I don’t think I ever grasped the concept of animals living wild and free (despite the evidence showcased by NatGeo)…..until we drove several metres into Mikumi. We weren’t even close to the entrance of the park when we saw these…
Godfrey joked about our mission being accomplished, no need to spend money on the park, we could turn around and go back home now. 😀
The plan was to rent a lodge for the day and one night, rent a car and a guide, dump our bags, freshen up and go for a game drive. After the nitty-gritties had been taken care of, payments made, etc, we drove down some convoluted paths to the place we were to stay. On the way there was some excitement as we spotted an old lion sitting under a tree. ‘Simba!’ yelled Brian, and we watched as the lion yawned mightily, got up, and walked over to another shady bush.
Personally, I didn’t see the big deal in spotting a lion. I think zebras and giraffes are way prettier to look at. 🙂
Godfrey had been in a meeting with the president (!!!) all day and hadn’t had the chance to have lunch before picking us up for Mikumi. He had a headache, and I was glad I’d packed Panadol, a bag of salted cashews and Lays. The tea at his house did the trick, and he quietly crunched chips as he drove out of Dar es Salam, Brian strapped safely into the passenger seat where he promptly fell asleep, and Huz and me in the back seat.
I didn’t realise the city was so big. It took a pretty long time to reach the outer precincts and eventually a fork in the road. The perpendicular road led to Arusha….. (I almost stretched out my arm towards it….)
A policeman waved us down and motioned to Godfrey to stop along the side, and as he walked towards the car, my heart started thumping for some weird reason and my imagination went into overdrive.
He peered at Godfrey and asked him where he was going, glancing at us as he did so. Godfrey explained we were going to Mikumi. Then he asked who we were and where we were from. It was just a routine security check, but while he inspected our passports, Godfrey whispered that he was probably going to think of a way to get some money out of us. Sure enough, though he found no fault with our passports (much to his disappointment), he found it objectionable that Godfrey was driving around with just a photocopy of his drivers’ license and not the original. There ensued a discussion in Kiswahili, with Godfrey pooh-poohing the policeman’s half-hearted contention and sticking to his ground until he realised there was no way he could intimidate Godfrey into giving him anything. Not understanding any of it, I relaxed only when we were waved off and moved on, none the poorer.
The road was long and as we were in Anna’s car, we had to choose from her CD’s for road music. Apparently she liked ballads and romantic songs so we alternated between Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie as we whizzed along the highway, and though it was dark except for the car headlights, I could make out the shapes of trees on both sides. I was lulled into dozing, but opened my eyes every now and then to check the time or to listen to the conversation between the men, and occasionally put in my two-bit. It turned out that Godfrey would pick up Anna on the way, from a place called Morogoro, a small town about an hour and a half away from the park. And there was yet another change of plan. Though we had special permission to get into the park AFTER the gates had closed for the evening, we were told that it would be unsafe to reach there after 11 o’ clock since the generators were turned off then. So now we would have to spend the night at Morogoro.
By this time, I was feeling thoroughly adventurous, and every new development brought a thrill. I was hurtling through space in the middle of the Tanzanian countryside, unable to get a grasp of my surroundings because of the darkness, but it didn’t matter. The only thing familiar was ‘Say you, Say me’ and ‘Endless Love’, and of course Huz sitting next to me. I put my hand in his and smiled in the dark. Staring ahead through the windshield, I noticed a strange glow up ahead and suddenly we were engulfed in…..
……FOG….! The world turned phantasmagoric and I imagined I saw luminous eyes of strange beasts through the tall grass……fireflies were flashing around and playing tricks with my head.
I marvelled at the road. It was a smooth drive without even a single bump, and Godfrey drove fast, covering the distance between Dar and Morogoro rapidly. Even so, I think it took us a little over four hours to reach the town. That’s about twice as long as it takes to reach Hyderabad from Karachi….and I find THAT to be too long.
Godfrey called up Anna to find out where she was and we made our way over a potholed side road to find her standing with two people outside a guesthouse. She got in the front seat and settled the now awake Brian onto her lap, said goodbye to her friends and we set off to look for a place to spend the night in.
I’m not sure anymore, but I think the hotel we found to stay in was called ‘Morogoro Hotel’ (well, let’s just call it that.) Felt great to get out of the car and stretch my legs in the parking lot, and we collected our bags and made our way over to the reception, behind the desk of which was a rather disconcerting sight of predator and prey.
