African adventure the experience of a lifetime

According to African legend, when God planted the baobab tree, it kept walking around. This angered God, so He threw it to the earth and planted it upside down.

The baobab tree is a symbol of African wilderness

According to African legend, when God planted the baobab tree, it kept walking around. This angered God, so He threw it to the earth and planted it upside down.

Today these huge trees dot the complex landscape of African regions south of the Sahara providing shelter and protection for animals and a place for village people to gather.

For many, the boabab’s beauty and majesty symbolize survival in sometimes harsh conditions. Tarangire National Park in Northern Tanzania is filled with baobab trees that have survived for hundreds of years.

This past November, Duane and Joan McCartney of Lacombe visited this region of Africa and experienced a game drive through the park. One of their most memorable moments came while they were looking at a boabab tree.

“One afternoon we were caught in a 15-minute torrential down pour,” explained Duane. “It was the heaviest rain that I have ever been in. You couldn’t see anything in front of you. As the rains started to subside we could notice a silhouette of a head sticking above the grass under a distant baobab tree. Everyone became silent and cameras and binoculars were focused on the head. Slowly the animal began to move and sure enough it was the first female lion that we had seen. During intermittent rain the mother lion and her cubs began to move and eventually snuggled under some brush about seven metres from our vehicle.

“We watched them in awe for about a half hour. No one spoke. The rain quit, the late afternoon sun came out and the lions played in front of us. This was one of the most memorable moments of our lifetime.”

Tarangire National Park is a quiet seasonal park that is one of the least-visited national parks in Africa due in part to the fact that it lies in one of the most sparsely-settled regions of Africa.

Historical records show that explorers and slave traders passed through the area many years ago but few people settled there because of health concerns associated with tsetse flies that are endemic to the region.

Research in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s showed the importance of the area for wildlife, especially during the dry season. The Tarangire National Park was established in the 1970’s and is now one of the main attractions for those visiting east Africa.

The types of wildlife you see in the park will vary depending upon the season that you choose to visit.

“We arrived in the park in early November just after the first rains had occurred,” explained Duane. “The landscape was still very dry with the odd area of short green grass. The main migration of the wildebeast had all ready occurred to areas outside the park. During the dry season the only source of water is the streams and ponds inside the park, but when the rains start, the animals leave the park to graze elsewhere.

“One interesting reason for the migration is the need for phosphorus in the animal’s diets as the soils in the park are deficient, so the animals travel outside the park to grasslands that contain this needed mineral.”

The McCartneys spent three days exploring the park from sun-up to sundown on a guided trip in a converted Land Rover vehicle.

They say that if you want to see wild elephants, this is the place to go.

During their three-day safari they saw elephants, waterbuck, impala, giraffes, monkeys, gazelles and lions, but by far they saw the most elephants.

“There are more elephants per square kilometer in Tarangire National Park than any other place in the world,” said Duane.

“There were big elephants and small elephants, there were bull elephants — some 70 years old — and there were baby elephants. There were elephants all over the landscape and they were fascinating to watch.

Elephants are quite destructive animals. During the dry season, the elephants will literally destroy baobob trees that can be more than three metres in diameter with their tusks looking for moisture underneath the bark. Elephants also raise havoc with villager’s crop fields outside the park and we also found places where the elephants had dug up irrigation water lines in the farming area.”

Visiting this region of Africa and enjoying a safari was an amazing experience the McCartneys won’t soon forget.

Joan summed you her thoughts on the adventure: “This was a trip of a lifetime and I would encourage anyone with a sense of adventure to put it on their must-do bucket list”

Sauti Moja visit

Part of the reason the McCartneys chose to spend time in this region of Africa was to visit their friend Tim Wright formerly of Melfort, Saskatchewan, who now lives in East Africa. Tim and his family have set up an organization designed to assist people who live in this remote region of Africa where other government and non-government aid agencies typically do not go.

The organization, known as Sauti Moja, primarily works with widows in very remote areas of Tanzania and Kenya. When a woman’s husband dies, his assets go to male family members and a widowed woman is left with no means to support herself and her dependent children. With the financial assistance of generous Canadians, Sauti Moja has been providing goats and camels for milk production or donkeys for carrying water to widows. This assistance allows a widow to trade milk for other commodities to support her family.

“We were able to visit these widows in one of these villages in northern Kenya,” said Duane McCartney. “It took us a day to fly to the central village and then two days travel in a Land Cruiser over the roughest roads I had ever been on. This was one of the closer villages that Tim and Sauti Moja work in and it was basically miles from no-where. It had taken Tim’s group 10 days to trek the gift camels to the widows. As these people are all pastoralist, livestock is of utmost importance. A widow that has no livestock has no status in the village.”

“We spent the afternoon visiting with the widows that had received the animals and were able to find out what this gift from far away Canadians really meant to them. The widows will give the animals’ first-born female offspring to the next most needy widow in the village. Sauti Moja does a lot of follow up with the widows in listening to their concerns. The process really works in meeting the needs of these most vulnerable women.”

For more information visit: www.Sautimoja.org.

If You Go:

• To get to East Africa, the McCartneys flew with Air Canada/Swiss Air to Nairobi Kenya. They then travelled by local bus to Arusha in northern Tanzania and then took a tour van to Tarangire National Park. It is possible to fly to Arusha, but then you would miss seeing all the sites along the way.

• There is a comfortable hotel accommodation operated by the park that McCartney described as the biggest stick and grass structure he had ever seen. Individual accommodation consists of a huge stand-up tent underneath a grass hut. It was complete with one to two queen size beds and bathroom facilities. At sunrise each morning you can sit on your private deck and listen to the jungle come alive.

• For more information on Tarangire National Park, visit: www.tanzaniaparks.com.

• There are lots of safari tour companies that can meet your needs in the major cities of Nairobi and Arusha. The McCartneys enjoyed a safari with Maasai Wanderings www.maasaiwanderings.com

Want to see more?

• Duane McCartney is a semi professional photo-artist. To see more of his African photos or to purchase a print, visit the 10th annual Lacombe Art Exhibit and Sale on April 17, 18, and 19, 2009 at the Lacombe Memorial Centre. Shows times are Friday 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3.00.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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