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A day of rest before we start the long journey home

After yesterday's arduous gorilla trek, we decided to chill and relax.  Who wouldn't enjoy looking out at this view?

And there are always the monkeys to amuse us.

Melissa had a massage, and for the third night in a row, we had dinner in our room.

The hotel manager came to us three times today to tell us our flight time had changed.  It was originally scheduled at 8:45am.  Then they told us it was at 10am.  Then 9am.  and then during dinner they came to say it was 9:30.  Hmmmm.  We decide to awake early at 5:30 and check the airline reservation itself.  Sure enough, the next morning it still shows 8:45am.  The consequence of missing this puddle jumper flight out of Kisoro is that we risk our flight out of Entebbe at midnight.  You would think with a whole day we could find someone to drive us.  But we have no notion of the roads between here and there.  Moreover, missing this flight probably means we give up our business class "lay flat" seats on the way home.  Not. Gonna. Happen.  So we packed up and went to the main lobby at 6am when they turned the lights on and were in the car with our driver by 6:15am for the almost two hour drive back to the main town where the little airport is.

We knew that there were 4 other hotel guests that were supposed to be on this flight.  When we reached the airport the staff said that the flight was scheduled for 8:45 and if everyone didn't show till 9:30 they would miss the flight.  As fate would have it, the flight was delayed due to bad weather at Entebbe.  So we didn't depart till after 10am and everyone made the flight.  Whew.  But had we hung out at the hotel, we would have just been stressing about missing the flight.  Whereas hanging out at the little airport was just fine as they had big comfy leather couches to sit on.

After making our way back to Entebbe, we went to the same guest house we stayed in before for a bit of a rest prior to catching our midnight flight to Brussels.  Nice to catch up on blogging, have a couple of decent meals before heading to the airport.  Brussels air business class is fabulous.  The lie flat seats were super comfy and we both slept the whole way from Entebbe to Brussels.

In Brussels we discovered our flight to JFK was running 4 hours late - so we had 7 hours to kill.  The airport lounge is decent, but has no food for people who can't eat gluten.  Eventually we decide on to-go sushi from the terminal because Melissa had coconut amino packs in her computer bag.

Flight to JFK was uneventful and smooth.  They never even turned on the seatbelt sign once.  We watched movies and generally tried to stay awake, hoping we can snap back onto North American time zone if we go to sleep at the hotel at JFK before our flight to PVR the next morning.

At JFK we had chosen to stay at the famous TWA hotel onsite at JFK.  The place is a hoot.  They have a museum of all the TWA flight attendant uniforms from back in the day.  They also have the thickest glass of any commercial building - you can watch the planes taking off but not hear them at all.  Our plan had been (when we were supposed to arrive at 1pm) to go up to the heated roof top pool and hang out watching the airplanes.  Alas with our flight being late we didn't get to do that.

While we got to sleep at 8:30, Melissa was wide awake at 3am.  Might as well get some work done... She went down to the food court which is supposed to be open 24-hours to get a little food - only to find the place completely without staff.  Sigh.

We headed off to the Jet Blue terminal - which is directly accessible from the TWA hotel - at 6:30am.  By 7am we were inside security having breakfast.  Mimosas may have been involved.  The flight home was uneventful and we cruised through immigration.  And even the customs line to clear our bags was relatively short.  After a quick trip across the bridge we caught a taxi home.

After 66 hours of travel, we are finally back home in Mexico!

https://www.packforapurpose.org/ sent us pictures of where our donations ended up.

Nteko Community School


Received By HeadTeacher.
Blackboard Chalks
Calculators 
Erasers 
Solar Lamps-2 
Power Banks-1

Kikomo Health Centre 3 


Received by - Dr. Julius
Stethoscope 
Anatomy charts 
Medical Hand Books
Solar Lamps-2
Power Banks-1

Gorilla trek

We awoke early in anticipation, and somewhat in dread of the trek ahead of us.  We knew that gorilla trekking required we be fit.  So we started training with a personal trainer a year ago.  Yes, there have been some setbacks – particularly for Melissa who had surgery this summer.  But overall, we are in WAY better condition than we were before.  Yay us.  We hoped it would be enough.

The day started out easy enough with a group of local tribe women performing tribal dances.

They then demonstrated what was ahead of us with the gorillas.

We started out with a lecture about the gorillas.  The mountain gorillas have been downgraded from critically endangered at a population of 700 in 2006, to “just” endangered with a population of over 1000 as measured in 2018.  They are due for another measurement – and the numbers are expected to go up.  They use tracking of the “nests” to approximate the population combined with DNA analysis of feces to track individuals.

Today we are supposed to track a group named “Xmas” after the silverback that was born on Christmas day some years back.  Christmas is a famous gorilla in these parts known to be very acclimated to human visitors.

