Author Archives: Jess Parker

First Tembo Sighting

Hello again! Time goes by so fast here I realized I was behind on my blog posts. We had our first game drive the other day and it was amazing! Normally we have class and the occasional field exercise but this was our first time going to a national park and seeing lots of wild animals. We woke up early and drove to the Lake Manyara National Park which is only about twenty minutes away. Just at the entrance to the park there were lots of birds and even a few monkeys. As our entrance to the park was processed we got our cars ready for the drive, we popped the roofs so we could stand on the seats and feel like Jack Dawson flying through the park.

We finally were all set to go and entered the park and were immediately surrounded by baboons, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys and so many birds! We were so close to all of these things and they didn’t even seem to be surprised or disturbed by us. Suddenly we turned a corner and we went from the bushland to a forest. We were looking in the trees for more monkeys when I saw something off to the side, it was huge. I couldn’t even say elephant, I just kept saying “oh my god! oh my god! oh my god!” and pointing at it. And our car skidded to a stop and we were face to face with a massive female elephant. She was off to the side browsing in the trees, she started to walk away and she went off to join a big herd of seven elephants that popped up behind us. Then an even bigger bull elephant came out of the woods to our left. He was in musth, meaning he was following the herd of female elephants in hopes of finding a mate. This also means that he had a lot of testosterone in him. This surge of macho-ness makes him pretty aggressive. He crossed the road in front of our car and decided to show off a bit. He did a bluff charge at us and it was really cool but also pretty scary. He could have easily flipped our car and we had a staredown with him that lasted a few minutes. He stood directly facing us with his ears flapped out and his head held high to make him look even bigger. We could have touched him he was so close. Once he decided we weren’t a threat he moved off to the edge of the road and crossed to the forest on the other side where he almost pushed a tree over while rubbing against it.

After that exciting moment we drove around the park for ten hours. It felt like fifteen minutes. Over the course of the day we completed our assignment for the day which was to observe and document olive baboon behaviors for two hours. We ended up writing a report on these observations later on, but once we were done observing them we just drove around the park all day. We saw hippos, cape buffalo, grey crowned cranes, more elephants, impalas, dik-diks, wildebeest, giraffes, and even the famous Lake Manyara tree-climbing lions! We were having such good luck seeing animals. After we saw the lions sleeping in a tree we unfortunately hit a big pile of mud and got really stuck. We broke a tow rope but were able to get out after another car with another tow rope came and all seven of us who were in the car got into the mud and pushed (after counting to three in swahili “Moja! Mbili! Tatu!”). We were the first car to get stuck this semester and it has happened a lot more since then. It was a really amazing day and was a great prelude to the rest of our game drives.
We drove back to camp exhausted and compared stories of the day between different cars and counted down the days until we got to go to our next national park. More to come! We are heading off to Tarangire National Park soon so we will see even more cool things there!


Hello all! After doing some pre-abroad travel I have finally arrived in Tanzania! We got off the plane and were immediately hit with a wave of heat and humidity. It’s definitely weird to think that this is winter back in the United States. Ada and I traveled together and didn’t take our program’s group flight so we were a bit on our own for a while. Tanzania is really relaxed about their visa process, we just filled out a form and picked it up after we got off the plane. Everyone is super friendly, it’s not like going through customs in the US where everyone is very cold and serious. The woman helping Ada and I keep sing-songing my name “Jeeeesssicaaa!” And all of the other officials went out of their way to make sure we understood what was going on and helped us so much more than I have experienced in other countries. The only down-side to all of this friendliness is that things seem to move a bit slower here, but because we had no place to be we barely noticed.

After we picked up our more than 150 lbs of bags we tried to make a plan for the next 10ish hours. See, because we didn’t take the group flight we were in a bit of a conundrum. The group flight didn’t arrive in KIlimanjaro until 9pm, and our program was unable to pick us up until then. We logged on to decent wifi for the first time in awhile and looked up a place to stay for the day. We quickly realized that the airport is far away from town – like an hour’s drive away. But, good luck, we found a lodge closeby to the airport! As we were looking up this info online, we began to be approached by cabbies. Really adamant cabbies. Our conversations with them went like this:

Cabbie: I give you good price, wherever you want to go.

Us: Great, but we don’t really know where we are planning on going yet.

Cabbie: Ok, how about 10,000 (Tanzanian Shillings)?

Us: …um yeah, well thank you so much for the offer but we are still figuring everything out.

We bobbed and weaved and apologized our way through about 20 of these cabbies and finally settled to go to the lodge, but not until we had looked up reasonable taxi fares in Arusha because we knew we were going to get ripped off just because we looked so clueless. We found a less aggressive cabbie and negotiated our fare and spent the short ride learning new words in Swahili.

We then spent the afternoon at the lodge drinking massive amounts of water and getting used to the heat and humidity. Ada and I were able to arrange getting picked up at the lodge so we just waited around for our program RA of sorts, Becky, came to pick us up. While waiting for her we experienced our first Tanzanian power outage, something that happens a lot apparently – never a dull moment!

Becky came to pick us up in one of our safari vehicles, it looked like a tank, and we have six of them. We then waited for the rest of the group to arrive from their 20+ hours of travel. Everyone was super groggy and jet-lagged. We quickly realized how massive our group was, it’s about 40 people, which is apparently the biggest group this program has ever had. Once we had everyone collected we loaded all of our luggage into a big cargo truck and drove an hour into Arusha – where we would be spending the night. We got to our hostel and had dinner at midnight and then shuffled back to our rooms. No one was really talking a lot yet, everyone was too tired to be excited. We spent our first night under mosquito nets and then woke up the next morning ready to get to camp. After breakfast we drove another two hours to Karatu, where our camp is. The drive was beautiful, lots of open pasture and rural landscapes. There were lots of Maasai herders with their cows and sheep, and everyone waved as we drove by. Lots of people were saying “mambo!” and we all were saying “mambo” back, thinking it was like “hello.” Our driver kindly pointed out that we were completely butchering the greeting. Swahili is very big on greetings, it seems like you say at least three to begin every conversation. And “mambo” is one of these greetings, it has a specific response: “poa.” This greeting doesn’t really translate to english so I’m not going to bother trying to explain it. So we have been practicing that one a lot and have started to learn a few more.

This post has gotten a bit long so I’ll write more later as we get settled, kwaheri ‘til next time!