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Tanzania – Safari Part I

June 6th to 10th – our Safari part one

We booked a nine night, ten day budget camping safari in Tanzania.  This included visiting four national parks: Serengeti, Lake Maynard, Tarangire and Arusha NP as well as the Ngorogoro Crater (a conservation area).  We flew to Arusha through Dar from Zanzibar and were met by our hotel.  It was a guest house outside Arusha which was very nice and decorated with many African motifs.  We enjoyed a nice tilapia dinner in the hotel restaurant – again the only guests in the joint!

Parks in in this part of Tanzania have three designations: conservation area where locals like the Maasai can live but not hunt; game reserve where hunting is allowed with a license and a park where neither is allowed.

Our safari company picked us up Saturday morning in a land cruiser (by far the most common vehicle for safari) with a driver/guide (Ricky) and a cook (Rashid).  The tour owner, Peter Meela, was with them, chatted with us a bit and then we were on our way to Lake Manyara.  We made a few stops for provisions as well as a couple of “government mandated stops”, at a cultural centre and a crafts market.  Ricky advised they had to be at least fifteen minutes long but recommended not to buy anything as prices were high and it was better to buy from locals at markets.

To our surprise, instead of setting up camp that night we stayed in a little lodge in the town outside the park.  We dropped off all the gear and Ricky popped the roof up and we went to see the park for about three hours.  This park is three quarters the lake itself so does not encompass a lot of roads to drive.  Also, about eighteen months ago they had huge rains that washed away roads and killed or drove off many animals so although we saw animals, if we’d been told this earlier, we would have left this park off our itinerary.    In the park we saw: buffalo, ground horn bills, blue monkeys, baboons, termite hills, huge, huge flocks of flamingo on the lake, giraffe, pelicans, storks and other water birds on the river, baobab trees, wildebeest, impala and warthogs.

Sunday we began the drive to the Serengeti via Ngrogoro Conservation Area.  En route we had even better views of Lake Manyara.  The drive began with a long climb up to the rim of the crater itself.  We stopped at a view point and looked into the crater.  Amazing! You could see the whole crater and make out large herds of animals and a large lake.

The road began descending and we made a stop at Oldupai Gorge, aka ‘the cradle of civilization’, to better understand the breadth and significance of the archeological discoveries and the dedication of the archeologists there.  Evidence of four human species were found here; the oldest not necessarily of our lineage.  The oldest was a set of 3.6 million years old foot prints that, because they look like present day human footprints, almost went undiscovered. Skull fragments of three of our ancestors were discovered here, the oldest dating back a couple of million years ago, and home sapiens from 17,000 years ago.  Fossils and foot prints of animals similar to today were also found but much larger (e.g. elephant foot prints a half metre across).  This area was covered in volcanic ash 3-4 million years ago which set the stage for the plentiful animals and humans.  Erosion through a gorge (Oldupai) provided the evidence of the historical changes.

The road then got rougher and led us to the Serengeti NP’s southeast entrance.  The land opened into endless grassy plains and we began to see wildlife: kori bustard (birds), vultures, a herd of eland, a pool of hippos, ostriches, a hyena, zebras, Thompson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles, hartebeests, a python!, giraffes, wildebeests, warthogs and baboons.  This night we camped at a public campsite called Nyani.  There were toilets, cold showers, a cooking building and a dining “hall”.  Each group’s cook sets up your table in the hall, cooks your meals in the cook’s building and serves meals in the dining hall.  The cooks also sleep in the cook building and the drivers have their own small tents.  Our cook also set up our tent as well as taking it down when we left.  There were about ten different groups camping at this site.

Monday after breakfast we went on an unforgettable game drive.  Right away we saw a lone buffalo beside the road and then we encountered giraffes, warthogs and a pool with over FIFTY hippos lounging in the water.  The real highlight though, began when we came across a log in the grass about ten metres from the road where two lionesses with four cubs were lazing in the sun.  Then along came another lioness with three more cubs.   Our guide then learned of a leopard in the nearby tree and we backed up to watch him. As we were watching him, one of the three lioness went across the road and brought back two more cubs carrying one by the scruff of its neck in her mouth! Unbelievably, we then saw two cheetahs nearby! All of this was in the space of about six hundred square metres.  We saw the cheetah fairly close and later stalking some gazelle.  THEN we watched the leopard climb down the tree and wander off.

