We emerged bleary eyed from the plane at Kilimanjaro airport and breathed our first lungfuls of air from Tanzania. The air seemed different, laden with the heavy warmth and scents of East Africa. The journey had been a difficult one with long delays in Joburg at 3am and attempted cramped naps followed by a hurried rush through terminals and across tarmac in Nairobi. Greeted by a grinning man holding our names on a piece of paper we were introduced to Yuda, our guide and constant companion for the next week. We clambered into the large dusty four wheel drive and began our drive to Arusha accompanied by consistent tidbits of information about the community of Arusha, made up of many tribes and the various outlying suburbs and industries. Yuda had grown up on the slopes of Mt Meru which towers over the town of Arusha. Belonging to the Wameru tribe who are native to that area, Yuda grew up around the national parks as his father was a ranger and he himself has been a guide for twenty years.
We drove slowly into the town surrounded by endless fields of sunflowers, maze and beans with the vibrant colours of people dressed in there Sunday best on their way to church. Arusha is predominantly Christian with a smaller Muslim population and there are many denominations. As we soon grew to learn, the churches are different in Tanzania. They have sermons which can be heard far and wide with large speaker systems and boisterous priests who aggressively shout the word of their lord for all to hear. We turned off the main road onto a cramped and cracked side street past clothing stores and goods on the edge of the road, butcher shops with meat handing in white-tiled bunkers open to the air and children playing amongst the traffic. Yuda blared his horn at the large steel gate of a compound and we were admitted by a smiling guide to our lodge for the night.
After an intermittent nap that was mostly being kept awake by the word of god we went for dinner in a beautiful thatched bar and were greeted by a larger than life man, Achmed, who was the owner of the tour company we were to be travelling with for the week. He plied us with many beers and astonishing stories of his travels. A British born man he had traveled extensively from a young age across Africa and the world before meeting his wife in Tanzania and starting Basecamp. After too much beer and an amazing conversation we curled up under our mosquito net with dreams of the safari to come.
Day 1 – Arusha National Park
Early the next morning we were greeted by Yuda and introduced to Christian our cook, who was nicknamed Chris the Cowboy by a group of Canadians years before and had been unable to shake the moniker. Chris is from the Iraqw tribe and grew up in a small town in the great lakes region of Tanzania.
After dropping Christian off at our first campsite to set up we drove to Arusha national park, a small but spectacular national park at the base of Mt Meru.
As we drove through Arusha park we happened upon a riveting battle between two giraffes. We were soon to learn that everything they do is in extremely stilted slow motion. Sometimes their battles can last all day and can even be fatal due to starvation.
After a beautiful drive through vastly different environments we enlisted the help of James the ranger and his young apprentice Kevin to take us for a walk and teach us a little about the local environment.
James had a wealth of knowledge about the native plants and animals of the area. We learnt about the medicinal properties of the “yellow apple” a small bitter fruit and the many symbiosis occurring between both flora and fauna. We noticed many different species of the herbivores would graze together. As well as there being safety in number, we were told that the warthogs and buffalo had an understanding where the buffalo would help protect the warthogs with their might and the warthogs with their keener senses, would alert the buffalo to danger by running around them in circles.
Day 1 Sightings:
Black & White Colobus monkey, Blue monkey, Baboon, Giraffe, Buffalo, Warthog, Zebra Crested Eagle, Flamingo,Grey Heron, Green Snake
Day 2 – Tarangire National Park
Up early again to the familiar sound of the Hadida bird we eat a large breakfast of coffee, pancakes, fruit, bread, eggs and gross canned suspicious sausages that Dotahn loved to wedge in his pancakes. After the campsite was packed up we drove to our next temporary home, dropped off Christen to set up and headed into Tarangire Park.
With the promise of elephants we were not disappointed. After or first encounter with an old bachelor bull elephant we were soon stopped on the road as a large family of elephants slowly walked around the car on their way to their next meal.
The park was absolutely stunning with ubiquitous zebra and impala grazing under massive old baobab tress. There are no cats in Tarangire and the animals are noticeably relaxed in their playful frolicking by the waterholes.
We were to witness another slow and deliberate giraffe activity with a male giraffe patiently sniffing and following a female in obvious excitement. Although we watched for a while we didn’t see them mate. Yuda explained that in all his years as a guide he has seen nearly every other animal mate but never a giraffe.
We had been warned by Achmed and Yuda about the Tsetse fly. Apparently they bite to the bone with a drill like sting and can carry the sleeping sickness which slightly unnerved Emm. Turns out they hurt less than march flys and only bit her once over the whole safari. Dotahn and Yuda were not as lucky.
