OFF TO EAST AFRICA
Checked out of the African Tulip in Arusha at 8:30 and with a stop at a grocery store (it looked like a Costco Warehouse with nearly as much “stuff”) for some insect repellent, sun block and body lotion, we were on our way to Tarangire National Park with our Driver/Guide Musawe. After sloshing through Arusha’s morning rush hour traffic – quite heavy by the way – we arrived about two and a half hours later. The day was pretty typical as these things go –three warthog families (the little ones look like those small pot belly pigs folks in the states used to keep as pets), twenty or thirty giraffes in four or five groups (I don’t know the official name for a “group of giraffes”), many red deer, and six or seven truly fine Thomson Gazelles, a dirt mound that looked like a large ant hill but was actually the home of a family of mongoose, four or five dik-diks (small deer the size of toy poodles) and of course, what Tarangire is famous for, several families of elephants including half a dozen really cute little ones and one lone bull elephant who wasn’t all that happy that we were intruding on his lunch of grass at the side of the piste.
As an aside, although I suspect bird lovers would consider it a prime topic, Tanzania has an incredible array of birds, many done up in electric blues, LSD oranges and iridescent greens. There are other, more mundane birds of brown, black and tan but most of these have long, trailing tails. Then there was the cockatoo that perched in the rafters as we ate our lunch. Parakeets, lovebirds, yellow swallows, finches and a pheasant with an iridescent blue head and grouse of all sorts abound as well.
After searching relentlessly for the parks lion pride with no luck, we set out for our tented camp where we were spending the night. As we left all signs of civilization in the dust, this meaning other four wheel drive vehicles with pop tops filled with tourists, drove down an exceptionally bumpy and washed out dirt road with washouts every three kilometers or so, plus, just to add to the authenticity of the adventure, every time we slowed down to traverse the washouts, the car filled with biting black flies, Tsetse flies. After about an hour and a half with nary a person, a hut or an elephant in sight, I said to our driver/guide Musawe, “Where are you taking us? To hell?” He laughed but I wasn’t sure exactly what his laugh indicated. Finally we pulled into a Ranger Station, Musawe filled out the necessary and ubiquitous forms, meanwhile my level of anxiety tinged with moderate despair wasn’t helped by the drab army green color of the Ranger buildings surrounded by a twelve foot high barbed wire fence.
But forge on we did around the station until we parked in front of a brick structure with a gigantic thatched roof. It looked brand new and fairly touristy – like something out of a Hollywood safari movie. As we got out of our Toyota Land Cruiser, we were met by three people: one in a white shirt who appeared to be a manager-type, a young girl who offered us a cold, wet towel from a tray (It was perfect!), and another young kid who offered us a cold glass of mango juice. We had arrived at our alternate tent camp for the night. So I thought to myself, “This is nice. Almost like a five star hotel!” Still, I kept picturing dark, dank, tents full of mosquitoes arranged under a canopy of shade trees maybe next to a common shower building set next to the common outdoor outhouses.
The manager type welcomed us, asked our names (his name was Roger) and led us up a newly laid stone path (I could tell it was newly laid because I’m an architect or because it just looked like it had been installed in the past couple of months. Either way, it was new.) With the three, tented camp folks carrying our bags, they led us up the stone pathway that curved up a hill until we reached what looked to be a newly constructed Swiss chalet flown in from the mountains that Shirley Temple used to wander about in as a child movie star. Or maybe I was thinking of Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.
“You are in number two,” Roger informed us. “We just completed it. We have four more completed and six more under construction.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Perched on a hillside with a porch that had a magnificent view of “some African” lake and the surrounding countryside, this “tent” was about the same size as the entire first floor of my house in DC and with a bathroom that was three times as large and so much more chic and sophisticated I was embarrassed that dark, dank, tent thoughts had entered my mind. Roger explained that the pool (!) was also brand new and just down the path to the right from out “tented lodge” as I learned was the official term for this magnificent construction. Just above the pool is the dining room with a huge veranda overlooking the lake, and a beautiful bar arrayed with scotch, gin, vodka, bourbon and any other alcoholic concoction one could want. There is no alcohol allowed in the park (So the bar was a mirage maybe?) so Roger took me aside and said that if we wanted a drink just ask him and he would have it delivered to our tented lodge.
And that’s pretty much what I’m into right now. Sitting on our porch, writing this as dusk is falling, drinking my gin and tonic and writing this. A bit earlier I thought I head an elephant huffing in the trees down below. Roger warned us that animals sometimes do stroll through the tented lodge grounds. I’m thinking the pool water is probably a great attraction particularly during the dry season.
So I am reminded that sometimes things really do turn out better than one expects. Who knew that there was a five star, tented lodge somewhere in the vastness of Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania. I sure didn’t!