When I last left you I had just gotten off a local bus after traveling 4.5 sometimes not comfortable hours over rocky, dusty, hot terrain that didn’t always have a clear road. Barely 24 hours in the country and it had already been quite an adventure. As I mentioned previously, I was greeted at the border to the protected area of the national park system. It turns out my greeters were from Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge where I had decided to spend 3 nights before heading to my WorkAway at Bright English Medium School. They were the lodge manager, Joel, and Timan who would be my Maasai guide throughout my stay. After paying my park fees (the one that I had enough cash for), being luggage-less, Timan grabbed my backpack, and they whisked me away to my home for the next 3 nights.
I chose full board camping for my accommodations and the lunch and dinner package as I normally don’t eat breakfast. Coffee and water were always available. It was $20 per night (no difference in seasons) for the accommodations, my tent would be set up for me, I would have a nice comfy mattress and pillow, and they provide toiletries and towels. The showers and toilets were 30 meters from my tent and in the vicinity of the dining hall. I could have spent $150-$180 per night (depending on the season) for a cabin/lodge with an ensuite but somehow I couldn’t justify the price difference as neither cabin nor tent had electricity and phones and other electronic devices could only be charged in the dining hall.
Since it had been a long, hot, dusty, crowded (even had 1 chicken in a box, yes it was alive) bus ride, while they finished setting up my tent, I enjoyed a nice cool glass of beet juice and contemplated a nap. Since lunch was about an hour away, I did exactly that, nap. It was so peaceful listening to the sounds of nature as I drifted off to sleep to dream of those baobabs and the zebras and giraffes I saw out the bus window just roaming freely. After about an hour’s rest, I headed to lunch. After lunch, Timan came looking for me. You remember Timan, he was the Maasai guide that was assigned to me for the duration of my stay. Well, there is also a $20 per person activity fee which covers having your guide take you on a trek to Lake Natron, which I did, and a day hike to Engaresero Waterfalls which I didn’t do, but that story will come later. Timan told me a bit about the Maasai tribe and himself which was fascinating. He wanted to make plans for the next morning to trek to the lake.
I reminded him that I had no luggage and wouldn’t have the proper attire until my luggage showed up. I was keeping my fingers crossed that somehow it would arrive before evening. Even though I had purchased a sim card for Tanzania, the signal during the bus journey was mostly non-existent. Thankfully they had Wi-Fi at the lodge, and I did receive a photo from Nginina (my Maasai guide in Arusha) showing him pulling my purple suitcase. I at least knew it had arrived on the mainland. What I didn’t know was if he found someone who was coming to/or near the lodge with a vehicle that could bring it. I told Timan if it arrived tonight then we would take the trek. He also told me we would need to start by 07:00. He then said he would see me later and left me to explore the grounds.
A bit about the lodge, I would go there again should the opportunity present itself. Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge is in Northern Tanzania, at the foot of the Ol Donyoi Lengai volcano, next to Engaresero, a small, isolated village. Ol Donyoi Lengai means “Mountain of God” in the Maasai language. It is an active volcano located in the Gregory Rift, south of Lake Natron within the Arusha Region of Tanzania, Africa. Part of the volcanic system of the East African Rift, it uniquely produces natrocarbonatite lava. The 1960 eruption of Ol Doinyo Lengai led to geological investigations that finally confirmed the view that carbonatite rock is derived from magma. The United Nations counts the neighboring Engaresero Village among the traditional models of life of global importance. The local people living around the lodge are mainly Maasai. They perpetuate their pastoral way of life by keeping their livestock and moving their herds in perfect harmony with their environment. At the lodge, you will have the opportunity to meet them and discover their way of life and traditions. They believe in fair and sustainable tourism that benefits both the travellers and the local people that welcome them while preserving nature. All electricity in the camp is provided by solar energy. They also have a water filter at your disposal in the restaurant to fill your bottles, to avoid too much plastic waste. A part of the lodge’s profits are reinvested in solidarity projects in collaboration with the local community. Respect for nature shapes their daily practices, they reduce our environmental impact by using solar panels, and water filters, reducing plastic, and practicing permaculture or reforestation. It is a small oasis in what looks like the middle of nowhere. I was in heaven.
I was the only person on the grounds as the other guests were out on excursions. Many people use the lodge as a stopover between destinations. Some are coming from or on their way to the Serengeti or Kilimanjaro and only spend a day or two. I was thrilled to be spending four days and there was a point I wished I was staying longer, but I also wanted to get to Bright English Medium School, my WorkAway. This oasis is in the middle of what looks like a barren land, the Tanzanian bush, yet there is so much beauty in the landscape. I wandered around a bit and then made my way to the entrance area.
