Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lake Manyara and Serengeti National Parks: Oct 12-17

After the midsemester break, the wanafunzi went on safari with our Tanzanian ecology professor. That's right, we get course credit for this! He did made us write a paper in the bush. Mine was handwritten, and probably had food stains and mud on it, but I got the job done. I wrote by the light of an LED headlamp, and could hear the hyenas walking through our campsite the whole time. I must admit that my concluding paragraph was a little bit rushed. Nothing makes you miss an air-conditioned, camera-monitored college computer lab like a group of aggressively territorial face-biting predators roaming through your camp to drink from puddles and eat up the puke left behind by ACM's occasional amoeba victims.

ACMers waiting to enter Lake Manyara National Park.
A troop of baboons. I think baboons should travel in platoons, but evidently scientists don't like to rhyme as much as I do.
Elephants. Tembo! Alternatively, Loxodonta africanus.
Buffalo and friends.
Arriving at Lake Manyara Hot Springs. The water was indeed hot, and smelled like sulfur. There are flamingos in the distance, near the shore, along with probably ten other bird species.
Giraffes necking. Contrary to popular belief, they're not canoodling. These are two males fighting. However, good necking will get you the ladies. Female giraffes tend to favor males who are successful in neck-to-neck combat.
On the way to Serengeti, we passed through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and stopped by the crater for a picture. Look at this guy!
Ngorongoro will get its own post later, so check out pride rock:
Hyena! Always cool to see, except when you're staring one down on the way to the choo in the middle of the night. Generally, hyenas are big wusses, but they've been known to injure or kill humans, and rabies is a legitimate concern if you sustain a bite. Regardless, no one wants to see their beady eyes in the night when nature is calling.
Got milk?
Egyptian Geese.
More Zebra. They form these small multifaceted groups to keep an eye on predators.
Speaking of predators, these lionesses did not have hunting on the mind that day. Fun fact: male lions don't hunt much if they can help it. The females are typically the ones going out to bring home the food.
A leopard chilling out in a tree. There were dozens upon dozens of safari vehicles in line to see this guy.
More zebra.

Our Serengeti campsite.

On the way to the hippo pool, our Ecology prof said something in rapid Swahili to our driver while we were stopped. Without explanation, he started careening down the road (dirt and gravel, mind you) at at least 80Km/H. We found this guy and some friends just as they were crossing the road. He didn't seem to like the attention, and took a few steps toward the car while trumpeting loudly. For a second, I thought I was going to need to change my shorts. But the picture is here, and so am I!
The legendary Serengeti Hippo Pool. Hippos spend the daytime in the water to stay cool. They suffer from photosensitivity problems, just like me! At night they come out and eat grass. We couldn't see that, because vehicles are not allowed to drive in Serengeti after dark. That's fine with me, because hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in the world. They're aggressively territorial, sensitive to their own vulnerability on land, and routinely capsize small boats and kill the occupants in human-populated areas.*

*(Fun fact: On land, hippos can run up to 18 mph, or 30 Km/h. That's faster than you!)

Hippos mark territory with their choo (poo). The pool smelled as such.
Hippo yawn.
Very old Maasai rock paintings.
A Serengeti kopje (pronounced KO-pee). These geological curiosities dot the plains in certain parts of the park, and provide ecological conditions supporting animal and plant species quite different from surrounding areas - including the incredibly adorable Rock Hyrax!
That's it for Serengeti/Manyara highlights! Next up: Tarangire field camp!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wanafunzi on Vacation: October 2-10

During the weeklong midsemester break, we got the chance to see anything we wanted in Tanzania. So six of us plotted to return to Zanzibar for a quick weekend, then head up North to Lushoto, a town way up in the Usambara Mountains of Northeastern Tanzania.

We hopped on the on the Zanzibar ferry almost immediately after our Ecology midterm (well, we hopped on a dala-dala to Mwenge, then a crowded-hot-sweaty-butt in face-bus to Posta, walked to the seaport, then got on the ferry). We stayed in Stone Town for the night, but took off for a resort on the northern end of the island the next day. It was called Sunset Resort. The Sunset looked like this:

The following day, we went snorkeling with a dhow full of other tourists. It was my first time, and I found it to be quite fun after I stopped hyperventilating. The dhow is a "traditional sailing vessel," though ours was powered by a motor to save time. We stopped off of a private island about a half-mile from the Zanzibar shoreline. We weren't allowed to go near it, even the beach. Apparently, Jay-Z spent around one million USD to rent it once. A little patrol boat kept an eye on us the whole time.
The next night, we stayed at a place called Jambiani, which literally means "place of Arab knives." I didn't see any while we were there, but the sunrise looked this:

Jambiani had great pilau (spiced rice, usually with meat, potatoes, sometimes raisins and other stuff). The establishment we stayed with shares the beach with the local residents, so after sunrise we watched the fishermen come and ready their boats as the tide came in.