We were assigned separate rooms, Godfrey’s family and us, and we walked through a tubelit inner courtyard to get to the building that housed the rooms for rent, with a plan to meet again in a few minutes for a quick dinner. It was eerily empty, and our footsteps echoed along the corridors that afforded some further peculiar sights….
An attendant led the way and transported our bags and unlocked a door for us off an empty corridor.
A very basic room, and a far cry from the luxuries of the Kempinski, but really neat and clean…I realised it’s been a long time since I stayed at a cheap hotel…..but somehow, that thrilled me. Weird, I know. And the smell of cheap soap in the bathroom reminded me of trips up north, way back when….
Over a dinner of stew made with a tough old chicken and rice, I got better acquainted with Anna, who told us to use bottled water to brush instead of tap water as we parted ways for the night. We obeyed without asking why and went to bed straight away, considering we had to be up again at 6:30 in the morning, Huz making sure we were completely surrounded by mosquito netting.
It took me a long time to fall asleep, and when I did it was only to wake again every half an hour, or so it felt. On top of that, there was a rooster somewhere outside, utterly convinced dawn was about to break at what seemed like 4 am, and therefore started crowing at regular intervals forthwith. So I was awake, my head on the hard little pillow, when I glimpsed the sky lightening through a chink in the curtains, and I got up to see what I could of the outside world.
We got dressed and went to have breakfast downstairs in a dining hall with a quaint array of breakfast goodies. I was beginning to really enjoy a cup of Africafe, though it was accompanied by arguably the worst omelette in the world, despite being made with the best intentions. But I filled up on fresh juicy pineapple and was happy, and soon we were checked out, back in the car and on our way.
Daylight brought pretty cool revelations. Apparently, Morogoro is built on flat land at the base of green hills. And the entire drive from there to Mikumi was probably one of the most beautifully scenic I have ever laid eyes on.
We only had one weekend while in Tanzania to think about going some place out of Dar es Salam, and the choices were many…yet there were limitations. Browsing through a brochure and a touristy map of Tanzania revealed delightful names and places that evoked such diverse visions as a snow-capped solitary peak, waterfalls, lakes, caves with ancient paintings, white sand beaches….I found myself saying ‘Arusha’…’Ngorongoro’…..’Kilimanjaro’….’Serengeti’….delighted at finding myself in this part of the Earth, where places like these are at a stone’s throw, and I allowed myself to wallow in the wondrousness of it all, until Huz brought me back to earth with his usual forthright and practical approach to life. 😛
There wasn’t enough time to go to Arusha in the north by road (it is the centre from where expeditions branch out, much like Skardu I imagine) and there were stories about a man in a village near Arusha who had concocted a herbal miracle brew from the poisonous roots of acacia trees, claiming to cure incurable diseases, jamming the road to Arusha as a result. Throngs of people were queued up, wanting some of that magic potion….there was a good chance we’d be stuck on the road for hours. Wistfully, I folded up the map.
It was more realistic to go somewhere close by, and Godfrey mentioned Mikumi, a national park about 4-5 hours away on a traffic-less day. He even volunteered to take us there, a prospect that was extremely appealing to Huz since it meant stress-free travelling and the reassuring presence of a local.
The other option was Zanzibar, an island about two hours away by ferry, a place EVERYONE back home with the slightest connection to Tanzania had urged me to visit.
So the choice was between an African safari and a beachy experience. The odds were heavily stacked against Zanzibari beaches because a) they couldn’t possibly beat Maldivian beaches (we have spent A LOT of time on those) and b) Huz has been to Zanzibar twice, and though he hasn’t seen the beaches, he was completely unenthusiastic about going there again. Not even with me.
When I mentioned our Mikumi plan to Ali’s wife, she was most unimpressed. ‘Why are you going to Mikumi? It’s so dry! There’s nothing to do there and hardly any animals. You should go to Selous, it’s bigger and much more populated.’
Crestfallen, I told Godfrey about this latest bit of information and tried to press a case for going to Selous instead. He was doubtful. It was the wet season, and the road to Selous is an untarred one, so he wasn’t too eager to drive his car there.
Feeling rather helpless and seeing my visions of visiting the more well known places come crashing around my ears, I resigned myself to Mikumi, and so it was that we packed our weekend bags, deposited our suitcases at the reception and checked out of the Kempinski, to wait for Godfrey to come pick us up at 4 in the afternoon.
