Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Tanzanian sky cried today

Last entry from Africa. We are leaving for the airport in two hours. This has been a remarkable trip.

Safari Day 1-

We left a little late today because Rachel fainted in the kitchen while making pancakes. She recovered quickly after Peter gave her some sugar packets and peanut butter. She has low blood sugar and this has happened to her before but it still scared everyone, including Rachel. When she fell she hit the hot griddle that she was using to cook and it left a burn under her eye down to her chin. Thank goodness she is OK.

Our Dorobo safari guides, Killerai and driver, Simon talked with us about what to expect the next seven days..

We finished packing for safari and loaded up on this giant MAN truck, which is an old German army truck. It can hold 20 people and all of our belongings and food. I road in the passenger seat with Simon, the driver. About 30 minutes into the 10 hour trip he laid the windshield down and we were completely open air. We drove on some wide dirt roads, dirt paths and no roads to get to our destination camp site. It took a little longer than usual because we saw many animals. It started with the wildebeest and the gazelles. We wanted to see giraffes and it was not long before off in the distance a herd of about 20 were gathered under the trees. Soon we saw zebras and more giraffes. It was surreal. Off the road, up the hill, Simon notice some vultures. We drove over and found a freshly killed wildebeest. It was still warm. After examining it for a while Killerai decided to cut off some fresh hind quarters. So he skinned part of the right back leg and cut several chunks of meat. Later that night we would grill it and have with our meal.

Our other exciting big find was a snake, the deadliest in Africa. It was laying dead in the road. It took a while to determine it was dead but once we were sure everyone enjoyed holding it and having their picture taken.

All of these finds put us into camp after dark. We were suppose to put our own tents up but we were all overjoyed when we arrived to find out that the other Dorobo safari guides had set them up for us. We unpacked in the tents and gathered around the campfire to eat. We were introduce to our other guides Jeremiah and Lomnyak. We also have three Massai tribesmen with us to guard everyone as we sleep. There are wild animals out there you know.

Safari Day 2-

The cold morning started before seven and all of us were eagerly waiting for breakfast. The plan today is to hike to the top of a small mountain. We set off about 8:45 and quietly walk in a single line behind Paua, the Massai warrior, who carried a spear and Killerai who carried a shotgun. "You never know what you may find when hiking," he said. The hike was through waist high grass and up a very steep incline. We saw several baboons scampering around the top. Upon reaching the first tier of the mountain I told the group I could not go on. My face was tomato red and I was afraid I would pass out and then what would they do trying to carry this dead weight woman off the mountain. One of the Massai, Julius, was assigned to bring me back to camp. We had a slow descent and I enjoyed looking back up the mountain to see where everyone else was.

That evening we went back out for a walk by a watering hole, looking for animals but did not see any. Back at camp we had another good meal, told stories around the campfire and finally went to our tents for bed. Did I mention that last night I slept on the diagonal and kept rolling downhill in my sleeping bag? Tonight I am rearranging my sleeping position so I can stay on my 1 inch mat. I forgot how much fun sleeping on the ground can be.

Safari Day 3 -

Sarah twisted her ankle on the hike yesterday so I will be "forced" to ride in the truck with her instead of hiking through the 3 foot tall grass for 4 miles. We need to charge camera batteries so Sarah and I will ride by the car charger area. Simon is such a nice man; he points out interesting wild life as we ride. There are lots of giraffes and zebras today. I still cannot believe I am seeing these animals roaming around freely.

The group takes a long time to meet up with us and they are exhausted from that hike. Sarah and I, on the other hand, have had a little nap. We are happy to reunite and off we go towards the Massai boma camping area.

A boma is a small community of several huts. This particular one was lead by Laurent, who has seven wives. Laurent died this past year of diabetes and now his eldest son is in charge. There are 150 residents who all descend from Laurent and his seven wives who live in the boma.

Rumor has it that we will be able to shower this evening. It is Tuesday and my last bath was last Friday. I was afraid I would run out of shampoo while on safari but I now realize that will NOT be an issue as I do not need shampoo very much.

We arrive at camp in the late afternoon and I see the solar showers right away. We are given one bag of water per two people and told to use it sparingly. This also proves not to be a problem as the water is about 14 degrees and it takes my breath away every time it touches my body. I don't need much water.

After everyone has a chance to shower it is time for the goat blood ritual. The Massai people are herders of goats and cows. In honor of our arrival at their boma a goat has been chosen to be slaughtered and cooked over the open fire pit. It is very sad for me to know that this cute little goat that I am looking at will soon be roasting on the fire. I cannot watch. Neither can many of the students. I bowl of blood is taken from the goat and offered to us to drink. Several brave students try it. I am totally amazed at how many times on this trip they have tried new things.

It is dusk now and we walk over inside the boma. It is very interesting. Laurent's grave is inside with a special marker. We are invited to see the inside of a hut. It is tiny. There are two sleeping rooms and a kitchen. The sleeping area is a piece of skin stretched tightly from corner to corner…maybe 9 x 7 feet. Five people sleep here. The kitchen is about 4 x 8 feet with a small fire in the middle for cooking. There is one small window about head high. I would get claustrophobia.

