June 30, 2012

Our Adventure: Tanzania 2012

Day 5    6/13/12

We woke up snuggling our hot water bottles this morning :)  They were laying in our beds filled with super hot water when we came in last night (we're at a really high altitude and it gets quite chilly at night, it was nice to have a warm bed to get into!)  We had a pleasant breakfast of fried eggs, bacon and fresh fruit before our morning devotions, then we headed out for a game drive.
First we went to lake Manyara.

We saw a ton of baboons - and lots of baby ones!  We also got pretty close to some elephants, saw lots of impala, some giraffes, warthogs, dik-diks, jackals & hippos.
 Blue Monkeys                                                           Baby Baboons

We had a picnic lunch at a pretty overlook before heading to Tarangire.
We got to Tarangire around 2pm and checked in.  Oh. My. Gosh.  The tents all overlook the amazing plains and you can see the elephants & giraffes and everything right from the front door of the tent!

AND there are fields behind us! We saw some dik-diks & gazelles back there... and some 'evidence' (we'll call it) of elephants!  There aren't any fences or anything - the animals roam freely.  The only thing separating us from the animals was our tent - and the armed guards! So we settled in for a little while and a few people took a quick dip in the pool - I didn't because of Owen's whole water-scares-the-heebie-jeebies-out-of-him thing he's going through right now.  We headed out for a sunset game drive around 4pm.  Right away we saw two lionesses laying under a tree with 4 little lion cubs!
They were SO cute!  It was the first time we'd seen lion cubs and they were playful and adorable!  Kind of a bummer they were about 15 yards away, but it was neat to see them nonetheless.  We also saw more elephants, pretty close up, some giraffes, zebras, lots of impalas, a really big monitor lizzard, a huge herd of buffalo, baboons, birds, a jackal, dik-diks, water buck, an African fishing eagle, blue monkeys, a ton of storks and an awesome, awesome sunset.
It started out this yellow-orange color and turned to this amazing pink and purple sky-painting.  How amazing it was to see God's artistry!

When we got back it was dinnertime.  I ordered the vegetable mussaka with green beans, sweet potatoes and rice.  It was pretty much amazing.  Seriously, SO good.  Dessert was chocolate cake, it wasn't bad, not like the chocolate cake in the states though.  the waitstaff were all 'oohing' and 'aahhhing' over Owen the entire time.  It was cute. It's been so neat to see him interact with everyone.  He makes friends everywhere we go.  He's gotten to like our driver, Eric, a lot.  He was whining and lunging for him today during the drive & Eric (who's equally enamored with Owen) kept telling me, "Just let him come," (meaning let him come up and sit on his lap while he drove).  I finally let Owen go up front and he helped Eric drive for about 5 minutes.
He thought that was pretty cool.  He likes the other driver Kasey a lot too - he was showing him how to read the maps when we first got to Tarangire. :)

I've really enjoyed getting to know the team better on safari.  We kind of have to since we're in a car with each other for a good 8 hours a day, there's no escaping!  I feel like I connected with Taylor a lot - she's a really sweet girl, very mature for her age.  She's just getting into photography so it was fun to connect with her on that.  I feel like I got close to Marilyn pretty quick too - we seemed to click really well.  I'm sure the fact that we're both moms, teachers and have hearts for Africa helped :) I'm kinda bummed she's going to be living in Texas because I think we could be good friends.  I'm also hoping that Aimee & I don't loose touch once we get back.  Spending so much time with them has reminded me how much we all have in common and how fun it is to hang out with them :)

June 28, 2012

Our Adventure: Tanzania 2012

Day 4      6/12/12

We left the lodge before the crack of dawn today so we could get to the crater early.  Before we left we had fried eggs, toast with local honey and crepes for breakfast.
The drive to the crater was a couple of hours and pitch black.  Once the sun started coming out we saw some great scenery with the crater ridge and the fog/clouds rolling in low.

