09/08/2018 - 09/08/2018
In the morning, we tried to pick up some more water at a supermarket or convenience store, but nothing near the hotel was open.
We checked out and met our guide and representative from our safari tour company- Elyon Tours.
After a brief introduction, we hopped into our safari vehicle and were on our way.
The vehicle is well-outfitted. It has charging ports, a mini fridge, wifi and convenience pockets. The seats are relatively comfortable and the vehicle is spacious, at least for just the 2 of us.
First, we passed through the outskirts of town, where we saw busy markets teeming with people. I got excited again to see many carrying things on their heads. These markets had tons of good-looking produce. I hope our next hotel has a kitchen and that we can take advantage of that.
The first stop we made was at the Aim mall supermarket for more water. While they provide a liter per person per day, I know I drink way more than that. This supermarket was very clean, had wide aisles, and looked like a fancy supermarket from abroad. In contrast to the markets in town, they had a cheese section, a deli, and even fresh scooped ice cream, none of which we got.
With our additional water in hand, we were once more on our way.
We took a quick look at a coffee plantation while our guide, Eli, explained the coffee process to us.
The next segment of the drive passed lots of agriculture with an occasional industrial zone. We saw a bunch of guys making cement blocks, amongst other things.
The whole way, plenty of people walked the road shoulders, or biked, or ran. Some kids drove cattle.
The scenery was interesting. We passed over many places that were clearly dried riverbeds. I guess that in the rainy season they are full, but not now. We also saw some crazy trees that looked like they had cacti for branches. The guide said these are cacti, but they look very different than cacti I've seen before.
We stopped by some Masai lands to take a non-touristy peek from afar into their lifestyle. Per the guide, they don't mix with other tribes because they don't want to lose their culture. That's also why they generally don't send their kids to school.
The guide said they mostly eat from their cattle and don't grow anything, but that the government has been encouraging them to diversify their diet. The village was saw had some corn planted nearby, but did appear to be in more of a grazing area. It was a bit difficult to see details of the houses from afar, but they appeared to be grey-brown, round huts made from dried grass.
We passed several more Masai villages, each with mostly round mud and plant-based huts, although some also had rectangular barn-looking buildings made from brick or cement and corrugated roofs. And we passed several more herders with their herds of mini-goats with tinkling bells.
For the most part, the Masai wore their sari/toga-like wraps. But a few had modern clothes, like a kid with the adidas sweatshirt over his wrap, or guys with jeans sticking out from the bottom of their wrap.
The scenery was very yellow and dry, although spotted with lots of green trees and these plants that stuck up high into the air. the guide said those were sisal, from agave cacti, like the kind they make tequila from.
Nanja is a Masai village that is a bit different from the others. It is a market town where Masai come to trade. So, non-Masai also live there. The buildings are all sturdy and look like they are made from painted concrete.
We saw a group of Masai boys that were wearing all black and had white painted faces. The guide explained that this group of boys is going through their circumcision ritual, which involves spending months separated from their families.
As we neared Tarangire park, we began to see wild animals. I wouldn't have known that they weren't Masai herds, but the guide has good eyes. We pulled over an in one spot saw a small group of wildebeest to the left and zebra to the right.
The main road we had been on was impressively well-paved. But once we turned off for Tarangire, it turned to gravel and it was good we were in a powerful vehicle. At points, the dust was so bad we had to pause due to the whiteout conditions.
Despite the dust kicked up by all of the vehicles, kids lined the side of the road, waving to us. We waved back. After several dozen, I asked the guide if there was a reason so many kids did this. It's because lots of people throw candy out to the kids. It's sort of like non-costumed , every day trick or treating. And it wasn't tourists that were throwing things. A school bus full of kids threw packages of cookies. And another bus of locals threw out some more treats.
We arrived at Tarangire National Park and took a quick bathroom break. It was free, but you were supposed to tip the attendant. The lady that was cleaning them was doing a very good job of making sure they were nice and had paper.
