July 18th: Arusha National Park!
Today we went to Arusha National Park- our first mini-safari. We got up at 5 in the morning and got ready to head out around six to catch a bus- then we realized the sun doesn’t actually start rising until 6:30 and we weren’t about to wander around in the dark. So we waited anxiously for a half hour, drinking delicous African tea. We made it to the bus station around 7 and got haggled and haggled like we never have before! “Nairobi!” “Moshi” “Dar es Salaam!” “Follow me ladies, I take you to Nairobi.” My personal favorite haggle technique--- calling us by some random white girl name and hoping we’ll respond. “Jessica! Jessica this way!” So funny.
We found a bus to Moshi, and had to haggle back with the bus driver to get him to drop us off at Usa River where the turn for the park is. We hit the road, went two hundred yards, and the bus broke down. They worked on it for about fifteen minutes and got it running again, and we set off on the bumpiest ride on the most miserable road ever. We got off at Usa River and got hounded by taxi drivers, but our finely-honed negotiating skills got us a decent fare with a friendly driver. We reached the first gate at the park and hit another setback- it was going to cost us $35 each to get in the park, and they were going to charge us to get the taxi in to drop us off at the second, real park gate. It can be really frustrating here to pay for all the incidental fees for tourists. Tanzanians pay about $2 to visit the park. This is a good thing, because all the locals should be able to afford to see the incredible things that are here in this country- but the kicker is that they charge tourists in US dollars. US dollars are difficult to come by here- you have to withdraw from the ATM in shillings and then pay a high changing fee. Why US dollars? The currency of the country is shillings. It’s a real pain. Luckily, the park is one of the few places that accepts credit card so we were okay. Still- an extra $12 just to let the taxi driver drop us off at the main gate—grrr.
About two km outside the main gate, we came around the corner to find a herd of about sixty zebra. ZEBRA! This had us all freaking out and all the troubles of the morning were forgotten. The taxi driver stopped so we could freak out properly, and we kept driving. A few turns later we came across a family of baboons sitting in the road- a about six adults and a few little ones and two very tiny ones. They looked at us and kind of moved slowly out of the way- they’ve seen cars before.
When we got to the main gate at the park we arranged for a four hour walking safari- we found another student tourist to join our group. His name is Till, from Germany here for an internship. Anyway the four of us were accompanied by a guide, a tiny woman named Hawa who carried a gun that was nearly as tall as she was. She wore green khaki fatigues, a safari hat, and an easy smile. She brought us out on a long path through a green grassland where we saw a group of buffalo and warthogs grazing together. The warthogs live with the buffalo because the buffalo are big and scary, and the buffalo appreciate the warthogs’ keen eyesight- at the sight of a predator the warthogs take of running with their tails up like antennae, signaling the alarm.
We saw a pair of dik-diks in the bush. Dik-diks are really tiny antelope that have great big black eyes and little black horns. They mate for life, and when one of the pair dies the others eats poison berries to die also. Amazing!
We wandered up for about a half hour up the 2nd largest mountain in Tanzania, Mt. Meru. It was steep and rugged and offered a gorgeous view. From up on the mountain we could see what we had all been waiting for: Twiga! Twiga is kiswahili for giraffe. There was a herd of giraffe down in the valley. After a short detour to a beautiful mountain waterfall, we wandered down to the valley floor to watch the giraffe. They are the most awkward ridiculous animals ever. And they are not shy! We got within fifteen feet of one big guy who was sitting down. He just looked at us- wait til you all get to see the amazing pictures we got with Lindsay’s camera! It was fantastic. After this Till let us go with him and his driver (European students are so different- his boss arranged for a personal driver to take him around the whole day) to go on a tour around the lakes and small crater that make up the body of the park. We saw more zebra warthogs and antelope, and then a humongous flock of pink flamingoes on this gorgeous lake. We had a lovely picnic lunch- peanut butter and crackers by the lake!
Till also gave us a ride home, turns out he’s staying on Njiro Road too! What a fortuitous day. It finally felt like we were in Africa- we can’t wait for our real safari! Serengeti or Bust!