Our last game drive

This would be the last game drive of our safari, from our camp in the Maswa Game Reserve to a lodge just past Ngorongoro Crater.

We drove through the acacia woodland and discovered the cheetah mother and four cubs at the edge of the acacia woodland.  We were happy that they had made it back to the woodland safely from the gazelle kill.  The mother was taking the cubs somewhere — alternately walking and waiting for the cubs to follow.

mother cheetah and four cubs walking
mother cheetah and four cubs walking

They walked past a downed tree, so of course the cubs had to climb it as the mother kept walking.

cheetah cubs climbing the tree
cheetah cubs climbing the tree
more climbing
more climbing

Now we’ve seen what herding cats means. 😉 The cheetahs continued walking. We saw this cheetah family on three different days. Amazing luck and skill of our guides.

We started a long game drive along the boundary of the the acacia woodland and the short-grass plains.

Some jackals were looking at Thomson’s gazelles, but the gazelles had spotted the jackals and were careful.

jackals looking at thomson's gazelles
jackals looking at thomson’s gazelles

Later these two thomson’s gazelles were fighting (butting heads).

gazelles fighting
gazelles fighting

A pregnant spotted hyena showing us her long, yellow teeth.

pregnant spotted hyena
pregnant spotted hyena

In the Ngorongoro highlands there are Maasai villages and tropical trees.  Looking at the vegetation, you can see that the highlands get a lot more rain than the Serengeti plains.

Maasai boma overlooking the Serengeti
Maasai boma overlooking the Serengeti
lush vegetation in the Ngorongoro highlands
lush vegetation in the Ngorongoro highlands

We arrived at the lodge in time for lunch.  The lodge felt somewhat antiseptic after 8 nights in camps, but we did savor the long showers, electricity in our rooms, flush toilets, and internet.

At dinner we each talked about our favorite experience on the safari.  Mine was the cheetah family before the thunderstorm and the harrowing drive back to camp on the flooded dirt road.

The next day two people left for gorilla tracking, four for Zanzibar, four for South Africa, and three for home.

We had a blast. The safari was a fabulous experience that we’ll always cherish. We had great guides who found a wide variety of animals and parked so that we’d have good light for photos. They told us about the animals. They patiently answered our questions and told us stories. They put a very positive face on Tanzania. We enjoyed traveling with our fellow safari clients. I appreciate everyone’s patience with me as I clicked away with my camera, or more frequently, waited for an animal to turn its head just so.

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Day 3 at Alamana – Maasai and bush walks

We started our third day at Alamana with Maasai culture — a visit to a Maasia boma and a primary school for Maasai.  We stopped for lunch under an acacia tree and a bush walk back to camp.

al fresco lunch
al fresco lunch

In the evening there was another bush walk, where we saw hyena dung.  Hyena dung is white because of the bones that hyenas eat.  High in calcium, other animals eat hyena dung to build strong bones quickly.

hyena dung
hyena dung

At the end of the bush walk we hiking up a high kopje, just in time to see our last sunset in Alamana.  The fire and champagne were a nice surprise!  Thank you, Joan, for the photo. The acacia trees are far below the kopje.

Alamana sunset
Alamana sunset

Tanzanian primary school

After seeing the boma, we visited the primary school that serves the Maasai village and surrounding area. Operated by the Tanzanian government, a primary school has seven levels, or standards. The school and adjoining clinic are outside the village.

Tanzanian primary school
Tanzanian primary school

John’s three daughters attend this school. They live at the school and come home on weekends.  About half the students are boarders. John is a Maasai Elder, and he knows folk medicine from his father.

John and his daughters
John and his daughters

In the primary school, classes are conducted in Kiswahili, the national language, and English is taught as a class.  Students generally speak their tribal language at home.  In secondary school, class is conducted in English.  To better prepare for secondary school, one of our safari guides sends his children to a private primary school, where English is used for instruction.

The lead teacher, the administrator for the school, told us about the school and answered questions.  American schools use a similar name — our principal is shortened from the original principal teacher.  There are two classes per standard.

The lead teacher showed us the dormitories for the boarding students — bunk beds crowded into dimly-lit rooms.  Two or three students share a bed, and many beds have slats without mattresses.  The school has over a dozen buildings: classrooms, dormitories, and lodging for teachers and the lead teacher.  Two buildings have solar panels donated by an American on safari, so those buildings have lights.

Teachers walked with us during the tour.  I talked to a 2nd standard teacher from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and commercial hub.  His English is excellent.  He attended a government college, which requires three years of service upon graduation.  The government assigned him to this school outside a Maasai village of 400 and hours away from Arusha, the closest large town.  He’d like to go back to school.

We asked if there any sports at the school.  No sports.  Are there soccer balls (footballs)?  No. Looking around, the school is on a hillside so they also don’t have a level area except in front of the classrooms.  Then there are thorny issues from the brush surrounding the school.  If it’s anything like the brush we see on bush walks, it’s acacia with thorns of 1″ to 3″, depending on the variety.  What does the school need most?  Solar panels for lights.  Only two buildings have solar panels.  The teacher’s lodging has no lights.