Driving through the crater was Ah. Maz. Ing. 
Words can't even begin to describe & pictures hardly do it justice.  The ecosystem down there is so lush and self-sustaining. 
It's really amazing.  I liked seeing O react to some of the animals.  He tried really hard to say zebra when we saw them and I told him what they were.  Then a couple lionesses walked right next to our jeep.  I totally could have reached out and touched them...
and I really really wanted to!  And.  When the first one walked by, Owen growled at it!  It was so stinkin' cute and everyone in the car had to stifle their laughter as to not spook the kitties. :)
So here's what we saw:
 Flamingos (that's the pink/white you see on the horizon - thousands!!)
Antelope, Buffalo, Ostrich and Jackals (not pictured)
Black Rhinos (can you see 'em? They're really rare to see on a game drive!)
Lionesses - lots! Even a pregnant one - and we saw one climb a tree!

Black Faced Monkeys (also called blue-balled monkeys... for, er, obvious reasons)
A few misc. large birds
And a cheetah -
this sweet kitty was lying right by the side of the road, dying.  :(  It was so neat to see a cheetah so close, but so heartbreaking to see it in the condition it was in. Eric (our driver) called it into the game warden and we're hoping she got taken care of and recovered. 

The drive was so much fun.  We saw SO many animals, had a picnic and got to get out and walk around! (And there were NO fences or anything)  We climbed a neat looking tree and saw some breath-taking vistas on the way back up the crater. 

I feel like God told me today - as I observed all those animals just being - being still, living in the moment - that sometimes I need to do that too.  Just. Be.

Around 3pm we headed to the next lodge - which I thought we'd never get to.  The Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge is un-be-lievable.  It's like a 5-star experience.  The tents are walk-in-style, have plumbing, electricity and a porch with a view you wouldn't believe. 

The lodge is amazing.  The food is 5-star. 
The landscaping is beautiful.

And the best part?  The lodge supports the Rhotia Valley Childrens' Home and it employs people from the (very poor) village of Rhotia. 
The childrens' home houses 35 kids ages 5-16,

including Marry.
She was found on the side of the road three years ago.  She was six years old, and weighed only 9 kilos (19lbs - Owen weighs 23 right now!), she was eating sand.  They rescued her and she's happy and healthy now.  And though she has some developmental delays and some physical signs of delay, you can see the joy on her face and she is full of life.  She wouldn't even hold still long enough for me to take her picture, that's how excited she was to see us! 
The owners took us through the home and showed us around. 
I can't believe how self-sufficient it is.  They use solar power not only for lighting but for heating water.  They make their own methane gas, have their own cows for milk, chickens for meat/eggs, their own garden, and even their own bakery that sells bread in the markets - bringing in even more funds for the home. 
The owners both have medical degrees, so they are able to take care of the kids.  The kids go the local school, which isn't a good one.  During the entire school day they may get two lessons, then they are just expected to sit there the rest of the day.  If they move or misbehave they are beaten.  For the close to 400 kids at the school there are only three teachers.  THREE.  So the kids at the home get extra help and lessons taught by missionaries that visit, or local Tanzanians on Saturdays and after school. 

This place is awesome.  I really felt bad at first for staying at this lodge (even though it was out of our hands, the Safari Co. chose it).  But then I felt like God was telling me two things - 1) Accept it.  Enjoy it.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Missionaries don't always have to sleep in mud-huts and tents, take this opportunity to bask in My presence and be thankful.  And 2) If you weren't staying here, that childrens' home wouldn't be getting funds.  You are blessing them by your stay here. 

So major props to the Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge/Childrens' Home - it is an amazing place that strives for excellence.  The owners are awesome and have big hearts, humble spirits and welcoming smiles.  I would go there again in a heartbeat!

Even as I proof-read this before publishing the blog, I'm seeing that I wasn't really listening to God.  I heard him tell me JUST BE during the game drive, but when we got to the lodge I was so concerned about being a missionary 'living in luxury' that I wasn't obeying the words God spoke to me just hours ago that day.  He wanted me to Just. Be.  I love looking back and seeing how God works :)