Visiting a Masai village and a game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater

Of all the tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, the Masai are probably the best known for their efforts at preserving their culture and traditional way of life. A semi-nomadic group of tribes numbering close to one million, their villages are fairly isolated and quite spartan.

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Cattle herders, they tend to their animals, but also tend to tourists quite a bit.

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Several villages put on cultural “performances” for the tourists in exchange for a fee (we paid US$10 each). We debated the authenticity of the whole thing, but in the end, you have two options: you can make your way to a Masai village in the middle of nowhere and watch them look at cows, or you can give these Masai $10 and watch them sing and dance. And they speak English. It can get a lot faker than this. Several of the resorts in the region employ security guards dressed as Masai warriors who are not Masai at all, just regular unskilled labourers who dress in traditional accoutrements so that on top of manning the gate, they can be used as living props for tourist photography. Our Serengeti driver, who was himself an urbanized Masai, referred to them as “plastic Masai”. We saw quite a few.

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Anyway, we paid the money, they hid all their cellphones and the ceremony began. I didn’t quite get the explanation, but it had to do with welcoming something and possibly circumcision, although thankfully no demonstration of that was performed.

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Once the welcoming dance was complete, they invited us to follow them into the village, where the men performed the Masai’s famous jumping competition. Not quite sure what the exact rules are, but I think I understood that the best jumper gets the prom queen.

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The Masai made the tourists eat the dust, no pun intended.

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The women also have their thing, involving bouncing a circular disk on their collar bones, while doing little jumps and singing. It works for them, all wrapped in their blankets, but for well-fed western women wearing tight clothes, the disk is not really what ends up bouncing the most.

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Amid this fun – if slightly tacky – demonstration, a great think happened. The women genuinely seemed to enjoy the moment more than the men. Probably because for them it is a welcomed break in a day of hard physical labour, while for the men, it just interrupts their routine of doing nothing.

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In the middle of the fun, one of the women saw her disk bounce right off her head and fall to the ground. Absolutely wild laughter erupted and the women couldn’t stop laughing for several minutes. For them this was simply the funniest thing ever and seeing them completely cracked-up was the best part of my visit to the area. A very brief but 100% authentic glimpse into their world.

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As I already mentioned, the Masai’s villages are rather basic.

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Inside and out.

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Of course, if you can make it, you can sell it to tourists.

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More than anything else, the school seemed quite fake. Children repeating an alphabet they know, written on a little board which does not seem to ever have been erased, no books or writing material of any kind. We where told they spent 8 hours a day there. I will bet the idea is to look miserable and collect money in the school donation box. In reality, these kids probably just don’t go to school. But, that’s just my guess. Here’s a video of the whole encounter:

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Adjacent to the Serengeti NP is the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Despite the name, the crater is actually a caldera, a collapsed volcano. The difference between a national park and a conservation area is that while wildlife is protected from hunting in both, human habitation is allowed in the later, but not the former, hence the presence of the Masai around the crater.

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Some of my safari friends. It occurred to me that the nationalities of the 22 participants strangely corresponded to a list of countries whose economies had survived the 2008 financial crisis rather well: Canada, UK, Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Germany and Austria. No Greeks, Spaniards or Italians on this rather expensive tour.

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The 260 square km crater is home to tens of thousands of animals, and you certainly go there to see them.

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However, I found the most spectacular part of this game drive was to see the animals against the backdrop of the crater itself, and the microclimate its 610 m high, steep walls create.

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The diversity and sheer quantity of animals is very impressive.

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Unfortunately, the density of safari goers is also very high. Although a lion in the wild is always an impressive sight, at this point I felt like I was in a zoo,  with the cage around me instead of the animals.

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And the lucky sight of the day. If you look closely, you will see this is not a male ostrich on the ground, but rather the neck of a female and the wings of a male, with his head tilted back. It lasted a while; he did not stay for breakfast.

#Tanzania

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