Tanzania; more than animals

Tanzania Redux (and even once more)
The summer of 2014 was peppered with trips to Africa; two weeks in Tanzania in July and two more weeks in Tanzania in September and another two weeks (this time in Namibia) in October. The trips were all very good and all very different. I am starting to post blogs on these outings and have a bit of explaining to do first. The blogs may run together but I am hoping to post several from each outing. Thus there may be two or three on birds, people, places, mammals, cats, and so on. Hang in there as I think I’m on a roll. The other thing to mention is that one camera was messed up and shot at over 2000ISO throughout the trip. I’d fix it and it would bounce back. So, some of the images look like newspaper photographs from the fifties; grainy and speckled. Sorry about that.

The trips were all Smithsonian trips; two for Smithsonian Journeys and one for Academic Travel Abroad. The arrangements on the ground were made for us by Odysseys Unlimited and Ledirlee. The people who actually managed the day to day activities were Leopard Tours and Ledirlee. The Tanzanian trip started in Arusha and then into the Serengeti and later to Zanzibar and finishing at Saadani National Park along the coast toward Dar es Salaam. We flew home from Dar. The Namibia trip was about half on a train called the Desert Express, a train built for tourism and comfort and half in very nice lodges. The Etosha National Park was the wildlife high point of this trip.

In my early years in Tanzania (and Kenya) the big tour companies were Abercrombie & Kent and Mikato. I was quite surprised to see that A&K was almost invisible and Mikato was even more rare. The biggest company now seems to be Leopard Tours followed by Kobi, Roy, and Ranger. There are always others of course and many of the northern safari circuit companies are not found down in the south. So my observations are not definitive in any way but the two big companies from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s were certainly in hiding.

A good small company that offers personalized tours is called Nasera (African) Safaris and is managed by my longtime safari companion Joseph Ndunguru. His son (Godfrid) and I were able to meet in TZ but sadly I missed seeing Joseph. He is a marvel as a tour leader and guide. The company is named after Nasera Rock, a very large rock in the Serengeti (north of Ndutu and east of Naabi) that is rarely visited by groups but is quite a memorable monolith.

Housing is often home made. Vegetation for roofing, mud and sticks for walls are all that are needed. Little time is spent indoors so the houses merely shelter a cooking area and a place to sleep. This house is in an agricultural area just below the steep wall of the rift as one heads west from Arusha.

The Serengeti is best known for the great migration of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, and eland. This is a somewhat circular trip where animals drop babies in the Serengeti in January and February and then after  grazing for another month or two. They then find the grasses short and dry and they start westward and then north toward the rivers (which they cross in spectacular waves) and on into Kenya’s Maasai Mara. It is here that they graze and mate during June, July, and August and then they slowly start south again into Tanzania. The arrival is quite dependent on rain. Green grasses attract the animals.

The people of Tanzania still live close to the land. Many of the still
farm patches of land given by the earlier, more socialist, government.
These are bags of homemade charcoal for sale along the main road
into Dar es Salaam. Vegetables and fruit are also offered when in season.

It almost never rains in (our) summer months in East Africa. But, the July trip was shown the vagaries of weather and possibly the climatic changes that are down the road for our planet. It rained a couple times and the rain was pretty heavy. Later, in September, it rained all day and very hard in Arusha-town; where it essentially never rains at this time of year.

I’m going continue this barrage of blogs with a bit of local color. The animals and vistas will get coverage in the next African blogs and rehashes of safaris will follow as well, but remember this is home to many people. In both Tanzania and Kenya there are still more than 100 languages spoken. The people are not of the same heritage; they are (or were) essentially separate nations. It was through the political energy and personalities of Jomo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere that these countries have been able to exist and grow into the twenty-first century. Kenyatta was an energetic entrepreneur and Nyerere was a socialist. They were both successful and have left behind two very strong countries.

Reeds, banana leaves (shown here), bark, or mud can be used to cover a home or shelter. Bananas are a staple food in East Africa and vital to the economy and health of the people. They are a cash crop as well as a dependable yard-food. The stems are not good for much but the fruit and the leaves are quite valuable.
There are still over one hundred languages in Tanzania and another 100+ in Kenya. The people have lived for many generations in specific regions and have developed characteristics best suited to the environment. Most locals can tell by face shape, the type of hair on the head, and body shape where someone’s family originated. In modern East Africa the tribal differences are being melded a bit as urban life, an open society, and broader schooling have allowed people to meet and marry in places often far from their natal community. After about twenty-five years of visiting I am quite hopeless at guessing origins or genealogy
Along coastal Tanzania there are still salt works. Salt is produced by evaporation and the work is all done by hand. This scene is near Saadani NP. It is very hot here and the workers rake and shovel salt all day in the heat. This is not a job that an American college kid would take – it looked very rugged and very uncomfortable.
Tanzanite was discovered on fifty years ago. It seems to be a uniques substance and it also seems to have a finite life. There is little left in the ground and it will all be harvested/mined with in a decade or so. It is a blue/purple stone of reasonable hardness but would probably be dinged over time if it were in a ring. Tanzania actually has three colors as there is a burgundy hue also. Sometimes the stone is heated (by natural means or in an oven) and the brown or burgundy disappears leaving a river blue or purple gem.

Before we head out on safari and look at vistas and wildlife, before we load up the vehicles and boats — I want to do one more page on the people and country. The next installment will be on the island that gives Tanzania half of its name –Zanzibar. So Harlequin and Roma will have to wait just a bit longer.
Roma sits up front to spot monitors, crocodiles, herons, storks, and kingfishers.. oh yes, and lots of hippos. But more on the safari will have to wait for the Zanzibar page to be done. Stay tuned.

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