Tarangire, Lake Myanara, and Ngorogoro Crater by Elena Plazolles- Hayes

Hamjambo, everyone! Apologies for the delayed reflection on our week stay at the national parks in Arusha. Since it was a few weeks ago, I know I will be missing some details but just bear with me! To begin, I’d like to say that I have never been to Africa, or anywhere across the world before so this has been a new adventure for me all around (keep this in mind!).

The first national park we went too was called Tarangire, and it was a few hours away from the UACC- where we were staying. In order to get to this park, we had to drive through Maasai territory- and the Maasai are one of the more popular tribes located here. While I was sitting in our safari jeep, squished in the back seat with some of the other girls, I took in all that was around me- their huts, their clothing (and sometimes even lack thereof), massive amount of goats, and the general proximity to the park. I actually felt uncomfortable travelling in the heart of their home in order to get to a major tourist ‘’arena’’- like they were what we were supposed to look at, and take pictures of before the actual sight we were heading towards. I felt obligated to pitch in and help them, with anything and buy the souvenirs they were selling outside the gates.

I know that there probably wasn’t any other way of getting to Tarangire but through that main road- but that’s how I saw it. I think our stay in Tarangire was pretty adventurous, actually- and that’s a weighted statement. To me, at least, this felt like a better day to go out because Arusha National Park was cold and rainy and I really didn’t want to be there anymore! But Tarangire was warm and I enjoyed myself so much more. I saw the ‘’usual’’ animals- zebras, giraffes, impalas, and even a pride of lions eating their dinner (which, seeing lions is rare, but we got to see them at every single park we went too!! That was so exciting! Seeing them in the wild is ten times better than seeing them at the zoo, just saying) I also saw tons of elephants- once, we passed at least twenty together- and I could have stayed there forever. Elephants are beautiful, majestic creatures, and watching them in the wild is probably one of the most breathtaking things, ever.

So, after we had finished our day taking pictures and eating lunch, our driver, Moses, took us to the campsite that’s in the park. Everyone, including me, was thinking that we were going to have to set up our own tents, scramble something up for dinner or go hungry- but as soon as we arrived we saw that our tents were pitched, beds made, and dinner ready and waiting on the table! Some members from the UACC followed us, everywhere we went and took care of us, and that was such a blessing- we were exhausted from our travels and it was great to be pampered for a little bit; even still, I wish that we could have helped in some way. As the first night wore on, Professor Quaye held discussions, like usual and we all talked, and got to know each other more- which was really exciting for me to get to know everyone on a little deeper level ( I had an awesome talk with Shelli about ice cream and high school trips!) Later, I decided to take a freezing shower by flashlight (cause I mean.. hot water and lights are overrated) that in itself was quite the adventure- cold water showers were basically the norm in Arusha. As someone who loves their hot, long showers, it was a frustrating adjustment! So, here I am, taking this shower, and all the other girls are waiting for me because they didn’t want a lion coming and attacking me- I should remind you, that we were literally staying.. IN the park, so it could have happened! Afterwards we went back to the table and talked more and all the sudden I hear this noise, and the others did too- I thought it was a lion or even a warthog chasing us, and we ran for our lives and crammed into a two man tent. I won’t give any names, but one of us was so terrified, that they wet their pants (Never going to live that down, by the way!) and I had to give them a designated bag for the said pee- pants. Let’s remember, it was a pretty traumatic experience. But, apparently there was a ranger located at the camping ground, with an AK47, just in case it was a lion; that was actually pretty intimidating. Tour guides and rangers all have big guns on the back of their jeeps, as a safety precaution- I’m definitely used to rangers having bug spray and a walkie talkie for safety- small things! The ranger investigated the noise and said it was an impala- so basically, I was scared of a tiny little deer-like animal. Even still, NONE of the girls slept alone that night!

The next day, we packed our bags and headed to the next park- Lake Myanara! This park was about two hours away from Tarangire, so it was like a small road trip. I was once again squished in the back, and before I dozed off, I noticed that the scenery changed in just a few miles- the soil was changing into a copper color, there wasn’t many trees, and we were entering an even greater rural area. I didn’t notice as much on the way to this park, because I’m pretty sure I fell asleep! But, upon arrival, there was a sign that said “Free Wi-Fi” so I, of course, jumped at that chance (like everyone else) to whip out my phone and check the latest Instagram posts, and Snapchat; it felt a little silly to check social media when we had just arrived at a famous park in Tanzania. Thankfully it was only a hot spot, so I wasn’t distracted when we started to drive throughout the park. There were definitely more baboons here- and I didn’t know that they liked to be in huge…herds! We stopped at a field once, and it was FULL of baboons! I was definitely a little intimidated by the amount of them, but thankfully Moses kept driving.

