Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Field Report: First week of East Africa 2015 -- Arusha

   I apologize for interrupting the blogging about about the Guinea project. I'll try to squeeze that in somewhere. But in the mean time, I'm out in the field!

Previously: So my primary goal for this trip is to reach the Hadza People, hunter gatherers in central Tanzania (Singida). My primary contact with this is a certain Dr K we shall call him, who works with them in some capacity. Previous to coming out here I'd checked in with him every few months, and in July before buying my tickets I called for final confirmation that I'd be able to visit them at this time and all, and he said "oh call back in mid september," which was frustrating since I was aiming to begin the project in late September, so I just went ahead and booked the ticket (and started developing fallback plans). In mid September I called again and he said "Call when you get to Nairobi," and I of course pressed him "everything is ready for my visit right??" and he vaguely assured me it was.

Days 0: Monday, October 5th - Arrived in Nairobi, called Dr K and told him I expected to be in Singida "Thursday or Friday." Hotel I booked (as usual, using tripadvisor on my phone on the way to the airport) turned out to be kind of dumpy, water didn't work at all in the first room they put me in, which was also tiny, but then I was able to convince them after the first day to upgrade me to a better one at the same price.

But the hotel did have this sweet roof area

   Had good times in Nairobi seeing friends. Was going to take the bus to Tanzania on Wednesday but ended up having to push that till Thursday. Thursday (yesterday) mornign I caught the bus at 06:45 in the morning. Sat next to a young lady from Buenos Aires who has been working for Air B&B in Barcelona. She revealed that apparently Uber (the app based taxi service) works just fine in Nairobi and she's been using it to get about! Also she said she uses tinder to find other traveling expats in the area, which was a startling revelation to our other seatmate (a Pole living and working in Dublin), but it just cracked me up because I had already noticed this use of tinder. I forget did I write about my tinder contact from Guinea?
Tangental Aside: In brief: in Conakry, Guinea, the only people on tinder were medical volunteers in Freetown, Sierra Leone, some 80 miles away. This one girl I talked to a little, and then after I got home to California she was like "was that you??" and I was like "when?" and she was like "that charming lanky gentleman on my flight into Atlanta who got pulled over at the CDC checkpoint and was headed to California" Turns out we "met" while 80 miles apart in West Africa and then happened to sit next to eachother at ebola screening some 1,500 miles west in the Atlanta airport and didn't put it together until a few thousand miles later... /end tangental aside

Arusha - As we rolled into town I looked up hotels on TripAdvisor, narrowing it down to one that was $30 a night with relatively good reviews and one that was $47 with really rave reviews. Feeling a little guilty for not taking the cheapest option I went for the more expensive one. I'm not sure I trust a $30 hotel anyway.

   Arriving at the bus stop the shuttle bus driver indicated a taxi driver that he had somehow decided to recommend and said to me "use this man." I asked him how much it would be but the driver responded with poorly composed unrelated questions (basically "you here for Safari?" "nope" "first time in Arusha?" "nope"). Once we were underway he tried to push me to let him take me to "my [his] hotel," which I think would have been $12 a night, but I had all too good idea of what kind of quality I might find at some $12 hotel being pushed by a stodgy taxi driver and just kept repeating "Mvuli Hotel" every time he brought it up. He didn't seem to know where the Mvuli Hotel was so I told him the address as found on trip advisor and watched the handy "distance" indicator to make sure we were steadily heading towards it (see all the fun advantages to having data connection! (my phone wasn't working in Kenya even though it should have).

   Arriving at the hotel he told me "50,000" ($25), which I told him "no way, I'll give you 25,000" He countered with 35,000, and I said "I'll be right back and trotted up to the hotel lobby. After I explained the disagreemenet the manager came out to talk to him ... and ended up paying him 20,000.

   Then I went to check in and someone brought me a nice cold glass of fresh fruit juice as I was filling out the form. I kind of liked that they didn't ask if I had a reservation or anything, just acted like they were magically expecting me all along, led me up to my room without even asking what kind of room I wanted. After the stress of dealing with a shady taxi driver this kind of "voila" service felt so nice. Room was beautiful nad clean with a balcony overlooking a banana plantation. As the girl who'd showed me to the room asked if I had any questions as she turned to go I asked how much it was, afraid a room this nice would be more than the price listed on TripAdvisor, and she said "$52" which is certainly close enough.

   Also I told the front desk I planned to continue by bus to Singida the next day and asked if they could help me book it. They said yes they would book it for me, and an hour or so later they called up to me in my room to say that they'd booked me a ticket, the driver would take me from the hotel at 5am and so they'd have a breakfast packed for me. Ticket would be 18,000 -- it would cost less to get to a city several hours away than I had paid the taxi driver to get here from the bus stop! They also asked for the number for my contact in Singida so they could call him to tell him I was coming. In summary, this is what I'd call five star service, from a $50 hotel! I am quite pleased with my hotel selection.