Dave and I debate the porters.  The porters are supposed to carry your gear, and will help you up and down the slippery and steep stretches of the road.  Dave had left most of the cash in the hotel safe (rightfully so).  Melissa wanted both of us to have a porter.  Dave was like “one guy to carry the backpack”.  Mind you, they are $25 per day.  So this is a silly argument but for the fact we were not sure we had enough cash on us.  Melissa was sure it was part of the overall package we bought.  Ultimately our driver (who had the trek permits too) confirmed we had already paid for a porter each.  We will be grateful for this later.

We started off at 9am on the hike.  Maybe 1/10th of the way down the hill, Melissa starts to cry.  Its unimaginably steep.  Her legs are already wobbly from the steep uneven and muddy terrain.  Her porter urges her on – holding her hand and just keeps going.  Its so steep you can’t even believe it.  In places we just slide down the hill.  Many of the trekkers just slide on their asses down the hill.  Later Dave will measure this all out on google maps.  It’s a decent of 400 meters (1300 feet) at an average of 40% slope.  There were places we could have rappelled down more easily.

The problem with this is that what goes down, must go up.  Every step we make to the forest floor from the village above – is one step we will ultimately have to make going back up.

After a few hours of this we reach the bottom, and the beginning of the hike back up into the forest on the other side of the mountain.  Fortunately for us, the advance team (trackers that set out an hour ahead of us) have already located the Xmas troop of gorillas just barely inside the forest perimeter.

So we quietly approach the gorillas.  This is literally the first photo we took.  And yes, we were as close as this photo implies.  This is the silverback known as “Christmas”.  If you look closely you will see the silver white hair on his back.

The guides kept cutting through the forest as the gorillas moved so that we could continue to observe them in their natural habitat.

We spent an hour with them.  Watching them eat.

And watching the 4 month old baby.

And for those paying close attention, there were some pretty amazing jungle bugs too.

As we were trekking through the forest, Dave slipped and fell.  Put his hand down squarely in a sticker bush.   The guides plucked him up, but his hand was full of stickers.  The guides tried to brush them all off.  Alas.  Melissa would be picking more of them out with tweezers later in the evening over dinner in our room.  This is where we are grateful for Kelly (Melissa’s brother the paramedic) who makes us carry all the first aid gear and anti-biotics.

After our hour long visit with the gorillas, it was time to start the long trek back up the mountain.  Melissa was convinced it would be easier to just live with the gorillas from now on.  Alas.

To give some perspective, the Columbia Center tower, the tallest building in Seattle is 284 meters (933 feet).  We had to climb out 400 meters.  In the mud.  Over uneven terrain.  Yipee.  There is a safety lever you can pull.  It’s known as the “African helicopter”.  The porters – 4 of them – for $60 USD – will take you on a stretcher down the hill and back up again.  They told us we could ask for one.  Dave comments to Melissa at one point that she can have one but she has to wear a crown that says, “princess”.  Ok, yeah, totally worth it, Melissa replies.  But the group has to stay together.  We have guides and military escort with AK-47s.  For the possibility of the occasional mountain elephant we are told.  But regardless, we all have to stick together.  So unclear how long to get the additional porters down to us with the stretcher.  And its so slippery – how will that work anyway?

Yet we slog on.  Melissa asthma is so bad, combined with the 7000 ft altitude that she has to stop about every 10 meters and catch her breath.  At one point she is breathing so hard she strains chest muscles on both sides.  Ouch.  Ouch.  Ouch.

Yet we slog on. We finally reach the outskirts of the town where there is an open field and stop for lunch.  We lay out our rain jackets on the grass and sit.  Melissa is not sure she will ever get up again.  We’ve only gained 150 meters of the 400 we have to do.  She stares up at the mountain thinking “no way in hell”.

Yet we slog on.  Thank goodness there is one other gal in our group that was struggling and going slow too.  The irony is that the young folks on the trip would forge ahead and then sit and wait for us slow folk.  So they got to rest, and when we caught up, it was near time to move on again.

Yet we slog on.  The running joke with the lead guide became that we are “almost” there.  We did the worst part coming out of the forest at the bottom of the valley.  Now we are on the “second most worst part”.  And near to the “third most worst part”.  This made all the porters and guides laugh.

Yet we slog on.  The value of the porters has become clear.  One is pulling Melissa up the hill and the other is pushing her up each step.  Had it not been for this, she would have blown out a knee for sure on the rocky and often steep terrain.

We finally, after 5 hours since we started, arrive back at the cars.  Melissa’s legs are so weak she can barely stand.  This was much, much, much worse than Machu Picchu, and Melissa knows tomorrow she is going to pay.  Dave did pretty well.  (Insert Melissa swearing here.)  Our trainer, Orson, will be happy to hear it.

The permits we were issued for tracking cost $800 per person per day (and only 16 to 24 are issued in this area per day).  We were supposed to trek for two days in a row.  No notion of what the travel agent was thinking here.  Most people trek for a day.  When we arrived back at the lodge, Melissa’s words were “not one chance in hell”.  We donated the second day of trekking to our driver, and his buddy, the lodge handyman.

As an aside, we learned that an hour drive from here is a gorilla trek that is much, much easier.  Completely unclear why the travel agent booked us on the trek from hell when there was another option.

