Tanzania Safari Journal, Part 2

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Mt. Kilimanjaro

 

The second day of our trip ended with me starting to feel crummy, with the same thing Terry had a day before, and the beginning of the third day was a travel day through Maasailand. We passed bomas, the fenced-in villages of the Maasai, and went through one especially colorful town that was having a market day. (On the way back we stopped at a boma, and I’ll have a story about that, plus photos.) By the time we got to Kirirumu Tented Lodge, I was so grateful for a bed to lie down on that I waved the others away for an afternoon of driving through Lake Manyara National Park while I slept.

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Our tent in Kirirumu Manyara Lodge.

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This camp has what is called permanent tents; ours had a concrete floor, raised from the ground, but with tented walls and ceiling. Every tent we stayed in was enormous, had real beds with nice linens and cozy blankets, and every single one had full, working bathrooms with running water, including hot water. We were instructed to zip the doors completely, and to stay in our tents at night unless escorted by the guards, in this case Maasai warriors.

At this point, I didn’t care about anything except having a bottle of water, a cover to pull over my fevered body, and a nearby washroom. I slept most of the afternoon, too dizzy to stand, while the others saw lions in trees, elephants, and loads of other wonderful things. By the time they got back to the lodge I was feeling better, and it was time for a shower.

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Behind the tent flap: a full bathroom inside the tent. This is the shower, next to the vanity. The toilet was on the other side of the vanity.

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The other half of the bathroom.

A note on showers: at every initial arrival to the various lodges, farms and camps we were greeted with glasses of fresh juice and moist, sometimes hot, towels with which to wash our faces and hands. The roads are so dusty, and it was shocking how dirty we were every night, just from sitting in the vehicle all day long. We really learned to appreciate the welcoming hot shower at the end of every travel day, with a cocktail hour afterwards.

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Dinner was always a leisurely event, beginning with a delicious soup, then the main course, and the inevitable dessert. Alcoholic drinks were not included in our tour package, but they were usually inexpensive, compared to American prices.

Since this part of Africa is so close to the equator the day begins at around 6:15 AM and ends exactly 12 hours later, 365 days a year. Zepha, our guide, told me “Swahili time” begins at daybreak, which corresponds to our midnight. So 7:15 AM is 1 o’clock to those who still keep track this way. 4:15 AM would be 22 o’clock, if I understood correctly.

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Zepha explaining the fine points of the construction of a termite mound.

Zepha taught us a few Swahili phrases to use during the trip, but I’m afraid we were mostly bad students. I did write down some of them, though: Hakuna matata, of course, meaning “no worries”. Asante sana, one of the most often used phrases in this very polite country: “thank you very much”. One of our group  favorites was one that Zepha used frequently: Haraka haraka, Haiana baraka, meaning “hurry, hurry; no blessing”, or “haste makes waste”, as we would say it. Poli poli means “slowly”, which we saw a few times on signs exhorting drivers not to speed. My personal favorites took a bit longer to learn: lala salama, “sleep well”, and harabi se asobuyi, “good morning”. In the photo of the Kirirumu reception area above you’ll notice “Karibu”. That means “welcome”, as well as “you’re welcome”, and we heard and said that one a lot during the course of the trip.

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At the entrance to Lake Manyara National Park.

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On an overlook, checking out Lake Manyara.

Feeling a bit better the next day, I was ready to go to Lake Manyara with the group. We got there very early, hoping to spot wildlife before others frightened them into the bush, or before it got too hot. Zepha kept looking out the window at the dirt road, and I finally realized he was looking for elephant tracks. We eventually found a fairly large herd of them, and while our vehicle was stopped they surrounded us. It was one of those breathtaking moments, just one of many we had on the trip, but I’ll never forget the first time we found ourselves among the herd. I missed the tiny baby elephant that was there when we first spotted this group. Zepha thought it could not be more than three or four days old, but Kim, who had a better viewing angle than I did, was thrilled to see it. The adults surrounded it very quickly, though, and ushered it safely out of our sight within just a minute or so. As long as we were quiet, and stayed inside the safari vehicle (which was required, for most places we went), the animals did not feel threatened and so we were safe. One elephant decided to make sure we stayed put, and trumpeted at us, which was pretty thrilling.  They crossed in front of our vehicle to a dandy place to mud bathe on the other side of the road.

