As we would be away for the weekend, everyone had decided to spend a leisurely morning and skip morning report. As much as everyone wanted to see patients, and you’ll hear later on how that continues until our very last minute at FAME, the thought of spending the morning at the Lilac Café having breakfast was just too much for the residents to resist and I think there may have been images of French toast with a cappuccino swirling in their brains making it far too difficult for them to resist. I was meeting with two other Board members, Ke Zhang and Frank Lee at 9:00 am at the Lilac and though there was little question that I would be ordering food, it was, in fact, a working breakfast for the three of us to catch up on things since face to face meetings of the Board had not occurred since 2019 prior to the pandemic. Ke and I each ordered a full breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and fruit, while Frank, who was staying in town at the Kudu Lodge had already eaten and as good as our meal was, I would definitely wager that Frank’s had been much more luxurious.
We spent a good hour talking shop with Ke and I enjoying our food at the same time, though I suddenly remembered a few minutes prior to 10:00 am that we were attending one of Diane’s meetings on strategic planning and I had recalled from the first one I attended that she did not tolerate tardiness in the least and it would not set a good example for the three board members to walk in fashionably late. Of course, despite her mandate and threats of bodily harm, there were several people who were running late for legitimate reasons, such as the operating room, and the meeting did end up starting just a tad bit after its scheduled starting time. Regardless, it was an excellent meeting for us to have attended as she was developing a list of things that had to get done and was assigning specific people to not only oversee the progress of each project, but also the additional folks involved and, perhaps most importantly, a deadline for each task. Neither Ke or I could stay until the end of the meeting, as we were departing for Tarangire shortly, and Frank has other work he had to attend to that did not involve FAME.
I had turned over Turtle to Vitalis much earlier in the morning before everyone was up so that he could check everything out on the vehicle given we would be out for the weekend on game drives. Though Tarangire is much closer than the Serengeti and you never want to break down anywhere in Africa as there is no AAA or anyone to call, but the former is a smaller park and you are more likely to see someone else along the road. The Serengeti is an entirely different beast and the meaning of its name, “Endless Plain,” gives you enough of a sense of what it’s like there. You can easily drive for an entire day and see perhaps 2 or 3 vehicles, unless of course there’s a leopard in a tree in which case they are like safari car magnets and suddenly a dozen vehicles may show up before you know it. Be that as it may, a guide must be confident in his vehicle as breaking down is not an option. Trying to walk out in lion infested surroundings, not to mention the elephants and cape buffalos, is really not a consideration, so, if you can’t fix your vehicle, you must either hope you’re in radio contact with another vehicle or you spend the night where you are and wait for the next day.
Tarangire is a really wonderful park and is consider the home of the elephants in Tanzania. There are literally hundreds of them in the park and they all come down from the surrounding hills in the morning to make their way to the river and then head back at night. Tarangire National Park is the park where the Tarangire River dominates the landscape and, in the dry season, all life exists around the river for it is the only water for miles around. As this was not the dry season, though, and it had rained quite a bit just before we arrived three weeks ago, it was difficult to tell exactly what the situation in the park would be regarding the other animals such as the wildebeest and zebra herds. That remained to be seen. Vitalis arrived back to FAME just a bit after noontime with Turtle all spick and span and looking like a completely different car given the fact that we had completely coated her in mud from our drives to the mobile clinics the week before and then Lake Manyara last week. Believe it not, car washes are a big thing in Karatu given all of the tour company traffic here and everyone wishing to have a spotless vehicle for their game drives. To be honest, though, I’ve never been one to keep my car at home clean let alone a giant tank like Turtle who somehow looks perfectly appropriate with a good coat of mud all over including the runny boards, though they do get a bit slippery entering and exiting as it’s a big step up to get in.
As we had invited both Ke and Shama to join us for the weekend and with me not driving as we had asked Vitalis to take us, we had a nearly full vehicle with eight occupants since Turtle can hold a total of nine in seats, and twelve if we stretch it with soda cases in the middle aisle for seats as we have done on occasion. Vitalis, who has guided us in the past on numerous occasions, is a wonderful person and someone who really puts his all into guiding and really knows his stuff, especially birds, something that is often overlooked here in lieu of the more famous big game mammals like the big five – the rhino, elephant, lion, cape buffalo and leopard. The big five received their “honor” as being the five most fearsome and dangerous animals to hunt as a great many hunters were either severely or mortally wounded during their pursuit of these trophies that are thankfully far less commonly hunted now, but not entirely so. Though one cannot hunt in any of the national parks or the NCA, there are private game reserves where one can still hunt in Tanzania for a price. My preference is to stay completely out of the politics of this issue, but leave it to say that I have never been convinced of the benefits of culling these herds of wild animals for the sake of conservation despite my numerous conversations with those who have been involved in this process. If herds need to be culled for the purpose of preserving a species or a specific population, then so be it, but it should not be done to promote the sport of killing another animal, as this should occur only out necessity for one’s survival and there is little question that the vast majority of hunting is not done for that reason.