We looked around the entrance area. One clearing contained some skulls and bones from elephants, wildebeests, and other animals. I guess some park guides use the area for explaining something.
We climbed a large viewing tower to get an overview of the scenery nearby. The tower was full of students in their school uniforms also taking a look. Kids here are just like kids anywhere else. One was pranking his friends by walking around, holding his phone up and saying "selfie" and having people pose, then moving on to others to do the same. His phone was one of the old Nokia 12-button phones with no camera. But the modern instinct to pose for the camera when somebody says "selfie" is so strong that we noticed the phone only after we had smiled for the camera.
While we looked around, Eli put the top up on the vehicle. It pops up so that it still provides shade to the interior, but we can stand up and poke our heads out in order to see better. Really, they thought of everything with this vehicle.
One we had DEETed up, we were ready to go into the park.
About ten seconds into the park, we already saw our first animals- a herd of impala. We saw both a bachelor group eating in the shade, as well as a female group with their one male.
Next, we saw some bandit mongoose. They have stripes that make them look sort of like lithe armadillo from afar. Fortunately, we had both the binoculars that we brought and the really great ones from the tour company and so we got a really great look at them.
Next, we visited a watering hole and got super lucky. This spot had a wide variety of different animals, all happily drinking together. No species bothered the other and they each just kind of did their thing and ignored the other animals. Here, we saw our first elephants, as well as geese, wildebeests, impala, zebra, and giraffe.
The elephant herds must be very fertile as there were tons of babies and medium-small elephants. Our guide says that a whole bunch will get pregnant at the same time. They have their babies and nurse around 3 years (until the babies have tusks that hurt the moms while feeding.) Nobody has babies during this time. Then, they'll all get pregnant again and repeat the cycle.
One elephant was left behind as the herd moved on. We got to hear him trumpet "wait up" to the rest of the herd, and watch him run to catch up. This is so cool. These elephants are nothing like the ones in a zoo.
At another watering hole, a group of elephants drank, played in the mud, and scraped themselves on trees. When they left the hole, another group came by for the same thing. I was enthralled by the babies splashing and playing around as the adults calmly splashed water onto themselves with their trunks.
This drinking hole also had a lot of dragonflies that looked like little helicopters and some lapwing plovers. (I didn't know what a lapwing plover looked like before today, but our guide is really good and knows all of the animals.) We spotted our first warthogs here.
Our guide was really good at getting us to animals that didn't have too much of a crowd around them. We got near some giraffes and were the only ones around to see them twitch. I'm guessing they have these muscle spasms to keep flies away. We were near enough that Eli could teach us how to tell females and males apart by the "horns" on the top of their heads.
We saw a family of baboons head for some shade. Several of the moms carried their children on their backs. As they walk on all fours, it looked like the baby baboons were play-riding a horse.
While lots of elephants travel in herds, we also saw quite a few lone elephants. Generally, these are bulls.
The spot we picked for lunch had a great view of a zebra herd. We chewed as we watched them chew. Zebra is also one of new favorite animals because they cuddle. We saw several zebra that stood up against another zebra, tip-to-tail and rested their heads on each other. They apparently cuddle for safety and to minimize flies.
Amongst the zebras we ate with was a lost wildebeest baby. It wailed for its mommy for quite some time as it was lost.
We saw waterbuck, some Lilac breasted rollers, starlings, vultures, heron, monitor lizards, ostrich, bee eaters, and white butterflies.
The termites here build very large mounds. Many of these are taller than a person. While they are intended as a termite home, some other animals have other ideas for the projects. We saw red and yellow barbets waiting on a mound to scoop up their dinner.
Some dwarf mongoose had turned one mound into their home as well, and were popping in and out of the mound.
Tanzania is in the dry season right now, and a lot of the riverbeds are empty. While this means that we get to see all of the animals easily just by visiting a few water holes, it also means that some animals get creative in their hunt for water. The elephants sometimes dig in the dried riverbed until they reach a layer of water below.
