Blog Three - Tanzania
4 Aug 2016
|Blog Three – Tanzania Safari
Thursday 28 July 2016
A start at 8:00am was greatly appreciated and with breakfast done we were on our way into the Serengeti – the aptly named “endless plains”. We stopped briefly for a couple of the smallest gazelles on the plains – dik diks and some Macdonald Gazelles and then coming across a Fish Eagle, vulture and Tawny Eagle and a bit further on a Masai Giraffe. Driving towards the river and lake areas of the central area of the park we came across Magpie Shrike, Northern White Shrike and Blacksmith Plover. In the lake areas we saw Yellow Billed Storks, Common Stilts, more Blacksmith Plovers and some hippos enjoying their morning bath. A quick scoot around the lake we saw four flamingos. It was amazing the difference in colour - from where we started they were very light pink but moving so the sun was not behind them showed them to be brilliant pink, as well some Cape Teal Ducks. We also saw some more hippos in one of the rivers but again they were pretty submerged so we didn’t stay long. We then saw a family of Bucks nestled in some shrubs and then a rare White Headed Buffalo Weaver bird.
With the water areas well behind us we drove to more rocky climes on the search for lions as they like to head to the top of rock formations so they can view all of their kingdom. We saw a couple lionesses sitting in long grasses and also saw a few on top of the simba rocks but they were a long way away and could only really make them out in the binoculars. Whilst meandering around the rocks we also sighted a monitor lizard. There was no “great” sightings at this stage as drove our way around the centre area of the park but we did see a heaps of Thompson’s Gazelles, a pod of hippos, some Masai Giraffes and quite a few different bird species.
After this exhausting morning it was time for a picnic lunch at a nicely decked out spot. It even had a coffee van! It looked quite out of place and funny being in the Serengeti. Lunch was very nice and had everything from pasta salad, chicken, tea, juice, chips, chocolate, fruit – way too much for what we needed but that appears to be the African way. It was very relaxing and with the concrete tables and chairs it meant it was fairly easy to arrange and pack up. Still, we spent about an hour from arriving to leaving and it was a pleasant change of pace and nice to stop for awhile.
After lunch we meandered around here and there in the central area of the park and came across a leopard! Actually all we could see was a bit of a leg and paw hanging down from a very dense tree, but we’re counting it as a sighting anyway. We were now in the hottest part of the day and a lot of the animals were having a siesta or at the very least seeking shade under trees. And this is where we found a family of elephants, just standing under an acacia seeking a reprieve from the sun. We also came across a big male down the road a bit who had been taking a mud bath as the bottom half was covered but the top half was still its usual grey.
Not far away we came across a small family of lions. The big female had its head up and looking around but the other three were flat out having a sleep including the maned male. However a short time later the two swapped positions with the big male showed in full glory with a huge mane and one our photos in the blog shows him off. A little bit further on we saw another couple of female lions under a tree not more than ten metres from the vehicle. One of these lioness was the dominate female in the pride and she had a collar attached and the rangers of the park use this to track some of the dominate females to assess how the population is going. Both of us find it hard to believe that in this day you can’t attach a better tracking device than the one attached. Not that we are experts in the field, it just doesn’t seem rational however it didn’t seem to bother the girl that much and we were luckily enough to see them grooming each other for quite awhile before having a kip under the tree.
We were then treated to a viewing of a cheetah only about 15 minutes from the two female lions. It was hard to see initially but luckily it moved from a lying position to sitting and then walking a short distance in front of a tree giving us a full viewing of its majestic body. It wasn’t the closest animal encounter we have had being about 50 metres away but we could quite clearly see it and with the cameras, binoculars and video we had some great viewing. Given how reclusive they are we were very pleased with the sighting – especially Makena being the cheetah queen.