We drove out of the city centre only to be met by severely jammed traffic. Time ticked by, as we made our way slowly to Godfrey’s house first so he could pick up his clothes and his 5 yr old son Brian.
Godfrey’s house turned out to be in a very different part of Dar es Salam than I had seen so far. We travelled slowly over a muddy road lined with shacks and shops on both sides, chickens and kids running around, women carrying babies in khangas tied to their backs. We veered off the main road into a narrow alley with room for just one car to pass, and bumped down this until we reached Godfrey’s house.
I was very curious by this time, and while Godfrey got out to open the gate to take the car in, I wondered what we’d find within. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that a guy with a fancy car would live in such an undeveloped locality. It was all very different and interesting, and I smiled happily to myself, whipping out the camera. I guess after years and years of living in the same city and growing up with class differentiations based on the location of one’s house, I couldn’t figure out where to place Godfrey (erstwhile lecturer at the University of Dar es Salam, part-time national consultant for UNIDO, and presently working at the Ministry of Industry, government of Tanzania) in the scheme of things here.
What I saw inside the boundary walls was a pink and mint-green facade of a good sized house in the middle of a biggish plot of land. Someone was attempting gardening, and there were mounds of earth and manure alongside one wall, and as I turned the corner, a small well.
The house was on a hill, so while the front door of the house was on the same level as the ‘driveway’, the back door was reached by a short flight of stairs.
We were ushered in for tea from there as we waited while Godfrey changed out of his office attire, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a modern kitchen, with lovely new cabinets and shiny marble countertops. I surveyed the interior while sipping a mug of sweet hot black tea sitting at a big dining table in an airless room without a fan. The house was so new, it wasn’t even finished yet.
The pretty, slightly aloof young woman who served us tea turned out to be the babysitter. Another young woman in jeans came in through a doorway, coaxing a chubby little boy to come and say hello. Godfrey introduced her as his sister in law and explained that she came to stay to take care of Brian while her sister, Godfrey’s wife, was away (as she was now.) I smiled at the little boy and said hello as he stared at me shyly and extended a hand.
It was getting close to sunset, and I was getting just a wee bit impatient about the delay in our drive out of the city, as I wanted to be able to see a bit of the surrounding landscape while it was still light. Finally, we said our goodbyes, got into the car and headed out again, back through the same roads that we took to get there. Godfrey is a canny driver and he guessed correctly that the main road out of the city would have long queues of cars backed up and it would take ages to traverse. So he took the scenic route. And boy was it scenic. It was the absolute height of scenic-ness (I know, it isn’t a word, but really!) The road wasn’t very good, but the terrain was hilly and the feeling of being there, in the middle of what seemed to be dense jungle, driving into the sunset, was an awesome one.
No, I didn’t die in a plane crash after all, or get eaten by sharks 😛 But I DID have some close encounters with tsetse flies and mosquitoes…
So many pictures to showcase, and so many stories to tell…and I’m clueless where to start. All I have to say at this point is, Tanzania turned out to be as interesting as I dared hope it would be. All of hubby’s experiences of travelling solo in Africa have now come vividly into focus in my head, and I am no longer a vague disconnected spectator. It’s great to finally have seen what he saw 🙂 But as Proust said, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes….
My jaded Karachiite cynicism had to rethink itself in the East African habitat. It expected certain attitudes and was surprised to find the same rules of behaviour did not apply, the ones it is used to meting out at home. People ARE different from place to place! This was an unusual trip in many ways, and one of the reasons for it has been the interactions with various people while I was there……a truly multicultural bunch. They enriched my experience in ways that I’m not even properly aware of, yet I feel changed because of them. This must be one of the coolest things about travelling. If we’re lucky, we manage not to just skim along on the surface of a touristy trip, stay at a nice hotel/resort, eat in fancy restaurants, see the sights that are laid out for us to see and go to the places the guidebooks tell us to go…
So I dedicate my first post-travel post to the people I met 🙂 May they all be chugging along merrily where I left them. I hope I get to see them again someday. They had no idea I am a closet anthropologist (albeit a clueless one) nor do they know just how much I enjoyed their conversation and their company, even when we ran out of things to laugh and talk about.
