The Calm before the Storms

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Alternatively, I was thinking of titling this post, “Restful Day and Red Bananas”, but I couldn’t help but throw a little literary allusion to my writing for the day 🙂 I’ve been alternating between thinking about blogging about several days at a time vs. one day at a time, and so far, the daily blog seems to be the way I’m going. Takes a lot longer, but there’s lots to talk about when it comes to a once-in-a-lifetime trip. This post is one of the few days where we didn’t really have much on tap. We were slated to visit a local village and do some shopping, and our base for the day was a really cool ‘permanent’ camp where there were tons of blue-balled monkeys running around. Yes, there is a very good reason that they are called that, and if you turn your attention to some of the pictures that were put up from the day, you’ll see why 🙂 As it turns out, this was also really the only chance we’d have at doing shopping for our Secret Santa. Read on for more.

The camp where we had stayed for the night was a real treat in my mind in comparison to the various other lodgings we’d be seeing on this trip. We truly were running the whole gamut. Hotel, lodges, cabins, tents, and now permanent camps. So what is a permanent camp? Well, rather than describe it for you, the best bet is for you to just check out a short video that I made of the tent I stayed in. Essentially, it was more like a cottage, but with canvas walls. We had a nice deck, and an attached washroom / shower area as part of our tent. Ours happened to have a big queen bed, whereas others had two single beds in them. As usual, Deb was a good sport, and got her own place, complete with a vacant bed, to which we started teasing her that it would be for her ‘company’. Perhaps the monkeys? Of course, she would have the last laugh up in the mountains, where she had a tent all to herself where the rest of us had to crowd 2 people and all our gear in the ~3-person tents.

Each tent was pretty separated from the rest, and there were nice paths winding all through the grounds to take you to each tent. Also, there were monkeys everywhere here during the day. They were more scarce at night, but at that time, there were other animals making their way around camp. Our meals there were served in a big mess tent, complete with bar (which we once again made good use of). As per usual, wine, beer, and conversation flowed easily. This was also one of the first nights we decided we might want some local music to enjoy. As the night wore on, Deb and I were determined to try and get the bar staff to turn the tunes up a little louder so that we might have a dance party. Instead, things sort of fizzled out and we made our way back to our tents.

As a group, we decided that for the next day, we wanted to only spend a little while shopping locally, and hopefully be able to head back to Arusha early in the afternoon in order to take advantage of the pool, and to get all our gear sorted out for Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. On the safaris, we’d only taken daypacks, so most of our gear was still in storage. That plan suited everyone, so we just relaxed for the rest of the evening.

At this point, we also firmed up the plans for Secret Santa. I’d already distributed names, so everyone knew who they had to buy for. The plan was you had to buy for someone you didn’t know on the trip (i.e. couples couldn’t buy for each other, nor father and son). We set a 10,000 Tanzanian shilling limit as well (about $8USD). We figured that would give it enough money to buy something with some meaning without breaking the bank. Now the race was on to do stealth shopping. Several of us started the next morning early by heading to a nearby artist gallery. That’s where I actually bought the gift I gave my secret santa, which was a Masai Calabash (similar to the one pictured here). While there I also snagged a cool abstract zebra painting for about $20USD (which I’m sure will cost more that 25 times that to actually frame!).

I can’t say whether everyone else was as successful with their shopping for Secret Santa there, but I know for certain that both Deb and Jody came out with numerous newspaper-wrapped goodies. After breakfast, our man Julius swung by to drive us into the actual village of Lake Manyara, where there was a big shopping area. In truth, this market was quite overwhelming. People weren’t super-aggressive or anything, but everyone wanted us to visit their shops. Most held the same range of hand-made goods, even though they all claimed their goods were the best. No sooner were you trying to exit one booth as another smiling African would corral you to his wares. Always with the promise that you would get their best price of the day, since you were their first customer. Sure thing, boss 🙂 In the end, I did do pretty much all my touristy shopping here, and got what I thought were pretty respectable deals (like bartering from 90,000 shillings to 35,000 shillings for a Masai game).

The other aspect of the market which got tiring was the fact that everyone there wanted you to trade what you had on you. Had I known that I might have brought some extra stuff. I kid you not when I say the ONLY thing that they didn’t seem to want to trade me for was my underpants! Shoes, socks, shorts, shirt, hat, sunglasses, watch… everything! I didn’t have the heart to explain that in order to get my watch, they’d pretty much have to give up a quarter of their booth! Like I said though, they were terribly pushy, just always there. The Peruvians were much more annoying at this game. Regardless, I did grow tired of it, and had to find some refuge, which ultimately lead me to one of my ‘purer’ African cultural moments.

After the cluttered booths, I made my way to the rear of the market, which was actually the vegetable and food market for the locals, where less of the tourists would trod. I wandered around to the very back, until I came across a little vegetable booth being run by a fellow probably a little younger than me. I’m not sure how, but we ended up striking a conversation, and this fellow was keen to learn all about me and Canada. Best part of the conversation? He wanted nothing from me, just a talk. He learned with great interest that I was an engineer, to which he explained he wanted to be an engineer for cars (mechanic), and was running this booth in the meantime. However, he really loves his vegetables and only sells what he likes. By this point, I wanted to make a gesture to show my appreciation for this moment, and asked how much for a cucumber. He didn’t want to take any money for it, rather wanted to offer it to me for free. He even took it away to wash it for me, and proceeded to peel and cut if for me. So here I am, smile on my face cucumber in my hand just enjoying the moment. We actually exchanged addresses and I promised to send him news from Canada. It was great!

I bid him farewell, and with a light step, made my way back forward where I came across John and Dylan working on a negotiation for some red bananas. They are a local specialty, and one which we wanted to try out. They are sweeter than regular bananas, but take longer to grow, and are therefore a bit more expensive. I jumped in on the haggling, but soon found out that the price he was offering was pretty much the best I’d heard in the market. So, we picked up 8 bananas, enough for 1 each in our group including Julius. We paid the man, and headed back up to the truck, since it was time to make our way back to the camp for lunch. The banana was definitely unique and tasty, but not really earth-shattering. But where else have you ever seen red bananas I ask??

Back at the camp, we had to settle in for ‘Africa Time’, which basically means you have to adjust your expectations for things happening at the time when you were told they would. We had been previously told lunch would be at noon, but that time came and went with no hint of food. We were anxious to get back on the road to Arusha, but what can you do? So we sat. And watched monkeys play and fight. They certainly can be nasty to one another. I think we still managed to get back on the road by around 1:30pm, which put us on the final stretch to our mountain lodge at about 3:30. Still plenty of time for dip in the pool and a nice quick shower before more beer and food could make their way to us, which is exactly how the rest of the day played out. My meal du jour was a delicious Jaeger Schnitzel. Yum. Not what I had expected to order in Africa, but what can I say, once I read it on the menu, I had to try it!

Well, it looks like I’ve come to the end of yet another blog post, so I’m faced with trying to come up with my parting thought of the day. Hmm, let’s see, I think my take-away from this day would be: take the good days that are given to you. Enjoy all the good things, tolerate the less-then-perfect. The future is never a certainty, so find enjoyment in what you can. If you are finding yourself in an uncomfortable place, seek peace in a quieter path. Rest up friends, for tomorrow, I start dragging you up a real mountain 🙂 !

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