Tanzania Safari Part I

January 27, 2008 - Arusha, Tanzania

It is just the four of us and our driver/guide. Our safari vehicle is a Toyota Land Cruiser with custom removable top conversion. We all have a window seat and a space when the top is off. We have been talking about our Tanzania safari since the camping trip through Botswana. Before leaving Arusha we stopped at a camera store and Terry and I broke down and bought a HD DV video camera to replace the compact Canon Terry was using for video. Terry is very cute when she is being protective of her new toy. I do get to use it once and a while and she takes over the stills with the Nikon D80. With the Nikon, she has taken some amazing photos. Like our journal, she has a different perspective on photos as well.

Leaving Arusha our first game drive is through Arusha Park. Each park we need to register before entering and all the paper work is checked at the park gate. Things seem to be pretty strict. Vehicles must stay on the road and no game drives after dark. Not 30 seconds into our first park and we were 30 meters from a group of giraffes. Although we saw zebra, buffalo, monkeys, baboons, duikers, and more, it was a giraffe day for us. We saw lots of giraffes and got as close as 10 meters! Giraffes are very curious, and many times they would come closer to take a look rather than run away. We also did a game walk through the park and snuck up on a giraffe. I wanted to get a close photo so when it lowered its head to eat, we crept up closer. When it raised its head again it looked surprised to see us so close. It had the cutest expression on its face. We were a little too close and it eventually moved on. But giraffes never seem to panic -- they just quietly go on their way. That night we stayed at Ngurdoto Lodge.

The next day we ate breakfast and entered Tarangire National Park. This was more of a wart hog day for us since we saw a lot of them. But we were also lucky enough to see two Impala bucks locking horns in a struggle for dominance -- Over a female of course. We saw lots of large birds like eagles and buzzards. We saw a lot of baboons as well as ostrich. In the end we all considered it a great day for game. We are learning a lot about the plant life as well. Yellow bark, flat top, whistling, and other types of acacia trees line the landscape with sausage trees, ebony trees, and huge baobab trees. We got to our next lodge around 6 pm, ate dinner, and crashed for the night. Our accommodations were at Lake Manyara Serena Lodge. Serena lodges are well known mid/high-range lodges. I took a dip in the zero-edge pool and watched an acrobat performance. Dinner was incredible. We also got to try Ratatouille. I have been eating a lot of vegetarian since on safari.

On the road again we stopped at a Maasai village. The chief’s son took our donations and showed us around. They danced and sang for us, and then we were shown the traditional huts, their school, and of course their crafts. Lunch is usually a box lunch somewhere on the road between lodges or during a game drive. It usually has some small sandwich, nuts, fruit, water, fruit juice, and sometimes yogurt or a candy bar. No one seems to like the box lunch except me and so I get a few hand-me-downs of yogurt, fruit, and sandwiches.

Our next destination was the Serengeti National Game Park. We saw some lions but at around 100 meters and a lion cub hiding in the bush. Lots of zebra and wildebeest this day. We drove for an hour without seeing a single animal and then we would drive another hour where there was a solid line of wildebeest or zebra in sight. I asked I driver how many wildebeest in the heard we passed. Over a million! Huge herds of them that stretched into the horizon and seemed to never end. The land here was completely flat and prey like zebra and wildebeest like it that way. They feel safer with nowhere for lions to hide. The zebra and wildebeest have a symbiotic relationship. Zebra have good eyesight and wildebeest have a good sense of smell. The wildebeest can only eat short grass since they do not have prehensile lips, but the zebra eat the tops off the longer grass which allows the wildebeest to eat the rest. So these two seem to make good travel buddies. We got within 15 meters of both zebra and wildebeest which is very close. We also saw a serval cat running through the grass, dwarf mongoose and hydrax.

Our lodge for the next two night was the Serengeti Serena inside the Serengeti National Park. There are no fences around the lodge and so animals like buffalo and even lions can wander in and out. Because of this we had to have an escort to and from our room during dark hours. Five days prior a pair of lions wandered into the lodge area. The staff use bright spot lights to annoy the lions into leaving. It reminded me of the movie, "The Ghost and the Darkness". We were told that buffalo come and drink from the pool just about every night. Our room was the furthest from the lodge reception and the most remote. We had two antelope come outside our room window.

The next day was our first early morning game drive starting at 6 am. Again 30 seconds into the drive, we spotted something on the road. Turned out to be a lion. Then we came across a pride of nine lions with cubs. We got within 25-30 meters from them. Later we visited a pool of hippos and stood on the bank about 20 meters away. I got close to the edge to get a shot and our guide motioned me back to a safe distance since there were crocodiles in the water as well. We were back at the lodge by 8:30 for breakfast. We were hungry by then and we were looking forward to breakfast the entire trip back. The coffee and omelette taste so good after our game drive.

After breakfast, with box lunches in hand, we returned to the bush. After the lions and hippos the day was already an amazing game day. But our persistence paid off. We saw more buffalo, two locking horns. Then we came across the elephants. A group of five. We stayed with them for at least 30 minutes. One of the young elephants didn’t like us there and made it known. We inched up every now and then and the elephants went about there daily activities of eating, drinking, and playing. At one point the largest elephant came to check us out. There were several times where I thought the elephants might charge. But this time the elephant came close enough that we could reach out and touch it. Our guide told us not to make a sound and I quietly lowered myself back into the vehicle is case it was tossed about. The elephant could have effortlessly tipped our vehicle over, but just brushed the hood with his trunk and let us go with a warning. It was an incredible experience.

When the guides pass each other on the road they usually stop and chat a bit in Swahili. We like to guess what they might be saying. After talking to another driver, our guide got quiet and started driving with a purpose. We knew it was something big but he never tells us just in case it is gone by the time we get there. This time a leopard sleeping up in an acacia tree. At one point there were at least 18 vehicles on the road stopped, everyone gawking at the cat. We hadn’t eaten lunch so we ate our box lunches in the car waiting for something to happen. The leopard never did leave the tree. We waited 2.5 hours and decided to return to the lodge. But it did get up, move to another branch, licked itself, and yawned. It looked around as if it knew it was the star of the show and then started on a new nap.



Giraffe eating acacia leaves
Sneaking up on giraffe
Terry gets muddy

1 Comment

The Shawns:
January 30, 2008
This sounds a lot like our trip to Madagascar! You guys are having an awesome time. Thanks for the updates. Shawn1 and Shawn2
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