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THE FOLLOWING IS A GUEST BLOG BY MIKE AND MINDY SONTAG, TWO OF OUR CLOSE FRIENDS FROM NASHVILLE WHO MET US IN TANZANIA FOR A SAFARI: 

After nine months of tracking Derek and Shanna’s journey on this blog, we were thrilled to finally join them in Tanzania.  Mindy planned the itinerary, all Derek and Shanna had to do was meet us in Arusha, near Kilimanjaro, with very little prior knowledge about what the next eighteen days would hold.
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Tanzania, unlike other parts of Africa, including neighboring Kenya and Rwanda, has for the last twenty years been free of religious and ethnic conflicts.  While the economic culture has been one of rampant poverty, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic exists here as it does in other parts of Africa, the people have found a way to find happiness in a society dominated by a culture accustomed to living off the land, and where a person’s net worth is often measured by the size of the herd he owns or the land he cultivates.
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Tanzania has also reaped the rewards associated with a vibrant tourism industry that takes advantage of its numerous and diverse regions, from the valley between Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru, to the plains of the Serengeti, and its roughly 430 species and subspecies.  The ability to view these animals in their native habitats in the numerous parks, game reserves and conservation areas was why Mindy and I chose Tanzania to meet Derek and Shanna, and where we rekindled our friendships and where we began our search for “The Big Nine” – elephant, leopard, lion, black rhino, cape buffalo, giraffe, zebra, cheetah and hippo.
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Our safari began at Hemingway’s Bush Camp in the Olmalog Game Reserve in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the area where Ernest Hemingway hunted and from where he wrote “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”  Our guide for the duration of our safari was Lesika, and our mode of transportation a Land Cruiser, with which we would all develop a love/hate relationship, as it would provide us access to incredible game viewing and picture-taking opportunities, as well as carry us for hours across unpaved roads bouncing us around uneven terrain and kicking up enough dust to create a visible film on our bodies.
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The advantage to being on the game reserve, as we would later discover, is the ability to go “off -roading” in search of wild animals in the arid land.  We were free to wander about as we wished, being guided only by our desire to get the next best shot (cameras only, however).  We were also able to get amazingly close to all the elephants and zebras wandering only yards from our vehicle.  It turns out that elephants have a tremendous sense of smell and hearing, but terrible eyesight, and so as long as we stayed downwind from them we could get close enough to almost touch them.  We were also able to trek into Kenya for a bit, and at one point embraced each other with one foot in Kenya, and one in Tanzania.  At night we returned to our tents for bucket showers with water heated over an open fire, and a delicious meal served by a campfire.  Our entertainment was provided by the Masai tribe we had visited; clothed in their pastoral bright red garments, they danced, jumped and chanted by the firelight.