Tanzania Part 2 ~ Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge

Tanzania Part 2 ~ Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge

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.

View from my tent

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.

At least I knew it arrived on the Mainland

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.

Ol Donyoi Lengai

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.

Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge

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.

Swimming Pool

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 Restaurant

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.

Timan’s “Tire” Shoes

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.

Baboon Prints

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.

Image courtesy of RSPB Images

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.

The “Road”

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!

Tanzania Part 1 ~ Arrival

Tanzania Part 1 ~ Arrival

“You will never understand the true meaning of your life until you travel and experience how others are living theirs!”

I don’t know who to credit for this quote, but it sums up my most recent experience in Arusha Tanzania but most especially at Bright English Medium School.  I knew I would be spending about 9 weeks of the summer in Bulgaria.  8 working at Zenira Camp in Kiten.  I would arrive a few days early and end by visiting friends in Veliko Tarnovo for a few days after.  I knew I didn’t want to return directly to Warsaw as the new semester mostly kicks off at the beginning of October.  Last year after camp I flew to Cairo to experience the pyramids.  Then I decided to head to Casablanca and Marrakech Morocco.  Both were exhilarating journeys that fueled my soul.  I tossed around a few possibilities, including a return to Egypt for Valley of the Kings or India but I didn’t have a specific destination, and finally Kenya and Tanzania.

In my dreams, I didn’t have visions of sugar plums, not even lions, tigers, and bears, but baobabs, zebras, elephants, giraffes, and epic sunsets behind massive acacia trees.  Another visit to Egypt and a trip to India would have to wait, so I narrowed it down to Kenya and Tanzania.

I was soon researching visa requirements for both countries, looking at maps,  and what I could do while I was there.  Probably one of the most important things to do is check into visa requirements.  Many countries have VOA or visa on arrival, some have e-visa and others like China make you have one in advance.

During my research, I remembered I had joined an online community a few years ago called WorkAway.  Part of WorkAway’s Mission is “Building a sharing community of global travelers who genuinely want to see the world whilst contributing and giving back to the places they visit.  Alongside our welcoming hosts, ready to receive visitors who are able to help out.”  It is a community based on learning, sharing, and exploring new ways of life.  What makes Workaway work is the spirit and dedication of its members in providing positive cultural exchange experiences.  You can sign up as a host or a worker.  I reinstated my membership for a $50 fee for one year and was soon researching potential hosts.  Joining a community such as WorkAway provided me with an added layer of comfort when agreeing to stay in a foreign country and volunteer.  I used a different community when I volunteered at Yayasan Widya Guna in Bali and I plan to use WorkAway when I finally decide to go to India.  If I was going to this part of Africa, it had to include a safari.  The thing that finally tipped the scales to Bright English Medium School was the quote, “go big or go home”.  To me, going big was the Serengeti.  BEMS (Bright English Medium School) mentioned their proximity to the Serengeti in their host write-up.  Soon I was messaging back and forth with Juliana and Lydia from BEMS and next thing I knew; I pulled the trigger on a one-way plane ticket to Arusha from Sofia Bulgaria.

On August 25th, I boarded a train in Veliko Tarnovo at 07:20 and headed to Sofia to catch a 17:10 flight to Doha Qatar where I would have a 4.5-hour layover before my overnight flight to Zanzibar Island Tanzania where I had a 5-hour layover before a short flight to Arusha on the mainland.  At check-in in Sofia, I was assured my luggage would be checked all the way through to Arusha…I’m sure you know where this is headed, and it will end up being a blessing in disguise.

Landing on Zanzibar Island would give me a new stamp in my passport and tick country number 41.

It is an Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 25–50 kilometers (16–31 mi) off the coast of mainland Tanzania and consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba Island.  The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja.  Its historic center, Stone Town, is a World Heritage Site.  I got off the plane which was a 787 Dreamliner so you can imagine how many passengers there were.

