Mikumi, Tanzania: (Day 10) Dec-20-2013

I woke up at 5:45, breakfast at 7:00, on the road by 7:15am.  Today we have ~280 km (5-6 hours) to drive to get to Mikumi.  We are using Mikumi as a stop-over on our way to Dar es Salaam, which we will drive to tomorrow.  We have the option of taking an afternoon game drive in the Mikumi National Park.  Price is still up in the air as it will depend on the number of people that decide to go.  We are told probably between $80-$100 a person, which covers the park entrance fee + the car/driver.  The game drive should last for 3-4 hours.


When I woke up I noticed my tent was a bit damp, not wet, just damp.  It hadn't rained but by the amount of due it seemed like it could have.  Packing up the tent is such a dirty task.  The 12 metal poles required to erect the tent are heavily rusted so taking them down and packing them just leaves my hands filthy--my newly-cleaned pants now look like they've been worn for the past week.  I was happy I didn't unpack the fly--one less thing to worry about this morning.  As for the tent...folding it up and rolling it to fit into the soaked canvas bag was a chore.  It is a tight fit and the fact that it was pretty saturated with water just made the entire ordeal more of a pain...a filthy pain.

Even When it Does Not Rain the Grass is Always Covered with Dew--Making Packing Up Our Tents A Very Dirty Task.  Iringa, Tanzania 

I got to chat with Kelly for a few minutes today.  I walked around the campsite for 15 minutes trying to find the best signal--in most places I had none.  I found two GSM networks, one of them showed some signal when I walked to the area behind from where the truck had parked..1 bar.  I took 5 more paces, 2 bars.  I moved to a clearing where the trees were a bit more sparse, 2/3 bars.  I found a rock that was ~8 inches tall, 3/4 bars.  It's hard to believe that having my phone 8 inches higher really made that much of a difference, but I wasn't about to argue with what my phone was reading out.


This was by far the best, most successful, experience I've had with Skype to date.  The delay was minimal, quality was above average, and we only suffered 1 dropped call--which was promptly remedied.


We are on our way to the Iringa City Center so that a few people can access an ATM, then we leave for Mikumi National Park, where we will be spending our night.  Last night was a cool evening, but it is evident that last-night will not be a trend...except for when we get to the Crater, which is ~1500m above sea-level.


The workers at our campsite last night were Maasai.  They did not use electricity--Peter (the Aussie) was telling me that one guy took over 5 minutes trying to locate his cabin in the dark.  It had to have been near complete darkness and without the use of a flashlight Peter thought this guy was just guessing.


En route this morning we are pulled over again for a routine inspection.  They check to see if we have a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, insurance, etc.--just the government trying to collect some more money.


I had been talking to Godfrey and he was saying that in Southern Africa it is easy to access a shopping center where you can expect ice-cream and other frill products.  He said that in Eastern Africa, "you never know".

I am really enjoying my book, Dark Star Safari, a story about the author's travels from Cairo to Cape Town.  He is currently heading south on a dreadful road to Nairobi.  I'm getting anxious to hear about his travels after he arrives in Nairobi as that is the part that I will be able to relate to.  I still haven't had the chance to watch any of the videos I brought along--I try during the nights, but it's often too hot so I just try to go to sleep.


We stopped in Iringa for ATMs.  Cara, Debby, Vincent, Sonia, and I were discussing how we were a bit upset that we stop in these large cities, yet never actually get to see them.  I ask Tabby if I can get dropped of in Dar es Salaam tomorrow and said that I will catch a cab back to camp.  We discuss this and it seems it's not an option.  Godfrey chimes in--I'm liking him less and less.  He's been very grumpy the last several days.  Actually, last night he told Stephanie, "I will teach you how to set up your tent yourself" and treated her like a child.  He made her feel bad that she had Debby help her.  Also, he told us at dinner while in Northern Malawi, "stop asking me things that are in your itinerary and just listen".  We have asked things like, "when are we leaving in the morning" and "will we be able to do ___ in ____?".


Debbie, Vincent, and Cara were on-board with being dropped off in Dar es Salaam, but we were told the traffic was too bad and that we couldn't do it.  They said they are sticking to the itinerary...but the FUCKING itinerary states we are going to Dar es Salaam.  Then for 1/3 of a page the itinerary talks about Dar es Salaam...why would there be such detail when we never actually get to go?