The afternoon was wearing on so Comfort started our journey back to the lodge. Of course there was always going to be some stops on the way and the first was a small herd of elephants very close to the road. We settled in for a viewing and it didn’t disappoint with a bub suckling quite happily and the herd just trundling along parallel with the road. The big male was a little bit further off and when the herd crossed the road he started to walk a bit closer. Comfort drove the vehicle forward a little bit and we able to watch the big fella walk fairly close to our vehicle and in between us and a couple of other vehicles a little way behind. He was a very impressive big male, even though he had snapped both tusks and didn’t show any fear of us at all.
Not far along the track we were greeted by a herd of buffalos with some of the bird friends. The birds are Yellow Billed Oxpeckers and they pick all ticks and other insects off the buffalos. One in particular (piccie in blog photos) was even in the buffaloes nostrils and ears, must to the displeasure of the buffalo. They also had some very young calves not more than a month old so this was an added bonus. A short distance away we also came across some more African Hoopoes with their colourful plumage and woodpecker-like crest.
And our last two finds were both leopards, although the sightings weren’t great. The first one we only knew initially because he had a paw hanging down but you could actually see him in the fork of the tree with binoculars. We didn’t stay a long time and drove a little bit more to find a second leopard this time a little bit easier, but still not great. Not surprising they hang out a distance from the roads with a babbling mob of Europeans rocking up. Seriously, just shut the hell up! We still managed some shots and our binoculars were used more than the cameras. The problem with sighting leopards is that they are generally nocturnal and when you do see them they are generally up a tree asleep with their bodies partially (if not fully) hidden by a branch and their legs dangling over each side of the branch for balance! Still a sighting is a sighting!
And so we made our way back to our lodge after a full day in the Serengeti. A couple of pics of the place on the way in and as soon as we were back we headed straight for the pool and a very refreshing swim. Of course if you have a bar handy……Yep we had a couple of Serengeti Lagers in a relaxing little corner of the pool area that looked directly over the central park area (pic in the blog). Fantastic way to finish the day! From here it was usual shower, buffet dinner and a couple more Serengeti Lagers and we were done. Quite a long day but one well worth savouring.
Friday 29 July 2016
Our day kicked off with brekkie, packing and hitting the road to Ngorongoro Crater by 8:00 – on time and Comfort is a happy driver. We passed elephants just down the road from the lodge but didn’t stop as we had to make tracks to get the gates as soon as possible. That didn’t stop us from pulling over for a cheetah in the distance and we even popped the roof but the viewing wasn’t the best. We closed the top and moved on a bit further and found another cheetah and then spotted another close by. We stayed with this one a bit longer as the smaller one walked to the larger cheetah. It was pretty obvious they were mum and about a one year old cub. Great viewing. A little bit further down the road we spotted a Caracal – a very rarely spotted smallish cat with pointy ears. We only caught a glimpse but that is more than pretty much everyone else. Comfort has been doing these trips for over six years and this is only the second one he has seen.
And so we arrived at the gates to exit out of Serengeti National Park. The wait to process our exit took about an hour. Hard to imagine how it would take an hour but again this is Africa. When took the corrugations in our stride and headed out of the Serengeti and straight into Ngorongoro Crater National Park – they share a border.
On the way to Ngorongoro we had a side trip to Oldupai Gorge. This a famous archaeological site and where Louis and Mary Leakey discovered ancient humanoid bones and implements dating back 1.8 million to 350,000 years. They started their expeditions in 1931 and continued for all of their lives and also discovered hominid footprints in 1977 that they cast and had a reproduction in the museum. We were also given a great talk on the site for about 20 minutes and at the end asked whether anyone wanted to take part in next year’s field expedition. Makena was extremely uninterested but Denbe thinks it would be an interesting month to spend away. The gorge itself was quite impressive as well and had four fairly distinct layers caused by rivers over the millennia.
After an hour at the gorge we hit the “road” again and arrived at Ngorongoro at about 1:40pm and we just made it for lunch – lucky because we hadn’t eaten a three course meal for awhile! This afternoon was spent at our leisure and included a quick dip in the pool. The quick dip was because the water was very cold – probably about five degrees cooler than Serengeti which was cool by any standards. The afternoon also enabled us to catch up on a few chores and finishing off the blog for Kenya which we posted the following day. We also had a briefing from Comfort who offered us a slightly alternative schedule that we readily agreed to and that moved our timetable to an early start and early finish.