Somewhere along the way Melissa lost a lens cover.  Dang it.

For those that might doubt that this gig is not for the faint of heart… the next day a group of people from our lodge went gorilla trekking at another location. There the gorilla group was not yet acclimated to human observation.  The guide was viscously attacked by the silver back gorilla.  One of the other tourists was in a tug-o-war with the gorilla for control of the guide.  Ultimately the gorilla let go.  Later the guides admitted that this has never happened before and it scared the bejesus out of them.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a few words on the gorilla themselves.  The mountain gorillas that we saw were critically endangered in 2006 with a population around 700.  Efforts of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo have increased their numbers to over 1000 as last measured in 2016 upgrading them to the endangered list.

Uganda Village Tour

This morning we got up before dawn for a 7am flight out of Entebbe to a tiny airstrip in the Uganda mountains.

We had been warned that the limit was 15 KG in luggage sum total (baggage and carry on).  But you can buy more luggage weight – space permitting.  We are off season, so we were taking a bit of a chance that the flight wouldn’t be full.  Sure enough they charged us $117 in overweight.  At $3 per KG – so we were 39 KG overweight.  Now, you might wonder why the heck we had so much gear with us.  The answer is https://www.packforapurpose.org.   This organization keeps track of what specific regions of third world countries need at hospitals and schools and other community organizations.  They publish a list of what you can pack with you to those regions and then donate.  Melissa got it into her head that because we were traveling business class, and hence had plenty of luggage space, we should bring a whole suitcase full of donation items.  So we had packed about $1000 worth of gear:

  • 4 stethoscopes
  • 4 solar powered lights large enough to light up an operating room or other emergency medical site at night
  • 2 solar powered device chargers for things like cell phones that need to be kept operational in the field
  • A pile of medical books
  • 15 solar powered calculators
  • A pile of erasers
  • A couple of boxes of chalk

All this gear having made it from Seattle to Puerto Vallarta, and then on to Houston, Istanbul, Kilimanjaro, and then across the Serengeti – well, let’s just say we were not leaving it behind even if it cost a few dollars to get it the last leg of the trip.

The landing strip was a “one way” airstrip – meaning it had mountains on one end – so you can only take off and land in one direction.  Flying into a “box canyon” can be tricky so the captain was at the controls.  Dave was monitoring carefully, and the captain was spot on the descent and landing speeds.  This is not the place you really want to make a “go around”.

Our driver picked us up at the airport and was happy to make the stop at the lodge that participates in the Pack for a Purpose (https://www.packforapurpose.org/) program.  The lodges serve as collection points that then distribute the donations where needed.  They were utterly thrilled when we showed up with a full suitcase full of stuff.  We had busted up a suitcase, so we swapped the donation gear into the broken suitcase and left it with them.

After we checked into Clouds Mountain Lodge, we had scheduled for a community tour.  First stop was the community center where they explained that Clouds Mountain Lodge donates about 10% of the lodging fees to community projects.

Then we went for a walk about town.  Uganda has a lot of very rich farmland.  We saw farms growing everything from corn and potatoes to beans and cabbage.  One of the things they grow here is tea.  The tea grows on the side of the mountain. 

They have to harvest it and haul it up roughly 100 meters of 30% grade.  They pay the workers $1 USD to harvest 12 lbs of it.  Let that sink in a minute.  It completely explains why being paid $25 as a porter on the gorilla treks for 6 hours of work is considered a way better job, and why the tourist dollars are so valued.

We walked up to the soccer field and took some photos of the surrounding mountains.

This is the military installation.  We are very close to the boarder with the Congo (which is always at war – mostly with itself) and Rwanda.  The ridge line you see in the background is past the boarder with Congo.

The long ditch you see is a fox hole.  These are the houses that the military lives in.

The schools were doing exams for the end of the school year.

This secondary school was built from the community funds that came from our lodge.

The classrooms are pretty basic.

The class schedule was posted on the wall.

Here is the school kitchen where they cook lunch for the kids and staff.  We wondered with these types of conditions why teachers would be here as they only hire college educated teachers.  That’s dedication.

The kids here are super friendly.  Whenever we walk or drive by, they all wave and cheer.

We saw the local blacksmith who let Dave give the bellows a try.

We could hear singing from the Church from our lodge.

We then went to see the village elder.  We sat with her drinking the local gin and getting her take on life.  She told us she was grateful that we had come.  And that she appreciated the fact that Dave only had one wife.  Advised us to love each other and forgive each other for our mistakes.

We then visited all the “shops” in town.  There is a row of trinket shops – mostly selling the same stuff.  Each has a cause – the first was the orphans group.  Later it was single Moms.  Then poor kid education.  There were about 10 of them.  They opened pretty much just for us on our walk.  It was heart breaking not to buy something at each and every shop.  But we did buy a few items – a bracelet, an apron, some of the local tea, and some coffee beans.

These local women were outside one of the shops.  Their dress is fairly traditional, as is the infant on the back.