We visited a 7th standard classroom.  The students are between 12 to 16 years old.  They sing a song for us.  Our lead safari guide proceeds to hand out pencils.  He calls up students based on their rank from last year’s standardized test, starting from number one, and passes out pencils to the top-ranked students. Each student knows their ranking, and they apparently are accustomed to their ranking being discussed.

passing out pencils to the top-ranked students
passing out pencils to the top-ranked students

Coming from American schools, this public use of ranking seems harsh. With time, we rationalized the Tanzanian approach.  Tanzania is a developing country with scarce resources.  They can’t afford to educate everyone through secondary school, so they select the most qualified students.  Students going on to secondary school must pass a qualifying test.  Students and their families need to know where they stand before that test, so that they’re not totally surprised by the test results. Similarly, students must pass a test to enter college.

We asked how many students are in the class.  About 70.  Although there are 2-3 students per desk, only about half the students are in class.  They dodge school, the teacher observed.

A safari member looked at a textbook and saw facts about growing cotton.  Don’t see how growing cotton is relevant to herders who count cattle as wealth. If the Maasai were to take up farming, they would probably start with food they can eat, not a commercial crop like cotton. We saw corn (maize) growing in the village. Maasai eat corn and make a beer from corn.

We donated money to purchase mattresses for the school and gave school supplies to the lead teacher to distribute as he sees fit.

A visit to a Maasai boma

The Alamana camp has operated on a concession from the Maasai for years. Because of this long-term relationship with the Maasai, we were able to visit a boma, the home and corral owned by a Maasai family. The family visited is rotated.

John Maasai drove, and we rode with him.  As we entered the Maasai village he pointed to his house up the hill.  We stopped at these low-slung huts with goats parading by.

boma and goats
boma and goats

This is our host’s boma.  We met our host and his two sons.  We all shook hands. Our host is wearing a dark suit. Both sons speak English; they talked and answered questions.

Maasai host and two sons
Maasai host and two sons

One attends university in Dodoma, Tanzania’s capital; the other a university in Arusha. One son has four brothers and sisters. We asked if their father has more than one wife. Yes, he has five.  There are 20 children from the five wives. The boma has 6-8 huts that house our host’s family.  With five wives, our host is very well-to-do.

William, dressed in red, shows us the corral first.

corral
corral

The huts are built in the traditional manner, dung plastered over sticks. The dung makes the hut waterproof.

entering a hut
entering a hut

The doorway is less than five feet tall so everyone has to bend down to enter.  As you enter the hut, there’s a storage area straight ahead.  You have turn twice down a dark hallway to enter the main room, and we have trouble seeing until our eyes adjust to the dim light.  See the small window in the photo above.  The room has only three small windows like that. The interior photos required flash.

In the photo below, William is kneeling; his mother, grandmother, and wife are sitting on a bed. The ceiling is so low that William can’t stand up inside. See how the ceiling has been blackened by smoke.

William, his mother, grandmother, and wife
William, his mother, grandmother, and wife

In the middle of the room is a firepit with a smoldering fire. There’s a pan of milk next to the firepit.  Milk is a large part of the Maasai diet. This is February, Tanzania’s summer, so the weather is warm. With little ventilation, you wonder about inhaling smoke, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.  But there were no flies inside. There were a lot of flies outside.

interior of Maasai hut
interior of Maasai hut

We sat on a second bed on the other side of the firepit.  William’s son is sleeping on this bed, which feels like leather stretched on a frame.  There are four generations here. William’s wife is wearing beautiful Maasai beaded earrings and necklaces.

Nancy, Betty, and William's wife
Nancy, Betty, and William’s wife

Outside the hut the women posed for pictures.

William's mother, Betty, Nancy, Joan, and William's wife
William’s mother, Betty, Nancy, Joan, and William’s wife

Other huts and members of our host’s family.  The woman in the blue cape is holding a tiny baby goat.

other members of our host's family
other members of our host’s family

The traditional Maasai livelihood is to raise cattle and goats. They count wealth in cattle, paying for wives with cattle.  When the local grass is exhausted, they move on to greener pastures. The nomadic culture doesn’t mesh well with farming and formal education, which requires living in the same place for the school year.

Maasai cattle raising is reaching its limits. Parts of Tanzania look arid, like the American southwest.  Sometimes there isn’t enough water for all the cattle.  The government encourages the Maasai to sell their cattle, but they resist parting with their wealth.

Some Maasai, like our host, embrace education.  But we see many school-aged Maasai boys herding cattle and goats. Bridging cultures can be very hard.

Day 2 at Alamana – in search of the klipspringer

We started the day with an game drive to find the elusive klipspringer, a mammal that lives on kopjes.  In another post, we saw a spotted hyena and a baby gazelle.  In the photo below, a male giraffe tastes the female giraffe’s urine to detect estrus. Note the baby giraffe with the darker spots.

male giraffe sniffing female
male giraffe sniffing female

We enjoyed a hippo pool.  We saw a martial eagle and the klipspringer.

martial eagle
martial eagle
klipspringers
klipspringers

Klipspringers are very shy, and they usually ran when we drove by.  They have pads on their feet, to better grip the granite kopje. We saw Maasai herding cattle and getting water.