The Massai women have set up their blankets to sell us the beaded bracelets that they make. We all love to shop.

We walk back to camp and have dinner. Several of the Massai men have come back with us. We sit around the campfire and are invited to ask the Massai questions about their lives through the interpreter, Killerai. This proves most interesting. Finally Jacob ask if the Massai will sing for us. About eight of them stand up and start chanting and singing…such a unique sound. They finish and they want us to sing; so we break out our "Deep in the Heart of Texas" song. It is easy for them to sing the chorus and they sing along. Then they want us to sing along with them. We all stand around the campfire chanting and swaying and jumping.

Safari Day 4 -

We tell the Massai goodbye and drive through the bush to Tanangire National Park to see more animals. The parks are thousands of acres that have been designated by the Tanzanian government as a wild game reserve. There are several in Tanzania as the safari business is a main part of the economy. For the first time we see other tourist. We have our usual picnic lunch and pay the entrance fee of $1100 for the group to go into the park. Finally we see elephants…it is very exciting because for days we have only been seeing elephant poop.

Simon hears a hissing sound as we are driving around and our 4 foot diameter tire has a leak and must be changed. That proves quite an ordeal to change. The good news is that it is dusk and there is a great sunset. I take one of my best photos of the trip while we are waiting for the boys/men to change the tire…thank you God, all things happen for a reason.

We pull into camp and our National Geographic photographer, Massimo Bassano, is waiting to greet us. He is adorable. Italian, very friendly, and eager to get to know us.

Safari Day 5 -

Two more safari drives through Tanangire and a new park, Manyara are on the schedule today. Massimo gives several photo lessons and we see more baboons, zebras, elephants, gazelles, warthogs, and interesting birds. We drive around all day in our MAN truck. It is against the park regulations to get out of the truck. We have been in the truck for DAYS now. Still, we are having fun. I am not sure what I expected going on safari was going to entail but this has been just perfect.

We arrive at our third camp site…on my gosh. This site has much needed electricity and for the first time in tow weeks we get warm showers. We are ecstatic.

Safari Day 6 - Ngorangoro National Reserve

today's travels take us to a very large caldera…or crater. It is cold outside as we get our wake up call at 5:00 am. Three Land Rovers arrive at camp to take us because our large MAN truck is not allowed inside. We are divided into groups and load up in the SUVs. Our driver is Kevin. Off we fly to the crater. The entrance is on the rim of the old volcano and we have to drive down several thousand feet to arrive at the base of the crater. As far as the ey can see is waist high grass, a few trees and water off in the distance. We drive around searching for animals. Then the fun starts. Kevin is listening to two CB radios and a cell phone. There is lots of swahilli jabbering going on. There is excitement in the voices but of course I cannot understand anything. "There is a lion stalking a herd of zebras," Kevin announces and off we go in search. Sure enough, we get to the scene and there are many Land Rovers there ahead of us but we can see the two lions off in the distance looking at the zebras. We are not there ong when Kevin backs out and says there has been a zebra and just been taken down by a zebra so off we zip to the next location. This is a much bigger scene and there are many, many Land Rovers here all jostling for position. There are tour guide rules and one Land Rover cannot stay in prime seeing position or the other guides start getting angry. Soon we are very close to the lion and we see her blood red chin as she looks up from the zebra she is eating. We stay for lots of photos and then Kevin says there has just been a Cheetah spotting…off we go again. This reminds me of a bass fishing tournament and everyone trying to get to the fish first. It is quite exciting and we quickly realize the Kevin is the best driver of the three SUV's that we are in. We finally break for a picnic lunch and bathroom. Don't get me started on the bathrooms…that will need to be an entire entry by itself.

After lunch we find a hippo hang out with four - five hippos all sunning. One is laying upside down with his four feet in the air. Then he will stretch and roll over and then go back upside down. He is very comical. Next we spot a one month old baby hippo nuzzling up against her mom. Ugly but precious.

Massimo, tries to spend equal time in each Land Rover guiding each student with their photography. He is very outgoing and warm. We all really like him. When we return to camp he spends individual time again with each student. After dinner we will have a slideshow of the students best work of the day and Massimo will give his critique.

Another group of about 20 students from Switzerland set up camp in our camping area. Some of their tents are just a few feet away from ours and for the first time we are not alone in our camping experience. We visit with some of our new friends.

Saturday, June 25 - On the road from northeastern Tanzania to Arusha.

We leave at 9:30 and stop to souvenir shop along the way. Travel is very slow because our MAN truck can not go more than our 40 mph and when we go uphill we go about 3 mph. But the good news is that we are on paved road.

Massimo is going back to Italy today so we drop him off at the junction and someone from the safari company takes him the final hour to the airport. We go to the Dorobo Safari headquarters and have our last picnic lunch and we all buy a safari t-shirt.

