We landed at Nairobi airport where we were picked up by our first contact for our Volunteer Program Rep Pastor Ian. Immediately, we were hustled to his rural home 30 minutes outside of the city where we would stay just one night before busing to Moshi Tanzania. The car ride from the airport to our accommodations was a real shocker and we were all surprised at the number of people on the streets and the level of poverty. A sight I don’t think you can prepare yourself for. There are thousands of people on the streets just sitting around the rough dirt or sand roads in the sweltering heat. Some people working but many were not. First thing we realized is that we “white people” attract a huge amount of attention and the traffic was extremely heavy as we crawled down the road at 15 km an hour with the window rolled down to catch a bit of the breeze. Everyone was staring and we didn’t risk taking a picture for fear the camera would be stolen. It really put us on the defensive.
The next day we were transported by a crappy old shuttle bus to our destination, Moshi Tanzania. The bus was small with zero suspension left and was full of a about another dozen tourist. The ride took approximately 7 hours to travel 300 Km on the worst road I have ever seen. The dust was soon flying as the bus snaked it’s way through the giant pot holes and wash board filled road. The ride seemed to last forever, but we eventually got to Moshi. Upon are arrival, we were again picked up. This time by our main volunteer contact, Fredrick. He too hastily greeted us and quickly loaded our bags and drove us to his rural home some 10 Km away from the town. By the time we arrived down another brutal road to his house, we were getting kinda worried because of how it was going so far and the sight of the house we were staying in. It was a relatively nice house, but the yard was surrounded by an 8 ft steel fence with a big locking gate. We soon realized this was necessary because all the people, (especially the kids) in the neighborhood knew that new white volunteers had arrived with fresh cash and candy. The yard was a good size and there were two houses on the property and both were very clean. It kinda felt like being in a prison halfway house, as you could do what ever you wanted, but you couldn’t leave ! The first night at the house, we had a little bit of fun and caught a wild hedgehog in the yard. Everyone got to hold or touch it and Drew wanted to keep it, but we ended up letting it go.
Moshi is a smaller city in Tanzania but still is a little dangerous for the Mizungo (Swahili for white people or white tourist) to walk around at night, therefore most of our of evenings were spent at the complex watching movies on our computer and playing cards. Our accommodations was a separate building from the main house. It had a really weird design as it was an open veranda style house with heavy screen all around. The screen was more like bars and was to big to keep insects out and we assumed it’s main purpose was to keep people and/or animals out. Fortunately, there were very few bugs, but we were exposed to all the sounds of the rural African jungle night. Dogs barking and fighting, bush babies crying (small African nocturnal tree creature with big eyes and a hell of a cry that sounds like a human baby crying), large ripe mangos crashing down on our tin roof from a massive mango tree right outside our door, and last but not least our close proximity local neighbors yacking outside all night followed by their roosters crowing before dawn. To say the least, it wasn’t very restful, but we managed. The local family living in the main house were very nice and they served us hot home cooked meals in their home everyday. Dinner consisted of three covered hot plates and we soon started knowing what was in them before we opened them. The large pot was always, rice, pasta or potatoes, the second was either stew or beans and the third small one was always shredded cabbage or kale. Kale tastes kinda like….ummm….. cabbage! So it was like cabbage every night. Yum Yum ! At least it was healthy and Drew and Jessica learned to sucked it up and eat it. We did get treats once in a while like homemade donuts, that was very Yummy!!!!
