New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

House Hunting Again

In a  previous post complaining (again) about water supply, I talked about my desire for a new house. Although I love this house, I can't adjust to the new bar 100 meters from my bedroom window. Business is booming, and every day they play loud music from about 2:30 or 3:00 pm until midnight or 1:00 am. I hear the bass line throughout my house. Kind of  a bad flashback to life in the dorms at college back in the 1970's. Disco vs rap, but bass notes sound pretty much the same, no matter the musical style. Things I also would like to leave behind: the slippery muddy road, the lack of household water for the last four months, the pneumatic-powered cinder block-making machine right outside the compound, and the Lutheran Church. Things I will hate to leave behind: our sweet Maasai askari Saitoti, my front porch, the sunny sitting room, the open view of the sky to the east and the Hadada Ibis flying over at dawn and dusk. I've adjusted to most of the bad things, but the bar is just too much.

So, off to look for a new house. And, like everything in Arusha, house hunting is an adventure. I started by responding to a couple of ads in the Arusha Mailing List, an email gathering of expats and Tanzanians buying and selling things and announcing events.

I went to see a town house, advertised with a fancy French name, which I've since forgotten. The price was $500/month, which is pretty expensive here. It was in PPF, a very nice section of town where many United Nations employees live. I was expecting it to be really nice. But it wasn't. Anna went with me to see it, and she summed it up succintly, "This reminds me of married student housing at university." Right down to the worn out industrial carpet and the overgrown garden. As we fought through wayward vines to reach the front door, the owner was telling us that the gardener is included in the rent. Hmmm. No thanks.

Next, I made an appointment to see a guest cottage in a nice part of town, also at $500/month. I drove through a gate into a spectacular terraced garden full of bougainvillea and royal palm. A white-walled, red-roofed mansion sprawled across the bottom terrace. An elegant Indian gentleman dressed in a long white robe greeted me and walked me around the end of the house. Where we proceeded to climb 29 very steep concrete steps to a tiny guest house. Standing on the veranda, I wanted to take this house. The garden dropped away below me and Mt. Meru presented a glorious view. My host pointed to some clouds off to the right of Meru, and told me you can see Kilimanjaro there on a clear day. That's a recurring theme around Arusha. But it's always cloudy and you never actually see Kilimanjaro. Inside, the rooms were so tiny that my sofa and arm chairs would have been crammed together and my dining table would have blocked the entrance to the kitchen. I briefly thought about just spending all my time on the veranda, but then envisioned making three trips to carry my groceries up the steps in the rain. Also, Africans and Indians here in Tanzania maintain quite a degree of social separation. I've found Indian merchants (the only Indians I've dealt with) to be polite and pleasant. But without exception, my African friends tell me that Indians look down on them, and are nice to me because I'm white. I have no idea if this is true. But true or not, it's a strongly held perception on the part of many Africans here. I thought about K2 living in the little guest house behind the Indian gentleman's grand mansion, and decided no. Plus, it was too little to be worth $500.

For the next several days, the only rentals on the mailing list were roommate situations. So I called Jerry, the agent that helped us find the house we're in now. (You can read about that here.) He also found the house that my friend Martina is in now (read about that here). She's also planning to move. Her dream house wasn't as dreamy as it seemed at first. Jerry was really helpful before. But both Martina and I had trouble getting him to take the time to show us houses this time around. Maybe he's really busy. Probably with clients who will spend more. Anyway, over the course of three weeks, he showed me five houses. Always, the customer uses their own car, so each time I met him somewhere, involving a wait of up to 20 minutes, then he parked his car and I drove mine.

One was in a compound with four duplexes. The apartment was not in good condition, and the current resident told me they have water every other day, and that it's enough if you don't do laundry on the wrong day. I wasn't interested in the apartment, but I did enjoy seeing it because her four-year-old son, who was very excited to have an mzungu in his house, announced to me in perfect English, "This is our sitting room."

