Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Over the past couple weeks I have been back and forth to Arusha in the northern part of Tanzania. I have been exploring the National Parks in that area including Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro. Each park contains all the wildlife you would imagine in Eastern Africa. I couldn't believe how close I got to some of these amazing animals. The best part was experiencing everything in pure nature. These animals aren't cooped up in fences all day; they are roaming freely through vast plains or resting up in the tall acacia trees. It is amazing to see their natural behaviors up close.

The first park I visited was Tarangire. 

This park is most celebrated for its beautiful landscape dotted with enormous baobob trees. The bark of this plant is a favorite snack of the African elephant, so it is also home to one of the largest elephant populations in all of Africa. Everywhere I turned there was another group of elephants! At one point, they completely surrounded the safari vehicle. We just had to wait for them to clear out of the area a bit so we could drive off.

Another exciting find was a leopard. These animals are extremely rare to spot because they are solitary and hide in trees. The only time you'd ever see two leopards together is if a mother is still raising her young. Otherwise they maintain a territory of about 8 kilometers. It was so far off in the distance, and only its head was visible through all the leaves of the acacia tree. My guide must've been eating his carrots this week... pretty soon there were 8 other safari cars huddled around us to see such a rare find.

Lake Manyara was our next stop. The baboons completely own this neck of the woods, or at least that's what they think.

My favorite part of the day was when a mother and baby elephant came out of the woods and surprised us by drinking water from a muddy river just a few feet away. Then two other sets of mother and baby elephants came out of the same area. The mothers were drinking and bathing while the babies began playing together. It was like something you might see on National Geographic, but it was happening right before my eyes!

A little farther down the road, I could hear horrible moaning sounds. Two elephants were fighting! As we pulled up to the scene, I could see that it was just a couple young elephants playing around... but I wouldn't want to get in the middle of that.

That night, our hotel overlooked Lake Manyara. Remember--no fences, no boundaries, wild animals everywhere. The hotel staff warned us to keep windows and doors closed and locked at all times. I guess our neighbors didn't pay attention to that fact. In the morning, we heard a loud scream and watched a baboon run off with an entire fruit basket from the room next door! The woman was totally terrified as the baboon sat on the roof eating her breakfast. 

The next stop on the journey was Serengeti National Park. This is where most of the excitement of the trip took place. Serengeti is home to so many big cats—lions, cheetahs, and leopards.

On my second drive through the Serengeti, there was another exciting leopard spotting here. It was snoozing up in an acacia tree right by the road!

Lions spend most of their time laying around, full-bellied, digesting the feast of zebra, wildebeest, or antelope that roam all around them.

When they decide to get up and move around, it's an incredible sight. They are so large and powerful. 

I was surprised at how many prides of lions I saw in this small time. There were so many of them! These ones were staring down a large group of buffalo.

The cubs are adorable! And very active. They play with each other, jumping around and pretending to fight. Whenever they try to play with the adult lions, they always get swatted away, and then go back to jumping around in the tall reeds.

The cheetahs were my absolute favorite part of the entire trip. We found a group of three cheetah brothers ready to hunt. 

First they were watching a herd of zebras. Normally cheetahs wouldn't aim for such large prey, but there was a baby in the group that they were hoping to separate and catch. Unfortunately, they played the waiting game a little too long and the zebras slipped away. 

Not to worry, the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebras were running right in front of their path, single-file, like a mouth-watering display in a supermarket. 

They waited for a long time, and finally decided to make a strike. Each of the cheetahs went after a different wildebeest, leading to failure and empty stomachs. It was disappointing, but these cheetahs weren't done yet. They went to rest over in the shade. 

Just a few minutes later, two baby wildebeest came prancing over, right in front of the three cheetahs!! 

They dashed out of that shade so fast, earning their title as the fastest land animal in the world. The first cheetah took down one of the wildebeest and as the second caught up, they carried their prey to an area with higher grasses. 

Then they began to devour their lunch. 

I kept watching until the vultures were done feeding on the dry bones.

My second safari was spent camping in each park. That's right--in the parks! That meant it was completely normal for wild animals to roam around each of the tents eating grass and doing other things that animals do. 

One evening in the Serengeti, water buffalo came right up to my tent! These things are massive!! I guess they aren't going to bother you unless you provoke them. But how do you know what might set off a giant buffalo? 

Our last day was spent in Ngorongoro crater. This massive crater used to be a full volcanic mountain, but collapsed on itself over two million years ago. Now it is the largest caldera in the world, and home to the greatest concentration of predators in the world. The rare Black Rhino can be found here in the crater. The populations are extremely endangered—last counted at only 19 in this area! This is a result of poachers who want the rhino horn for medicinal use in Asia.

I was amazed by all the wildlife condensed into that crater. We saw just as many species within the crater as we did in every other park combined!







Antelope. Below you can see an Eland in front of some Thompson's Gazelles. 



Hyenas--they really do smile at you!

There aren't any giraffes or female elephants in the crater. Giraffes are too top-heavy to make the steep descent into the crater. Plus is only a small patch of acacia trees, so they are more protected when they stick with the food outside the crater. Female elephants don't venture down there because their babies wouldn't have any protection from predators in the open plains. They prefer to stay in the highlands where there are plenty of tall jungle-like trees. 
This didn't mean I couldn't see any. As a matter of fact, a massive group of giraffes came out to say goodbye to us on the way out of the crater. There must've been at least 30 giraffes scattered up on this hilltop! They are such magnificent creatures. When they run, it looks like slow motion. They are graceful, but so large that every movement is ten times slower than you'd expect. Absolutely amazing. 