Maasai herding cattle
Maasai herding cattle
Maasai women getting water
Maasai women getting water

In the evening we saw a Maasai ceremony.

Maasai ceremony

After the game drive to the hippo pool, our guides told us that the local Maasai were holding a ceremony that evening. The camp asked the Maasai if our safari members could attend, including women. The Maasai ceremony is normally for males only. That evening we were told that we could attend!

We drove to a distant kopje and were led into a broad cave formed by a granite overhang. The top and back of the cave are blackened by many fires. The cave is surrounded by thorny branches, with a large thorny branch for the door.

Maasai ceremonial cave
Maasai ceremonial cave

Four Maasai adults greeted us. John spoke, and our guide Felix translated.  John is dressed in blue, and Felix is in green. John is a Maasai elder and a camp employee. Lucas, who guarded us on bush walks, is the second Maasai from the right. Here’s what I recall, but there are probably errors and gaps in my understanding.

Felix explaining the Maasai ceremony
Felix explaining the Maasai ceremony

In the Maasai culture, males pass through several levels as they progress from boy to elder. Training is required to progress to the next level. The Maasai hold the training in this cave. A ceremony marks successful passage to the next level.

Boys are being trained to go to the next level, which I believe is morani or warrior. The boys were here in the afternoon, but they aren’t here now. Boys pay goats as tuition for the training. One goat for every two days of training.

The Maasai roasted a goat for us.

roast goat and red soup
roast goat and red soup

The Maasai eat communally, with each person sharing each cut of meat. They start by offering honored guests the best part — the liver. They invited every one to take part, telling us we could pass.

John cutting a goat leg for us
John cutting a goat leg for us

I wanted to try the goat, but I don’t like liver, eating it only when there’s nothing else and then smothering it in ketchup.  I took a piece of liver and managed to eat it in several bits, hopefully with a smile on my face.  After the liver, they served a foreleg, a hindleg, and ribs.  The rest of the goat was very good!

They prepared a red soup. If they explained what was in the soup, I missed it.  Then they served the soup.  I had read that the Maasai diet consists primarily of blood and milk, with meat for special occasions.

making the red soup
making the red soup
straining the soup
straining the soup

I took a cup of soup.  It was watery and a little bitter. Hopefully the red is from tree bark and not blood.

The outing was a surprise cultural treat!

Bush walks

The Alamana camp is located on Maasai lands outside Serengeti National Park.  We may use open vehicles, go on bush walks, drive off-road, and do night game drives.  These activities are not permitted within the National Park.

The first morning we climbed into open vehicles to drive to a bush walk.  Lucas, a Maasai camp employee, is standing in front.  The open vehicle with three levels of seats facilitates game viewing and photography.

Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front
Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front

We did a game drive to a dry stream bed, where we did a bush walk. Noeli, a camp guide, led the the group and carried a loaded 416 caliber rifle. Lucas brought up the rear and carried a spear, the traditional Maasai weapon. We stayed close to Noeli, who carried the gun. He has used the rifle on bush walks, killing a charging hippo with a single shot from his bolt action rifle. No one asked if he would have had time for a second shot in case the first one only wounded the hippo. Remember, hippos kill more people than any other animal.

staying close to the guy with the rifle
staying close to the guy with the rifle

Noeli showed us a whistling thorn acacia, which has a symbiotic relationship with ants. Some thorns have a bulbous base where ants live, entering and exiting through a hole. Wind causes some acacia bulbs to whistle as the wind passes the hole. If the acacia is disturbed, the ants crawl out and bite the animal eating the acacia. Although this acacia has long thorns, evidently the thorns aren’t enough to protect it against herbivores!

whistling thorn acacia
whistling thorn acacia

Noeli cut open a bulb.  Ants crawled out of the bulb and are biting his hand as he holds the bulb for this picture.  Noeli is one tough dude.

whistling thron acacia and biting ants
whistling thorn acacia and biting ants

Here’s a leopard tortoise, which has spots like a leopard.

leopard tortoise
leopard tortoise

To our surprise, Lucas pulled all this from his backpack, so we enjoyed coffee and cookies in the shade.

coffee on the bush walk
coffee on the bush walk

Driving back to camp we saw a male impala and his harem.

male impala
male impala
female impalas
female impalas

Near the camp, we saw one of the three Maasai camp guards.  Each guard is stationed on a kopje, a granite outcropping.

kopje with Maasai guard
kopje with Maasai guard

We did an evening bush walk after a much-needed siesta, .  A troop of baboons watched us from a kopje.  Baboons are a favorite food of leopards, so baboons stay vigilant.

baboon on kopje
baboon on kopje

We did a night game drive after dinner, but we didn’t see much. Day 1 in Alamana.