National Parks – Tanzanian Expedition (II)

Day 3: 10th of August, 2013

I was finally going to the Serengeti National Park, a childhood trip actually. In school, there was once an excursion planned to this National Park, however parental inhibition cost me the trip.

The ride from Tarangire National Park was quite long the dusty safari tracks gave way to digitized roads and we started to enter the realm of Primeval Africa. The first glance of the Swahili lifestyle, “Mzungu” was something we kept hearing a lot from a lot of kids, they were mostly cattle herders and were certainly not shy of all the tourists thronging the plains.

Our vehicle motored along and the landscapes changed from vast plains to hilly terrains with lush green valleys, within these valleys were small pockets of settlements, small villages of the Masai warriors. The houses mostly built of clay, sticks and stones.

Megan got into a bit of altercation as she got got down from our vehicle and started taking pictures of the kids. Before we knew it, a group of masai warriors started to throng us. When she refused to give them money, they looked pretty annoyed. With long spears and face paints, it was best not to argue with them. We had a couple of amazing viewpoints en-route and we did have a laugh about the incidents later on.

The cloud draped hills – Photo Credits – Megan

Megan and Moi – 1 – Photo Credits – Megan

Megan and Moi – 2

A Masai Warrior – Photo Credits – Megan

The Serengeti National Park – Home of the Lions 

Our group started to doze off and not long after we entered the gates of the Serengeti National Park, such an impressive area for a naturalist. Giant skulls and colorful birds greeted us as we made our way to the tourist souvenir shops. We were to have a pit stop for lunch and refreshments.

Becca sorted out the paperwork and the chains of the sentry lowered to let us through. The first thing that comes to your mind as you enter the park is the lack of life just outside the boundaries and the plethora of creatures within, it was as if there was an invisible boundary that the creatures respected. Thompsons, Grant gazelle flitted across; Kaboura Bustards, Ostriches and the occasional secretary bird were the first birds of the region. Serengeti in Swahili meant the endless plains, there was an illusion and the park seemed to go on forever.

The Serengeti Queen – A warm welcome 

The Kaboura Bustard (The largest flying bustard)

The painted lizard

Thompson’s gazelle

The Serengeti is unofficially called the home of the lions, owing to the high concentration of these majestic felines. They have the largest concentrations in the African continent.

We quickly moved on as a swarm of tourists honed in on our spot, there is thing in the African Safaris, tour guides not only watch out for animals but they also look out for any tour vehicle that has stopped by on the side of the road. Stopped vehicles are like homing beacons. The highlight of the late evening drive was to run into the majestic leopard (my personal favourite and the toughest of the famed big five), the setting was just perfect with the evening sun throwing about a soft light on the cat’s fur.

The prince of shadows – B&W

The prince of shadows – Colour

The tiring ride had come to a stop and we were in the Simba campsite, the heart of the Serengeti. This was going to be the first camping within the forest, the previous one in the Tarangire was at an elevation and we had military grade tents. Instructions were passed on and we were to maintain a buddy system. Walking in the middle of the night was a complete no-no and all activities were to be finished before the general public dozed off.

It was a beautiful starlit sky, cloudless and the light pollution was close to zero, considering that there were no cities close by, this gave me an idea, it was the perfect opportunity to try out a star trail image.

The milky way and the star speckled sky with a 30 sec shutter lapse shot

Megan was out in the open and she kept me company as we chatted about the stars and the constellations, in a shining moment, I promised to be Megan’s buddy and it was agreed that she could call forth whenever she had an emergency of some sort.  At about 3:00 am, someone was calling my name. Waking up in the Serengeti isn’t the wisest thing; this place is chock full of beasts. Nevertheless, I fished out my windbreaker and strode out, there was Megan and she had to use the washroom. Now we had a problem, the toilets were a good 500 meters away and walking in an unfenced camping site was murderous, did someone say that Lions were nocturnal? Leopards can stalk you from a quite a distance?

The next day as we re-counted the tales, the rangers confirmed that a wildebeest had been killed in close proximity to the campsite. I was probably lucky to not become a statistic.

Day 4: 11th of August, 2013

The next day was an early morning drive across the Serengeti plains; we came across a few hyenas with bloated bellies, a couple of cheetahs basking on a rock and a herd of elephants.

There were also a few birds on the watching list. The African ox-pecker, the rollers and the marabou stork to name a few.

The early morning drive

Hiding behind Mama

Baby steps

African Ox-peckers

The queen surveying her kingdom

The morning drive lasted for a little over an hour and we did witness something that was close to a hunting sequence a pair of lioness were stalking a group of Thompson’s gazelles, just as we slowed down, the lioness dumped the chase and settled under an acacia tree, the morning heat a touch too strong I guess.

The Mock Hunt

The huntress in her stride

We saw more lions and it was quickly time to bid adieu to the Serengeti plains, the next stop would be Ngorongoro Crater. The viewpoints from the campsite were touted to be fabulous. Just as a quick update Becca added that the campsite was frequented regularly by Leopards, seeking the engine warmth. Not the best story to hear, especially if you had a buddy that would wander in the dark.