Take a look at the slope of these hills.  Insert scary foreshadow music here.

Onto Uganda

When we awoke this morning, the buffalo carcass was all but gone.  The hyenas were departing, just as the vultures set in to get any small tidbits that were left.

We then departed the tiny airport next to the camp in a caravan (airplane) for Entebbe.  We were to spend one night in Entebbe before making our way to the mountain region of Uganda where the gorillas live.  We sat up front so Dave could supervise the flying.  He was particularly interested in their use of the Garmin electronics.

In Entebbe we passed through immigration without incident and loaded up into the van.  Though it was disconcerting to see these signs.  We had asked our travel agent before we left the US about the Ebola break out in Uganda.  She ignored our inquiry for a week.  Sigh.  After Melissa pinged her again, she replied that no one seemed too concerned.  We continued to monitor the situation right up to the flight to Uganda.  But the Uganda authorities seem to have the situation well in hand.  They have 90% contract tracing every 24 hours.  So they pretty much have the outbreak locked down.  Plus you have to come in direct contact with bodily fluids to contract it.  Which seems somewhat unlikely given that we are not traveling to areas where the virus has been detected.  So very low risk.  Interestingly, the US CDC is still freaked out.  The US is screening Uganda passenger arrivals.  But Europe's view is much more rational - telling their citizens that they shouldn't do anything dumb, but if they stick to the tourist areas they will be fine.

Just look at all that modern tech

The hyenas did a pretty good job of eating their way through the buffalo last night.  He looks about half eaten.

We found ourselves again grateful for the Maasai warriors that provide security here.  The whole gang lined up for a picture with their spears.  They walked us back and forth from the main lodge to our room every night.  In fact we were not allowed to roam about at night without them.  In the picture, note Dave with his more modern “spear”.  Otherwise known as the 360 degree camera stick.

When we started off on Safari today, Dave wanted to see the lodge infrastructure.  So Shabani got permission to take us to see the solar array and electrical system.  Wow.

Being totally off the grid, most lodges in the Serengeti use diesel generators for power. Not here. The Kubu Kubu lodge has a fabulous solar power system. They have a beautifully installed bank consisting of 390 550 watt cells. The cells are connected to large commercial lithium battery banks (400 kilowatt hour total), also excellently installed.

The rule of thumb is that you get 5 hours of rated power per sunny day. That is about 1 megawatt hour of power per day. To put it in perspective, it would take 100 gallons of diesel to produce that much power on generator. I suspect the total power usage is nowhere near that – perhaps 10% - giving them plenty of reserve for cloudy days.

Dave is having power envy. Sea Star 7’s generator can produce only 7% that amount of power and batteries can store only 3%.

Then it was off to see the animals again.  The plains are just filled with zebra, wildebeest, and antelope as far as the eye can see.

We spotted another leopard in a tree.

There was a heard of female elephants under a tree with their young.  They clump together like this because it’s easier for them to protect the young from predators when they can see the predators coming from any direction.

We went to a known hippo watering hole where we got to watch the hippos for a while.  One and only time we got out of the Range Rover to see the wildlife.

We came across a trio of cheetahs – a mom with two young.  The young are just about ready to take off on their own.

Having been on safari for 8 days now, we can say that we have developed a 100% accurate way of finding the big cats.  We call it the RRC method.  That stands for “Range Rover Cluster”.

We had a long chat with Shabani about the trip.  He was looking to summarize the trip and get feedback.  We told him that we LOVED every minute with him.  Most of the lodges are Kibo guide owned though, and the ones with buffet need some help for people with food allergies.  The chef needs to communicate to people what they can eat and what they can't.  Best would be a system whereby people get a "color" and each food is labeled with that color when safe for them.  This would serve two purposes: (1) people would know what is safe for them (and so would the staff), and (2) the chef would have to consider whether there is enough variety for those with allergies.  If only one food has the "blue dot" then they know that "blue" person is not going to be happy.

We also gifted Shabani a Quik Clot.  We told him someday he would save a life with it.  Someone gored by a buffalo perhaps.  But in any case, more likely than us to need it, and we carry them in our packs and in our car glove compartments.  Those of you that follow the blog know.  Don't go anywhere without it.

Dead buffalo everywhere

We awoke after the first solid night’s sleep Melissa has had.  When we went to breakfast, the Massai warriors were waiting to take us to breakfast.  They explained that overnight a herd of buffalo had come through the camp and one of them had died.

A problem.  Because tonight the predators will come to eat it.

After breakfast we were off for a morning’s safari.  Giraffe’s are particularly vulnerable to the lions when they drink water as they have to spread their legs for their neck to reach.

Off in the distance we saw a herd of elephants headed for the river.  We decided to intercept and let them pass by us.  It was a herd of females with their babies.  Elephant population here is growing.  Very slowly, but growing none the less.

The baboons could have cared less about us.  This juvenile was sitting happily in the tree next to the truck.

Then we came across a group of cats snoozing under a tree. There are four large females and four small kittens.