Day 2 Sightings:
Vervet Monkey, Lilac Breasted Roller Bird, Martial Eagle, Ostrich, Impala, King Fisher, Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Waterbuck, Grant Gazelle, Secretary Bird, Native Fox, Warthog, Black Speckled Jackal, Grey Crow Crane, Southern Ground Hornbill, Vulture
Day 3 – Lake Manyara National Park
Up early the next morning with a familiar breakfast. Pack up, drive, drop Christian off at new campsite and head into to Lake Manyara park.
Monkeys are EVERYWHERE
We soon see what is to be our favorite antelope, the dik dik. They are tiny cute critters standing only 30-40cm tall. Unlike other antelope the dik dik do not travel in herds. Preferring to live in pairs with their life mate. If a dik diks mate dies they do not find another and live alone. Also they have eye goo that the smear around their territory.
Then came the moment our hippo dreams were realised. We happened to chance upon the pod lazing along the bank of the waterhole. An unusual sight for hippos as they generally stay in the water during the daytime, choosing the night to venture out of the waters to feast on grass.
Yuda informed us that there are cats in Lake Manyara but only a handful and because of the thick flora they are not always seen. However just as the sun began to descend and we were making our way back to camp we were graced with the presence of a sleeping queen of the jungle.
That evening at our camp we experienced the namesake of the town Mto wa Mbu literally “Mosquito River.” We were treated to an impromptu acrobatic performance by a local troupe, comprising of three drummers and two performers. They used bottles, sticks and sheer strength to entertain us.
Day 3 Sightings:
Cliff Springer,Baboon, Blue Monkey, Flamingo, Southern Ground Hornbill, Vervet Monkey, Ostrich, Thompsons Gazelle, Impala, Wilderbeest, Yellow Storks, King Fishers, Buffalo, Egyptian Geese, Black Ibis, Hippopotamus, Spoonbill, Zebra, Striped Mongoose, Crested Guinea Foul, Elephant, Giraffe, White Neck Vulture, Rock Irax, Bateleur Eagle, Dik Dik, Lion.
Day 4 – Serengeti National Park
We begin to relax into the predictable rhythm of constant movement from one park to the next. Get up, familiar breakfast, pack, drive to new campsite, drop off Christian, drive around park, eat familiar packed lunch, more park drive, back to camp where we are over feed with dinner. Also following a pattern of popcorn, veggie soup, awesome tasty main and fruit. We joke with Christian that he is trying to fatten us up to feed the lions.
Our next adventure takes us to the famous Serengeti plains. Along the long and dusty road Masai villages dotted the hills and plains with large herds of cattle, goats and their distinctive mud and straw huts. The landscape moved from open, dry plains to large Acacia forests dotted with giraffe to the endless grasslands of the Serengeti.
We were lucky enough to be heading into the Serengeti in the midst of the great migration. An annual pilgrimage of huge hordes of wildebeest and zebra across the plains towards Kenya.
The Serengeti is the oldest and largest national park in Tanzania and is made up of a vast area, some 30,000² km which extends into Kenya. It is absolutely amazing to see this huge wild environment which exists as it always has, with native flora and fauna living completely independent from humans and no introduced species (Other than four wheel drives). The animals have become accustomed to the safari cars driving around and treat them with disinterest, going about their lives.We were surprised by the similarity of the golden grassy plains with large rock formations (Copi) jutting out in places to that of the Lion King movie from our childhood. These copi are a favorite place for the large lion population of the park.
As the day draws to a close we settle in to a small concrete hall with caged windows to have dinner. We overhear a nearby group of tourists being told of a beer truck which comes to the remote camps to sell beer and wine to the visitors. Time wears on and we begin to think that the beer truck is a joke played on tourists. It does seem a little ridiculous, we are in the middle of the Serengeti, extremely far from any civilization. Then to our astonished delight there is the roar of an engine and a smiling man brings us beer!
As we retired to our tent to sleep we were warned to always take someone with you if you needed to go to the toilet at night. There were no fences around us and we were told that animals often wander through the campsite. That night we barely slept as we listened to the howls of the hyenas and the low constant growling of lions. A few times during the long and lively darkness we heard footsteps outside our tent and the sound of loud and consistent munching.
Day 4 Sightings
Zebra, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Thompson gazelle, Corri bustard, Ostrich, Grants gazelle, Cerval cat, Lions, Agami lizard, Grey heron, Black billed bustard, Hartebeest, Hippos, Lapet vulture, White necked vulture, Sun snake.