We arrived at our camp in Mikumi around 2:15.  We had lunch, hot dogs, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and bread.  We went on a game drive--$56 a person.  16 of use went--we took 3 4x4s.  It was a 20 minute drive into the park.  When we got there it was chaos.  We waited for half an hour while our driver was getting tickets.  After 30 minutes of nothing, I went in to check the status.  The front claimed starting 'today' they are only accepting credit cards.  They asked if we had any.  I said no and they told me to ask the others.  I pretended to go back and ask the others and return saying, "Yup, none of use have any credit cards, if you won't accept our cash, we'll just go somewhere else".  I'm not sure this worked, but somehow, 15 minutes later, we were allowed in.  This country, and to a large extent the entire continent, is pathetically inefficient.

Mikumi National Park, Mikumi, Tanzania
Known as Fast Food by the Lions...can you see the 'M'?

Finally, at 4:00pm we entered the park.  Our drive started slow, spotting a few impala, zebras, and the like.  We came across some warthogs chasing each-other--boy are they energetic little fuckers.  Next we came across some wildebeest--they were actually much larger than I had anticipated.  I would love to eat one of them!  We also saw three buffalo.


Male Impalas Playing, Mikumi National Park, Tanzania
I was able to snap a few photos of close-ups of their faces, boy are they interesting animals.  I also took a few pictures of one taking a crap...AWESOME!  A zebra feeding from its mother, another impala taking a pee...this is an interesting game drive.


Park fees were $30 apiece so I guess the $26 per person went to the vehicle/driver.


Warthog, Mikumi National Park, Tanzania
We came across 5 or 6 lions (about half male and half female).  They were resting in the heat and had taken to some shade beneath a few trees.  We were not able to get a close enough view as they were off of the main path and our driver told us he would get a heavy fine from the park ranger if he went off-road.  After the park ranger had driven past we finally took a few 'less than legal' routes closer to the lions.  We were there for a short time and then our driver asked, "are you done? we need to leave."  I had taken some pretty impressive photos, even with my slow f6.4 zoom lens.


A Hippo Turning Over in the Water, Mikumi National Park, Tanzania
On our way back to our camp site/hotel Debby, Vincent, Cara, and I discussed the possibility of going into 'town' tonight.  We really want to explore the "African" culture.  Long story short, we did not end up going out at night.  I am trying not to let these issues get to me though...African culture is...how do I put it...lacking!  Their food is whatever they can eat...from casaba plant to fried chicken, to mango/grape soda.  I will try to discuss this later in more depth.  I have been able to contrast the African American culture to that of Southern and Eastern African culture.  I am happy to say that the feelings I have about [the majority] of African Americans are not true about the Africans here.  So my hating the fact that Blacks in American can't pronounce the word "ask" and the fact that much of our crime is a result of violent drug-addicted black criminals does not make me racists.  I say this becuase it's the Black 'American' culture that is this way...NOT blacks!  However, it has become apparent that Blacks seems to feel entitled to charity and their work effort/work and efficiency/effectiveness is ungodly low.


Today, behind the bar, there were 3 people while 4 people were sitting down on the coach talking (and watching TV).  These people were all 'employees' of the hotel.  Let me ask you, "why does it take 3 Africans to open a fucking bottle of beer for a guest".  This is a small hotel with 20 guests (if not less).  They have to employee so many of these people becuase they are unable to do the work of a 6 year old white child.  I am not being racist, this is the sorry truth.  Cara thinks some of it is due to their cognitive deficets, possibly caused by malnutrition during childbirth and early developmental periods.


We are naive to think race is only skin deep.  In all other parts of the world, "India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Mexico, USA, Latin America, Greater Asia, and the Middle East" parents protect and raise their children.  In Africa the children raise themselves.  Once a child is too large to be carried on the mother's back I have yet to see a child with their mother.  I have seen 3 year olds running across busy streets, playing in fields alone with older children, and walking alone in certain areas.  There is no parenting here.  I wonder that if foreign aid was stopped whether the entire continent would just die off?  I'm not suggesting that happen, but it's sad that an entire people exist with no self-motivation, no future, essentially no civalized family structure.  Just look at how easily they dropped their old customs/culture and embraced christianity.  The only culture and historical meaning they had in life has now receded into the darkness of their forgotten pasts.


I see no future here.  The country is rich in minerals, and minerals only!

A Lion Smiles for the Camera, Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

Iringa, Tanzania: (Day 9) Dec-19-2013

I can't believe I've been gone for nearly two weeks--It's gone by quickly.  I could not sleep well last night--I woke up at 3:30.  My efforts to go back to sleep were unsuccessful.  I finally just got out of bed and took a shower at 4:30--with the help of my handy headlamp of course.  Bugs were kinda intense on my walk to the shower-house so I doubled back to grab a shirt--my H&M v-neck if you must know.


