The Food Chain In Action, from a Spectator’s View [Tanzania]

[This is the second post of a three-part trip recap. Previous post: Animals, Warriors Survive the Wild and Each Other [Kenya]]

October 7, 2017 – Lake Manyara First, Serengeti Last

Waking up early was the name of the game again. If only I could make this a habit back home! Today’s safari adventure led us first to Lake Manyara, a shallow lake in north central Tanzania. Luckily the park looked lush despite its weary, dry surroundings. The drive around Lake Manyara was intimate, allowing us to see wildlife up close and personal. Much to my delight, we saw many elephants eating alongside the small road that surrounded the lake. On the lake itself, we saw many types of birds keeping cool in the early morning sun.

 

 

Near the end of our time at Lake Manyara, groups of monkeys lined the path of the road. Behind them, we could see large dirt mounds that looked like giant sandcastles with small windows. Come to find out, they were termite mounds, and we’d continue to see them throughout the rest of our time in mainland Africa. Right before we exited the park, we saw an elephant family walking in a line, led by the largest elephants. We were confused, as the leading elephant was carrying a limp baby elephant on its trunk. Unfortunately, the family was carrying a stillborn baby to a private spot to bury it. It certainly was a sad thing to witness, however, it was beautiful to see an elephant family pay respect to the situation.

 

 

LAKE MANYARA WILDLIFE

  • Termite
  • Elephant
  • Grant gazelle
  • Zebra
  • Wildebeest
  • Flamingo
  • Pelican
  • Marabou stork
  • Egyptian goose
  • Monkey
  • Baboon
  • Warthog
  • African buffalo
  • Impala
  • Giraffe
  • Mongoose
  • Dik-dik
  • Guinea fowl

After leaving the park, we headed through the highlands toward Ngorongoro Crater. The views were so much different than what we had seen previously. We were able to see the crater periodically, but we would be returning in a few days, as we were actually going to the Serengeti first. The road to Serengeti National Park was so so so so incredibly dry. Every once in a while, we’d see Masai tribal members walking the grey lands while cars zoomed by and layered them with dust. There was no green living plant or vegetation for tens of miles. The ride was also quite terrible and long. The gravel dirt roads were unbearably rough, and I felt numb all over my body.

 

 

We finally made it to the park and began seeing vegetation and animals. The Serengeti lands varied in terrain – grasslands, prairie, forest, river banks, mountains and plains. Much to the delight of the earth, it started to rain a little in the park. One of the most commonly known phenomenons of African wildlife is the Great Migration, a migration of over a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles from the Masai Mara in Kenya to the Serengeti in Tanzania. In a way, Robyn and I were doing the same migration on our safari, going north to south. In the middle of the Serengeti, we sat in our truck and watched for a while as a massive, never ending line of wildebeest migrated through the park.

 

 

It was a long drive through the Serengeti to our lodge at the top of a mount in the park. The lodge had a main reception area with individual cabins throughout the area. Security guards in uniforms were required to lead us to places in the dark. The guards held a spear to protect visitors from wildlife in the area. We of course already had the ultimate scare with the red spitting cobra in Kenya – not sure if much could top that! The lodge that housed the restaurant overlooked the Serengeti. I remember looking out while eating my meal and thinking that the Serengeti looked like a blurry oil painting of light green and beige strokes.

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October 8, 2017 – Safari Pros by Now

We were finally blessed with a little bit of time to sleep in under our secured mosquito net. Accompanying us at breakfast were groups of Germans and Israelis, full family squads. I thought to myself, “Can you imagine being a 5-year-old and getting to go on a safari in the Serengeti?!” That would have been my dream at that age, especially since The Lion King was so popular at that time.

The whole day we spent game driving across the Serengeti in the super hot midday heat. The Serengeti is really big and animals are spread out, contrary to the Masai Mara. We saw the usual animals, but then saw a group of three lions who we watched for a while. Next, a group of around 30 elephants hung out near a grassy, forested area. We really didn’t have too many issues with bugs or flies during our safari, but this day was different (or maybe it was just the area we were in). The tsetse flies were SO bad. There were so many of them, and they had no shame biting every time they landed on us. They even would bite through our clothes! Usually, when you shoo a fly away, they usually buzz off or don’t come back that often. Not these guys! I shook my arms to get them off, and they hung on my arms and legs. I probably killed about 15 of the tsetse flies within 30 minutes; luckily we drove off to an area that was less infested.

 

 

In the middle of the park, we ate at a small shed. Our daily lunches typically included chicken, fresh fruit, bread and water. A few monkeys smartly loitered near the shed, waiting to snatch any food or leftovers from us.

We spent a few more hours game driving and quickly saw a massive lion laying down near some bushes. Then we saw two more under shade right next to it. We sat quietly in the truck with Isaac watching their movements and soon spotted several cubs with their mother under a bush! In total, we counted 10 lions within about 30 feet! Typically the guide is the one that finds wildlife and points it out to us, however, this time it was our find. After all, we had several days of practice.

 

 

During our drive back, we ran into another migration of wildebeest and zebra in central Serengeti. Back at the lodge, we relaxed for a bit before a lovely dinner of soup, rice, chicken, salad, coffee and soda. In the Serengeti, there was no wifi or service, so we were really disconnected from everything. Don’t we all need that?

