Untethered Monkeys

And The Monkey Learned Nothing by Tom Lutz is a quick little read, full of travel vignettes. Each story is highly different from the last and not at all typical. A lot of these tales really stuck with me, and got me thinking. I felt a whole range of emotions and books that do that to me get a high five 🙂 A good read.

I read Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer in a day. I can’t say I loved it but I kept reading to find out what the heck happened in the end, so there’s that! The characters were unlikable in my eyes but the story carried me along and I really like what the author was trying to convey. I really liked that a horrible practice was brought to light. The ending was brief and a little too pat. That’s always so disappointing. But I’ll survive, I’m sure 🙂 Not a horrible read.

Three books down in February, no idea how many more to go! I’m craving something that makes me love it. Something that I’m eager and excited to read. Will have to check my holds list and see what I can stir up!

Happy Reading!

Maasai Village Sleepover

Our walk through the Maasai Village led us further afield over a narrow path to the top of a small slope. Below us was our home for the night, staying within the protective walls of our host family.

Now full. disclosure. This is something I would NEVER normally do. Had it been an advertised part of my trip I would have not booked the trip. Seriously. To me, the whole idea of visiting a village like this is not unlike a human zoo and I have a major problem with that. Also, I’m an introvert. I am hugely uncomfortable with forced interactions with humans. This whole thing wasn’t supposed to be part of our tour but it was changed at the last minute for reasons unknown to us. We decided as a group to just trust and go with the flow, which is what we did. Our last experience in a village was respectful so we were expecting (and trusting) that this one would be the same but we ALL had ethical questions running through our minds about the whole thing.

The elder whom was hosting us, introduced us to his family. One wife and five children! It was the one wife part that was unusual. In the first village the wives were surprised that we didn’t share one husband and here we were, surprised that this gent had but one wife 🙂 

We settled in with a hot drink…

And were then invited to watch them kill and process a lamb, in honour of …us. 

We’d been offered this before and politely declined this but something must have been lost in translation. A lot of us were vegetarians and the rest, very sensitive people ,  so things got tense in our little tent! But our voices were heard -kind of- and we were led up the hill out of earshot while the goat was slaughtered.

Fuck!  

Whilst on the hill, we stood around listening to the sounds of the cows and lucky goats. Every herd has a different bell so that each community member can tell by sound, who’s livestock belong to whom! I thought that was interesting and clever. The animals were like music 🙂


Once the coast was clear, so to speak, we were invited to come back and visit a lady who had just had a baby. Our guide suggested this to us and we actually refused at first because…. holy crap! She JUST had a baby. That felt so intrusive! The opposite of what we were going for. Elijah pressed and pressed then went and asked her because we would not go without her permission, and having gotten it, he led us to her home.

We ended up having to crouch and turn sideways to get into the new mum’s boma. That’s how narrow the passageway was. It was jet black inside and smoky as fuck. I started to panic and withdrew from the line of ladies all holding hands. They went in without me. They later said they couldn’t see much because they couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces. And this Maasai woman had had her baby in there! Wow. Much respect.

While they were in the boma, I was surrounded by a huge group of kids. Another lady had decided to stay back so I wasn’t alone, and she was not having a time. A large group of kids can be very overwhelming. I was grateful for her company, because what happened next was really upsetting for BOTH of us.

In my past life I was a special needs teacher. I’m comfortable around kids, large groups of kids so I just put on my teacher hat and went to work. It was all great fun! The kids were full of laughs and then they started asking us for stuff, which we didn’t have- nor would have given anyway- Then, they got grabby. Going so far as to poke around in our pockets looking for treats and when it was clear there was nothing for them, they became angry and the whole mood changed.

We turned to one another and with a nod, walked away. The change was so quick and it was made very clear that tourist visits were having a negative effect on those kids. We were doing harm. However unintentional, our visit to their home was doing harm. The exact thing we feared. 

Our evening was spent with the rest of ladies talking about ethics and impact, how begging culture begets dependency, in between learning how meat is roasted over an open fire and a song and dance performance, where I am proud to say I have been told I have a beautiful singing voice, ha ha.  

We tried to enjoy our evening but found we just couldn’t. The whole thing felt wrong. Where else was the negative impact of tourism being felt? How else were we harming? 

I believe strongly in ethical, sustainable tourism that empowers and improves the lives of locals. I do. And I really feel its not up to me to decide what that looks like. Or what is right and what is wrong, for other people who invite people into their lives so graciously. So I’m really conflicted about all of this. I just know that I have to live by my moral compass and its screaming at me about the whole thing. Even months later.

I hear some changes have been made to the tour so as to have less of an impact, and that’s really positive. Time will tell. The whole experience was an eye opener.

We woke up the next morning and took our leave, feeling humbled by the generosity of the people who’d hosted us and eager to start our next adventure. 


Olmoti Crater

We left Sopa Lodge and drove to the Nainokanoka Ranger Station…



where we met our ranger and then made our way up a short but steep hill…

Yes, that is a rather large gun our ranger is carrying…it was purely for show. Don’t get me wrong, its loaded. Its just that we were never approached by any creature -human or otherwise- that required force.


until we reached the top, overlooking Olmoti Crater.