Throughout the day, we saw the usual animals again- zebras, giraffes, wildebeests- but that day we saw our first hippos at a watering hole!! Hippos have never been my favorite animal, but my goodness, they are big animals! Over the course of the week, hippos became another ‘’regular’’ animal I saw- but I still enjoyed seeing them! After we saw the hippos, we had lunch, and then Moses took us to a hot spring and a looking-out area, I suppose you could call it; and the land was so vast, and it was so majestic and beautiful! I didn’t want to leave, for fear I would miss something. After we left the park, Moses drove us to the camp site, and once again the UACC crew set up our tents! It was actually Mary Kate’s birthday that day, so that night, after our class, we sang happy birthday and had cake- it felt surreal for me, to have a birthday party in Africa, especially at a campground. Although surreal, it was nice to have an event like having birthday cake to remind me of home! At this point in the trip, I had a terrible case of homesickness, and doing something little like celebrating a loved ones’ birthday definitely made things easier.

The next morning, after breakfast, (which the UACC crew made for us; they made every meal for us that week- it was wonderful!) we packed up and headed to Ngorogoro Crater. Moses told me on the way that this park would be the coldest of all them- I shrugged it off, thinking “chilly” was 70 degrees, at the most. WOW, was I wrong! We drove up the mountain, looked down the crater, and it was a night and day difference from the bottom- it was probably 50 degrees, and I was NOT prepared! We got a group picture and took a couple selfies, and then headed down to the core of the crater in order to see the animals. (Side note, we were the youngest tourists at the parks we went to, everyone else was middle or retirement age, and at Ngorogoro there were lots of older people, and it felt very strange to be the youngest there! Okay, back to the main point…) Getting down the crater took about an hour, and at that time everyone was restless, tired, stinky, (we hadn’t showered that whole week) and hungry! But driving through the crater was pretty fun; it warmed up some more, and Moses pointed out rhinoceroses at a distance- I wish they were a bit closer, because they were on my list of things I wanted to see, but I knew they were there! Everything else was just the “usual” (ostriches, buffalo, elephants, giraffes, etc.), but we saw a pride of mother lions and their cubs taking a nap under a tree, very close to the road and I probably took 30 pictures of them on my phone- it was SO cool, the cubs were very young and very cute!

Later that day, we went to our campsite, and immediately we had class/presentations. This was very overwhelming, stressful, and frustrating for me because there was way more people at this campground then the others we had been too; so the dining room area was noisier which makes learning and hearing difficult, plus it was COLD! Moses was right all along! That night for dinner I had so many helpings of mashed potatoes, and drank probably four cups of hot tea in order to warm up- and that’s just the beginning! So, since the UACC set up our tents again, most of the tents fit two – three people, if not, four people. In our group, there are seven girls and one boy- obviously Shareeque slept alone, and the girls would alternate tent-mates. Not that night! None of us were prepared for freezing weather, (we had very light jackets, and ONE blanket, each), and so we decided it would be good idea to have all seven of us in one tent to keep warm. That lasted about three hours- not going to sugarcoat it! Having seven girls in a tent that fits about three, was probably the worst idea we’ve ever had! I was at the very end, and I was very, very, claustrophobic, and I know a few of the other girls were too, so they left and went into another tent later on in the night. The next morning we left very early because we were chilled to the bone, so we got home to the UACC at about one in the afternoon, and I think everyone took a shower immediately!

My overall reflection on that week was that it was a new adventure. I felt very blessed to be able to have that experience, and to see some of my favorite animals in the wild! If possible, I truly feel that everyone should do this at least once in their life, because it really takes you out of your comfort zone and caters to your adventurous spirit. Being cold, running away from an impala, sitting in a safari jeep for hours on end- that made the journey even better! It didn’t feel like it at the time, but looking back, that just added to it! Something I had to keep in mind, however, was that sometimes it’s better not to see through the lens of a camera, and appreciate the view purely with my eyes instead. I now leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty- always remember to never give up, and keep on adventuring! Kwaheri!

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” –James Thurber

Students exploring, learning, and experiencing Tanzania