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Excitement, perspective in Tanzania

March 23, 2009
After reading this column, file it under the heading of "Things to Do After the Recession."

Janie and I recently returned from a photographic safari in Tanzania with our children and their spouses. Just so you don't think I'm crazy, the trip was paid for in 2008 before we began to experience this uncomfortable economic malaise. The cost was non-refundable — in today's parlance, that means no bailout.

I love to visit our zoo, but there is something special about viewing wildlife separated by nothing more than a few yards of the Serengeti Plain. You have seen it on the Discovery Channel, but that is not the same. It is exhilarating to go eye to eye with the animals, including cape buffalo, wildebeest, elephants, the cats and the elusive black rhinoceros knowing that, if you fall off your Land Rover, the concerns about sales revenue back home would be immediately put in a different perspective.

If you are fortunate, you will have an opportunity to witness nature as it violently unfolds. Impala, gazelle and zebra are on this Earth to provide food for the cats. The formidable lion leaves little question as to the outcome of the chase. After the lions complete their meal and retire to the tall grass to nap through the afternoon, hyenas, vultures and jackals pick over the carcasses like a bunch of divorce lawyers.

One day, we observed a cheetah tracking her prey well into the gathering dusk. Two hours went by like five minutes as we watched the drama. Unfortunately for the cheetah, it was an unsuccessful hostile takeover. The only kill we observed that day was a marauding hawk who extracted a tree mouse and enjoyed a light repast probably before invading the nests of other birds. The amateur photographers in our family recorded these events and many others. It was digital mayhem. You will probably see some of these efforts in this year's state fair contest.

Tanzania is a developing nation in the lowest 25 percent of the world's economies. It is an East African country with a tropical climate — hot and humid. Medical care is substandard throughout and a number of immunizations are recommended. Janie and I had a thousand dollars of sera pumped into our arms before departing. We were also armed with prescription drugs for malaria, infection and dysentery. The best advice anyone can give a traveler embarking for Tanzania is, "Don't drink the water."

In the midst of this poor country, it is remarkable what safari camps can provide in terms of creature comforts. Treehouses and tent camps with porcelain and five-star lodges offer a range of luxury. The food and wine vary from excellent to gourmet. Can it be pricy? WHEW!

My last trip to Tanzania was not quite so luxurious. In 1999, a few friends and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. From a pup tent one evening, I wrote the following journal entry:

"Dinner consisted of hot water and rice. It made little difference. Most of the climbers were too sick, too tired or too overcome by the altitude to eat anything. It got so cold at night that I wore three layers and stuffed myself into an Arctic sleeping bag with two hot water bottles. I still got cold."

I had hoped to show our children the scene of that favorite adventure, but the mountain was obscured by clouds both times we arrived at the Mount Kilimanjaro airport.

Although this recent trip was booked on our own, Janie and I had previously enjoyed safaris organized under the auspices of the Indianapolis Zoo. We recommend you take advantage of that opportunity. If your only "game drive" is down Meridian Street to watch the Indianapolis Colts, I suggest you contact Michael Crowther, the zoo president, and plan an adventure with the zoo folks — perhaps once we get our economy straightened out.

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Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com. 
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