Here, for what I hope is your own personal amusement, are a few short highlights from three wild weeks in these two wildly different countries.
Although Turkey was fun, I was disappointed not to encounter even one car dealership named The AutoMan Empire.
Tanzania was fantastic, except for almost getting eaten by lions.
TURKISH DELIGHT (Photos below)
For the uninformed, “Turkish Delight” is a candy, NOT a reference to the “Turkish Bath.” (An ancient middle-eastern ritual designed to test your pain threshold.) The candy comes in lots of flavors, is very chewy, and is quite good if you don’t mind losing a few fillings. Judging from the number of places that sell it, if they stopped selling it, the Turkish economy might blow away like an empty Snickers wrapper.
My first – and undoubtedly last – Turkish Bath felt like something out of Gladiator. Briefly: you take off your clothes, put on a towel, then lie on a marble slab that’s been heated to the temperature of a flame broiler. You keep turning over, because your skin is basically screaming, “You idiot!! What are you doing?” You also become become intimately acquainted with every bone, ligament, and body part that is not genetically designed to support you on a hard stone surface.
After that, they put you in a sauna to see if you have any sweat glands left.
When your glands are exhausted, you exit the sauna to lie on another hard marble slab while a Turkish guy the size of Hulk Hogan scrubs you with a locally crafted, exotic blend of steel wool and sandpaper. After every few strokes, he stops and rinses you off with boiling water. This goes on for about half an hour, or until you start to cry.
After that, you’re done.
You stagger to your locker, find your way into your clothes, and return to the lobby. They bring you tea, hold out their hands, and there’s tips all around!
On the good side, you do feel lighter after losing 6 pounds of skin.
Tea is very big in Turkey. The people are quite friendly. They invite you to their shops for tea so they can practice their English. Amazingly, somehow, they ALL happen to have rugs they would like for you, their new American friend, to take home — for a big discount! Sadly for Turkish-American relations, I have a dog who, if given a choice about where to throw up, always prefers a carpet.
The REAL Turkish Delight: Food
My favorite Turkish restaurant:
This is actually a terrific place, owned by a Turkish guy with a great sense of humor. I had two good meals there.
Here’s another one:
I didn’t actually eat here, but I think it’s safe to say the world could use a lot more shops that sell pudding.
Truthfully, I enjoyed Istanbul. The history, architecture, and food are mostly wonderful. Yes, the rug sellers are pushy, but the hotel and restaurant people are genuinely friendly and helpful. I arrived only 12 days after the terrorist bombing in the tourist area, and much of the tourist business had vanished. They were very happy to see anybody, even me.
It was my first time to experience the Muslim call to prayer. The sound is hauntingly beautiful and resonates throughout the city. I especially enjoyed the sunrise and sunset editions.
TANZANIA: BEASTS AND BABOONS (Photos below)
Our two-week group safari had so many highlights they would fill a continent. Here are just a couple.
The Lion Doesn’t Sleep Tonight
For five nights we camped in the Serengeti National Park. It’s NOT like camping at KOA. In the Serengeti you can’t leave your tent at night. Hyenas, jackals, cape buffalo, elephants, and even lions come prowling around. One of our ladies (Linda) left her flip-flops outside her tent all night. The next morning, a hyena had eaten half of each one.
* Which makes one wonder: what brand of foot lotion was she using?
** Hyenas are also famous for eating their prey before they’re dead. It’s an experience you want to avoid.
One night some lions thoughtfully kept us company right outside our tents. Evidently they were making lion noises all night, but I sleep very soundly. Didn’t hear them. At 6:00 AM when the attendant came by our tent, he gave the wake up call and said, “Lions.” He didn’t speak English well, so I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by “lions.” There ARE lions? There HAD BEEN lions? He HEARD lions? Lions are joining us for BREAKFAST?
I threw on some clothes, grabbed my flashlight, and poked my head outside. It was still pitch dark, but I didn’t see or hear any lions. I did see the attendant a couple of tents away waking some other people up, so I figured everything was normal. I walked 100 yards down to the mess tent and poured some coffee. I drank that, poured two more cups, and headed back to the tent with coffee for me and my roommate Heidi.
When I reached the tent just in front of ours, one of the gals inside it (Lisa) said, “Greg, what are you doing? There are lions out there!”
I said, “I haven’t seen any.”
She said, “Right THERE! I saw their eyes with my flashlight!”
She meant a few feet from where I was walking.
My first thought was, Well, I can always throw hot coffee in their faces.
