Monday, November 02, 2009

Hadza Camp, Ngorogoro Crater, Halloween, and more

On October 24th, after eating lunch, we hiked up the mountain which wasn’t too bad. We were so happy when we reached the top and saw blue tents in the distance, meaning that our camp was getting very close. The safari staff had set up our tents for us as they knew we would be tired when we arrived from this long journey.

During our time at the previous Hadza camp, we learned about the roles of the men and women. Today, we spent the day with the Hadza women and began the morning by visiting their homes which are very small and cozy. It is weird walking into a home that is about the size of my bathroom back home and realizing that this is the amount of room these people have to live in. Its amazing how materially obsessed we are in America and how these people can live with so little and be so happy and content with it. I wonder how they feel when we arrive with our huge cameras and other things that these people do not use or possibly even know of.

We gathered tubers with the women, digging in order to find these roots which were later cooked for us to eat. I must admit that I did not like them at all as they kinda tasted like uncooked potatoes. In order to get to the area where we dug for the tubers, we had to walk for a good 30 minutes and then in order to actually dig for the tubers, the women were doing a lot of physical work. And those women with babies carried them and kept them on their backs the entire time. It is amazing how much physical work they do. We have technologies to do this type of stuff for us back home or we hire other people to do this type of work but these people do this on a daily basis in order to survive. This is normal for them.

We all gathered around as they opened a bee hive and tasted the honey inside which was pretty good. I only ate a small piece because unlike the other students, I didn’t want to eat a piece with bugs in it. The Hadza then taught some of the students how to make fire before we headed back to camp.

We had the rest of the day for free time but there were activities that we could choose to participate in. A group of us sat with some Hadza women and did some beading. I made an anklet and then one of the Hadza women made me two more – unfortunately one has already broken but I am still wearing the other two. A majority of the students made arrows but I decided not to do that because:

a. I had no clue how I would get it home and did not want to have to carry it around
b. I just didn’t really want to make an arrow

But I definitely heard the students ‘wows’ and clapping when someone succeeded at shooting their arrow at the target.

This day was a very hot one and the sun was beating down on us. I put on sunscreen five times on this particular day and guess what…I still got sun burnt. Aloe Vera definitely became my best friend for the next few days!

That evening, we sat around the campfire and the Hadza sang for us. We decided on a few songs and sang to them in return. It must have been hilarious listening to the 30 of us singing rounds of ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ and ‘This Land is Your Land’ but we managed to pull it off.

At this camp, we had class and presentations on top of a mountain and watched the beautiful sunsets. Some people opted to sleep up on the mountain but I felt safer in my tent and didn’t want to freeze or get attacked by animals or insects during the night.

On October 27th, we traveled through the Yaeda Valley (this time in safari trucks) to Dofa campsite near the entrance of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We camped in what seemed like the backyard of a mansion. From our campsite, we could see a road – a real one that was paved and everything. It was such a change from the other places that we had camped at so far. This mansion backyard had amazing, hot showers which we definitely took advantage of. That evening, those of us in the General Culture group gave presentations about our findings from the hunt with the Hadza. We had to estimate the abundance of the animals that we had seen or had seen any evidence of (tracks or dung) during our hunt. This was an interesting assignment as all of us students knew that our estimates were not accurate at all especially since we probably did not see as many animals due to our noise and scent.

The following day, we got into five Safari Land rovers, smaller than our Safari trucks and drove to Ngorogoro Crater. Our driver, Kevin was very nice and enjoyed driving us around and watching our expressions when we saw animals. When we arrived at the crater, there was a group of people shooting a music video. I inquired about this and learned that they were shooting a gospel music video. It was neat to watch these Tanzanians all dressed up dancing in the rain. We entered the park but couldn’t see much for awhile due to the heavy fog.

The crater is a touristy area which is described as a gigantic zoo. It is however a World Heritage Site and is considered by many people to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. This crater claims to be home to about 25,000 animals throughout the year while the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a whole claims to be home to more than 2.5 million animals depending on the season and used to be home to many Maasai and their cattle before they were kicked out. Within the Ngorongo highlands, there are nine volcanoes, one of which is still active. The ash and dust from the eruptions of these volcanoes has been carried by the winds to form the fertile soils of the Serengeti plains.

The crater is the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. It measures 19.2 km in diameter, 610m in depth, and 304 square kilometers in area. The crater floor has permanent water which supports the large resident population of wildlife. Besides the grazing land, the crater also has swamps and forests which allow hippo, elephants, waterbuck, reedbuck, bushbuck, baboons, and vervet monkeys to live there. The crater is a dynamic and constantly changing ecosystem, home to animals such as wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, buffalo, eland, warthog, dikdik, jackals, lions, leopards, cheetah, serval cats, and hyenas.

We saw two different prides of lions in the crater. One pride walked between our safaris vehicles – which was so amazing. They were so close and we could hear them roaring and growling. It was the most amazing thing ever! We followed them as they went to drink water and watched as one of them fought with a buffalo. In addition, we saw a lioness with one of her children elsewhere in the crater protecting a buffalo that they had killed. They were calmly sitting there as we took pictures and watched them. Its amazing how used to cars the animals in National Parks have become. They are not scared of cars one bit and actually have been known to lie under cars and get some shade causing the driver to be unable to move the vehicle.

