My brief sojourn from life on the road has finally come to an end, my default mental state has – thankfully – reverted back to that of a novice explorer first encountering new lands, and my energy reserves has been replenished, all in anticipation of diving back into the world with the renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Restarting the “travel engine”, however, can be a bit like trying to turn around a thousand-ton freighter in the shallows of a small river, so I figured — from a timing perspective – the best way to get going again was to place myself in an environment completely foreign from the Western culture to which I’ve grown accustomed.
With this in mind, my next destination was that of the East African country of Tanzania — a melange of nearly a hundred separate ethnic groups; where practitioners of Christianity, Islam, and traditional Tribal beliefs all rub shoulders; where one can glimpse the juxtaposition of colorful and multi-cultural port cities (such as the Zanzibar) alongside historically significant excavation sites (such as Olduvai Gorge, where some of the earliest human remains were unearthed), a country that has largely escaped the extreme political and social upheaval witnessed in other neighboring countries, yet still isn’t without its own problems; and where many of the approximately 120 indigenous tribes still live in a largely unchanged world, just as they did in times past.
The largest draw to Tanzania, however, and that which first springs to mind when hearing the country mentioned, is that of a Safari on the Serengeti Plain. This offers a visitor the chance to enter into the natural environment of wild beasts – the realm of predator and prey — and to mingle amongst them in far closer proximity than any zoo or game preserve ever allows. This was the primary reason for my visit to the country, too, but the scenic vistas of Acacia trees shadowed against endless plains and the close encounters with lions, zebras, and wildebeests will have to wait until my next post. As a first foray into Tanzania, I thought I should offer a tour through three distinctly different, yet still surprisingly humanistic, towns and villages that I was given the opportunity to visit — each of which helps to add another layer to the overall image of what life is like in this colorful country.
Before I jump ahead of myself, however, my two-week voyage began (and ended, for that matter) in the town of Arusha, a common embarkation point for those planning on either joining a safari or hiking nearby Mt Kilimanjaro. Though my time there was brief, here are a few quick images taken of the streets of the city to set the mood of what I first saw upon arrival (though this doesn’t count as one of the three villages I mentioned above):
After spending a few days in Arusha and exploring the nearby parks, our small group — which happily included both my father and my brother – began making our way Westward, with stops at the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, and the Tarangire National Park, with an ultimate destination of the Serengeti, which would occupy the last few days of our nearly two-week trek. Our first visit to a local village came early into our voyage West, in the region known as Karatu. Though the village had no tribal affiliation, it was still our first glimpse into the normal pace of life for those living here. (Additionally, this also presented me with my first opportunity to watch the preparation of a few of the local foods – this too, however, will have to wait for a future post).
Another of the common sights while traveling through Tanzania is that of the Maasai people, clad in their distinctive red and purple blankets and often tending to livestock with either a long stick or, more ceremoniously, jumping with spears in hand. In fact, the colorful image of these semi-nomadic people — that have traditionally inhabited both Tanzania and Kenya after making their way south from Northern Africa and the Middle East — has become one of the most iconic and recognizable scenes of this part of the world. Thus, when given the opportunity to visit an authentic (read: not tourist trap) Maasai village, I immediately accepted the offer. Afterall, how many opportunities in life does one get to jump with the Maasai warriors? Upon entering the village, our small group was treated to a “Welcome Ceremony,” a scene whose impact and emotion requires more than just a few still images to capture. Enjoy:
Additionally, here are a few other images from this visit with the Maasai people:
The third and final village on our voyage was that of the Sukuma Tribe, the largest ethnic group in Tanzania with an estimated 5.5 million members and largely occupying the Northwest corner of the country, sandwiched in between the Serengeti Plain to the East and Lake Victoria (commonly identified as the source of the Nile River) to the West. Our visit was to a fishing village along the shores of the afore-mentioned lake, and we happened to come on “market day,” though admittedly, there wasn’t much to see of the market as the morning’s catch wasn’t up to expectations. Of the three villages mentioned in this post, however, this Sukuma village was the most eye-opening experience, both in the sense that is was unlike anything I’ve seen on my travels to date and that it was in stark contrast to anything I would ever have seen in the Western culture in which I was raised:
So far, I’ve only shown a glimpse of the culture and people of Tanzania, as seen through a series of differing towns and villages, but there is still quite a bit more to display. I’ve got at least two more posts in the works, one focusing on some of the unique food and drink of the area, and the other showcasing much of what was witnessed during the actual safari excursions through the country’s various National Parks. And with that being said, I’ll leave you with one quick preview of what’s to come. Enjoy, and Maisha Marifu from Tanzania!