Nov. 13, 2007 – Tanzania – Ngare Sero Lodge – Ash and My Living Room – 7pm

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Ash and I are back from our three-day Camp Natron bush safari adventure. It has been a long time since either of us has camped out in the wilderness. We survived 6+ hours getting there, driving on unpaved and very rocky dirt roads – bouncing up and down and up and down and rocking side to side for hour after hour. I have never before needed a support bra more than during my drives through Arusha!

Upon our arrival at the camp, we quickly forgot the long bumpy journey and marveled at the wildlife that would be sharing out refuge for the next three days: zebras, giraffes, baboons, camels, flamingos – and less gloriously, vicious mosquitoes, gnats, bed bugs, scorpions, centipedes, beetles, snakes and rats. The only other humans even remotely nearby were the ancient Masai tribes.

We were led to our tent by the camp host, Abdullah, who wore a permanent broad smile on his face. In my opinion, the greatest sites to behold in Africa are not the mountains or the wildlife but the beautiful smiles of the people.

Arriving at our “bedou-style” tent, we were given a brief tour of the ten by twenty foot space: the bedroom, the lounge chairs, the bathroom. Now I have to say, I am quite used to rough travel, having journeyed through many developing countries, but getting your first glimpse of your toilet facilities is always a little unnerving. For those who don’t know what a compost toilet is – you’re lucky. As we surveyed the bathroom, Ash and I looked at each other and telepathically decided we would be constipated for the next three days.

Note to self: Lots of bread, little water.

On our first night we simply chilled out, ate dinner and hung with our hosts Stacia and Tim along with three other travelers from Geneva – two brothers and the girlfriend of one. The food was impressively tasty and we devoured it –spiced with a variety of small bugs, I’m sure. We were each given a walkie-talkie in case of an emergency, or if we simply needed another cup of coffee or snack delivered to our tent.

After dinner and a bit of socializing we adjourned to our Bedouin tent. To get there we had to walk in the dark down a long dirt path amidst weeds and pockets of hundreds of tiny flying bugs (glad I brought a small flashlight which came in handy). Our tent had a camouflage tarp that covered the whole area, and then inside was another smaller tent that functioned like a small bedroom – with one  queen-size wood-frame bed with a foam mattress, sheets and a blanket folded into a small square at the foot of each bed.

We were impressed. Our room looked clean and comfortable. We sat on the foam mattress and decided they would definitely get the job done. Far better than a sleeping bag on the ground, in any case.

On side tables next to our respective bedsides were two lamps that, in addition to providing illumination, served as the local discotheque for all the bugs and mosquitoes that had infiltrated our room. As with most discos, not everyone leaves at last call. After the lights went out (due to a power shortage) our bedroom became their after-hours hot spot. Note: At least in Africa, DEET does not work!!! Science has yet to invent a mosquito repellent that reliably repels African mosquitoes, flies, bed bugs, and gnats.

The next morning we woke up early, surprisingly well rested despite having been eaten alive up by the bugs.

We walked with what remained of our bodies down the long path to the common tent that served as our dining area – very civilized. We were greeted by our friendly staff and seven camels grazing in the nearby field. Our dining tent was like a five-star restaurant in the middle of bush land. Here, the staff waits anxiously for your requests and “no” is a word you seldom hear. We had our standard fare of eggs and toast, washed down with lots of organic coffee.

Lake Natron Walk

After a long breakfast Ash and I (with Stacia and her two Dobermans, Chitani and Sugar) ventured out with a local guide/staff to walk the terrain for about a mile to view flamingos. Although neither one of us is crazy about flamingos, we didn’t have the heart to tell the local guide we didn’t care to see one of their prized attractions.

About half way to the flamingos Stacia suggested we take off our shoes to walk the clay ground barefoot, because it softens the soles of the feet and just feels good. We did so reluctantly

We finally reached the flamingos and it turned out to be exactly as we had expected – lots of flamingos hanging out by the lake. Unless you are an avid birdwatcher and flamingo fan, this site will not hold tremendous interest for you. On the bright side, we got some exercise and enjoyed walking in this natural habitat and our feet and toes were all black and gooey and soft from the clay and moist dirt. I guess this was a bonus spa treatment with the purchase of the bird-watching tour.

We were soon spotted by a group of Masai women and their male overseer. We watched these exotic beings walk towards us with their gorgeous multi-colored scarves creatively draped over their thin, fit frames, but unfortunately all they seemed to see was large green dollar signs walking towards them.

As we drew closer they set up shop right there in the middle of the dirt and clay. SHOP IS WHERE THE HEART IS. They each carried handfuls of jewelry and displayed it all on the ground for us to view and hopefully purchase. Unfortunately for them, we hadn’t brought money with us on this walk, but we promised to return later and buy something. This was actually a little white lie, but damn! It’s so hard to say no.

As we continued walking we stumbled across small pieces of broken glass, dead wildebeest carcasses, and creepy crawling bugs. Shoot! A sliver of glass found its way into the ball of my right foot. In the near distance we spotted a small bridge with a stream under it and headed towards it. We sat down and dangled our feet in the stream and cleaned them and I managed to remove the glass before it dug in too deep.

We put our flip-flops back onto our now very soft, exfoliated feet, which felt great – especially with no high-priced spa bill.

We were greeted back at the tent with a lunch consisting of lentil soup, lettuce, carrots, cucumber salad and fried trout. After lunch we lounged on pillows on the ground and sipped tea, chatted with the other guests and listened as Tim (the owner) gave us a short lecture about the camp and its surrounding terrain.