I followed the crowd to the terminal (a building not much bigger than a lot of homes in the USA).  Even though I was aware that I could get a visa on arrival, I took the time online, paid the fee, and had my visa almost two months in advance.  Tourist Visa = $100.  Watching everyone’s face as you bypass the VOA line = priceless!!  I had almost 5 hours of layover, closer to 4.5 after I got through immigration.  I found someone who looked official and told them I was a transit passenger and where should I go?  They told me I had to leave the airport as they had no transit area, and I couldn’t enter the departure area until 2 hours prior to my flight to Arusha.  So off I went in search of coffee and an ATM outside the airport.  One thing you quickly learn in Tanzania is that cash is king.  Very few places accept credit/debit cards.  You can’t help but love the money (shillings) and the elephants on the 10,000 bill.

 

Immediately outside I found several open-air cafes.  I chose one and asked for coffee, but ended up having a spiced tea, and something that would be considered a typical breakfast in Zanzibar.  It was here I had my first of many chapatis.  Chapati is a staple in East Africa influenced by Indian immigrants.  It is a thin flatbread similar to, but a bit thicker than crepes.  They are usually served with every meal and breakfast ones are slightly different.  I also discovered that chapati in Zanzibar differs from the rest of Tanzania as they are crunchier.  I also had samosas and fresh pineapple juice.  As they say in Swahili…Habari za asubuhi  (good morning).   After finishing breakfast I still had a lot of time to kill.  It seemed a shame to be in Zanzibar and not see the island.  There were a bunch of locals in the area, so I chatted it up with a few.  Luckily almost everyone spoke some level of English.  I asked if I could hire a taxi for an hour or so and get an island tour.  Someone called one of the security people over and he said he would take me.  We negotiated a price, in hindsight, I could have done better, but it was still a fair price and for 90 minutes he drove me around the island.

He even stopped whenever I wished to let me get out and take photos.  Then he delivered me back to the airport and I was able to enter the departure area as it was less than 2 hours until my flight.  Outside the door to enter the departure area sat 2 ladies who looked at my boarding pass, I told them my luggage was checked through to Arusha and they said, “well go on in and have a seat.”  There was a small shop but since I was going to be in Tanzania for the next 3 weeks, I looked around but didn’t make any purchases.

I was on an airline called Precision Air.  I soon saw a prop plane pull up and about 20 people stood up and sure enough, that was my plane.  We walked out onto the runway and boarded the plane for the mainland and Arusha.  Taking off the shades of blue of the Indian Ocean were indescribable.

No sooner than we were up, we started our descent.  If the smallness of the airport in Zanzibar was surprising, well the airport in Arusha was practically non-existent.  The only way to describe it is “open-air”.  The main building is under construction, and I kid you not, there were just seats set up out in the open with people waiting for their flights.  I had chatted it up with a man and his wife on the plane and was thankful I did.  After getting off the plane, I saw some men setting up tables…I soon discovered this was where they were putting the luggage.

 

Lo and behold and I’m sure you aren’t shocked, but no purple suitcase for me.  Godfrey ( the man from the plane) could see me looking confused and came to see if he could assist me.  I explained that I didn’t see my luggage and not only that, but I didn’t see my name on a nice little placard which meant my driver from the hotel was waiting.  He talked to one of the guys unloading the plane and he assured him that that was all the luggage that had been onboard.  Godfrey told me to look again for my driver and he would find some airport personnel to help me find my luggage.

A bit more backstory, while I knew I would eventually be traveling to Loliondo and Bright English Medium School, I had discovered during my research a place that intrigued me.  It was Maasai Eco Giraffe Lodge.  Lydia from BEMS had told me that I would need to take a local bus for about 8 or 9 hours to reach the school.  It appeared that the lodge was about at the halfway point.  I contacted the lodge and indeed, the bus passed by, and I could get off and spend a few days there before heading to the school.  They would arrange for a bus ticket to make sure I had a seat.  That comment went right over my head, but I soon discovered why that was important, but more on the bus journey in a minute.

