Wait Wait Wait! No, I didnt go there-my Brother and Sister-In-Law (SILI) made a trip to the African safari during their christmas vacation. Here is her account of the trip,(Ofcourse Im not cheating-I want everyone to read this and I have made small edits and shrunk the pictures and attached them here) which I have split into 2-so the weekend is a nice read 🙂 Enjoy!
Though we have been living in the UK for less than a year, the culture of being obsessed with weather is gradually growing on us. Every conversation usually starts and ends with discussions about weather. So does this post. With the intention of getting away from the London chill in December, we planned on sunny Tanzania for the promise of endless plains and exciting safari. The bookings were the easy part – recommended vaccinations were the challenging part : DTP, Yellow Fever, Typhoid – you name it.
Come 25th, we landed in Kilimanjaro Airport at 9:10 AM. But only when we didnt find our pick-up person did we realize that we have come almost 45 minutes early because we arrived via an earlier flight – not the one that we were booked on.. We have no clue how this happened, but we saw we had the boarding pass for a different connecting flight from Nairobi!! Anyway we were at the right destination, so it didnt matter much!
After a short wait at the airport, we were escorted to Arusha in a mini-bus. Arusha is one of the major cities in Tanzania. During the drive, the place reminded us so much of rural India with rich vegetation like rice, maize, coffee, banana plantations. They even grow a red colored banana! Fruit vendors queued with their basket of fruits at the arrival of every tourist bus; Street Vendors would walk up to your windows to try & sell some cheap earings / T shirts / chains while trying to make small talk. Our driver, Steven gave us lot of insight to the culture & people of Tanzania. Men start their work early and call it a day around 3 PM to spend time with family & friends. People save every penny to give their kids the best education possible. The International Schools cost anywhere above 5000 USD a year and an English medium school costs 1500 USD a year. They follow an arranged marriage system though the girl has a choice to accept / reject the proposal.
Our Safari began on the 26th with Tarangire National Park which is 4 hour drive from Arusha. All the lodges we stayed were located inside the national park. Hence, it was definitely a week spent amidst nature.
Strewn with baobab trees, Tarangire National Park houses some of the largest population of elephants in Tanzania. It is around 2400 sq kms with most number of elephants per sq km (about 4000 in all) in the world! We were welcomed into the park by a dozen elephants & couple of giraffes which were wanting to cross the road. Seeing these animals at such close quarters simply took our breath away. And like kids we were thrilled every time we saw an animal walking right across our safari vehicle. We found elephants to be more accustomed to humans, but giraffes seem very shy. They look at you in the eye & then look away when you start looking at them again. We observed they normally walk in pairs with the baby.
The park also has a wide variety of birds & we were amazed that our driver/ guide Steven knew the names of every species of bird found there. He also had a collection of Collins Nature Guides which he shared with us when we bombarded him with questions on the various flora & fauna we saw in the park.
The Impalas, which are a type of deer were found in huge numbers too. They typically lived in groups of 3 kinds – Polygamous (1 male surrounded by 50 females), Young adult male only group or group which has one older adult which normally acts as a guide for the rest of other adult males. We found them locked horns & practising a fight with their peers. We also found a blue-orange colored bird called the Superb Starling as well as hornbills, eagles, kites, bustards etc.
The National Parks here are known for the Big 5 & everywhere you go you will find people asking you whether you spotted them. The Big 5 being Lion (“simba” in Swahili also refered to in slang as “sharubu” (moustache)), Cheetah, Leopard, Rhino & Buffalo. And yes, we saw the 5 during our 7 day Safari.
We next visited the Ngorongoro Crater Conservancy. It is located in northern Tanzania and is the worlds largest of its kind. Covering over 8,000 sq km, it is home to the local Masai tribes and provides some of the most spectacular landscapes in Tanzania.The crater itself, technically classed as a caldera, owes its existence to the violent fracturing of the Rift Valley over a period of some 25 million years. At one time a volcano occupied this spot that then became extinct and collapsed into the empty magma chamber beneath it; leaving only the gigantic natural basin and is now considered a veritable “Garden of Eden”. This vast expanse of land is around 300 sq kms in area & is famous for elephant, lion, cheetah, buffalo and rhino, not to mention the hyenas, zebras and wildebeest. Throw in a few hippos and pink flamingoes and there you have it. Probably a few reptiles. Oh wait a minute – and birds, cute and ugly.
We were 500m from our lodge and still trying to digest the incredible panorama of the crater from the rim during the journey here when a leopard decided to appear right in front of our car on the road. Quite taken aback from this unexpected entry, our driver immediately shut off his engine so that he did not scare the leopard away. But leopard was way smarter than us & quickly slid behind one of the bush to see if we would drive away. From behind the bushes it made eye contact for 2 minutes & then decided that he was comfortable amidst the bushes & stealthily slipped away. The lodge itself was extremely beautiful, located on the edge of the crater rim with the most fabulous views into the crater. The windows faced west and provided good views as the Sun went down.
The following day we descended 600m into the crater floor. When we reached the floor the first sightings were of the zebras. They were in a huge group nibbling grass to heart content. It was the biggest group of zebras I had seen – binoculars proved their worth as I counted 72 of them!. I now think, our driver, Steven must have silently laughed seeing me count as he knew what was to come in few minutes time. We then spotted the Wild Buffalo which we frankly didnt think too much until Steven mentioned that if you have to chose between facing the buffalo or the lion, the latter is the safer choice!! Buffaloes in the wild tend to be very aggressive creatures and do not tolerate humans. Few meters after we entered the crater floor we spotted thousands of zebras accompanied by wildebeests, impalas, elephants, hippos, innumerable birds like ostriches, grey crown cranes, egrets, storks etc. We also spotted the Abdim’s stork which apparantly migrates from Europe every year during the winter. I now perfectly understand why Africa is prefered over cold chilly Europe, but still wonder how it can patiently fly every winter to Tanzania & go back to Europe in May!
Special mention here for the pink flamingos. They are countless, which from a distance looks like a pink blanket covering quarter of the lake Magadi which is on the crater floor. All the herbivores & carnivores found here come to this lake to drink water!! Other sightings of the day – lioness eating a wildebeest & group of hyenas feasting on what was left of a buffalo calf. Giraffes live in the rim and not the crater floor because they don’t find the trees they need and they find it hard to walk down steep slopes ! Leopards like the tree cover of the rim so they are missing in action on the crater floor.
PS: Next: Serengity National Park.