Several groups of tiny grassland pipers scattered in large groups as something disturbed them.
In addition to lots of safari vehicles carrying foreign tourists, we saw lots of buses full of school children in their uniforms. What an amazing school field trip!
As mentioned, our guide was able to keep us in quieter areas for the most part. But sometimes traffic was just unavoidable. Somebody saw a lioness and must have alerted others. We were some of the first ones nearby so we saw her in relative quiet for a minute. And then, the vehicles started pouring in. There was traffic jam caused by a lioness.
She was sort of watching a nearby river (that did have water) as some zebra came to drink. We were some of the first ones to go see the zebra, and then a half-dozen other vehicles joined. The zebra here jockeyed for good drinking positions. At some point, they must have seen or felt the lioness, as they all started barking. The sound they made was like a small dog's yap.
We went back to check on the lioness from another angle and saw that she was still just sitting in the shade, twitching her ears. Then, she stood up and we got excited! Were we going to see her hunt!?!? No. She sat back down and resumed her position.
As we moved around the park, the scenery was generally the same- tan dirt, savannah grass, and trees periodically providing shade for animals. And then, we were in an area where the dirt was a rust color instead of tan. Later, we saw ground that was blackened from a controlled burn. Even later, we were in an area with gray dirt. The guide explained that it's just different minerals, not some interesting geological reason.
One of our last stops for the day was a huge baobob called "Poacher's Hide." Baobobs are hollow trees. Back when there were more poachers, they would make a hole in a tree and then climb in to watch for animals. Today, it's one of the few places in the park where you can get out of the vehicle. We climbed into the tree for pictures. It was full of butterflies, but otherwise unoccupied. Two people who put their arms out side by side would still not touch the two sides of the tree.
For most of the day, there were a minimal amount of flies that found their way into our vehicle. I've eaten at restaurants with more. But whether it was the time of day or the section of park, after the big baobob, there were lots of flies in our vehicle. (It wasn't nearly half as bad as Uluru, but these flies are more dangerous.) The vehicle was equipped with fly swatters, so we had a go at them.
Now, some people may think it's not nice to kill animals when they are in their own territory. 1- the car is not theirs. We didn't leave the vehicle to find flies, they came to us. 2- these could be tsetse flies or other biting ones that carry disease. I'm not taking my chances.
In fact, one fly we swatted had clearly had a nice meal before entering the car. When we swatted it, it left a trail of red blood from some poor animal on the window. We cleaned that up.
Having already seen dozens of species, from blood-sucking flies to mighty elephants, we didn't expect to see much new on the way out of the park. We were wrong.
We spotted what we thought was a baby impala as it only came up to our knees. Eli identified it as a fully-grown adult dikdik. And then, he pointed out an Eland, which also looks similar to an impala. Our last new animal of the day was guinea fowl.
Today's animal summary: impala, wildebeest, elephant, geese, zebra, giraffe, bandit mongoose, dragonflies, lapwing plover, warthog, baboons, waterbuck, Lilac breasted rollers, starlings, vultures, heron, monitor lizards, ostrich, bee eaters, and white butterflies, red and yellow barbet, dwarf mongoose, grassland pipers, lions, flies, vultures, dikdik, eland, guinea fowl. Not bad.
On the way out of the park, we passed the same road lined with children as we did on the way in. The lunches provided to us had been very big and we hadn't been able to finish them. One item left over were packets of sweet crackers. Our guide pulled over at a few spots on the road and handed them out to the kids. The kids scrambled to get them. But, the older ones were nice enough to lift up the younger ones so that they could reach the window, or to pass them back so that everybody got some.
