On every World Vets trip, the team gets one special event as a thank you for their work. In the case of our group, we were treated to a one day safari in Arusha National Park, because of course that is what you do in Africa.
Normally, these events are planned for the end or at least the middle of the trip, since doing it otherwise is like having dessert before dinner, but having experienced firsthand what happens to people when they try to make it to Africa on time, Dr. Weronko wisely decided to buck tradition and have us do our safari on the first day. Her reasoning was this: Something’s going to get screwed up in transit so let’s make this a buffer day.
As it turned out, three things got screwed up in transit: Dr. Kirkhope’s flight, which came in a day late, and both Alana and Toccoa’s luggage. At least we knew where Rudy was. We couldn’t say the same for the luggage.
Alana took the fatalistic approach and decided to just check in at the Precision Airways office the next day, which all things considered is usually the best option. Toccoa, having packed all the necessary items for her Kilimanjaro trek in her checked luggage, decided to try and trace her luggage through the labyrinthine pathways of Ethiopian Airways customer service.
The first thing she did was attempt to call the number listed on the claim form she was given at the airport, itself a challenging task due to the necessity of using Skype. The number was disconnected. Erica, our amazing and incredibly hardworking innkeep at the Ahadi Lodge, traced down some alternate numbers for Toccoa to call while Toccoa’s friend in Frankfurt tried to trace it from the other side.
When Toccoa finally connected with someone at Ethiopian, she was curtly informed that they had up to 25 days to produce the bags, and to call again in three business days. Click. She decided to check at the airport the next day, you know, just in case, after leaving her phone number, email, and the address of the Ahadi Lodge with the airline, who promised to call with any updates.
The next morning, before the safari vehicle arrived, Alana took a drive over to the Precision Airways office downtown to check on her bags. Closed. Shrugging, she returned to the lodge, and joined Toccoa, Teri, Janet and myself on the tour of Arusha National Park. C’est la vie.
We arrived at the gate and wandered about for a few minutes while Simon, our guide, procured the proper permits. Having been here just a day before as part of the Meru climb, I was feeling like a regular by now.
In Swahili, “choo” means toilet. This lends whole new credence to the “Brody is an evil genius” theory- the dog speaks Swahili. Seriously, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, about the utter fiasco involving my favorite Jimmy Choos, click the link. I died when I saw this.
Unlike other parks in Tanzania like Serengeti, Arusha has a good deal of tropical forest due to its location at the base of Mt. Meru. This lent a distinct ‘Jurassic Park’ feel to our day.
You won’t find lions, but you will find an abundance of primates like the blue monkey.
And great big 50+ member colonies of olive baboons, sitting unconcernedly in the middle of the road, playing, running, and doing that one thing that monkeys in the zoo always love to do when little kids are watching. Naughty little buggers.
There are small expanses of open plain in Arusha, plenty of space for animals such as the water buck to make themselves comfortable. Can you see why they are called the toilet seat antelope?
I can’t imagine a more idyliic setting. Especially since these guys didn’t need to worry about marauding lions, of which there are none in the park.
We saw trotting groups of snorting warthogs running amuk in the distance, mohawks flowing in the cool breeze as they dodged in and out between the legs of the cape buffalo.
And families of hungry hungry hippos, surveying us coolly from the depths of Big Momella Lake.
After lunch, we were treated to a walking safari with our kick-butt guide and park ranger, Nisiri. Because Arusha lacks the big predators that draw people to places like Serengeti, it’s one of the few parks where walking safaris are allowed. But because cape buffalo are still responsible for a large number of human injuries every year, you can do the walking safari only in the company of an armed ranger.
We hiked to a monstrous waterfall, my legs still aching from the trek the day before.
We took in the surreal tableau of entropy in action, the wild tangle of a strangler fig snaking down a wall of volcanic rock like a slow moving Medusa head.
Janet demonstrated her tree-climbing ability, which got us on the topic of the best way to escape marauding cape buffalo.
Which was good information to have, because we did get awfully close. And trust me, they were watching us.
I’m sure this was in no small part due to the horde of giggling schoolchildren who erupted like a flow of lava from the forest behind us as we were tiptoeing behind the buffalo. Fortunately for all involved, they were in a placid mood.
That being said, Teri spent her time with the ranger wisely compiling a list of Survival Tactics for various forms of African wildlife:
- Buffalo: Climb a tree. If one is not readily available, lay down flat, because their horns aren’t capable of goring you if you’re flat on the ground and they don’t trample like elephants do. If you have a trekking pole, jab it in the nose.
- Elephants: Run like hell. They WILL trample you.
- Lions: Look big and make lots of noise, preferably while pulling your windbreaker over your head like a large vulture. Do NOT run like hell as this triggers their chase response.
- Warthog: Swing a stick at it like a baseball bat.
Of course, no one could answer my question, which was: what do you do if you are being simultaneously charged by an elephant and a lion? My personal tactic: always put the person with the gun between you and the wildlife. Oh, and don’t take Ethiopian Airlines if you can help it.
Fortunately, none of this became necessary, and at the end of the day we celebrated our survival.
And on the way back, our first team meeting, albeit sans Rudy, Rachel and Kyle (who had spent the day at a school they contribute to).
If all team meetings took place in Land Cruisers, people would like meetings a lot more, I’m just sayin’.
And we came home to still no luggage. Viva Afrique!