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Boomer Bytes #30: Tanzania–Land of Kilimanjaro

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Tanzania–Land of Kilimanjaro

By Steve Canipe

Aug. 8, 2014. If ever there was a place that was mysterious and alluring it would be somewhere on the African continent. The novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs about Tarzan and writers of other similar jungle escapades which caused the nickname to be the Dark Continent. It was because of lack of exploration and knowledge.

European settlers were intrigued by the unusual fauna in particular and when to hunt and bring home trophies. The lack of European-type civilization caused explorers and later conquerors and exploiters to think of the native peoples as primitive and child-like. This was much like the earliest visitors to the New World saw the natives.

Wasn’t correct then and is not correct with regard to the natives of the sub-Saharan African countries either. But there is definitely a lot to marvel over and be amazed about. For as long as I can remember, and maybe caused by the Tarzan novels, I’ve wanted to visit this area.

As I mentioned earlier in the column on China, some friends and my wife and I had planned a safari trip. You may remember that 9/11 happened to cause us to postpone it. My wife and I ended up heading out by ourselves with a tour group that only does small groups. We had 14 people on our trip not including the 3 guides, the Masai warriors (guarding against lions not people), and the various camp staff – cooks etc.

We were flying on KLM/Northwest airlines from Detroit to Amsterdam and then on to Arusha at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. As luck would have it, we were delayed in Detroit, ended up missing our connection at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands and spending an extra day in Amsterdam. This was not all bad as we met another couple on our same trip that had also gotten delayed so together we hired a car and took a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam. We had bought flight interruption insurance and did get reimbursed for the delay.

After we got to Arusha late the next day and spent the first night in a local hotel compound. Early the next morning we were awakened by the loud speaker from a nearby mosque calling us to prayer – well not us but the Muslim faithful! After a breakfast we set off to join up with our party. Road travel in Tanzania is about time not distance as we soon found out. When we joined our group they told about views of elephants, giraffes, and other wildlife they had seen. We were now really disappointed as we were used to being in American National parks where if you missed many of the animals you did not easily get another chance to see them. Boy was there no need to be upset.

We made ourselves comfortable in our safari luxury tent. While this may sound like a bit of an oxymoron, it was not – the tents were floored, had a covered entrance, a dressing room, and separate en suite flushing toilet and shower facilities. We dined exquisitely on soups, salads, and meats prepared over an open fire. Was fabulous food.

Our first discovery that this was “not Kansas” or any other state in the US came at dinner when we were instructed not to walk back to our tents alone as we might become prey for wandering lions! Those fearsome looking Masai warriors would escort us. Guess the lions did not come by or we didn’t look tasty or the warriors scared them away – whatever the reason no one in our group was attacked. Our accommodations had typical canvas walls — seemed to me like not much of a deterrence for a lion or other carnivore wanting some American delicacy (me)! I cannot say I was afraid but a bit cautious. Just that touch of danger added to the sense of adventure.

We traveled in three Toyota Land Cruisers which had open tops the next day and proceeded to drive through the brush looking for wildlife. We saw much wildlife including the aforementioned elephants and giraffes. We also saw baboons in territorial defense and several different species of antelope along with various birds. This day we did not see any of the carnivores. Nearing sunset as we drove back towards the camp, we parked and were told to ready our cameras. Looking eastward we saw Mt. Kilimanjaro. With camera in hand, I wondered what we were going to see. Soon enough a herd of elephants that had been out all day came walking by – right in front of the mountain – what a fabulous picture.

For the next two weeks we moved about covering various places and national parks in Tanzania. We saw out meat-eaters in abundance especially in the Ngorongoro Crater. The lions were especially evident and we saw a pair mating. We also saw the ritual mating dance of the ostrich. The other big cats we saw included cheetah including a mother and three nearly grown cubs; a leopard. We also saw rhinos and hippos along with the ugly/cute warthogs.

During one wildlife drive, we came across a hyena den and watched the babies playing. While adult hyenas are not pretty at all the cubs were and they were very inquisitive. Something we learned is that as long as we were in the vehicles we were not seen as prey but if you were on the ground you were considered the evening meal. Needless to say the guides would not let you out except for some bodily necessities and only then in wide-open spaces. There was a lot of “tire-checking” and I am not referring to checking the dual spares that were on the back of the safari vehicles. Obviously this “checking” was easier for men than women, but they all persevered.

In one of our camps you could hear the zebra come by outside the tent at night and eat the gras. Sounded exactly like horses eating grass. There were was basing left outside for hygiene purposes and we heard hyena one night lapping up the water. Sounded just like our dogs drinking water. But nothing came into the tents that was not supposed to – not even the tsetse flies or mosquitoes that were around. All of us were taking antimalarial medicine.

Some of the places we stayed were permanent tented camps with the flush toilets and showers. The showers were not from running water but worked by the Masai bringing heated water to put in a container raised above the shower room on the outside. The showers were quick out of necessity but we were always asked if we wanted more water!!

During the course of our travels we did see the so called Big Five wildlife of East Africa: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and Black rhinoceros. The rhino was the most difficult for us to find and it was very, very far away but with high powered binoculars we were able to see the horn! Many people are not as luck as we were to see all of them.

One day on picnic stop near a small lake, as we pulled in, there was a scene that must have been like the Garden of Eden. There were multiples of numerous herbivores grazing and drinking. All together and unafraid of us or of each other. It was such an idyllic spot. The only thing that would have been better was to have seen a carnivore but then the grazers would not have remained.

Of all the trips to various exotic and adventuresome locales, the one to Africa stands out. It was so different from other places that we had been and the slight feel of being away from civilization was exciting. It was sort of unusual to say away from civilization as the guides all had cell phones that worked beautifully out in the bush. The newly developing countries skipped the wired networks and cell coverage was everywhere including in the Serengeti Plains.

One thing we did not see and it was a disappointment was the huge migrations. While we knew it was not the right time of year, it would have been nice to have seen a major migration. One morning at breakfast while sitting in the restaurant under a baobab tree, we did get a glimpse of what it must have been like as we saw several hundred wildebeests and zebra crossing the river below us. I can only imagine what the tens of thousands must look like – maybe a reason to go back to this “dark continent.”

This is the last of four columns on exciting places I’ve been. China, Russia, India, and now Tanzania have been described – each was exciting to visit and each was a new learning experience. I hope you have enjoyed reading and thinking about these places as much as I have enjoyed reliving some of the experiences. These columns were only meant to whet your appetite – there was so much more that happened in each and every place. Go out and make your own adventures!!

If you have not already shared some of your travel experiences/stories with me and the readers, I hope that you will, either through posting at the end of the column or on Facebook or by writing to me at boomerbytes@yahoo.com. I do want to hear from you. Not just the glorious things you have seen but your feelings about the people you’ve met. Bon Voyage!