Later that night when we went back, one of the kittens was out wandering near the road.  It was trying to find its way back to Mom and sat down and meowed like a house cat.

This female, presumably part of the same pride was just down the road a bit under another tree.

Lots of hippos in the rivers around here.

The elephants showed up to drink as we were watching the hippos.

In addition, the elephants cover themselves in mud to keep bugs off their skin.

This antelope kept putting his face in the mud too.  Unclear why.  Crazy antelope.

And one wily crocodile going into the river.  They can stay under for 30 minutes.  Yikes.

Here’s another one we would have sworn was a log or rock from a distance.

Buffalo are everywhere.

We came across a pride of lions that had just killed two buffalo – a mom and her baby.  They were hiding in the grass and chilling out.  Our guide believed the kill was fresh and that they were all resting from the hunt.  As we watched, they started to eat.  We sent back out after lunch and watched them continue chowing down on their big feast.

Another herd of elephants wandering by.

By the time we got back to camp after the second game drive, the game warden had come and they drug the dead buffalo in our camp down the hill so that when the hyenas come tonight they won’t be in the middle of the camp.

When we went to lunch, they put pizza down at our table.  The waitress said “is safe for you – no gluten”.  Melissa asked what it was made of.  “Maize,” she says.  Sigh.  Can we please see the chef?  The chef comes and explains that no, its not corn, its rice and lentil flour made specifically for us.  The waitress just doesn’t know what she is talking about.  Sigh.

Do I still have all my teeth?

The Farmhouse where we have been staying has absolutely gorgeous gardens.  They grow the vegetables that they use in the restaurant.  Talk about farm to table!

The staff was all concerned about why we didn’t show up to dinner last night.  The manager and the chef visited our table this morning asking why we didn’t come to dinner.  Didn’t have the heart to tell them that we just couldn’t take another night of over cooked buffet food.  So we leaned on the fact that Dave went to bed early.

Today we made the very long drive across the plains of the Serengeti.  It was rough.  Remind me not to do that again.  Dirt roads in a jeep for 8 hours.  Yes, we took a break for lunch.  But still, enough to pound your teeth out.

The plains of the Serengeti are impressive.  They stretch as far as the eye can see to the horizon and at the horizon there is a mirage that makes you think there might be water, but its just the heat rising from the earth.

Along the way to the lodge we saw more wildlife.  The cats seem to do a lot of snoozing just like your housecat back home.

An old female cheetah snoozing under a tree.

A big male lion snoozing on a rock.

Another leopard snoozing in a tree.

More Zebra.  There are over a million of them in the Serengeti and I think we saw them all today.

Wildebeest.  Also millions of them.

Antelope as far as the eye can see.

This is a new kind of antelope.  A heart beast based on how its horns are shaped.

And more hippos.  Also snoozing.

Along the way we visited the Olduvai Gorge Museum.  This ridge is where Mary Leakey lived.  She excavated in this valley.  That was a bit of history that was fun to see.

The museums have reproductions of a lot of the important skulls that let the Leakey’s determine that human life originated in Africa not Asia.  This is a reproduction of Lucy.

The view from the museum was incredible.

When we got to the camp for dinner, Melissa asked that the chef come out and tell her what of the buffet she could eat.  Seems the only way to make it safe as the staff doesn’t really know what’s in the food.

After dark you have to be escorted by the Massai warriors (complete with their spears) that guard this place to your room as there can be wildlife wandering about the grounds so it isn’t safe to be out by yourself.

Soy beans?!?!?

The farmhouse where we are staying is at 5000 feet.  Not super high, but Melissa, with her cold is struggling with low oxygen saturation.  Today’s trek is supposed to take us to the Ngorongoro crater rim which is at 7500 feet.  Maybe not the best idea.  Another failure on the part of the travel agent – who neglected to let us know that we might need altitude medication here in Tanzania in addition to the Uganda mountain forest.  Alas we don’t have enough altitude medication for both locations, not to mention the fact that we will be back near sea level before the medication would kick in.  Additionally, Melissa has really been having stomach issues.  Unclear why.  Melissa elected to stay behind and catch up on blogging.

When lunch time rolled around, Melissa went to the farm house restaurant and was served a bunch of food.  Soup, then salad, followed by a big meal.  As is often the case, the waitress brought 5 or 6 individual small bowls with various dishes.  When she sat the last one down she said, here is a bowl of soy beans.  Hang, on.  Soy beans?  SOY BEANS?  Deep breath.  Melissa politely asks the waitress to check with the chef to see if its really soy beans.  She returns – yep – they are soy beans.  Melissa then asks that the waitress please send the chef when he has a free moment.  A few minutes later the chef shows up.

