Monday, 17 September 2012

Safari and Other Adventures

The Goats Racing.... Or Being Pushed

I only have a couple more weeks before I will return home and I am doing my best to enjoy the time I have remaining in Dar es Salaam. This month kicked off with Tanzania’s premiere event – the annual Goat Races! While it may not sound like the sort of event that a lot of you would be eager to attend, trust me when I tell you it is not to be missed!
The Goat Races are basically very similar to Toronto’s Beer Fest except with the addition of (as the name would suggest) goats racing. It was good fun. Here’s the thing about goats though: they aren’t really cut out for racing. Goats are far more interested in grazing. So in essence, what happens is that the gates open and the goats do a whole lot of nothing. So a few employees carry a long padded bar that spans the length of the track and kind of push the goats along to the finish line. The goat who gets irritated with the bar the most will then meander along the quickest and cross the finish line a moment before the others. It’s not really a nail-biting, sitting on the edge of your seat kind of race.  

The Goat Races are a charitable event with proceeds going to a number of organizations who do very good work here in Tanzania and as such I thought that I would support the cause by placing bets on some of the goats that I had a feeling were strong competitors. In the first race my pick came in first place, but that was expected based on his name: BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZOOKA. My second goat pick, Goat Nads, didn’t do as well unfortunately, but I don’t regret betting on him cause he really did put in an honest effort and I think that counts for a lot. 

Winning at the Sea Cliff Casino
I took a bit of down time following the races but the last week has been wonderful and busy. It started out on Friday with a quiet dinner with a few friends at Sea Cliff restaurant. This is one of my favourite spots in Dar es Salaam, but it’s a bit on the fancy side so it doesn’t really fit well with the volunteer budget. After a couple bottles of wine were finished it was time to head out as I had an early morning flight to catch to Arusha. On the way out, however, we walked by the entrance to the casino and as none of us had ever been there before, we decided to pop in – just for one or 2 hands, of course. 

Well.... those of you who know me well can probably guess that I did not just stick around for one hand. While a friend of mine was winning big at the slots (in contradiction to my theory that slots are for suckers) I had a seat at the blackjack table. As should be the case in all casinos, drinks were free for those who were gambling and that, in addition to the fact that I was doing quite well, made me stick around a bit longer than I had anticipated I would. When I was just about ready to cash out I got 21 on three 7s which meant a complementary bottle of bubbly for the table! I obviously had to stay a bit longer to enjoy my victory :)

When finally we were able to tear ourselves away from the casino I had won approximately the amount of my monthly allowance and am now considering leading a session for the next new batch of volunteers teaching them how they might supplement their allowances too! We got in a taxi to head home and were both stunned to find out that it was 3am! I had to leave for the airport in less than 5 hours and I had yet to pack! But there was time for that in the morning so I set my alarm and headed to bed. 

A Stiggbucks Coffee Reall Hit the Spot After my Rough Morning!
Unfortunately I slept through my alarm – something that I think has only happened to me once before and I woke up about 5 minutes before my taxi was to arrive to take me to the airport. I was quite proud of myself that I was able to pack in such a short amount of time..... until I realized that I had forgotten to pack underwear! Of all the things I could forget to pack! Luckily my first stop once arriving in Arusha was Stiggbuck’s coffee shop (not quite Starbuck’s, but good enough) which was situated close to a Woolworth’s where I was able to pick up some undergarments. In the absence of a Victoria’s Secret, Woolworth’s would have to suffice.

This is Henry - He Lives at the Hotel we Stayed at in Arusha
I had a relaxing time in Arusha while some of my fellow VSO volunteers participated in the Safari half marathon. On Monday, two friends and I were collected for a safari to Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater. Lake Manyara was quite beautiful. It is very lush there all year round with beautiful scenery and lots of animals. Following our game drive in Manyara we headed off to our lodge just outside of Ngorongoro Crater. The first thing I noticed about the area was how COLD it was. I was FREEZING there! The second thing I noticed was how beautifully stunning the entire area is. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO Heritage Site in large part because of the crater itself which is the world’s largest caldera and hosts dense wildlife including several globally threatened species. In addition to this, archeological research in the area shows a long sequence of human evolution.

Arriving in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area
Our game drive in the Crater was to be my last game drive before coming home and so I was really hoping to see several animals that I had not yet seen – specifically lion, cheetah and leopard. I sadly did not get to see a leopard, but other than that we were very lucky! We spotted a cheetah in the distance and we saw loads of lions and even almost witnessed a kill! Our guide got wind of a possible kill near the hippo pool so we rushed over to find several lions lounging by the water. Lions are pretty lazy and just like house cats are not big fans of getting wet. They were hunting a buffalo who made his way into the water where the lions would not follow, but they knew that he couldn’t swim so they just waited – and so did we. For 2 hours. The buffalo was resilient and in the end he got away but I feel lucky to have seen the battle! We also saw some lions feasting on a zebra which was pretty cool, but were not there for the kill. 
Momma Lion
I was surprised to find that there were public washrooms within the Crater, but was a bit hesitant to use them after hearing a story the previous night from one of the gentlemen who runs the lodge that we stayed at: One night a lion was wandering around and pooped into the ladies washroom to explore. Somehow he managed to shut the door behind him and he was stuck there overnight. Now I don’t know this for a fact, but I would imagine that a lion would not be very pleased to be stuck in such a small space for such a long time. So in the morning, the first guest who needed to answer the call of nature opened the door to the washroom and was face to face with the agitated lion! Luckily she reacted quickly and shut the door immediately so she was not harmed..... although I bet the rest of her game drive was quite unpleasant because I’m sure she must have gone right there and then when she saw that lion! Although I was able to get quite close to some of the animals, I luckily did not get quite that close!

Cute Cubs
I don’t have a lot of adventures planned over the next few weeks but I’m sure there will be some excitement for my final post – this city lends itself well to spontaneity.

Miss you all,