I’m still at the airport without luggage or a driver.  It was recommended that I stay at the Natron Palace which is a hotel within walking distance of the bus station. Again, I needed to be at the bus station at 05:30 the next morning.  At this point, I am about 34 hours into my journey since I left Bulgaria.  I have not located my driver, but Godfrey has located someone to help me.  I also need to add that the owner of the lodge had messaged me with the name and WhatsApp number of a contact to help me once I arrived in Arusha.  He was going to accompany me to a mobile phone store so I could get a sim card for my phone and my portable router as there was limited Wi-Fi at the lodge and at the school.  Godfrey then offered to call Nginina (my contact from the Lodge).  Nginina told me to just stay put at the airport and he would come to get me as soon as possible.  Godfrey also informed him that my luggage was still in Zanzibar and no more planes were arriving on the mainland until the next day around 09:00….remember, I have a bus to catch at 05:30. Nginina said don’t worry he would sort that out when he arrived.  So, I thanked Godfrey and his wife and told them to please go ahead and leave, they didn’t need to stay with me until Nginina arrived.  These beautiful people checked on me that evening and the next day to make sure everything was sorted out.  I pulled up a chair and waited for Nginina.  A bit about Nginina, he is from the Maasai tribe near the Giraffe Lodge.  He works part-time for the lodge and is studying tourism at a university in Arusha.

Me and Nginina

Nginina arrived about 30 minutes later with a driver.  He spoke with the airport personnel and explained he would return to the airport the next day and retrieve the purple suitcase on my behalf.  That’s all fine and dandy but I will be long gone by the time it arrives.  He said don’t worry, there are always cars going that direction and I will make sure it gets sent to the lodge.  All I could do was trust him as I had no other option.  All I really wanted was a hot shower and a bed…but…we had things to do.  The first stop he said was the phone store because they were closing soon.  This is when I really discovered that cash is king.  The phone store wouldn’t even take a card.  While they were setting up my sim cards, Nginina escorted me to an ATM.  It wasn’t that it wasn’t safe, it is just easier to have a local to get around.  Cash in hand, that is as much as I could get at one time on my card.  I knew I had to pay cash for the sim, but I still had to pay for the hotel, which luckily took a credit card and I also needed to buy at least a new shirt to be somewhat fresh to travel the next day.  Sim taken care of, Nginina informed me the next stop was the bus station to get my ticket and so I would know where to go in the morning because he couldn’t accompany me.   I’m also starting to realize there is not a  lot of infrastructure here and the roads are mostly dirt or cinder.  At the bus station, we discovered that my ticket had not been reserved, but luckily they had one seat available.  The word seat is important.  I paid 23,000 shillings and they gave me my ticket and the next stop was the hotel.  I got settled in and thanked Nginina for his help and said goodbye.  As much as I wanted a nice long hot shower, I decided it was best to go back out into the hot, dusty streets and buy a t-shirt.  Mission accomplished.

Shower and then down to the restaurant in the hotel, I didn’t want to go out again, for a yummy bowl of carrot ginger soup and a gin and tonic.  Then it was off to bed…lala salama (sleep safely in Swahili).

04:45 came quickly and soon I was off to the bus station with my backpack.  Even though it was only about an 8-10 minute walk,  I was thankful I didn’t have to drag my suitcase in the pitch dark down the dirt, stone-filled road.

So, the bus trip was an experience.  I had to be at the bus station at 05:30.  Now I understand why Nginina took me yesterday to make sure I had a ticket, or more importantly a seat.  To say the bus was crowded is an understatement.  Of course, I thought it was crowded before we even pulled out promptly at 6am.

I was in the middle seat.  On one side of the bus, there are three seats where we would normally expect two.  The other side has two seats.  I also learned that seat position is important.  A lovely young lady was in the window seat next to me and explained the dynamics.  Window seats from the middle forward are the best.  The aisle seats on the entire bus are bad.  Why you ask? Because as you stop in small villages, just when you think no one else can get on, 10 more people do.  Which means they and their belongings are standing and piled up and down the aisle.  Kids sitting on buckets, a lady with a live chicken in a box.  I can’t even describe it and the pictures don’t tell the story. Sometimes we had to stop to let goats, sheep, or cattle cross the road.

Next, the terrain is rocky and sandy.  There is no real road.  A few times the girl said, I hope we don’t get stuck in the sand and need to get out and push.  There were also times it felt as if the bus could tip over.  Despite the crowded, hot, dusty circumstances (I was covered in a light layer of dirt/sand when I got off the bus) most everyone is pleasant, and I got a lot of big smiles.  The girl sitting by me said it doesn’t get more real than this.  I think I even managed to catch a wink or two, of sleep that is.

Got stopped at the border gate and my vehicle to go to the lodge.

