African safari 2013: Part 11 and FINAL!

July 11, 2013

Our last “Jambo Jambo” was at 7:00 AM today. Our three families had breakfast together and left the camp for the last time at 8:30.

Greg and Genene shared a last look out on the eastern Serengeti, and even Senior wanted to take a peek:

We took a group photo of the guides and families. From left to right they are Head Guide Hasheem, Lori, Genene, Greg, Scott, Ariel, Jordan, Mentor Tom, Jocelyn, Lindsay, Support Guide Simon, Connor, Sheryl, Jim, and Support Guide Harrison.

We left our camp area, and it seemed that all the Thomson gazelle were waving their tails in goodbye to us. We drove past Sukenya School and several boma. I wonder if we shall ever hear from Anjela again. We were taken to an airfield, and I am being generous to call it that. It was literally a grassy field. Our plane came flying in, and our pilot got out to prepare the plane. She looked like she was about 12 years old. We were all a little unnerved.

Our pilot (!) helping to load the bags:

Genene was pretty animated and kept saying, “We’re going to ride in that?”

Our pilot was from Spain. Though we were all dying to know, no one was rude enough to inquire about her age. Scott settled on a less offensive line of questioning and asked her how long she had been flying. She answered four years. Let’s hope that made her at least 22.

It was a 45 minute flight for us to get back to Arusha. Our guides Hasheem, Harrison and Simon were stuck with the job of getting the Rovers back to Arusha, so what would be an easy flight for us would be a seven-hour pounding trek down rough roads for them. We said our goodbyes, gave hugs and thanked them for showing us their beautiful country. Tom the mentor got to fly on the plane with us, and no one ever explained why he got to fly while the others drove. We asked, and the guides claimed that they didn’t know either. I sensed some jealousy.

We boarded the plane, bumped our way across the field and took flight. En route to Arusha, our pilot flew us over an active volcano. Ol Doinyo Lengai, or Mountain of God in the Maasai language, rises out of the Lake Natron area near Arusha. This volcano is unique among active volcanoes: whereas most lavas are rich in silicate minerals, the lava of Ol Doinyo Lengai is a carbonatite. It is rich in rare sodium and potassium carbonates. Due to this unusual composition, the lava erupts at relatively low temperatures. The temperature is so low that the molten lava appears black in sunlight, rather than having the red glow common to most lavas. The minerals of the lavas formed by Ol Doinyo Lengai are unstable at the Earth’s surface and susceptible to rapid weathering, quickly turning from black to grey in color. The resulting volcanic landscape is different from any other in the world…. or so says Wikipedia.

The Spaniard banked the plane over the rim hard and gave us a 360 degree look at the volcano:

 We arrived in Arusha at the local airport (not Kilimanjaro):

I kept thinking I might see John Wayne loading up some zoo animals. Alas, many favorite movie stars from my youth are dead.

We made a quick stop at an art gallery. Jim and Sheryl had admired the work of an artist whose paintings adorned the walls at Gibb’s Farm, and they had arranged to purchase some. It was a great stop for all of us. The gallery had many beautiful things. We had given ourselves a generous cash liquor budget for the trip, but most nights we were too tired to have more than a beer or a glass of wine at most. As a consequence, we had some cash burning a hole in our pocket. The gallery helped us out with this problem.

A typical street scene in Arusha:

We made a final stop at the Cultural Heritage Center, the site of our first souvenir stop. Jocelyn and Scott found the beaded bowls that they wanted, at better prices than the Maasai would give them at the decision table in the middle of the field in the Serengeti.

We had our last lunch together as a group in Arusha at River House: we had delicious ginger and carrot soup, green beans, carrot salad, potato salad, chicken, fish and beef on the grill, African barbecue style. They also served a fried zucchini blossom that was delicate and delicious. For dessert we had chopped fruit and chocolate-covered coffee beans.