The next morning, it was off to work to the Upendo Orphanage. The first full day we were given a ride to the Orphanage by our sponsor and then a quick half an hour orientation and tour of the facility. Our first impression was pretty good as the place was a relatively clean and appeared to be quite well run from a distance. What a disaster! We were thrown into to action with no direction and no support from the staff. The kids that we were to take care of were much younger than we anticipated and ranged from 1 to 3 years old. Needless to say were very needy. Our first observation was that the kids would wonder aimlessly with no supervision, some already full of piss and/or crap in their pants as there is no diaper program there. So, basically they would wallow around for hours before they would get a change on the staffs schedule. Most of the time the kids were confined to a small outdoor play area that had a large sand box and a dirt play ground around it. There they threw sand at each other followed by retaliation slaps.The few kids toys (which most of them were broken) were kept indoors in a large crib like container and they could bring them outside where they dragged them through the sand and dirt. Several of the littlest kids licked and sucked on the buttons and eyes of the teddy bears and other dirty toys. Yuck, really disgusting! We were going crazy, policing fights, bathroom control and sanitation issues. We would look to the staff for assistance, but the majority of them just sat there staring at the ground in the heat of the day ignoring the kids…. and us! The kid’s seemed to be always a little sick and their noses were always full of major snot. Sometimes a staff member would wipe the little guys noses with a little 3 inch piece of pink uniform material that came from the orphanage sewing room. It was not good and I didn’t think we would last! Surprisingly, Jessica and Drew did really well despite the challenges. They both enjoyed the little kids and they laughed about the things the kids did everyday.
Unfortunately, Lyane and I did not do so well! Lyane got too involved and tried to do to much. It did not take long and she was overwhelmed and she broke down in tears and frustration. At one point, we were left with the kids with no staff at all. They were all sitting in the back room taking it easy while we had 30 or so kids each. So Lyane went to the administration to complain. The people in charge were confused by her emotional state, so they did what they thought best and hugged her and sent her back to work. Is was pretty funny because I think Lyane expected that she would really stir the pot, but in fact everything remained totally unchanged. So it was back to work to try and endure their system and try to figure our how to survive in it. The next day we got up, had breakfast, packed our lunch and our courage for another day at the orphanage. This time we went with our Canadian volunteer friend Catherine (who had been doing this for the past 5 weeks, bless her heart!!!) , took the Dela-Dela (the public transportation, a minivan that sat 20 peoples but usually they fitted at least 30 people). Again the Dela-Dela was another indescribable experience. We arrived at the Orphanage with a different attitude, despite of that, after four days, nothing improved and we battled through it the best we could. I should say that it was not all bad for the orphans, compared to other orphanages we saw Africa. They are well fed and they follow an organized schedule everyday without fail. In the morning they are dressed and fed breakfast, play for two hours, go for a wash, then they are taken to a big room for a drink of warm milk that is taken right from the on site cow, play again, wash, eat lunch, then a two hour nap and then play time again. Then it was home time for us. Then we got some welcome news and were told that our Safari was not available at the end of our volunteer work and we would have to go in the middle week of our three weeks. Of course we jumped at the chance.
The next day, we were on our way to our Safari via local highway bus with all the Tanzanian residents to a city called Arusha,Tanzania two hours away. Upon arrival, we were delighted to discover that we were the only people in our safari group, meaning we would benefit from our own private Land Rover complete with a pop up roof, with our own personal guide/driver Peter and a personal cook named Richard. They were really good guys and they were especially good to the kids.
The safari was divided into three major areas of Tanzania with the first being a place called Lake Manyara. When we got there, we were excited to be greeted at the entrance by group of Blue Velvet Monkeys. We hoped out of the truck and flashed several pictures of them. Then the tour began into the heart of the national park, beginning with amazing giant trees called Sausage trees that had large weird sausage like seeds approximately 12 inches in length and 4 inches round hanging all over the massive branches. The first large animal we saw was the mighty Hippos wading in shallow water and basking in the sun. They did not do much, but it was cool to see them in their natural habitant. Shortly after, we saw our first wild giraffes. They were in a group of eight and they gracefully passed by our vehicle as if we were not even there. It was very cool and a great experience for all of us to share as a family. Then an hour down the road, we were treated to a comedy show starring a large group of Olive Baboons complete with small babies and several other actors of all ages. We could have watched them all day, but within a half an hour or so we moved on to bigger things. As we passed through the park, we also saw several other animals like Dike Dike, Impalas, Waterbucks and Gazelles. They are cool too, but there are a lot of them and they lose there wow factor quickly. As the first day came to an end, it was off to camp for a home cooked meal, a cold shower, and off to bed in our two, two men tents.