The crater camping site is a fabulous one. Forgot the name, but just imagine this, a huge grass field bordered with shrubs and a mighty oak tree in the center, perched atop a mountain overlooking a beautiful lake. The time of the year was also perfect with glorious sunshine, but not too warm as the plains.

The Ngorongoro Campsite – Photo Credits – Mari

There wasn’t much on the itinerary for the day, the afternoons and evenings were spend lazing in the glorious sunshine and keeping up with domestic activities. The sunshine quickly faded away and after a quick shower, we were back to playing a card game that Marco had taught us, “BRISCOLA”.

The Ngorongoro Campsite in the morning – Photo Credits – Mari

A short game and we were back in our tents, both me and Megan agreed that it was best not to venture out too late on our own. So using the trusted app we were off on our way. The evening was still lively and there were still some movement around the camping site, just as were on our way back to the tents, a forest ranger stood in front pointing a gun at me. “Buffalo” he said. Now that was right out of the blue and as a quick update, buffaloes are the most dangerous of the big five. They have a short temper, we swiveled around and there grazing benignly, merely 4 meters from the dirt track was a huge solitary male buffalo. Solitary Male Buffaloes seek out green pastures but as a downside are exposed to predatory attacks and hence have a very short temper, they don’t have the best eye-sight either but a very keen sense of smell.

Day 5: 12th of August, 2013

Ngorongoro Crater was a lot cooler than the plains of Serengeti, this was also the home of the black rhinos in Tanzania, these gentle beasts are extremely hard to spot and their numbers have been severely desimated. Poaching has eaten up a huge chunk of the population and the longer gestation period of these majestic animals hasn’t helped the cause, that being said, we were extremely lucky to spot one at a distance, thanks to the sharp eye of our guide.

The beautiful Ngorongoro Crater

Buffalos in the Bushes

Dining on a carcass

The lion having a private moment

Siberian Cranes

A Zebra at a crossing

A pride of lions

This crater had a rich volcanic soil and hence allowed the growth of rich vegetation; the adjoining mountains were also helpful in containing the clouds within the region. The whole place wore about a misty look in the morning. The wildlife was rich in this area and we even came across a flock of Siberian cranes; majestic birds with crests like a crown.

Buffalo headed Marco

We passed a school bus on the edge of the crater and made our way outside, it was high afternoon and my fifth day was coming to an end, we were driving to our final destination, Lake Manyara, a place famous for the flamingos, though Lake Nakuru in nearby Kenya is an even exciting prospect. We passed a few more souvenir shops and were goaded to take home goodies. The group refrained, though I purchased a small desktop memorabolia. Megan was very particular on purchasing an ebony wood artifact but equally conscious on making sure it was sourced from a government approved tree and wasn’t harming the eco-system.

Desktop Memorabilia from Tanzania

The landscape once again changed and dirt tracks started to reappear as we made our way to the lake Manyara campsite. Now this campsite was a touch different to the rest, to one side of the “Panorama” campsite were villages, while the other side had dense forest vegetation. Similar to the Ngorongoro campsite, this was perched atop a strategic location.

We didn’t have much on our agenda for the rest for the day; Megan and I, were offered a guided walk around the village by a local. There seem to be quite a few village pubs selling unregulated liquor and HIV posters were everywhere, it always reminded you of the dark underbelly of the country. We met village shamans and drug peddlers. People automatically assumed that we were a couple and were trying to sell aphrodisiacs to me.

Socializing on the run – Photo credits : Mari

It was here that I came across “Phebo” and his sister. Phebo, earns to be a football player but is left with assisting his sister in the household chores, even for a glass of potable water, they have to walk upto the village wells, which is a mile away from their house.

Little Phebo & His Sister – At this tender age, he and his sister, walk to the well to draw water.

But one thing, I learn from these kids are their smiles, completely genuine and extremely happy for what they have, from a very young age, these angels have learnt to value the gift of life.  Our walk was coming to an end and the rest of the evening was spent with more BRISCOLA. Tomorrow was going to be our last day together and unless we met in Zanzibar (that was my next stop), this was the final good-bye.

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School Kids in Tanzania

Luckily for all of us, we all had Zanzibar in our itineraries, I was to leave for Zanizibar on the 13th, Marco and Mari on the 14th and Megan on the 15th. I was to be in Zanzibar for 5 nights before heading back to Oman and reality.

Day 6: 13th of August, 2013

An early breakfast and we were off to Lake Manyara, the wildlife had started to become a bore and we were more equipped with exchanging contacts. I had my flight in the evening and after promising to catch up in Zanzibar, I was off.

Back to Arusha and back to the Kilimanjaro airport. Tickets are dirt cheap on some airlines, I recommend using the Fastjet. I paid 15 OMR for a 45min ride from Kili to Dar-Es-Salam. I had a couchsurfer who I had messaged before I left Oman; luckily he had left behind his number and invited me to crash at his place. Karthik lives in Upanga, the other side of Dar-Es-Salam, Upanga is a lot different with a more modernized look with a lot of glitzy malls and showrooms, however, the traffic here is a nightmare.

I reached Karthik’s place and we were off to a Chinese restaurant. A few drinks and I was able to pick up on some hints in Zanzibar, I had no clue on my next destination and was merely relying on people’s information.

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