Tanzania has the largest animal population in the world and is best known as a safari destination, with tourism contributing around 17.5% to the country’s GDP. It is also home to some of the oldest human settlements.
By: Dorria Watt
Some of the world’s most iconic natural beauty is in Tanzania. Including three of Africa’s seven natural wonders: Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera, and the 2 900km annual migration of over a million wildebeest in the Serengeti.
Around 38%, or 6 million acres, of the land is set aside for conservation with 14 national parks and a number of game reserves and controlled conservation areas. The animals and landscape are national treasures and symbolised on local currency. But it has much more to offer a traveller.
A Rich Ethnic Mix
The rich ethnic mix of some 120 indigenous groups has resulted in a rise in cultural tourism. Swahili and English are the lingua franca but with the cultural diversity, there are many fusions of languages spoken. It is a tapestry of traditions and cultures woven seamlessly into a country who live by the Swahili proverb: ‘Umoja ni nguvu – unity is strength’.
Many indigenous people, such as the Hadzabe, an ancient group of hunter-gatherers who have lived in the Lake Eyasi basin for over 80 000 years, depend on the land for survival.
Over the years they have been displaced from traditional homelands, however, with the help of the Ujamaa Community Research Team (UCRT) the Hadzabe have been granted land rights. This means they can continue to live the lifestyle they choose and it has paved the way for other indigenous groups to do the same.
Which is why the site for Ziwani Lodge, situated on the north-eastern shore of Lake Eyasi, just south of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area,was specifically chosen. To be close enough to explore well-known wildlife destinations but, more importantly, to offer an alternative, authentic cultural experience to guests.
Husband and wife team, Finias Laizer (a Maasai raised in the area) and UK born Anita Warrener, have a common goal: to help preserve indigenous peoples’ heritage.
As the last hunter-gatherers in East Africa, the Hadzabe people have no crops, livestock or permanent shelters, surviving purely by a nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle. Being invited on a foraging and hunting trip is a privilege.
It is not a given but negotiated through Issa Kiangoh, our guide and interpreter, who spent six months living amongst the Hadzabe. No money exchanges hands.
Being fiercely proud of their birthright, the Hadzabe welcome limited tourist activity as a means to educate and inform others of their age-old traditions and lifestyle choices.
While the men hunt, using traditional handcrafted bow and arrows, women gather fruit and berries. Baobab tree seeds and pulp are nutritionally rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, calcium, fibre, potassium and protein.
The variety of wild fruits and berries has been their secret dietary weapon, essential for survival in the bush.
Their language is unique, using a series of ‘click’ consonants and they maintain their history through storytelling. We experience this first hand when an animated discussion about the use of various plants and trees for medicinal purposes, including animals gnawing at the bark for the same reasons, needs almost no interpretation.
Positively Influencing The People
On the other hand, the Datoga are pastoral and skilled ironmongers, a craft that has been passed down for generations. Their furnace is a fire fanned by cow skin bellows, hot enough to smelt metal.
They make all their own tools as well as utensils, jewellery and arrows and embody the re-use, recycle and sustainability ethos. They live near the Hadzabe and enjoy a symbiotic relationship.
“Finias and I chose to invest into Lake Eyasi to give another aspect to a safari in Tanzania and more diversity in what guests coming to the country can learn about,” says Anita.
“We love the people around this area and want to create awareness of the Hadzabe and Datoga in a very low impact way – hence the lodge is very small and boutique like.”
It is fascinating and enlightening to meet and interact with the Hadzabe and Datoga people. Although we might view their lifestyle as harsh and unforgiving, we leave with a better understanding of why they follow the path of their ancestors.
In Tanzania, travel is more than simply enjoying the natural beauty and wildlife, it’s about discovering the people who make the country what it is.
It’s a change that goes on, deep and permanent, for those who experience it. Which is why cultural tourism, handled sensitively, has the power to positively influence the indigenous people as well as the tourist.
The hub of safari activity is Arusha, Tanzanian’s third-largest city. It’s best to fly into Kilimanjaro International and drive to Arusha.
Traffic in Arusha is chaotic, with two-seater motorbikes (Piki Piki) one of the preferred modes of transport.
Most roads leading to and within parks are untarred, many are corrugated and dusty, which is why journeys are called ‘An African massage’ and high clearance vehicle is required.
Work with a tour operator to help with your ground requirements. Maasai Wanderings can provide expert advice. maasaiwanderings.com
Tanzania National Parks: Tanzania has 14 National Parks so there’s plenty of choice regarding areas to explore and places to stay.
The Ngorongoro National Park: The Ngorongoro National Park is an area of 8 292km² that includes mountain forests, woodlands, grasslands, lakes, swamps and two major rivers – all home to different wildlife.
Ziwani Lodge: Close to Ngorongoro, on the shores of Lake Eyasi is Ziwani Lodge, a welcoming oasis after a long day of game viewing, foraging or hunting.
It’s a fort of architecture, Moroccan in design and decor, that blends with its surroundings, running off solar and wind power.
A communal WiFi area houses a lounge, courtyard, dining room, library and bar with a patio overlooking a rim flow swimming pool and Lake Eyasi. The lake is a seasonal shallow soda lake on the floor of the Great Rift Valley.
With walls of purple lava and white alkaline shallows, the water levels fluctuate dramatically. When the rain arrives it brings with it hundreds of birds.
Mandhari Lodge: Situated on the Manyara escarpment, offers a spectacular 270-degree view. It’s ideally positioned to explore the Ngorongoro Crater or Lake Manyara, known for its wildlife and flamingoes.
The glass-fronted brick and mortar cottages offer bird’s eye views from sunrise to sunset. Optional activities include: Swahili cooking or Tinga Tinga painting lessons, drumming, star gazing, a visit to a local Maasai village and school or a gentle stroll around the 14-acre grounds.
You can also simply rest, relax, and take time out from the safari, watching the sun set over the valley from the rim-flow pool.
SAA flies to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania from Johannesburg most days of the week. Book your tickets today!
Words by Dorria Watt