On Safari in Tanzania
Aug 18, 2004
Elephants and Zebras and Cheetahs, oh boy!
After months of procrastination, it took a tall blonde to inspire me to go on Safari. I signed up with her for a two-day safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park. The Ngorongoro is one of the most famous places in Africa for seeing animals. The crater is almost 10 miles across and is the remains of a gigantic volcanic eruption. I originally heard that the sides of the crater were so steep that animals would slip down and not be able to escape - while entertaining, this story proved not to be true. Tarangire National Park is less well known, but at the moment it is full of animals due to a drought. I was debating between going to Lake Manyara or Tarangire. The deciding factor was not the number of animals, but instead stories of vehicles being charged by angry elephants in Tarangire. How cool would it be to have your truck chased by a stampeding elephant?
We saw tons and tons of animals as one would expect from an African safari. Zebras were everywhere and they were beautiful. Tarangire was full of elephants, though none charged our truck. We also saw wildebeests, giraffes, hippos, flamingos, warthogs, gazelles, hyenas and one cute little jackal. The ostriches were bizarre; surreally large birds strutting around the savannah. And the highlight was a family of cheetahs lying out in the sun.
Watching a big cat kill and eat it's prey is the crowning moment of any safari. We unfortunately didn't see that. Instead we got the lighter, gentler, and at times very amusing side of the animal kingdom -- animal sex. Elephant sex was quite a spectacle. The king of the elephants mounted a hot little number while all of the other elephants stomped and trumpeted loudly. Not speaking elephant, I couldn't tell if the other elephants were cheering him on, or yelling jealously "get a room". Hyena sex, on the other hand, was not at all impressive. Two hyenas stood in open ground. The female looked very bored as 50 tourists looked on. Cameras snapped and videotape rolled as the male hyena couldn't figure out what to do, and continually failed to properly mount her.
I was afraid hordes of tourists and being trapped in a truck would ruin my safari experience. The experience wasn't ruined, but certainly diminished. The truck turned the safari into a zoo-like experience. There was always a barrier between you and the animals. The big difference is that on a safari it's the tourists, instead of the animals, in the cages. The other tourists both added to, and detracted from my experience. Every time we saw a congregation of trucks we charged over to see what they were looking at. This helped ensure that we saw animals, but the crowds of tourist vehicles made the experience even more zoo-like. Sometimes, I took a break from sighting animals and did tourist sighting (after all, we were the one's in the cages) which added a new dimension to the entertainment. Some tourists were as bizarre as the ostriches -- Couples in matching safari outfits will always be super tacky.
As for the safari, you get what you pay for. We went with one of the cheaper safari companies in town (~$90/day). The food and accommodations were excellent. But there were some problems. The truck barely ran and stalled regularly. Fortunately, the driver was always able to get it started again. We could have easily spent our safari waiting upon a broken truck. We also spent only about 5 hours a day seeing animals. The first day this was understandable as we had to drive from Arusha to the park. However, on the second day the driver was supposed to wake us at 5am to arrive at the park at sunrise. Instead, he waited for another tourist to arrive and join our safari, and didn't wake us up until 8am. We missed the sunrise and the best hours for watching the animals.
The biggest bummer of the trip was my shoes being stolen. Our luggage was left with the cook as we went out the to Ngorongoro. He apparently didn't watch the luggage closely enough because my shoes disappeared. The tour operator offered me $20 to compensate for the loss. It wasn't enough to replace the shoes, but was better than nothing. The positive thing is that my pack is now much lighter - I'm going to write much more about shoes in the next journal entry.
The trip was good. We saw tons of animals. However, I'm not yet sold on Africa. I'm still an Asia fan. The orangutans of Sumatra, and the tigers in Thailand were experiences equally as impressive as this safari, but they cost less than $20. However, I am considering giving safaris another try and doing one in Kenya. The touristy aspect and the cost are big turn-offs for me. However, I think that it is possible the wildebeest migration or lion kills could blow away my expectations and change my mind about Africa.
It's time for another linguistics lesson. The word "safari" was induced into English language with the definition: "an organized trip to hunt or photograph wild animals, usually in Africa." But, the definition in Swahili is simply "to travel". I've known this linguistic trivia for a while, but the other day I found out another use for the word. "Safari" also means "to-go". If you're ever in Nairobi and want your burger "to go" just ask for a "burger safari".