A bit of context here might be helpful.  When we booked this trip, we were assured – repeatedly – by the travel agent that all the hotels we would be staying at could and would accommodate our food allergies.  When we arrived at the first hotel, it was not at all clear they had been informed.  This wasn’t a big deal because at the first few places there were menus we could order from, and hence we could make choices and ask questions.  Later though we found that many of the lodges serve buffet style.  Two issues with that for those of us with food allergies.  (1) there might be near to nothing you can eat because each dish contains one thing you are allergic to.  In total the hotel might think they can accommodate your food allergies (sure we have gluten free stuff!) but in reality the gluten free stuff contains corn.  So yeah, they have corn free stuff too, but that contains… you get the point.  (2) The buffet food wasn’t marked with any of the ingredients.  So you can either play 20 questions with wait staff that have no idea what is in the food or make your best guess.

When we arrived here at the Farmhouse last night, Melissa decided she had enough of having a stomach ache and asked to see the chef.  We chatted with him about what was in the dishes for dinner, and what he might make us for a picnic lunch the next day.  He knew we were allergic to soy as we had a whole conversation about the fact that we couldn’t eat the soy sauce in the stir fry being served that evening.  (Yep, sauteed veggies with no sauce for us.  Yum.)

So when the soy beans arrived at the table – that was about the last straw.  Dave is allergic to soy too, and Melissa knew that he and Shabani had been sent off with a picnic that included rice and beans completely unaware that it was probably soy.

Enter the head chef with a sheepish look on his face.  Melissa invites him to please have a seat and join her.  He starts out by saying he knew we were allergic to soy sauce but not soy beans.  Melissa explains that soy sauce is made from fermented soy beans.  He is clearly bewildered and had no notion of this.  Melissa explains that soy is very dangerous for her – it can make her eyes swell shut.  He asks about Dave because he now realizes there are soy beans in the picnic, and Melissa explains that she was able to reach the guide in time before they sat down to eat (by like 5 minutes) so Dave is safe too.  Melissa emphasized that the waitress is to be commended for telling Melissa what was in the food – for fear that the waitress might take some blame in upsetting a guest.

The kicker is that we’ve eaten beans and rice a number of times now.  No wonder Melissa has a stomach ache all the time.  Let us hope that solves it.

 

Meanwhile Dave and Shabani were off having way more fun.  They visited the Ngorongoro crater.

 

There were (of course) more Zebras.

Buffalo.

The national bird of Tanzania – a Grey Crowned crane.

Flamingos

Hippos.  Shabani had a friend that was chomped in half by one.  Note to self, stay away from the hippos.

Warthogs.

And what pray tell are all these trucks lined up to see?

A lioness with her zebra kill.  She was alone and anxious about whether she should go back and retrieve her pride, or stay here and guard the kill against the hyenas.  She had eaten her fill.  She decided to stay.

There were baboons.

And a lioness with her cub.

Ostridge.  Which are just funny.

And finally the Ngorongoro crater is home to the last few remaining black rhinos.  Shabani had given a 10% chance of seeing them as they tend to hide out during the dry season, but they were lucky enough to see three of them in the distance.  Even with the zoom on the camera they are way far away.

And here is Dave NOT eating those soy beans on his picnic!

When Dave got back, he was exhausted.  We skipped dinner in favor of an early bedtime.

What does primitive tribe mean?

Today we headed off for visits with the Hadzabe Bushmen and Datoga tribes.

The Hadzabe bushmen would have taken us on a hunt, but we decided a few days ago that watching them try to kill a baboon was just a bit more than we would enjoy.  We like seeing how other cultures live but seeing a primate killed would be a bit much.

This is the bushmen’s hut for the rainy season.

This is where a family lives in the dry season.

Its amazing to think how much of the world’s population still lives in this primitive an environment.  Though not wholly unaffected by modern life.  This warrior – who is shaping the feathers on an arrow – is wearing modern day jeans (as were most of them) with sandals made from old tires.  The surface he is using to cut the feathers is the back side of his tire sandal.

This little boy is wearing a top made from animal skin and jeans.  He was cooking a small bird - no larger than his fist over the fire.  He offered Dave a piece to try.  Much to Melissa's shock - he took it and ate it (he hates eating small bony things).  The boy then offered Melissa a bite too.  It was actually pretty juicy and tender.  Not at all gamey the way you would expect.

And these two youngsters wanted our water bottles.  We gave the first to the younger boy (yes I know he is in a dress), and his big brother came and swiped it, so we gave them the second one.  Our guide said that their parents would end up with the bottles eventually and use them to story honey.

The bushman greeting is a fist bump.  Unclear if we got this from them or vice versa.

After a bit, Dave sat down with the men to learn about which types of arrows are used for which type of animal.  If you listen and watch closely you can see the bushman imitating the animals the arrows are intended to kill.  They also made fun of Dave trying to imitate the names of things which include all kinds of clicking sounds that are not part of our language.

Here is a piece of the tree that they make the poisoned arrows from.  There is apparently a local antidote if they stick themselves accidentally.  But its deadly enough to bring down large game animals in about 20 minutes.  They only use the poison arrows on large game because they have to cut the meat out around the arrow.  A small bird would be inedible if shot with a poison arrow.

Then it was time to learn to make a fire.

After which Dave got a lesson in bow and arrow when it was target practice time.

