Mikumi!

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…

*gasp!*

heffalumps!
coming at us!
decide not to mess with us
impala!

*zoom*

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. 🙂

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The road to Mikumi-part 1

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.

….to be contd…