Grateful, Thankful and Satisfied in Zanzibar

We spend the day relaxing, lazing around our room, reading and relish in the option of stretching out on the bed or sitting on the couch, so many soft surfaces to consider. Such a change from the last few weeks where a cozy spot was not possible as we moved from one place to another, comfort just beyond our reach.

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We pop open a can of Pringles,our staple in this continent and nibble on the salty snack. We wash it down with ginger beer, a tasty refreshment that has kept nausea at bay these last few weeks as we climbed Kilimanjaro and bounced around in Safari vehicles.
Options abound for dinner, there are restaurants and choice that surround and its difficult to choose. Our group plans to dine together and we set out in our clean clothes to peruse the many options available.
The night is dark and stars sprinkle above us, lighting our way as we walk sandals in hand in the cool sand. We find a lovely spot just a short distance from our resort. A table is set on the sandy beach. We sit and our chairs sink into the sand as we hunker down for the duration. Candles abound and the soft lighting is magical. Menus arrive, we are bombarded with choice, drinks, entrees. We decide after considering all our options and I close my eyes and take in the moment. I can hear the waves lap the beach, coupled with a lively band that strums out its chords.

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The food and drinks arrive and we eat and drink relishing each sip and bite. After days of stews, Milo and unbuttered bread, our taste buds explode. It occurs to me how much we take for granted in life and only when its taken away do we realize how fortunate we are. I make a mental note to always be thankful though know that in time the memory will fade.
Satiated, we begin the walk back to our beach bungalow. How lovely to know that there is a permanent structure waiting for us, complete with a comfortable bed and the ability to sleep for as long as we choose.

We bid good night to our friends, making loose plans to meet up tomorrow. Perhaps we will snorkel, kayak, or wander the beach, its difficult to decide at this moment of relaxation. I am not interested in further adventure at this moment, liking that time has stood still for a time.
In many ways this part of the trip is a typical beach vacation and we could be anywhere in the world in our safe, gated community. As I watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean, I am in this moment and content to have the next unfold without plan.

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Hakuna Matata

We arrive at the Langi Langi beach bungalows, a charming resort perched above the beautiful, blue Indian Ocean. We will spend our final few days of our African Odyssey relaxing. The day yawns in front of us, there is no agenda, no place to be, we can finally unpack as we will spend several days at the resort.   We happily unpack our belongings, stretch out on the bed and plan our next move. 

In this moment of relaxation, I realize I’ve left my purchased spices on the bus. Frantically, I bolt upright encircling John in my panic and we propel forward and bolt out the door, relaxation shattered in the moment. We spend several frenetic minutes searching for the bus,then learn it has left. We are informed that a bag of spices was removed from the bus by one of our group members. We are given a Guide and begin walking to the next resort.  The Guide is on Island time as he slowly walks. I’m pushing the pace without knowing the destination and clipping his heels to move quicker. He stops, scans my face and effectively reads the situation. “Madam, this is the Spice Island, we do not want your spices. Hakuna Matata,” he says. His words resonate, the absurdity of my panic crystal as I chuckle to myself. 

We are reuninted with our spices and retreat back to our abode where we resume relaxing.  We sip ginger beer, munch on Pringles and plan.  We know from our walkabout that we are in a gated community, separated from the African people. We are warned of the beach boys who wander the beaches selling their wares. I’m happy the beaches remain open to the people who call Zanzibar home.  Still, our resort is off limits and I imagine the uproar this would cause at home. It is unimaginable that a tourist would have more freedom in my country.

We set out to walk the beach. Soon we are approached by a Beach boy. He has many items to sell. We listen to his pitch and politely decline. We wait for the hard sell that never arrives. He shrugs his shoulders and states, “may-be tomorrow?”  We nod our agreement and continue down the beach. It’s refreshing to just walk the beach, enjoy the scenery and not feel guilty.  Perhaps we will buy tomorrow?  For today, we will enjoy this moment and the next. Hakuna Matata indeed!

Spice of Life in Zanzibar

  

Reluctantly, we leave Stone Town. I would happily spend weeks exploring its nooks and crannies. Our bus idles outside of the Dhow Palace and we board for our tour of a spice farm, Persian baths and a home cooked meal.We arrive at the spice farm, a short drive from Stone Town. We are introduced to our guides who will inform us in words, tastes, touch and smell the reason Zanzibar is called the Spice Island.

We stop at an unknown plant. The young man cuts a piece for us to touch and smell. It is now clear, lemongrass. The tour is an education and delight. We learn that there are male and female nutmeg trees. Only female trees bear fruit; however the sex of the tree is not determined for six to eight years. I imagine how disheartening it would be to care for a tree for many years only to have it worthless. In an attempt to make up the sterility of the male tree, the female tree bears two spices, mace and nutmeg. We sample each. Mace has a slightly sweet taste while nutmeg’s is earthier.

I imagine how disheartening it would be to care for a tree for many years only to have it worthless.

We smell a plant with a flowery aroma, mlangi langi. We are told it is used to create perfumes. We carry it with us loving the scent. We sample a plant used as natural lipstick and adorn our lips. While walking, the men have been weaving palm fronds. At first I think they are only passing time until they present us with their talented creations. We are adorned with bracelets, rings, necklaces, hats and ties, a memento of this day. We are very fancy as we continue our walk through the Plantation.

  

We pass an Islamic school where the employee’s children are educated. They are as curious of us as we are of them. We take their picture and they take ours. Their families live in homes just behind the school. The plantation seems like a nice place to live, work and play among the spice, though I wonder about the isolation of this life.

We reach a small clearing and stand among coffee plants. A flash mob of vendors descend selling homemade soap and perfume. Momentarily, it strikes me as odd to buy goods in the bush, then I shrug my shoulders and move closer for a better look. Bartering exists in the jungle. We dance the haggle dance and I leave with my fair priced goods.

