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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

April 8

April 11th, 2016

April 8

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Having to wake up at 5:30 after the last week of trekking seemed the height of stupidity, but I couldn’t waste my last day in Tanzania, so off I went on a bus to Arusha. At 1.5 million people, it is the second largest city in Tanzania. There I was met by Jackson Swae, my safari guide and all-around great person. We were soon driving out to the park in a large but empty (except for me) modified Toyota Land Cruiser. Jackson, who was born in the area, not only knows his flora and fauna, he knows well the practices of the Masai. In the long drive out to the park, we passed down and across the great Rift Valley, the migration range for that pastoral people. Along with their traditional dress of bright cloth wrapped in a complicated way and the wooden stick for guiding the cattle, the Masai continue to follow long-standing social and cultural practices. Their economy is based almost exclusively on herding–cattle, goats, and donkeys (which Jackson called Masai 4x4s). They move up and down the valley irrespective of national borders. Their villages, which they only occupy for several years before moving on to different grazing lands, dot the valley and are primarily made up of round thatch and mud houses with conical roofs. Building the houses and caring for the children are the jobs of the women, while the men spend their days watching and moving the herds. The size of the herd determines the wealth of the owner and apparently how many wives he might have. We drove for many kilometers across the valley, never out of sight of the herds and herdsmen. The children begin working at an early age and were often standing at the edge of the road, keeping the animals from wandering onto the pavement.

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On arriving, Jackson raised the roof of the Land Cruiser, and I took my position standing in the back as we drove out through the park. It was what you would expect. We saw mongoose, impala, termite mounds, a “sausage” tree (its fruit looks like long green sausages), zebra, eagles, yellow beak storks, huge herds of baboons, buffalo, wildebeest, wart hogs (who really do move like Pumba in the Lion King), hippos, and many bird species. Toward the end of the afternoon, we encountered a sizable herd of elephants and sat to watch as they circled the truck eating the grass. Among them was a baby Jackson said could have been no more than several weeks old. At lunch we had seen giraffes in the distance by the lake, and on our way out of the park we crossed paths with them up close, magnificent animals. I got my money’s worth on that trip, but it was a long and exhausting day, so I was happy to be deposited at my hotel where I had a good meal and an early night.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

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