Tanzania Safari Part II

January 30, 2008 - Arusha, Tanzania

Another note on Bariki, our driver and guide. He drives through the game parks watching the road for pot holes and puddles. He takes care not to make sudden turns and stops since he knows we are balancing on our seats trying to shoot the next cover of National Geographic. He also is careful not to drive under any low-hanging thorny acacia branches that might take our heads off. All this and he scans the trees, horizon, road, and bushes for the various game we want to see. He also stops when there is something worth while and he somehow knows without ever asking once we are done taking photos and ready to move on. Every night he cleans the inside of the vehicle. On the road, driving with our heads out the top, you get be pelted by unsuspecting beetles. I stood on my seat, head and chest out the top of our vehicle just about every game drive. Once stopped to look at animals, a 1/2 dozen flies would cover and crawl all over your face. When taking photos I wouldn't even bother to swat they away for fear of ruining the shot. You get use to this.

So during our second early morning game drive, while Bariki is doing all of these things, I spotted a leopard in a tree. I was actually looking for leopards, checking every branch of every large tree we passed. The leopard didn't stay long once we stopped the vehicle but between looking at us and hopping down to another branch before fleeing, it took about two minutes. This leopard was all ours, not another vehicle in sight. Actually we had the game park to our selves and we didn't see another vehicle until we returned to the lodge. All the people that had slept late and ate their breakfast before their game drive were just leaving the park. By then we had some great shots of our leopard and he had already fled into the bush probably never to be seen by the late comers. Our driver said it was a rare treat to see a leopard from that close.

The early morning game drives are special. You need to get up early, but once up and out you get excited. You are hungry and looking forward to coffee and an omelet when you get back. You may be cold, even freezing, but you are never hot and sweaty. And you can smell the animals before you see them. Maybe some people would consider this a negative. But for me it was just another dimension of the experience. After our long awaited, awesome breakfast, we were back on the road, heading to the next lodge. We had to pass through the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro National Park to get Ngorongoro Serena Lodge located on the rim of the crater. This was the first time I took a nap on the road. My slumber didn't last more than 30 minutes before we were woken by some lions. We have actually seen a lot of lions on safari so far. More than I thought we would have -- too many to count. Lions eating an elephant, lions eating a buffalo, lions just basking in the sun, lions comfortably hiding under the shade of a acacia tree. We stopped for lunch and were swarmed by dwarf mongoose and hydrax. The dwarf mongoose are cuter than ferrets, if that is possible. Not that the day's game drive wasn't completely satisfying, we had one last treat for the day. A huge group of wildebeest migrating through a river. Bariki chased them away from the river and onto the road where they kicked up a dust storm which made for great photos.
The lodge was the nicest lodge we stayed at during safari. Our room had french doors that opened to a private balcony with a beautiful view of the crater. We cleaned up and relaxed at the bar with a Safari beer watching the sunset before dinner. The next day we descended into the crater. What an unusual area. Unlike the 14,000 square kilometers of the Serengeti, the crater is 165 square kilometers with buffalo, zebra, and wildebeest all living in close quarters with lions, leopards, and cheetah. And speaking of cheetah, in the crater is where we saw our first cheetah. Unfortunately, it was about 120 meters away. But cheetah being my favorite, I was happy to see it at all. It is a sad story about the cheetah. They are not doing well in Tanzania. Due to weather, diminishing habitats, and other reasons, there numbers are dramatically reduced.

We also saw our first Black Rhino, the last of the "African Big Five" along with elephants, buffalo, lions, and leopards. The Big Five are the five most dangerous animals to encounter in Africa. We also saw hyenas. One passed right below my window, about a meter away. Actually all the animals in the crater seemed to be use to vehicles more than the animals in other parks. And so we got closer to everything. Buffalo and zebra were so close to the vehicle we could reach out and touch them. Really! At one point we got a flat and we all had to get out of the vehicle until Bariki changed the tire. He said to stay close by. The zebra just stared at us trying to figure the situation out. Even though we were out of the vehicle on foot -- humans as opposed to a strange square box -- some got close, about 10 meters.

We made our way to our last safari night. We knew the name of the lodge but didn't know anything about it. As it turns out we were pleasantly surprised. It was a lodge next to a Maasai village, run by the Maasai villagers. All the staff wore traditional Maasai clothing. As we passed by the village, we handed out pencils to the children. The kids surrounded our vehicle grabbing all the pencils they could. We arrived earlier than the other lodges and so we ordered some wine and beer, and had a swim in the pool. The zero-edge pool overlooks a beautiful small lake in the hillside. Then a really hot shower with a cool breeze coming into the shower window which felt refreshing. Our room has nice touches like wood-carved antelope hooks for the bathrobes. Check out the photos. You could probably look them up online at maasaivilage.com as well.

Ahhh! I just spilled beer on the keyboard while typing this and trashed the tab key. So not only are the arrow keys and backslash dead, now the tab key is dead except when it decides to insert repeated tabs randomly into our journal. I had the last paragraph highlighted when it decided to insert 100 tabs and wiped it out. Had to retype it. I am hoping it dries out and just dies. I can live without the tab key for another week. This computer is truly on its last leg and now writing the journal just got harder.

The next day was our last safari day. The location, Lake Manyara National Park. We started by watching yellow-billed storks flying back and forth collecting branches for nests. About 100 storks had a constant line of traffic to and from the nest sight, somewhere in the park. We saw the storks, empty-bill, fly out of the park, search for a suitable branch, and take off back into the park with the branch in bill. This allow for a lot of photographic experimentation and great photos since the flight patterns were predictable. During lunch a baboon tried to steal some unattended lunch boxes from another group. Their guide wrestled the lunch boxes away which spilled all over the ground. Then he tried to kick the baboon but missed. Bariki tried to throw a rock at the baboon which eventually escaped with a sandwich. It was quite the commotion. This was the end of our safari. We all agreed that one week on safari was perfect. We saw all the animals we were hoping to see. All the parks we visited were different in terrain, plants, animals, and even the same animals sometimes had unique behaviors depending on the park. After a week you get better at id'ing animals. You see a little black blob in the distance and you can tell if it is a buffalo or a wildebeest by its shape and the way it moves.

We returned to Arusha and spent the night at the Arusha Center Inn instead of the previous roach hotel. We kept all the un-eated fruit and extra juice from the lunch boxes in our cooler. On the way back, during a stop, we gave them to a couple beggars asking for money, and they seemed happy. This was great since they didn't go to waste. After a shower and a good breakfast the next day, today, we fly to Zanzibar.


Room at Ngorongoro Serena Lodge
Dwarf mongoose
Wildebeest crossing the road
Hydrax peeking from tree
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