Dinner was a great buffet including a BBQ grill prepared outside for guests to be provided meats straight from the heat and then continue with the inside goodies. We also splurged and ordered an Argentinian Malbec! Wines in Kenya and Tanzania are very expensive by African standards and we have imbibed only a couple of times with Denbe happy with the local amber fluids while Makena has been happy to observe. With full stomachs (again) we retired for the night in our very comfortable accommodation overlooking the crater.
Saturday 30 July 2016
After our briefing with Comfort yesterday afternoon, we were up very early and in reception by 6:00am. Comfort had our breakfast boxes ready and packed and we were off and first through the gates at 6:10am and on our way down. On the road to the national park gates we had our first sighting of a hyena so we took this as a promising sign.
We drove down into the crater in the dark with the eastern skies starting to lighten rapidly. The crater is quite small for a national park in Tanzania and it is pretty much covered in a standard safari drive. So we headed around and didn’t have any great sightings until about 7:00 when we could just make out two Black Rhinos in the long grass. These are the hardest of any large African animal and we were pretty excited to catch even a glimpse, which is basically all we saw. We knew where they had gone but the area must have been in a depression because we couldn’t see them from any angle we were able to drive.
That excitement over there was some chatter on the CB and we drove a short distance to a lion pride finishing off their kill from the night. We think it was a buffalo due to the size and the ribs were already fairly bare so it had been a good feed for the lions. There was a large male with a great mane a number of females and juveniles and a few cubs as well. It was a fantastic sight to see the whole pride on a slightly lower open area being able to see them all at once and the kill as well. The kill itself was about 20-30 metres from where we were with a large female claiming ownership when we arrived. The male and another female were a short distance away from the female and the others were scattered about the place. So we waited out turn and had some reasonable photos and views but were on our way to getting closer when an idiot ranger hopped out of his vehicle to speak with one of the guides and the male and a large portion of the pride did a runner to about 100 metres away. Comfort was pretty angry and so were we. How could you not know that stepping out of a vehicle where the lions can see and smell you would chase them away – and this is a park ranger – dickhead! Anyway we still managed a good sighting but it could have been better. The lions take off at the sight of humans walking because they relate them to being masai people and the masai kill the lions because they sometimes take their cattle. This was a very exciting viewing and a rare one at that. To see all the pride together with their feed was awesome.
After this experience we were ready for our picnic breakfast and Comfort set out a table cloth on the bonnet and we had a very civilised breakfast of this and that and a hot cup of tea – Denbe that is, Makena is not a drinker of hot beverages. There were also toilets and it was in front of a large pond/small lake with heaps of hippos who were creating the vocal accompaniment in the background, all within a distant view of the lion kill. Pretty speccy. Denbe contemplated life with a cup of tea in hand whilst standing on the edge of the lake taking in the hippos. Won’t get to do that again any time soon.
We drove a bit further around which was also elevated slightly and we had a great view looking back to where we had been for the last hour. Probably the nicest landscape we had seen thus far on the trip. Needless to say the cameras were merrily clicking away in the troupe carrier. We drove on a bit further and spotted the usual zebra, wildebeest and Macdonald’s Gazelle without coming across too much more until we spotted a huge array of troupe carriers in the distance. As we approached Comfort told us that a Black Rhino had been spotted not too far from the road. While not as many vehicles as the Mara River crossing, it was still very large and we edged closer and closer to our spot at the best point on the road to see the beast. It is nearly unheard of to see three in a day and we were very lucky, especially with this one, as we managed to get some reasonable shots and be able to see him, although still at a bit of a distance. The rangers were on site again directing the vehicles to continue to move and we eventually moved on but felt very privileged to have seen three of them in one day.