It was one hard hike up! We were at 3000feet and boy oh boy, my body felt every foot of it. I wasn’t alone in that, we all suffered. Those who had never been at altitude wondered why they were so out of shape but I knew it had nothing to do that nonsense. It felt good to hike and be so bloody winded and just accept it for what it was. When I hiked the Inka trail I really struggled, not just with the altitude but with the truth of the altitude, blaming myself, blaming my fitness level instead. Why are we so quick to fall into self hatred? I was grateful for another opportunity to show myself that it was all OK 🙂 

 We sat on top of the edge of the crater and chatted with our Ranger and our very own Maasai Warrior, enjoying the views, asking them questions. I felt so grateful for them, for the conservation work they do. It felt so good to thank them both for their efforts, to show my appreciation for them. They really care about the job that they do and are absolutely dedicated to it. They have my highest respect.

We practically skipped back down the hill to have lunch at the ranger station:

Lunch from Sopa Lodge was amazing. A full container of roast beef plus fruit and an egg and chocolate and the best.hot.sauce ever! Oh! We even had chips, yum! 

After lunch we hiked through the Maasai village, meeting people along the way, waving at our warrior’s mum as we passed by his house :), stopping to chat with people and take pictures…it was so peaceful and interesting. People were super friendly and curious about us too, even taking time to teach us some basic phrases (which we butchered horribly much to their delight, ha!) 

The plans for the night? Overnight in the village, with a host family 🙂 That experience requires its own telling…it was quite a thing! 

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!

Isoitok Camp- Tanzania

We bumped along a dusty road heading toward the hills, passing by the occasional Maasai boma and groups of women and children. Smiles and two-handed waves all around. When the little girls we passed saw that we were a Land Cruiser full of women being driven by a woman, their faces lit up and their welcome was even more enthusiastic.

You could feel their surprise and delight. It was a tangible thing!

Would any of them grow up to be like Grace and break from their restrictive social norms?  Was Grace inspiring them to go their own way and chose for themselves, a different life?

Seeing their faces really brought home the full scope of the importance of what Grace was doing, just by being herself and doing what she loved. So.fucking.cool! And truly, a nice way to end the day. All day long our Grace had been shrugging off questions and dirty looks about what she was doing out ”there” with us, away from her family. “Who’s looking after your kids?!” ” What does your husband think of this?” It must have been so stressful for her. Yet she answered all queries in her quiet way and didn’t seem ruffled one bit. If I’d had to endure the stares and glares and questions and lectures the way she did…I probably wouldn’t have been so nice. DSC07500

 

Isoitok Camp was unassuming from the outside. Completely fenced within a perimeter of acacia thorns was the most interesting place!

Isoitok means many stones and so stones are used liberally throughout the camp to form pathways and other much more interesting structures to honour that. It was so interesting and pleasing to the eye. We were greeted and seated and offered juice and hot towels while our genial host told us all we needed to know about our new home.

 

Isoitok Camp has a partnership with the Maasai communities surrounding the camp through its African Roots Foundation. How cool is that?! They use the foundation as a platform to run small-scale, sustainable projects that seek to help improve the daily life of the communities surrounding the camp.

We freshened up and met back at the main tent to watch the evening show which for us that night consisted of watching the sun set , accompanied by the soothing sound of cow bells as the Maasai led their cattle back home for the night. When people say “More cow bell” I think of something else entirely now 🙂

Dinner was bloody fantastic!

Avocado Salad & Stuffed Eggplant, Chicken stuffed w/ veg then battered and fried, Stuffed tomato to mimic the chicken, only the tomato was roasted and all caramelized , Vegetable Gratin and Cheesecake for dessert!

We sat under the stars and enjoyed a fire until bed. Bed being real beds in canvass tents. So cool!

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We were up early the next morning to visit a Maasai family but first…

 

 

Coffee on my porch!

We spent the morning with a lovely family and were formally introduced to Maasai culture.

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Reuben leading the way.

We visited with one of the wives in her boma and had fun asking questions and answering hers in return about our daily life. She was so open and welcoming to us, interested in our lives as we were hers. Of course we all admired her children, an older daughter – about 5 or 6 – and a baby girl, probably about one years old, who was the most beautiful child I’d ever seen in my life. She had the brightest eyes and the longest eyelashes. She made us all gasp with astonishment. We were welcomed to take photos and we took some from a distance but it still felt wrong, so we refrained from close-ups. (That subject is a whole other post!) But we didn’t have any problems cuddling her when her mum plopped her in our laps 🙂

 

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It was an interesting experience. We were welcomed and the people we met were friendly and engaging. The money that comes from cultural tours help improve the lives of those in the community.

The idea of cultural tourism opened up questions for us about responsible tourism. This was a mild, gentle reciprocal experience. It felt respectful but we were still questioning ourselves and thinking about how tourism has an impact on the world around us…unknown to us at the time, even bigger questions, from an even bigger experience were just around the corner.

Up next, *Ngorongoro Crater.

( I totally spelled Ngorongoro right from memory. Go me! I’m so proud. )

 

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!