   As it happens I had already called my contact. Dr K, whom you'll recall I had informed of my arrival most recently just days ago, seemed entirely surprised when I informed him I'd be arriving the next day and said "oh.. I'm leaving tomorrow for Arusha, then I am to visit some Maasai and will return on Sunday." the line cut out before I could ask if we could meet up here or if he'd at least give me a ride back down to Singida. But as this happened immediately prior to the hotel calling up to tell me they'd bought the ticket I had to go down there and say "sooo about that"

   Suffice to say I wasn't terribly pleased with Dr K yesterday. He knew what day I was coming long in advance, if he couldn't be there he could have told me and I could have planned accordingly to not have four random days in Arusha. This is why I planned a month for a week long project though -- I know how these things go (#ThisIsAfrica)

   I had also developed three fallback plans in preparation for this one completely falling through and fallback plans 1 and 2 falling through as well...

Day 5: Friday, October 9th (today) - Went down to the front desk to ask what kind of day trip things there are to do around here, they listed several interesting things such as a "snake park," museum, and a waterfall one can hike to (I've jokingly remarked before that the purpose of traveling is to see waterfalls). I emailed my friend Simon in the nearby town of Moshi and he got back to me as well with some local events. My friend Krysten, an American who works with some people in a village near the Serengeti on a beekeeping cooperative, and is the one who originally talked me into this project, was also very helpful in giving me contacts of people she knows who can help me get around. In Africa your social network is really a lifeline.

   I also learned today that my project in Nicaragua in November has to be postponed several months -- Nicaragua has this daft idea to build a canal to compete with the Panama, it's being pushed by some Chinese engineering company, and to do this they nationalized a large amount of land, which has lead to a great deal of unrest.
   As a result though, I no longer have to be back in California at the beginning of November, so I'm thinking of trying to hit all three of my fallback plan sites: (1) "Krysten's village near the Serengeti, to get to which I'll have to travel through bothe Ngorongoro National Park as well as the Serengeti, so that should be really interesting! (2) Pemba Island, the smaller of the two main islands of Zanzibar, where the local beekeeping cooperative has been very communicative and inviting; (3) Uganda, where a beekeeping development organization had reached out to me for assistance.

   Today after breakfast (complimentary in the hotel restaurant of course) I called Dr K again, to see if he wanted to meet up in Arusha and ask if he could give me a ride to Singida with him on Sunday, but it cut out just after he said "oh I'm not headed to Arusha right now there's been an accident and one of my assistants was involved..." leaving me now entirely unsure if he'd even be ready for me on Sunday ::bangs head against wall::

   Shortly later they called up from the front desk asking if I was still going on Sunday, if they should reschedule the ticket or try to get my money back (which btw they haven't had me hand them any money for it yet. Presumably quietly adding it to my tab, which is nice actually, not having to constantly shuffle money), so I called Dr K one more time crossing my fingers and this time got out of him that he will indeed be making a transit from Arusha to Singida on Sunday and can drive me.

   I ran downstairs to tell them, and then since they were just about to drive some other guests into town (town center is just like a mile or two away), I grabbed my camera and hopped in as well. I opted to go to the historical museum, which was pretty neat. I kept reading about the "boma" (fort) the Germans built in the early 1900s and was wondering where it was until it finally dawned on me that the museum itself was the Boma. Sounds like the German colonials were much more disliked than the British who replaced them after WWI. Museum also had a very nice ecology exhibition with really good photos of a very wide variety of local wildlife, almost all by this one Swedish zoologist Dick Persson, who had certainly amassed quite the collection of good pictures of all kinds of local animals it seems. I particularly liked that insects had not been neglected -- all too often local insect life is completely left off from nature guidebooks.

   After this I was standing in the entryway squinting at tripadvisor on my phone to try to find a good place to eat nearby when the museum receptionist came by and asked me how I was, when I mentioned I was looking for someplace to eat she immediately directed me around the corner of the Boma. I found a cute little outdoor restaurant there in the shade of banana trees and the "piri piri beef" (spicy beef) I had was absolutely delicious.


[wrote the above, but then the internet never came back yesterday]

Day 6: Saturday, October 10th (today) - Went hiking up to a neat waterfall in the morning and after that went to sort of little reptile zoo with local large reptiles, inlcuding two types of large monitor lizard, two types of crocodile (Nile and narrow snouted (the latter an endangered species of Lake Tanganyika)), and a whole bunch of snakes (it's called the Snake Park after all), including some very large pythons. I thought pythons eating people was an urban legend but they said it was well documented and had several pictures of pythons with large human shaped lumps in them.

   Just talked to Dr K on the phone and tomorrow at 11 he should be here to pick me up!

Tags: africa, agdev, field reports, from the field, kenya, tanzania, travel, travelogues

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