On Safari In Tanzania

I couldn’t visit Africa without going on a Safari. I was there anyway to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, so when I was given the option of a 2+ day safari in Tanzania… I jumped at the chance. And I wasn’t disappointed. It’s something I think just about every kid dreams about, especially if you ever watched those Disney films or National Geographic or Animal Kingdom.

We had arranged for our safari tour as part of our package to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, so everything was taken care of. We hopped into our safari jeep at our hotel in Arusha for the 3 hour drive to Lake Minyara.   Just the drive itself was captivating… there was lots to see, Masai herding animals beside the roads,  Camels grazing,  and a steady stream of roadside shops selling tourist ‘art’.

As we drove into the park at Lake Minyara we started to see an amazing range of animals like Blue Monkeys, Vervet Monkeys, Baboons, even a mother and a baby that was just a few days old. 
 We were looking for anything and were excited for the photographic hunt. As we approached the Hippo Pond we came across a herd of Zebras and a herd of Giraffes all grazing peacefully together. Then at the Hippo pond, the Hippos were mostly underwater so it was tough to see anything. By the way, it turns out more people die from Hippo attacks in Africa than from any other animal!  They look like big lumbering animals but you don’t want to piss one off… when provoked they can pick up speed pretty fast. Ironically there was a band of rocks around the pond which was supposed to be our barricade to keep us safe!?

And there are few animals that are cuter than the Dik Diks. The name is hilarious, but the animals are very cute… like little deer with big eyes.

But enough with the Dik Diks were were in search of something a little more substantial… and we quickly found it… the giants of the African savannah… a large herd of Elephants. There were several pachyderms, all different ages wandering back and forth in the middle of the road. Keep your wits about you though... while we were taking pictures, and videos of a couple of elephants crossing the road in front of us, someone said ‘turn around’ and there were these massive elephants just a few centimeters away, walking right alongside our jeep!
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That gets the adrenaline pumping so again it was off in search of the king of the jungle. And sure enough we peered through the brush and trees and there was a lion staring back at us. 
 It was hidden in the forest, but we still managed to see it – obviously eating something it had just caught. We hoped to get a little closer to a lion next time. It becomes easy to get blase about what you are seeing… when you are surrounded by so much of what nature has to offer.
Soon it was ‘oh it’s just another zebra or antelope’ or ‘oh that’s just another elephant’.
Even without the wildlife… it is spectacular… the huge trees, some that looked dead but in fact were good shelters for animals and even tribesmen travelling through the bush.The termite hills are scattered across the landscape, looking like giant sandcastles.   And high above Lake Minyara, there’s a roadside vista point where tourists often stop to take beautiful pictures of the park from high above it all.
This was a no hotel vacation, we would be tenting it at an established campsite… set at the top of the ridge and surrounded by spectaculr vistas. And the campsite itself is luxurious compared to what we had been living in on Mt. Kilimanjaro. The tents are spacious and you can actually stand up in them (you have no idea how the small things can make or break your spirits when you are really ‘roughing it’.
The washrooms have flush toilets and are made of brick! And there is also a huge open enclosure with a fireplace that serves as a dining room, where they served us a delicious dinner of fish (from Lake Minyara), vegetables, mashed potatoes and pumpkin soup! And the bathrooms have flush toilets and showers! Believe me, after the way we lived on the mountain, this was like a 5 star campground!
The next morning we would drive up long and winding mountain roads shrouded in fog en route to Olomoti Crater for a photo hike with an armed guard. It was a white knuckle ride all the way, with huge drop offs on either side of the road and the driver was fearless, speeding uphill and swerving all over the narrow mountain pathway.
When another vehicle approached on this tiny mountain road (barely more than one lane wide) we had to pull way over to the edge to pass. At one point we came across a broken down bus in the middle of the road, blocking traffic in both directions. But that didn’t deter our driver Peter. He manoevred around it all… good for our schedule but had us all trying to find religion again. We continued along the fog shrouded road and then suddenly stopped at the side of a road next to a Masai home.  One young man came over to talk to the driver, and it turned out that he would be our guide, not an armed ranger like we thought, but a Masai herder armed with a spear. Well it turns out that Yonah had actually fought lions and buffalo with that spear… I know it was to put us at ease but instead made us wonder exactly what we were about to encounter. When we asked if he ate what he killed he said ‘not really’. The Masai don’t eat wildlife, although he said they did eat the Buffalo. He turned his nose up at the suggestion of eating the others. He led us down into this valley, but in order to get there, we had to trek UPHILL. And it took us about an hour of hiking through the fog. We could barely see anything except for the fog shrouded forest, plus we had the added misfortune of still suffering with muscle aches after hiking up Kilimanjaro just a few days earlier. When we finally got to the valley, we could see a herd of cows headed uphill after getting water in the ponds at the bottom. And then we saw a waterfall… it was nice and the views were nice, but the hike was really not worth it. We took pictures with Yonah by the waterfall, and he let us hold his spear, which was pretty cool, but the only wildlife we saw were some donkeys, cows and goats. We did see this very fragrant plant that Yonah told us they boil with water to make tea. I bet it would be delicious.
As we drove to Ngorongoro Crater we passed numerous Masai settlements with their round homes. But the Masai were always sure to tell us that they don’t live in any one place, that they are nomadic and keep moving their animals to food and water. But it still seemed like they were pretty settled.
When we arrived at Ngorongoro we started to see wildlife almost immediately. Male and female Ostrich, a couple of female Hyenas with a litter of pups, and lots of different Antelope and Gazelles.
Turns out the big hangout for tourists here is the Hippo Pond… it’s one of the few places where you can actually get out of your vehicle and wander around, or stop off for a little picnic lunch. The place was packed with safari tourists… all with the same idea. We sat on a giant rock overlooking the hippo pond and ate our lunch. A couple of Superb Starlings came over looking for some crumbs. There was also a large hawk or vulture type bird that kept hovering over us. Peter, our guide, warned us that the bird would attack and fight you for food, so if he dives, look out. I was staring up just about the whole time I was eating… tough to relax when you know you might have to fight a raptor. After lunch we wandered over to the pond and saw some activity to our left. It was a herd of zebras running away from something, and then we saw it, a lion. It wandered into some nearby bushes and we lost it before we got a camera shot, but it was sure exciting. We ran back and rounded up everyone, and drove over to the spot where it was. But it was too hidden to see.
We also checked out a third Hippo pond – and this one you don`t want to get out and wander too close to.