This crater is part of the yearly migration of hundreds and thousands of plains animals (wildebeest and zebra). They travel through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, into the Serengeti, the Maasai Mara (in Kenya), and then back into Ngorongoro.

That afternoon, we sped out of the crater in order to get to our campsite on the rim of the crater by 6pm. I did some laundry with freezing cold water which made my hands burn and was interrupted by a very close elephant spotting. The elephant was seriously maybe 200 feet away. It was just hanging out, drinking water from the campsite. Other tourists who had stayed in this campsite for a few nights said that this elephant comes to the campsite every evening to drink water. In addition, during our campfire that evening, we had some zebra come pretty close and visit us.

On Thursday, October 29th, we traveled from Ngorongoro Crater to the Serengeti Plains. As there has been a drought here in East Africa and everything is so dry we didn’t see many animals besides a few gazelles and vultures on the plains. The plains were exactly as they sound – very plain! They are extensive, flat grasslands, but due to the drought, there was not much grassland, rather it was more like short dead grass. Before crossing the plains, we stopped at Oldupai Gorge where the archeologists, Mary and Louis Leakey discovered the earliest hominid remains from 1.8 million years ago. Oldupai was first made famous in 1911 by a man looking for butterflies. Much to his surprise, he found elephant bones instead. In 1928, Dr Leakey visited the Berlin Museum where he saw remains of the fossils and bones found in the gorge. The Leakeys made their way out to Oldupai and spent 29 years doing archeological research. Among their findings were a 1.75 million year old hominid skeleton and a 1.5 million year old human erectus skeleton. In 1978, after her husband’s death, Mary found hominid footprints which had been preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 million years ago and were exposed due to weathering. These footprints were still intact due to the volcanic rocks and ash that hardened on top of the prints. The ash, rain, mud, and other weathering and natural occurrences created five geological layers in the gorge. The first layer (bottom most layer) is made of grey sediment and is rich for early hominid fossil remains from 1.8 million years ago. The second layer is 1.5 million years old and is where human erectus was found. The third layer is about 800,000 years old but due to drought and dryness, nothing is known about this layer. The fourth layer is 400,000 years old and is where human erectus was found. The final layer, the fifth layer is 100,000 years old and is where human sapien was found.

Mary has since passed away but every year, between June and September, research groups come to conduct archeological studies in the gorge. The research occurs during this time due to weather conditions and also because summer is the time when students are out of school and free to come and do research.

After stopping for lunch on the plains, we continued driving and came across some shifting sands. These are triangular shaped mounds on the plains which have accumulated ash from the nearby volcanoes and must have some kind of magnetic energy in them that holds them together.

As the drought is significantly affecting life here in East Africa, we had to change our next campsite plans so that we would not be staying in an area with tons of dead cattle. We stayed at our campsite in Soitorgoss for four nights – the first time in awhile that we have stayed in one place for a significant amount of time and didn’t have to pack up after only a night or two. While in Soitorgoss, there was not much planned for us to do which was amazing! It’s difficult for me to have everything planned out for me. I like to decide when to do things and not have to rely on other people planning things for me and dictating when and where I will go somewhere, but I guess that is part of a program like this one. Before arriving at the campsite, we stopped at a manyatta, which is a traditional Maasai age-set event in which the young Maasai men become warriors. As they were still setting up the event, we just waved and smiled to the children and basically all the rest of the community as they all surrounded our two trucks to see all the white foreigners.

We set up camp, which has become somewhat natural now (but something I will not miss by any means) and got ready for dinner as we arrived just before the sun was setting. Our time in Soitorgoss was mostly free time in order to study and catch up on the readings we were supposed to be doing throughout our safari which we were never really given much time to actually do. I had done a number of the readings but definitely spent a lot of time, actually until the night before the test catching up on all the readings. In case you were wondering, I did in fact eventually finish all of them. I really wish that we would have had more time at our other camp sites to do the readings as a lot of them were really interesting and would have been of benefit to read while we were in a specific area/ with specific people.

On Halloween, we spent most of the day studying for our final the following day. In the late afternoon, we celebrated Halloween by dressing up in costumes. About half of the group had decided to dress up as other people on the program and had drawn names out a hat for that. They surprised me in their ability to mock and dress as each other. Those of us who did not partake in that dressed up as: a superb starling (a bird here in East Africa), a Kool Aid man, and a cheetah (me). Of course, a number of people didn’t dress up as we had a lot of work to do but I decided that I needed an hour break and I think it was much needed and worth it.

On the morning of November 1st, we took our biology final. This means that the General Culture group is now done with our biology course and has one International Studies course left to complete during the last three weeks of our program.

I just keep thinking back to the Lion King. I never realized how much of that movie was really based on things that we have seen and experienced here in East Africa. I can’t wait to watch this so called children’s movie from a different perspective.