We said our goodbyes to Jim, Sheryl, Lindsay and Connor. They were leaving on different flights to go to Zanzibar, so we would not see them again after the lunch. Genene particularly enjoyed Connor, I think. They played together well and had a good time. All of the kids were patient with our youngster and treated her wonderfully.

Our flight from Arusha was not leaving until nighttime, so we were taken to a dayroom at the Mount Meru hotel. We took long hot showers, did final packing, had some snacks and waited for our ride to the airport.

Mount Meru as seen from our dayroom:

Our driver showed up promptly and took us to the airport. The shy mountain, Kilimanjaro, peeked out of the clouds for us en route, and I got this picture with my iPhone:

Genene says she wants to summit Kilimanjaro when she is 12. We reminded her that the guides had to carry her on a three-mile walk. She is undeterred. She says she will practice and get ready. Our driver was proud of her for saying so and said to call him back when she was ready. He had summited four times and said it was something never to be forgotten. Of the seven peaks (the tallest mountains on each continent), Kili is said to be one of the more accessible for an ordinary person. You have to have rocks in your head to try Everest, but Kili can be done by young and old. It does not take special climbing skills or equipment to summit. It just takes time. Our driver told us that people in their 30s in great shape usually have the most trouble climbing Kili because they take it too fast. He said the key was to go slow to get to the top. Taking your time gives your body a chance to adjust to altitude. Given Genene’s pokey walk, I think she’s got a shot. We met a family from Boston at the first Serengeti nyumba. They had all summited Kilimanjaro earlier that week and were relaxing at fireside. The father told me that both his sons, 14 and 18, had made it, but it was difficult for him as a father to watch his younger son suffer. The boy got headaches at altitude, and apparently it was pretty rough going. He counseled me to get Genene to wait as long as possible. Another friend of mine from the states said, “Don’t wait too long. The snows are disappearing from Kilimanjaro, and she should see that.” Who knows? I know we will be back. I don’t know when.

We got to Kilimanjaro International Airport with plenty of time, and exiting the country was a little more organized than entry. Jocelyn, Scott, Ariel and Jordan were taking our flight as far as Amsterdam, so we visited with them a little longer. We also ran into Andy and Mary Jane, the older couple we met at the post-balloon flight breakfast. That was a treat, and we got to ask them how the rest of their safari had gone and get all the details of their travels. People become fast friends in the bush.

Our plane loaded almost on time, and we said our goodbyes to Arusha. Genene complained that she was not going to be able to sleep on the flight and then passed out in mid-sentence. I was not far behind her. For a change, Greg was our light sleeper and stayed up reading. The plane stopped in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, and dropped off a ton of people and picked up a corresponding ton. I was a bit annoyed because I had already gotten into a deep sleep, and it seemed to take forever to unload and reload the plane. Soon everyone was aboard, and we left African soil….for now.  I went back to sleep and slept through the night.

July 12, 2013

We arrived in Amsterdam at 6:30 AM. I told Greg we were going to be strategic in our maneuvers. Usually we cannot wait to hit the restrooms when we get off the plane, and that’s always a mistake. The entire plane unloads, and everyone gets ahead of you in the passport control line. I told him we could potty later; let’s HIT the line. We had the seats with the extra legroom, which are close to the front of the plane, so we were first off after the first class customers. We raced through the Amsterdam airport like O.J. Simpson (without the bloody gloves and knife) and got to the line with about six people ahead of us. The Netherlands is a supremely civilized place, requiring absolutely NO paperwork to enter their country. The guy at the booth asked us what we were going to do in Amsterdam, and Greg replied, “Drink Heineken.” The man gave us a cross look and said, “Just Heineken? We have many good beers here.” He made some suggestions, stamped our passports and sent us through. We walked to baggage claim, and our bags literally popped off the conveyor belt. We had nothing to declare to customs, so we went outside and found a cab.