We round a bend and find seating. We rest and are soon treated to a remarkable display of athleticism. A young man attaches a foot rope with a loop for each bare foot and a length of rope in between. He uses the rope to inch up a large palm tree and we watch him climb about 50 feet from the ground. He barely breaks a sweat and even sings and dances. We shake our heads in disbelief. He brings down a large coconut, breaks it open and we all share the sweet milk, and soft meat. I have eaten coconut before though it’s clear that today is the first day I’ve actually tasted coconut.

We sample Jack fruit, a blend of banana and pineapple. It can grow up to 100lbs and when less ripe tastes like chicken, making it an alternative for vegetarians. It’s an odd looking plant, appealing to photograph, as I snap one picture after another trying to discover its best side. We watch the ease of Cassava planting, sticks put in the ground, the woman barely breaks a sweat as she sows the row. Cassava is incredibly versatile. It can be baked, boiled, fried, steamed grilled or mashed. We learn that it must never be eaten raw as death by cyanide poisoning will occur.

We are motioned towards an open air spice shop. We peruse the many options, haggle and buy. We likely have bought too much, though the understanding of the various spices, coupled with their fresh taste, has our taste buds dancing with the possibilities of the dishes we will create at home.

Momentarily, it strikes me as odd to buy goods in the bush, then I shrug my shoulders and move closer for a better look. Bartering exists in the jungle.

We soon arrive at our next destination, a family home. We open the gate and are greeted by the lady of the house. We are all made welcome at her home, and find a spot on the concrete patio covered in rugs. We pass around the pots of stews, rice, and naan bread and share family style. We learn about her life and the food that we are eating through our guide who interprets. It has taken several days to create this menu. We learn more about the food with its savoury broths, simple ingredients and exotic flavour. We feast on fresh naan bread, rice, meat and vegetarian stew. Gluten free options are also available.

During our Zanzibar travel time, we pass a hat to collect a tip for this meal and great service. Interesting, in Tanzania tipping for food is not common and each time seems unexpected. Yet, tipping for directions, music, advice, or any number of services that we would not tip for in North America is expected.

We walk away from the home, follow a short path and arrive at a Persian bath. These baths were built for the Sultan Said’s second wife. They were used when they were hunting in the area. Sadly, the structure has not been maintained, though it is still possible to find the typical Persian motifs of birds and flowers. There is a domed roof, massage tables and a bath to inspect.

I imagine life at that time, how dear water was and is in this country. How lovely after a day of hunting to relax in this place. Still, I wonder about the rest of the people who spent the majority of their day in search of water and how they felt about this privilege. 

Top photo by Jonathan_Stonehouse

 

Stone Town, last look

We have been informed that Stone Town is a great place to purchase Tanzanite, a perfect souvenir to commemorate our Kilimanjaro climb. Tanzanite is a beautiful gemstone. Its colour changes from blue to violet in different light.  It was discovered in Northern Tanzania in 1967 by the city of Arusha and Mount Kilimanjaro.  It was named by Tiffany and Company in 2002 for Tanzania where it originated.

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We wake early to peruse the many shops selling this stone.  In Canada and Hawaii I have seen a few examples of the stone, though here in Stone Town the options are more plentiful, the deep colours more prevalent.  John remarks that they aren’t giving them away and the price is dear.  We are worried about what we are buying as we have been told to purchase from the government where we can be certain of the quality.  It is a gamble and we decide we aren’t Gamblers.

We walk down to the water and see a group of cats waiting patiently.  They are waiting for the Fishermen to bring their breakfast.  Its comical to watch them, their fear of water overriding their hunger.  There are many cats in Stone town roaming the streets.  I suspect they keep the vermin under control and are fed collectively for their efforts by the people of Stone Town as they are not scraggly or thin.  Still, they look more street wise than our pampered cats in Canada.

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We stop at our favourite coffee shop for our final latte.  There are no chain coffee shops here and we are thankful for the reprieve.  This shop is located in a bookstore, adding to its ambience.  We peruse the dusty tomes and over priced bric-a-brac and settle into the comfortable chairs and enjoy a most excellent latte.

Too soon its time to gather our too many bags and haul them down the too many stairs.  We have enjoyed our time in Stone Town a great deal.  We wish we had more time in this magical place.  We cast a look behind, hoping to return this way another day, then set our sights on what comes next.

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Enchanted Evening in Zanzibar

We dress excited about our dinner reservation. We have booked Hurumzi, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of Stone Town and on top of the elegant Emerson Hotel.

Out of respect for the many Muslims that call Stone Town home, I’m careful to cover my arms and knees and choose a dress and shawl. I twirl in front of the mirror, loving the feeling of being dressed for dinner.

We arrive at the Emerson and marvel at the stairs, each with a different rise and run. We walk slowly, carefully and concentrate on each step as we ascend.

The restaurant is small and divided. One side has proper tables and chairs, the other features a large rectangular space with floor seating. We opt for the experience, remove our shoes and stake out our pillow for the evening. Our senses absorb the surroundings. The space has Persian rugs and richly coloured pillows of varying fabrics and textures on the carpet and backrest. There are short tables throughout the space. Above our heads a canopy of silk billows in the breeze, the air perfumed. We look over the short walls and are treated to a 360 degree view of the city and ocean.

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Our waiter arrives, dressed in a white robe and a gold hat. He washes our hands with rose water and teaches us this lovely custom. The meal is set, we only need to choose between three main courses. We sip our beverage as we await our meal. The dishes are exquisite each perfectly spiced, flavourful and beautifully presented. Our hands are washed again with rose water at the end of our dining experience.