Next, we saw quite a nice house with large rooms, tile floors, and big windows. It wasn't too far away from where I live now, which is good. I like this part of town. Jerry told me that side of the road has a good water supply, because it's on an old water system built by the Germans (who left after World War I). But I've realized that Jerry, and any other agent, will always tell me that the water supply is good and there is no noise in the neighborhood. The owners had taken out all the wooden interior doors and replaced them with reflective glass, metal-framed doors more suited to a restaurant or hotel. And it was across the road from the former garbage dump. And the courtyard was completely paved with blocks, not a speck of green. So it was a maybe. But once I told Jerry "maybe," he became more reluctant to show me other houses.

While I was waiting for him to come up with more houses, a friend told K2 about a neighbor's house for rent. I went to see that one, and it was perfect. Airy rooms with big windows, pretty tile and paint, nice garden, located in a quiet corner of a banana plantation, brand new. So new, in fact, that it wasn't quite finished. And the owner demanded a year's rent in advance to be used to finish the house so we could move in. I kind of wanted to do it. It's not that uncommon an arrangement here. But K2 pointed out to me that if the owner spent the money elsewhere, we'd be moving into an unfinished house. Or, if we moved in and didn't like it later (maybe a bar would open in the other corner of the banana plantation), we'd be stuck for a whole year. So we didn't do it.

Back to Jerry. Still no activity. Martina told me his associate had mentioned a house in a compound with a pool, again for $500. I asked Jerry to show me that one, because I could so see myself lounging around the pool on hot afternoons. Plus, it would make me popular! I could invite everybody! The house was inside what must have formerly been a lovely tropical resort centered around a large lawn with pretty flowers and hedges. Six hotel-like guest rooms lined one side. A small bar adjoined the pool. The pool was big with an infinity edge and plenty of concrete apron for lounging. But the water was murky with bugs floating on top. When I commented on it, Jerry indignantly told me he'd seen people swimming here just the day before. Yeah, and a view of Kilimanjaro, too. The wooden lounge chairs all had broken slats and the canvas cushions were moldy. The house for rent sat across the lawn. The veranda was tempting, wide and roofed on two sides of the house, with views over the lawn and pool. But inside, the house was in bad condition, with water marks on the ceiling and weird linoleum. Plus, the caretaker told me people from the neighborhood rent the garden for weekend barbecues and sometimes hire bands. (Jerry had just told me that only residents used the facilities, because he knows I'm looking for someplace quiet.) So, the tropical house with a pool was not to be.

Next, I drove Jerry halfway to Nairobi. Well, at least it seemed like it by the time we made our way through the massive road construction project on the north end of town. Then another couple kilometers up a horrendous rough road to look through a locked gate at a lovely, large white house with upstairs veranda. But when Jerry asked if I wanted to wait for the owner to show up with keys, I said no. I couldn't picture making that drive every day.

Next, off to Moshono, on the opposite side of Arusha. But only after I begged Jerry to show me more houses, so I could have more selection. He was still hoping I'd just pick one, now. Moshono's a quiet area on the edge of town. We drove out a rough road, not horrible, through typical African neighborhoods of small houses and shops with lots of people walking along the road and banana trees and bougainvillea all around. Two new houses, modest but nice, were waiting together in a small compound. About this time, Jerry realized that Martina, his other customer, and I are friends. He pitched the idea that Martina should rent one house and I should rent the other, and we could be neighbors. That actually sounded like a good idea to me. But meanwhile, Martina was on her way to Zanzibar for a week. The next day I drove back out to the two houses, and began having second thoughts about the location. I really like being able to dash up the road to the restaurants and shops in Njiro, where the foreigners eat and shop. Out in Moshono, I'd be somewhat cut off from that.

I'd left Jerry with the request to find more houses for me to look at. Also, with the stipulation that I wouldn't choose a house until K2 came home from the mountain to see it. So, three days passed with no news from Jerry.

