June 11th to 16th and the 17th in Moshi
After a better night’s sleep, (Fran has had trouble sleeping lately without AC), we went back to Lake Victoria to get some fresh tilapia at the shoreline fish market and then headed northeast on the roads outside the Serengeti through small villages, rural areas with lush, fertile lands, with rolling hills, small lakes and rivers, to reach the north gate, Ikoma. We waved to people along the way which brought smiles to their faces. We only encountered sixteen vehicles headed toward us, not counting motorcycles, over a span of about three hours.
While passing through, we reflected on the local people’s lot in this area, west of the Serengeti and decided that it was not as terrible as we thought. They grow all they need to eat, have small homes and much social structure. What they are mainly lacking, is plumbing, and good transportation (and internet but most probably don’t have the means for a computer anyway); they seem to all have power and cable. There appears to be some medical clinics, lots of small shops and schools, both private and public. The Tanzanian government only provides education in Swahili with a dabbling of English, so if parents want their children to learn English, they have to pay for private school. The Maasai people appear poor in our eyes as they live in huts but that is their tradition and in their culture, it’s the number of cows you have that denotes your wealth.
We drove into the park that afternoon, in the hopes of seeing the migration, as Ricky had learned it was in this area. We did encounter huge numbers of wildebeest, zebra and some gazelles as far as the eye could see, but they weren’t moving in a particular direction; more like a convention. It is a major step in the process though: to congregate closer together, before migrating. Now they just await the signal. Timing is everything as they say.
As we were viewing the throngs of animals, the vehicle began to overheat; there was a puncture in the radiator. We used up most of our water and limped back to town with multiple stops to cool down and get more water from passersby. The driver got a mechanic to come to the guest house we were staying at and worked late into the evening making repairs.
Speaking of guest house, this was the worst! It was the ONLY one in this little village outside the park gate, and although it had power, it was only for the lights; no sockets worked and even better yet, it had NO running water, squat toilets, no AC of course, not even a fan and no screens on the windows. Not impressed at all. Doug created a perpetual line at the guest house gate making balloon animals for the local children, and a few adults.
We headed back into the park heading southeast the next morning. Today we saw that the herds were much denser than the day before but still no signal to head north. Along the way we saw many hippos out of their pools, a few quite huge, and the downstream stinking cesspool that is created when more than fifty hippos gather upstream – and you just know that there are some villagers further downstream, drinking and washing in this water. Doug even spotted a leopard following two hippos! The leopard was only going the same direction as the hippos, to the water, and does not see them as prey.
We were fortunate enough to see several more lions, including a male, elephants, a hyena, another carcass being fed on by vultures and marabou stork. We definitely noticed that when as we reached the east side of the park, where we had been a few days before, there were now no wildebeest, very few zebras and gazelles.
We arrived at Ngorongoro Crater rim campsite in the late afternoon, and could see into the crater from our campsite where we could see herds of animals and, in the lake, flocks of flamingos. Zebras came to visit the campsite before dinner and there was evidence that elephants had visited before and we heard that buffalo visited overnight. The crater rim is very high, at 2400 meters (8000’), and the temperature is quite cool, causing us to put on shoes and socks as well as a two or three layers of clothes. Some people had toques and mittens! We were envious but who knew one should pack such things for a safari in Africa!
So Friday morning we awoke to Seattle weather: cold, damp, fog and rain. Our guide must have slept elsewhere as be was nowhere to be found first thing but arrived around 8:30 and we headed to the Crater gate to go down inside. It had stopped raining by this point but the fog was still hanging around and visibility was not good on the crater rim road. As we began the decent we drove below the clouds and we began to see herds of wildebeest (these here do not migrate) and lots of buffalo.
We saw a pride of lions (there are five prides within the crater) very soon and another later in our visit. When we encountered the second, three lionesses walked over to the vehicles and settled under the back end of one in the shade. We also saw solo elephants on two occasions, herds of zebra, not a lot of antelope, actually only Thomson and Grant gazelles and a few eland, ostriches, warthogs, and hippos to our surprise. There were actually many of them in four different locations. We saw the largest herd of buffalo we’ve ever seen anywhere. There were several pairs of beautiful crowned crowns and there more hyena than we’ve ever seen in one park (over twenty). Certain animals like zebra, elephants, are able to walk out of the crater when they feel like it. Lions don’t tend to leave and there is actually a probably with inbreeding now. Black rhinos are monitored and are prevented from leaving due to poaching. Many of the rhino from other parks in Tanzania are brought here for protection.
There is a saline lake in the crater that dries up every year and we were fortunate that at this time is was pretty full and there were thousands of flamingos. The roads don’t get that close to the lake but it was an awesome sight. Another spectacular sight was the clouds rolling over the crater rim. The clouds in general had lifted before lunch time and the sun warmed things up enough to pop the roof for better viewing but some clouds remained on some parts of the rim itself. These types of land cruisers with the pop up roof and having a driver, is THE way to safari.
Something that we thought odd, was that we saw no vultures or marabou stork but we were told at other times of the year, they are present. Unfortunately we did not see leopard or rhino and they do reside year round in the crater.
We left the crater around three and enjoyed a walk on the crater rim with an armed ranger. Morris was well spoken, had excellent English and was most knowledgeable. He educated us about Maasai culture, animals, the crater and surrounding other craters, plants and had us do an experiment. We came upon a lone young male giraffe and he suggested we walk single file and see how close we could get before he wandered off. Fran got in front (as giraffe are her favourite) and we walked fairly close before we encountered too many thorny acacia bushes to go much further in any comfort. Doug took a few photos and we continued our walking safari. We learned about the small five: elephant shrew, rhino beetle, lion ant, buffalo weaver and leopard turtle.
