April 2, 2017
Hard to believe it was eleven months ago that I was in Tanzania, on my way to Ngorongoro Crater, a highlight of my travels. Since the National Parks in Tanzania wisely do not allow motorcyclists to ride through the parks — because I look like a large hors d’oeuvre to the wildlife (“tastes like chicken”) — I needed to find a place to leave the bike and my gear while catching a safari tour to the crater.
A popular camping spot for the safari trucks that come from further away is a place called Snake Park, just west of Arusha. Perhaps a poor choice of name for people who desire to sleep on the ground. Nonetheless I rode to Snake Park, and made a loop through the campground. There were a couple of safari trucks there, and a large lawn for pitching the many tents that safari-goers sleep in. Aside from that, there wasn’t much for amenities, and very little shade.
Okay, I find myself laughing, and mocking myself at the mention of “amenities” in Africa. There is a large chasm between the ultra-expensive safari lodges, and the places that I camp; many lodges in Africa can easily run $300 to $600US per night. That is obviously not in my budget. I generally paid around $8 a night to camp, or as much as $15 a night for a room.
Not far before I arrived at Snake Park, I passed a place on the opposite side of the road called Meserani Oasis. It was the only place for many miles that had a lot of trees, and it sat behind a walled compound. So I decided to head back a few miles and see what was behind the wall.
When I pulled up to the gate, a gentleman opened the gate and welcomed me in. I rode in and parked the bike, and was met by a mzungu (white guy) who was clearly American. It felt strange to speak to another American after so long. He told me that his mother-in-law owned the lodge, and he and his wife had moved back to Tanzania to be with Mama. I soon met Mama, a lovely woman who spoke perfect english and went out of her way to make me comfortable, even though I was the only guest at that time. Yes, she had campsites under the trees, but for just a few dollars more I could have a private room with a shared bath (and no one to share it with). So I took a room for several nights and inquired about a tour to Ngorongoro. Mama made a few phone calls and was able to book me into a safari tour that would pass by Meserani in the morning and pick me up.
Meserani is a full lodge, with a restaurant and bar, and although I was the only guest, they still cooked dinner for me each night I was there, and breakfast in the morning. I sat in the restaurant at dinner time, and spoke with Mama while she watched television. It was amusing to me that she was watching “Cops” each night…I squirmed a bit thinking that her view of Americans was from a show about redneck trailer trash criminals.
That’s when I learned that Mama had a much more complete view of my country (as did many people I met in Africa). She had another daughter who lived in the United States, and she had traveled to the U.S. to visit her.
“Where?”, I asked.
“Texas”, she replied.
“Really!? Where in Texas?”
“Near Austin.” I was nearly speechless.
“Where near Austin?”
“A small town outside of Austin.”
This was getting weird. Here I was on the opposite side of the world, in the opposite hemisphere, having dinner with a total stranger, who had a daughter living very near me. It turns out her daughter lived about 15 miles from where I was living before I left on my trip.
Before I left Meserani Oasis to head for Nairobi, I asked Mama for contact information for her daughter. She gave me a phone number, and I tucked it into my tank bag.
Seven months later, and back in Texas, I was digging through my tank bag one day and found a small slip of paper with a phone number on it. So I called Patricia.
“Hi Patricia. This is going to sound strange, but last May I was riding my motorcycle through Tanzania and I met your mother.”
“Yes. I’ve been expecting your call!”
We talked for a while, and I promised I’d stop by to meet her and her husband and kids soon.
A few weeks ago, I received a text message from Patricia, inviting me to their home for a social gathering they were having that afternoon. So I headed out, armed with photos of me and Mama.
What a great time. Patricia and John are great people, very much like Mama. Very welcoming, very down-to-earth, and with an incredible family. We had a good visit, and I promised to return and take Patricia for a ride in the sidecar.
Sitting on their back patio on a warm Central Texas afternoon, looking across the yard at a Land Rover parked in the drive, I couldn’t help but feel like I was back in Africa. Surrounded by friendly people. Ready to see what’s around the next bend.
I hope to see Mama Margaret again some day….maybe in Texas, maybe in Tanzania. In the meantime, I’ve got a great reminder of my days spent in Tanzania right up the road.