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Published: December 3rd 2016
On our way to Lake Manyara we passed back through the still busy and dusty streets of Arusha and stopped by Duma’s office to collect some more supplies for the next leg of our journey. We met Duma Explorer founder, Hezron Mbise and some of the staff who made us feel very welcome.
We continued our journey and stopped to buy charcoal in yet another small dusty town and whilst we waited for Rammy to try and find a supply we were bombarded with locals selling us Tanzanian football shirts or Maasai beaded bracelets. We learnt the Swahili phrase, ‘Hapana Asante’ (no thank you) very quickly but this only helped a little. We handed out small bottles of soaps and lotions I had brought with me to the women and this seemed to please them. They then asked whether I wanted a photo but I said, no it was just a gift for them and they went off happily. It was not so simple with the insistent young men trying to sell us the Tanzanian football strips though!
We passed many Maasai villages as
we continued our journey to the next national park, outside all of them were young men and boys, some only around 6 years old, herding huge groups of cattle and goats along the roadside. This was to become a typical scene as we travelled around the north of Tanzania. In Maasai culture, cattle are highly valued with the size of your herd indicating your status in the community, and accumulating more animals is what they all strife to achieve when they can. I must say we saw some massive herds and had to avoid them many times as they crossed the road right in front of us, or chewed grass right on the road edge where there was a little bit of green left to eat - most though seemed to graze on the dried out grasses awaiting the next rainfall . ..… MAASAI LIFESTYLE
The Maasai people are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting both southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They speak the Maa language as well as the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili and English. The Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have instituted programs to encourage
the Maasai to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle, but the people have continued their age-old customs and most do not want to integrate with others.
Sifuni stopped to enable us to visit a Maasai Boma (Maasai village) which was was an interesting experience to say least. As we arrived at the perimeter of the circular village we were greeted by the Chief with a welcome song and dance. At certain times, one of the dancers would jump up and down gracefully and some of the jumps were several feet high off the ground! It was an amazing experience to watch but looked like jolly hard work to us particularly in such heat.
However we did not get a choice as they soon ‘donned’ us with suitable attire and I was asked to join a group of ladies whilst Paul joined the men who were stood a little way off. He was invited to try jumping too but was no match for their levitations but then he was much older than all those fit young men! Luckily the women do not participate so I could just look watch and
of course laugh!!
We were then led into the circle of homes within the village compound and welcomed into one of the homesteads. The village huts (called Manyatta) are made of cow dung and clay plastered over stick frames and this is quite practical as the Masai maintain cattle herds, and the dung is always in generous supply, and it's free. The door entrance was low and we had to stoop to get in and inside it was really tiny and extremely warm as there was a huge fire roaring in the hearth in the centre of the hut. There were two small partitioned off areas where the family slept - all the children in one room and the adults in the other - very basic living indeed especially if they had a large family and all the huts appeared to be the same size.
As we sat in the stifling heat the Chief gave us an insight into Maasai life which was a great experience for us to learn about the history and lifestyle of these Maasai people. He then invited us to look at some of
artefacts made by the Maasai women and which were for sale and displayed on little wooden tables around the centre of the village in front of the cattle and goat corral - their animals were herded into this area at night to keep them safe from predators. The money collected from the our visit and any sales they make is ploughed back into the local Maasai community to help with social amenities and development. We bought a couple of Maasai beaded bracelets which were extortionately expensive for what they were when the Maasai lady told us the price, however we did not haggle as we really just wanted to give a donation to the village and did not need anything in return. MAASAI DIET
The traditional Maasai diet not only includes, but primarily relies upon, both cow’s milk and cow’s blood so to us westerners this does seem a little strange.
Milk plays a huge role drunk raw (or soured), drunk in tea, or turned into butter (which is especially important as a food for infants), milk is a part of almost every meal for the Maasai
herders. Raw beef is also consumed, but much more fascinating (and possibly a little off-putting to the western palate) is the tradition of drinking raw blood, cooked blood, and blood-milk mixtures. Blood is obtained by nicking the jugular artery of a cow precisely, allowing for blood-letting that doesn’t kill the animal. Mixed blood and milk is used as a ritual drink in special celebrations, or given to the sick.
