Our African adventure really begins in Detroit. Mike and I sit at the airport bar to have our bon voyage beer. Glasses clink, drinks go down – great start already. Next to us at the bar sits a tired, anxious looking man. Nervous flyer maybe? He turns to ask if we’re on the Amsterdam flight to which we nod. He double checks the time of departure to which we answer. Conversation begins. His dad passed yesterday and he’s on his way home to Denmark for the first time in 4 years. They were close, the Dane and his dad. He looks near 50, but I’m sure the passing of a parent would temporarily add a few years to one’s face. Visibly needing someone to talk to he tells us his story – At 35 he needed an adventure and left his home country to live abroad for the first time. He lived in Alaska where he ran survivor expeditions for adventurous tourists, then to West Virginia to train police dogs and most recently to Toronto where he met his wife and decided to settle. The man drinks a bit more beer and then, presumably contemplating life and his great loss, says that in all of his travels the one great thing that he has learned is that material things aren’t real. Family, friends and traveling to learn new things about the world, other lives and yourself, well that’s where it’s at. You really can’t take it with you. He’s right, of course, and there’s weight to his delivery and his words that make them real and somewhat momentous. However, in our vacation mentality we simply nod in agreement and probably, and slightly awkwardly, say the wrong thing. Time’s up. We say our forever goodbyes and board our flight.
Let me preface the below w/ the fact that I’m not a TZ travel expert, but here are some tidbits of info I gathered before and during my travel to TZ and a few I wish I knew prior.
To do and not to do:
Do: Learn basics in Swahili. Just as the french say “Bonjour or Bonswa” with each meeting of a person, Tanzanians say Jambo or Mambo to mean “hello”, “how’s it going” to each passer-by. Not to be confused with Jamba, which means “fart”. We were lucky to have Mike’s brother, Brian, but I do wish I spent a bit more time learning the basics.
Don’t: Southpaws, this is for you. As my friend Trinka thankfully informed me prior to my trip, do not eat with your left hand, especially a shared dish. Using silverware w/ my left hand seemed to be okay, but shared finger dishes are a plenty here and considering the left hand is traditionally meant to wipe what your mama gave ya, it is considered faux pas to eat or shake hands w/ your left.
Do: Pack a head lamp. Electricity isn’t always available and when it is, there’s a chance it could fail.
Do: Pack wet wipes. Along w/ electricity, showers aren’t always accessible, especially w/ hot water. I packed a few packs of these wipes and went through every last one. Along these same lines, pack some travel kleenex packs to double as toilet paper. TP isn’t always available because, as mentioned above, Tanzanians often use their hands and some water in a nearby bucket. I was happy to have the option.
Don’t: Dress without the culture in mind. Tanzania is a traditional country with blend of Muslim and Christian so dress with respect of this. Women should cover their shoulders and wear loose fitting pants or skirts down to mid calf. The Tanzanian cities are a bit less traditional when it comes to clothing, especially w/ tourists, but you’ll feel more comfortable wherever you go in the appropriate duds. Beyond the culture, wear more neutral colors on safari. Also, the tsetse fly is attracted to shades of blue and black.
Do: Pack some form of motion sickness medication if you ever find it necessary to take. Between the pot-holed dirt roads and flying speeds, screeching stops of the bus, I found it helpful. I did buy mine in a pharmacy while there. However, it cost me $10.
Don’t: Forget earplugs. Besides the long flight with a strong chance of an “adorable” screaming child, wildlife is like a college campus and only gets louder at night. Mike took a pair and slept like a champ as I tossed and turned a night or two without them.
Do: Haggle! The markets for goods and food have no set pricing. You can always get them down because prices will surreptitiously be marked higher for tourists. However, don’t forget that you’re sometimes haggling over a couple of dollars or less, so if you have it to spare, maybe let the seller win this round. Also, do prepare yourself for getting bombarded in busy markets. Sales tactics here are to ambush you with questions or get you to look at their goods until you buy something. I came back w/ a few unnecessary items due to this. Hey, it works!
Don’t: Take US dollars older than 2006. They won’t be accepted in most places. Also, 20’s have the lowest exchange rate. 50’s are better and 100’s the best for the exchange rate, but harder to receive change. Almost everywhere accepted U.S. dollars, fyi. We always had shillings on hand just in case. You’re able to get shillings out of the ATM’s.
This and that:
After knowing all that Brian has done for his village of Ilongero while working w/ the Peace Corps and seeing the library first-hand, I am now adding The Peace Corps to my annual donations. If you’re interested you can hop onto their website and peruse different grants. 100% of your donation goes to the project of your choosing. My guess is that under 50 people donated to the library so it goes to show that you really can make a difference.
Safari means “journey” or “trip” in Swahili. A journey indeed – beyond visiting The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, we were also able to plan day trips and set up pick-up/drop-off at the airport w/ the same company, Original Tanzania. This was great because we were with the same guides so you’re able to develop a relationship and share an openness with questions. This helps to create a more unique and better learning experience, not only concerning wildlife, but also the culture. Mgosi (pictured below 2nd from left) even called us one evening that we weren’t with them just to ensure we made it home safely. They also set up every hotel, campsite, etc. Sarah was our contact person w/ O.T. She was extremely patient w/ our many questions and took the worry out of the planning our of our once in a lifetime African journey.
There are plenty of places to stay in Arusha that may be fancier than the ones we chose w/ Sarah through O.T., but as travelers we prefer the lower-key places that are a bit more affordable and more true to the experience. That being said, they had warm showers, comfy beds and felt completely safe. The two I recommend are The Outpost Lodge and Ilboru Safari Lodge.
We tried many Tanzanian dishes that were splendid! Don’t pass up the red or mini bananas (I don’t know exactly what the little guys were called). I’m a vegetarian and had zero difficulty finding food that fit my dietary needs. Some local dishes to try are Ugali, which is basically a cornmeal porridge and Chipsi Mayai, which seems to be a french fry omlet. Add a little pilipili sauce (Tanzanian chili sauce) and it’s simply divine! I ate the latter no less than 5x during our two week trip. I said vegetarian dishes were easy to find, but I never said they’d be the healthiest options. Anyways, fries should be a vacation staple! Also, if you’re using a safari company, don’t forget to ask if you’ll have a cook in your trips (I believe most do) and let them know if you have any dietary restrictions. Mgosi, our chef, made the most wonderful vegetarian dishes for me. We ate a crusted vegetarian quiche for breakfast one morning! The boys ate goat, chicken and beef all cooked and spiced perfectly. The food was heavenly!
As you can see from most of the pics, there are two items that I used every single day of the trip. I used them to block sun from my forehead, keep my hair out of my face and to keep warm on chilly nights. I highly recommend these two for travel due to their multi-purposes: My scarf and my head wrap.
Blame it on naivety, blame it on the news, blame it on the 8 “pre-cautionary” vaccinations I received to go on this trip – whatever the reason was, I was a bit nervous before heading to Africa. I read numerous stories about negative happenings to locals and tourists, but then I realized that, consciously or not, I was searching for the bad. I started to spin my search differently and quickly realized that the positives FAR outweighs the negatives. As with any city, take precautions with your belongings and yourself. The same could be said for Paris, NYC, Chicago, Rio, etc. I’m happy to say that I never once felt unsafe and can’t wait to travel here again!
Kwaheri and Asante!
A few through the eye of the camera:
(see the rest here)