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The call to prayer is announced. In years past, the Muzim, or leader would climb to the Minaret, a slender tower with a balcony where he would announce the call to prayer. Today this task is accomplished by a loudspeaker and occurs five times a day at specific times that change with sunrise, sunset and latitude and longitude. We listen to the last prayer of the day, the sounds melodic adding to this enchanted night.

We lean back on our pillows, shifting to find comfort and watch the live entertainment. The music is called, Taarab. It is a mixture of Indian, Arab and Swahili, the result unique. The dancer is spell binding as she elegantly moves, seemingly floating, her bare feet hardly touch the ground. She effectively draws us into her exotic world.  Bongo drums play softly in the background, the silk flutters above, stars peak on either side. Beneath, the city moves and life mundane rolls onward. Up here in the stars, magic exists on this night. I close my eyes not wanting this evening to end and commit this night to memory.

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Thanks to Gilles Chartrand for the photos of this night

 Stone Town Past Preserved

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Stone town is the past preserved. Young boys chase each other through the narrow streets, adults are content to mosy. As a child I roamed my streets unfettered without a care in the world. Today at home, our children grow pasty in flesh and slack in body safe in their rooms. They scroll through a virtual world. Here in Stone town, life unfolds in real time, unplugged.

Retail is everywhere, though no big box stores exist. Quaint shops appear doorway after doorway, their items similar. The Proprieters fan themselves on their stoops and chat amicably with their competition. They beckon us to look closer. “Just look,” they say. We venture in and like the spider to the fly once in we are trapped. Haggling is the order of the day. I ask, “how much?”  She responds with a price. I recoil, suggest a lower price, she looks horrified, clucks her tongue, counters with a slightly higher price. I accept for fear of further offence. The trinket is bagged in a recycled tote and I’m released. There are shops that have inflated fixed prices. Haggling, though exhausting, yields a better deal.

We pass a group of men and boys huddled around an antiquated television complete with rabbit ears. They are watching a soccer game in the open air.  They are happy and animated, joy contagious as they cheer for their team and grumble when the opposing team has possession.  My Mom told me that years ago when televisions were expensive that department stores would display them in store windows. People would gather together to watch and share. Those days are over. In our consumer driven culture everyone seems to have at least one flat screen television, lounge chair and privacy. We trade perceived luxury for camaraderie and community.

We tour the birth home of Freddy Mercury of Queen fame. There are odd items for sale, nearly as odd as the man himself. Freddy has achieved superstardom status in the Island of Spice and is marketed for profit. He was born here though spent his youth between India and Zanzibar before settling in Great Britain. His stardom occurred years after leaving Zanzibar. The tenuous connection is a conduit for currency in Zanzibar. Still, I imagine his carefree, boyhood days on this Island a sharp contrast to the life he led as an adult

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We have learned a great deal during our tour. I’m left with a longing of times past when our life was much like this one. We have sacrificed a great deal for our modern conveniences and there is no way to turn back or stop the clock.

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Stone Town Market

We continue our tour of Stone Town.   My heart and spirit lightens as we walk away from the slave market and towards the vibrant market.

There is a richness of colour with the many spices, clothing and foods for sale. People shop daily as there is inadequate refrigeration, likely due to the antiquated electricity. I think of our home with its over sized refrigerator and extra freezer both filled to capacity for two. The contents difficult to see, too much choice leads to too much waste.

In Stone Town the food is fresh and the people close to their food. It’s disconcerting to see fish, chicken and beef still attached to its source. The fresh meat smells assault. We are removed from this at home. The animals we consume are typically pumped full of hormones. Our markets bright, meat safely stowed in a foam container, cleanly covered in plastic wrap.  Our health suffers amidst the sterility.

There are so many flies here, munching on the fish and chicken flesh. I quickly decide if I lived here I would become a vegetarian. We round the corner and I see some grapes, though on closer inspection they are covered in flies. There are no fly zones here, a keep away fly stick does its best amidst the fruit.  The fruit and vegetables seem small and less than perfect, though closer to reality. The majority of what we see would not make its way into our large supermarkets, though it would go for twice the price in an organic market, the price out of reach for most.  In Stone town, everyone eats fresh, organic produce.

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Zanzibar is the spice island. There are many vendors selling spices, the delicious smells of no interest to the flies. We linger and peruse the many options. The smells pungent, our mouths water with the possibilities. Prices are reasonable and we buy in bulk to share with friends and family at home.  We hold fresh cinnamon bark, the size of a tree limb, and learn how it grows. I think of my cinnamon dust at home, with its dear price, lack of aroma and glass jar.
We have learned so much today. We are fortunate to live where we do with our choice, clean water and reliable electricity. Still, in our want of convenience, variety and beauty I wonder what we are sacrificing in health.  There is much to ponder.

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Our clothes firmly stuck to our bodies, we open the door to our room and an air conditioned oasis greets and beckons us inward.  We happily comply and drop our bags, our cranky mood lightens as each fibre of our clothing retreats.  The room is beautiful, with high ceilings, stained glass and intricately carved doors.  The tub is odd, small, round and tiled.  There is a shower and finally I’m treated to a “Hollywood” shower and take full advantage.  We climb into our four poster bed and quickly fall deep asleep.

We awake early, excited to explore Stone town and our hotel.  We eat a hot breakfast, complete with most excellent coffee and prepare to meet the rest of the group for our formal City tour and a chance to learn.

The Guide explains some of the features of the doors that we admire.  I decide today I will photograph doors and envision creating a montage of sorts once I get home. I happily snap away while the Guide narrates.  He tells us that carved chains around the doors informs people that a Slave Trader lived at that address.

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If there was raised brass on the doors, it was designed to keep elephants away.  I wonder if that would work thinking of the elephants we just saw in Tarangire ripping apart the baobab trees with little effort.  Its unlikely that it would work, but is pretty and decorative.

