Ngorongoro Crater

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast after our visit with the Maasai before hitting the road to our next destination, the Ngorongoro Crater.

We ate lunch at the top, took some photos, watched the Instagram girls with their boyfriends and their posing and had ourselves a chuckle, then it was down,down,down into the crater.

My favourite memory of this day – and a lot of others – was standing up in the Land Cruiser with the hot sun blazing down on me as we raced through the wind down bumpy, dusty roads. The air felt different. I felt different. So relaxed and aware of everything. Absolutely brimming with life and attention. Both myself and my surroundings. Nothing but magic.

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We saw a rhino for afar. Well afar. Even our best camera was unable to get a photo but we were so excited! A rhino! The rarest of the rare! Even Grace was excited. She squealed and laughed right along with us. We had to squint through the binoculars to make out its shape but saw it we did. A real life Unicorn, I don’t care what anyone says. And then – this seriously happened!- we saw its mate! Across the road and a few miles up! Two! Two Rhinos/Unicorns! That really got our Grace going. She has such keen eyesight to spot anything in the tall grass, never mind a rhino. She quickly made a U-turn and drove up as close as she could along the road so we could get our look. It was still so far away rightfully wary and elusive. We took turns with binoculars and even managed to get photos!

My photo:

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Ha Ha.

And Monica’s photo:

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A much better shot!

Seeing a rhino at all, in the first place is the rarest gift. Being close enough to photograph one is like that, times a million. We were in awe and then immediately sobered because we all knew the reason for the rarity of this moment. There are thought to be only 11-15 black rhinos in the crater and between 5,042 and 5,458 of them in the world, due to poaching.

It was quickly closing up on 6pm so we had to skedaddle out of the crater. Tonight’s lodgings were at Sopa Lodge, a beautiful resort on the edge of the crater.

We all freshened up and then met up for a buffet dinner in the gigantic dining room. It was pretty good, something for everyone but the star of the show was their Chocolate Torte with Salted Caramel. Twas SO good, we suggested Kate go back up and bring us back whatever was left on the plate. She did, ha! After making sure there was another one for the rest of the guests. ( We’re not complete assholes 😉 ) I’ve been working hard at recreating it for home and need to make some tweaks but in the meantime it’s just, chocolate ganache in a graham crust, with a salted caramel glaze atop. It sounds so ordinary but there was just something about it…

After dinner we needed to be escorted back to our rooms by staff. Why? Well sometimes the buffalo like to come up to the rim and chase guests around. Ha. And in the warmer months, staff often find them splashing around in the pool 🙂 Veronica and I didn’t see one our walk back but Kate, Monica and Janet did. So cool!

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We drifted off to sleep excited for our next adventure, hiking, with an armed escort!

Now I Am Masaai.

Our stay at Arumeru River Lodge was pleasant enough. The grounds of the place are lovely, with the rooms being individual cottages, scattered throughout the gardens. Service was fine….capable for sure but honestly it was the only place where I felt unwelcome. Our hosts were mostly civil, mostly. Some of them were down right surly. That was a surprise and it was most unusual compared to our treatment everywhere else. The animals were sure cute though!

 

 

We only stayed the one night and then we were off in our trusty stead:

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Our first stop was The Maasai Crafts Market where we visited some women, had a wander through and of course, bought some things!

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Grace and our new friend, just AFTER they were dancing and being silly. This woman was THE BEST! She has such a fun sense of humour and we just loved her.

I bought three pairs of earings, a necklace, two bracelets and some gemstones. It was really fun to engage with the ladies and playfully bargain back and forth. Crafy, crafty business women, these gals! I usually HATE doing that but I don’t know…these women were just a pure delight. I was all TAKE MY MONEY. The lady I bought a pair of carved giraffe earings from said “Now you are Maasai!“ and my silly heart went SQUEE.

