It is a given that when you are in Tanzania you go out on safari. There is so much to see, both in the amazing topography of the land to the amazing animals that wander free through the National Parks. The problem is where to go and how big is the wallet. The cost of an organised safari runs into the thousands of dollars depending on what you want to see and how long you are away, but you just can’t come all the way to Africa and not go on at least one safari. We looked into the Serengeti – but were told that it was very crowded so we chose to go to Tarangire – a smaller National Park but very close to the Ngorongoro Crater which we really wanted to see. There are literally hundreds of small operators, all of whom follow a strict programme, even down to all getting the same lunch! We chose to go with a smaller company called Popote Africa as they were really helpful on the phone and offered what we wanted.
Within 24 hours we were on a tiny 6 seater plane flying to Arusha from Dar es Salaam to be met by our guide Kaunte. We spent our first night in a very flash hotel complete with concrete zebras in their garden. Early the next morning Kaunte picked us up and we set off for Tarangire National Park. We drove through Maasai country and watched the Maasai men and boys herding their cattle and the women collecting water and firewood with their donkeys.
We entered the park about 10am and the human herding began… Tanzania now has a thriving tourist business taking thousands of people through their parks and they have got it down to a fine art. It is possible to go in your own car but nearly everyone was being taken by an operator in their own landcruiser with the open top all following the same tracks. All the drivers are in touch with each other and if one of them sees a cheetah or pride of lions sleeping, they get on the radio and everyone heads down to have a look. It is actually done really well and within an hour we had branched out on our own and seemed to have most of the park to ourselves. There are dedicated picnic areas where everyone has the same boxed lunch to enjoy the view over the park.
Some of the animals we saw:
It was a lovely day, albeit very dusty and tiring. We did see some cheetah which we were thrilled with and many other animals and later headed back to our campsite where our cook was waiting with a fabulous dinner.
The second day we spent in the Ngorongoro Crater. This is a Conservation Area rather than a National Park – the difference is that no people are allowed to live within the confines of a National Park but some Maasai live on the rim of the crater and are allowed to keep stock. The Maasai were relocated to Ngorongoro from their homes in the north including the Serengeti when the government established the National Parks. The crater was formed after a volcano erupted and is 610 meters deep and covers 260 sq km. The crater floor is mostly open grassland but there are also rain forests, wooded areas and lakes inside. These lakes are fed by freshwater springs which are important for the game and local Maasai but many dry up during the dry season. The Maasai are allowed to graze their cattle inside the crater but must enter and exit daily.
We saw masses of game in the crater – including a lion on a kill with rest of the pride waiting patiently for their share a few meters away and then another 100 meters away the jackals hovered around and the hyenas were surrounding the area waiting for their eventual feed. We had a birds eye view of a few lions who were resting beside the track and when all the landcruisers came up to look at them, they wandered through the cars enjoying the attention. It was unbelieveable to see these wonderful wild creatures with so little fear. There are 7 ranger stations on the rim of the crater who can see everything that happens inside and as a result poaching is rare here. Unfortunately it is still happening in the other National Parks.
We also saw the magnicent elaborate mating dance of the male Ostrich to attract a female. The male is larger and black and the female is brown. She waited patiently, then offered herself and it was all over in a couple of minutes. They then parted company and walked away from each other, but they will share the care of the eggs and upbringing of their young.
We saw one of the last surviving Black rhino but he was not that close, and also many hippos basking beside the water and floating around in it. I loved the crater, it is deservedly a world heritage site.
After another night at the campsite, we set off early to get to Lake Manyara arriving as it opened at 7am. This was a totally different landscape from the previous couple of days. The Lake Manyara National Park covered 330 sq km of which over 200 is a lake. It is set under the Great Rift Valley’s escarpment and there is a road that runs alongside this, but as we were there in the dry season it was mainly just one vast wetland. Masses of flamingos, pelicans, stalks and herons all wading through and of course hundreds of hippos. There were little wooden bridges to walk over so that you can see further into the pools. It was obviously greener than the crater and Tarangire National Park and spotting the game was quite a challenge. We did see the most adorable little baby elephant, the Kante reckons was only 2 days old. He was still stumbling and his mother and aunts were very protective of him – at one stage we had to drive away as one of the aunts started running towards us.
We saw Mongeese, dik diks, warthogs – which are my favourite African animal and impala. There are famous climbing lions in this park but we did not see any this time. They do canoe trips here but we had to fly back to Dar later so next time maybe ….
On the way back to the airport we stopped at a Maasai village. They charge about $US20 to visit their village. They put on a rather touristy dance and expect the male visitor to jump up and down with them while they chant. The women and men are totally segregated in two lines while the men are dancing and then the women (myself included) had to move – actually hop – along in front of the men at which point some of the men would step forward to touch a woman. I was touched a few times much to the amusement of the women so I presume it is some kind of a marraige offer or something. We were then taken into one of their huts and shown how they live. Maasai men can have up to 10 wives and each wife has a hut. This hut is just two rooms, one for the mother and one for the children and a fire that continually burns, both for cooking and light. There is no living room, no furniture or any personal possessions. The houses are built by the women and made from cow dung, sticks and straw. The women also collect all the firewood, water and do all the cooking and child rearing. The boys tend the cattle and take them to pasture daily and the men – well I am not sure what they do but they are very beautiful. they are very tall and slim and dress in magnificent colours. Their shoes are old tyres cut into flip flops and they all carry long sticks. They are used as guards in Dar es Salaam for many shops and businesses.
After we had visited the village we headed to the airport and got our very small plane back to Dar es Salaam via Zanzibar with Ian sitting in the co-pilots seat! A wonderful three days seeing a stunning part of the world.