Day 18: Iringa to Mikumi – we’re millionaires

4 Highlights for today:

1. The Valley of the Baobabs

We had a drive of about 5 hours today and en route was an area in which there are loads of baobab trees. These particular trees are not the oldest in Africa but there is an unusual concentration of them. Here we are:

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Baobab trees live for more than a thousand years but don’t have the standard concentric rings to help them be aged. In fact, we learned, they become hollow as they grow older. The easiest way to assess their age is to try and wrap your arms around one. As a rule of thumb, your arm-span is about 100 years of growth – this tree we measured as being about 600 years old:

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2. Biggest ever ATM transaction

To pay for our upcoming Serengeti excursion we needed to extract 2 MILLION Tanzanian Shillings from the ATM. This took something like 5 separate withdrawals and gave us a lot of notes (I think the biggest denomination was 20,000 so we had a lot of wedge).

It was very cool to then count out all the cash – it felt like playing Monopoly – and hand it over to our guide who was entrusted with it all in the mean time before the excursion start.

3. Playing “Bao”

When we were in Malawi some kids taught us a traditional game called “Bao”. We chose not to buy it but there was one to borrow and play while we were hanging out at our campsite in Mikumi.

The way it works is there is a wooden board with 4 parallel lines of indentations in which small stones can lie. You move stones around this board and when one lands in an empty indentation you can steal the stones of your opponent which lie opposite your own. (As I’ve tried to type this I’ve realised it’s not going to be very clear how to play – it’s also made me realise how often a board game appears quite complicated when you read the instructions but becomes beautifully simple when demonstrated. This is a simple game and quite fun.)

We played for a few hours with some of our traveling companions and kept out of the sun.

4. Pepsi Land

I’ve been intrigued by the different brands being advertised as we’ve been travelling around. Airtel is probably the most evident brand with a presence in almost all villages. Like Coca-cola they’ve done a great job of sponsoring local shopkeepers signs and you can’t help noticing.

More rare has been any presence of Pepsi. In Tanzania, that started to change. There is a town about 40 kilometers over the border, where about 80 percent of ALL the roofs in the town are painted in blue and say Pepsi on them. Clearly I should have taken a picture. I didn’t. But it really was weird.

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