But I dashed into our tent, and – strangely – found I had lost any need for caffeine.
Zebras To The Rescue
Later that morning we watched this scene unfold in the Serengeti:
A jackal was chasing a baby gazelle. The mama gazelle was running interference, trying to stay between the jackal and her baby. Meanwhile, off in the distance, a hyena was galloping toward the scene. After a few minutes, the jackal did manage to catch the baby gazelle, and killed it quickly. Unfortunately for the jackal, the hyena arrived promptly and stole the carcass. A few seconds later another hyena showed up, and the two hyenas pulled the carcass in half. (Sharing. Hyenas are so polite.) The jackal was left with nothing but a spectator ticket.
Shortly after that we encountered a rhino. For a long time we watched him make a beeline toward nothing in particular.
* Which reminded me of me.
Then we stopped for a picnic while some hippos lolled around next to us in a pond. Hippos are the most dangerous African animals in terms of people killed. They look so goofy and slow, it’s hard to believe they’re aggressive and fast. But none of our fearless guides seemed worried, so we ate our meal pretty close to them. (You know, to get good pictures.)
After lunch we drove past lions, wildebeests, and zebras. One of our guides explained that right after the mama wildebeest delivers a new baby, she walks a short distance away to drop the placenta. That way, the hyenas will smell the placenta, and spend some time eating it before they come for the baby. If the baby has just 15 minutes to stand up, that’s all it needs. Fifteen minutes after birth, the baby can run with the herd.
As if on cue, we came upon four mama wildebeests with four babies. We stopped to watch. Two of the babies were standing, and two were lying down, not moving. But we couldn’t tell if the two on the ground were sick, dead, resting, or had just been born. We did, however, see a jackal a couple hundred yards away trotting toward the babies.
As we watched, one of the babies on the ground struggled to its feet. We realized these were new babies. The jackal was still coming, so we all started pleading (from the safety of the jeep) for the remaining baby to get up. The mama was doing her best too. She kept making come-and-go movements to tell the baby it was time to get up. The jackal was still approaching. And off in the distance we could see hyenas.
Well, where you see wildebeests, you often see zebras.
They like to travel together because they graze in a complementary way. So there were a few zebras near these four mamas and babies. As we urged that last baby to stand up, and as we watched the jackal coming closer – maybe 50 yards now – five zebras casually moved into a line, side by side, about ten feet apart. They stood directly between the baby wildebeest and the jackal.
It was an amazing thing to witness. The jackal had to come to a sudden halt. He stood there, eyeing the baby wildebeest and its mother, with five large zebras standing like sentries in his path. There was nothing he could do.
Finally, a couple of minutes later (to the sound of cheering from our jeep!) that last baby struggled to its feet for the first time. We had already seen one baby killed that day, and one was enough.
And one more frustrated jackal went hungry, outfoxed by zebras.
Later, to top it off, we parked our big jeep at a restroom stop. As we opened the car doors, a mama baboon with a baby on her belly jumped into the jeep, grabbed a plastic bag with some souvenirs in it, jumped out again, and ran off. It shocked the hell out of everybody. Gary (one of us – not a guide) bravely ran after it. And while that was happening, a large male baboon jumped in through an open back window and landed on the seat next to me. We looked at each other for a split second, then he jumped between the seats in front of me, scaring the hoohas out of the two ladies there. But before I could take heroic action, he jumped out the open door. It was a crazy exclamation point for the whole day.
Singing for the Masai
Another big highlight for our group was singing a few songs for Masai villagers, and for a school full of kids. It was a ton of fun for us to give them something back.
This video, unfortunately, was shot in vertical mode, but you’ll get the idea.
More Great Photos By Carla Meeske (Thanks Carla!)
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grants gazelles and wildebeest:
elephant wearing red dirt makeup:zebras doing something fun:ostrich laughing at zebras:giraffe looking hopeful:
Want To Go?
Going on safari to see the big animals is a fantastic experience. If you’re interested, I can recommend a great tour company, and even get you a bit of a discount.
If you’d like to travel with one of my group tours sometime, just sign up for my newsletter at GregTamblyn.com. Tentatively, our next destination is New Zealand in January 2017.
Reliable sources have assured me there are no lions in New Zealand.
Feel free to comment in the box below. If you’ve never commented here before, your comment will have to be approved, which may take a few minutes. Or a few hours, if I’m out on patrol with my dog, the Rabbit Sheriff, who I think is half jackal:
© 2016 Greg Tamblyn