We then bought a hand carved wooden spoon from this lovely lady.  Our guide said it was $5 USD.  So Dave handed her 5 one dollar bills.  She was utterly at a loss and looked at the pieces of paper as though they were, well, foreign.  The guide had enough local currency to make a quick exchange.  It’s the only time thus far where local currency has been needed.  Everyone else loves the USD.

The other women in the tribe were nursing babies or making trinkets.

After this a serenade by the boys on home made instruments.

The boys escorted us back to our jeep and then we were off.

Next stop was a Datoga tribal home.  The Datoga migrated from the middle east thousands of years ago.  They are a polygamous tribe.  We were able to sit in one of their houses and speak to all the women.  We asked if they are always this dressed up, and our guide explained that while they would not dress this way while out tending cattle, they were expected to be dressed up at home.

The thing in the middle of the floor is a couple of stones for grinding corn.

Here is Melissa learning to make corn flour.

We sat and chatted with them for some time.

Questions we asked of them:

  • Is the first wife here?  How many children does she have? Answer was 8.
  • How old was she when she married?  Unknown.  She has no idea how old she is.  They tried to figure out the answer by figuring out how many generations of women had children.  Answer still unclear, but there were clearly grandchildren.  Some of the women were other wives, and some were daughters, and other ones wives of sons.
  • What was the bride price (dowry) when she was married? 10 cows, some goats, tobacco, and honey.  This is average as this was considered a “middle class” family.
  • What is an average day for you like?  You get up and grind flour for meals during the day.  Often they grind throughout the day.  They then make breakfast and send the children out to tend the cattle and goat herds.  Then they walk to fetch the water.  Then more tending of the livestock and cooking.
  • What do you do when a child misbehaves? You beat them with your stick.  And if that doesn’t work you send them out to tend the cows all day without breakfast.  Same goes for wives that misbehave.  The husband should beat them with his stick.  (They all have walking sticks all the time.)  This was said proudly.  No hint of shame in this – discipline and respect for the elders is a thing that is immutable in this culture.  We went onto explain that this is not allowed in our culture that the police would come and arrest you.  This was met with shock.

Questions they asked of us:

  • What was the bride price (dowry) Dave paid for Melissa?  When they learned she was “free” this was met with shock.
  • How many children do you have?  When Melissa indicated zero, this too was met with frowns.  Here a woman’s value is tied directly to how many children she has.  Melissa tried to smooth this over by saying that she helped raise Dave’s son and this then was met with smiles and nods.
  • What do you do? This was a tough one as it was completely unclear how to explain software engineering to women who have never seen a computer.  Melissa said that Dave makes parts for airplanes and Melissa helps build computers (hoping maybe that was a known word).  The guide struggled with this a bit and it wasn’t clear they comprehended this.
  • What is a day in the life like for Melissa?  She gets up and cooks breakfast.  Then works on the computer and phone all day, then makes dinner or we go out to a restaurant.  Follow up question: When does she go get the water?  The guide attempted to explain to them that we live in a house with running water.
  • We volunteered that Melissa cooks but Dave does the cleaning.  The response to this was that Dave doesn’t beat Melissa enough.  It was said jokingly with giggles – but surely with amazement that a man would do any cleaning at all.  Later one of the women had set aside her walking stick and Dave jokingly acted like he was going to take it with him and this brought more peals of laughter.
  • We also volunteered that the way we get food is we order it on our computer, and then someone brings it.  This was met with clapping.  Though unclear how this actually translated to them - probably something akin to we have servants.

They then showed us the rest of the house.  This was the bedroom.  The bed is made from cow leather.

In the other corner of the room is the kitchen which is no more than some rocks, pans, and a fire.

The one on the left in this photo is the one that told Dave he didn’t beat Melissa enough.

Next it was onto watching the men in their metal work shop.  They make bracelets and other trinkets as well as arrow heads that they sell to the other tribes.

First step in the process is the forge:

Then once melted they quench it in oil:

They are melting down all kinds of scrap.

Once forged they pound it into shapes.  In this video they are pounding steel nails into arrow heads.

And then once rough pounded to shape they do the fine mill work.

Melissa negotiated for 5 of the brass bangles.  The tribeswoman tried to cover her in bracelets and necklaces, but caught on that Melissa liked a matching set of gold colored ones.  The price given was $50 USD ($10 each).  Melissa asked the guide if we were supposed to negotiate but he was of little help saying, “yes you can”.  We had read that sometimes the asking price is as much as 10x the real price.  But of course, the price wasn’t really the point.  But being at a loss, she told the guide to tell the tribeswoman that in our home country of Mexico (yeah ok, sort of true, but not worth trying to explain) it was traditional to offer half of the asking price.  The tribeswoman countered saying that the bracelets involved a lot of detailed work that takes hours.  So she would take $10 each, but if Melissa bought 4 she would throw one in for free.  Sold!

Both the tribes we visited today are paid by the guide company we hired.  Some of the money goes directly to the individual family/groups we interacted with, but not all.  Its too much money to give to them – they would just stop working.  So most of the money goes to local infrastructure such as water and electricity.

