Today’s highlight occurred right after we broke camp this morning. We were retracing our drive all the way back to Karatu, our starting point where we met John Mahu, right before Ngorogoro. On our road back to the main gate – still in the Serengeti – we suddenly found a lone male lion crouched in the brush, a mere 15 meters or so from the road.
However, this lion wasn’t just napping like every single other one we’ve seen so far. He had his huge, majestic face buried in the ribcage of a zebra, which from what we could tell from our angle, was already completely disemboweled. Now that we’ve seen two felines eating prey, it seems that meat falls under the following categorizations – “guts: easiest to rip out and probably(?) the most calorically dense” then “rump/shoulders/hocks: plenty of meat on them, but have to tear it more – which takes valuable time that I could be spending fleeing to shelter or resting” and then finally and last consumed, everything else. Especially the spindly legs which compared to the guts, must be worth almost less time and calories then what a predator gains from them.
The lion would occasionally raise his bloodied muzzle from his meal and look calmly over at us, then nose the carcass some more, delicately tearing small bits from the pelvis. I was reminded of how housecats will bring a mouse, or a toy, to their humans with pride. Was it possible that a young lion, who had lived his entire life in a national park under the awestruck eye of fascinated tourists, would have similar feline urges to show off a kill to humans? Out of all the vast empty plains on both sides of the road, this lion had chosen to eat his meal so close to human contact as to have us almost on top of him. Or perhaps we would be an ‘early warning system’ of some kind; if hyenas or other lions tried to advance on him to steal the carcass, had he “learned” over the years that we would make some noises or movements that he could react to? Very curious, and I wonder how much reasearch has been done into this.
After about 15 minutes of eating, the lion got to his feet for the first time, sniffed the air, and grasped the zebra carcass by the neck. He began pulling it south, still staying within 20 meters of the road. For the first time, we could see the zebra’s face – or what was left of it. The eyes and flesh had already been removed, leaving only a slightly meat-colored skull. Paul theorized that perhaps this lion had not been the killer – perhaps another pride had killed it earlier, eat their fill, letting vultures pick on the face, and this lion had just come across it and scared off the scavengers with his “I’m a big lion and I’m the boss” veto vote.
The lion’s belly was huge and swaying as he walked. He’d go for 20 paces or so, carefully dragging his zebra like a chew toy, then drop it, look at us, and rest for a few moments. Then pick it up again and repeat. Paul pointed out some tall bushes about another 200 meters down the road and theorized that’s where the lion was heading to rest in the shade, and continue eating. Satisfied with our great pictures – thanks for posing, Mr. Lion! – we continued on our way.
The only new animals we saw that day was a very shy herd of Eland antelopes, back near Ndutu park a couple hours later. It had just rained – the first time this trip – but we had just missed seeing it ourselves. The ever present dust was finally tamped down and a darker red than usual, the flora seemed even more eye-catching and vividly green, and the smell of the air was almost electrically charged with water, more strongly than I’ve ever noticed in America. I could almost hear Toto faintly blessing the rains in Africa, then realized it was Christine’s iPod.
We passed through the Ngorogoro registration area that we’d entered only 3 days before, and Paul stopped the car to report our departure. Christine and I got out to stretch, and suddenly a large male baboon ran towards the car, leapt up through Paul’s open window, climbed onto the dashboard, and began pawing through our paperwork. It found a container of shortbread biscuits, jammed them into his mouth, and leapt back out the way it’d come. The whole thing took less than 5 seconds – I’m not even mad, I’m impressed. It sat down about 20 meters away, daintily unwrapped the biscuits, and then jammed the lot into its mouth. It then had the gall to litter! In its own home! Lower primates, I tell ya.
An hour later, we were in Karatu, and Paul dropped us off at the Lutheran Guesthouse in the middle of town. We had seen a large open-air market on the way in, and asked what he thought of our idea to go check it out. In his usual polite, blunt way he said “It is not safe after nightfall here. Please return by 7:30. I will now take the car to be washed. See you tomorrow.”
Taking his advice, I divested my person of all but a few tens of thousands of shillings and we set off through the dusty evening with an hour to kill. As we walked through the gate, a young man peeled away from his mates milling around the entrance and greeted us warmly. He said his name was Richardo, a local artisan from the area. He was twiddling away with a little black finger drum as he talked, but his English was passable and he didn’t seem pushy, so I allowed him to follow us around and we chatted.