We enjoy striking up a conversation with the cab drivers, if the language barriers are not insurmountable. The drivers are typically immigrants themselves and can teach you things about a new city that you can’t get from a guidebook. Our driver was from Afghanistan and spoke Dutch, English, Persian and Indian. He had lived in Amsterdam for 16 years and goes back to his home country once a year. There are so many stories everywhere.

Remarkably, we were at our hotel in the heart of old Amsterdam by 7:30 AM. Our room was not ready, but the hotel breakfast was. We sat down gratefully and had the longest breakfast I have ever had. I did not want to get up. The coffee machine made individual cups to order (cappuccino, espresso, cafe au lait, Americano, etc). The continental breakfast was absolutely delightful, reminiscent of those we have had in France or Italy. After 12 nights in Africa and a long overnight plane ride, it was heavenly to drink out of the bone china and listen to the happy gurgling sounds of the espresso machine.

We stowed our bags, washed our faces in the downstairs bathroom at the hotel and headed out onto the morning streets of Amsterdam. We ambled down toward the Central Train Station and took a canal tour. Years ago, my law partner and friend Jim Murdaugh advised me that upon arrival in any new city, we should look for a boat tour. Most important cities are important because they are on a river or a seaport or some other body of water, and the tours are a good way of getting oriented. Jim’s advice is sound.

Amsterdam has a series of ringed canals, and our boat captain deftly moved us through many of them. It was relaxing just to float along and see all the beautiful buildings and boats passing by.

The cruise took about an hour and gave us a good lay of the land. We found Amsterdam much easier to navigate than, say, Rome. The Roman streets are like spaghetti in a bowl. Amsterdam, with its perfectly ringed canals and streets along both sides of them, was much easier to comprehend for me.

After the tour, we walked back up to our hotel and found to our delight that the room would be ready in a few minutes. We had a delicious lunch at a nearby sandwich shop and came back to gather our gear. We took our things upstairs, unpacked a few items, showered and hit the streets again.

This is the view of the street from our hotel room:

The view looking the other direction:

We decided to walk down to check out the “Heineken Experience,” a building devoted to the brewing of the famous Dutch beer. It was about a 20 to 30 minute walk, and I took some photos of the canals along the way. Here is one of the better ones (I did not like the light at this time of day; I’m getting to be picky with my photography):

 

Greg and Genene were interested in the Heineken attraction. To me, beer is beer is beer. To Greg, the connoisseur, such talk is blasphemy. Beer is as different as night and day in his world: pilsners, ales, stouts, IPAs. The man loves his brew. Genene does not like beer, but she likes her daddy. Also, she had a really good time at the Guinness brewery in Dublin and wanted to make comparisons…..so off we went.

We enjoyed ourselves at Heineken, but the experience did not measure up to Guinness. The Irish have it right. Heineken’s exhibits had this forced feeling of party and fun. It was loud and a bit on the obnoxious side. Also, it went on a little long. Guinness was more sedate in their presentation; less cute, more facts. Genene made a hit, as usual, by paying attention and answering all the questions right. The guys behind the counter told her she deserved a reward for being so attentive, but all they could give her was a cool glass of water. She was fine with that. They gave us our free beer at the end, just had Guinness had done. At Guinness, we were at the top of a building with glass on all sides, giving a stunning view of Dublin. At Heineken, we were in a darkened room with a disco ball and TVs blaring adverts for Heineken. The floor was sticky. Dublin 1, Amsterdam 0.

We passed by a playground on the way back and gave Genene a chance to blow off steam:

The afternoon light was a little better, and I got this fair shot of one of the canals:

We strolled back to “our” neighborhood and dined at an Italian restaurant. The food was good, but the service was very leisurely and we were pretty exhausted. We went back to our room and discovered that it was directly over a “coffee shop.” As most stoners know, marijuana is legal in Amsterdam and is smoked or eaten in space cakes in these shops. The smell of pot filled the air and wafted up through the open window into our room. I wondered if I might get a contact high, but I was too tired. The streets were loud. The days are long and the sun stays out until well after 9:00 PM. Amsterdam comes alive in the evening, and people stay up late walking the streets, laughing and talking. We did not care. We were exhausted and slept hard.