K2 proposed a different strategy. We should drive around in an area where we'd like to live and ask whomever we see about empty houses. I was skeptical, but ready to try it. Yesterday we headed out early in the morning to a neighborhood of nice houses and pretty landscaping about half a mile from our house. K2 asked a couple of people, who said they were visiting and didn't know. He drove past several people. I was thinking why don't you ask them? But apparently, he knew what he was doing, because after about 20 minutes, he pulled up to a group of three men chatting outside a big house. They pointed to a man in a purple shirt walking with a hoe over his shoulder, saying that he might know because he walks everywhere in the neighborhood. We waited for his approach, then K2 posed our question. He called somebody else, who came right over and got in the car with us, along with one of the original three. Then we drove down to the corner, and a woman came out and got in the car with us. It turned out all three of them are "local brokers," or middlemen. They keep track of available houses in an area, and then take one months' rent as a fee, from the renter, if they find something for you.

Within three hours, these local brokers showed us five houses around Njiro. The woman, Mama Q, and K2 were telling each other jokes and laughing. She's the mama with the big personality that always makes me wish I could understand all those Swahili jokes. By the time we reached the third house, K2 told me she was calling me "mzungu kwetu," which translates as "our white person." It meant that she had taken me under her wing and was protecting my interests in dealing with the landlords.

The first two houses she showed us were in a nice area with pretty gardens and big houses. The first was next to an array of huge steel electrical transmission towers. I said in bad Swahili, "So this house must have electricity every day." Mama Q didn't get it at first, but when K2 translated into real Swahili, she liked it. The house had a huge garden, recently planted in corn. It was two separate houses joined by a covered porch. One side was in total disrepair. The other side was pretty bad, but could have been made liveable with some work. Next! The second was in a lovely old garden, big trees and bougainvillea, with a veranda bordered in vines. But the house was old, too, and had not aged as well. It was all peeling linoleum and mildewed wood.

The third house she showed us was closer to our current neighborhood and really, really nice. It had two turrets in the roof line, one over the sitting room and one over the master bedroom. There was a nice veranda in front, and a little one tucked into the back. The floors were tile, some with a leaf fossil design and some with a seashell fossil design. Which caught my attention, because a few years ago I went through a phase of thinking I should remodel my kitchen and use stone with fossils in it from Wyoming. Which probably would have been quite expensive. Anyway, the house had a nice garden, just planted but already growing enthusiastically in rainy season. Lots of windows and light. It seemed like a quiet spot, with only other houses and a flock of goats nearby. The walls were mint-green, which I didn't love, but could get used to. The price was 700,000 T-shillings (about $500), but in the course of our visit and several discussions and phone calls, it went to 500,000, then to 400,00, then back to 450,000. It wasn't quite finished, but the owners were asking the standard six months' rent in advance. I didn't catch most of this. K2 always instructs me to stand aside and be quiet during any bartering, which is good advice since I'll never get as good a bargain as a Tanzanian. We left that house, admitting that we liked it, but saying it was too expensive.

Next, we crossed the main road, to the side with the German water system, and wound our way back into the neighborhoods. We viewed a house with a scenic location on the edge of a ravine, but with holes in the walls, a caretaker smoking cigars, and a stray cat nursing a litter of kittens. No thanks. On to a nearby pink house, almost finished. Less fancy and cheaper than the mint green one. It looked nice from the outside, and from peering in through the big windows, but no key to let ourselves in. However, no need to get inside because I could hear loud music the entire time we spent there, and found its source at a neighborhood bar (three times bigger than the one I live next to right now). Mama Q assured me that it wasn't a bar, just someone's house. Then, as we stood looking in at a wooden bar with shelves full of beer behind it, that the owner was away and it was just his badly behaved assistant who would play music this loud. Yeah, and where's the view of Kilimanjaro?

We met up with our local brokers again early this morning and looked at four more houses, one of which we couldn't get inside. One of those looked quite nice from peering through the windows, except for the kitchen which looked worn and inadequately equipped. A house behind it was still under construction, although the man who let us in insisted it could be finished in one week. And they could add the view of Kilimanjaro, too. The house seemed as if it would be modest, but nice, but it wasn't close enough to finished to really know. Also, there wasn't a real road leading to the gate, although we managed to drive the car almost to the gate, and the owner promised to install a culvert. A white mansion loomed over both these houses, and Mama  Q found someone who let us in. It was a classic haunted house, complete with a swarm of bees coming out from under the eaves when we tried to stand on the balcony.

