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Safari Safi (Nice Journey)

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This weekend I had the pleasure of escaping Dodoma! Of course, Dodoma is my home and I have a special place in my heart for the area, but it tends to lean a bit on the activity-less side. It was time to go wild, and see some wild animals. I met up with Lynn and An at the bus station. It was my first time in the busily brewing transit cauldron (I've been reading a lot of Harry Potter on this trip). Everywhere you looked, there were booths and buckets filled with goodies ranging from tidye dresses to sandals to cookies to fried fish. It was overwhelming, and at first I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find my companions. Silly me. We were of course the only white people in the area and were very easily spotted. We boarded the bus, and after diffusing a weird conflict about seat placement (the driver was trying to kick people out of their seat so we could sit in front... ridiculous), we were on our way to Iringa! We started out the trip with plenty of space, but after picking up new loads of people what seemed like every 15 meters, the bus soon became quite filled with humans and living farm animals alike. The supposedly three hour trip ended six hours later and we arrived in Iringa, excited for the events to come. We walked to Neema hotel where we had a reservation for the night. I do not know what I was expecting, but it definitely was not the glory that greeted us. Neema is adorable, 10/10 would recommend to a friend. It is a non-profit that provides training and jobs for disabled Tanzanians. We got there and immediately after setting our bags down, went to the cafe and ordered smoothies. Most of the waiters are deaf so they provide you with a sign language cheat-sheet to facilitate the ordering process. Sweet, fresh smoothies! We sipped them on the nicely decorated porch and I thought I was in a dream.

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Our safari guide Daniel of Bateleur Safaris came to meet us at the hotel after we had shopped in the craft section downstairs. He was decked out in a typical safari outfit, everything from the khaki shirt to the hat. We settled payment and he layed out the agenda for the next two days. Then the three of us left Neema and got rolled chipati at a restaurant called Tasty Tasty. True to its name, they were tasty tasty. After playing countless rounds of the card game Exploding Kittens, we went to bed excited about the next day. The sun rose and Daniel picked us up in a Land Rover that may or may not have looked street legal. We climbed in and immediately started throwing questions at him, which he knowledgably answered and gave a demonstration of how the pop-up roof worked. Life was good. The drive to the park took two hours, but the scenery was beautiful enough that it didn't matter. So much greener than Dodoma with more rolling hills. The first animal we spotted was an Impala, which is arguably one of the prettiest mammals on this planet, looking like it spent hours in the mirror putting on makeup. They are nicknamed McDonald's because of the M on their behind and because they are quick lunches for lions. Minutes later, we were greeted by hippos and crocodiles. I love hippos. Always have. The fact that they are dangerous killers make them even more alluring. In the first hour of driving around, we had seen elephants, giraffes, kudus, impalas, hippos, crocodiles, and zebras. It was amazing. Then, Daniel got a call.

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One of his friends spotted a leopard. Sit down girls, we're about to book it. We sped through the park until we saw his friend's car and then stopped by a bushed area. It took a while to spot him, but the leopard was no less than 15 feet away, perched on a rock and staring at us. It was amazing.... until the car stalled out. Daniel's excitement about the leopard transformed into anxiety as he had to play with slow movements while climbing out of the car, hoping to not provoke the notoriously vicious animal just meters away. We were on guard, noting all of the leopard's movements, "he's standing, he turned his head, he is taking a step, he is sitting again..." and on it went as the car refused to start. Finally, the leopard lost interest in us and walked away. We had to get out of the car and Little Miss Sunshine-it, meaning we had to push the car until we reached a downward hill where the driver hopped back into ignite the engine and we all jumped in subsequently. It was badass, and we headed back to nom on some lunch. The sunset drive was filled with more glorious animals, adding baboons, jackels, warthogs, mongoose, monkeys, lions and buffaloes to our list. There was an entire fourteen hour period where I believed the Swahili named for mongoose and warthogs were Timone and Pumba. So, there is that. We ate dinner and then brought some brews (I obviously got a Safari) with us to a bonfire, were we discussed life by the roaring flames.

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The next morning we woke up before the sun rose in order to capture the best sunrise instagram possible. Mission accomplished. A gigantic baobab with a gaping hole in it perched perfectly on a hill facing the sunset. Like damn, talk about perfection. The morning and afternoon drives were a lot more relaxed because we were not hectically shooting pictures, but rather taking our time appreciating the extraordinary animals in their element. I can not decide whether I like giraffes or elephants more. It's too tough. We left the park and headed to a Messai village for one of the weirdest interactions of my life. I do not really know how to comment on it, because the entire time I was unsure whether they were bullshitting us or not. I have spent a lot of time in African villages, and nothing compared to the Messai. All the men adorned red fabrics that wrapped around them like dresses while the women had similar outfits but longer, purple and were embellished with beaded necklaces. They were all slim and intimidatingly tall, which is apparently a stereotype of the Messai. Honestly, I feel like their beauty probably helped in their fight to secure their lifestyle. After a brief tour of the compound including mbuzi mtoto (baby goat)cuddling, we saw a man pick up a mbuzi kubwa (big goat) and take it away for slaughter. I don't know whether it was lucky or not, but they allowed us to watch the slaughter even though women in their culture are not allowed to see it. In order to keep the blood in-tact for a beverage, they suffocate the goat. Not going to get too graphic here, because it was one of the more nauseating experiences I've ever had, but they did prepare absolutely everything for consumption (the kids were fighting over the hooves and the ball-sack, no lie). They also took turns drinking the blood, unless they'd already had milk which apparently can't mix. Every now and then their leather belts which held clubs and machetes would ring and they would flip open a cellphone. Throughout the preparation, which understandably took hours, there was discussion about daily life: multi-marriage, lion killings, 10 hour circumcisions, the normal lunch-time topics. After eating more meat in an hour period than I have in the past year, I was feeling ready to leave. But first, they dressed us and performed songs and dances that we joined in. We left the village confused and in awe of their lives. The ride back to Iringa was a lot quieter than the ride there, as we were all extremely exhausted.

Neema was fully reserved for the night, so we went to Alizeti hostel, which was very similar to my hostel experience in New Zealand. Lots of mzungos. It was an awesome social scene where I got to chat to Peace Corps members about their service and we played Cards Against Humanity with beers from the pre-stocked fridge. We woke up the next time, happy and ready to return home. The bus ride was a slight nightmare, arriving two hours late, and included a child's exorcism. But overall, wonderful weekend. Iringa and Ruaha, you showed us a good time.

Julia Bridgforth