Thursday, November 25, 2010

Life's extra sweet in this African heat.

So it's been a pretty busy week and directed research has just started so i've been consumed with working on my DR proposal. I've finally decided to look at how much food lodges and hotels get from local farms and explore of how farms can indirectly benefit from tourism and, in turn, be involved in the wildlife conservation tourism draws in. Anyways.... I haven't talked about expedition to the Serengeti, so I'll backtrack to a few weeks ago. We left early on a Friday morning and drove to Olduvia Gorge, which was amazing to see! I've read so much about Olduvia in my archeology texts books and I couldn't believe I got to visit one of the most important archeological sites in history. 'Olduvia' I learned is not the proper name for the site, it's actually called Oldupia, which is a Swahili word for a specific type of plant. The area was the site of some of the first hominid footprints and where parts of the hominid trackway were discovered, as well as many other tools and skeletons of our early ancestors. It reminded me how interesting archeology is and how I miss studying anthropology, cultural and archeological. 

We finally arrived at our campground after the bumpiest ride I have ever been on, the roads to the Serengeti are so bad it messed up some of the jeeps and they had to be fixed back at camp after expedition was over. The camp was really pretty and I couldn't believe how close we where to wildlife. Our camp was literally in the middle of the Serengeti National Park. Our first day we saw elephants and buffalos walk right past camp. Later on in the day we went on an evening game drive and saw baby lions, elephants mating (!), and lots of hyenas, it was a very successful game drive. It's not every day that elephants are seen mating and it was quite a sight to see. The first night was a little uncomfortable, especially because I didn't bring my sleeping pad since it has a hole in it. Instead, I folded out my crazy creek chair and used that as a sleeping pad, which felt the same as sleeping directly on the ground. At night I heard this hackling noise, which I soon found out was the sound of hyenas wandering around camp. At night we brought in a Tanzania Wildlife Services guard who watched the camp along with one of our Askaris. They both stayed by the campfire all night and at times had to chase away hyenas by hitting them with sticks. Hyenas make the craziest sounds, I could hear them so clearly it sounded like they were right next to my tent. Oh also the most important thing to note- there were actually toilets at this campground!!!!!! My standards of bathrooms has changed so much while i've been here, if there is a toilet it is a nice bathroom no matter how dirty it is. When I get home I'll probably think rest-stop bathrooms are the nicest thing ever haha

On the second day of expedition (Saturday) we woke up super early at around 5am and went on a morning game drive. In the afternoon we went on another game drive and did a Wildlife Ecology assignment where we had to count all the animals we saw. I have never seen so many Thomsons gazelle! There were hundreds of them. We also saw a cheetah that was super far away. Later on that day we visited a lion station where people were doing research on carnivore dynamics between lions and hyenas. The researchers there had set up cameras all over the Serengeti that took pictures of any animals that passed by and had all these candid pictures of wildlife. We went on a game drive back to camp and dusk game drives are the best! During dusk game drives the sun is setting and the sky is a purple, pink and orangey color, and it gets a little chilly. There are also more hyenas out when its dusk. I've decided hyenas are my fav African animal, they are so sassy and scruffy. Fun fact: hyenas are more closely related to cats than they are to dogs.

It was raining on and off most days we were camping. Some nights I would roll over in my tent and sleep in a puddle of rain. But i'll take rain over hot weather any day, so it wasn't too bad. On the third day of camping (Sunday) something absolutely incredible happened.... I got to use someone's extra sleeping pad, which made camping a little more comfy. That night I heard hyenas making strange noises and lions growling, it sounded like they were right next to my tent. I found out the next morning they had walked right through camp (!). In the morning we had another Wildlife Ecology assignment to do on elephant behavior, of course the one time we had to observe elephants we didn't see any. We drove for hours and there were absolutely no elephants around, every other time we've seen dozens of them! Later on that day we had a lecture at a tourist visitor center and learned the in's and out's of management in Serengeti National Park. At the tourist center we saw these cute little rodents called Hyrax running around and they were completely unbothered by people. They look exactly like giant guinea pigs! They would walk right by us and just stand there and let us get super close to them, we were told not to touch them but they are so cute I just had to pet one. We than had yet another dusk game drive, which are the absolute best. We finally saw a group of elephants (with the cutest baby elley!) and observed them for an hour or so. 