The area we were traveling to is inside a national park, a protected area and there is a border gate. The girl told me they don’t make the people on the bus pay the park fee because they are usually traveling between villages, etc., and are residents.  I knew that I would have to pay a park fee because I was staying at a lodge within the area which I figured was part of the cost of my stay.  Of course, we go through the gate, and they pull the bus over.  Someone got on the bus, walked to me, and said I needed to get off the bus.  That in itself was a feat.  I had to stand on my seat and then walk on the armrests of several seats until I could put my feet on the floor and climb out.  Thank goodness I took my backpack with me because it was people from the lodge picking me up so I wouldn’t need to go to the next bus stop for them to get me.  Again I was thankful I didn’t have that purple suitcase to deal with.  I had to pay the “local government” fee of $35 in Tanzanian shilling. I also had to pay a lodging fee of $25 per day and I didn’t have enough cash because I thought it was paid at the lodge.  All the fees are in cash.  The gentleman was very kind and said he would come to the lodge later with a credit card machine and I could pay then.

Timan

Anyway, at least my life isn’t boring.  I made it to the lodge in a little motorized vehicle with Joel and Timan.  Timan would be my Maasai guide for my entire stay at the lodge.  I was just happy to get to my home for the next 3 nights.  That’s my story of how I arrived at the lodge.  My stay at the lodge was every bit as interesting and will be the next chapter.  Seeing the Baobab trees along the way was awesome.  Not to mention glancing out the window and seeing zebras and giraffes roaming freely.

Part 2 – My Stay at Maasai Eco Giraffe Lodge next…

 

A Day in Alexandria Egypt

A Day in Alexandria Egypt

Egypt…a country in the Northeastern corner of Africa linking it to the Middle East. When I think of Egypt, I think of the Land of the Pharaohs, the Nile River, Cleopatra (even though she had no Egyptian blood), the pyramids, the Sphinx, and of course Tutankhamun or King Tut.  I never really thought about “Roman” Egypt even though I know Cleopatra was romantically involved with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Spending the summer working for English Wizards who sent me to  Z Camp in Bulgaria, afforded me the perfect opportunity to visit Egypt.  I spent a few days exploring Bulgaria at the end of camp and then headed to Cairo.  I actually stayed in Giza so I could wake up each morning and see the Great Pyramids and Sphinx.  I was enjoying all my time in Cairo and Giza but wanted to see other areas.  Luxor/Valley of the Kings I decided was too far and time-consuming for this trip, so I decided on a day trip to Alexandria.  I arranged for a private car, driver, and guide through Viator which I have used many times in the past all over the world.

Alexandria is the third-largest city in Egypt after Cairo and Giza.  It is the seventh-largest city in Africa.  It was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC on the site of an existing settlement named Rhacotis which became the Egyptian quarter of the city. Alexandria was best known for one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  Being a lover of cemeteries and catacombs, the Necropolis, one of the seven wonders of the Middle Ages, especially caught my attention.  Okay, enough history, let me get on with my visit to the city. That’s a lie because you know I will give you a bit, probably a lot, of the history of the sites I saw.  What can I say, I like learning the history of what I am visiting?

Being about a 3-hour drive from Giza to Alexandria, the day started very early.  I was very happy when my guide suggested we stop for a coffee before getting on the highway.  Caffeinated, I settled in the backseat for the drive.  As we were driving the guide gave me a bit of the history of the city and said our first stop would be the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa or “Mound of Shards”. So named because of the mounds of terra cotta shards that were found there.  These items were left behind by those visiting the tombs, who would bring food and wine for their consumption during the visit.  Being a place of death, they did not want to bring these containers home so they would break them and leave them.

Because of the period, you can find the merger of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian culture.  You can see Egyptian statues wearing Roman-style garments or creatures from Greek and Roman mythology.  You enter the catacombs by climbing down a circular stairway (99 steps) surrounding a shaft where the deceased bodies were lowered.

Between the second and fourth centuries, the facility was used as a burial chamber. It was rediscovered in 1900 when a donkey fell into the access shaft.  It is believed that the catacombs were originally intended for one family, but for reasons unknown, expanded to house numerous other individuals.  So far, 3 sarcophagi have been discovered along with other human and animal remains.  The sarcophagi have non-removable tops, so it is assumed the bodies were inserted from behind.  The entrance to the main burial chamber resembles a temple with two columns and numerous other carvings.  I was seriously blown away by this visit.