On a not so great note, we were somewhat disturbed by how the tour drivers all jostle for position and kind of corner the animals.  The animals appear somewhat used to the vehicles but their paths and “escape routes” get blocked a great deal.

There were large numbers of gazelles and we saw a few topis.  As we have been in other countries in Africa and in many game reserves, there are some animals we somewhat take for granted and maybe don’t mention enough or stop for as often or take many photos of.  These include gazelles and other small buck, monkeys, zebras, warthogs. We have seen many of all of these on this adventure; more than we could possibly count.  As a side note, ‘impala’ is Zulu for ‘uncountable’.

In the afternoon we went out again and saw many more of the “common” animals along with a few new ones like, secretary birds and a reedbuck, before seeing another leopard in the distance.  We watched for a while as he walked towards our location, crossed the road and wandered off into the tall grass.

We spent a second night at Nyani but tonight there seemed to be a couple less groups.  We met a nice South African couple touring the parks on their own.  Spent a couple of hours chatting with them that evening.  They had the coolest 4×4 trailer called a Bush Lapa.

Tuesday we packed up after breakfast and headed northwest in hopes of seeing some of the wildebeest migration.  We learned from our guide that climate change has had an impact on this massive event.  The wildebeest migrate in search of water and head in a clockwise direction through the park and into Maasai Mara across the border in Kenya, more or less over the year.  Now the wildebeest had begun heading to Kenya and then it rained in the south last weekend and they turned around!  They appear very confused so we are not too optimistic we’ll see the kilometres long event itself.  We did see thousands upon thousands of them here today; both running in every direction and just standing around.  Among them were many zebra and gazelles.  Also, on a positive note, we really enjoyed the huge drop off in tourists and vehicles – not on common to not see anyone else for half an hour.

Today we saw elephants on two occasions for a total of eleven including young ones.  We saw crocs in the Grumeti River, marabou stork and vultures feasting on an old wildebeest carcass, and a group of eland. Today’s highlight though, was thru over 50 hippos sunning both in and out of the river.

An annoyance we have encountered here is the vast number of the tsetse flies in certain places.  There were not many in the central part of the park and there were “traps” around the campground but today, they attacked in earnest as we headed west.  They can carry diseases and sting when they bite.   Mosquitoes, however, have not been too bad so far.

We made it to the western gate, Ndabaka, where we had a late boxed lunch and Ricky was advised by the rangers that the public campsite we were supposed to stay at was closed for renovation.  So he recommended going into the local village and staying at a guest house.  He had learned which route the wildebeest looked like they were following and suggested a change in itinerary for the next two days (an advantage to camping over staying at lodges).

We drove out of the park to the village of Bunda and checked into the finest establishment in town – really! (no AC, internet, hot water, or toilet paper and intermittent power).  It did have an ensuite bathroom with squat toilet and an electric fan though!  When we asked for some TP, they sent someone over to the store to buy us some; the roll was in plastic and wrapped in newspaper.  This time we were not the only patrons, but almost.

Ricky then found us a local guide and we went to see Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world (first, of course, is Lake Superior).  It spreads across Tanzania, Uganda and a little into Kenya.  It is rather shallow though; only 83 meters deep but has more species of fish than any other lake in the world.

As a general note, Rashid makes big fresh meals every day.  Quite a feat in these sparse conditions often without power and he uses only one burner.  There is always too much food (enough for four usually) and we have yet to completely finish a meal.  We keep telling him not to cook so much and today he told Fran at lunch he’s never had clients that ate as little as us.  We get “tea” every day about 6 pm and then dinner which always starts with a lovely fresh soup (like pumpkin or leek).  There is fresh fruit every meal as well.  Tea-time consists of tea or Milo with popcorn or peanuts.  Some days we get a boxed lunch with at least six things in it and a couple of times, we’ve had a hot lunch of fried chicken, salad and fries.