We crossed the main road again, and wove our way through twists and turns deep into a lovely neighborhood with all the roads lined by hedges. We stopped to see a large house, where we waited first to be let into the garden, then another 20 minutes to be let inside the house. It had servants' quarters in the back, with three rooms and a shared bathroom. I doubt I'll ever have three live-in servants, but we briefly discussed a scheme of renting out the servants' quarters to foreign volunteers and recouping our rent every month. But when we eventually got inside the house, the walls were a bright lime green, which I detested and couldn't expect to get used to. A hundred dead cockroaches and their detached wings littered the empty rooms. And, no view of Kilimanjaro.

At this point, I had serious low-blood-sugar issues from rushing off with no breakfast, and K2 was feeling anxious about getting to work. So he headed off to work and I headed home with no clear idea of what was next. I did tell him I liked the mint green turret house the best, although he thought it was too expensive. He called me back an hour later and said he and the owner had agreed on a good price with six months paid in advance, and the price to go up after six months if we stay. Yay!

So how did I do overall with the house hunt? First and most important, I found a house that invited me in--it's something about the light through the windows and the shape of the rooms. I can't pin it down anymore than that. Comparing the new house to the current house? There's no bar nearby. The road at the new house looks just as bad as the one here. Water was running from the tap. Probably no block making machine, although I don't know for sure. There's a church, but it's farther away, and a neighbor said it's a church for wazungu Methodists and it's not as noisy and only open on Sundays. Also, that the music is slow wazungu music. Not sure that helps me, but it's kind of funny how he phrased it. So, we'll see! But the house is lovely and finding it was, as always, a bit of an adventure. By the time we finished, Mama Q was telling me Swahili jokes directly and calling me Mama Salome (my Tanzanian nickname from the Muslim island of Pemba, don't ask), and pinching my arms at the points where I should laugh.  And Jerry still hasn't called me about any more houses.

Keep your fingers crossed! I haven't moved in yet, and it could still fall through. After all, I thought I was going to be living in splendor in a banana plantation before now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ruaha Safari

 I just spent four days on safari in Ruaha National Park in central Tanzania. Beautiful beautiful beautiful! Here's the Tanzanian Park Service's website  with information on Ruaha and the rest of Tanzania's incredible national parks.  K2 and I took advantage of a "residents' discount" offer from Coastal Air and Mdonya Old River Lodge. (If you look at the Lodge's website, be sure to check out their motion-activated night time camera page with nocturnal animals photographed going about their business after dark.) The discount didn't even come close to making it cheap, but I'm glad we spent the money!

We flew in a small plane two hours to Dodoma and stopped to refuel. Dodoma was declared the capital city of Tanzania and parliament moved from the huge, cosmopolitan coastal city of Dar es Salaam to the much smaller, quieter, rural town of Dodoma. Why? Beause it's the geographic center of the country. The airport's very low key, the kind of place where you can wander around to the back door of the plane to grab a bottle of water while the crew pumps fuel. Two guys rolled out a pump and tank, then turned a two-handled crank to pump the fuel. Our pilot, an American woman improbably working for Coastal Air, pointed out that refueling would go fast because they had two guys on the crank. K2 told us most parliament members fly in for meetings and votes, then head back the same day to Dar.

We flew another 90 minutes to the park. Our pilot announced she'd fly below the clouds at 4,000' to the park, then drop to 1,500' (the minimum allowed) inside the park. She flew us between and around silver   columns of rain dropping out of the clouds, some straight to the ground, some sharply bending a few hundred feet above the ground. The air around us shimmered. That's why there was a resident's discount: trying to fill the planes and tents during rainy season!

We landed at a small dirt airstrip inside the park. When your plane lands in a place that looks like this, you know you're going to have fun!

Guides from Mdonya Old River Lodge were waiting for us, with Land Rovers parked in a line along the airstrip. K2 and I and our fellow resident/tourist Joyce boarded our truck and took off into the bush. Enoch, our guide, started us off with some typical tour guide humor.

