Day 1- McGill hosts arrive in advance in Arusha : Arriving a day before our travellers has given us a chance to get oriented to Arusha – a town which has boomed in the past twenty years since the UN Tribunal on War Crimes was established. During this time the safari business has mushroomed to more than 50 providers. The hotel is full of tourists gearing up for safaris or preparing for their week-long treks up Kilimanjaro. On the grounds of the hotel, blooming with purple Jacaranda trees, preparations are underway for a fashion show and stunning 6-foot models are gliding around the grounds looking bored, beautiful and impatient for the event to begin. We are accompanied for a walking tour around the intense and crowded city by a young Maasai who runs a small crafts business – past the bus station around which cluster large groups of Maasai men draped in traditional red or rich indigo robes (” shukas”), walking sticks clutched in their hands gesticulating emphatically as they converse. Hotels and apartments under construction pierce the skyline mostly financed by the Chinese who are a big presence here. Vendors periodically give halfhearted chase trying to sell us their wares.
Day 2: We have coffee with McGill History grad, Mike Chambers, BA’81, son of McGill’s Chancellor Emeritus Gretta Chambers. Tanzania has been home to Mike for more than 20 years. Our conversation ranges from Tanzanian politics to his work as the operations manager of a thriving vegetable growing operation which coordinates the efforts of many small producers to export high quality vegetables to markets in Europe and the Middle East. Their latest venture is to start marketing to the high end resorts and hotels in Tanzania. Mike also provided us with some fascinating insights into the challenges of doing business in Tanzania.
Evening approaches and we anticipate the arrival of our McGill travellers around 9:30 pm via the KLM flight from Amsterdam. After midnight they wearily stumble in. Stories of technical delays are cut short as bed beckons. A couple of room assignments cause confusion and a few more delays. It is important to remember it is not always thus: last week’s AHI group had gone without a hitch. Soon everyone has been dispatched to their rooms, anxious for a few hours sleep before our early morning start the next day.
Day 3 & 4: Arusha/Ngorogoro Crater: Groups of 6 are assigned to our land-cruisers with guides/drivers. Before long, each group is claiming that our driver is the best, the most knowledgeable, the wittiest. All are well qualified, patient and eager to ensure that we have a memorable safari. The inconveniences and fatigue of the previous night are quickly replaced by anticipation and excitement as we head off to the crater to seek the Big Five: lion, rhinoceros, elephant, leopard and Cape buffalo. We are surprised by how quickly our wish lists begin to materialize. En route we are entranced by baboons and their mischievous babies interspersed with lithe, long- necked and graceful giraffes. Tackling the first of many indescribably rough roads on the journey, some McGill travelers amuse themselves creating names to graphically describe the roads and their impact on our bodies. Some of the more memorable names fit for publication, include: “shake, rattle and roll”; “good vibrations”, “rocky road” and “more bangs for your buck”.
Our driver and guide – Lucas, a father of three who was raised in a traditional Maasai village and inducted as a warrior when he was 16, is determined, like his father before him, to educate his children. He explains that while he and his family live in a regular house in town, he still bridges two cultures, periodically participating in Maasai rituals, as does our safari manager, Phillip Mollel.
We are enchanted with the warm welcome we get at dinner the first evening in the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge: young Tanzanians sing and dance to the welcoming song in Swahili: “Karibu Tanzania”. We later realize these energetic entertainers are also our wait staff in the dining room, front desk or kitchen staff or even the chamber maids – a versatile group indeed and so eager to please.
Our first and second days on safari have revealed so many wonders we cannot believe our good fortune: families of elephant, herds of zebra, Thompson gazelles and giraffe abound as we explore the floor of the 101 mile wide crater. Over the next several days we move on to through to view Savannah teeming wildebeest, gazelles, zebra, elephant and wily hyena stalking their prey. We are thrilled in the Serengeti National Park to see prides of lion beyond imagination but also we are sad to be wrapping up the Tanzanian portion of our adventure when we approach our last day in Tarangire National Park. Here we marvel at the ancient and mysterious baobab trees called the “tree of life”for their capacity to provide food, shelter, water and fuel. Some have been carbon dated at 2000 years.
Then we move on to Kenya, bidding “Kwaheri” to our Tanzanian guides at the chaotic border crossing of Namanga (no man’s land).