As I stepped out onto the driveway to get a lay of the land, I was quickly face-to-face with four Maasai children who seemed to appear from nowhere. I conversed with them as best I could before they took off toward their village. There is a lovely pool on the grounds, so I grabbed my Kindle and sat for a while. They use no chemicals in the pool and change the water every 3 days. The water from the pool is then used to water the camp vegetation. Guests were starting to trickle in from their excursions and I went back to my tent to relax until dinner.
In my prior post, I mentioned my small ordeal at the entrance to the National Park and the lack of cash to pay all my fees. As I was relaxing outside my tent, Timan came and found me to tell me that the gentleman was there to collect my park fees. He had brought a portable credit card machine that worked off a satellite. He wandered around a bit until he found a spot with a strong signal and proceeded to take my payment.
I, of course, couldn’t let him leave without a selfie. I then asked Timan if he had any word on my luggage because I had noticed a safari vehicle pull in with new guests. It appeared they had come straight from the airport and hadn’t been transitioning between excursions. I also noticed that a purple suitcase had arrived with them. I didn’t get a good look at it as it was carried away but was soon disappointed to discover it wasn’t mine. The sun was setting around 18:30 and dinner would be at 19:00. After dinner I met James, a Maasai and a student of tourism at the University in Arusha. He was working as a volunteer at the lodge to gain experience. He found me to let me know my luggage had arrived. Hallelujah! I chatted with James, and we were soon joined by Timan who also received the news and said he would meet me at my tent by 07:00 the next day for our trek to Lake Natron. My suitcase was delivered to my tent and off I went for a shower, and I might as well get in pajamas.
The camp runs on solar power, there is very little light on the campgrounds after dark, and Wi-Fi is turned off at 22:00. I posted a few things to Facebook and took my phone into the restaurant to charge overnight. Luckily I had two phones with me, and I set the alarm on one so I would be ready to trek in the morning. I needn’t have worried about waking. The roosters were crowing, the birds were chirping, and I woke before my alarm. Jane and Margret, who run the kitchen, had coffee made before sunrise. I grabbed my phone, and a hot cup of coffee and watched a beautiful Tanzanian sunrise.
Dressed and ready to go, Timan arrived and said we need to take plenty of water with us. Hmmm, okay, is this trek more than I bargained for? Dressed in his traditional shuka, often red with black stripes, shuka cloth is affectionately known as the “African blanket” and is worn by the Maasai people. He wrapped the 2 bottles of water he took for me in his shuka and off we went. I had put on my Keen sandals, closed toe, and heel strap thinking that would be better than flip flops, the only other “shoes” I had with me.
The Maasai are known as great walkers. They are the most widely known African ethnic group located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Most spend their days either barefoot or in their traditional shoes made of car tires. Although they walk long distances of up to sixty kilometers a day, they do not suffer from any foot ailments.
He told me the walk was easy, it was flat. What he neglected to tell me was you walk in black sand most of the way. Walking in the sand isn’t the easiest task but of course, why would he mention this? It is perfectly normal to him. The further we walked, some Maasai kids joined us. They stayed with us the entire way chatting and trying to talk me into buying their bracelets and such. They were delightful.
The first thing we saw was a “tower” of giraffes. How’s that for a perfect collective noun? I thought they travelled in herds, but a tower is so much better. I can’t put into words my emotions. I got the best photos I could on my phone’s zoom. When they took off running it was a sight to behold. I was awe-struck and didn’t think to video. Pure beauty.
Next, we came across a poisonous snake (a baby). I did venture close enough for a photo.
Next were baboons mating. They were in the distance and I couldn’t get a clear shot. We also saw a group of baboons moving in front of us. The name for a group of baboons is a troop.
Finally, as we were reaching the lake, there was a group of zebras grazing. A group of zebras is called a dazzle. We then reached the lake which was filled with thousands of flamingos or flamboyance of flamingos. Another perfect collective noun.
At Lake Natron in Tanzania, you’ll find 75% of the world’s 3.2 million lesser flamingos. The lake’s hypersaline water can strip away human skin, and breed algae toxic to many forms of animal life, but the bird flourishes in these conditions thanks to its incredibly adapted body.
After this, we headed back to camp. We saw more dazzles of zebras and towers of giraffes and the children were happy when I convinced Timan I needed to stop and rest on a fallen tree because I then purchased some of their wares. Of course, after that, they were happy to take photos with me. Because of my sandal design, they were also filling with sand as I walked. The children were adorable by having me put my hand on one’s should while another removed my shoe and cleaned out the sand. Let me tell you, I was also glad Timan insisted on taking plenty of water with us as the day was beginning to heat up.
After about a 6-hour round trip trek, we were back at the camp. I was extremely happy to be able to schedule a one-hour massage using African oils for the late afternoon.
