Sunday, September 15, 2013

July 27: Safari in Ruaha.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

Interlude day. The safari. Safari means "journey" and Mamatony said to me, "Safari njema" before I left - good journey to you. (This photo is at the Nyerere Airport in Dar.)

The hot shower still eludes us, alas - but we're in much lower country now. And low country "cold" water is sort of like LA "cold" water - and any shower is a good shower! It really is a remarkable change in the weather, just an almost-four hours' drive away. And today was a remarkably unemotional day - a reprieve dearly needed by this overloaded emotional self.

Our driver through Ruaha National Park was again Joseph, and our guide was Emmanuel. They were wonderful - the right level of talkative and enthusiasm for our group (not too much). Anyone we told, including Pommerini who can't afford a toothbrush much less entrance to Ruaha National Park, that we were going on safari to a national park was deeply, truly happy for us. (Entrance fees are listed and charged in cash or to your credit card in American dollars. It is $30 USD per day. The average annual income in Tanzania in 2011, according to the World Bank, is about $530. I'm thinking of households of 5, 6, 7, 8 people - living on one income.) Their pride shone. And now I know why! For great reasons...

Waterbuk, baboon, blue monkey, dikdik, elephant HERDS, crocodile, impala, lions, hippo (with babies!), zebra, giraffe, vultures, storkbills, hornbills... like a Disney cartoon image, like a painted landscape, the great Sub Saharan East African plains in the dry season.

I'm in love withe baobab trees. Joseph picked up pods for us, broke them open, and gave us the seeds. You suck on them like candy; the hard coating tastes tangy and sweet - sort of like a lightly pickled plum or a SweetTart. Then you spit out the heart-shaped brown seed!

Thanks, John B, for the binoculars! Meggie checking out hippos, hanging in the slight current, some of the water that's not yet dried up.

Lions eating what we believe was a baby elephant. Later, we saw some eating a giraffe leg. Yes, it is scary to be in a totally open, rusted, rickety, seat-belt-free Jeep watching these guys. You could hear the bone crunch. You could hear them "purr".

Vultures waiting above the lions...

One of literally dozens of elephant herds:

I'm pretty excited about elephants, I won't lie.

Meggie couldn't pose; possibly the planet's loudest small bird screeched and she was making sure it wasn't coming for us.

The herds don't seem to mind the people in cars; interesting note - it is illegal to step beyond 5 feet of any road in the national park. Not exactly the backcountry hiking we do in our national parks! But while they don't mind us... they do NOT let the babies be seen very often...

This guy is not charging us! He is just looking at us, and then gave a huge head shake. It was a-dor-able.

It almost made me want to become a birdwatcher.

It makes perfect sense why giraffe are used to decorate baby nurseries. They're docile, they're fascinating to watch, they're non-threatening and their ears are really, really, cute. And they stare right back at you - just as weirded out by your body shape as you are by theirs.

This picture makes me laugh; using someone else's camera is hard, as my seat mate in the Jeep illustrates with her efforts here: 

This baby monkey chattered and yelled at us, and then when we pulled away, he ran out in front of the car, scooting like the dickens and howling for his life, for the next tree over - and his mama.

Yes, that is what it looks like. That's a dead, bloated hippo carcass in the river, with a bird on one side and a croc on the other - devouring it. It reeked of death, rot, and slime. I got video of it. It was awesome.

More elephants!

The lushness remains, even as the dry season creeps in from all sides.

We've been whipped around the van for about 7 hours at this point, hence looking so fresh-faced.

Crazy cactus.

I love this one. We crossed the Great Ruaha River many times - since the river is mostly dry right now. This is the riverbed of soft sand, and I liked thinking about the water flowing through, the great herds migrating. We're told that 85% of visitors come in the dry season to see animals. 15% come in the wet season to see plants, flowers and birds.

It really was a Disney cartoon at the end - we finally saw a much-desired warthog mom, running at sunset through the high grass with her tail up, so the three little babies behind her knew what to follow and where to go! 

Emmanuel speaks wonderful English - he tells me he learned from cartoons - and has a steady maturity that makes us all gasp when he says he is only 18. He is at university in Iringa but wants to go to South Africa and become a chef. I am uneasy about the situation - being guided through the park like royal visitors - but then again, if $530 is what most people make in a year, and our Jeep of 5 is going to tip him somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 or $100... are we helping him? Are we hurting others? Is he a good enough actor to pretend to enjoy his day with us - as he seems to? On the ride back, all questions about animals answered, we ask what he'd like to know about America. He wants to know about our big game - our bears, our mountain lions (they're not like your lions!), our moose. He wants to know about our roads (all tarmac, even in national parks?). He wants to know about rain and snow and our landscape. I ask about hospitals and medical care and he asks about health care in America - we get a little out of our depth with that one, but I try to explain that there is poverty in America, and what it looks like, how many people we consider "poor" and the ways we measure it. 

He stops on the road up to the lodge and picks hard berries from the ground - large, like a small kiwi. We're to rip them open and suck out the sweet pulp - amarula fruit. Emmanuel tells us that they fall to the ground, ripe and delicious, but after a couple days, they become dangerously alcoholic though the taste does not change! You have to know when they fell to eat them safely, and animals sometimes eat them too late too - the stories of drunken elephants rampaging through villages sound like lies, but at the lodge later, we learn they're true. An American group is there for a cold drink, though they're on a six month assignment with an NGO to build bee fences, which sound brilliant. 

Superficial as it may sound, back at the lodge and before dinner, I'm thinking about my tattoo #3. #1 was on my 18th birthday to celebrate adulthood and getting away to college. #2 to commemorate marriage. #3  - maybe a baobab tree to memorialize this trip? But the baobab can look angry, it can look joyful, it can look profound, it can look foreboding or funny or brokenhearted. What to pick? To emcompass it all?

The tree far away on this hill is a candidate for the tattoo design; it's two baobabs together, standing so proud and confident. 

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