The exciting and memorable parts of safari were certainly the big game animals. But I couldn't possibly leave out all the wacky and incredible birds. Most of them had such a beautiful array of colors. I wish I was able to snap a few more photos, but the little ones are so quick!

These safari adventures were an incredible way to see the beauty of Africa up close.

Leg Updates

A lot of you have expressed concern about the medical treatment I have received. I know they made a few mistakes along the way, but I am in good care now. The orthopedist (not the ER doctors) has been handling the situation since last week. He said that my leg needed more support than the flimsy gauze it was wrapped in, so another POP was necessary. This time he insisted that he manage the entire procedure, and wrap excessive amounts of cotton around the burned area so I feel absolutely no pain. This guy was great!

I now have a 'walking cast' made of POP, which looks similar to an ordinary cast you'd see in the US. I'm supposed to start putting a little bit more weight on it each day for the next three weeks, but never to walk without crutches.

Thank you all for being concerned. Like I said, I'm receiving very good care now. In a few weeks, I may be rid of this POP altogether!
Hakuna Matata!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Maasai Village

On our way through northern Tanzania, my dad and I stopped at a local Maasai Village. Maasai are the most well-known ethnic group in Tanzania. Despite progress and changes made throughout the country, these people continue to live their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle. They move their villages about every four years to follow water and fresh grazing pastures for their livestock.

Cows are the greatest pride of the Maasai people. In fact, they believe that only Maasai men can take care of cows the way they truly deserve to be handled. In the past, Maasai have been known to steal cows from other tribes because they believe God intended for all cows to belong to them. They are just taking back white rightfully belongs to them. Other tribes would try to steal their cows back, but Maasai warriors are known to be the strongest, so the weaker tribes would usually just give in.

The number of cows that a Maasai man owns is a status symbol. A woman would never marry a man who doesn't have plenty of cows!

Speaking of marriage, a Maasai man can marry as many wives as he wants. Each wife gets her own hut inside the village. This particular village had two leading males, with a combined total of 26 wives and about 100 children.

Once my dad heard all of this, he decided that he wanted to be a Maasai chief, and tried to sell me to some of the young warriors for 40 cows! They were thrilled about the idea. I wasn't as excited about the prospect of being traded for livestock, but it was all in good fun. Fortunately, none of the individuals had acquired 40 cows yet. Thanks Dad...

Maasai can be easily recognized by their clothing. The warriors can always be seen wearing layers of red fabrics draped around their bodies, often covering red and blue patterned fabrics. They generally carry a spear, stick or large dagger, even just walking through town. They create shoes from used motorcycle tires that they come across. The men and women all wear bright beaded jewelry and many have their earlobes stretched out several inches for large earrings.

At the time of our arrival, all men and women in the village came out to welcome us with a traditional dance.

Then they performed a second dance. The men were challenging each other to see who could jump the highest, while the women cheered them on, chanting and bouncing their shoulders. It was fun to participate. They showed me the proper movements and taught me some of the words and sounds.

My dad and I were led around the village by a 19 year old Maasai man. He answered every question I had about the distinct culture, lifestyle practices, and ceremonious coming-of-age traditions.

In the past, a man was expected to kill a fully grown male lion before he could have his first wife. This proved his strength and ability to be a protector. This cannot be a part of the lifestyle anymore because of the endangered lion populations. Although they live among African wildlife, they do not kill any of the wild animals, such as giraffes, wildebeest, elephant, or hippo.

Their diet consists of three main foods—meat, milk, and blood. Yes, blood. They have perfected the art of drinking cow blood so the cow can jump right up and continue grazing after they have had their fill. The livestock they raise generally consists of cows, goats, and lambs. They would never eat chicken, eggs or any other bird.

Walking through their village was so interesting. Everything was so simple and like nothing I had ever seen before. Their huts are made from branches and mud, then covered in cow dung. They must be durable, but also not too complex because they are only temporary. Each woman must build her own hut, with help from her children or other females in the community. It takes about 3 weeks to build one hut, and it will last about 4-5 years.

Most of the Maasai men continue this semi-nomadic lifestyle as they grow up. They all aspire to have more cows than they can count. The women fall into the daily routine of cooking, raising the children, creating jewelry, and tending to the village needs. Some of the Maasai choose to move out of the villages and into bigger cities in order to get an education or pursue paying jobs. Their community will always welcome them home if they continue to practice Maasai traditions.

We got to see a small school for all the village children from age 3 to 5. They were so adorable as they counted and said the alphabet in unison.

They all wanted to run over and give me a high five. During these years, it seems as though they learn the basics of English and Swahili numbers and letters. It is difficult to teach them math or many other subjects because there are no school supplies in the village. About 25 children were crowded onto a couple benches, staring at a single small blackboard.

The people of this village were overly friendly and welcoming. Even with all I had read about the Maasai, hearing stories in their own words gave new me new perspective on this lifestyle.

Until next time, Oleseri (Goodbye in Maasai language)