The next morning we got up early and drove to our second destination. “The Serengeti” to search for the “Big Five” as the Africans say. The big five consists of the Black Rhino, Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, and Leopard. Upon arrival, the first animal we spotted in the Serengeti was a Zebra. It was about 500 yards away and we were so excited to see it, we made our guide stop the truck and we took a dozen microscopic pictures of it. Minutes later there were virtually thousands of them all around the truck and we were embarrassed that we made the guide stop. Shortly there after we began to see the great Wilder beasts. As we drove in deeper, we began to see hundreds of thousands of them. Our guide Peter told us that we were fortunate to see the migration as it had just began only a couple of weeks earlier. Before that he said, there were none and people on his last safari were disappointed. By the end of the day, it was estimated that we saw over a million of the two million migrating Wildebeest. It was quite a spectacular site to see them covered the land as far as you could see. The big herds would be right beside the truck be in so Drew and I would make a cowboy like “yelp” and they would all spook and scamper away in high gear. We had a lot of fun doing that over and over. I think our guide thought we were dumb ass hillbilly Canadians. The next big event, we spotted a Cheetah that was drinking by a watering hole about 300 feet from the truck. We were really happy with our guide because he was able to anticipate the path the cheetah would take after his drink and the sleek cat walked right in front of our jeep. Awesome sight and with no fear the cheetah walked by us with little acknowledgement. We hope to get our pictures on the blog soon as we got a great shot of him. That night we climbed back into or tents to rest for the next days adventure. The night was pitch black and the camp had no fencing around it. In the middle of the night, we began to hear animal noises, like walking and grunting. At one point we heard a deep low growling sound that scared the crap out of us. Our two man skimpy tent would be no match for an African animal we thought. Sure enough, the next day our guide casually informed us that a lion had casually passed through our camp in the middle of the night! Lets just say that safety policies are not at a North American standard in Africa. We were a bit frightened about the lion sighting, but our guide said it was nothing to worry about.
The next day was an intense search for us to find the lions instead of them finding us! Before long, we saw a few lions from a distance as they sleep under a tree approximately 400 ft away. Then a few miles from there we saw a really big male lion sitting under a tree very close to us no more than 25 ft away. Right beside him was another large male stretched out on his side and sound asleep. Then we noticed yet another male behind them also sleeping on the other side of the tree. The first one was sitting against a rock wide awake and would give us an occasional ” who cares ” look. He was a huge! Then in the distance, we noticed a male and two females lions lying on the edge of a grassy area about 250 feet away from us. The male was prancing around the one female while the other female looked on without concern. The involved female would snarl and give the male a swat if he got too close to soon. Sound familiar guys? Eventually, he made his move and maneuvered around back of her and we all watched nature take it’s reproductive course. The whole event took about 7 seconds. Sound familiar gals? For educational purposes only, I videoed the entire event. Fifteen minutes after breeding, the same two did it again. Apparently, frequency is common for lions at breeding time. Next mission it was time to look for the illusive leopard. During our search, we saw several other animals including several Hyhina. We witnessed one brave Hyhina confront a hippo at the waters edge. He must have been hungry to take on a hippo, but he quickly changed his mind and retreated. Then we continued on to find a leopard and before we knew it, we were on to something. Our guide skillfully spotted a freshly killed gazelle high up in a tree and knew that the leopard was most likely very near by. It took him about a half an hour of careful search and then he spotted the leopard lying under a tree in tall grass resting after his meal. The leopard was in a small clearing about 150 ft away and so we could see it pretty well. Just like the lions, the leopard acknowledged us with a lazy look and then ignored us. We watched it clean itself off for a while and then it just got up from the grass and casually strolled away into the bush in the direction of his tree kill. Leopards are one of the hardest animal to find in the wild because they travel alone and they are excellent hidders. Leopards are not that fast of runners and predominately rely on their ability to sneak up on their prey. That being said, I think we were very fortunate to see one so close and so clear. The morning phase of the safari was ending and so we drove back to our camp for lunch.
After lunch, we had a couple of hours of free time to relax before an evening safari drive. The four of us were sitting the camp watching the cooks busily cleaning up, when suddenly a large confident male baboon walked straight into our camp. Suddenly, and more strategically several came from different directions and the attach was underway. Rightfully, we should have notified the cooking crew of the of the invasion, but we were enjoying it too much. Soon enough though the cook crew realized that the attack was on and quickly retaliated with a steady diet of rocks. The baboons immediately retreated, but not before they stole a ladies bag out of one of the unlocked safari trucks. It was pretty funny because they only took the eatables from the bag and threw away the rest in the field while they ran away.
