I struggle to maintain my position in the Land Cruiser as we traveled down the rough dirt road. Shikuku, John, Peter, and I have been on the road for 5 hours, leaving the pavement and once again entering the remote bush country of Tanzania. We are heading south between Lake Manyara and Lake Eyasi into the Datoga and Hadzabe territory. We meet up with our contact Momoya near Mang’ola and continue on to his uncle’s home. A short while later, we step out of the vehicle and into a world that people have only seen through a National Geographic magazine.
Ecotourism is a booming industry and the effects are being felt all around the world. Even in the most remote of places, the impacts are evident. Tourism in Tanzania is spreading rapidly and companies are looking to expand into new territories, providing the most remote experiences possible. For the Datoga and Hadzabe people, the impact is being felt now.
The Datoga tribes are a nomadic pastoralist people. Living in mud and stick homes, they spread out across the land grazing their cattle and goats. The Hadzabe tribes on the other hand, are hunter/gathers and thought to be the oldest of people originating in the Great Rift Valley. Despite living very primitive lifestyles, they have both been integrating and embracing western culture. As the reach of Ecotourism expands, the tribes have established the Lake Eyasi Cultural Tourism Program. John, Shikuku, Peter, and I are here working with the organization helping the tribes embrace the change and empower them.
Momoya has invited us to meet his Datoga family before we make camp. Shikuku and Mamoya are long time friends so we are getting an authentic invite. In front of us are his Uncle’s homes for his large family. They invite us in and Momoya teaches us about the Datoga people. We are sitting on small stools raising only a foot off the ground in a room lit only by the sunlight entering the front door. After and hour or so, we step outside continuing our conversation. In the light of the setting sun, the women have fun dressing us in traditional Datoga garb and jewelry. After many thanks, we part ways and head for our camp and tomorrows classroom.
5:15am my alarm rudely wakes me. We pack a few things and meet up with Momoya. He is taking us to the Hadzabe for a hunt. We drive deeper into the bush now feeling even more incredibly remote. After a 30-minute drive down a rough road, we park and begin to walk. The approach to camp is quick and I soon see primitive leaf and branch thatched shelters, standing about 4 or 5 feet tall. To my right are hunters sitting around a fire. They are dressed as primitive as I could imagine; fur clothing complete with tails still attached. However some have embraced modern clothing; wearing a t-shirt or shorts. Before I know it, they are grabbing their bows and are off for the hunt. We quickly make chase and do our best to keep up through the bush. During the hunt, the Hadzabe get a few small game animals and after an hour or two, we head back to the village. Amazed by their accuracy with the bow, Peter and I must have a try. They take us to their practice area and let us have at it. Having a background with traditional bow hunting, Peter and I both nail the stump we are shooting at and the Hadzabe explode with uncontained excitement. Having won over the Hadzabe, we headed back to camp for a day of teaching satisfied that we have gained some rapport with the local tribes.
Our plan is to teach a wilderness basic first aid course. By doing so we hoped to help empower the local tribes to become leaders of the new Ecotourism heading their direction. The tribes reside in such a remote area, that the nearest medical facility is about an hour away and the nearest airstrip, 2 hours away. When the students arrived, I am impressed. I expect to see people in traditional outfits, but they are all dressed up in modern wear. They have put on their best outfits to be professional. I also learn quickly that the Lake Eyasi Cultural Organization has sent some of their most educated so all the student can speak English well. However it is only a nice treat for me since Shikuku is teaching the coarse in Swahili. We have a nice mixture of students primarily Datoga with a few Hadza and other tribes. The students are thirsty for knowledge and attentively grasped everything Shikuku and John are teaching them. By surprise, we have the opportunity to learn from them. The tribes have survived for thousands of years and have discovered their own remedies, which we happily respect. After two days of education, the students absorbed a plethora of knowledge and are hungry for more. They leave with the tools necessary to provide medical attention for their clients in the most remote of locations. Most importantly, they invited us back to spread the knowledge.
With a day at our disposal for driving home, we feel it best to drive through the Ngorogoro National Park. Ngorogoro is a caldron resting at an altitude of around 7,000ft and covering 100 square miles. With lush grass and fresh water it is know as a hot spot for wildlife. Nearly all the major species popular for viewing are in the crater. Peter and I haven’t been there before, however Shikuku has led many tours through the area. We were thrilled to be getting a personal tour from a friend.
The weather is looking poor but I stayed optimistic. As we neared the crater rim the weather begins to break. A clear sky above the crater blankets it in sunshine. We begin the descent spotting wild life in the distance. As we reached the crater floor it is apparent why this is such a popular place. Animals are everywhere and of all different types of species. As we drive around the area I spot all types of animals I’ve only seen in magazines and even a few I’ve never seen. Ngorogoro is definitely not disappointing and as we started toward the exit, we are treated with one of the most sought after sights…. a pride of lions. We parked the car only feet from these magnificent creatures and enjoyed them in their natural environment. We are even gifted with a rare scene. Directly in front of us only ten feet away, two lions begin to mate! Shikuku is amazed and tells us that we have just witnessed a rare sight. With that we continued toward the exit and back to Arusha.
This was truly an amazing 4 days. Some of the experiences were so incredible that I am still in disbelief that they happened. It was a world I only knew through National Geographic and now I feel I have stepped through the pages and beyond. These wonderful people have entered my life and I theirs. My hope now is that I will some day get to go back and once again say “Jambo” and maybe sling a few more arrows.
Funding for the course was raised by Sentinel Outdoor Institute through www.toreturn.org