This is only one-third of the family that adopted us while we were in Dar es Salam. There are many more of them, scattered around East Africa 🙂 Not only did they drive us around and show us places and make sure we tried as much of the local junk food as we could, they blew me away with their quaint, typically East African sing-song way of speaking 😀 I’m sure they must have thought I was a bit crazy, smiling away while I listened to them talk, but it was hard to suppress my delight as they occasionally burst into Swahili in the middle of all that beautifully accented Gujarati. I learned that Lulu ben drives like a maniac and (in her own words) has grown old listening to Vital Signs blaring in her car. She was born and raised in Karachi till she got proposed to by a man from Zanzibar, for whom she left all that she had known to go live in a completely strange new place. Her family means everything to her, and I’m happy to report they’re a charming lot, at least the ones I had the good fortune to meet, friendly and full of life, busy in their spheres, multiplying every now and then with new additions to the family 🙂
Shirin (not in the pic) and the older Hani are twins, yet completely unalike. Ali and Muni love Dar, and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else, though Muni would love to come to Karachi just for the food and to shop till she drops. She loves jewellery and gemstones set in classy rings, and used to help her father in his tour operating business enterprise in Arusha until she got married. Murtaza is married to Shirin, whom he met at the beach and dated for 3 years before they got hitched. Huz and him got along like a house on fire. And Ali loves to tease the older Hani by freaking her out with ghost stories from Zanzibar, so much so that she can’t sleep alone with the mere *mention* of spookiness. She can’t even sit with her back to the ocean!
And then there was little Hani. We were inseparable. We took pictures of each other, secretly shared laal badaam juice (she wasn’t supposed to have any) she whispered stories in my willing ear, so many cute little stories about her homework, the locals that hung around outside their window, her little brother…and every time we parted ways, she’d give me a little gift from the purse she always carried….a Snickers bar…and gum 🙂
If there was anyone in Dar who was concerned about us not getting bored, it was Godfrey. He made it his personal responsibility to show us places we might not have been able to access easily, and once there, he showed us around with indulgence and a pleasantly quiet enthusiasm. I loved the way he pronounced my name….Mu-neee-rahh. He has a penchant for white wine and Pringles 🙂 If not for his willingness to drive us all the way to Mikumi (a scenic wildlife reserve), we might have been too insecure and a bit daunted by the newness of experience outside Dar es Salam. His son Bryan (yet another 5 yr old!) sang songs and Tanzanian beer jingles all the way and we were amused no end by him. He had a way of responding to questions by just raising his eyebrows with a certain expression in his eyes, and we were left to decipher what he meant 😀
Godfrey’s wife, Anna Maria turned out to be this really educated woman, holding double degrees in Chemistry and Wildlife Studies, teaching entrepreneurship for a government-based program. She schooled me on the correct method of preparing Ugali, a maize-based staple in local cuisine, and divulged that if it wasn’t for the fact that she had to work to supplement the family income, she would rather be home and spend more time with Bryan, and perhaps have more kids.
Our safari experience was the richer for the hours we spent riding around in the same car 🙂
How would I have had the courage to go to Mwenge, and Kepepeo, and Zanzibar, if not for Tina, the Ghanaian wife of Willem, Huz’s long-time colleague and friend…
Without Tina’s moral support, I would have been a blithering idiot. Not to mention, completely unaware of the dire hair issues of African women! I can now recognize and tell the difference between real hair and extensions 😉
There are 49 languages spoken in Ghana, and Tina doesn’t know Swahili. Yet, she was completely at home in Tanzania, charming the locals with her West African-ness and her rust-coloured extensions. With her, I was just an anonymous ‘muzungu’ (white person! me!! HAH!!). She occupied centre-stage in Tanzanian male attentions, causing random coconut sellers to declare their love and offer to marry her 😀
And this is Dong. I think this picture best captures the wackiness that is her 🙂 She works for the UNIDO and lives in Vienna, where a single eggplant costs 1 euro and her mother is scandalized, since in China you can get at least a kilo for that much money. She loves her work (she plays a huge part in getting work for Huz too) and her tuna sashimi, and would like nothing better than to travel all over the world :). A self-professed nerd, but as much fun as a barrel of monkeys.:D Loved her company during our sumptuous breakfasts at the lovely Kilimanjaro Kempinski, where strange and amazing things happened, such as the elevator doors opening to reveal Kofi Annan waiting for the lift (he was in Dar es Salam for a conference on poverty alleviation!)
Yep, too many stories….I’m back with loads of inspiration. Albums have been duly facebooked, and now……to blog about it. 🙂 More on people and places in coming posts!