Driving a bit further near where we were this morning we came across a solitary hippo out of the water and a large troop of baboons ranging from some big males to a few toddlers. The hippo was just grazing around the stream and sometimes seemed asleep for periods hardly moving, although it did consume a lot of vegetation. The baboons however were very active and fights broke out very frequently accompanied by loud screaming and a lot of chasing. None of them approached the big males however and they were very much left to do whatever they wanted. We stayed here and enjoyed the sights for quite awhile and as we looking to leave the baboons decided to jump across a narrow part of the stream and we all tried to catch it on digital film. They did a good job and looked the part as they seemed to fly across the stream to land on the bank of the other side. It is fun to watch the baboons grooming themselves and how human like they are. It was hilarious when one of them was picking at his mates bum and he even shoved his face right in his bum to make sure he got all of whatever the hell he was after – gross!
The acacia forest within the crater then beckoned and as we drove though we had a visit from a special group of monkeys – blue balled monkeys! If you don’t believe us have a look at the photos we have added - they are hilarious. They have a bright blue sack that stands out in full view as that is the only part of them that has colour. It’s hard to work out what benefit nature provides by having their sack that colour, but you would assume something has caused it over the years to evolve that way. We have also included a picture of one of them have a good old pick at his doodle – typical male (says Makena)!
We made our way through the forest in the hope of sighting a leopard but that was not to be today and we left the forest and started making our way to the exit of the crater and back to our accommodation. On the way we stopped for a large male lion and two females a little way away from the road. They were close but still a little distance away to obtain good shots. A short way on however there was a young adult lion lying right next to the road with his brother having a roll in the grass about 100 metres away. The lion by the road was too close but he was in the shade and panting heavily and looked like he couldn’t be bothered moving so he stayed there surrounded by about five troupe carriers. We didn’t stay long as it looked like it would be distressing him. We hope the others did the same.
And that was that for Ngorongoro Crater. Quite an amazing geological feature with heaps of wildlife that stay here all year round. We made it back to the top quite quickly and were in time for a late lunch before attending to errands and finally being able to send our second blog – Kenya. Dinner that night was the usual buffet affair (no grill) washed down by a couple Kilimanjaro Lagers and then off to bed to start again next morning.
Sunday 31 July 2016
We were packed, had brekkie and on the road by 7:00am to Tarangire National Park. A big surprise waited for us: coke-a-cola road (ie bitumen) when we left the park! We had a short drive to the gates to check out of the national park and then onwards at a great rate of speed due to the nicely surfaced and wide bitumen road. In no time we made it to our first stop – a very large shop selling all things Tanzanian including tanzanite. Makena already has some tanzanite in the form of a pair of earrings and a ring and Denbe would have placed a bet on some more being purchased but a very restrained Makena held firm and only purchased a nice cerise scarf and Denbe bought a nice Tanzanian fridge magnet.
Purchases made we then headed for an optional cultural experience. We were very wary after our Masai visit but Comfort reassured us that it would be worth it. He was right. We had a local guide that took us through a banana plantation and showed us a couple of local houses, how they are made and how they are paid for. Very interesting. We also visited the craftsmen who supply all the tourist shops like the one we just visited and we watched as they carved ebony and rosewood into bowls and all sorts of animals. Very impressive as it is all done with hand tools with which we saw them fashioning the figurines. We did make a small purchase here of an ebony cheetah and probably bought it at half the price than the shop. At least here all the money goes to the locals who have installed a water line from the river and then made a tap into each home. Quite an achievement considering their circumstances and our fee for the tour goes directly to such programmes. The makers were originally from Mozambique about 50 years ago and walked all the way to avoid civil war in their homeland. Tanzania seems to be a much more peaceful country than Kenya with the village we visited containing about 16,000 people coming from over 100 tribes. It was stressed to us that they lived harmoniously and is considered a cultural trait of which they are extremely proud. We also wandered a little bit on the main road before being taken through the village and the large market which is here every day. Pretty much all the locals seemed happy to greet us and this reaffirmed that the money we paid was going back to the village.
