Friday, November 06, 2009

Lake Manyara

Animals on Safari

[Kyle]Our first real day on safari we saw baboons, elephants, zebra, hippopotamus, wildebeest, warthog, impala, gazelle and a few different varieties of birds and reptiles. Then we had lunch.

It was incredible. No sooner had we left the lodge than we came upon a roadblock of baboons. The troop had about twenty individuals including three little babies clinging to their mothers. They were all completely unconcerned with us and only got out of the road when they were ready. We weren’t in much of a hurry anyway. We were all taking pictures.

We descended back to the valley floor and entered the park at Lake Manyara. As soon as we got there, before we were actually in the park, someone spotted an eagle carrying off a baby baboon. Once in the park, the other baboons we came across were noticeably upset, erratically making agitated shouting noises for no particular other reason.

Soon after, we came upon our first family of elephants. We watched the mother reach way up with her trunk and tear off a high branch, and then she put it on the ground so her little ones could eat it. They seemed to be new to solid food and the use of their trunks and kept fumbling and dropping things.

Further into the park, the forest opened up into a wide plain covered in about ¼ inch of green grass. There we found impala, looking so trim and tidy like they just stepped out of the barbers. There was also hundreds of zebra, gazelle and wildebeest, with a few warthog thrown in. We pulled up to a watering hole and found about two dozen hippopotamus wallowing or laying on the bank in the sun. I was just amazed that I could look through the binoculars and have hippopotamus, wildebeest and zebra all in the same view. The way back was filled mostly with us stopping to look at one animal or another being cute.

We went back to our lodge for lunch. All of us were jabbering away about all of animals we saw as well as the incredible scenery.

After lunch, we had a really long drive to the Serengeti. Being such a popular tourist destination in Africa, I had assumed it would be closer to civilization, or at least civilization would be closer to it. Not so. At the Ngorongoro Conservation area entrance, the paved road ends and becomes a one lane dirt track. First it winds its way back and forth along steep switchbacks to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. We kept alternating between first and second gear as our underpowered Toyota Land Cruiser was unable to maintain speed on most of the hill in second gear.

At the top, we pulled off the side of the road at a lookout point that allowed us a view of the whole crater below. Closer inspection revealed tiny moving specks that the binoculars revealed were elephants or water buffalo. Oh, we are looking forward to going down there, but for now, our route took us along the rim about halfway and then descended the other side into the Serengeti plain. The lush tropical forest high on the rim gave way to the sweeping savannah that is so typically African. Along the way, we saw our fist giraffes, ostriches and hyenas.

Because we had so far to go and we needed to be off the road by sundown, it was necessary for our driver to take the bumpy road as fast as the vehicle could take it. Several times we were brought short on a flight toward the ceiling by our lap belts. Our driver, Juma, with a big smile and lots of rolling Rs in his Tanzanian accent called it “Free African Massage”.

At the border between the Ngorongoro and Serengeti conservation areas, there is a big sign marking the spot. Except for that, there is nothing there but the road. I thought Western Australia was deserted, but it’s got nothing on this place. Serengeti is a Masai word meaning endless plain. The border between parks requires a four hour drive on a one lane road to reach from any direction. The surrounding countryside is perfectly flat and has nothing but grass grazed down to the nub from horizon to horizon.

An hour or so later, hills started to appear on the horizon. As we got closer to them, the grass gradually got longer and thicker. After a while trees started appearing and they also got taller and thicker. By the time we rolled up to our lodge, all covered in dust, we were in proper woodland again.

Our lodge was amazing. Our room was huge and had a balcony overlooking the plain. Or bathroom was the size of a small locker room.

We had a nice dinner with everybody else from our vehicle. As we were finishing up, the lights went down and music started playing. The entire restaurant staff came around the corner and treated us to about half an hour of traditional African music and dance. Standing about a foot taller than the rest of the staff was a Masai man. He looked pretty uncomfortable, like someone who was invited to sing along but didn’t know the words. Neither his lips nor his body were following the music. Masai dance didn’t really mesh well with the rest. The rest of the staff were doing a lot of crouching and arm waving. Masai dance tends, like their dress, to emphasize their height. Most of the time, he would just stand there like he wasn’t sure what to do. Every now and then, he would walk to the front, lean slightly to one side and then the other and then jump WAY into the air about three times. Each jump was higher than the one before it. The last had him a good three feet above everybody else to the roaring applause of the crowd. Afterward, he would do a little lean one way and then the other and fade back into the group.

Maryanne went up closer to take a few photos and was pulled in. She danced out of the room with them as they went with a big smile on her face.


Mommy Dearest said...

Oh my god, how I would love seeing a picture of Maryanne dancing at the lodge. What a wonderful experience.

I'm a little confused and presume I'll get it straightened out, but it appears at this point, you were at your third lodge in as many that right? The nice stone place, then the hut, and how here. Or is it just late in my time zone? What a rich experience for you!

kate said...

I have the same question: 3 different overnight lodgings so far? Oh, and I want to dance with the Masai too!! What a wonderful first couple of days -- can't wait to read to the end!