The Waterfalls

After lunch Ash and I were scheduled to go to the waterfalls, which are supposed to be spectacular. Stacia said it would be a forty-five minute walk. We inquired about footwear because she was sporting Crocs and also had scuba-diving booties but she said, “Nah, all you’ll need are flip flops.

It’s just a short walk and the shoes would weigh you down. Besides it is about 80 degrees, very hot!” So, off we went with our driver in the jeep to the falls, flip-flops in tow.

We arrived to a vision of majestic beauty! Trees that looked as if they were doing tai chi exercises in the wind – so graceful and free-looking – with water cascading down a ravine and several Masai decorating the place with their welcoming smiles and clothing colored in deep purples, reds, oranges, and yellows.

Below us, the path was marked very clearly by goat and cow dung! Apparently, the Masai’s animal herds love to come and graze by the ravines branching off from the waterfalls. These animals, apparently, do NOT have a problem with constipation. Remember the flip-flops??

At that point we started our “walk.

” We began by hiking over a rock path alongside a ravine. As we continued, we were forced to ascend walls so steep they felt like the rock wall at your local health club. The last time I took a “walk” like this I was struggling to the top of Macchu Picchu in hiking boots. We climbed higher and higher with our guide from the camp and a sweet Masai guide. And the trek grew ever more challenging. We had to wade through rushing water (Ash and I rolled up our sweatpants but they still got soaked). Remember the flip-flops??

Ah, the flip-flops. If you’ve ever tried to cross a river or stream against the current, you will appreciate our pain. And I do mean Pain!! The water kept trying to steal away our flip-flops, making us walk barefoot on the rough spiky rocks while struggling across the streams.

We actually couldn’t decide which was more painful, slipping and falling onto the rocks or walking barefoot over them. Often we wouldn’t have a choice because our flip-flops would arrive fifty feet a head of us, leaving us no choice but to walk climb barefoot! Please, learn from our pain. Do not go hiking or mountain climbing with flip-flops unless you are closely related to Tarzan.

Fortunately, our Masai guides were always quick to retrieve our hated flip-flops regardless of where the river took them. The Masai are fleet of foot and they know the terrain well. They can scale dangerous rock walls and make it to the river gorge in twenty minutes flat – the same trip that took Ash and me (who are relatively fit) about two hours.

Long story short, we made it to the waterfalls and they were fantastic! We swam to the base and let them crash down upon us.

It was well worth the struggle to get there. No pain at that point, just beauty.

After we’d had our fill of the water, we contemplated the long “walk” back. Ash had the brilliant idea that we should make our way back on our hands and let the current push us down the river. Yes, I did say on our hands! And, yes, it was a stupid idea. Now, we also have scrapes and bruises on our hands and arms. Kids, don’t try this at home. We ended up reverting to our feet, sometimes with and sometimes without the aid of the flip-flops. And then it started raining – and I mean hard. So now we had to make the same dangerous trek but in the rain! We felt like unwilling participants in Survivor: Africa.

The Masai Village

After we’d finished our trek, we asked our guide to take us to Masai village.

We wanted to really submerge ourselves in the local culture. We were greeted by the local tribesmen, their children, goats, sheep, and cows –all living together in harmony amidst lots and lots of cow and goat dung. I’m sorry, I must now apologize for my intolerance of animal excrement. But remember the flip-flops??? Yes, we were now ankle deep in dung!!! Dung, dung, dung — everywhere!!!

You do tend to forget what’s underfoot once the Masai start singing and dancing and dressing you in their local costumes and jewelry. They danced for us and then we danced for them, and it was wonderful how sweet and excited they were to meet us. I’d have to say that that was the highlight of the camping trip.

Back at our campsite we enjoyed a delicious dinner of grilled fish, vegetables, and hot tea.

We socialized a bit with the other guests but chose to go to our room and crash early. We’d had a tough day. Little did we know that our night would be even more challenging! We had foolishly left our light on and despite the netting our room was filled with flying bugs – gnats, mosquitoes, little bugs you’ve never heard of or seen before. We were disgusted but realized this was camp and we were in Africa and all we could do was deal with the situation.

We woke up covered with bug bites, and I had many mosquito bites (even though I was covered in Deet and mosquito repellent).  Apparently, the mosquitoes didn’t like Ash as much and the spiders and ants didn’t like me as much as Ash, but the bed bugs weren’t picky – they went for both of us.

After breakfast and coffee we packed up and started the drive back to our lodge in Arusha.

It’s a pretty brutal journey: six hours of rough roads, breast-holding and withering heat. But we made it, and arriving at the lodge was pure bliss!

A delicious meal was waiting for us, and Ash and I ate by the fireplace with Stacia as she told us some fun facts about Tanzania. For example, if you are a Tanzanian you can just claim land and build a house on it without paying for the land. The trick is to first claim it and then have a friend protest that it was his land first. You win the case and the judge awards you a deed to the land. If someone else tries to build on that property they can’t, because you hold the deed. Very sneaky!

We also asked her about the possibility of getting malaria, since we were told it’s high here and I was popular with those insects. She said the malaria-carrying mosquitoes are females only and that they were small and brown and made no buzzing sound. And that they only come out at night. Uh-oh. I had been bitten several times in the past two nights, but I was asleep and couldn’t remember any buzzing, so I figured I’d just have to wait it out and see what happened. But tomorrow we are scheduled to leave for Zanzibar, and Ash and I have both agreed that we don’t want the experience of getting malaria. So it’s decided then, we won’t get it. We’re good.

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