July 13, 2013

This is our first trip to Amsterdam, and our main purpose was to break up the return trip from Africa and get a taste of the city. Our only “must-see” agenda item was the Anne Frank House. Unfortunately, we had a laser-keen focus on the safari but had not paid much attention to our itinerary in Amsterdam. We did not have tickets to the Anne Frank museum, and we began to wonder whether this would be a problem. Many people who go on safari take an Amsterdam break before or after, so we had talked to several people along the way who had already been. Their first question was invariably: Do you have tickets? When we would reply no, they would tsk-tsk, wince and shake their heads slowly. We even tried to get tickets when we had wifi in Africa, but a printer was required and so we gave up.

Our concierge at the hotel suggested that we would be okay if we got up early and hit the line before the museum opened. We took her advice and got there by 8:15 before it was to open at 9:00. We were so lucky. There could not have been more than 40 people in front of us. Even better, the museum opened early at 8:45 so we got in before the people who had bought tickets on-line.

We had been reading the diary together as a family. I read it many years ago, as had Greg, but we did not want Genene to read it alone. We only got about 1/3 of the way through before we left for safari. We took the diary with us under the foolish misconception that we would have some time every evening in the tent to read. We had been so exhausted every night that we never dug the book out of our bag. Before going to the exhibit, I asked Genene if she wanted to know how the story ended. She said that she did. Then I asked her to tell me how she thought it would end. She said, “Well, I think that they get captured and that they die.” I was proud and sad at the same time. Even a year ago, I think that Genene would have expected the “happy ending.” It was a revelation to me that she is growing up and beginning to realize that not everything works out the way it should.

Touring the house is an incredibly moving experience. I cannot recommend it highly enough. We walked where they walked. We stepped through the passageway behind the moveable bookcase and into the Secret Annexe. Photographs were not allowed, so my words will have to suffice.

We walked through the rooms where the eight people lived in hiding for more than two years before being betrayed by persons unknown. They were sent to various concentration camps where all except Anne’s father, Otto Frank, perished. The details of their two-year ordeal are well-known to everyone, but it really made an impression upon me to walk through those rooms and think about having to stay there, essentially imprisoned, living in fear. And all for naught. In the end, they perished anyway. In particular, I was struck by the story about how quiet they had to be during the day while work was going on downstairs in the warehouse. They were not even allowed to run water or flush the toilet all day, for fear of making a telltale sound. Just imagine having one toilet for 8 people that could not be flushed all day. It had to be less than ideal. It’s those little details that stick with you when you move through the house. The windows were shaded so that no light would come in or be seen from outside. The darkness….

Anne’s words: “I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.”

One display that resonated with me was a two-minute video of Otto Frank discussing the diary. He said that he knew of its existence and knew that Anne wrote in it, but he had promised her never to look, and so he did not. After the war, when he returned and found out that his family had all died, Miep Gies, one of their helpers, gave him the diary. He was astounded by its contents. He had no idea that his daughter had such “deep thoughts” or such self-criticism. He said that this was not the Anne he knew. In the end, he was left wondering if any parent ever truly knows his or her child.

I was also struck by the fact that the diary is clearly something that Anne worked on, as author would work on a book. It began as a journal, in which she chronicled the boys she liked, activities at school (before the family went into hiding), and other mundane details of being a young teenager. As the family stayed in what was essentially captivity for more than two years, she rewrote major portions of the diary. She had heard a radio program in which Jews were asked to chronicle their experiences, and she took this charge seriously and went to work. The diary is no accident. In my opinion, it is the determined and inspired work of a young genius whose voice was extinguished far too soon.