When we come out of the market we found that Comfort had driven the troupe carrier to meet us and we were soon on our way on the coke-a-cola highway headed to Tarangire at an astonishing rate of knots! We reached the turn off for Tarangire very quickly and went back on the whiskey road for about 20 minutes until we reached the gate of the park. Here we were confronted by a very large number of vehicles obviously wanting to enter the park. So we amused ourselves while African time tolled and were surprised to find that it was only a 30 minute wait for Comfort to return and ready to head off. Not long after we entered the park we came across a young adult male lion in the shade of an acacia tree. He was about 20 metres away and again we were able get some great shots. Another half hour on the whiskey road had us pulling up at the Tarangire Sopa Lodge about 2:00pm and being confronted by a very green garden and heaps of wildlife in the grounds, probably attracted by the greenery. We were soon checked in and organised and sat down by the poolside to enjoy a very good, civilised lunch.
We had an hour to ourselves before joining Comfort in an afternoon safari drive of the park, the only one as we are spending a single night. We started slowly not seeing a huge amount but the park is known for its baobab trees. We have included a photo of the huge things. It may look dead but it is very much alive and about 400 years old. They are scattered here and there throughout the park and they can live up to 1000 years.
We saw a variety of birds but after an hour or so we came across the park’s other major attraction – elephants. We came across a very large number which were wondering along what looked like a worn track between a field of green and the native scrub of the park. We stayed watching them for a little while before moving on to another smaller herd that were grazing beside the road. They were very close and one large inquisitive male faced us a couple of times before deciding to come even closer and got to within one metre before Comfort became un-Comfort-able and turned the engine on to give him a bit of a fright and it did the trick with him backing away. He was never threatening but they are so large they could damage without trying so it was best to be on the safe side. They continued chomping on grass for some time before the herd decided they wanted to cross road in front of us. What a treat. They all plodded their way slowly passed us within five metres of the vehicle and it was amazing how they seem to just trundle along without any effort. The best was when a three week old actually walked on the road past our vehicle and stumbled up the small (30 centimetre) ridge to the scrub to join his mum. Very cute and he almost looked embarrassed! He was soon with his mum following closely behind and the remainder of the herd made it to the other side of the road still very close – passing within about 10 metres of us.
After this amazing experience we started out homeward trek to our lodge stopping to take the occasional photo of a number of birds including a few of Ground Hornbills, cute little love birds and an African Hoopoe and then of the sunset over the African plain. We were also being chased by quite a few Tsetse Flies which carry the sleeping sickness so Comfort put the pedal to the metal and we zoomed home after the sun had set. We arranged to have a drink with Comfort before dinner as this was his last night with us but he is off the grog for a couple of months so he stayed on the mineral water but we had another nice brew of Safari Lager before heading in to a buffet dinner. Today was a very long day starting our drive at 7:00 and leaving dinner around 10:00. We are starting to look forward to Zanzibar with no schedule and a bit of down time!
Monday 1 August 2016
Today is border crossing day heading back into Kenya. The usual start time of 7:00 after brekkie had us driving on the whiskey road for an hour so before hitting the coke-a-cola road and being able to follow that all the way towards Arusha. As we approached Arusha Comfort knew a sneaky back road with a bit of the whiskey and it that allowed us to avoid the city and its traffic issues and nearing 11:00 we were approaching the Tanzanian exit stop. Comfort let us out and the four of us waited in line to be processed out of the country. It varies enormously as to what to expect. Sometimes you have a photo, sometimes fingerprinting or nothing at all. This time it was fingerprinting and the customs people also vary widely. Some are grumpy and some are great and have a bit of joke. Makena’s was very jovial, Denbe’s was good and asked where we had been and whether Kenya or Tanzania was better. Of course it had to be Tanzania and he then informed Denbe that next time don’t bother with Kenya and come only to Tanzania. It is worth noting that a smile and a “Jambo Jambo” (hello) goes a long way in East Africa. Most of the time you get a very warm welcome in return. I suspect that a lot of visitors don’t bother so when you make the effort it is appreciated. Our travelling companions for example tend not to make as much of an effort and not surprisingly the locals tend to gravitate to us which is great as they are very friendly and love to chat to their visitor. That’s why we call ourselves visitors and not tourists!
