Hi everyone! I'm back from Tanzania and I had such an amazing time. I highly recommend the trip, and I really hope I get the opportunity to go back. It was incredible to see so many wild animals doing what they do in their natural habitat. Plus, the people we spent time with were so welcoming and lovely. The weather was perfect too, in the 70s/80s, sometimes with some rain in the afternoon.
The initial part of the trip was business-related, and I'll avoid going into detail on that. Suffice it to say, we were in an area not acclimated to tourists, where few people spoke English (not including those we were working with) and we didn't really speak any Swahili. I wish I had taken the time to learn some key phrases before going. Multiple times, when communication was failing, the Tanzanians would start laughing at us, really hard belly-laughing, sometimes even screaming with laughter and rolling on the ground. Often the word "mzungu" (white person) was thrown about liberally while hooping with laughter. I tried to take it in stride and laugh along, but I was definitely being laughed AT, not with. It kinda sucked. Speaking more Swahili would have made a big difference.
Anyway, the vacation part of the trip started in Mwanza, where bearddamnheroes and I were picked up by the guide/driver who would accompany us for the next several days through Serengeti and Ngorongoro. He was awesome, and crazy knowledgeable about everything Tanzania. We could ask him about any animal or plant or landscape or region, and he'd start rattling off all kinds of cool facts. What was a bit funny is that as much as he knew about Tanzania, he had no clue about the rest of the world. He thought Mount Everest was in Peru. He didn't realize the US and Canada shared a border. It was neat to be able to share some of our knowledge with him, as he shared his knowledge with us. By the end of the trip, he was a friend. We exchanged emails and hoped to keep in touch.
The game drives were amazing. In general, the animals couldn't care less about the cars, because they're used to them coming and going and not doing anything that impacts them. That means that we often ended up just a few feet away from animals, as they hung out and did their thing, ignoring us completely. The car we were in was like a long SUV that would seat eight, but it was just the three of us. It had a built-in fridge stocked with cold water, and a top that pops up so you can stand and get a 360 degree view, while still being shaded. Like this:*
I thought it was neat how the whole set-up worked. The different tour operators would talk over the radio, or slow down and chat as our cars passed, and share what areas were currently good for seeing different animals.
What animals did we see? So many zebras, buffalo, elephants, giraffes, gazelles and gazelle/antelope relatives: wildebeest (often in mixed herds with zebras, which I thought was interesting), impalas, topis, hartebeest, reedbucks, elands, and dik-diks. Dik-diks were one of my all-time favorites because they are absurdly adorable, like miniature deer, and the males have tiny cute horns. They were named for the noise they make as an alarm call. They mate for life, and when one of them dies, their partner will supposedly die within a few days (they stop eating, or give themselves up to a predator). You usually see them in pairs, or in threes when they have a baby. And according to our guide, sometimes they arrange marriages for their children.
We saw baboons and vervet monkeys, hyraxes (look like groundhogs but are closely related to elephants??), jackals, mongooses, ostriches, tawny eagles, flamingos, crowned cranes (the ones on the Ugandan flag), vultures, and lots more birds whose names I have forgotten. We saw plenty of hyenas, which are weird and ugly. Warthogs, on the other hand, are fairly adorable in their ugliness.
We saw (and smelled...) a bunch of hippos, including two that lumbered out of water to get to another pond, which is apparently rare to see in the daytime. We saw two endangered black rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater, and there are only about twenty that live there. We saw all the big cats - lions, leopards, and a cheetah - and our guide told us we were very lucky to see the leopards and cheetah because they are shy and keep away from the roads.
Some of the cooler moments: watching a tiny baby elephant, maybe a few days old, stumbling around awkwardly, trying to stay underneath his mom as she wandered and munched on tree branches; seeing a troop of vervet monkeys quickly snatch up the little ones (who had been running around playing) and stand on hind legs at attention, evaluating if a faraway noise indicated approaching danger; seeing a baboon mother drag her child off by the ear; being almost directly underneath a leopard in a tree, and having it quickly snap its head around to stare at us; seeing three lion cubs nursing from their mother, until she got tired of it and stood up in a huff, growling at them; seeing a pair of male lions lounging under a tree, with one fully on his back with legs in the air, occasionally sleepily kicking the other in the head; seeing two Thomson gazelles fighting, feinting at and headbutting each other...
We did also visit a Maasai boma, which I hadn't planned, but our guide asked if we wanted to stop as we passed one where he knew the people, and we agreed. I felt a little strange about it (white people stopping by to ogle the natives?), but it was interesting to chat with them, and understand a bit more about how they live.
After visiting the parks on the mainland, we went to Zanzibar for a couple days. Stone Town was interesting, and I liked seeing the red colobus and Sykes' monkeys, but in general, I was not a big fan of Zanzibar. First off, it was too hot, in the 90s. Secondly, there's a big unemployment problem which means that as you walk around, lots of people are shoving their wares in your face, or pushing you to buy tours or go to a particular restaurant or shop, and not taking no for an answer. Thirdly, and this one is a bit weird of me to say, but I didn't get along with the people all that well. They seemed really into telling us about the "great" slave trade that Zanzibar used to be known for (until the market for slaves "dried up" and they had to move on to trading spices), and how there was a sawmill set up in the forest to harvest mahogany until the British made them shut it down, and how many of their buildings were and still are built out of coral. The guide who took us through Jozani forest laughed as he pointed out several monkeys missing hands and tails, probably from being run over by cars. Maybe we just had bad luck there, but it left me with a poor taste in my mouth.
I don't want to wrap up on that note, because overall it was a really wonderful trip, so instead I'll tell you a fun fact about zebras. They like to stand in pairs where they face opposite directions, watching each others backs. Sometimes they sleep that way, with their heads resting on each others' backs. It's pretty cute, and also very intelligent.
*Just a note - none of these pictures are mine.