Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tanzania 2008: Waking up in Africa

Champagne and chef-prepared omelets were waiting for us when we arrived at the Dik Dik Hotel, Arusha. It was dark, but we could tell that this place was beautiful. After dinner we meandered to our little bungalow by a babbling stream. The overwhelming fatigue of our travel day was moderated by the sight of a net enclosed king-size bed dressed with overstuffed feather comforters. Our room was decorated in "Modern Warthog (gidi in Swahili)." So here I sit... the next morning... we are not disappointed. Surrounded by African botanical gardens, warm tropical light, and the songs of exotic birds, the Dik Dik Hotel is a very happy dream.  

We enjoyed a late breakfast of cheese, eggs, pastry (watch out cholesterol) and fine Tanzanian coffee on the outdoor patio surrounded by gardens. This was our first opportunity to chat with our fellow travelers on the photo safari. As Tamy and I downed cup after cup of coffee, we began to realize that we might be the "out-group" among the clan. As a high school teacher, I often feel old when working with adolescents ever day, today... I feel young! It appears that we may be a generation or two younger that our travel companions, and the breakfast discussion about social security might be 20 years premature for either of us. Nonetheless, all of the people we met today shared an enthusiasm for nature, wildlife and photography... we can relate to this!

After wandering the wonderfully manicured grounds of the Dik Dik, Tamy and I were anxious to see some of the "real" Africa. Sure the Dik Dik was beautiful, but this is a pre-staging respite for Kilimanjaro treks and Serengeti safaris. We know about tourists... hell, we're tourists... we are in Africa now and want to visit people who live and work in here every day.

Fortunately, we were introduced to Oswaldii who offered to take us into the village that surrounded the Dik Dik Hotel. Leaving the gated entrance of the hotel, we began to catch a glimpse of life "outside." Ladies in colorful clothes carried buckets, baskets, or wood on their heads and men draped in blankets or riding bikes hauled thatch, food and scrap up or down the road. We turned left and hiked uphill on an unpaved rough dirt road.

As we walked, people drifted by us. Every once in a while a person would wave, smile, and exclaim "jambo!" Jambo!... Hi, Hello, How's it going? Jambo! is the universal greeting in Swahili. We walked passed a group of young kindergarten-aged kids in school. They stopped in their tracks just in time to give us a good stare... we looked back and exclaimed "Jambo!" Jambo... jambo... jambo... this was the chorus for us as we continued to hike throughout the village.

Oswaldii showed us some of the crops grown in and around the village. He pointed out the coffee plants growing in the shade of bananas, trees busting with avocados, and wispy palm-like papayas towering over banana plantations. We got a quick lesson on how to distinguish maize from corn and how to prepare each for a good African meal.

Somewhere during the hike we made a left and found ourselves on a wooden bridge crossing a small river. It was on the bridge that we got our first glimpse of the black and white colobus monkeys. Oswaldii shushed us and pointed into the trees. Their black faces were rimmed by thick white fur that extended to a thicker black coat. The body terminated in a flamboyantly fluffy white tail. A giant tree skunk with a primate's face and hands. Of course we tried to photograph the monkeys, but they were gone before we had any real chance of taking a picture.

After another failed attempt at some photography we continued our walk across the bridge and hiked left up a hill. From here we could see the river water flowing into a concrete building. We were escorted into the open-air building which was filled with the stench of fish or fish food. We were in a trout fishery. This cleverly designed building is a hatchery for Washington state species of trout that is exclusively farmed by this village. This fish farm is a primary source of trout for villages and hotels throughout Tanzania.  

After a quick lesson in fish husbandry, we were back on the trail. Neither of us are certain about how it occurred, but a few lefts and rights later... and were back at the Dik Dik.

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