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Definitely a “hakuna matata” moment.

At this park the big feature is Lake Manyara, a magnificent alkaline lake that covers many square miles (about 77 at peak depth) and is host to a variety of bird life. We went to the far side of the park, to an area where hot springs flow into the lake. Many animals come here to feed and to drink, and we saw Cape buffaloes, zebra, striped mongoose, ostrich, and lots of shorebirds. Steve and Terry had a ball taking photos here, with no real barriers to the animals, one of the few times they were able to photograph outside the safari vehicle.

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We returned to Kirirumu early enough that we could take a birding walk with Zepha. The staff at this lodge is very friendly, and since they live close by, part of our walk passed some of their family homes. One young woman invited us to visit her home, so we accepted the invitation. Rebecca’s husband is a waiter at the lodge, and they have two small children. Their house is an ongoing project, added to as finances allow, but a fine addition to the village. It is made of bricks manufactured locally, and has a dirt floor and flap doors, but very clean. Rebecca offered us two treats while we were there: tiny, sweet bananas, and chunks of sugarcane to chew. The peels and sugarcane debris were tossed to the floor, to be cleared afterwards. We sat on comfortable couches and upholstered chairs, and a couple of neighbors came in to see what the heck was going on. At dinner later Rebecca’s husband was speechless to learn we’d visited his home. I got the idea that most tourists didn’t visit that part of the area, not even for birdwatching.

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Doorway to Rebecca’s house.

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Steve, standing outside Rebecca’s kitchen, which is separate from the house.

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Neighbor, checking out the goings on.

Staff at every lodge hefted our luggage to our rooms for us, and hauled it back and onto the top of the safari vehicle when we left. Sometimes we ended up making great friends with staff, although I did not always get photos of them. At this lodge, Terry and the Maasai guards/porters ended up having way too much fun together, but it was tremendously entertaining.

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Maasai guards with Kim, Karen & Terry.

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Hauling my big bag down the path from our tent.

The managers of the dining room at this lodge were especially fun, and we enjoyed our meals there. The food was great, but the staff made everything better. I’ve seen online reviews of Kirirumu that made it sound as though other places were preferable, but more on that in later posts. I definitely disagree.

Our next destination: the great Serengeti, with lots of wildlife drama. Stay tuned.

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Typical dog seen wherever we went. Probably a close relative to the Rhodesian ridgeback, a breed used to hunt lions.

December 3, 2013. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Tanzania Safari Journal, Part 1

Gazelle and Cape Buffalo skulls

We began our two-week journey to Tanzania from our home in Cincinnati, where we took a plane to Boston, then changed to an overnight flight to Amsterdam. (The least said about trying to sleep on a crowded plane, the better.) After a too-short time in Holland–a country we both would like to see someday–we boarded one more plane for a nine-hour flight to Kilimanjaro Airport, outside of Arusha, Tanzania.

Arriving at Kilimanjaro after dark, we were met by our guide, Zepha Mofulu, and the operator of Flash Safaris, Magda Vrijs, who bundled us into the safari vehicle and whisked us off to Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge at the foot of Mount Meru, where we would stay the next two nights. Our companions, Kim and Terry from San Diego, had been there for 24 hours already, and they waited for us to arrive to have dinner.

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Foyer in lodge at Ngare Sero, near Arusha

The staff served us in a lovely dining room, starting with homemade soup, which we came to learn would be the beginning of every evening meal. Since Steve and I both love soup, that made us very happy. The meal was quite good, but we soon needed to drift to our room, as jetlag was taking hold, and we would need to be up early enough to have breakfast and get on the road to Arusha National Park with Zepha. Our room was lovely. We had a sitting room, bedroom, and an enormous bath, complete with private water closet, dressing room, and a huge tub. We didn’t have much time to enjoy it, or even take photos, since we pretty much crashed that first night.