Why do impala have those stripes around their tail? Because they all sat on a freshly-painted toilet seat. I know...but somehow it seems funny when you're riding around in the African bush looking for animals.

Warthogs typically run with their tails pointing straight up into the air, which I did not capture in a photo because these little guys are faster than they look. When their tails went up, Enoch said, "Radio Free Africa!" That one still sounds funny to me even though I'm back indoors now.

Our safari truck was open on the sides with a canvas roof suspended over our heads. The seats were tiered, with the back seat highest. Here's the view from the back seat.

We headed toward camp slowly, looking for animals on the way. Ruaha is breathtaking. It's Tanzania's biggest park and sometimes we drove a long way between animals. The air was cool and scented with a  sweet vegetative fragrance. People always say Africa has its own scent. Karen Blixen described Kenyan grasslands as smelling of thyme, and I noticed that in the Serengeti. This fragrance was different, sweet rather than spicy. Shady and full of water rather than sun and dust.

The park is plains and low hills, savanna grading to open woodland, grass and baobabs and acacia.

Wide sandy river beds wander through, mostly dry with some pools and channels still holding water.

The animals travel the river beds, drink, rest in the shade.

Many of the baobabs have large holes, some all the way through.

Somebody said that Maasai women traditionally would use these hollow trees as a place to give birth. I have no idea if that's true. Stories about the Maasai circulate here like urban legends at home.

The wood's extremely soft and holds lots of water, thus it rots easily. 

We saw this group of elephants in the river bed digging for water.

So does that make this water ballet? Very symmetrical and synchronized, trunks up and down...

 ...then down and up.

 Here's an elephant pooping, which brings us to...

...tsetse fly control. They burn elephant poop in this can wired to the spare tire on the back of the truck. The smoke wafts out behind and repels tsetse flies. Lucky for us, the flies were not too active most of the time we were in the park.

This is a tsetse fly trap positioned outside the camp. Tsetse flies are attracted to blue and black, and then killed by the insecticide sprayed on the fabric.

 I had a blue shirt and black pants to wear for the next two days of game drives. Instead, I wore the green shirt and tan pants I'd traveled in for the next three days. I figured the naturally sweet-scented wild air would cover up any problems. Either that, or I could light the poop can as a diversion.

We approached camp through beautiful twilight.

We surprised this Black-Backed Jackal on the road just outside of camp. We called him Abunwasi because he kept running up the road ahead of the truck rather than diving off to the side to make a clean getaway.

Abunwasi is a character in school books used in Tanzania from the 1960's through 1980's. He did all kinds of funny, stupid things: carrying water in his pockets, blowing out the match before lighting the lantern, or running down the road ahead of a car instead of stepping to the side. K2 introduced me to Abunwasi a couple of nights before this trip when I lit three candles on a saucer and the short one burned through the tall one and made it tip over.

Mdonya Old River Camp is a "luxury tented camp," as they say in Tanzania. Yes, we stayed in a tent. But it had a big comfortable bed with crisp sheets and cozy blankets and a bathroom at the back with flush toilet. The shower, sad to say, had better hot water and water pressure than the one in my house.  The camp is very remote, but they've dug a bore hole (well) for water supply, and installed a solar-powered water heater. They served family style meals in a beautiful meadow under a canvas awning and the food was quite good. The camp manager is an Italian woman who also works as an ecologist. She's clearly in love with Ruaha and it was fascinating listening to her perspective on the park.

By day two, K2 was speculating that maybe he could get a job here and we could stay and live in the tent. Sounded good to me!

This vervet monkey relaxed in the tree right outside our tent for half an hour one evening.

I took those last two pictures our second night in camp. The first night, we arrived after dark and a Maasai with a flashlight escorted us to our tent. Maasai escorted all guests in camp after dark, because of the danger of surprising wildlife in the dark. We heard hyenas two nights and lions the third.

