We flew into Kilimanjaro Airport on Monday, November 7 and were picked up by Astarick “Rick” Buchafu, who would be our guide through Tanzania, for the remainder of our time in Africa. A time that was coming to an end soon. We would have a week in Tanzania before having to go home to an America that would soon be under new management…
Rick was great, with a deep smooth voice, a hearty laugh, and generous with his knowledge. He definitely had a James Earl Jones vibe about him. Kilimanjaro airport is well outside of the fast growing city of Arusha, and we got in too late to go straight on to the safari camp. Our itinerary had us spending the night at the Lake Duluthi Serena hotel, which was an interesting old place. As we arrived at the gates after dark, security walked around the car with a mirror on a stick, to check underneath for explosives, I imagined, or other hangers on. It was notable in that it was not “security theater”, it was serious. They did not swing open the gate until after we’d been checked.
The rooms were individual cottages with thatched roofs, arranged in groups in an arc, each group around a quite old looking tree. It was well designed to fit in with the environment. Just an overnight stop for us, but a comfortable one.
In the morning, we drove across the city and out into the west, where Tarangire National Park was our first stop. We had driven across the city of Maun, in Botswana, and Arusha had similar vibes, but bigger and faster. We sat in traffic for a bit as we detoured around a big highway project, with groups of Chinese managers overseeing local labor and large Chinese road building machinery. The “belts and roads initiative”, I believe its called. The Chinese are loaning large sums to African nations (and many others) while putting their factories to work to crank out the heavy equipment, and their universities cranking out the engineers.
Here’s a slide show of the trip across the city:
There were also a ton of Chinese motorcycles! More people were being moved by small, single cylinder bikes than any other means. The car and truck population was mostly older Japanese equipment, with the occasional ancient British truck. Lots of hard work being done by men in sandals pushing hand-carts loaded up with produce or construction materials. The best load I saw was a guy moving a large tiger-print recliner chair on the back of a small bike.
We made a brief stop at the Cultural Heritage Center, which was a large complex that included art galleries, a museum and shops. We only had time to walk the grounds and visit the shops, but there were some quite amazing sculptures to see. The main buidling itself was an impressive cross of modern and traditional architecture.
We arrived at Maramboi tent camp, set on the shore of lake Manyara, with Tarangire National Park to the south and Manyara and Ngorongoro parks to the northwest. Maramboi was perhaps the most spectacular setting we visited, because the wide plain between the camp and the lake was filled with wildlife and backed by a mountain ridge. The zebra and wildebeest came right up to and inside of the camp, so you could sit on your patio and watch them up close.
This was Tuesday, November 8, election day back home. Mom and I had voted early, by mail (shocking, I know). Blissfully unaware of what was happening for most of the trip, we occasionally had local people in airports cheer us for electing Barack Obama, and we were proud.
Then we woke up on Wednesday morning, and sitting with the most amazing view of Africa in front of us, we tried to get the WiFi to work well enough to feed a news page. Mom gasped and covered her face with a hand, as she got the news first. It was hard to take, what it revealed about our country, and harder still to think about what it would be like when we came back. We were emotional when Rick showed up to take us on the day’s game drive, and we tried to explain why. He knew enough to get it without much talking.
Rick drove us to Tarangire and through the gates. On the way we passed the Maramboi gate house, which had a plaque that read:
History of the USAID program. (United States Agency for International Development)
Tarangire was unique again, different from the other places we’d been in subtle ways. I’ll let the pictures tell the story. After Tarangire, we would go north through Lake Manyara National Park and then into the Ngorongoro crater… for the next installment.
(Click any image for larger versions and captions.)