And so we found Comfort waiting outside the Tanzanian exit office and he drove us to no man’s land and then outside the Kenyan entry office. This one worried us a bit as we were coming back into Kenya but only had a “Single” entry tourist visa – even though it lasted 100 days – you never know how it can be interpreted by the border officers. But our fears were allayed as we were again fingerprinted and allowed to continue on our merry journey by a somewhat gruff officer – but we were happy that we were through and didn’t have to pay another $100 US to enter.
The four of us walked back to where Comfort was parked and he now had a buddy with him to hand us over to – Ali - our new Kenyan guide. We said our farewells to Comfort and tipped him with the suggested amount but we have suspicions about our travelling companions but that is their concern. We also took a picture with him and we will post the picture with all our guides in the next blog as a round off to our East African part of our journey. And so with our bags packed in the back seat (broken lock on the back doors), we were on our away to Amboseli National Park, albeit with a quick toilet stop at the local gallery.
And so we headed on a very good whiskey road to the gates of the national park to the usual Masai women trying to sell their beadwork, which we have become somewhat used to over the past week or so as they are very regular and persistent presence at the windows when you stop at the gates. And so we made good time passing a Masai Giraffe and a lot of dust to arrive at Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge ahead of schedule and in time for a really nice buffet lunch with the best salads we have seen and a great selection of meals and desserts – even Makena was interested!
Because we arrived early we had time to unpack a little, wipe all our bags down thoroughly and do a bit more blogging and chores before heading out for an afternoon safari drive of Amboseli NP at 4:00pm. Amboseli is small and mostly very dry/semi-arid park with a small lush area where underground springs feed the NP creating an oasis for the animals and a location where most (if not all) of the lodges are positioned.
The park is best known for its elephants and views of Kilimanjaro. The other thing it is well known for is its dust. Amboseli means moving dust and when we arrived ourselves and our bags were covered in it! Nothing a wipe down didn’t fix.
We only went about 20 minutes (at about 10 km/hr) when Denbe realised he didn’t have his glasses. So a quick backtrack and we again on the road with less than 10 minutes wasted. Annoying but not too much damage done to the drive. We started with a sighting of a kingfisher and we then moved onto the flamingos which we had seen on the way in. We had a very rough guess of 5,000 or so in the water and although it was from a bit of a distance, there was an appreciation of how many there were and quite a few photos were taken regardless. They aren’t usually here but as Lake Nakuru is higher than normal they can’t feed there and so have migrated here, probably temporarily. We drove around the park a little bit without seeing too much for a little while before coming across a couple of herds of elephants in the lush areas having a mud bath and a chomp on the grasses. There were very small bubs again and they are very cute to watch as they struggle to wade through the mud and sometimes just flop and have a rest before continuing, all the time with mum watching over not far away. We also saw the usual suspects of wildebeests and zebras in large numbers which are found in every park we have visited. We drove a bit further along seeing Observation Hill which we think we will get to visit tomorrow and stopped a bit further on to take in the views (just) of a very smokey/hazy Kilimanjaro. When we first arrived and even when we headed out on the drive we couldn’t make it out at all but it was becoming slightly clearer as the afternoon wore on and turned into dusk. Which of course meant a serious amount of photos of both Kili and the setting sun over the African savannah. It was a spectacular way to finish the day but we stopped one last time for a quick look at a pair of male lions about 100 metres away in the fast fading light. It was a very short stop and we made it back to the lodge at about 6:45pm with about 15 minutes before darkness all safe and well.
We only had time to dust ourselves off, have a shower and get ready before heading off to dinner for what was again a very nice buffet washed down with a couple of Gold Tuskers (now we are back in Kenya). Tuskers are definitely the preferred choice – 500ml a bottle and nice and cold is a great way to finish a day. And so we ended the Tanzanian portion of East Africa with great memories and lots and lots and lots of photos and video. Last count Makena was up around the 9,000 for her DSLR which doesn’t take the little compact into account!