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The town has effectively preserved its past.  There is an Arabian influence and the predominant religion is Muslim, though other faiths are also represented.  Everyone seems to live in relative harmony.  The electrical wires above our heads are ancient and not to code.  It is amazing that there is any electricity and that the place has not burned to the ground.

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There are many clocks in this town, but none tell the current time.  Still, they are correct twice per day. There are vendors each sitting outside their tiny shops, beckoning to the people that pass, each claiming that they have the best price.  We have no time to shop, but promise we will be back later.  They shrug, their livelihood is not dependent on whether we purchase, there is less desperation here.

We walk to where the Slave Trading occurred, sadly not so long ago. We are taken to a holding area where the Slaves were kept prior to going to market. It is a sad place with a small window to the outside and chains to leash people inside, it is oppressive. The Guide shows us the whipping post outside where the Slaves were whipped to separate the strong from the weak.  The stronger would fetch a better price.  The Guide tells us that the Slaves would adopt a saying, “Lay down your hearts, for now you are slaves.”  They would accept their lot, as to fight and struggle would be futile.

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It is always moments like this that I’m ashamed to be Caucasion. The Guide helps to lift some guilt when he  tells us that in many cases the people were stolen from their villages, or lied to about work,  by their own people who would profit by providing people to Slave Traders.  Many Slave traders were from the same country too, though of course many Slaves were eventually sold to Caucasians in other parts of the world.  It seems as though there was plenty of blame to go around.

Travelling to Stone Town, Zanzibar

We bump along safari rutted roads which soon change to a pock marked road and then to a smooth highway where we zip along at what feels like breakneck speed.  I check the speedometer and we are not speeding, just a sharp contrast to the last week of crawling along in search of animals.

I’m excited for the next part of the trip where we will be sleeping in real beds and have the opportunity to be clean daily.  I look out the window at the scenery that passes too quickly, though at times details are clear.  People sit on the porches, lounging in the hot sun, while the work of their homes piles up around them.  I mentally complete the work of painting, repairing and landscaping to create a prettier picture.  There seems to be no urgency here.  I wonder how the people are able to relax with so much work?  Perhaps there is a balance and my life and the one viewed here are at either end of the spectrum.  I wonder if my seemingly endless lists of to-do’s and must-do’s rob me of the present.

We meet up with the other group to tour a coffee plantation.  John and I are excited about the prospect of a proper cup of coffee.  We stand through the inservice of how coffee is made, though there is no opportunity to either sample the wares or to purchase a cup of joe.  I think of how this could be marketed and envision a coffee shop where one could buy a coffee and have a snack while relaxing in the beauty of the plantation.  I wonder why this has not been created and decide that the only ones that would partake would be tourist folks who have been on a camping safari and have climbed Kilimanjaro without a proper cup of coffee.  Its still a pretty place and there is a proper toilet that includes toilet paper.  I wash my hands and let the water run over them, while I wash them not once, twice, but three times.  I look in the mirror and for the first time in a week look at my face.  I smile at my reflection, happy to be back to civilization.

We arrive in Arusha, a third world place mixed with first world, a city struggling to be current.  The car horns honk incessantly while the goats amble down the centre of the road.  There are smooth concrete sidewalks that gradually turn to rubble.  There are people begging for food while they stand in front of a restaurant.  There are well made buildings, high-rises mixed with shantytowns.  There are many big name companies represented, and I wonder about the salaries that are earned.

We stop at a gift shop, there are no locals shopping here, it has been created for tourists.  It is a pretty place, with sculptures, restaurants, coffee shops and expensive bric-a-brac. It is an oasis in a sea of poverty.  I feel guilty, as its clear this place is not open to the people who live in this city, the people that call Africa home.  This pretty place is for the pampered, spoiled people who only visit. For two weeks we have had the opportunity of seeing the place on the same level as the guides and now we are back to being sheltered from the people.  Our experience will now be more pedestrian and like the sculptures surrounding us, fake.

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We meet with the Director of our Safari experience.  She asks us for feedback, we  provide, though its soon clear that she is only interested in positive feedback.  She seems to regard us as spoiled.  It is doubtful that any of our suggestions will be put to use for subsequent groups.

We find out from her that our flight to Stone Town, Zanzibar will be delayed for several hours.  At first it will be four hours, then later we are told it will be six hours. They have found a Safari lodge for us to wait.  We have no rooms, no access to showers, but we are in a pretty place.  There is a pool, bar and restaurant.  Our mountain of luggage and lounging bodies occupy a large portion of the bar area.  I order a cheeseburger and fries and  relish every bite.  It tastes most excellent and rivals any burger I’ve had back home in  beef country, Alberta.

It’s finally time to go to the airport.  We get through customs as a group and then sit around and wait as minutes turn to hours and then several more, Africa time.  In what seems like forever, the time arrives to board the plane to Zanzibar.  We have been waiting all day.  We arrive the next day at 1:00 a.m.  The humidity immediately assaults despite the early hour.  My clothes instantly stick to my body and my body greedily sucks up the moisture.

We are greeted by our tour guide, such a friendly man with a beautiful smile.  We begin to walk towards the waiting bus and then a shout causes us to abruptly stop.  One suitcase has gone missing and we must all check our bags against the claim checks to find out the claim check that corresponds to the missing bag.  This is akin to solving the theory of relativity at this very late hour.  We all work through this task and the bag is found after checking the last tag.  We climb aboard the air conditioned bus and amble through the narrow streets of Stone Town.  I’m excited to explore in the light of day, but for now my eyes are forward as I travel ever closer to a shower.  We arrive at the Dhow Palace, obtain our room keys and haul our too many bags up the three flights of stairs to our room.