After leaving the catacombs the temperature being hot AF,  our first stop was for water, cold, please. Then we headed to see a Roman triumphal column.  The Corinthian column known as Pompey’s Pillar sits among the ruins of a Roman complex called Serapeum.  The Temple was built at the end of the 3rd century BC during the rule of Ptolemy to worship the god Serapis.  So, who in the heck is Pompey and why does he have a column?  In 60 BC, Pompey was part of the military-political alliance known as the First Triumvirate along with Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus.  Pompey was also married to Caesar’s daughter Julia. After the deaths of Crassus and Julia, Pompey and Caesar began contending for the leadership of the Roman State in its entirety. This led to Caesar’s civil war, Pompey was defeated, fled to Ptolemaic Egypt where he was assassinated. But that still doesn’t explain why he has a pillar.  It is said that when he was assassinated by Egyptians, they put his head in a jar and it was stored atop the column. Another theory from Crusaders of the Middles Ages is that Pompey’s ashes (not his head) were atop the column and gave it the Nickname “Pompey’s Pillar”.

Most historians now agree that this monument was built in 298 AD, in honor of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, but the name Pompey’s Pillar has stuck. The column is flanked by 2 red granite sphynx statues which were discovered in 1906.  It is believed they were built between 186 and 145 BC during the reign of Ptolemy VI Philopator.

As I mentioned previously, it was hot AF so after visiting the Pillar we made another stop for water.  Funny thing, all this water and I didn’t have to pee…guess I was sweating it all out. Okay, hydrated and cooled off a bit it was time to head to our next venue, the Roman Amphitheatre.

It was discovered in the 1960s during excavations for a planned government building. It is believed that the amphitheater was built in the 4th century AD and used until the Arab invasion of the 7th century.  The theatre, the only one of its kind discovered in Egypt had marble seating for around 700 people.  With further excavations and research still being carried out, there is now a theory that the theatre may have been a small “lecture hall” and the whole site an ancient academic institution.  Along with the ruins of the theatre, remains of Roman baths, columns, a residential district, a gymnasium, and a largely intact villa.  It is called “Villa of the Birds” because of a large mosaic on the floor depicting several species of birds.  Excavations continue at this site today.

Unearthed in 1998 by the Polish Archaeological Mission, the American Research Center in Egypt – in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Polish-Egyptian Preservation Mission, the Polish Center of Archaeology and Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities then began work to conserve the mosaics in the Villa of the Birds. The mosaic shows a pigeon, a peacock, a parrot, a quail, and a water hen as well as a panther. It was fascinating to see people working at the site during my visit.

 

 

 

 

 

More water and off to our next stop, the Citadel of Qaitbay.  Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, the Citadel was considered one of the most important defensive strongholds not only for Egypt but all the coast.

It was erected on the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  The Alexandria Lighthouse is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  An earthquake in the 11th century damaged the lighthouse and only the bottom survived and was used as a watchtower and a small mosque was built on top of it.  An extremely destructive earthquake in the 14th century completely destroyed the lighthouse. Although it is believed that the remains of a Byzantine bath are thought to be built from the remains of the Alexandria Lighthouse.

In 1805 when Mohammed Ali became ruler of Egypt, he completely renovated the Citadel, but in 1882 the British bombarded Alexandria and the Citadel sustained great damage.  It was neglected until 1904 when King Farouk wanted to turn it into a Royal Rest House and ordered it renovated.  The most recent restoration was in 1984.  The Citadel is now one of Alexandria’s most popular tourist attractions with beautiful views of the bay.

By now it is getting to be late afternoon and we still have a 3-hour drive back to Giza.  I am hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry.  One of the great things about being with a private guide, I didn’t have to go to the pre-planned everyone has to eat here type place.  I asked my guide to please take me to a small local place to eat traditional Egyptian food.  I was not disappointed.  I can’t tell you what I ate, but they laid out a feast for me.  Well-fed and hydrated, once in the car I quickly fell asleep to the sounds of Egyptian music.