19 May 2010

Meresani Snake Park

From Martin’s Cozy Place (Addis Abba, Ethiopia) to Mayoka Village (Nkhata Bay, Malawi), Kickabout has squatted, camped, invaded, and crashed in places throughout east Africa. Some have been pretty posh (Utengule Coffee Lodge in Mbeya, Tanzania) while others have been less so (Mzoozoozoo in Mzuzu, Malwai). We have yet to meet an unfriendly innkeeper, and for the most part, we’ve made new friends at every stop. One type of place, however, has really earned our respect and future business: the “Drink for Charity” Lodge.

Just outside of Arusha, Tanzania (30km west) you can find Meserani Snake Park. Run by Ma and BJ for the last 18 years, Snake Park is a wild compound composed of campgrounds, a legendary bar, a mechanics’ shop and the best collection of poisonous snakes we’ve ever seen. There’s a $5 entrance fee to see the snakes, birds, crocodiles, and turtles – but the camping is free.

The kitchen is limited, but the bar is fully stocked with beer and liquor. The bar and ‘zoo’ alone is worth a stop, but what puts Snake Park on Kickabout’s “Top Places to Stay” list is its connection to the local Maasai community.

Overland travelers like a good drink. And they know that good drinks are not solitary creatures and enjoy company, especially other good drinks. And the Kickabout crew is nothing if not loyal and well-trained overland travelers. So when we learned that proceeds from Ma’s Bar at Snake Park funded local community projects, we turned our affinity for cold beer into funds for a cultural museum, ladies’ craft market, health clinic, and classroom construction project. Talk about a return on investment!

The Maasai Cultural Museum and Ladies’ Craft Market sits just outside the gates of Snake Park. A local Maasai warrior takes you on a tour of the museum and, for a small fee, on a Maasai walk to learn more about Maasai culture today. (If you fancy a camel ride, they have those too.) Fifteen families own their own shops at the craft market where you can buy wood carvings, jewelry, bowls, fabrics, etc. While the prices are higher than what you can find on the side-of-the-road stalls, the proceeds from this market enable the women to make a decent living and pay for their kids' education.

There is also a medical clinic that treats 800-1000 patients a month. Free of charge. Medicines are purchased by Snake Park via our early afternoon soda, our happy hour cold beers, and our whiskey night cap. Ma’s watering hole also pays for the construction of new water wells. A couple of years ago, BJ led the drilling of a new borehole to alleviate the water needs of nearby Eluai Village. The resulting well produces 4800 liters per hour, enough for Eluai and neighboring Emerete Village. Other projects include building new classrooms to ease the overcrowding in the local primary and secondary schools and hopefully, a home for children orphaned by AIDS.

When we asked Ma about how/why they decided to run their business like this, she said, “When we got here 18 years ago, there was nothing. We just wanted to make a decent living and help out. We don’t want to live like royalty while the neighbors suffer. If a tiny portion of the tourist money goes to making this place a bit better…why would we not do it.”

Cheers to that, Ma. We’ll have one more.

Visit Meserani Snake Park

To contact Meserani Snake Park: mailto:%20snakepark@habari.co.tz

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