Walking with the Ranger

We pack our camp and prepare for our walk with the Ranger and our drive to our final park, Tarangire.

The Ranger greets us and leads us along the top of Ngorongoro crater where we have an aerial view of the caldera. He smiles but is a man of no words intent on his task of leading our group. John tells me later that the gun he carried would not have been effective against predators. Good thing we only saw four donkeys!  Good thing John kept this knowledge to himself.

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Kilimanjaro fallout continues to pester as I have no feeling in several toes and each step I’m reminded how much I’ve come to rely on all ten. I wonder if the feeling will ever return, or if this is my new normal?

We arrive back at the Safari vehicle, say goodbye to the Ranger and begin our vehicle climb out of Ngorongoro. It is beautiful, lush and green; a sharp contrast to the dust bowl of the caldera.

We see young Maasai men with their faces painted and heads shaved. Stephen tells us that they have just been circumcised. He further advises that during the surgery the boy receives no medicine and must not move a muscle or cry as this would bring shame to his family. He must be a warrior.  Girls are also circumcised and they are allowed to cry though they must not kick at the knife. It is a harsh coming of age.

We meet up with the Lodge group at our lunch break. It’s always a treat to stop at places where we can shop and have the potential for cold ginger pop or even a cup of brewed coffee. The retail shops and restaurants are set up for Safari folks with their inflated prices and costly brik a brak. We buy only a few trinkets as the shopkeepers are not interested in haggling. A few minutes up the road, Stephen stops to purchase cigarettes for John. He leaves us and instantly the vehicle is surrounded. We are offered sale day pricing for nearly identical merchandise and we happily purchase.  In seconds the word is out and layers of people converge asking, then begging us to buy. The prices drop, we are tempted and buy again, a thick glut surrounds our vehicle and our senses are in overload. Stephen returns and shoos everyone away and we are off.

We continue our journey to Tarangire. We are close as we see a sign with a picture of lions in trees. Stephen tells us we may see this at Lake Manyara, the only place where lions climb trees.  It is believed the they have adapted to get away from the tse tse flies, though this is only one thought. A few moments later we see a small pride of lions in a tree. We watch for some time as the cub tries to find a comfortable position. I wonder if the fire department would attempt a rescue?

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We arrive at our campsite, our last home for the final two nights of our Safari. Our site is next to a dry river bed and the centre is a large baobab tree. It is pretty and somewhat shaded but the neighbours are less than desirable as we step out of the vehicle and begin swatting tse tse flies and bees.

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Our water for washing is thick with bees. This is the end of the dry season and the bees are thirsty. I quickly wash and then throw away the water attempting to redirect the bees from the door to our tent.  We swat constantly and shortly it becomes exhausting. I think if I lived here, I would adapt and wonder if the lions are on to something?  We retreat to the swat free zone of our tent and read before dinner. The situation improves dramatically as night falls and the pests sleep.

I lay awake concerned as our campsite is exposed and we are in the tent farthest from the Guides. I’m in the farther cot and only the canvas separates me from the many predators.  It is at moments like this I wish for the safety of a proper structure. John sleeps well, perhaps he doesn’t want to feel it coming?  I remain alert for both of us until I succumb to sleep and dreams.

Thankful

The night is magical as the stars peak through the canopy of trees above. We sit around the campfire and wait to be called for dinner. I think of our family and the Thanksgiving dinner that will be enjoyed half a world away. There will be too much food and too many choices, thanks difficult due to the sheer abundance of things to be thankful and yet little appreciation. We seem always searching to find thanks in our world of plenty. Tonight our thanks is crystal in its clarity. We have little of our typical comforts and abundance and yet in a small campground in Africa I look to the heavens and give thanks for life, for sight, for love. I am at peace.

Dinner is served and is special as we have all purchased wine and share with each other. Our meal is a simple stew, our mood festive.  The usual fare is extra tasty tonight. We each share what we are thankful for on this night. I’m thankful for John’s understanding, tolerance and love when I’m at my least loveable. We are both thankful for our family and our newest grandson. Collectively, we are thankful for the opportunity to travel, access to clean water and our new friends. We smile at each other under the glow of the camping lights and commit this night to memory.

After dinner we gather again at the campfire, our bellies full, wine in hand and chat. We learn more about each other. Stephen explains the education system in Tanzania. He has two sons, they wear uniforms to school and education is critical to achieving a better life. Our Canadian group talks of the places we would like to visit and what is next on our agendas. Stephen is strangely silent. I ask him if he travels and he tells us that this is not possible. It is not easy for a Tanzanian to travel freely. Many countries are concerned that they will not leave once they arrive. We are silent as we imagine what it would be like to not have this freedom, to have a passport that closed doors. Hussein joins us and we chat about religion. He tells us that his friends and family wonder how he can spend time with us as we are not Muslim. Stephen explains the difference between Muslims and Christians. He says that if a church of Christians are praying and a group of Muslims gather and state that the people in the church are stupid, the Christians would be tolerant. If the opposite were to occur, the Muslims would defend their religion using whatever means was required. Hussein smiled and agreed. It is an interesting glimpse into a different belief system. Its interesting that everyone’s beliefs are so intertwined into the fabric of their being. It is thought provoking to hear another way. We fall silent thinking about the words that have been spoken. On this night, we have solved the worlds problems as we are understanding of differences and not needing or wanting to force change.

We are soon off to bed. We will stay here two nights, and are excited about not needing to pack up tomorrow or drive around aimlessly at the end of the day while Stephen and Hussein shout into the radio at our camp staff, as our camp is not ready, yet again. They speak in Swahili but we have become experts at picking up non verbal cues and listening for the click of Stephen’s tongue and rapid head shake that symbolize his displeasure.

We sleep sound content with our full bellies, wine buzz and knowledge that the Maasai warrior will keep us safe from any predator.

