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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The way to Kirawira...

Another early start... We were both commenting on how wonderful it was going to be in Zanzibar, lying in late and relaxing - these 5.00am starts were murder...
We woke and began packing, both of us in a daze. Funny how everything fit our bags and cases perfectly on the way out, but at 5.00am, in a dark room in the heart of Africa, I`d be buggered if I could fit my bloody jeans in.
Showered, changed and with bags badly packed and leaking clothes, we called reception for the porters and headed up for breakfast.
The smell of Africa is something that will stay with me forever. It is completely alien to the UK, or anywhere else I have been - except one very special place in Solihull (more on this later!) - and these short morning walks on the open walkways flooded the senses.
Breakfast was a subdued affair. We both loved the crater and the lodge so much that we were, in some sense, a little worried about moving on.
A few cups of Killimanjaro Tea and some eggs later we had calmed the butterflies in our stomachs and headed off to reception to settle the bill.
Salvatory pulled up as we said our thank you's and goodbye's and by the time we finished he already had our bags loaded, along with another superb packed lunch. The mist around the top of the crater slowly peeled away as we descended, but this time away from our beloved reserve, and towards the Serengeti...

We knew we had a long drive ahead, but it would be broken up by a few visits, and some game sightings, so we were looking forward to the day a great deal. The trees that peppered the plains around us were whistling acacias - ants desire the insides of the pods and to that end burrow holes inside, leaving the outer case alone; the wind then blows through and creates the keening whistle...

Whistling Acacia

All of a sudden Salvatory turned and shouted. I had no idea what he said, and my heart hammered in my chest - I`d read too many news reports and had visions of armed bandits barrelling over the plain to kill and rob us... ;-)
But what Salvatory had actually said was `giraffe!!!`. Phillipa had been as keen to see giraffes as she was to see a kill and the spoilt girl got it all...

The giraffes at the side of the road were mother and child - the umbilical cord still hung from the mother and the child stayed close.

Mother and baby

They stood in the sun and gently picked at an umbrella acacia. Time was tight, and so we didn`t have as much time as we would have liked to view them, but we needn`t have worried, after that first sighting we seemed to see them everywhere, although we needed Salvatory to spot them first - considering their size they are remarkably difficult to see.

The Masaai village we were scheduled to visit then hove into view as soon as we stepped from the jeep the son of the chief took me to one side, and the ladies of the camp took Phillipa to another.

I was then instructed on leaping and off I went - these guys can`t half jump. There was one other family visiting and whilst he and I could not approach the height of the Masaai, I got a lot higher than he did :-)

Phillipa`s turn next. Singing and clapping. Both involve timing and bless her, she really has none... It made for pretty painful viewing I can tell you, but the women gracefully ignored the issue.

You want me to clap? In time? 

They made a fuss of us when they heard that we were soon to be married, and a little ceremony ensued. I was walked through the camp gate by the men, lead by the chief`s son. We then fanned out, me in the middle ,and turned as one; the women then escorted Phillipa into the camp amidst much cheering and singing.

Da dum da dummm, da dum da dummm

They handed her to me - more cheers. Phillipa asked if we were now married in Masaai eyes and they chuckled, saying that of course we weren`t, they just wanted us to feel a bit special...
We were escorted to the chief's hut and upon entering were told about the Masaai way of life, and about how important their cattle are to their survival.

The cattle provide all the necessary minerals and nutrients for the Masaai as they drink their blood and milk and, eventually, kill and eat them. Cattle dung is also used to help create their dwellings, binding together the branches and foliage that comprises their walls and rooves - it also acts an excellent base for fueling the fires within the hut.  As for the smell created by all this dung? It`s not bad. It`s there, but it`s not what I expected.

We were then taken to the school, a large ramshackle hut filled with beaming kids, a teacher and a chalkboard. They might not have the facilities of the western world, but everyone there spoke Swahili and English. And that`s one more language than I can speak...

Then came the sales pitch that we had been warned about - we picked up a few bracelets and treats for the nieces and nephews and a small shield with a giraffe design. We were taken off to one side and the price was etched into the dusty floor of the plain with a stick. Then came the negotiation...

Back in the jeep once more we headed to Oldupai Gorge, the cradle of mankind...

Oldupai is named for the wild sisal plants nearby, and it is considered the cradle of mankind as it is the site of footprints, indistinguishable from humans today, but now almost 3.6 million years old... The museum is small, but gives an impressive view over the gorge and houses some fantastic artefacts. A local expert gave a phenomenal talk, telling us of the various layers of the site, and how we evolved from Homo Habilis, through Homo Erectus to Homo Sapien and Sapien-Sapien. I made a load of notes, but shan`t bore you with them here ;-)

The gorge
We left the gorge a little in awe at what we had seen. There were still more sights on route however as we passed huge granite rock formations flowering from the flat plain - Simba Kopjes, so called as lion prides will upon them, soaking up the sun - groves of sausage trees, past herds of Impala and Dik Dik, past a lazing Lion and even a herd of Elephants with many young babies eating and snorting.

And then we reached the border and readied to cross into the Serengeti National Park.

Salvatory dodged the queues by joining a collegue at the front of the snaking line of guides. Phillipa and I had a short time to walk the small hill and take in the views, Ngorongoro far to our left and the Serengeti ('plain with no end' in Swahili) to our right.

The Serengeti beckons...

We hopped back into the patrol to continue our journey, and thankfully, we were nearing the end... It was dark as we arrived at Kirawira, but as Salvatory pulled up to the camp, a bright light shone into the car. Salvatory chuckled and said it was the film crew who had been waiting for us to arrive. We laughed, but then swiftly realised he wasn't joking... Feeling incredibly self conscious we exited the jeep and walked toward the main camp area, followed by the camera crew...

Next up: Kirawira

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