We also passed another group of the boys in black with painted white faces. This time, our guide pulled over to negotiate an acceptable photo price. We ended up paying 10000 Tanzanian Shillings (under $5) for the whole group to take a few pictures with us. They let us hold their sticks for the photos. The sticks are extremely smooth- they almost feel like glass. Eli explained that these sticks are used to control and direct the cattle.
On the way to our lodge, we passed a Masai church. They have their own religion and beliefs and very few have been converted to Christianity, so that was quite a rare sight. We also passed lots of women and donkeys carrying water from the various water holes to the dozens of Masai villages on the way.
We passed the Masai market again, but this time, it teemed with people, both Masai and non. The market is a hot trading spot for clothes, shoes, goats, cows, vegetables, blankets, barbeque, rice, and corn. Pop-ish music blared from some loudspeakers in one area and a man was speaking to a crowd through speakers in another. Everybody was wearing such bright colors and patterns. It looked like a very festive place to be.
One of our last views of the Masai areas for today was when we passed a bunch of Masai kids playing soccer.
Then, we were in a town called Mosquito River with more modern houses. Some Masai still roamed the streets, but most people wore more modern dress. From here to the lodge, we saw modern-looking people in modern buildings.
As this is the Lake Manyara area and near Ngorongoro, many of the businesses are lodges, guest houses, or hostels. While I wouldn't have been able to pick one out on my own, our tour company clearly has experience and had selected one for us- The Green Hills Lodge.
When we asked for the cheapest accommodations in order to save money, I did not think we would have ended up in such a nice place.
This lodge is beautiful. The gardens are well-tended and each little bungalow sits back on a cute little plant-lined pathway. Each is named after an animal, ours being Simba (lion).
The manager himself explained the different areas to us. I think they were going through some sort of power outage at the time we arrived and hadn't turned the generator on yet. When we got to our room, they told us to wait a minute and we'd have power. Sure enough, the power kicked in shortly. For this area, it's not unexpected. I think the manager was a bit embarrassed by it, but I work with enough communities in rural Africa to understand that power is not something you can count on.
In the meantime, they pulled the mosquito net around the bed. It looked like a fairytale princess bed with all of that gauze. I actually didn't see any mosquitoes all night, but it still felt fancy to sleep in the princess bed.
The room is huge and has two seating areas as well as a luggage stand and fridge. The ceiling is high, with air holes about halfway up for flow. (They are netted against bugs.) The windows are taller than a person and look out on the grounds and the other bungalows. The bathroom is quite spacious and their bath towels were a good size, not those tiny ones some places give when trying to be cheap. It's certainly not 5-star luxury, but it's nicer than a lot of places I've stayed.
After washing off the dust from the day, we ate dinner in their dining room. Here, the lights flickered romantically, like candles, although I'm betting that was less by design and more due to generator issues that were out of their control. The dinner was quite good- I particularly enjoyed a red okra stew and my partner really liked their pickled red onions. We did eat raw vegetables again here. I know that's generally against the health rules in a country with undrinkable tap water, but I trust that Elyon tours would only pick a lodge that knows how to cook for tourists and that if previous tourists had gotten sick, we wouldn't be here. (Update from later: we had no problems with the food here.)
The funny thing was that I think the kitchen was having issues getting our food ready due to the power problems. We were hungry and had asked for dinner at 7:15, having only arrived at 6:45, which didn't give them much time to prepare. The manager kept coming out to talk to us and stall for time, which was sort of cute since we really didn't care if the main meal took a while after we had gotten the appetizer. It was very relaxing to just sit and drink and talk after an exciting day. We were plenty comfortable and understood that making meals on short notice with intermittent power could be a challenge. I felt a bit bad for the manager as he was clearly trying to impress. We kept trying to assure him that we really were fine. Even though slow, the food was good and worth it.
After dinner, we stargazed for a while. We could see the milky way with our bare eyes. There were so many more visible stars than we usually get to see. Plus, the stars were bright dots on a dark contrasting background as there is no light pollution here. The sky is going to seem so empty and bland when we get home.