Meeting the Maasai

We are on the move. The days are predictable and the program imposed. In many ways we are children, being told what will happen next and having little say in where we will go, or what we will eat.  I’m out of my comfort zone where I call the shots minute by minute.

We climb into our safari vehicle arrange our gear and prepare for another long day. I’m always bitter at the beginning of the day, my mood improving with each animal sighting and subsequent photo. We are on our way to Ngorongoro Crater and to get there will travel out of the Serengeti.

The animals are so plentiful and we stop for a time to watch the Wildebeests and Zebra decide whether they should cross the dry river bed to follow the rains.  Stephen knowingly advises that their survival depends on this decision. The Wildebeests look confused and I recognize this immediately having been lost in more than one subdivision, looking for a patient’s home.  The Wildebeests have an extra level of difficulty as they need to pass by crocodiles who are waiting to cull the herd, whereas my lack of direction will only make me late.   We ask if they should cross and Stephen tells us they are already on the correct side. The lead Wildebeest is in charge of making a decision for the herd and lacks GPS, he must go on instinct.  We are kindred spirits and I send good thoughts to the leader that they will stay where they be. It’s a harsh place where wrong decisions can mean the end of life.

SONY DSCWe meet up with the remainder of our group.  It’s great to see them, unfortunately, Illness and sunburn has plagued some of them. We chat about the animals we have seen and our respective accommodations. They are staying in lodges.   John has found fresh brewed coffee, wine and pringles. I’m in love all over again with him, such a treat. The place we have stopped is set up for tourists, complete with proper toilets and running water.  I linger and enjoy soap and savour the moment by allowing the warm water to run over my hands.   We enjoy our boxed lunches and sit at tables surrounded by an oasis.  Too soon we are off bouncing along in our respective safari vehicles.

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A short distance away, Stephen stops the vehicle,  reaches for the binoculars and tells us he spies a Cheetah. We are awestruck that he can see a speck on the horizon and know its a Cheetah.  When asked, he smiles and with an expanse of his arms he gestures at all we can see and tells us this is his office.

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We are asked if we want to stop at an authentic Maasai village. The consensus is yes though our decision is motivated chiefly by a chance to get out of the vehicle. The cost is $50.00 per Safari vehicle. The Maasai who appears at the window to collect our money sports an expensive watch. It seems there is nothing authentic here. We leave the vehicle and they dance for us just outside their village. The focus of the dance is jumping high. We are then split into groups of two each with our own guide and enter the village.

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We duck inside a home and as our eyes adjust to the darkness, gradually the space comes into focus. It’s small and smoky as fires are lit inside with little ventilation. It is the job of the female to build the home, while men are valued for their herding and hunting skills. The children are filthy and all seem to be suffering from illness. Later Stephen tells us many of them suffer from AIDS. We are ushered around a circle of items that they want us to buy. As we walk it is clear that the lives of the women and children will not change with the buying of a trinket and though there is not much I can do for them, I choose to not buy to fund another watch. The man walking us around is not happy with this decision and the tour for us is at an end.  He begins to usher us out when I remind him we have not seen the school as promised.  He brightens and ushers us into a dismal building, says something to the teachers and students and we are treated to stares by all. We go to leave and are asked for a donation to support the school. We decline and are given the bum’s rush out the back entrance.  We hear from the others in our vehicle that  if a trinket was bought, the children in the school would perform.  We all agree this is a tourist trap.

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A very short distance away we see authentic villages, children waving with happy smiles and families proud and hard at work. It costs us nothing extra.  We travel through this area and see children tending goats, some as young as 4 or 5 years.  They seem happy, though I can’t help but think that their childhood is compromised.

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We stop at our home for the night, tucked into the woods with a canopy of trees overhead.  Its beautiful.  A Maasai warrior will stay the night with us.  Stephen tells  us that they are paid as we are camping on their land.  The Maasai is friendly and helps with the chores needed to make dinner and camp. I know that I will enjoy a deep sleep comfortable in the protection of the Maasai warrior

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Lions

We finish our lunch and are on the move.  We travel a short distance, and Stephen points out the Cape Buffalo that was watching us eat. I did not realize how dangerous Buffalo are, a member of the big five. Stephen tells us that the big 5 are the 5 animals that are most challenging to kill. There have been instances of injured Cape Buffalo attacking the hunter when maimed. They are very interesting to photograph with their hairless human like face and perpetual bad hair day.

Cape Buffalo

We are told we will see at least four of the big five but depending on our luck we may or may not see the elusive rhino. It’s sad that the poachers take their horn and leave their carcass to rot. The horn is apparently an aphrodisiac and fetches a high price. Money is always in short supply in this country and I’m not sure who my anger should be directed, the consumer or the poacher. It’s complex I decide and unsolvable by me at present. I’m mad at everyone

We continue bouncing along. Hussein, the driver of the other Safari vehicle spends much time on the radio and stops to chat with everyone that passes. He gains valuable intel in this manner.

There is electricity in the air and we are off speeding over the terrain. A leopard has been spotted. We arrive to a glut of safari vehicles on both sides of a gully. I position my camera, ready. The leopard bursts through the brush and despite having the camera set to burst I repeatedly miss the shot. It’s exciting and I force myself to control my breathing to steady. John fares better as his approach is one of studied anticipation and he waits for the shot and is rewarded. We stare at the beautiful spots and strong body on our small camera screen while the scene unfolds in real time. We set the camera aside for now and watch. We are in the moment. The leopard seems agitated with our attention, I voice my concerns, Stephen agrees and we move along in search of other subjects.

Leopard

Zebra, Wildebeests, and Buffalo barely warrant a second glance, their numbers so plentiful on the Serengeti. It’s difficult to believe that only yesterday we were excited to see one, now we look beyond them for rarer sightings.

