Elizabethton couple Gayle and Jobelle Hood are back from a self-described “trip of a lifetime,” that provided an abundance of fond memories, new friendships and several albums full of colorful photographs.
While thumbing through the photo albums — which are bound in a zebra pattern — the couple reminisced about their Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge and Tented Safari Adventure.
The trip was inspired by Ray and Jane Dunkelberg. Jobelle said she and Jane taught at East Side Elementary School for 30 years and have remained friends.
The two couples discussed the Dunkelbergs’ plans to take a safari vacation in Africa and suggested the Hoods join them. On an impulse, the Hoods agreed.
Jobelle pointed out there were some pre-trip preparations.
“We had to take malaria pills, and we received a list of instructions,” she said.
Safari participants were told to wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves.
“They wanted us to wear khaki,” she said. “No bright clothing was allowed.”
The couple was also advised to bring plenty of insect repellent with DEET.
Before leaving on their African trip, the couple also watched the Oscar-winning “Out of Africa,” a 1985 motion picture starring Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Klaus Maria Brandauer.
The Hoods drove to Atlanta, where they boarded a flight to Amsterdam. From there, they made an overnight flight to Africa, landing at an airport near Kilamanjaro. The entire trip took roughly 16 hours.
“That’s where the fun began,” Jobelle said.
They met their guide, Peter Mjau, who spoke fluent English with a British accent.
“He promised every day would be an adventure,” Jobelle said. “He didn’t disappoint.”
From Nov. 29 to Dec. 15, they spent 15 days in six different locations. Their African stay began with a three-night stay in a camp in the foothills of Mount Kilamanjaro near the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha that became one of their favorite camping locations.
The couple said they ate extremely well during their African stay.
“We had a chef in every camp,” Jobelle said.
The meals were prepared by the chef and some kitchen help.
“We had lentils, rice, greens, fruit and a choice of meats, including pork or chicken,” she said. “The meals were great.”
Breakfast became their favorite meal. “We had omelets, oatmeal and pancakes, only they called them crepes,” Jobelle said.
Although they enjoyed the food, they adhered to the warnings to avoid the water.
“We didn’t drink any of the water,” she said.
The only safe water came in bottles.
“We could not even brush our teeth without using bottled water,” Jobelle said.
The safari tour business provided ample water every day to guard against dehydration.
“It was very hot,” Gayle said. “Most days, it got to 85 to 90 degrees.”
“Being so much closer to the equator, it felt more intense than that,” Jobelle said.
She learned one painful lesson about the power of the sun while photographing during one of the safari trips into the field. Her hands burned because she kept them in the same position while holding her camera.
After that, their guide offered a solution.
“He told me to put clean, white socks on my hands to prevent sunburn,” Jobelle said with a laugh.
The land tours consisted of 14 participants, as well as guides and drivers.
The couple said they made many new friends.
“We liked all the members of our tour group,” Jobelle said. “We still email them.”
Although they saw a lot of wildlife and majestic scenery, they also learned about the culture of the Tanzanian people.
“Our guide told us that there are 120 different tribes in Tanzania,” Jobelle said. “He also said the people have no differences on the issues of politics and religion.”
The couple said that the people of Tanzania rely on tourism.
Many of their encounters were with members of the Maasai tribe. They spent two days in a rustic camp viewing game animals with a Maasai guide and visited a nearby Maasai village to see and appreciate how the people live. Once warriors, the Maasai now tend cattle and make beaded jewelry.
Jobelle said that the women in the tour group were dressed in brightly colored native clothing by the women of the tribe. The men of the tribe did the same with the men in the tour group.
“We also danced,” Jobelle said. “The men danced with the men, and the women with the women.”|
She recalled that their traditional dances involved a lot of jumping.
The tour group also got a hands-on introduction to tribal life.
“We helped plaster the walls of one of their huts,” Jobelle said. “I climbed onto one of the straw roofs of the huts.”
She said also received instruction on how to carry wood on her head.
After these chores were completed, the villagers washed the hands of every member of the tour group and let their guests look inside their huts.
“The villagers also laid out all their wares for an instant garage sale,” Jobelle said.
The sales featured a lot of handmade items, including a lot of beadwork.
Purchases could be made with shillings or American dollars.
Most Tanzanians speak Swahili, and the Hoods said they managed to learn a few expressions during their stay.
They learned to say “jambo,” which is a greeting basically translated into English as “hello.”
They also learned “lala salama,” which means “good night,” as well as “hakuna matata,” which corresponds in English to “there are no worries” or “no problem.”
Their guide had acquired his own favorite American pop culture phrases, including “hasta la vista, baby.”
The Hoods noted that all the people they met were extremely friendly.
“They loved to smile,” Jobelle said.
The tour group also visited Shanga River House, an inspiring co-op which trains physically-challenged Tanzanians to create jewelry and crafts from recycled materials. At this stop, they also got to tour a coffee plantation and enjoyed a traditional African lunch at the River House Restaurant.
Their adventure continued to Tarangire National Park for two days. The Hoods noted that this park boasted an amazing variety of wildlife.
“It has the largest congregation of African elephants in the world,” Jobelle said.
They also visited Oldupi Gorge, which was where anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered fossil fragments that became an anthropological milestone.
They also had three days to explore the famous Serengeti National Park where the multitude and diversity of wildlife species are unrivaled anywhere on the planet. The couple noted that the Serengeti is perhaps best known for the incredible migration that takes place each year as more than 200,000 zebra and a half million wildebeest are in pursuit of the rain.
“They really only have two seasons,” Jobelle explained. “Rainy and dry.”
Gayle said one of his goals for the trip was to see one of his favorite animals.
They also enjoyed seeing some of Africa’s most famous animals.
“I wanted to see a cheetah,” Gayle said. “I got to see one run down a gazelle.”
Jobelle said she had trouble choosing a favorite.
“I’d never seen a hippo,” she said. “It’s just amazing that you can look out there and see all these beautiful creatures.”
Their Tanzanian adventure also took them to Ngorongoro Crater, which has been likened to both Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden. They saw the endangered black rhinoceros at this location.
The couple saw the “Big Five” of African animals, which consists of African elephant, giraffe, lion, black rhino and leopard.
The group visited a nearby Iraqi village where bricks were made and then stopped at an open-air market offering a great variety of items for sale.
Jobelle, as a retired teacher, was fascinated by a visit to a Maasai elementary school in Karatu where students performed traditional African songs and dances.
“That was one of my favorite places that we visited,” she said.
The school maintained 14 teachers for more than 600 students.
“They learn both English and Swahili,” Jobelle said.
Before arriving at the school, their guide asked the tour group’s members to provide some school supplies.
“They really don’t have very much, but they love going to school,” Jobelle said.
Jobelle taught a group of students how to sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” complete with the requisite clapping of hands.
Their last evening in Africa, the members of the tour group gathered at Tloma Lodge for a farewell dinner to complete the adventure.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” Jobelle said. “It was wonderful to go with great friends.”