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October 21, 2001
Lake Manyara: Mto Wa Mbu (Russell)

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Lake Manyara: the view from Panorama Safari Camp

In Africa, it is difficult to make a living as a tour guide working for a safari company.  They only earn about $100 a month, and must pay for their own food and accommodations while on safari.  Tom Maasa decided to do better by starting his own safari company.  Tom's longtime friend Frank Massewe tried something different: he secured a piece of land overlooking Lake Manyara National Park, and he built the Panorama Safari Camp there.

We are staying at this six-month-old tent camp for the next two nights, having left Tarangire on October 20th and made a two-and-a-half hour drive over more unpaved roads (Joss was feeling pretty carsick by the end of it.)  The last bit was a steep, switch-backed climb up the wall of the Great Rift, but it was worth the result: a beautiful panoramic view from our campsite, overlooking Lake Manyara and the surrounding forests.  Tom is happy to give some business to a local, and so are we.  We are in two tents again -- larger this time -- and being fed once more by Christopher our safari chef.

After lunch and a nice break, Tom took us on a half-day game drive through Lake Manyara National Park, the most green and lush forest we've been in yet.  Manyara is famous for its baboons, and we saw many of them.  Several times, dozens of them blocked the road.  They didn't flee when we approached; instead, they merely ambled out of the way and continued doing whatever they were doing (usually picking nits out of each others' back ends) while we watched them.  Once, the baboons in the trees overhead amused themselves by dropping wild mango skins down onto our heads.

The highlight of our day was when we parked our truck at the same place where a herd of elephants was attempting to cross the road.  They had several babies with them, and wanted to cross right where our truck was.  The bull (and father) decided that he needed to make a show of power against the truck... and the elephant won.  We moved aside, but not before Cameron came within just a few feet of a wild bull elephant.

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Close encounter with an elephant

We did not see any of Manyara's famous tree-climbing lions, but...

We drove the truck to a picnic site to use the restrooms.  When we drove back out, we saw fresh lion tracks on top of our truck tracks.  Apparently, a lion had prowled through the area during the few minutes that we were occupied in the restrooms.

Back at camp, Gail participated in a traditional bonding ritual with Tom called "driving down the dust," which consisted of consuming beer.  We had another early evening; not only because we were camping, but because Russell had succumbed to a head cold -- our first illness so far in three months of traveling.  Russell's cold also caused us to get off to our latest start the next day.

We did some more fiddling with the schedule on October 22nd.  The original itinerary called for another full-day game drive at Lake Manyara, including the local hot springs.  But Tom explained that the tse-tse flies would be unbearable there.  Instead, he proposed that we take a walking tour through the nearby village of Mto Wa Mbu (literally "Mosquito River").

We were met by Wesley, a local guide who gave us a "half-hour tour" that ended up going on for more than three hours.  Mto Wa Mbu has set up an excellent Cultural Tourism Programme, whose income helps to develop the town and raise its standard of living (they had just installed basic electricity six months previously).  We had an absolutely fascinating time walking through the village and nearby banana forests.

Mto Wa Mbu is mainly an agricultural village, and the inhabitants work together with the nearby Maasai nomads.  The Maasai believe that all cattle are their property; so to avoid war, the village limits itself to farming and trades its produce for the meat and milk produced by the Maasai herds.  More than 30 varieties of bananas are grown here, along with oranges, apples, avocados, mangoes, and sweet potatoes (most of the bananas are exported to Nairobi).

But the most fascinating aspect for us was meeting with the people.  The children were very curious and would follow us around, saying either "hello" or "jambo."  (They would also ask for "pen" or "money," but Wesley requested that we not encourage begging.  Indeed, when we first started touring, we noticed that the children would greet us with a closed-fist wave.  It was explained that they were pantomiming holding a pen.)  They loved having their picture taken, and were excited when Gail was able to show them a video of themselves.  One girl exchanged addresses with Gail.  Other children kept asking Russell to swing them around by their arms.  Joss saw two local boys up a tree, and couldn't resist the challenge to climb up himself.  Both Joss and Cameron made various toys out of banana leaves, flowers, vines, rocks, and sticks during the course of our walk.

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Joss and friend up a tree
Posing with some of Mto Wa Mbu's children

A group of women invited us into their home to enjoy our lunchtime snack.  They were fascinated by Gail's skirt wrap (received as a going-away present back home, she thought she was going to lose it to them a couple of times), and Gail donated a tube of hand lotion to one of the women.

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Admiring Gail's wrap

After this amazing experience, we spent the rest of the day back at Panorama Safari Camp.  The boys sequestered themselves in their tent for several hours playing finger games (including "Turbo Cat" and "Indiana Cat"), then did some more home schooling.  Chris continued to amaze us with his cooking, which has lately included spaghetti and pizza.  Even Joss, Mister "I can subsist on air," has begun eating heartily.


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