After booking it back across the ocean to Dar Es Salaam, we spent a night with our host families before waking up at 4:30 AM to board the bus to Lushoto. The Ubungo bus terminal is extremely confusing for those who have never experienced it before. Buses depart from Ubungo for destinations all over Tanzania. The station is basically a large parade ground with hundreds of buses packed in bumper-to-bumper and side-to-side. Fortunately, the minibus driver we hired to take us to the station took the time to help us find us find the half a dozen or so buses going to Lushoto. He spoke no English, but his Swahili was particularly clear, and I think he recognized how screwed we were, given that it was still dark out, we were totally lost, and the six of us were already huffing a lot of diesel fumes.

When the bus finally left, we had been watching a bootleg, poorly subtitled showing of the American film classic "10,000 BC" on the mounted TV. The diesel fumes helped. We had a safe ride, though we saw a crashed bus on the way, and Brendan became an exceptionally unfortunate victim of the East African norm of picking one's nose in public. The finale of the ride was a harrowing 90 minutes up into the Usambara Mountains to get to Lushoto.

On our way to a viewpoint after arrival, Brendan and Scott played with some watoto. The kids were fun, but a couple threatened to start hurling rocks when they found out we didn't have zawadi (gifts).
The view from the viewpoint.

Our friend's camera hand was a little shaky, but we were having a good time.

Some the villages are quite high up.
There are lots of chameleons in the Usambaras. The locals are aware that wazungu have a bizarre fascination with them, and often pointed them out to us.

A view of Mombo, the junction for traffic heading off the main road into the mountains.

The picture says it all.

Thomas, an "unauthorised guide" whom we picked up while wandering through a village. He turned out to be great. He knew some excellent hiking trails, and spoke pretty good English. Afterwards, he took us to his house to meet his mom, who was very nice, as most Tanzanian moms are.
In Lushoto we stayed at Irente Farm, a self-sufficient organic farm started by the Lutherans (they're everywhere, right?). They make excellent cheese (which is generally difficult to come by in Tanzania), delicious coffee, and homemade bread and granola. Possibly the best food I've had in Tanzania to date. Also, the chicken curry was incredible.

We went hiking with a local guide, and brought a picnic lunch from the farm. Quark, swiss cheese, mango chutney, and raspberry jam. I miss it.
Farmland near Soni, a short bus ride from Lushoto.

Sorry for all the food pics, but another hiking guide, Ali, made us guacamole from local veggies when we climbing a place called Growing Rock.
Ali spots a chameleon.
And has a great hat.

Lushoto is currently my favorite location in Tanzania. However, the national parks are not to be overlooked by any means. So they're up next!

Tutawaongea kesho... labda

Return from the Bush

Pole sana! I have not blogged for quite some time. This is due to the difficulty of mobilizing certain resources in “da boosh.” To make up it up to you, I will blog lots in the coming weeks. Since I last wrote, I’ve embarked upon the following adventures:

  • Return trip to Zanzibar and excursion to the Usambara Mountains (Oct 2-10)
  • Field Instruction in Ecology with UDSM faculty, in Lake Manyara and Serengeti National Parks. (Oct 12 – Oct 17) Also, trips to Tarangire National Park (Oct 21-22) and Ngorongoro Crater (November 15-17)
  • Ethnographic Interviewing in a rural community near Tarangire National Park (Oct 17- Nov 13)
  • Archeology Field Instruction with UDSM faculty, at Laetoli, Olduvai Gorge, and Lake Eyasi (November 17-20)
I will try and blog about each of these this week, when I am not hung up on one of the numerous tests and exams that are rapidly coming my way. Tanzanian universities inherited the British higher ed system, so my exams are worth 60% of my grade, and our professors mark to kill. But until later, the field was great, the wanafunzi wa ACM have safely arrived in Dar, and we are attempting to re-acclimate to life in the civilized world :)


Monday, September 27, 2010

Ian Gets a Tanzanian Mom

Yesterday the wanafunzi wa ACM moved out of Hall 3 and into the homes of our host families. We had the opportunity to meet them on Friday, but it didn’t quite prepare me for the experience of moving in. Before the move, we got a little talk about living in a Tanzanian home from Paulina, Dr. Roberts’ assistant at UDSM. It’s like being a teenager all over again – we’re expected to divulge our whereabouts when we come and go, no shoes in the house, and no drinking alcohol in front of parents! *gasp*

But I’m not complaining. Mama Kwame’s flat is a delightful change from our beloved yet grungy Hall 3 – and the grub is top-notch. Paulina predicted that many of us would be served pilau (spiced rice, usually with meat) on arriving, as it is a standard meal prepared for guests by many Tanzanians with origins in the Kilimanjaro region of the country. Mama Kwame’s pilau is the best I’ve had so far, and there was plenty of it. She migrated to the couch to watch a prime-time Tanzanian soap opera during dinner, but if anything started to run low, a rapid order in Swahili would summon more to the table. She has eyes like a hawk, and is apparently “breaking in” a new maid. Many of the university faculty and staff live comfortably enough to employ some help around the house. In some cases, like ours, that help is a young girl who is treated kind of like an additional family member. I don’t much about the system, but I’ll undoubtedly learn more.