We drove on further to visit another shop-The Tanzanite Experience-and holy crap! What a capitalistic delight that was. I had planned to buy a piece of Tanzanite jewellery but the prices at this place put me right off. A total tourist trap, which is fine. People gotta live! I did enjoy a wander through and they had lots of other things. I would have liked to rent a shipping container to bring it all home.

We were supposed to be visiting somewhere else but for some reason or another-we were never told why – plans changed so we visited these places instead, chosen for us based on our interests. It was all good! I know other people have complained that they were taken to places just to shop and then their guide got kick backs, that wasn’t happening here. I wanted to clarify that! Our trip was so jam-packed that if a person didn’t plan to stay an extra day, they wouldn’t have had a chance to pick up any souvenirs. We were all willing and appreciative that we had the chance.

We ate the first of our boxed lunches under some acacia trees. These lunches are a thing of beauty. Packed full of yum, they vary depending on who made them but it was always so fun to open up our boxes and marvel at what was inside. I didn’t take photos-this was before I developed an affection for them-but I do remember we enjoyed :a chicken drumstick, a hard-boiled egg, a jam sandwich, a juice box, two pieces of fruit, a package of cookies and a chocolate bar!

After lunch, Lake Manyara National Park!

 

 

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We were excited enough seeing the damn baboons, the elephants rendered us speechless. And teary. They have special meaning to me personally, but it was more than that. I felt so lucky to be in their presence while they calmly ate leaves and moved about the forest. I felt happy they were alive and well and not in a zoo. I felt humble and small and insignificant. I felt angry at humans and how we fuck things up for other beings.

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Do you see the lion?

 

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Zebra. These things are everywhere. So cool.

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Warthogs! See them kneeling to eat?

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Eagle

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Look at its little fists!

And then this happened:

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It seemed SO deliberate and SO cheeky that we all just roared with laughter. “Ladies…“

We left Lake Manyara feeling silly, happy and content. We drove to our next new home, silent and absorbing, thinking about the day. It was good to share such things with like-minded people who appreciated it all with the same reverence.

 

New Wrinkles in Tanzania.

Let’s continue with our Tales of Tanzania!

The whole point of why I was in Tanzania was because I had bought and paid for a guided trip with Wild Women Expeditions. I’d done this once before, in Peru, when I hiked the Inca Trail. Wild Women Expedition is a travel company catering to women (ALL women) and it really gave me ease and comfort in travelling alone, back in the day when I was SO afraid to do so. This time, I wasn’t afraid but knew from experience that I’d meet the coolest people and have a great trip. I was not disappointed!

After leaving the great care and hospitality of Korona House, I made my way to the Arumeru River Lodge to meet the ladies. Wow! What a group! We gelled pretty much instantly and made a tight group of five. I wish I could explain how effortless it was and maybe it was just me, but it was like we’d known each other and travelled together for years. How does that even happen?! It was the first magical event of the trip.

Who are we? Myself, my roommate Veronica, Monica, Janet and Kate.  More on them later. They deserve their own post.

Our guide was an amazing woman named Grace. Now here’s the thing about guides in Tanzania. There are around 400 guides in the place. Of those 400 guides, 10 are female. 10! In a climate like that, how many of those women get a chance to be lead guides? Not very many! Pretty much never, although we couldn’t be 100% sure. The fact of the matter is, its unheard of. Our group was making history in Tanzania, with Grace as our guide! And the fuss we made…the reactions we got…well that was a WHOLE thing!

Our first event was a trip to the village of Mulala on the slopes of Mt. Meru, to visit the Agape Women group and experience one of their cultural programs.

What a hoot! We were greeted by Mama Anna and there was much dancing, singing and carrying on. My face hurt from smiling and laughing. I came home with new laugh lines and this was the day that started them off!

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I am in love with this building .That colour! It housed a small gift shop and the cheese house. They are also adding on guest rooms so one can stay in the village for a total immersive experience.