 

 

October 9, 2017 – Lions Steal the Show, Again

It was my half-birthday, and what a better way to celebrate than waking up in the middle of the Serengeti. We spent the morning roaming central Serengeti, where a lot of trucks were out jockeying for views of wildlife. For quite some time, we watched three lions resting in a low area who were ready to hunt. We watched for about 30 minutes as they crept up on some zebras. The zebras were quite still, but I sensed that they knew something was coming for them. The lions got within 10 feet of the zebra before the zebras moved, requiring more creeping by the lions.

 

 

A few of the other lions were walking right next to our truck. They were so close that we could reach out and touch them! We then raced off to see a leopard, a rare find in the world of game drives. We used our binoculars to zoom in on the leopard in the tree as other trucks zoomed by to get in on the action. We had a nice picnic lunch in the middle of the Serengeti and saw a few more animals before leaving, including a hyena on the way out of the park.

 

 

SERENGETI WILDLIFE

  • Red iguana
  • Lizard
  • Giraffe
  • Zebra
  • Ostrich
  • Marabou stork
  • Grant gazelle
  • Thomson gazelle
  • Hawk
  • Termite
  • Cheetah
  • Warthog
  • Egyptian goose
  • Waterbuck
  • Baboon
  • Guinea fowl
  • Wildebeest
  • African buffalo
  • Dik-dik
  • Impala
  • Centipede
  • Secretarybird
  • Elephant
  • Vervet monkey
  • Topi
  • Crane
  • Flies
  • Lion
  • Vulture
  • Crown crane
  • Superb starling
  • Hartebeest
  • Hyena
  • Leopard

To the surprise of us and the earth, the sky started to get dark, and rain started pelting the ground, causing dust to puff off the dry soil.

 

 

The long, rough ride back to Ngorongoro Crater was no cakewalk, but we knew what to expect. There were some Masai tribal members that had bush homes near the crater, not too far from our hotel stay. We lucked out and got switched to a hotel with a crater view. We took time to clean up and look nice for dinner (for once). The hotel was very nice and had live music during dinner. Our free 30 min wifi minutes zoomed by fast, enough to respond to some texts and check the news. Back in the room, the clean clothes in our suitcases were dwindling fast.

 

 

October 10, 2017 – Inside the Crater

Once again we were early risers to see Ngorongoro Crater at dawn. The crater formed when a volcano imploded on itself two to three million years ago. To get down into the crater, Isaac drove down switchbacks, a common experience in nearly all of my travels. The crater has a unique mix of animals, and first, we watched about 20 hippos hang out in their muddy pool in the center of the crater.

 

 

Ngorongoro is known for being home to some rhinos, a rare find on a typical safari. We heard that a U.S. Senator was in the park and instructed his driver to drive off-road up to a rhino. This was obviously illegal, but Isaac said that it’s a $500 fine, which I’m sure is no big deal for someone of such status. We saw the rhino from afar, but we were not expecting to get as close to a rhino as we did near Lake Nakuru.

 

 

NGORONGORO WILDLIFE

  • Giraffe
  • Thomson gazelle
  • Wildebeest
  • Ostrich
  • Donkey
  • Zebra
  • Hawk
  • Guinea fowl
  • African buffalo
  • Secretarybird
  • Warthog
  • Jackal
  • Egyptian goose
  • Hyena
  • Hippo
  • Crown crane
  • Marabou stork
  • Pelican
  • Egret
  • Augur buzzard
  • Rhino
  • Lion
  • Grant gazelle
  • Elephant
  • Baboon

Safari fatigue started to settle in. Most people go on a 3-5 day safari, however, ours was nearly two weeks. We were taking in the views of the crater and its surroundings before leaving the conservation area. We asked Isaac if we could stop at a craft store, where we both did a little bit of shopping for our co-workers, family and friends. After that, we headed to a garden villa hotel not too far from the crater.

A friendly Marabou stork hung around the hotel, where the local staff fed it some leftover food. Dinner that evening was beautiful, lit by candlelight and share plates catered by welcoming hosts. Back at our individual lodge, we were again spooked before going to bed. We heard noises and saw flashlights outside of our cabin at a late hour in the evening. I got up and peeked out the window, confused what was going on. I then laughed to myself as I saw a hose watering plants in front of our cabin. A little late to water plants I’d say, but we weren’t making the rules.

October 11, 2017 – Tanzania and Safari Closes

Our safari was coming to an end, which was hard to believe. We did a little more shopping in the morning before heading back toward the Tanzania-Kenya border. For lunch, we stopped in Arusha, a large, bustling city in northeastern Tanzania. The streets were filled with vendors, people and vehicles. Isaac instructed us to close our windows and keep our belongings secure. The lunch spot was actually behind guarded walls as an extra layer of security.

After lunch, we proceeded back to the border, where we said goodbye to Isaac. Isaac was quiet, young and very polite. It took us a while to get him to loosen up, but toward the end, we felt like close friends cracking jokes with each other. A nice black Toyota SUV picked us up at the border and took us back to Nairobi. That evening, we stayed in a fancy city hotel. The dinner buffet was delicious, with fresh fruits, salads and desserts.

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This was the official end of the safari, our time in Tanzania, and the use of earth-toned clothes. After this, I’m not sure I could ever go to a zoo again! This was the real deal, and I got to experience it with a great friend, great guides and the wonderful people (and animals) of Kenya and Tanzania.

-Michael

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