The evening safari brought us a family of about 20 elephants. Our guide again was able to anticipate their path and the whole family walked right in front of the vehicle. Of the youngest was a very smallest baby that was thought to be about one week old. The baby was well hidden in the center of the herd, but we were able to get some great pictures of him in the open. Trailing at the end of the herd was a large male who tuned toward us and made an aggressive forward posture and opened his ears wide. It was pretty threatening and everybody in the truck made a resounding ” WOW”. Awesome, Awesome, Awesome. The next day it was time to leave the Serengeti and travel to our final destination, the Ngorongoro Crater. Our main goal was to complete our search for the final animal of the big five, the Black Rhino.
However, the funny story of the Blog occurred on the way: It should be noted that during a safari , it is strictly prohibited to leave the vehicle at anytime. So, there we were in the middle of the Serengeti heading for our next destination our guide got the truck stuck badly. We had bottomed out the vehicle and had little chance of getting unstuck without getting out of the truck, so our diver reluctantly authorized us to exit and push! There we were in the middle of the Serengeti surrounded by Zebras and Wildebeest trying to push the truck out, but there was no way. After that failed, we separated into groups and looked for something to help us dig out the truck because the safari guys had nothing in the truck for emergencies! No shovel, no rope, no flare, no nothing! They did however have a cell phone, but had no emergency number to call. The cook named Richard returned with a sausage thingy from a sausage tree and a part of a wildebeest tail. We new we were in trouble then ! What were we to do with these tools Richard had found! After several attempts to dig and push the truck out, the new plan was to get on top of the truck and look for other vehicles and scream and wave if we saw one. Two hours later the new plan worked, as another safari group had seen us waving our colorful shirts and blankets and heard us honking the horn. They were well equipped and pulled our truck out and we were on our way to the Ngnorongoro Crater. What an ordeal and again I got our SOS performance on video. Lyane, Jessica, Drew and our guides, all on top of the jeep waving sweaters and blankets and yelling for help. it was actually quite comical
The Ngnorongoro Crater is an amazing giant Crater that is home to several different species of animals sharing the same general but vast area. This is because the crater provides most animals all necessities to survive, lush green vegetation, endless food and water, cooler temperatures, wide open space to detect predators, as well as legal protection from hunters or poachers. It is so fruitful, that some animals don’t follow their natural migration and conveniently stay all year round. Many of the animals we had already seen several times, but it was different to see them in the wide open spaces in a massive lush green filled crater that was seemingly created just for animals 500 years ago by an erupting volcano. There lives Zebras, Wildebeests, Hyenas, Antelope, Elephants, Impalas, Dike Dike and hippos, but also living there is the last big five African animals we had not seen, the rare and illusive “Black Rhino”. I am not sure of the global numbers of the black rhino in Tanzania, but they are an extremely endangered species with only 35 of them left in Tanzania making them difficult to find in the wild. In fact, we talked to many other safari groups who did not see one at all. We continued to drive around the crater for hours looking for one and time was running out. Then with virtually an hour to go until the end of in the safari, our guide excitedly reported that he may have spotted not one but two Black Rinos ! We drove a close as we could discovered three black rinos. Two were lying down and one was standing and grazing along. They were extremely far away and we could only see them with high powered binoculars. In the crater , you cannot go off road and therefore you can only view animals from the designated roads, so we got as close as we could and just watched them for a while. We were all happy find them, especially our guide because it is an achievement to find rinos and I think all guides believe their tip size depends on it. We all celebrated and headed by to camp to backup and conclude our safari.