We had a kerosene lantern on the porch and one in the bathroom, a small battery-powered flashlight/lantern combo, and candles in glass chimney lamps. It was so dark in that tent, I couldn't find anything! If I could have just put everything in place during daylight, I at least would have known where to grope for things in the dark. Later, I had some trouble blowing out the candles inside their glass chimneys, so K2 called me Abunwasi again. The second night we were there, the kerosene lantern in the bathroom malfunctioned. The wick sputtered out and flames were licking up the outside of the glass. Lucky we were still in the tent and caught it. 

We opted for the early-morning start, all-day game drive the next day. So we left camp just at first light, after more frustrating fumbling in the dark inside the tent. I thought we might see  more animals early in the morning. That didn't happen, because the weather's so cool that the animals are active throughout the day. (When Enoch told us this the evening before, I figured he was lying so we wouldn't make him get up so early.)

But, extra animals or not, early morning in Ruaha is beautiful. (P.S. Those two animal shapes standing behind the truck are sheet metal road signs.)

We cruised through the fragrant, cool morning air. Cool enough that I wore a fleece jacket and K2 wore a down coat. Doves and guinea fowl flew up from the road. Hornbills jumped from tree to tree. Birds called all around us.

We saw so many giraffes (left) and impala (there, to the right) that they seemed just a part of the landscape and our driver didn't stop for every one. Which was probably good, because the park's so big, you need some time to drive between the good wildlife-spotting places.

We saw hundreds of impala...

...and dozens of giraffes during our four days in the park.

As incredible as it seems, we really did stop noticing them after awhile. Sorry, big guy!

With the all-day game drive, you get a quick cup of brewed coffee and a bit of bread or cake before piling into the truck. Then, after an hour or two of driving around, a "bush breakfast." Enoch and our driver picked a nice spot under a baobab. They walked through the grass and checked behind the bushes, "clearing the bush," before we were allowed to climb down out of the truck.

At this point, we switched from brewed to instant coffee. And from what the other (lazy) guests told us later, the breakfast in camp was much more elaborate than ours. But who cares?! Look where we got to drink our instant coffee!

After breakfast, we saw assorted zebras...

...and elephants. Oh, and some more giraffes, but our driver never stopped the truck so I didn't take any photos.

He didn't stop, because we were on our way down to one of the river beds to look for...

...lions! We found three of them drinking at a water hole on our side of the river. These two left after only a few minutes...

...and joined the rest of their pride sleeping in a shady spot on the opposite riverbank. We watched them sleeping through binoculars for awhile. But even with lions, that got boring after awhile.

A third lion, obviously ill, stayed at the waterhole, sleeping under cover of heavy brush. K2 and our driver joked in Swahili that we should take the sick lion to Loliondo. In Loliondo, a town about 300 km from Arusha, a retired pastor has been dispensing an herbal remedy and a hearty dose of faith healing to all comers. Reports are that he's treated over 30,000 people. It's been going on for a few weeks, people all over Tanzania are talking about it. He claims his potion (an already well-known botanical infusion used to treat stomach problems) will cure everything from diabetes to HIV/AIDS. He tells his customers not to discontinue their regular medications and that they should be tested for any disease after one week. But a friend of mine who works in a hospital tells me that their AIDS clinic is empty, with patients discontinuing medication and not showing up for scheduled evaluations. Another friend, trying to arrange a safari for visiting relatives, tells me that almost all of the many safari vehicles based in Arusha have been rented out for trips to Loliondo and the prices are going up. If you want to read about this local phenomenon, check out the Citizen, an English language paper. I've linked to two stories,  here and  here.

Okay, back to Ruaha. After a picnic lunch, we hit a dry spell, animal-wise. I still loved riding around in the back of the truck. And Enoch began pointing out birds. He told us there are over 650 species in the park. (The Park Service says 450.) Guides usually cruise right on by interesting birds in the interest of finding big mammals to show their clients. So it was a treat to stop and identify some birds.

White-Browed Coucal.

The Tanzanian accent had quite an effect on bird names. I had to keep grabbing my new field guide to look them up and ask Enoch, "Is it this one?" I could have sworn he was saying "cuckoo," not "coucal." Because Swahili speakers don't say the letter "L" very hard.

