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On the outskirts of Arusha
The United Republic of Tanzania was born in 1964 when Zanzibar (formerly British) and Tanganyika (formerly German until won by the British after World War I) united to form a single nation. Tanzania is home to Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa's highest mountain), Lake Tanganyika (the second-deepest lake in the world), and Lake Victoria (the source of the Nile). Tanzania is also home to almost 30 million people from 120 different tribes.
The small town of Arusha, in the north of Tanzania, is the hopping-off point for most of Tanzania's safaris, as it is centrally located between Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and the incredible Ngorogoro Crater. On a friend's personal recommendation, we booked our three-week safari through African Mania, a small tour company run by a husband and wife team. Tom Maasa, a native Mbulu from Katatu (about 75 miles from Arusha) knows the country and its culture. Sandi Carter, an American from Portland, Oregon, knows Americans and their comfort requirements. Together, they were the perfect team to plan our African adventure.
After months of email correspondence (and last-minute schedule changes), we finally got to meet Tom and Sandi on October 15th when they helped us check into the Equator Hotel in Arusha. The Equator used to be a UN building, and it was still in the process of being converted to a guest hotel. We had to roll an extra twin bed into a single room that was already crowded with a double and a twin, but everything fit, along with us and our suitcases. (The hot water was only warm, and only after running for five minutes, but that is another story.)
Sandi hosted us to a wonderful dinner at the Jambo Coffee Shop across the street. We discovered that people in Africa normally eat dinner very late and that nobody (including restaurant staff) is ever in much of a hurry. By the time we finished our meal, the boys were falling asleep in their plates. We retired early and slept extremely well.
Because we had arrived one day earlier than originally intended, October 16th was an unscheduled extra day. We were able to sleep in and have breakfast at the hotel. (We passed on menu items like "Fried Ox Tail" and "Fried Beef Liver" and just had the continental breakfast.) At 10:00 AM, Tom and his driver Wilfred met us with their van and took us on a relaxed day of sightseeing around town.
One of our favorite parts of visiting other countries has been simply to watch the people in their day-to-day lives, and Arusha was a cultural wonderland every bit as exciting as China was a month ago. Where the Chinese haul anything and everything on their bicycles and carts, Tanzanian women carry anything and everything around on their heads. We were especially intrigued by the Maasai, whose nomadic tribespeople wear stunningly colorful batik wraps. Their once-a-month market was held today, so we were able to see people carrying goods and herding animals to the marketplace for trading.
The Maasai market
But the highlight of our day was the Meserani Snake Park, built in the middle of nowhere by a South African expatriot woman (whose son happens to be the assistant Tennis Coach at UC Berkeley). We were able to see dozens of Africa's rarest and deadliest snakes (including the highly poisonous Black Mamba), in addition to crocodiles, turtles, and chameleons. Today was also feeding day, and the boys were fascinated watching the snakes chase (or ignore) the little mice that had been let loose into their glass-walled houses (Gail was appalled).
An Olive Grass Snake
Back in town, we had much of the afternoon to rest, do some homeschooling, walk around town, and visit some more with Sandi in her office. We had enjoyed Jambo's so much the night before that we returned for dinner again -- this time early enough to have dessert. We returned to our room and elated the boys by finally finishing the first book of The Lord of the Rings (Russell had been reading this to them since Australia).
Tomorrow our safari officially begins with a tour of Arusha National Park. Most tourists take a safari of seven to ten days. We have scheduled ours for three weeks. We expect that the remainder of our schedule will be every bit as relaxing and exciting as our first day was.
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