Nairobi is infamous for being the worst place in East Africa, and the second most dangerous city in Africa (Johannesburg takes the top prize). It has even been given the undesirable nickname "Nairobbery". Lonely Planet warns you to always take a taxi at night - even if you're only walking a few blocks. Well, it doesn't seem that dangerous to me. My "ghetto-sense" tells me that it isn't worse than Managua, or Oakland, or any number of other dangerous cities that I've survived. One traveler who's been through Kenya many times told me that in the past Nairobi was dangerous enough to live up to it's reputation. But now scores of undercover police wander the streets and they have been given authority to shoot purse snatchers. If he's right, then this drastic measure cleaned up the streets real quick.
Vibrant is a horribly overused expressions, but I've never used it before, and it describes Nairobi well. It's a city constantly in motion. The streets are full of people. The air is full of the sounds of cars honking, and people shouting, and music blaring. Weekdays at 6pm there are huge lines of people waiting to get on busses home. Weekends at 3pm there are huge lines of people waiting to get into the discos. Operating on a different schedule than the rest of the world the discos in Nairobi party from 3pm to 11pm.
My favorite thing in town is the busses. The busses look like ridiculous discotheques on wheels. They are painted in bright colors with pictures of cartoons, gangster rappers, or English soccer (football) teams. But that's just the start. They're lit from the outside with flashing, blinking lights and lit from the inside with blacklights. It's just a bizarre spectacle.
In the movie Demolition Man: "All restaurants are Taco Bell". Upon seeing the massive Taco Bell in Nairobi, I feared this dire prediction might be coming true. But my fears were quickly disappeared. The name of the restaurant in Nairobi is Taco Bell, the logo belongs to Taco Bell, but the restaurant is completely unassociated with the American conglomerate. They don't even sell Tacos! It's just an amusingly blatant case of false advertising. My second favorite case of false advertising is "Internet Cafe Hair Salon" in Arusha which lacks an internet connection.
As I'm writing this, I'm in Kenya watching Greece play Egypt in handball. Watching the Olympics while traveling is always an educational experience. Sports that Americans have never heard of get top headlines in other countries. I've traveled enough to have heard of the sport of handball, but never knew what the sport was. I imagined that it was the same as the sport I played as a kid - a cheap imitation of racket ball played with a wall, a tennis ball, and no rackets. I was wrong. You dribble the ball like basketball, but instead of a basket there is a soccer goal and your try to throw the ball past a goalie. The sport is hugely popular in large parts of the world.
And now, on to Uganda for new and different experiences.
Adam, the sentence that starts "After months of procrastination..." is totally bitchin'. It sucked me right in. The taco bell story and the internet cafe hair salon made me laugh. Continue to have even greater and funnier adventures, Habibi!
Dad - Aug 20, 2004
Adam, Your sense of humor has returned so I'd guess you must be feeling better. I particularly liked your description of elephant sex. It brings to mind our elephant orgy coffee mugs. I must take issue, however, with your repeated put-downs of Oakland. Truth is, it's a great city -- one of the most integrated and liberal cities in the US and aside from some definitely undesireable neighborhoods, not dangerous at all.
Amusingly, quite a few people find my site by searching on google for "elephant sex". I did a closer look through my weblogs and realized that most of them are actually looking for exactly those coffee mugs and end up at my site for the picture of the real thing.
Oakland is liberal. Oakland is integrated. And, Oakland is dangerous.
Oakland isn't that dangerous, but that's in part my point. All of these "dangerous" countries that our state department warns us about aren't that bad either.
mo - Aug 23, 2004
Hi Adam. Stunning photos as usual! Glad to hear you're doing much better.
Tim - Oct 12, 2004
Boy medical school sucks! And there you are, lolly gaging around Uganda. I'm fuming with jealosy.
Kwa heri (for now)
Lizz - Aug 27, 2007
Adam, I'm from Nairobi, and I would like to correct you on the club scene in Nairobi, its from 3pm till dawn, or till the last person in the club leaves.. And if tourists where the things in your way durin your safari, you could have tried going during low season, coz tourists only come specific times, the other times, its mostly empty.