When he learned that Christine was in the market for one of the beautiful non-logo’d Kitenga cloth dresses we’d seen in Dar, he acted as our translator with one of the local tradeswomen. He fended off interlopers who seemed to want to sell us statues of cheetahs (“my wuzungu! Mine!”) When I told him I was potentially interested in a Tanzanian soccer jersey, he hunted all over the lot for one, tripping over several tied up roosters in his hurry.
In the end, since there was no night-lighting at all in the lot, the vendors started to pack up only a half hour after we arrived, and Richardo followed us back to the entrance. He told me that – what luck! – his brother owned a shirt store and perhaps I’d allow him to bring one of the jerseys I so keenly desired back to our lodgings. I had guessed this was coming but what the heck, I said sure, fine – I’ll pay 15,000 for a jersey. He immediately asked for 20,000. I told him okay, bring me a medium and a large sized jersey, the kind with the 3 horizontal color bands on it and the word Tanzania across the chest, so I can try them on for size, to the hotel at 7:40pm, and I’ll try them on and see if they fit and if they’re not too scuffed up and damaged. He agreed, and we parted ways – him leaping onto a passing tuktuk, and us walking the 7 minutes back home.
Fast forward to 7:50, when Richardo and a friend returned to the entrance of the Guesthouse, where I was waiting. What does he have in his hands? A mono-colored blue jersey, two tricolored Tanzanian winter hats, and a scarf. The game begins. I thanked him but pointed out that despite his assurances that his brother would have what I precisely requested, he did not bring it. They only make them in children’s sizes, he protested! Couldn’t I interest you in these two hats for 18,000? I’m from the frozen north american continent, I pointed out. I have plenty of winter hats. But no Tanzanian soccer jerseys. I also have plenty of simple blue shirts, I don’t need another one. But I came so far, he moaned. Surely you can help a brother out (yes, he actually said that). Okay, I said – well, I know those hats are made in China and you picked them up from a distributor for almost nothing. I’ll give you 5 thousand for one, or 10 thousand for both. I won’t even ask for a discount for buying both. 18,000, he cried. 9 USD for hats I could buy in America for even less, I retorted? Please Richardo – I want you to make a profit, but you and I both know that is ridiculous. 17,000? 10,000, I replied. He proceeded to wheedle another 4000 away, in 1000 increments, for the next 30 seconds. Each time I merely replied, 10,000. After the fourth time I attempted to hand them back to him (he ducked and dodged away from my hand, as if me touching the hats was a consent to purchase on his terms) and at 13,000 I reminded him that I could simply drop them in the dust and walk away if I wanted to, but he was a helpful guide at the market and I didn’t want to do that to his property. 12,000? Richardo, I said. You know how this works. You have a product you are trying to sell me that I don’t really want, that I’m only offering to buy from you as a favor. Either take the 10,000 or don’t. That’s it. He deflated, muttered something in Swahili that contained the word “America” under his breath, and accepted the 10,000.
“But what about a tip,” he wailed suddenly. “I took a tuktuk here, so fast to get to you! Surely you will tip me?” I pointed out that I only had two 10,000 shilling notes, and the little man produced 8,000 in change for me at lightning speed. I had to admire his perseverance so I gave him the 2,000 shilling tip. As the amused hotel guard, who had been watching closely, shut the gate with a clang behind me and Christine rolled her eyes at me indulging street vendors, I heard Richardo’s voice waft over the wall, “Support your local business…….!”
Well, now Christine and I have matching Tanzania hats. Maybe we’ll wear them in Paris together.
Note: this was originally going to be a longer post, made much earlier in the trip, but while I was writing it on my smartphone the WordPress Android app decided to inexplicably delete the entire content of the blog post I’d been working on for an hour. Unlike Microsoft Word, there is no autosave and unlike the actual WordPress website or Wikipedia there is no previous version database that I could revert back to, so all of my work was lost without explanation. I’ve now switched to using a Notes app on Android to write my posts, and only pasting the finished post into the wordpress app for uploading to the website when I’m done. I just can’t trust the WordPress app anymore, and I will never again make the mistake of thinking that a smartphone + bluetooth keyboard can possibly be as good and productive as a true clamshell computing system. I’ll try a Chromebook next time, see if that’s good enough. At $300-300 that’s the sort of price range I feel “okay” taking to the developing world. If not, it’s back to a standard desktop operating system.