Eurasian Roller.

We also saw the Lilac-Breasted Roller and the Broad-Billed Roller. Also a bit hard to understand since Swahili speakers often interchange "R's" and "L's." But I know a roller when I see one.

White-Bellied Go-Away Bird

Weaver nests hanging in a tree.

Tanzania has many species of weavers and they're quite common. I'm sure we drove by some, but we never actually identified any. Guides probably focus more on the big, exciting birds... this African Fish Eagle perched above the Ruaha River.

We also saw Verreaux's Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle (flew over holding a snake in its talons!), Bateleur Eagle, and  Long-Crested Eagle.

Helmeted Guinea Fowl.
They had these in the zoo in my hometown and my little brother used to call them fancy chickens. They act like chickens-- scattering in every direction from under the truck tires with much flapping of wings and only a little flying and zigzagging up the road with their necks stretched out.

Von Der Decken's Hornbill.

We also saw the Red-Billed Hornbill and the Silvery-Cheeked Hornbill. And Magpie Shrike, Ring-Necked Dove, Knob-Billed Duck (sounds like Nobility Duck with a Swahili accent). And Yellow-Billed Stork, Marabou Stork, African Open-Billed Stork. And actually a lot of other cool birds, too, but I'm not one of those nerdy "life lister" birders, so I won't list them all. 

 When things got slow, our driver spotted an elephant near the road...

..and drove up to it fast, provoking some anger.

  He warned us with the threat of a charge. The driver was chuckling, but I was scared! Hey, I was in the seat closest to the angry elephant. Although the first aid kit was hanging over my head, so K2 could have sprung into action with some wilderness first aid if anything happened.

After a couple of minutes, though, the elephant wheeled and trotted away. So no need for any wilderness first aid. Probably not enough gauze bandage in that little kit to take care of an elephant attack, anyway!

Driving back towards camp in the golden light of late afternoon, we came across a troop of yellow baboons wandering a meadow, eating grass seeds.

K2 claims these yellow baboons are better behaved and handsomer than the olive baboons in northern Tanzania.

We made it back to camp before dark this time. I had time to find my clean socks, and then to enjoy a beautiful sunset before dinner.

We headed out early again the next morning, not expecting early animals, but wanting to enjoy the beautiful morning.

Not far out of camp, our driver spotted lion tracks in the sandy road.

He seemed to be using a combination of following the tracks and just knowing the places where the lions hang out. 

We drove around some rocks...

...past some more impala...

...and there he was!

I couldn't believe we parked this close to him. But it must be routine because Enoch was in the front seat looking for knob-billed ducks in his field guide, and not even paying attention to the lion.

And the lion didn't pay attention to Enoch, either.

The rest of the pride was just across the road.

While we watched the pride, our driver was on the two-way radio letting other drivers in the park know where to bring their clients. I heard simba (lion), and vitoto vingi (many children) in regard to the cubs. Before any other trucks arrived, though, most of the pride sauntered off into the bushes, except for two adults who were soaking up some sun.

And all of this before breakfast! 

 After another scenic bush breakfast, we headed toward a section of the Great Ruaha River that flows water to look for hippos. (In the upper right corner of this photo, you can just make out the African Fish Eagle I showed you earlier perched on a dead tree--white spot of a head above dark body.)

Before we found the hippos, though, we saw Nile Crocodiles.

Here's a baby. Very interesting, but lacking the "cute factor" of the lion cubs.

I guess mammals are just more attracted to other mammals than to reptiles. My wildlife biologist friends used to bemoan the favoritism showered upon "charismatic megafauna," but lions are more charismatic than crocodiles. Although probably just as dangerous.

A bit farther along, we stopped at a series of hippo pools. About eight or nine hippos were in the water, occasionally surfacing to breathe.

Oops! Just missed those two! We saw a lot of this, and eyebrows and nostrils.