On July 15, 1944, Anne wrote: “It’s twice as hard for us young people to hold on to our opinions at a time when ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when the worst side of human nature predominates, when everyone has come to doubt truth, justice and God….It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will soon end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!”

Less than three weeks later, the police raided the Secret Annexe. Anne died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March of 1945.

There was an interesting exhibit at the end of the Anne Frank tour. Museum attendees were given little vignettes or scenarios and asked to vote. For instance, in one of the scenarios, we were told about an extreme political party in a European country, whose platform focuses on discrimination against non-natives of the country. Should the party be banned? The questions were difficult ones in my mind, balancing free speech rights against human rights and hate speech. It was thought-provoking, and Genene enjoyed getting to express her opinion by voting.

We left the museum, and this was the line at the door:

 And around the corner:
 

And back down the block:

And around the plaza!

We were grateful that we got there early!

We strolled around the city. We tried the traditional pickled herring at an outdoor stand in the shadow of Westerkerk Church.

A pigeon enjoys the water fountain at Westerkerk:

We went inside Westerkerk, and Genene lit a candle for her grandfather.

We strolled aimlessly around the city. Amsterdam is a good place to do that, but you must be careful: the bike riders will run you down!

We went to the Royal Palace, where all the usual spectacles were going on: people in the plaza dressed like statues, superheroes, and jugglers.
Around the corner, a man delighted the kids by blowing giant balloons:
On the recommendation of a barmaid (we stopped for a libation), we had lunch at a place called Kantjil en de Tijger. Greg wanted to try the Indonesian rice table, Rijsttafel, and it was delightful. We were served many small servings of Indonesian food, most of it bathed in delicious sweet peanut sauces.
 
We waddled back to our hotel for an afternoon nap.
 
Along the way, I got this fun shot of a big kitty in the window of a nearby building:
 

Would you like to have some magic mushrooms and ride the psychedelic bikes?

We awoke late in the day and strolled to a local pub for a beer. We struck up a conversation with an Amsterdam man, and he steered us to a place called Oesterbar for dinner. It was a highlight of Amsterdam. It was one of those places that flies in fresh oysters twice a day. We selected a half-dozen on the half-shell from Vendée, on the west side of France. They were salty and delicious. We followed it up with eel, shrimp and smoked salmon appetizers. Genene had gamberoni (giant shrimp) with fries. Greg had mussels and cream, and I had a black pasta with fresh tuna. We ordered a simple dessert, but I guess we must have been good clients, because they brought a tray of desserts. We made hogs of ourselves and then happily waddled back to our hotel.

Apparently Saturday night is the big horse and carriage night in our neighborhood, and they all lined up for some kind of parade. I have never seen so many at once: there must have been over a hundred carriages and for several minutes, all we could hear was the clop-clop of hooves on the street. We were tired and not tempted to go down, but it was pleasant to lean out the window and watch them go by. We enjoyed the last whiffs of pot coming up from downstairs and went to bed.

July 14, 2013

Our cabbie arrived on time to whisk us to the airport. He was Turkish and told us that he liked Amsterdam and had lived there for 35 years, but Istanbul was the greatest city on earth. We will have to add it to our list.

Our flight was uneventful, though I was a little concerned when we returned to Houston. US Customs uses dogs to sniff out contraband, and their little beagle stopped a LONG time to sniff our bags. I was afraid that he was getting a whiff of some of that Amsterdam ganja weed, but in the end, he walked on. I was later told that the beagles are mainly used to sniff out fruits, vegetables and seeds that people try to smuggle into the country. Who knows what the little guy got a sniff of?

We arrived home Sunday afternoon, exhausted and glad to be back. Vacations are fun, but it is good to sleep in your own bed. Our home remodeling project was in full flower, and the downstairs was essentially demolished. We had no washer and dryer, which makes cleaning up after a safari pretty challenging. We did not even have hot water on Sunday, but the contractor sent someone over to light the water heater pilots so that we could at least get a shower. It’s going to be an interesting process.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

I have so many things left to say. (I know that everyone finds that difficult to believe, given the volume of what I have written already.) At the end of each day, I was just too tired to tell all the stories and jokes. Greg and Genene have reminded me of a few odds and ends that slipped through the cracks along the way.