The homestay will definitely help my shoddy Swahili, though it can be a little embarrassing to hack through a sentence with the knowledge that my hosts all speak perfect English – my host brother speaks great English with a quasi-American accent (with the occasional bits of British vocabulary), which is going to trip me up for a while. However, they’re more than willing to help me learn. I’m going to learn lots more, too: there’s a Swahili proverb about taking great care of a guest for two days, but on the third, you put him to work!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Karibu Zanzibar!

Pole sana for the delay since the last post. Internet here can be very irregular, and I have been very busy with my classes in Research Methods, Ecology, Human Origins, and Kiswahili. It's been a while since I had to take more than one class at time... uffdah. But I went to Zanzibar last weekend!

To go to Zanzibar, you have to take a ferry out of Dar Es Salaam. We were on one of the faster ones, so it only took about 90 minutes. The ride gives you great views of the coast, and fog on the way there gave us a really eerie perspective of all the freighters hanging out away from the mainland, waiting for permission to dock from harbor control. Unfortunately, the light made some of it impossible to photograph.

We spent most of our time in Stone Town, Zanzibar's main port. Stone Town is perhaps best known for its architecture, which represents an eclectic mix of Arabic, Indian, and Swahili styles. Stone Town is not organized in neat grids. For a visitor, it is very confusing. Only a few major roads cut through and around the maze-like design of the city. I tried some creative shortcuts to get to a spice market, and wound up getting totally lost. Fortunately, the major roads are very easy to navigate, and even a totally confused mzungu can make his way back using them.
Zanzibar is famous for its ornate doors. There is great diversity in the elaborateness of the designs, but even some of the most modest dwellings have a distinct entranceway.

Mti mkubwa, or Big Tree. This 99-year old ficus is marked on most Stone Town maps, and is a great reference point for idiot tourists like me. I should admit up front that our weekend in Zanzibar was pretty touristy. But we work super hard the rest of the time, I promise :)

Most of the original Stone Town buildings are a couple hundred years old (or older). Beneath an outer layer of plaster, most of them look this. These buildings are literally made out of rocks.
The balcony of Emerson Spice Hotel, an especially swank joint that is still under construction, but looks fabulous.

The darajani (Bridge) Market. This is the main market in Stone Town, and people come here to buy produce, spices, meat, and especially fish.

Some octopus in the fish market section. It reeked like dead fish, but the atmosphere made up for the overpowering stench. People in Zanzibar eat a ton of fish. It's local, fresh, and delicious. Unfortunately, certain types of fish that are popular among tourists are sold at a premium that local residents cannot afford. Zanzibar's tourism sector is extremely developed, and it's great to be a guest there. However, the large demand from hotels and restaurants catering to tourists has inflated the cost of many types of fish and shellfish. Buying a small skewer of lobster or kingfish costs about TSH 4000, which is only US $2.67, but some Zanzibarians would be lucky to make that in a week. Regular joes are left with the fish that tourists don't want, which are affordable but monotonous. The fishermen themselves are also very poor, and only retain a fraction of the value of the fish they catch, usually because they are indebted to sponsors who have supplied them with nets or other equipment. These guys have guts. You can spot them as far as a mile or two off the coast, sailing in tiny one-man boats with only a paddle, let alone a sail or, god forbid, an engine.
A kanga featuring our beloved commander-in-chief. I've seen some great variations that say things like "elected by God" and so on.
A catholic church on the site of the former Zanzibar slave market. Before aggressive missionary action in the 19th century, Zanzibar was the hub of East African slave trading for several hundred years.
Another cool church.
Freddie Mercury's birthplace! He was born in this Zanzibar house before going to India for boarding school. Our tour guide some other native Swahili speakers usually refer to him as "Queen Freddie Mercury."

The national museum. It looks great, even though I believe it was almost totaled in a sea-to-shore bomdardment.

We had a wonderful tour of a Zanzibar spice farm. Zanzibar is renowned for its spices, and we got to see, smell and sometimes taste cardamom, lemongrass, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and many more. This is black pepper growing on a vine. I bit into it, and cried a little.

One of the spice farm employees climbed this huge tree to get us coconuts. He sang at us and kept yelling hakuna matata and karibu Zanzibar the whole time. He used a little rope to keep is ankles together and justed inched up the tree. From the top, he just hurled 'em down. Fun fact: more people are killed by falling coconuts than lightning.

A delicious meal served at the spice farm. On the plate, you see pilau, sweet and savory bananas, plantains, and cassava. Needless to say, it featured a lot of spice.

We made a brief trip to Jozani forest to see the Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey. They're adorable, and don't give a toss about people around them. You walk right up to them and hang out. Kind of like college squirrels.

Sunset from the coast in Stone Town.

Yours truly in front of what is, in my opinion, the coolest door in Zanzibar. The arched top is not typical; this is the door to a Hindu temple, and has more Indian influences (as well as Hindi engraving) than others. The grid of brass spikes is ornamental, but originally comes from doors designed to deter war elephants from smashing them in.

The Stone Town coast from the ferry going home to Dar. Baadaye.