Aili & Paul do Tanzania.....
My partner Aili and I secured the services of Paul for a two week slice of Tanzania, complete with Safari experience. I have to admit at the time of sorting out my ticket on a whim, I wasn't really thinking too hard about what this trip may entail and I continued to not think until we were sat on a plane on the tarmac at Heathrow. Upon our arrival at Dar es Salaam airport it suddenly hit home (the precise moment, when I stepped into the baggage claim to be greeted by a seven foot tall poster warning of E-bola and Yellow Fever). I realised I had not booked a holiday to a wealthy white dominant tourist destination, I had booked an adventure to a country I was not only very naive about but a country where for the first time I was a minority.
It had never occurred to me that race would be an issue but suddenly being greeted by military looking officials with what seemed as a serious no smiling policy, I suddenly felt. . . not threatened, but maybe a little less sure of myself?
We were told to fill in visa cards and were ushered through the security posts and paid our fifty dollar cash only fee, for which I am still not sure of the purpose, and were greeted by a tall young man who asked where we came from and welcomed us to Tanzania in the most welcoming of manners. Initial culture shock over Aili and I spilled out into the airport to be greeted by our taxi driver which Paul had arranged for us and we made our way to our hotel for a sleep before setting off again on an internal flight to Iringa the following day.
Paul and his wife Hannah greeted us at Iringa airport and we began to ready ourselves for our two days in the bush!
After what was probably the bumpiest car journey known to man on a road that resembles an infinite crunchy bar with all the chocolate sucked off, our minds had already been prized open by the images along the way, children walking along the dangerous dusty red roads on their own, throwing rubbish under passing vehicles to watch it crunch and pop, cattle sauntering along without a farmer in site, endless half finished buildings made of found materials and stalls selling fruit and veg for the equivalent of about ten pence, that look like they had been put together that day out of whatever their owners could scrounge from the side of the road and in the bush. The economy of Tanzinia was seemingly comprised by people just trying to survive on a day to day basis.
My inner white middle class guilt was beginning to stir and I found it hard at times to aim my camera at these people where I had never had a problem taking shots of any human being before. For a short time I wrestled with myself as to whether I was taking advantage of their poverty for my own dramatic effect or whether I was innocently capturing the truths of a place I previously knew nothing about. In the end I decided I wanted to remember with clarity what I had seen and felt recording what was going to exist either way could not be a bad thing.
We arrived at Hannah's place of work Wildlife connection where she and a dedicated group of young Masai and other young Tanzanians help to mend the soured relationship between the locals and the Elephant population by the use of Beehive fences to stop Elephants ruining farmers crops also to raise awareness and educate the local villages in order to help conserve the Elephants. These young people were seemingly living in small ramshackle huts in the middle of the bush away from their families. One thing that struck me was the isolated feel of where we were due to the infinite horizon comprised of baobab trees and thorny looking bushes. Part of me wasn't sure if the impression I was getting was ignorant due to a lack of ever having seen such a place or if they really are out on a limb out here. Either way they were able to power their phones via solar power adapters and seemed engrossed in sending texts in between cooking us some rice and beans (of which I was looking forward to as it smelt incredible). I found the juxtaposition of tall young men wearing traditional Masai dress with machete's on their hips in such an arid setting playing with mobile phones almost a satirical commentary on technologies reach.
Paul took us to a nearby lodge on the side of a mountain/very large hill, where we parked ourselves on the veranda overlooking from high up the landscape that had previously seemed so all encompassing. Suddenly the sheer scale of what we had just been settled in became apparent and perched on the very end of the horizon was the most incredible gradient of colours I have ever seen, emanating from an otherworldly looking sun. If it is a cliché to appreciate a sunset then the word cliché needs re-defining. We drank some cold white wine and marveled at the fact we had seen a lifetime of sunsets all of which could not even come close. After we settled back down in camp and slept among the scorpions and extras from Starship Troopers.
The next couple of days were to be exhilarating off road (I say off road, because the road was bumpier that the brush), drives around Ruaha National Park. Paul and Hannah indulged AIli and I with as much information as we could stomach, upon our request of course, and at no point were we left feeling bored or un-stimulated. My initial thoughts of going on Safari would be a slow potter around bare expanses with the odd sighting. Quite the contrary, I think we barely went five minutes of the course of the entire two days where we weren't being educated, awe struck at the scenery or blown away by our guides ability to find and get close to the wildest of animals. I must have taken near on a thousand photos. We camped the first night in the bush and heard jackals just feet away, all safely under the watchful eyes and ears of Paul and Hannah.
We were in a dangerous place but at no point felt in peril. I could tell more about the experiences of these two days but I think it is best left to be experienced. Needles to say, it is one of the few life experiences that surpasses the expectation.
After the adventure of Ruaha we settled a night at Tandala, a beautiful lodge on stilts situated on the outskirts of Ruaha, were you can sit in a comfy leather armchair and sip a cold beer whilst watching baboons, Kudu's, Impalas and Elephants drink just feet away at a water hole. This mix of luxury and raw nature is a combination you won't find anywhere else along with John the owner who's accommodating eccentric nature was also a highlight. Aili and I fell asleep that night to the sounds of elephants hypnotically swaying through the bushes just outside our treetop tents, a surreal but poignant moment that will stand out in my mind as a highlight.
Paul was good enough to arrange for us to stay at the Red Monkey lodge on the Island of Zanzibar to wind down after all the adventure. Here Aili and I spend a leisurely week lying on the cocaine white sands and paddling looking for creatures in the sea. The perfect wind down from a holiday that really delivered it all. Arranged and executed with expert precision and personality by Mr Paul Tickner.
Rad pictures curtesy of Paul Phillips.
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