We finally settled in for the night at Farmhouse Valley Lodge.

First taste of banana beer

Today we packed up and moved closer to the Lake Manyara region of Tanzania where we visited the village of Mto Wa Mbu – which translated literally means river of mosquitos – much to Dave’s horror.  Fortunately, the mosquitos were largely under control in the little town.

We met our guide, who showed us around the town.  First up was the rice fields.  Here they have such an abundance of water from the mountains that even at the very end of the dry season, they have enough water to grow lots of rice.

These little huts are where the farmers sleep at night to defend their crop from birds and from other farmers trying to steal their water.  Though why they were fighting over water isn’t clear as there appears to be lots.

Along the way we were mobbed by school children that just got out of classes.  They very much wanted their picture taken.  When Melissa showed them their pictures on the camera the crowd grew even larger.

Then we went for a walk down the main road.  On the left is national park, and on the right the town with lots of banana plantations.  The animals don’t understand the road is the end of their turf.  The whole town is locked up tight by about 6pm when the sun goes down as the elephants and other animals migrate across the road to what they see as their feeding ground.

This banana plantation has chosen to plant spinach crops as a second crop below the banana trees.  This is highly controversial as many believe the spinach attracts the elephants as they love eating the tasty greens.  When the elephants come through here they destroy the banana trees by just trampling them.  Banana plants take about a year to mature – so when a crop is destroyed the economic impact on the farmers is huge.

This is the house owned by the farm owner.

This is where his workers live.  The dude out front didn’t look overly friendly.

Our guide then shared with us the local banana beer.  Its made by grinding up bananas and letting them ferment for a couple of weeks.  Then millet which is sprouted, dried, and then ground is mixed in.  Looked an awful fright of a drink but tasted pretty good.  You would pass one large glass around between all the people.  First you blow on it to blow the millet foam away then drink.  All gatherings here require banana beer.  Each local tribe has its own recipe. and often tribes don't like each other's beer.  Beer is absolutely required in large quantities to be brought by a prospective husband when trying to buy a wife from a family.

Here is where they make the beer.

We also visited some artisans.  The first is a local artist that paints the usual paintings for tourists.  He also has a painting school for the local children as they don’t teach art in school here.  Melissa thought to buy one of the colorful paintings of the Massai but she couldn’t shake the notion that every time she looked at it she would just be sad thinking about what the Massai do to girls.

Then we visited a carving shop.

Here we bought some small soapstone figurines of a hippo, elephant, rhino, and giraffe in hopes that we could use them to play Mexican train back home.  They wanted $40 USD for them.  An absurdly high price.  They were probably worth $10.  Dave refused to pay more than $20.

On our way back down the road, this group of ladies started chattering as we went by.  Our guide translated that they had said that Melissa was beautiful.  The implication being “beautiful for a white woman”.  They went onto explain that they didn’t see very many curvaceous white women and thought Melissa had a great figure.  A bit of a laugh for us as “fat” isn’t exactly considered beautiful in the US.  We explained as much through the translator, and it just made them all laugh harder.  Stupid Americans.

We went onto the local market where there was an abundance of fresh veggies.

We later got the chance to taste the red bananas which are very sweet and yummy.

They also sell dried sardines and shrimp.  The leftovers and small stuff gets sold as chicken feed.

Our guide gave us a lesson in banana growing and sales.  The banana farmers bring their crops to a central location – usually via motorcycle.  There the bananas are loaded into large bags and placed on a truck.  A woman is always in charge of this activity.  She gives the farmers the going price, minus the taxes due the government.  The truck is then driven into the cities and re-sold.

For lunch we went with the local guide, her boss, and our guide to a local place where “mama” was cooking a home made meal.  The food was pretty tasty.  Though the beef was so hard and stringy that it was near to inedible by our standards.

Over lunch we chatted with everyone about how they themselves and Tanzania fared during COVID when there was no tourism.  The answer was basically, “not well”.  All three of them had to revert (along with everyone else) to agriculture based life.  They grew their own food for their families because there was no money.  What few people were able to get state sponsored social security assistance often blew the money on alcohol and then committed suicide.  Shabani talked about the one thing he spent his savings on – keeping his children in private school where they were taught in English.  Many people could no longer afford a private education which meant moving to the government run schools taught in Swahili.  A challenge for children who often knew things like the names of locations only in English.  But for Shabani nothing was more important than his children’s education.  He grew his own potatoes in his back yard before he would sacrifice his kids education.

The area immediately around Lake Manyara is rich farm land with plenty of access to water.  Most of what they grow is corn and onion.  Much of which is sent to Kenya.  Tanzania is East Africa’s bread basket.  They export tons of food.  If the border with Kenya were to close, Kenya would begin to stave within a couple of weeks.

We landed for the night at Kisima Ngeda Camp right on the lake.  Best food outside Arusha.  It was beef for dinner that was nice and tender.  A great change from some of the meals we have had thus far.

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