. Four and a half, said Benny. Pretty good for a two day excursion.

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From Ngorogoro, Benny drove us to a bus stop, and we piled out of the car and ran to catch a bus to the small town of Babati, the base from which we would leave for our rock painting tour. The bus was completely full and we spent about half an hour standing in the aisle, almost falling over from the weight of our bags, before some seats freed up. In total, it was about an hour and a half to Babati.

We exited the bus and asked a shop owner for directions to Kahembe’s Guest House, owned by the same man who organized our rock painting tour. He told us to walk three minutes down the road behind the bus station and that we’d see it.

The guest house is a funny, run down place. It falsely advertises hot showers. It does not advertise cleanliness. At least they didn’t lie about that.

Joas Kahembe, the guest house owner and tour operator came to greet us and scold me for not calling ahead of time to warn him about what time we’d be arriving.

We paid him our remaining fees and he chatted our ears off about his eight children and philosophy about the need for “cultural tourism” to prove that there are people here in Tanzania, not just animals. He’s a funny, leathery man, confident enough in his life philosophy to espouse it to Canadian strangers, but also kind of charming in his self-assurance.

Joas took us to a small restaurant for dinner and we paid about $7.50 (in total, not each) for heaping plates of rice, beef stew, bitter steamed green vegetables, and beans. By the time we finished eating it was dark out. We walked back to the guest house and Joas advised us not to “tempt people” here by going outside with electronics, bags, or large sums of cash after dark.

Heeding his advice, I opted to stay in for the night. I was feeling a little homesick, a sign that the trip must be coming to its natural end, so I pulled on my pyjamas and huddled in my dingy little bed and tried very hard to fall asleep, knowing that the morning light would help illuminate this beautiful place and get me excited for a few more days of travel.

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