On the drive back to the camp as the sun began to set, we came upon an elephant and a jackal (our first those trip).
“’Twas shortly after dinner, as we prepared for bed,
That a breaking branch was heard outside the tent right above our head.
Doug in his sweats, looked out the tent door from where the noise went,
where to his surprise, there stood an elephant,
a mere three meters away,
Fran quickly had her camera at bay!”
Fran took a photo and after the second shot, got admonished by a ranger. After the ranger left though, many others did the exact same thing. He hung around for a while and you could hear him pee right beside a tent. Whew, thank goodness not ours!
Saturday we packed up in the fog and left the crater campsite to lower elevations and warmer temps. We arrived outside Tarangire National Park in the early afternoon. Ricky found us a guest house and Rashid unloaded the vehicle. This time we had power, a fan, running water for toilet and shower but not the sink. Ah Africa keeps reminding you where you are!
Worth mentioning is that this safari includes all of our meals so even when we are not camping (as was intended), Rashid is given a cooking area and still makes all the meals.
Ricky took us for a game drive in Tarangire which is famous for elephants, termite hills and an abundance of baobab trees. We saw a lot of the latter two before we encountered any elephant and then we saw many, many of them; all ages and sizes. Once we were surrounded by about ten just chomping away on the long grass. We also saw mongoose, impala, zebra, waterbuck, a huge herd of buffalo, lots of giraffes, vultures, three jackals, a dik-dik, a lone wildebeest, warthogs and vervet monkeys. This park is quite pretty with trees and grassy plains. Not only are there baobab trees but palm trees; this has surprised us in other parks here too.
Less than a kilometer from the gate as we were exiting, the land cruiser stopped. We had no power. Ricky and Doug looked for a reason, but nothing was obvious. Fran got out and enjoyed the sunset. Ricky pulled out a wire, hooked up the battery to the fuel pump (?) and we got out and pushed and we got it running. Ricky had a mechanic come out after dinner – remember this is Saturday!, (only in Africa) and he learned a fuse had gone in a place he did not checkknow about.
We learned of a bombing in a church in Zanzibar the day before. Luckily, only one dead and three injured. Boy we were just there ten days ago! First a coup in Thailand after we leave, now this.
Sunday, our second last day. We started the day early and went out on a game drive before breakfast in the park. We enjoyed a magnificent sunrise; the sun sets and rises so quickly here near the equator.
We were the first in the park but it seems the animals did not get the memo that we were coming. It took a while before we saw anything but we saw impala, giraffes, zebra, waterbuck, ostriches on the road, one lone wildebeest running like it was being chased, elephants, warthogs, vultures in palm trees, vervet monkeys, dik-dik, buffalo weavers, hornbills, grouse, and a hammerhead bird in the river. It was very peaceful having the park to ourselves for a couple of hours before we saw another land cruiser.
After a rather small breakfast, Doug went for a short walk and had a shirt mended by a local tailor. Doug paid double what he asked, for a total of sixty cents. We packed up and checked out a Maasai open market nearby. There were mostly vegetables, with some clothing and meat and quick fried food. They sell “Maasai shoes” which are made from car tires and are perfectly rectangular so you can’t tell which direction the footprint is going! We drove to the last park on our itinerary, Arusha National Park northeast of Arusha. This park contains Mount Meru, another mountain in the area that you can do a portered climb on like Kilimanjaro.
We did an almost two hour armed ranger guided walk in this park. It is a beautiful green park with mountains, meadows, waterfalls and forest – so “un Africa like”. The ranger (Hari) was not as good as the one we’d had at Ngorongoro and walked way too slow but we did see and get pretty close to a herd of buffalos and a nearby family of warthogs. We also saw a crowned eagle and heard many bird calls. The walk took us to a waterfall and a huge fig tree.
On the way back to our last lodgings (again a guest house instead of camping – I think our guide who is older than us, doesn’t like tenting), we came upon a broken down bus that had stopped right in the middle of the road. It was quite interesting to see how our driver and a bunch of male bus passengers, all shouting different suggestions, figured out how our vehicle could get past. We thought Ricky should have just gotten out and sorted it himself, but was it entertaining even though not in English and we did get around it after a bit.
It’s now Monday, our last day on safari. Ricky took us back to Arusha park and we did a morning game drive this morning. It was quite dreary looking outside but not rainy and although feeling damp, it was not very cold. It started off rather bleak in the way of animal sightings, but we did see a herd of zebra, giraffe on several occasions, a couple of herds of buffalo, warthogs, baboons, many different sightings of reedbuck and waterbuck, a fish eagle, and mongoose, dik-dik, but the highlight today was monkeys: both blue monkeys as well as pretty black and white colobus monkeys, including a baby which we would probably never have seen without Ricky’s keen eyes.
On the way back to civilization, we stopped at a craft market and did some shopping. We were dropped off at our hotel, Q’Wine Hotel in Moshi and were so happy to have a nice big room, big comfy bed, a huge bathroom with a western toilet, and AC. Unfortunately (this is Africa after all), although there was supposed to be WiFi, it was down and when we asked about an internet café, a lady was kind enough to walk us to one, but the power was out on that street! We went for a walk on our own and found a nicer one a bit further. It was nice to be connected again. That night we sat in the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, watched Mount Kilimanjaro emerge from the clouds and the sunset shale we waited 1.5 hours fir our dinner! While we waited, our tour operator, Peter, showed up to check on our experience.
On the 17th, our last day on Africa, we got caught upmon things, had pedicures, packed we walked a bit shopping but quickly grew weary of the constant hounding.