18.09.2005 25 °C
After having the day to rest my legs in Arusha, I set off on safari with Michiel and Roos (from Holland like everyone else travelling East Africa!), our driver Youssef, and Charles the cook.
Upon arrival at Twiga (Swahili for "giraffe") campsite, we set up our tents, and had some lunch before setting off on a game drive to Lake Manyara National Park. At the right time of the year, the alkaline Manyara Lake is purportedly aflutter with millions of flamingoes, though in the dry season (now!), the Lake largely disappears, as do the flamingoes......I guess when
there is no yummy algae in the lake, they migrate to find pond scum elsewhere....yum-my! Still, the parched saline basin provided a nice backdrop to the surrounding scrub and woodlands and the park was a good place to start our safari....we saw (skanky) baboons, giraffes, dikdiks (miniature antelopes) zebras, elephants, lions, and hippos - but no tree -climbing lions (which are sometimes spotted around Manyara).
The next day we set off for the long drive out to the Serengeti National Park, first skirting our way around the rim of the chilly, mist-laden Ngorongoro crater, before hitting the "rock-and-roll" roads into the Serengeti. We crossed the endless savannah plains for what seemed an eternity, before arriving out our rustic bush camp, next to a rocky hill, and entirely exposed to the surrounding wilderness. When we asked about the possibilities of animals coming into the campsite, our guide reassured us by saying that sometimes the lions will drop in overnight, and frequently hyenas drank from the water supply! Ah....the prospect of being Simba's (= "lion") midnight snack never fails to put ones sleepy mind at ease.
After a late afternoon game drive, where we spotted many Twigas, Tembos (elephants) and impalas (deer), as well as a lion resting atop a rocky hill (just like the one in our campsite!), we returned to our campsite for the night....didn't hear any simbas or hyenas, thankfully.
We started at the crack of dawn the next day for a long drive about the Serengeti, and spent the first hour or so cruising about in the jeep without much success....until we spotted some cheetahs in the distance and stumbled upon 2 leopards lounging on the lower branches of tress! Every Tom, Dick and Harry was stopped at a particular tree which supposedly had some "leopard kill" in it, though no matter how long we looked for it, it
eluded us. We did however manage to see a lion sitting smugly beside his catch - a fat (of course) hippo who must have been caught by the lion whilst on its daily jog through the park. Upon returning later in the day, the same hippo was being gruesomely devoured by 50 or so vultures, with revolting hyenas tucking in too. Hyenas, I must say, are the scummiest
animals I've ever seen...I guess because I'm NOT a dog person, it's only natural their scavenging, bottom-sniffing ways don't at all appeal.
In the afternoon we went for a drive to a hippo pool, where we saw what must have been around 40 hippos bathing in a squalid pool of water, and belching happily as they did so. I never really thought of hippos as being particularly grotesque before then, however the stench was inexpilicably repulsive and the muck in which they were bathing, more like a sewage works. We survived the night again in the wilds, though a dinner time visit by a nasty hyena, its evil orange eyes glaring wickedly at us, did little to calm the nerves.
Another early morning start the next day for a long drive in the Serengeti brought us to a large herd of elephants, seemingly on a migration to cause more "elephant damage" to the trees around the park - i.e. uproot them by charging them or scratching their backs. However we caught sight of the nasty Serengeti Balloon Safari folk (royally kitted in their spiffy new khakis with lots of pockets and armed with $5000 binoculars) who had shunned
us the previous day when we needed help with the "spare tyre pressure" (i.e. needed to use the loo), and figured the elephants were instead running away from the scary balloons and the khaki army inside of them. It seemed that whenever the balloon "engine" was fired up, the poor ellies became frightened and helplessly tried to charge the threatening UFOs whilst gathering around the young ones to protect them. We also spotted a running hippo (hilarious and suprisingly fast!), some hyenas taking a bath, a group of lions on the prowl, many
girraffes, zillions of zebras, a few topis (a type of deer), loads of buffaloes, and countless impalas/gazelles. Then we made a quick stop at the Serengeti Visitors Information Centre, for a quick conservation lesson, and saw dozens of hyrax (similar to large guinea pigs) pottering about the rocks.
After an impressive lunch of quiche (! cooked on hot coals) and
salad, we began rock-and-rolling across the savannah towards
Ngorongoro....we left the Serengeti without seeing a single wildebeest (not that I can remember anyway!) - they are all in the extreme north of the Serengeti at the moment, or else across the border in Kenya's Masai Mara...so hopefully I'll get there before they up and migrate back to Tanzania!! We set up camp on the edge of the crater rim, with the crater and its profusion of wildlife awaiting us below.
The Ngorongoro crater is essentially the remnants of a collapsed volcano in a chain of volcanoes and calderas which lie along the Great Rift Valley (which extends along a geological fault line all the way from Syria to Mozambique!). The nearby Olduvai Gorge is where the oldest-known human-like footprints were found by Mary Leakey in the 50s. Consequently, many believe that this area of Tanzania is the "cradle of man".
Again we started the day with an early drive into the chills of the vast, mist-laden crater, being met by some touting Maasai when we stopped to pop the roof ("Jambo. Photo?" Photos with Maasai go for no less than US$1 these days!), stopping at the zebra crossing (100s of them heading for their morning drink), and catching sight of herds of great wildebeest pounding their way through the grasslands. We also saw some mad wildebeest
(rolling about crazily like rabid dogs), fighting wildebeest and wildebeest taking a bath in a small stream.
After a lunch beside a hippo pool, where large birds took delight in swooping down to scavenge food off the tourists, we set off again for a few hours, finally catching sight of our first black rhino in the distance. The black rhino is extremely endangered and only 15 or so exist in Ngorongoro, so it was very cool that we finally saw one. We finished the day by driving up the "heavy metal" road to the crater rim, where we stopped for a drink at one of the lodges overlooking the crater. And whadda ya know, peering through the binoculars there, we saw two more rhino....mother and baby! So 3/15 isn't bad at all Back at the freeeeeezing cold camp that night, we tucked into our dinner before retiring to our luxurious tents...only to be awoken in the middle of the night by a snuffling warthog.....it was trying to dig its way under Michiel and Roos' tent!! Cheeky monkey!
Our last day of Safari was spent watching a large family of lions gawk at a pack of terrified zebras, before deciding they'd rather go sit in the ditch, seeing some more running hippos, getting virtually attacked by a vervet monkey (who boldly jumped on the front and then the back of our jeep), and seeing the usual packs of zebras and wildebeest pounding the
yellow grass of the crater floor.
After a day of befriending all the touts in Arusha (not!), I bussed for 10 hours to Dar Es Salaam (the economic capital, Dodoma is the political capital), before making my way to Zanzibar....the spice island....and my first ever visit to the Indian Ocean! (I know, it's disgraceful!)