Started early today, 6:30, at the request of Joan, our safari driver. He claimed that it’s better to see animals in the early hours of the morning. We’ve gotten accustomed to reusing the same clothing for multiple days in a row, so I didn’t care much about putting on the same t-shirt and khaki shorts I wore yesterday. My lips were pretty chapped thanks to the dry African winter air, but so were everybody else’s so I didn’t mind.
The weather was perfect that morning, and I stood outside our tent at breakfast and watched the sunrise, for the first time in my life, as far as I can remember. What place could be better for a first sunrise than the flat grassy plains of the Serengeti? (check out the new header picture at the top of the page, it’s of the sunrise this morning).
We headed out on a morning safari, which started out very slow. We saw a lot of jeeps stopped in one place, so we expected something cool, but it turned out to be a lion in the distance, obscured by grass. At this point we were all feeling a bit underwhelmed. However, Joan took us on a different road, where we didn’t see any other jeeps nearby. We drove quietly along for a few minutes, watching the horizon for signs of movement, when we glanced an lone elephant in the distance ahead of us. Our spirits rose at this sighting, but we didn’t yet know what we were in for. We creeped up as close as possible on the road, about a hundred meters from the elephant, killed the motor, and waited. The huge animal turned towards us and started walking, slowly, in the direction of our car. Joan told us that elephants hate loud noises, so we stayed as quiet as possible, as the elephant crossed the road 15 feet in front of our car. I recorded the whole encounter on video.
Later in the safari we saw a herd of almost 20 thirsty elephants kicking a lioness out of her position on a river bank to drink. We also found a pride of lions napping under a tree, as well as some cheetahs in the distance.
We went back to the campsite for lunch, then packed up and headed towards our lodge at the Ngorongoro (pronounced “en-gore-on-gore-oh”) Crater. On the drive out of the Serengeti we caught a lioness, crouched in the grass, eying a huge hartebeest about 400 meters away. We were also approached by a young Maasai boy on the road, running up to us, and we expected him to ask us for money. Instead, he simply said “maji,” water. I had grabbed an extra (and free) bottle of water from the campsite before we left, so I handed it to him, and he smiled and thanked us as we drove on our way.
Omari had told us a lot about the Maasai Tribe at dinner a few nights ago. They’re the biggest tribe in Tanzania, and they mostly herd cattle and live in small villages. He explained that the only duty of the young men is to protect the cattle and raid cattle from other villages. According to him, the tribe believes that all cattle on earth rightfully belongs to them, and that a Maasai elder who owns more than 5000 heads of cattle will believe he is the richest man in the world. Men who kill a lion that has stolen cattle from the tribe, using only a spear and shield, will be granted a wife by a village elder. With men herding flocks across huge valleys right outside my window, I thought a lot about the Maasai (and cattle) on the long drive to the Crater.
Outside our lodge, we found many Maasai crafts for sale. We asked Joan why the Maasai would need shillings from tourists buying their wares. We hadn’t seen any of them carrying things you would buy in town, only the plain, red robes and humble sandals. Of course, Joan’s answer was simply, “ to buy cattle.” This really shocked me. I thought about all the tourists we had seen, and how so many of them will return home with Maasai necklaces or spears to tell their friends how primitive and backwards the Maasai tribal culture is. They’ll say how thankful they are for their tv and car and exercise machine, but they’ll be missing the whole point. The Maasai people are special not because of the crudeness of their way of life, but because of it’s beauty. How many American’s can count the number of things they have to worry about on one hand, let alone one finger? While we fret over everything from bills to stocks and bonds to insurance to mortgages to prescription pills, fashion, grades, drugs, drinking, and gambling, a Maasai man will wake up in the morning, count his cattle, and take them out to graze as the sun lights the plains. We stress over so many things that are supposed to improve our lives, make us a more civilized culture, when life can be as simple as herding goats and sheep. That’s what the Maasai people have taught me. I guess I’ll buy a necklace later to thank them.
Now, back to riding up in a jeep to our fancy tourist lodge, all the while taking pictures with a fancy digital camera. An elephant walked up to one of the workers at the lodge, and he started yelling “goodbye, Mr. Elephant!” and throwing little pieces of dirt at it. Needless to say it didn’t turn around, but instead began eating leaves from a bush beside the parking lot. We met this same highly-animated man later, when he showed us how to light our wood stoves to heat our rooms. His name was Mosa Mohammed, and he told us he was from the rival tribe of the Maasai, the Togota. He also said something about how he ran 100 kilometers in a row without stopping, the validity of which is highly questionable.
I took an incredible hot shower and had an incredible hot dinner, found out Tom has very similar music tastes to me, and then slept at 10, ready to tour the Ngorongoro Crater tomorrow morning.