If you look at the map, I was trying to find out how far we walked since I could barely move once we were back. Google maps stop at the blue dots where the “road” (if you can call it that) ends. It is 2km. We walked all the way to the shores of Lake Natron. I started to figure it out, but my body said don’t, you don’t want to know, haha. I had a lovely lunch, popped a couple Advil, and took a rest until time for my massage. I am no rookie when it comes to massage, but this was up there with the best I have had. Next thing I know, the sun is setting, and it’s time for dinner and then a good night’s sleep. Also, since my luggage had arrived, I remembered I had packed a few cans of Beefeater’s already-made gin and tonics that I bought in Bulgaria. James got some ice for me, and I settled in with a tasty G&T. As they say in Swahili, lala salama, or sleep safely. Little did I know what the next day had in store for me.
My day started with coffee and another spectacular sunrise after which I was going on what I thought was a simple excursion. I mentioned a trek to a waterfall was included in my activity fee at the lodge. But, if you recall, when I arrived near my camp on the bus, I had to pay some park fees. Not realizing I was getting off there, I didn’t have a lot of cash. I thought I would be able to get cash at the next stop where I thought I was getting off. Turns out I wouldn’t have been able to get any. Long story not getting any shorter, I needed cash. Timan said he would set up a private car to take us to the nearest town and I could go to the bank, and it would be $17 to take us. Instead of going to a waterfall, I was off to Mto Wa Mbu, which was almost all the way back to Arusha where my journey began. I went to the parking lot with Timan and saw a safari vehicle.
Little did I know, it was also taking about 20 of our closest Maasai friends. Don’t ask how we all fit in, with several spending the entire ride standing. The next thing I learned is just because the town seems like a short distance away in terms of km….there is no such thing as a short distance between towns in Tanzania…the 100 km (62 mile) drive took 4 hours some not even on a road. Oh, and that is 4 hours one way. The roads were more like dirt paths and sometimes no path. We passed so many dazzles of zebras and towers of giraffes they didn’t even phase me anymore. The driver dropped us (me and Timan) at a bank around 11:00 and said to call him at 13:30 and he would tell us what time we were leaving to go back. He had to deliver other riders to their destinations. Some would be returning with us, and we would also have new riders. We picked up and dropped off so many people along the way, I stopped trying to keep track. I used the ATM, and we had some time to kill so we got a tuk-tuk and went to a busier part of town. First, we stopped at an electronic shop because I needed a power bank for when I arrived at the school as their power could be sketchy. Then we went to find some lunch. We had stewed goat meat, rice, and beans. Timan really wanted BBQ so then we went to find a BBQ place.
After eating a delicious BBQ we still had time to kill so we went for drinks. He was sipping a beer and I had a G&T. Suddenly he gets up and says stay here I’ll be right back. Next thing I know, he returns with 2 young boys. He told me they had gotten word at our camp that 2 Maasai boys had run away. How random that we were sitting in a random bar in a random town and these 2 boys came walking past. He asked me if I had 1000 shillings (about 40 cents) to buy them some bananas because they were hungry. They ate the bananas, we finished our drinks and he said, what are we going to do with these boys? I said we can’t leave them let’s talk to our driver. In the meantime, he called the families (he knew them they were from his village). We went back to our vehicle, and again we were taking our 20+ closest friends back with us. We told him about the boys. I agreed to pay for one if he let the other one ride for free. He said okay, and we all piled in to head back. The top of the safari vehicle was up because the kids had to stand up with a couple other people because there wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit.
About an hour into the drive one of the people standing up starts to puke…it came in the driver’s window. We stopped so he could puke his guts out and then continued on our bumpy way.
When we reached camp, the boys’ families were waiting on us to take them home. They couldn’t thank us enough for bringing them. I was back in time for dinner, a couple of G&Ts, and then a good night’s sleep. I would be leaving the camp and heading to Wasso, Tanzania the next morning.
I woke up to enjoy my last sunrise at the Giraffe Lodge. After a delicious breakfast of eggs, and chapati with plum jam, pineapple, and fresh juice it was time to say goodbye. First, there is Marco, he is one of the managers. I didn’t get a photo with Joel, the other manager because he had left for a couple of days. Jane and Margaret prepare all the wonderful meals. James is the young tourism student and volunteer. Timan, my wonderful Maasai guide, and James drove me by tuk-tuk to the next village to meet my bus. It was an amazing experience at the lodge and one I will cherish, but more goodbyes and people who you get surprisingly close to over the course of just a few days, but beautiful souls you most likely will never see again. It’s always bittersweet. I can’t say enough good things about this place. If you ever find yourself in Tanzania, I highly recommend a few days here.
Next up, part 3 Bright English Medium School, and 2 more crazy bus rides…stay tuned!