Serengeti

We see groups of Giraffes coming from all directions congregating in a gully. They float across the land and we compare their spots. We never learn why they meet here. We never tire of watching.

Giraffes

There is more excitement and we are told Lions have been found. As we bounce along, I imagine they will be far away and hope we can get a few good photos. We arrive and I can scarcely believe my eyes, they are only a few feet away. This is a small pride. There are a few females, babies and a single male. He is young with his barely there mane. I had secretly hoped for a larger mane but we have to start somewhere.

Later, we see larger prides, males with full manes, males with scars, lions with full bellies next to a zebra carcass and lions in the process of making little lions. They are secure on the top of the food chain, our presence only warrants a slight glance, a lazy roll over and then they fall back to sleep.

Sleeping lions

It’s late now, our day in the vehicle reaches it’s 12 hour mark as we make our way to our home for the night. We eat our dinner and go quiet as we listen to the sounds of the female lions calling their babies a short distance away.

Searching for Animals on the Serengeti

The hot African sun heats the canvas and makes it uncomfortable to sleep or linger. It’s 6 am and we are on the move.  We pack our luggage and load it into the safari vehicle. The tents and remainder of the camp will be dismantled and reassembled for our arrival at the next camp. We eat breakfast and finally, I’m able to eat something. I remain cautious and eat little and slow and hope today is the turning point.

We assemble our camera gear, review the shots from yesterday and decide that the best shots will be with the 500mm lens. We attach the beanbag to the camera and put the binoculars in the seat pocket. We slather on sunscreen, don sunglasses and prepare to spend the next ten hours inside the safari vehicle.

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We 4×4 our way on roads that are virtually nonexistent.  They are created by animals and widened by Safari vehicles and erosion. Nausea pesters and intensifies with each pothole. I try to focus on taking pictures and the nausea takes a back seat temporarily. We have put in an order for chips, and ginger drink and I look forward to tonight knowing this will help.

We focus our eyes and search for animals. Stephen and others in our group are amazing at this task. I zoom in on the blob they point to on the horizon and soon an elephant comes into focus. My nausea is forgotten as I happily snap away. There are so many animals on the Serengeti and far more than I imagined.

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We see Lions lazing on the rocks, covered in flies and stretched out without a care in the world. They know their place as the top of the food chain and conserve their energy for when they need to exert themselves to chase down a zebra dinner or a gazelle snack.

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John and I take turns with the camera. It’s nice to be able to just look and see without figuring out angles and the next shot. John spends much time photographing a Baboon eating a mushroom. Forty-two pictures later he is sated.  We are thankful for digital photography.

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Stephen shuts the engine off when we are photographing to avoid any excess shake, still there is movement every time someone shifts position, stands or sits and there are six of us in the vehicle all moving at any given time. The Silver Pod bean bag works great to stabilize the camera.  This was an inexpensive item that I had researched and obtained prior to leaving for our trip.  It is perfect.  We are giddy at times as we look at our results in the small screen.

We park by a large tree and get out of the vehicle. We are each given a boxed lunch prepared ahead of time and enjoy the offerings of chicken, juice, cucumber sandwich, peanuts, chips and a muffin. There is enough food to feed a thrashing crew as opposed to sedentary safari vehicle dwellers. Stephen tells us that predators are near and we chuckle.  Still, I wonder if he is trying to tell us to stay alert?   My relaxing lunch is over as I scan the area continually.  I am not interested in being lunch for one of the many predators on the Serengeti.

Serengeti camping

We arrive at our campsite, our home for the night. The tents are set up and instantly I’m disappointed. Our lodging is small canvas tents. My research suggested spacious tents with double beds and sheets. We are in a special campsite and would not share the space with another group, unfortunately, all nine of us would use the same chemical toilet and rustic shower. We will live like this for the next week. I’m still ill and I retreat to our tent with its two single cots and sleeping bags and cry. John comforts me but soon he is called away. John is the spokesman for our group and he must negotiate for all our group and their demands. He acquires toilet paper and the promise of towels and listens to the growing complaints.

Soon, it’s time to eat. I’m still not hungry though eventually I sit with the others and pick at the food. Hot chocolate is an addition, milo, tea and instant coffee the same as Kilimanjaro. The food is okay, passable. I have no appetite and it does not matter.

The toilet is not cleaned regularly and frequently runs out of paper. It is dismal. We have paid so much money for such poor conditions. We have also been given a letter from the tour company explaining how much we are expected to tip each worker at the end of the Safari. It’s not really a tip but rather a surcharge and an expectation. It seems as though we pay twice and again I wonder how many of the thousands of dollars already paid ends up in these men’s pockets. I suspect none and few dollars have been utilized to make the experience comfortable. I imagine the majority of money has been used to grease hands and line pockets of people we will never meet.

My mood is foul. I stay up for a time and stare into the flames of the campfire and then we retreat to our tent. Luckily, we packed headlamps. We have brought too many clothes, our gear inappropriate. We streamline all useless items into our largest suitcase and put it in the safari vehicle where it will remain. I wish we had been more prepared.

The animals today were amazing and I remind myself that we are here to take photos, which will be incredible. We opted for an experience and a chance to depart from our comfort zone. I tell myself these things as I drift off to sleep listening to sounds I’ve never heard while I lay in a tent pitched on the Serengeti. Okay, this is pretty cool.