We said our heartfelt goodbyes to our guide and cook and bused back to Moshi by local transit t the residence again. This time it was at night and again we were the only white people on the bus. Many locals stared at us and probably wondered what the hell we were doing on their bus. It was a little uncomfortable, especially for Drew because of his extreme fair complex and blonde hair. Through out the trip, many local people stopped Drew in the streets to shake is hand or take a picture with him or just to look at him. It was a little scary for him at times and we kept him very close to us.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and it was back to work at the orphanage for our final week. Upon our return we were surprised that things had improved slightly and we found out it was because most of the regular staff were returning from holidays and illness. Fortunately, many of the lazy casual workers we worked with the week before were gone. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was better for sure. Even still, the regular staff really didn’t care too much for volunteers like us either, but when the kids saw us they greeted us with open arms and we all felt the emotions of that. Poor little guys. The week came and went much quicker than the first and it was time to say goodbye to the orphanage.
We all had our favorites and we all said special goodbyes to some of them. We will always remember kids like: Goddy O Manny: a three year old that was a really nice little fella. Mashacky (Shack for short): about a year and half years old, cute and smart, but a bad little bugger who had just come out of the nursery and merged into the toddler group. Even though he was the youngest, he already had power over the older kids and staff. Big Calvin was one of Drew’s favorite and he truly looked and ate like a offensive lineman. Other favorite boys were nice little Brian, football head Jeremiah, and rowdy Ramson. The girls were better behaved and the sweet favorites were little Anna, Vicky who hated being dirty or having a button out of place, Teddy, Lulu, smart little Rosy and Rachel. It was hard to say goodbye to them all and you have to wonder what will become of them.
With only a few days left in Tanzania, we decided we better take a tour of the world renowned Kilimanjaro Mountain we had been living under for a month. Killi is the largest mountain in Africa and takes 6 days to climb it. The tour we settled on was of the base of the massive mountain that only takes about 5 hours, the village at the foot of the mountain is called Marangu. We started by hiking up from Marangu to a couple of waterfalls including one that you could dive off. Upon arrival, Drew wasted no time and ran to the top of the falls and jumped off a 25 feet cliff into the cool deep water below. Jessica then followed suit and jumped off as well. They both jumped several times and then began trying to convince me to do it. There were different levels you could jump from and the lowest platform seemed manageable. Unfortunately, when I got up there it appeared to be higher than expected, and I froze. It just seemed so much higher up there than from below and I just could not push my feet off the edge of the cliff. There was no turning back though as it was virtually impossible to climb back down. It took a good long time and everybody was yelling at me like a suicide victim. Jump ! Jump ! Eventually, I mustered up my courage and completed a text book pencil dive a stunning 10 feet down. After I surfaced, we all agreed that I am getting too old for those kinds of activities and better judgment will have to be considered in the future. Lyane was already the wise one and opted not to jump. Then we walked along a river bed for an hour or so and arrived at a larger waterfall. It was pretty impressive, but the climb was much more difficult than the reward. We were all exhausted and sweating like mad. Drew and I scaled some rocks and got underneath the waterfall. I was pretty cool, but a little dangerous. Next we went to a traditional African Chagga tribe hut and learned from a guide how they lived before colonial contact. Amazingly, the Chagga dug a huge network of caves in defense from their arch enemy the Masai Tribe. They even kept their cattle in the caves houses, so that the cows were not easily stolen. Many brutal battles took place with the Masai in these confining caves.
Lastly, we were forced through the tourist town part below and we felt obligated to buy a few things. At least they were locally made and not mass produced in China. On of the most disturbing facts about the tour is that due to global warming Kilimanjaro’s awesome snow covered peak is receding and is estimated to have a snowless peak by 2020.
Now with only two days to go in Africa, we decided to hired our volunteer associate Fredrick as our guide and we headed for his home town Nairobi. The five of us boarded the dreadful bus for a 7 hour trek down the bumpy highway road. Again, it was like a seven hour rodeo ride or as the Africans refer to it as an African massage. We arrived in Nairobi we rented a car and we immediately felt the wrath of the Nairobi city traffic. Just brutal bumper to bumper buses, trucks and cars with choking diesel exhaust hanging in the air.