The drive to Tarangire will typically take about 90 minutes to the main gate, but today we were heading to the Eastern gate in the direction of Babati. This is a newer gate that was opened several years ago specifically to accommodate guests staying at one of the several lodges that were placed just outside the park for various reasons. I had stayed at the Simba Lodge there several times before and it has always been wonderful. A good friend in Karatu had worked on design and marketing with the company and in addition to knowing that her involvement was an excellent endorsement for us to stay, she has also been able to secure resident’s rates for us which are far better than the typical tourist rates. The lodge is what’s called a semi-permanent lodge for it has wooden platforms for all the structures that are otherwise soft-sided and essentially tents. This allows for nice level floors and different furniture in addition to a full bathroom and shower at the back of the tents that are somewhat more complete than those found in the tented camps in the Serengeti which move with the seasons and the migration. One huge plus for the group, though, is that the Simba Lodge has a lovely pool that, although not necessarily an infinity pool, is practically the same as it has an unobstructed view looking off into the distance towards Lake Burungi which lays outside of the park.
We turned off the main road that, had we continued, would have led to town of Babati in several kilometers, and proceeded along a rather circuitous route of increasingly smaller dirt roads, constantly looking for progressively tiny signs on even smaller poles directing us to the Simba Lodge. Thankfully, Vitalis had been there before as well and knew the way, otherwise, it would have been an interesting adventure on its own. Along the road, we passed by the homes of the local residents, some quite colorful, while others were but sticks and mud in the local fashion of the farmers here. As is always the case, children run out to wave as we pass, though many of their gestures are often with palms up indicating that they are asking for us to give them money or food, something which is just not possible as we’re passing through. Being torn by the obvious inequity between these young children on the roadside and those of us in the vehicle heading to a lodge that even at a reduced rate would be more than many of these families earn in a year can only be lessened a small amount by the fact that we have been volunteering our services to these same communities for the last three weeks. Regardless, it can be gut wrenching at times.
Passing in front of the entry gate to the park, the lodge was a just a short distance away and immediately outside so we didn’t have to worry about having to enter and pay a fee for the day. Our plan had been to get to the lodge early enough to enjoy the pool and some relaxing time around sunset, hoping for a sky full of stars shortly after. We had reserved three rooms, a triple for the three boys and two double for the four girls, which worked out perfectly as the rooms were incredibly large and there was more than enough room for the three of us. I believe it was I who called “last one in the pool is a rotten egg,” but I certainly will not give up the name of who was last though it was not me. The pool was gloriously fresh and invigorating after the several hour journey to get here and we had absolutely nothing left to do for the evening other than eat dinner, which we had requested for 7:30 pm. The sun was bright, but there were umbrellas for us all on the deck and there seemed to be no one else other than our group staying there, or at least no one else wishing to partake in a swim in the late afternoon. Peter and Ke had gotten out before me and took advantage of the outdoor shower immediately behind our room, while I was the last to get out and by the time I was ready to shower, it was dark. Not wishing to battle the low flying bats nabbing insects attracted to the light, I chose to use the indoor shower and to avoid any possible rabies exposure despite the fact that I’m vaccinated. The vaccine only protects you from needing the immunoglobulin immediately and I chose not to play the odds on that one.
As there was only one other couple staying that night at the lodge, dinner was not the usual buffet, but rather served to us so as to avoid setting up all the serving trays. We were not disappointed, though, as all of the main courses were superb and we all spent a relaxing time at the table thinking of what the following day would bring for each of us. We had planned for breakfast at 6 am the following morning so that we could get a reasonably early start. One thing that I think only I and Vitalis were keenly aware of was what the tsetse fly situation was going to be like because we had been the only ones to have experienced this phenomenon previously. These incredibly vicious flies with a painful, blood sucking proboscis can be incredibly thick in the woodland sections of Tarangire and I was not at all looking forward to discovering what they’d be up to tomorrow.