There were no lights in the shower-house,or anywhere else on camp for that matter.  I later found out that the electricity was turned off over night until 5:00am when it was then turned back on.  The shower-house was almost completely dark, only lit up by the waning moon.  I saw some moving shadows along the walls and took another step into the bathroom, still not in the shower yet.  I flipped my torch light from the diffuse flood setting to the stronger spotlight setting.  I scanned the shower and it looked devoid of life, mostly.  There was a beetle the size of a silver dollar scurrying along the ground and it freaked the hell out of me.  I shoed it out of the shower--trying to avoid contact with the damn bugger--while taking a leap into the shower while wearing my "Orthoheal" thongs.


The water was cold.  There was nowhere to place my shirt, towel, or soap, and the shower nozzle fell off--as the nozzle fell to the ground so did my hopes in getting any pleasure from this obligatory bathing ritual I must perform--for the sake of everyone else.  There I was in a dingy and dark shower when a recurring thought popped into my head, "Scott, why on Earth do you put yourself through this?  Yes, you are doused in bug spray, have been sweating profusely for 40 of the last 48 hours, and continue to wear clothing that has weathered all of Africa's grime, but it is worth it"?

Expression Used in Africa (see definition below)

T.I.A. - This is Africa
In Africa, there's a saying "TIA" meaning "This Is Africa" - the terms is typically used when tourists from western countries visit Africa and experience power shut downs, old technology etc.


I ended up showering...shockingly the water got colder the longer I showered--it was as though even the heavenly shower gods were preventing me from enjoying my shower.  I've gotten so accustomed to the horrible BO from all the Africans that I didn't even notice the smells in that bathroom.  I brushed my teeth and plugged in my tablet to charge...though it really wouldn't charge for a while as the electricity still hadn't been switched on.


Back in my room I packed by headlamp.  Packed for the 12+hr day of driving and then loaded the truck with my stuff.  Godfrey was up prepping breakfast and lunch--it was ~5:10 at this point.  I took my camera and walked towards the beach for some sunrise pictures.  It was nice being alone for once.  This tour is a bit different than all of the other tours I've taken in that I get very little alone time here.  So much of our time is traveling on the bus and prepping meals together.  It's really the only way to do Africa though.  This is probably the only part of the world where traveling alone is close to impossible (maybe not impossible, but it would surely suck pretty badly).

Sunrise over Lake Malawi, Chitimba, Malawi
Watching the Sunrise Over the Norther Part of Lake Malawi, Chitimba, Malawi 

I had a small bowel of corn flakes and a piece of bread with peanut butter.  I had cut up a banana on the bread and peanut butter, obviously!  We all had to pack our lunches for the day as we weren't stopping...to much ground to cover today for that luxury.  In addition to traveling 650 km on poorly paved roads we will be going through immigration to leave Malawi and enter Tanzania.  Our clocks move ahead an hour while in Tanzania and Kenya so now I am 8 hours ahead of my friends and family back home in the States.


A Dugout Canoe, Chitimba, Malawi
Tonight we are staying at Kisolanza Farm in Iringa, Tanzania.  We're told there will be no electricity of any sort and to expect the worst from Tanzanian accommodations--welcome to East Africa.  Godfrey warns us that the Maasai won't eat fish, chicken, fruit, or vegetables and that they will only eat beef, goat, and cow blood.  We are eating at a nearby Maasai Restaurant tonight--Sounds awesome, I can't wait!


Right now,we're driving through the rift valley, passing a small fishing village in Northern Malawi.  There are several dozen small paddle boats in the lake just floating there with nobody in them.  I am told the boats are there to dry out the fish.


When we got to the Malawi/Tanzania border we had to get out of the truck to stamp out of the country.  The smell of BO was just as bad as everywhere else in Africa.  Though being in such a confined place just made it more noticeable.  The overall process was unnaturally slow and inefficient.  After I had my passport stamped and was making my way back to the bus I was called back by the women who had stamped my passport.  She thought she had made a mistake, but everything was ok.


Getting into Tanzania was a different story.  There was a mess of cars trying to get in, all in a jumble following what looked like a single file line.  The heat was unbearable and now that we were stopped, which meant no breeze, it was a sauna inside.  Beads of sweat shortly turned into buckets.  We all gave Godfrey our money for visas and our passports.  He had taken all of our documents in to the immigration office to speed up the process, but over an hour passed before we got any word.  Finally we got our passports back and we crossed into Tanzania, but just a bit.  The power is out at the immigration office and they need to photocopy some documents pertaining to our truck so we are waiting for them to start a generator to operate the copy machine.


I am sitting in the back of the bus today and have had the sun on me all morning.  What a great day--the longest day--to be stuck in back.  Everyone is eating snacks (sweet fruit, candy, and sodas) and our garbage is directly behind me--The flies are molesting me.