We basically put the informal tour in Fredrick’s hands and he thought it was important that we started by visiting the poorest slums in Nairobi that he grew up in. With no further detail, it was pretty bad alright. We then went to a wild life sanctuary where Fredrick knew the staff and keepers pretty well and he was able to get us some some special privileges. The first privilege we received was at the leopard cage. We were watching a leopard lying against a chain linked fence on the tourist path from 200 ft away when one of the keepers Fredrick knew asked if we would like to get a closer look at the big cat. We said sure, and he secretly looked around and slowly swung open a restricted gate and he guided us down to the leopard area. When we got down there, the Leopard was no longer in sight from where it was just seconds before. As we stood looking and wondering where it could have gone, we could faintly hear it growling. Then suddenly, the leopard lunged right at us ! It rushed us and now stood standing on it’s back legs with a fiercely roaring right in our faces with only the chain linked fence between us. Wow ! Scared the living crap out us all, but it was truly amazing to experience because it 5 ft in front of us in short grass about 1 ft high, and we could not see it. We had barely stopped shaking from the leopard experience when another keeper asked us if we wanted to go into the cheetah cage to pet them. This was obviously not in the park policy as the staff carefully watched for the opportune time to sneak us into the cheetah cage. Next thing we knew, we were brought through a network of fences and gates and we were face to face with the cheetahs !!!! We each took turns petting them and getting our pictures taken and then Lyane was chosen to play string ball with one of the cheetahs. She was presented with an 8 ft rope with a well chewed ball at the end and was instructed to run ! It was amazing as the cheetah chased her around just like a house cat. We all survived the experience and then it was off to another sanctuary to pet and feed giraffes. It was also pretty cool experience as the giraffes ate food pallets from your hand and/or mouth. I opted for just the hand, but Lyane, Jessica and Drew opted for the slobbery Giraffe kiss. Giraffes mouths are uniques in the fact that their antiseptic and therefore it is totally safe to kiss them. What a great way to spend our last full day in Africa.
The next day, Fredrick dropped us off at the airport and we said goodbye to him and Africa. Although Africa provided some of the most amazing experiences of our lives, we were all ready to leave. We definitely had some difficult times in our 20 days. Firstly, the town of Moshi, but we attracted alot of attention and after a while, it was very tiring to walk the streets there. Everyone in town recognized us and the street vendors and baggers bugged us continuously. Again, especially Drew. The locals were a bit aggressive at times and we constantly worried that someone might attempt to take him. He was like a little white god to some. However, one night we ignored Fredrick’s advice and we stayed in town too long after work. Night was falling quickly and some people we met offered us a ride back home. When we got to our turn off, off the main road we told our new friends that we would walk the rest of the way because the road was too rough for their little car. So we got out of the car and began walking home 2 km away in the dark unlit road that was always full of people just hanging around in the dark. As mentioned earlier, everyone in the neighborhood knew who we were and the neighborhood kids usually followed us home in hopes of receiving candy or something good from us. We had walked the road many times before, but not at night. As soon as we started our walk, we were immediately joined by a dozen or so kids. They held are hands and sang english songs with us. We felt very comfortable walking along and then sure enough, someone from the darkness threw a rock and hit Drew in the head. He took it pretty well and he toughed it out and kept walking home. We were concerned that more rocks were coming and we quickly walked home without further incident. It is so bloody dark down that road at night and you virtually could not see 3 ft in front of you. When we got home we looked at Drew’s rock wound and discovered that it wasn’t too serious, but he was bleeding pretty good and he was obviously upset. Our sponsor Fredrick appeared at our door and he was furious when he saw Drew’s wound and he gave us hell for walking home at night. Who could blame him for being angry and we never left the premises at night again.
At bedtime, our separate residence was isolated and we started to worry about the locals who constantly followed us home. To add to the situation, there were always a series of power outages in Tanzania and so we had to use kerosine lanterns to get around. On top of all that, the rural nights were full of sounds night that impaired our sleep. Everyone had a dog that barked all night. The cute little nocturnal tree bush babies cried like human babies all night. Mangos consistently fell from the giant mango tree located just outside our tin roof house and make an awakening bang. If that wasn’t enough, the neighbors often stayed up late and talked loudly outside until 2 or 3 am after they went to bed, their nocturnal rosters took over cock a doodle doomed all night and all day. I think it was quieter Manhattan!
Overall though, Africa was a great experience not to be taken for granted and one we will never relive again! Good bye Africa………….. India next.