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You could watch dozens of Hippos as they rolled around in the mud and flipped water onto their backs.
We then drove around for the next several hours witnessing a whole range of wildlife. Lots of Wildebeest, Buffalo, a Jackyl, and warthogs – that I discovered only run in single file. Hilarious!At one point we pulled over and our guide grabbed his binoculars and was looking at 3 black dots in the grass… turns out one of the dots were the ears of a cheetah. That was as close as we’d get to one.

We also saw a pride of lions just off the road. It was a couple of females and a couple of cubs, and it turns out the other group that we were with saw the lions trying to catch a zebra.

 The lake in the crater is actually a salt water lake and it smells like the shrimp farms in Hawaii. Of course there were hundreds of pink Flamingos but the lake had dried up so much that we couldn’t get very close.
As we neared the end of the trip to Ngorongoro, we pulled over to a rest stop so some of us could go to the washroom. There were all these Vervet monkeys running around, and the guide told us to be careful because they knew we would have food in the jeep. So as soon as our driver got out of the jeep, he forgot to roll up HIS window… and sure enough a monkey jumps up on the back of the jeep. It was obviously a planned manoevre because as we are all distracted by him, someone yelled fromm inside the jeep… ‘one is inside, one is inside and he stole your nuts!!!’

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The monkey ran in through the window, went straight for my knapsack, grabbed a plastic bag of trail mix and ran out the window and up the tree, where he gobbled it up.. you`d think he`d done this before.

videoIt was hilarious, and as other tourists pulled up, it became a great story. One Japanese family was inside their jeep and kinda freaked out by what we told them, when a monkey suddenly jumped onto the mirror of their jeep and sent them into a flurry of screams.

You couldn`t help to notice the tree that the monekys were on… it was all old and narled and actually looked like monkey heads had been carved into the trunk but in fact it was the natural knotting of the tree.
We drove up to our next campsite and were greeted by a hyena at the entrance and zebras grazing outside the tents. How cool is that! Unfortunately the washrooms are shit holes in the floor that stink! Turns out we would be camping in party central. It was a cacophony of languages, all slurred by too much alcohol and the African air.
Around 1am I woke up and desperately had to use the `facilities` but as I crawled out of my sleeping back I could hear wildlife outside the tent… it wasn`t enough to stop my natural urge… and it turns out it was zebras grazing outside our tents (pretty innocuous). When I came out of the outhouse I headed for our tent… counted two in and unzipped only to discover it wasn’t our tent! Good thing it was empty – or I would have had some ‘splainin’ to do. We were actually one row up… all the tents look the same.
We headed out in more dense fog and another scarey ride down from the crater rim. It was a long drive to Kilimanjaro Airport, and luckily the fog lifted and it was much more scenic. There were hundreds of kids walking along the road on their way to school. They all wear different uniforms and we were told that their parents have to buy the uniforms and the books for the kids and it can be a couple of months salary. In some areas, the kids were also carrying big sticks and we were told that was for the lunch meal fire and if they forgot their stick they wouldn’t get lunch. We also saw kids along river banks filling up containers of water, to take back to school.

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