We have finished taking our anti-malarial medicines, and Houston life is returning to normal. Many people experience vivid dreams while taking the drugs, but I just experienced my usual sleep disruptions. Greg, on the other hand, got the promised dreams. On our first night at the Tarangire nyumba, he dreamed that he was some kind of FBI agent and was being chased by an ax-wielding bad guy. He was fending the guy off, and he woke up and found that he was holding the bedside lampshade by its gooseneck. We laughed and laughed at him about that, but I was secretly grateful that I didn’t wake up to find his hands around my throat.

Our African guides were cognizant of the differences in our cultures and experiences. Most of them have been sent to America by Thomson Safaris, so that they will have a frame of reference with which to deal with their clientele. We would drive down the rough, almost non-existent roads, and Simon would say, “We are now heading down the Serengeti Freeway.” He also referred to our bumpy rides in the Rover as “African massages.”

Cultural differences were not limited to us versus the Africans. One morning, Greg was salting some watermelon, and the other guests–all from Seattle–just about came unglued. Not one of them had ever seen someone salt a watermelon. All my Razorback friends know that Hope, Arkansas grows the best melons in the world, and everyone I know tosses a little salt on top to get that yin yang, salty-sweet effect. I guess that must be a southern thing, because the folks from the Pacific Northwest were having none of it.

I keep thinking about the many needs of the people in Tanzania. A working water well seems to be a luxury in many parts of the country. Near the Sukenya School, I saw an out-of-service well. Simon explained that it had not worked in many months, and they were hoping to gather up the money to get someone out to work on it. In my job, I talk about water wells on almost a daily basis. They break, and my water district clients fix them and put them back into service. I wished that I could beam my friend Mark Ivy to the spot of the broken well. I figure he would have it up and running in a few hours. There is so much to be done.

We talked with Simon candidly about how to help, and he told us that government corruption was a big problem, even in a relatively stable democratic republic like Tanzania. Money or items sent for aid frequently disappear before getting to their destination. I asked him how I could help, and he counseled that it was best to help locally, whenever possible. Get to know someone at a school, and contribute to the school’s needs. Perhaps I can focus on Sukenya School. Again, Anne Frank’s words: “How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Tanzania was a magical place. The animals roam free, and a thousand dramas–large and small–unfold daily on the merciless brown plain of the Serengeti. The people live in relative harmony, in spite of tribal and religious differences. The land goes on forever.

Going on the safari was a dream come true for me. I spent my childhood watching Marlin Perkins wrestle crocodiles every Sunday night on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” I am certain that we will go back. I want to see the Serengeti in the wet season. I want to see the Great Migration. I want to go with Genene to the top of Kilimanjaro, if she still wants to try. I want to see Anjela go to college. I want to see a lion take down a zebra on the Serengeti. I want to see that well near Sukenya School pumping water again.

I saw so much, but there is so much more to see.

Thanks for coming on the adventure with me. I hope you enjoyed the photos and descriptions of this spectacular place.

Kwaheri, kwaheri, mpenzi kwaheri!

Tutaonana tena, tutikajariwa!

(Goodbye, dear friend! We’ll meet again, God willing!)

2 thoughts on “African safari 2013: Part 11 and FINAL!

  1. Loved the journal. Thanks for sharing. We looked forward to receiving each posting. The way it was written, I felt like I was on the trip..(it was a lot more exciting then reading district minutes)

    Mary Ann and I are going to Hawaii in October. We will keep a journal and share

    Again thanks for sharing your trip and glad you enjoyed it all. Genene can look back in 20 years and relive the trip through your journal.

    Steve and Mary Ann Gardner

    Sent from my iPad

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