We are still waiting and it seems like we'll never get there tonight.  We probably still have another 9 hours of driving?  Tabby got pulled over for speeding this morning.  He was going 60 km/h while the speed limit was 50 km/h.  After a short period we stopped for a 10 minute break to pick up some snacks.  Hans suggested that we all pitch in and throw a dollar or two to help pay for the ticket as Nomad wouldn't pay for it and $30 is quite a bit of money for Tabby.  Most of us did and Tabby was very grateful.


We're finally on the road again, 11:40am.  That was way too long of a break!  We were told all of Malawi was also out of power.  10 of us had to use the restrooms so Tabby gave us a few thousand Tanzanian shilling.  Some guy in front of the bathrooms was charging 100 shilling per person.  We paid them 1,000 and he still wanted more.  People here did not speak English, not like in Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe--though that may change as we make our way to larger cities.  They were squat toilets...Fun!


While waiting on the bus I talked with Peter, the Aussie.  He was telling me about the Australia army during world war 1 and the Vietnam War.  It's surprising how little we, Americans, learn about other countries of the world during our formal schooling.  In place of learning about other countries, customs, and nationalities we get to learn about Native Americans about 3 or 4 times over.  Also, why the fuck did we have to relearn the customs of pilgrims during the week of thanksgiving every damn year?


Most people on my tour had learned about The Maasai peoples in school.  We NEVER even discussed Africa.

We stopped after a bit to change our $USD to Tanzanian Shilling.  A guy game on our truck and offered the following rates:  1,500 shilling per $1USD for small bills and 1,580 shilling per $1USD for $50 and $100 bills.  We have to be pretty far behind schedule and I really dont want to have to set up a tent late tonight when it's dark.


Oh, quick note, the guy who was charging us to use the toilets had tried to sell us Tanzanian SIM cards just 15 minutes prior. Lame!


It's 6:00pm and I've been listening to Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux.  A travel writer tells the story of his journey from Cairo to Cape Town, overland.  I like it as his observations are inline with mine, that is, not PC.  I spend 20 minutes trying to swat flies in the back of the truck...something to keep my mind busy.  I nabbed half a dozen.  After being on the road for the last 11 hours I'm beginning to get a bit irritable.


Tanzania seems to have better cell phone coverage, more houses have satellite dishes, and the houses/towns appear to be closer together.  However, the facilities at some of the stops we've made were been miserable--Just filthy!  The road is not horrendous, but it's a rough ride none-the-less.  Also, it's about the width of 1.5 lanes so we have to completely stop and pull over as oncoming traffic approaches.  There are also more cars/trucks on the road.  My initial impression of Tanzania is not too good, but I'm hoping to change that.


I have been really moved by the kindness many Africans have shown.  They appear to be very hard working, even if they work mindlessly and ineffectively.  It's also become apparent that no amount of $ will help the problems Africa endures.  Excuse my frankness but is it a possibility that the Africa we see today is the best, or close to, the best Africa can/will ever be?  I believe it was the Zambian King who publicly condemned the use of condoms.


Dinner in Kisolanza Farm in Iringa, Tanzania 
We arrive at camp around 8:00, 13 hours after leaving camp this morning.  There are no more upgrades available so we pitch our tents.  We have it down to a science and it takes only 5 minutes.  We all left our rain-flies off as the skies look clear--beautiful, actually.  We meet for dinner at the restaurant at the camp site.  There is no electricity anywhere within the lodge--candles light the interior while coal space heaters provide the heat.  The Temperature is actually quite cool, a nice change of pace.  I don't think this will last as Tabby said it's always like this here.  It must be due to our altitude.


Dinner was nothing like I (or the Dutch couple) had expected.  We had sweetish meatballs, baked beans, corn on the cob, and some veggies.  We also had soup and bread. I ordered a beer
Dinner in Kisolanza Farm in Iringa, Tanzania
and a brownie for the road...I am eating that now.


It's sad but Africa has no real culture.  They have only what the whites have given them.  Half of me thinks it's pathetic, but the other half feels so sorry.  I'm torn as to which way to feel.  One thing I know for sure is that Africa would be MUCH better off if they were actively ruled (i.e. colonized) by the western world.  HIV, disease, famine, education, corruption, etc....there are so many reasons in support of colonization.  I think deep down the Africans would support it, at least in part.  The African 'elected' governments are extremely devious and steal foreign aid for there personal use all the f'ing time.


Ok, it's 10:20 and I'm tired.  Tomorrow we get to sleep in till 6:30, breakfast at 7:00.  We have a game drive tomorrow afternoon but I'm not sure if I'm going to go.  The price is still unknown but if it's more than $60 I will have to consider if it's worth it.  I still have 3 days in the Serengeti for game drives coming up.


Goodnight!

The Night Sky, Iringa, Tanzania