Traveling to Africa

Hurry up and wait.
We boarded yesterday at midnight and after a day of traveling, time changes we wait in Ethiopia airport for a plane
Time here seems to be a fluid concept. The typical TV sets letting folks know which terminal, gate, flight number and whether it is on time or delayed seems off and doesn’t have all flights listed. There is no urgency here so we acquiesce and sit and wait and then wait some more
Ethiopian airlines was a pleasant surprise. Attentive to our needs, both real and perceived–blankets, pillows, headsets and more food and drinks then on any recent flight. It was like air travel used to be–nice!
Many beautiful dresses and head covers. One Man praying on his mat and a large number of people wearing hiking boots round out the mix of folks at the Ethiopia airport
Then the delay is over, the plane has arrived and we all herd to board en masse.
We arrive and are treated to more lines as we are deemed healthy enough to enter. We are fingerprinted and then collect our bags, walk through customs and outside. It’s hot but we have water waiting for us. Our luggage is loaded on the roof of the bus and we amble off to our final destination today, The Parkview Hotel
I sit here poolside and look into the distance where I see Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain is gorgeous, looks just like its pictures; however it does look larger in real life. Tomorrow we will begin our ascent. I am so very excited and lucky to have this opportunity. To the top!

Packing and Preparation

Packing a suitcase usually done last minute– this trip has had us packing and preparing for one year.  Last night we finished after a final 4 hour marathon to make it all fit, to remove what seemed to be oh so very necessary, to add things that likely are really necessary and still…I wonder what I’ve forgotten.  Packing for all the seasons, packing light, thinking about layering, adding items that likely can’t be purchased are just some of the many considerations.

Glitches will occur, but how we respond to each will make or break the moment. I’m aiming for allowing mishaps and misadventures to roll off my back and adopting the serenity prayer for the majority of the trip.  Last night my camera decided to break.  Today we will buy a new one, lucky that we can, fortunate that it broke last night, and finally its one of three cameras that will be making the journey–so it never would have been a large problem.  We could not check in on Air Canada, but we are not alone in that concern, we will check in at the airport and deal with it that time.

The neighbors are taking care of our home and cats and we are so very fortunate to have a subdivision of neighbors that we call friends.  Our puppies are off to have their vacation at their kennel.  I’ve paid our bills, organized our bills for the next few weeks, suspended services and done all that is needed to leave the country.  We have downloaded movies, books, and games to keep us occupied.  We have figured out when to take our malaria pills and have read through one more time the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness.

While we are gone, the world will keep on.  Our second grandchild will be born sometime on this trip.  We pray for health and wellness of our family’s newest addition, and fervently hope that one day our children and grandchildren will continue to have opportunities for adventure in their lives.

The last few weeks we have received so many messages of good will via email, text, phone call or in person.  We will take each of you with us as we journey to the roof of Africa, adventure on Safari and rest on the beaches of Zanzibar. It will certainly be an incredible journey.  To the top!

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Destination Kilimanjaro.  It was a year ago that I read that email.

Preparing for this great adventure has been a lesson in delaying gratification.  The entire year has been devoted to working, training and planning for a trip that will commence in just three short days.  I had been looking for something to challenge me, to take me out of the comfortable cocoon that had become my life–I knew at first read that this was the opportunity.  The search was over!

I remember the first time I decided on a minus 30 degree day to climb the stairs in my home.  I did this without hiking boots and pack, just in socks.  I went up and down the stairs for 20 minutes.  I was crippled for days after this challenge.  Who knew that months later I would climb 1600 stairs in 30 minutes on my lunch break and that some weeks I would do this 3 times in a week without any pain during or after.

I recall hiking in the winter and how sore I was after just a few short hours.  I was so pleased  with the level of fitness attained since, when just a few weeks ago I hiked for nearly 9 hours and was disappointed that we had to finish the hike as it was getting dark.

I had many illnesses and injuries, but I do know that I did all that I could to achieve this great goal.  I worked hard and at times three different jobs were juggled to make it all fit to pay for this trip.  I worked hard at our home, staining and painting the house, maintaining the garden, doing yard work, dealing with the dogs, cats, house and all that is required for Summertime at the acreage.

I cycled, biked, hiked, ran, stair climbed, hill climbed and mountain climbed. I woke up at 0300 and drove to hike in Nordegg, then drove home to care for the dogs.  I hiked with lung infections, sore knees, sore hips, sore feet and when exhausted to prepare for Kilimanjaro tough.  I read books about this great mountain, visualized the route, practiced breathing,  meditated and did yoga.  I prayed that we will finish the climb together, that our group will all make the journey to the top,  and asked anyone I met to pray for us.  I kept a journal, a calendar to keep track of my training and another to keep track of my jobs.  Preparing to climb Kilimanjaro was a priority for my life this past year.  When I could not make group workouts, I did more at home to make up for the fact that I did not attend. When walking was difficult due to one of the many injuries, I did core exercises twice per day to strengthen–it worked.  I went to my doctor more than I have in any recent year.   To determine the nature of my pain, I had a bone scan, x-ray and consult with a Sports physician. Convinced I was likely too fat for my body,  I lost over 30 pounds and many inches and that is what made all the difference.  I’ve met many great new friends and learned some of the stories of their lives as we hiked together.  I hope that we will remain friends after we have shared this amazing experience together

I know that the mountain will change me. I am hoping to leave some of my less admiral traits on the roof of Africa.  I will take people with me in spirit–my grandparents, parents, patients that have passed and patients that I currently care and have the honor of being a part of their lives at present.  I will think of my daughters, my grandson and new grandchild and hope that their lives will always be full of adventure, that they will never allow their live to be limited and that they will always aim high.

I will use this as a launch to the next chapter of my life.

I have no idea what the future brings–how many more years that I have left to live, but I do know that I will continue to live every day with intent and purpose.  I will continue to challenge myself physically, mentally and spiritually.  I will not sleep walk through life, nor take the days for granted.  I will continue to learn, grow and develop to become the best that I can be in this life.

I do know that I have done all that I can to achieve this great feat and I’m ready.  To the Top!