Blood and milk aren’t the only things Maasai eat, the diet is also supplemented with tubers, honey, and foraged plants that are most often used in soups and stews. The Maasai hang boxes in acacia trees and then when they come to collect the honey they tend to cut the tree down and also start a fire so the smoke drives the bees away. However this is causing some deforestation and wildfires and even though they have been educated not to do this they still continue this practice.
More recently, Maasai have supplemented their diet with grains and maize-meal (and of course many modern Maasai live an urban lifestyle, with the more varied diet that entails). They still play
an important role in many Maasai meals, however; for example, ugali (a thick maize-based porridge that serves as a staple food throughout Tanzania) is generally served with milk in Maasai households. OUR VISIT WITH THE MAASAI
Was it worth it? Yes, very much - despite the obvious commercialisation, as we know that the Maasai tours are primarily staged for tourist but as far as we could see the people living there were genuine and not just there for our benefit. We did get to meet the Maasai and visit their homes and learn about their culture, lifestyle and what they eat. The conversation we had with the Chief was fascinating and gave us far more real knowledge about his people than we otherwise would have had - much more real than reading about them in a book or on the internet. Yes, we did get to buy very overpriced souvenirs but are sure that the monies we paid stayed with the community, how they spent it was up to them. MTO WA MBU VILLAGE
the Maasai homestead and headed to our next camping ground at Nsya Lodge near the village of Mto wa Mbu. The lodge and campground was set within beautiful spacious gardens amongst an Acacia Forest and we were greeted by a very friendly Kingfisher. Again we were the only campers on this huge site, so we set up camp by the outdoor kitchen area and our tent was surrounded by the beautiful red flowering ‘christmas trees’. If you visit Tanzania in November/December you are rewarded with a spectacular sight, trees covered in flame-red flowers. We had seen these and the vibrant purple Jacaranda flowering in Rivertrees as well. I looked up the scientific name which is Delonix regia and it belongs to the pea family thought that might be the case with the large pea pods hanging off the branches! Other common names include the Flame Tree and the Royal Poinciana. However, in Tanzania the locals call it the Christmas tree as it flowers at Christmas time. Native to Madagascar, the tree can be found in almost every tropical and sub-tropical country around the world, Sharon and Geoff had them growing outside their garden in Dubai. It is quite drought resistant
and its umbrella-shaped canopy provides a lot of shade. The flowers are almost orchid-shaped, about 10cm big and when in full bloom the entire tree is covered in flowers; one of the reasons why this tree is so spectacular it just one big red canopy. Seeing it from afar all you see is red red red and more red! Large Pods grow as long as 50cm and make for interesting decorations once dried out. It keeps the kids busy too – the seeds inside rattle when it’s shaken.
We walked along to the ablutions block hoping to have a hot shower, alas there was no hot water and the ladies did not even have any cold!! A couple of staff managed to get the water to flow a little in the gents but not enough to enable a proper wash - oh well we will have to remain a little dusty … …
More to the point, there was also no Wifi so our blogs will have to be post dated when we are lucky enough to get an internet connection over the next few weeks as we
head further into the countryside.
After another of Rammy's special lunches we set off for a tour of the nearby market town of Mto wa Mbu, a melting pot of cultures to look at the homes and exquisite crafts of Mto wa Mbu’s many different tribes.
The agricultural and fresh produce market town of Mto wa Mbu is quite unique in that there are 120 plus different ethnic and tribal groups speaking 120 different languages living together in one community. We met up with a local guide who told us a little about her village and also took us on an interesting walk around the area to meet the locals and learn about agriculture, rice plantations, banana beer, makonde woodcarvings, and tribal painting techniques and the lifestyle of those living in this unique village - the tour provided us with a great introduction to everyday life in East Africa.
We watched a group of young men carving animals from hard mahogany wood who had escaped the turmoil in Mozambique and were now settled in Tanzania bringing their carving skills with them. We came
across one lady doing her washing outside her home and strung along in front of the house were hundreds of little fish drying in the sunshine. Our guide told us that the lakes were abundant with these small fish - they were literally covered in flies so we did not try them! Hung on an adjoining line was a row of red and white crochet covers which she had freshly washed and were coverings for her sofa.
