Local travelers experience African safari
Lions, elephants and cheetahs, oh my.
Some local travelers recently got up close and personal with animals most people can only see at a zoo.
Carol Anderson of Perham and Ron and Jewel Wacker of New York Mills just returned from a two-week excursion to Tanzania in eastern Africa.
The group got the idea to take the unique trip from Anderson, who had previously visited Tanzania, and had lived in the country for five months in 2003 following her retirement.
At a Jane Goodall conference, Anderson met Fadhili Mwanga, an independent tour guide and contractor with Nomad Safaris. The group used Mwanga for their most trip.
"He's an amazing guide," Jewel said.
The group started planning and making arrangements for the trip as far back as April. The process of getting the necessary shots to take a trip to a country like Tanzania was a very long - and expensive - one.
"We're still not done with all the shots we need," Ron said. "We won't be finished until June."
The shots and pills protect against diseases such as yellow fever, hepatitis A and B and malaria. Shots alone cost about $1,200 per person, Ron said.
Though Anderson had already traveled to Tanzania, Ron and Jewel had not.
"I had wanted to go to Africa for a long time," Jewel said.
"It's something different - we didn't really know what to expect going there," Ron added.
Getting to Tanzania is a long trip - the first leg was an eight-and-a-half hour flight form Minneapolis-St. Paul to Amsterdam, followed by a layover of two hours, then completed with another eight-hour flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania.
The jet lag following the trip, they said, was pretty intense.
"It's a nine-hour time difference," Jewel said. "So we'd be waking up at three or four in the morning and be ready to go."
Tanzania, being situated near the equator, also had an interesting effect that the party of Minnesotans wasn't use to: The sun would set and rise much quicker than back at home.
"It'll start setting at night, then all of a sudden it's gone," Jewel said. "And in the morning, it just shows up really quickly."
The trip was a mix of cultural activities with local tribes and safari excursions. Getting to interact with the tribes allowed the group to get to know the Tanzanian culture, Jewel said.
"People walk everywhere there," she said. "They're dressed to do it."
"There are people everywhere you go," Ron added. "Animals and people on the road all the time. Wild animals have the right of way."
Jewel observed that a lot of homes the group saw were made from cow manure, sticks and mud.
The climate of Tanzania is moderate, they said. Temperatures during the day were around 80-90 degrees, Ron said.
"The people there don't have to worry about 30 below winds, like we do," he added, laughing.
"The people there are very happy," Ron said. "Even though they probably don't own much."
Anderson said that she was particularly impressed with Tanzanian's sense of community.
The importance of schooling in the culture, Jewel said, was also an interesting observation.
Jewel, who sells jewelry for Cookie Lee Jewelry, brought some of her jewelry and distributed it to women in towns that the group visited.
The group also brought bouncy balls on the trip to give to an orphanage they visited.
Anderson described a trip the group took to visit with the Hadza Tribe, or bush people, of whom there are only about 1,000 left.
"They are people who are still trying to maintain the hunter-gatherer lifestyle," she said.
The group went hunting with the Hadza, using only homemade bows and arrows.
Anderson said it was a fascinating experience to be able to observe the tribal lifestyle.
"This is what's been going on for thousands of years," she said.
Then, there was the safari.
The group traveled to several different national parks, including Ngorongoro Crater National Park and the Serengeti National Park.
Anderson, who had been on safaris before, said that the safari on this particular trip probably could never be topped. The group saw up to 12 cheetahs, more than 50 lions, leopards, three rhinos ("To see a rhino is just something special," Anderson said.), hundreds of elephants and thousands of zebras, among many others.
The guide arranged the safaris and brought them around to where the animals were in the park.
Ron described hearing lions roaring near the camp at night, but being unable to see them. One morning, a lion killed a wildebeest, and the group was able to watch the pride feeding with binoculars.
To show just how close the animals would get to them during the safari, Jewel played a video from her phone of lions walking right next to the group's jeep.
Overall, the trip was one-of-a-kind, the group said.
"There's so much to what we did, and the things that we experienced," Jewel said.
Even after a unique trip and experiencing a different culture, though, "I'm glad to get back to our modern life," Anderson said.
The Wackers won't have much time to enjoy at home, though. In just a few weeks, Ron and Jewel will be hitting the road again - this time for an Italian cruise.