On day 4 of expedition (Sunday) we had a bird observation exercise in the early morning, 5:30 to be specific, and had to record all the different bird species we saw, which was extremely hard to do. In the mists of watching birds we ran across lions mating! It was a pretty goofy sight to see. After that we went to the Serengeti Serena Lodge which was beautiful and I ate grilled cheese and vegetable samosas by the pool. We had a game drive back and saw some lion cubs. That night I went to bed at around 8:30pm because I was so sleepy and we had to wake up at 5am the next morning to head back to Moyo Hill camp. My normal bedtime here is always before 10:00pm, i've turned into such a grandma haha

Later on in the week we went to Happy Days, which is a campsite/restaurant and a really nice place to relax and eat grilled cheese.. It's in the town of Karatu, which is a quiet little town with some fabric stores and duka's (little shops that sell the randomest things). We also visited an orphanage that week and got to play with some adorable kids. They were full of energy and so much fun, but also exhausting! The next day we had final exams for our classes, I'm so glad to be done with classes! Now on to Directed Research....

This past week was spent coming up with a Directed Research topic which was a little stressful and uneventful. I went into Rhotia a few times and hung around camp. For our non-program day we went to the Artz Gallery, which is a little restaurant and art gallery. It is one of my favorite places here! I absolutely love it. There is a gift shop that is filled with beautiful things and they have AMAZING food. In Kenya and Tanzania salads are not a popular food item and are no where to be served, with the exception of the Art Gallery. I stuffed my face with their food to the point of feeling a little sick from it all haha. I also had some of the best ice cream- RHUBARB ICE CREAM! After the Art Gallery emptied my wallet, we headed to Gibbs Farm which is a lodge, farm, and coffee plantation. It was like a magical place. The lodge grows all their own food and has a ginormous farm with rows and rows of every fruit and vegetable that there is. It was stunningly beautiful and fascinating to see. Afterwards we tried the coffee that they grew there and it was SO delicious. I also met a guy at Gibbs farm that had a project to make elephant poop into paper and got local youths involved in making the paper as well. He was so nice and I got to see the studio where he made the paper and the process of it. I also found out that he sells the paper he makes to the fair trade store Ten Thousand Villages, where I used to volunteer at. He told me how involved they are in his project and how much they support and buy the paper he makes, it was really cool to hear. 

On Saturday we put together sample questionnaires to ask people and get information for our environmental policy directed research. Later on in the day we went out to Ngorogoro and Karatu and tested how well the questions worked. We interviewed lodge managers, tour drivers, tourists (who aren't the friendliest people), street vendors, and shop owners. We came up with a list of questions each of us need for our specific project and questions related to conservation and tourism in the area. The first day of field work was spent going to all the curio shops, which are the stores for tourists that sell woodcarvings and paintings. It was really interesting to go to all the curio shops in the area and also to see how expensive things were there. The prices there are outrageous! They would not bargain very low and I couldn't believe the prices they set for tourists and expect them to pay. We talked to a lot of people and they are really nice about letting us ask them three pages of questions. I swear, everyone here is way more friendly than any where else i've been. They are so easygoing, welcoming, and sincere. 

On the second day of field work, Sunday, I went into the town of Untawambu, which might just be my favorite place here in Tanzania. It is such a busy and interesting place. It is full of people and the streets are always busy. It also has the most incredible Massai Market and is full of painters and friendly people, some trying to sell you whatever they have and some just wanting to say hi and find out where you're from. I love Untawambu. We walked around and interviewed all the shop owners and than wandered around their shops. This Directed Research is so bad for my wallet, all day long we talk to people who sell beautiful carvings and paintings. We met this one young painter who owns his own little shop filled with all his paintings. The paintings here in Tanzania are all practically the same, because they paint whatever the tourists buy and whatever sells. Most of the paintings are not really my taste, but I absolutely love this one guys, they are really simple and he uses different colors than a lot of the other painters. I've bought so many paintings from him within the past few days! The prices are so good here I can't help myself. For example, I bought a huge painting for around $15. The second time I went back to buy more paintings from the same guy he gave me a great deal, I got two huge paintings for 10,000 shillings each, which is around $7. 

Sidenote: the money here is in the thousands and I always feel so fancy saying I paid 10,000 shillings for something haha. 1,400 shillings is roughly $1, it's really fun to look at all the money and see 10,000 shilling bills. On Monday and Tuesday I went back to Untawambu and talked to any and all people working in duka's, curios, and street carts. We also talked to farmers. I feel really comfortable in Untawambu now and I've started to recognize all the people I've talked to and they remember us. I've become a daily customer of the young painter and also a regular at this little pizza restaurant. We came across this amazing pizza place that made homemade pizza in a stone oven and serve the most delicious pizza with some of the best tomato sauce ever made. It's been a really fun few days of research and interviews so far. I love getting to know the different towns and talk to the people in them. It is also really exhausting! We leave every morning for fieldwork at 7:30am and get back around 4:00pm, spending most of the time walking and talking to everyone we run into. By the end of each day I'm dehydrated and the sun has made me delirious haha but non the less I enjoy the field work.


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