(Before I begin: a concerned reader, responding to my last article, suggested that I might have been foolish to travel – considering my age – given the current concerns about the corona virus. To allay any fears, let me mention that when our plane arrived at both the Kigali and the Kilimanjaro airports, all the passengers were interviewed and checked by a team of doctors. Of course, back then we were asked only if we had come back from China in the last two weeks; unfortunately, the list of countries has expanded greatly until now it’s most of the world. As far as I know, there have been no reported cases of the virus in either Rwanda or Tanzania, where we were. So I’m probably ‘safe,’ at least as safe as anybody else is, given the ability of corona to spread itself around at the blink of an eye. I should add that, unlike other ‘viruses,’ this one is not spread over the internet, meaning you don’t need to disinfect your phone or computer screen, at least on my account. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.)
One needs to be careful, whenever expostulating, pontificating, or engaging in any form of semi-bloviation, not to exceed the limits of one’s actual knowledge. As an example: Let’s say a tourist traveling to The States for the first time arrived at Kennedy airport in NYC, immediately got on a connecting flight to the Atlanta hub, and took a series of shorter flights, then getting on a tour bus and visiting some of the world-famous national parks, for example, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. Along the way, our visitor would get to see vast open spaces, small towns, motels, and the like. And then, this same person would go back to wherever-s/he came from and tell family and friends all about what it’s like in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. No! Something would be missing from the description, because there’s more to the U.S. than its national parks. Like NYC. Like Miami. You get the idea.
You’d never know it from where we were in Tanzania, but Dar es Salaam, the largest city, has a population of some five million. The main city in Arusha, the first region we passed through, is home to over eight hundred thousand people. Yet when we got into Moudi’s Land Cruiser, we passed through an empty countryside, farmland and pasture, with an occasional village along the way. There, on both sides of the two-lane road, were men and women gathered in front of store fronts and bunches of young men grouped around motorcycles and the small three-wheel vehicles common in Third-World countries.
I was content to watch the series of small dramas taking place as we drove by, leaving my camera in my backpack. It’s next to impossible to photograph out the window of a moving vehicle, and anyway, I was much too tired to focus my eyes, let alone a camera. Tomorrow would be soon enough to be more involved in what was going on around me. I had full confidence that the people we were passing would be there the next day, even the next week. Where else would they be? Where else would they go? One thing you realize fairly quickly is that there is no public transportation and precious few private cars in rural Tanzania. If you live there and you need to get around, it’s either on the back of someone’s motorcycle or in of the three-wheel jobbies. Or else you walk, and we saw a lot of people doing just that, especially school children in their uniforms, trudging back and forth who-knows-how-many miles to get their education. I couldn’t help think back to Ibrahim Nsrara, the Bedouin entrepreneur who found a way to provide bus transportation for children back in the Negev. They could use someone like him here, but s/he would have to provide the buses. Don’t count on the government for that.
If we had been in Dar es Salaam, we certainly would have been taken to lodgings in one of the big hotels, perhaps a Ramada, Holiday Inn, or Marriott, possibly with a view of the ocean, with some touristy shops nearby. But we were far from the Big City, and we had a different experience.
We drove a long way on the main road in our Land Cruisers, then traveled on an unpaved secondary road, and finally we found our way on a tertiary not-even-a-road until we could go no farther. We had arrived at the Lake Burunge Tented Lodge, where we would spend the night. No view of the ocean, no trendy shops – or even any shops – around. But what a welcome! We could have been royalty. As soon as we got out of our Land Cruisers, the staff was waiting with heated, moistened towels and small glasses of exotic fruit drinks. Jambo, jambo. Huh? We soon understood that jambo is the Swahili equivalent of shalom. And, boy, did we get a lot of jambos during the next eight days.
Give that there is lots of space in the Tanzanian hinterlands, it makes sense to spread out, build a lodge with one place for reception and perhaps a dining room, and have separate facilities for guests. Should you be under the misimpression that these accommodations are inferior to those of a swanky hotel – especially when you read something about a tent – let me clue you in. The walls in a tented lodge may be made of canvas, but these are not Boy Scout style pup tents. You have more room to wiggle your toes than you would in your standard hotel room.
And if you’re not sufficiently impressed with this place, try the next one we stayed at, the Oldeani Mountain Lodge (this one with real walls) . If I thought the reception we received in Burunge was gracious, this place was over-the-top. Where does this happen anywhere else?
Here the facilities were so spread out that they would drive you to where you were staying; or at night a staff member with a flashlight would walk you back from the dining room so you wouldn’t lose your way in the dark. The lavatory facilities were substantially bigger than our cabin on our Mano cruise (remember the Mano cruise?) with a bathtub, an indoor shower, and a partially enclosed outdoor shower. Take your pick. Plus, the manager complimented me on how good my English is. That was definitely the highlight of my journey! (If you recall, this was supposed to be a group of Israelis, so he had no way of realizing my country of birth.) Sandwiched in between the four days we stayed there were two days we spent at the Ole Serai Luxury Camp-Turner Springs, right smack dab in the middle of the Serengeti National Park. But that’s a whole ‘nother story, waiting to be told. And it will be. Stay glued to your computer or mobile device.