We were invited into a local school where the children were on their last year of primary and would be heading off to another school for further education. The teacher told us a little about the school and we left him some gifts of writing pads and pens for the children which we hoped they would find useful. I must say even though they did not have a lot, compared with schools we had visited in Malawi there did seem to be a little bit more in the classrooms with desks and chairs and information boards set up around the small room with the nightly homework listed on the boards. Boys were on one side and
girls on the other and they all seemed happy to greet us with friendly smiles although some were very shy. When I visited a school in Malawi the children did not have desks or chairs and the walls were bare.
Our tour continued around the back streets of the village where our guide showed us the three types of dwellings they lived in; mud huts, hand made brick buildings and breeze block buildings. The mud huts were obviously the cheapest as they had all building materials to hand but the mud had to be scrapped off and reapplied every couple of years which was quite hard work. Next cheapest to erect were the red brick houses and finally the most expensive to build were the block buildings. Many houses were only partly finished as they built when they had the monies to pay for the bricks and the guide told us that some took over 8 years to build depending on a good harvest or the necessary funds from other sources.
We continued walking through small banana plantations and agriculture plots to a large field full of rice. Rice and
Bananas was the main income for most of the villagers. The rice fields were ‘plagued’ with birds so all sorts of bird scarers were set up amongst the crop but it was a difficult job to keep them off - whilst we were there a huge flock flew in and settled on the ripening rice crop. We left a donation with the Mto wa Mbu Culture Tourism Guide and headed back to our vehicle where Sifuni was watching a cow going berserk on the street outside. He said that a local had bought it at the market but it refused to follow him and started charging everyone around it - they eventually got it under control though but it kept everyone entertained for quite a while! NYSA CAMPGROUND
On our return to camp we had another delicious meal served up by Rammy not sure how it does it with such limited facilities but he always produces a 3 course dinner - his soup course was always delicious an served with campfire made bread. We even had chocolate cake which he had baked in his tin oven. As we
were eating we heard a rustle in the trees above us and saw our very first “Bush baby”
. I just love these tiny creatures which were hopping around the red christmas trees above our head a real treat.
They are actually called Galagos but widely known as Bush babies or Nagapies which means little night monkey in Afrikaans. They are small nocturnal primates native to Africa. According to some accounts, the name "bushbaby" comes from either the animal's cries or its appearance. Most often, they live in tree hollows that provide shelter. Sometimes, they construct nests in the forks of branches, but these are not as commonly used as are natural holes. Bush babies prefer trees with little grass around them, probably as a precaution against wildfires. They will also seek shelter in man-made beehives.
Bush babies have large, round eyes for good night vision and bat-like, delicate ears that enable them to track insect prey in the dark. As they jump through thorn bush or thick growth, they fold the ears flat against their heads to protect them.
The next morning the Bush Babies
safely in their tree
hollow beds we had breakfast instead with a troop of Vervet Monkeys
watching us from the same red Christmas trees shimming in the morning sunshine above our heads before we set off for a game drive in the national park. LAKE MANYARA NATIONAL PARK
Located beneath the cliffs of the Manyara Escarpment, on the edge of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park offers a varied ecosystems in a relatively small area with groundwater forests, bush plains, baobab strewn cliffs, and algae streaked hot springs. The parks namesake is a shallow, alkaline lake which expands and contracts with the seasons within a long, silvery bowl of salt deposits. With incredible bird life and breathtaking views it certainly is a scenic gem as portrayed by the American novelist, Ernest Hemingway as ‘the loveliest I had seen in Africa’. Well I think we would both agree on that sentiment with that but equally there are also other loveliest places in the vast continent of Africa!
Two of the reasons we wanted to come to this National Park was to see the ‘lions and
birds’. Firstly, the famous tree-climbing lions who make the ancient mahogany and acacias trees their home during the rainy season - alas we never did get to see any lions. Secondly we had been told that there are more than 400 species of birds recorded here and we should expect to observe at least 100 of these on a single day - well we certainly did.