The lodge has a lot of history. It was built in 1905, originally as a defensible homestead and outpost for the family of a German named August Leuer. He bought the property 20 years previously, when he originally went to East Africa as part of a military expedition. He grew coffee and other crops here, and developed an ingenious water turbine and other innovations, still in use today, which make the operation largely self-sustaining. You can find more information and photos on their website: Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge  The second owner of the lodge, Mike Leach, is still in residence, as are some members of his family. They are gracious hosts, willing to share information about the history of the place, the animals that live there, and the philosophy behind their sustainability policy. And they make darned fine coffee.

Ngare Sero Lodge, where we spent our first two nights in Tanzania

Ngare Sero

Beautiful fireplace at Ngare Sero Lodge

Veranda at Ngare Sero Lodge, overlooking pond area

One of the entry gates to Arusha National Park. Weaver nests in the acacia tree to the right.

Our first day of safari took us to Arusha National Park, one of the smallest of all the national parks in Tanzania, but home to some of its most colorful wildlife. We were fortunate enough to see a colony of colobus monkeys, high in trees above us, on a quiet road. We sat beneath them for quite awhile, watching as they tended each other. Kim is an aviculturist with the San Diego Sea World, and she was overjoyed to see the hundreds of thousands of flamingos in Lake Momella. The lake was, literally, rimmed with a solid line of pink from all the birds settled along the edges. Flamingos travel from lake to lake in search of food, and we were quite fortunate to catch them when they were here.

Masses of flamingoes in Momella Lake in Arusha National Park

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We saw a large number of baboons here, which are quite frankly an assault on the sense of smell. I could tell they were present by their musky odor during the entire trip. This area had the most of anyplace we visited, and we were able to see them quite close, as they were on both sides of our stopped vehicle. I took a bunch of closeups of one male baboon but it wasn’t until I looked at the photos here at home that I realized they were most definitely X-rated.

Troop of baboons crossing the road in front of our safari vehicle.

One of my favorite sightings of the whole trip was in this area, where we saw dozens of giraffes feeding, resting, and just standing around.  They are such amazing animals. Seeing them rise to their feet from a seated position, or lowering into one, fascinated me. Our guide told us they cannot let their heads go sideways, as their necks are not strong enough to lift them again. They eat mainly the leaves of acacia trees, stripping them from the thorny twigs with their black tongues.

Clearly, an especially tasty acacia tree.

There were lots more animals here, including zebras, Cape buffalo, warthogs and lots of birds, but I ended up coming down with something (which I later realized was a reaction to the anti-malarial drug we were taking) and could barely take it all in, let alone photograph them. We did see one of the most memorable birds of the whole trip here–among the more than 230 species of birds we saw in the 12 days–the cinnamon-chested bee-eater .  I could never get a photo of one, although Steve and Terry both did. We saw other species of bee-eaters, as well, including the little bee-eater, and the European bee-eater. Birdwatching in Tanzania was grand fun, and such a treat for the four of us; there are close to 1,400 species of birds there, and our guide was an avid birder who was brilliant at spotting new species for us. The weaver nests in the photo of the park gate above were just a tiny sampling of the thousands we saw. Tanzania has some forty species of weaver, each making a uniquely different type of nest, so nearly every type of terrain hosted at least one kind of weaver bird.

After two nights in Ngare Sero we piled into the vehicle and headed out for the drive to the Manyara National Park area. On the way we passed colorfully dressed Maasai people, including children as young as age six, herding cows, goats and donkeys. Some of the animals were quite close to the road, as were these goats. We could also see Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru along the way, looming above the plains in the great Rift Valley. The landscape changed here, from hilly, with red clay soil, to flat, dry and incredibly dusty.

Herd of goats on road to Manyara National Park in Tanzania

Herd of goats on road to Manyara National Park in Tanzania

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On the road between Arusha Town and Manyara National Park.

Our next stop, Kirirumu Manyara Lodge, where we would stay in our first tented camp.

Watch for Part II of our adventures, coming soon.

December 1, 2013. Tanzania Safari 2013. Leave a comment.