Our last stop is the Massai market where we went last week. Now that we have been here for a couple of weeks we have more of a sense of the souvenirs we want. This market is much calmer then the main market in the city center of Arusha. We purchase all kinds of treasures.

Pete and Charlotte O'neal's place will be our final stop on the trip. It is about 30 minutes away from Maji ya Chai. We turn off the the main road and bump and jiggle for about 15 minutes up a dirt road until we get to the United African Alliance Community Center. The center is enclosed by a tall stucco like wall full of brightly colored art and sayings.

Pete comes out to meet us. He is 70 years old, has dreadlocks almost to his waist , was raised in Kansas City and says ya'll. We feel comfortable around him. The place looks like a 5 star resort compared to where we have been staying the past two weeks. There are 20, four to eight year olds that live here at the new orphanage. Our students are in heaven again. Everyone of them has at least one student in their arms. I love this. It makes my eyes well up again to see the happiness on both faces. I have got to get back to Houston and quit tearing up over everything.

The O'neals - Day 1

It is Sunday. We have a dance group coming today to teach our students some dances and then we are going to have a performance at 3:30 for anyone who wants to come watch. We have practice on the concrete slab close to the orphanage. The session goes well. The Houston kids decide to teach the African kids the Cuban shuffle. Both groups have fun learning each others dances. For the afternoon performance the dance group is now in native costume and they perform many dances. A small crowd gathers to watch. Soon it is the Houston groups turn to perform. they all receive parts of costumes to wear. It is fun to watch them.

Later that evening Pete meets with the group. We watch a documentary about him and Charlotte. You see, Pete was a Black Panther. He had some issues with the American government and the law and he fled the United States 40 years ago. He is in exile in Tanzania. The documentary, " A Panther in Africa" is very interesting. Pete shares intimate details about his life and ask for redemption. He feels he has made a complete change in his life and dedicates his livelihood to the people of this village. After the film we have a question and answer period with him. Holly and I are the most fascinated by this man and we ask lots of questions. I am extremely proud of the way the group handles the Q and A session. Pete concludes with the thought that he has presented his side of the story. He knows there is another side but he hopes that the young people get the message that one can make mistakes with their life and end up doing the right thing.

The O'neals - Day 2

The days have slowed down. We are no longer on such a rigid, hurry up schedule. We get to sleep until 8:30 every morning at the O'neals. This is a big deal. This morning we have a big tripod photo lesson on panning, zooming, HDR, panoramic, and painting with light. We go outside of the center's walls and take photos of the people and surrounding area.

After lunch we spend most of the afternoon in a common area working on our laptops and organizing photos and typing on the blog. It was very difficult to do this on safari and most everyone is way behind. The students present their On Assignments tonight. Each person got to select their topic and either work with a a partner or alone. the presentation range from the maturity and work load of the Tanzanian children to the types of animals that the country has. the kids to a good job. The orphans have come to see the presentations and so have the local teens that go to school at the center.

When the presentations are over the African teens begin to set up a sound system. Some kids are taking paint with light photos and others are playing with the orphans.

The orphans disappear for a while and then reappear in a procession with others from the center. The lead child is carrying a cake. We all join in the conga line and sing and dance around. It is a farewell ceremony. It is a happy and sad time.

We eat cake and the say goodbye to the little ones. The music is playing and soon there is a dance. What a wonderful last evening in Africa.

The O'neals - the Last day

We woke to a heavy rain. We have not had rain like this the entire time we have been here. I lay in my bed and I think it is the Tanzanian sky crying because we are leaving today.


  1. Cathy: Rachel had the time of her life. Thank you again for providing this opportunity for these young people.

  2. Cathy, It looks like another wonderful adventure for you and the kids. They are so lucky to have experienced this trip with two awesome teachers like you and Holly.


Sunset on the Amazon

Sunset on the Amazon
We had some of the most spectacular sunsets. Our cabanas over looked Piranha Laguna. From our open air lodge you could see the most beautiful close to the day.

National Geographic Ecuador Group

National Geographic Ecuador Group
We gathered with Massimo (front and center) for a group shot before he had to leave us and return to Italy. We are all back in Houston now and have made many wonderful memories.

White water tubing

White water tubing
In freezing cold river water, our group loaded onto two tube rafts for an adventure ride. Lots of gasping for breath as the cold water hit the body, lots of screams as your tube raft headed into the rapids, and lots of smiles from everyone.

Watching and waiting for Hummingbirds

Watching and waiting for Hummingbirds
Biologist, Nicki, names some of the birds that we are trying to photograph.


Day four started with a ride across the canopy in the tarabita.

Bug Hunting Hikes

Bug Hunting Hikes
In the evenings, when it is not pouring down rain, we hunt along the road for nocturnal critters. It is quite entertaining to see the students excitedly looking under leaves and rocks. I would have to say that Callie and Madeleine Ham won the most critters found award for our time in Mindo.

Making Chocolate

Making Chocolate
As one drops the cocoa beans into the press the other pushes down and out come delicious chocolate. We had bananas, kiwis, apples, and pineapple to dip. We even had left overs....wish I knew where that tub of chocolate was.