We set off with Sifuni on a Game Drive stopping at the entrance gate to sign in with our passport numbers etc and a ranger gave us a brief tour around. Just behind the gate we came across a couple of buildings nearly buried in mud and foliage. The ranger said that the devastating floods of 2013 had ripped through their buildings and they were now using temporary huts until they could be rebuilt. A small troop of Baboon
were foraging in the shrubbery nearby and one large male stood his ground and just stared at us as we passed by.
From the entrance gate the road zigzagged through an expanse of lush jungle where large baboon troops
lounged nonchalantly along the roadside. We soon came across small groups of Elephants feeding on the trees and wading through small streams, dainty Bushbuck neatly hidden in the undergrowth and many Blue Monkeys scampering amongst the ancient mahogany trees way above us. The noise of the birds was constant with the Silver-billed Hornbills making an astonishing loud noise up in the high canopy - this really was the place to find a variety of birds.
A short while later we came to a grassy floodplain with expansive views across an alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes, part of the Rift Valley. Baobab and Acacia trees dotted the landscape as far as the eyes could see. The lake was swarming with wildlife with groups of hippos wallowing in the waters. The Hippo Pool located in the Simba River, not only attracts these 3000 kg animals, but many of the parks nearly 400 species of birds, including the predatory fish eagle, which lives in and around the Hippo Pool.
You are not usually allowed outside your vehicle in the park apart
from at rest areas but we were able to get out of our vehicle at the Hippo Pool and walk across a small platform to view the many water birds in the waters all around us. There were many different types of water birds feeding on the lakes in amongst the hippos and the area was stunning indeed. We saw large flocks of Pelicans, Spoonbills, Stilts, Herons, Cormorants and Storks,
lots of Kingfishers
and other smaller birds including the vivid Violet-backed Starling, the Red & Yellow Barbet
and the D’Arnauds Barbet
and plenty of the beautiful African Jacana,
wading in the shallows, a bright chestnut plover like bird with a large bluish head nearly always seen walking on floating vegetation one of my favourite. The hippos though were quite comical as most were covered in vegetation and it took you a while to see these giant beasts in their nature environment but once spotted it was a tremendous sight.
Not so good was that we encountered our first Tsetse Flies
here, these large biting flies inhabit much of middle Africa and live by feeding on the blood of animals and as we have now found
out on us. They pack a powerful bite and are really hard to kill having to squash them and then squash them again and again - just horrid. They kept flying in through the open roof top of the vehicle or through the windows so you could not stop them and we spent a lot of time trying to kill them. We thought we had seen a lot in this national park but we had not seen nothing yet, as we were to find out when we reached Serengeti National Park and later they were even more prevalent in Tarangire National Park.
We had a picnic lunch in the park by the Hot Springs, Paul did test the water and it was indeed hot enough to boil an egg within minutes. In the afternoon we continued driving along the many trails and really enjoyed our Game Drive through Manyara National Park, apart from those animals and birds mentioned above we also saw plenty of Giraffe, Impala, Wildebeest, Waterbuck, Warthog, Buffalo, Banded Mongoose and Hyrax as well as plenty of Agama Lizards
basking on the warm rocks. We must have spotted over a hundred birds but
there were quite a few that we could not name and they even stumped Sifuni who was quite an expert on the different species. We spent time chatting about what we saw and trying to identify them using his large concise bird book as ours was only a short version of East African Birds that we had brought with us. The book had been given to him by previous clients and had an inscription inside saying ‘with grateful thanks from two Norfolk Broads! NSYA CAMPSITE
Back at the campsite we had a visit from the Camp Manager who apologised for the lack of water the day before and said that it was now good for us to take a shower - we did, but the water was still only ‘warmish’ but at least water was coming out of the taps and we were grateful that we were able to get the dust off and retire to bed inside our snug comfy tent clean again! I would mention here that the tent and bedding was most comfortable, but not sure about the ‘mummy style’ sleeping bags though which were
designed for those trekking Kilimanjaro and kept you warm even below 0 degrees - to me it felt like a straight jacket and one could not bend ones knees and get comfortable. Luckily we had brought our silk sleeping bag liners and used these on top of the sleeping bag.
During dinner that evening we had another visit from the cute Bush Babies
scrambling around in the Christmas trees above us before we retired to bed completely shattered from our Game Drive in Manyara National Park.
Tomorrow we move on to the Serengeti National Park - see you there ... ... ...
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