As Enoch was explaining to us that hippos seldom come out on land during the heat of day, a radio call came in alerting us to a cheetah sighting. We ran back to the truck and climbed in. The other guides called again to say four cheetahs were stalking an impala. Hurry! Enoch asked me and K2 and Joyce if we agreed to a fast drive over some distance in order to see these cheetahs. Of course we all agreed. The driver grinned and took off fast. Animals scattered at our approach! Two warthogs charged away into the grass. K2 and I barely had time to look at each other and yell, "Radio Free Africa!" and they were gone.

Why did the Greater Kudu cross the road... get out of our way!

 After a rollicking ride at top speed through half of the park, we saw the group of Land Rovers that always signals a really good animal sighting. But here in Ruaha, we brought the total to only four vehicles. In Serengeti, it would have been more than a dozen. And yes, there were the four beautiful cheetahs, a mother with three nearly grown cubs, just settling down to eat their impala.

Afterwards, I told the driver that even if we hadn't seen the cheetahs, it still would have been worth it for the fast ride through the park. He grinned again. I think he definitely likes a little excitement with his work when he can find it.

We sat in our trucks, within 50 feet of the cheetahs, and watched them for quite awhile. They were completely unconcerned with us. They took turns sitting up to look around and check for encroaching scavengers, such as hyenas and vultures, which can actually chase cheetahs off of a kill.

In the truck nearest us, two American (American-sounding, at least) men with big-ass cameras were clicking away. One camera was way bigger than the other. This guy had a special heavy-duty tripod mounted to the edge of the viewing opening in the roof of the Land Rover. He kept talking about what he was seeing through the enormous lens. Maybe the lens was too big, because he was reporting to his friend on different organs as the cheetahs pulled them out of the body. The guy was thrilled to see the stomach and the lower intestines. I'm just as happy my camera didn't zoom in that far!

In sharp contrast to the camera boys, we had this Land Rover full of Tanzanians who live near the park.

They were participating in a Colorado State University program with the goal of promoting visits to Tanzania's parks by local residents. What a great program! Most visitors are foreigners. When I asked K2 why locals don't visit, he said that there are cheap ways to visit the parks, including government sponsored hostels for Tanzanian citizens. But most Tanzanians are not familiar with the parks and think it will be too expensive to visit. He also said that when Tanzanians do visit the parks, they love them as much as the foreigners do, with the added dash of national pride.

All of this, and it was still just time for lunch. We pulled over under another baobab to eat our picnic. The Land Rover full of locals stopped, too. I struck up a conversation with one lady in Swahili. When she asked a hard question, I tried to switch to English, but she wouldn't let me! She said she'd heard me speaking Swahili, and we weren't going to use English now. So I dredged up all the Swahili animal names I could remember, and we had a nice chat. One of their Tanzanian guides had a video on his camera, shot the day before, of the park's elusive wild dog pack. They're very rare, and I was hoping (but not expecting) to see them. They're very strange-looking, with huge ears and black and brown spots and a white tuft on the ends of their tails. In his video, they were all standing around wagging their tails, just like a bunch of golden retrievers! We didn't see the wild dogs on this trip, but it's hard to complain about that after all the lions and cheetahs.

Next morning, we hit the road early again. But this time, we headed back to the airstrip. We really did not want to leave. But we were consoled by even more animal sightings on the way to the plane.

The baby got fierce with us.

 And speaking of fierce babies...

Here's the pride of lions we saw the day before...

...eating a giraffe.

On the right, you can see two lions with their heads and shoulders inside the giraffe's body cavity.

The male lion feeling satisfied with his bush breakfast.

With this last exciting wildlife sighting, we headed to the airstrip, boarded the plane, and came home to Arusha. Ruaha is beautiful. Mdonya Old River Camp was very welcoming. The whole trip was incredible.

I've put together three albums of about 80 photos each in Picasa Web Albums. You can view them by clicking on the Ruaha photos in the right sidebar. Usually I just say, "You can view them." This time I'm saying, "You must look at my photos! They're fabulous!" I didn't have the biggest camera in the park, but the place is just so beautiful that I came away with some great photos. So take a look! Please!