 

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Carrots

 

After tea and an introduction to the program we went on a nice walk through the village. It was carrot season and that top picture is a field full of carrots. It stretched up the slopes of Mt. Meru and there were many, many more like them. They were also planting green beans and corn!

The amount of work that goes into farming like that…I was in awe. Much respect. I know my own little garden is hard enough, I can’t imagine growing on that scale, on hills and having to lug water, tools and if you’re lucky, the harvest up and down and then on to market. WOW!

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Beans

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Corn

 

 

 

See that stuff on the left? Justin ,Mama Anna’s son-told us it was like marijuana but not actually. It only looked like it.  He said if you crushed the leaves-just a small bit!-and gave it a sniff, it could be used to treat headaches. So of course we all had to try that! It was really neat! The smell was most appealing, sorta minty…and it went straight up your nose, ha ha, it was like smelling eucalyptus or something, not skunky like actual weed.  Veronica said it did indeed cure her headache. I loved the smell so much I wanted to keep stuffing it up my nose. Justin cautioned us that too much would make us dizzy and want to lie down and sleep!

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I do aim to try to figure out WHAT that stuff was though. It smelled SO good. From photos it looks like it might be Artemisia herba-alba- White Wormwood. It sure does look like Cannabis Sativa…I don’t know. It’s a bit thin and leggy, maybe its the third kind of cannabis. ANYWAY. This is taking me down a rabbit hole and you can be sure I’ll have an answer for you at some point! If YOU have an answer for me, please share. It was neat stuff.

After our walk along a narrow dirt path-where were learned about the elders and other plants and fences and magic words and had our own little parade of cute kids amongst all that green and flowers of every imaginable kind-we found ourselves back at Mamma Anna’s for lunch. A traditional lunch!

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I am ALL about the food.

 

Oh my, what a feast! On my plate is the lovely kale and onion dish I so enjoyed at Korona House, rice with potatoes, dried and rehydrated peas cooked in pounded maize, beef stew with peppers and a rich, peppery gravy and the biggest, bestest, giantest French fries. I have no clue what they were coated in but they were delicious. Watch for them here soon as I try to recreate them.

We also enjoyed some smoked gouda, as made by the Agape Women Group, watermelon and tea and coffee. (The tea also deserves a whole other post.)

After lunch, we got to see how coffee is harvested, roasted and ground by hand!

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The grinding.

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Amazing Grace with the end result.

The amount of work that goes into this stuff!? WOW! First they have to pick the beans which are just tiny little berries. Then they dry them in the sun, then there are different layers of dried skin they have to get off, then it’s roasted over a fire, in a pot, then they pound it by hand into a powder. I have a bag I bought from their gift shop but I almost don’t want to use it! I will but still…every sip is a sip to be grateful for.

 

Grace grew up in a village not far from Mulala and she spent her days doing this very thing! No wonder she was such a natural! We all had our turns, it was hard work but so fun to give it a try!

We learned about cheese making-Sorry. I stopped taking photos because I was so immersed in the experience and visited their gift shop and then it was time to go home. It was an exhausting day! But the best kind. The kind of exhausting that tires you out and leaves you feeling happy and content. The kind of day that had I been forced to go home, right then, I would have felt happy and totally satisfied with my Tanzanian experience. Can you imagine? And we hadn’t even seen animals yet! That comes next!

 

 

 

Chickakoo Lake – September 2,2018

I know that the calendar says, Autumn is on her way but Nature says, she’s already here! The signs are everywhere. In some places you have to look carefully, and in others Fall shouts out at you. At Chickakoo Lake on Saturday, things were subtle. The tops 3/4 of the forest are lush and green but thinning. The leaves at the floor are starting to put on a pretty show. Soon the whole place will be ablaze in colour.

I adore Chickakoo Lake, there is a nice network of trails for every mood and level, fire pits and picnic tables, benches and little hidey holes. You can hike, huff and puff on your bike or even ride your horse. It’s the one place close to Edmonton I happily return to again and again. I never get bored with the place. Its different every time and always a joy.

 

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