Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro

Typed up: at Sakina Campsite in Arusha, at Kilimanjaro Backpackers Hotel in Moshi Posted from: random Internet place in Moshi

So after going to bed late at the Arusha Crown Hotel, we got up early so that we could hopefully notify the safari company that we were in a different place than they were going to pick us up from. We talk to the receptionist, and he said that if we went around the corner to buy him some minutes, we could use his phone. A porter went with us and it was all very smooth, except that nobody answered the phone number we called. Luckily the hotel was fancy enough to have Internet, so we found on the web page an after-hours phone number. That worked.

At ease that we would be picked up as planned, we went over to the breakfast buffet which was better than we’d had in a long time. There are some advantages to staying at a nice hotel. Anyway, 8:30 came and went, and no pick-up. I spent my time uploading one picture (Tanzanian Internet is not all that), and posting the Munich blog in the wrong part of the website. A little late, our guide and cook showed up to get us going on our safari. They had gotten word of our change of hotel pretty late, so they’d been looking for us at Sakina Campsite, where we had originally planned to stay.

We made a quick stop at Roy’s Safaris office to fill out some paperwork, which led to a good time because we still only have our health insurance info as a pair of scanned JPGs (thanks, Andy!) on our computer. That all out of the way, we stopped by the Shoprite (grocery store chain here, I don’t know if it’s related to the US one). There we bought 20L of water (since we would only get 1L per person per day on the safari). We also looked for a blanket without any luck. They sold mosquito nets, but our guide had said that we would not be needing them. We also quickly stopped into Woolworth’s to see if they sold blankets, but all they had was an expensive comforter.

IMG 2954 So we drove off to safari. In the car we had the chance to get to know our hosts a little bit better. Walter was our guide. He’s been a guide for 7 years, 5 years with Roy’s. He likes the company because they have good vehicles. Peter was our cook. The car, like almost all safari vehicles, was a Toyota Land Cruiser. It was white, had 2 spare tires, plenty of clearance, and good tread on the tires. Some of the other companies ran tires that are nearly bald. The baldest tires I saw were being put on a regular bus that had broken down in the Serengeti. Our car also had a pop up top, which allowed us to stand up and get a clear 360 degree view of the surroundings.

IMG 2749 Every day followed pretty much the following pattern. After waking up, we would eat breakfast that Peter prepared. This was typically some fruit, toast, an egg. Then some days we’d get pancakes (more like crepes than American pancakes), some others porridge. We also had hot beverages at every meal (tea, hot chocolate, or coffee). Then we’d hit the road for a game drive, which Peter usually did not get to go along. It was just Walter and us in the car. Then either a box lunch (sandwiches, fruit, something fried like samosa, cookies) or a hot lunch (pasta bolognese, curry, or something like that). Then we’d go on another game drive, and finally we would have dinner that Peter had spent the afternoon slaving away on. Dinner started off with soup, then a main dish which varied, and some fruit for dessert. (One day we got some kind of fried pastry for dessert, which was very nice too.) Then we’d pretty much go straight to bed. As you can see we did not starve. I think just about all the food was made fresh every day.

IMG 2813 At night we slept in a tent that Walter and Peter would set up for us. The tent was a sturdy dome tent, with steel poles and real canvas. Inside we got to sleep on foam mattresses. Sadly we did not have sleeping bags, and without a blanket it could get pretty cold. After the first night we purchased a pair of Masai blankets to keep us warm, and they helped a lot. Still, at Ngorongoro crater it got cold at night. I slept wearing long underwear, pants, shirt, fleece, jacket, hat, hand warmers. Then I was in my silk sleeping sack, underneath my Masai blanket and towel. Danielle was similarly dressed.

Interestingly the campsites we stayed at had showers and flush toilets (no TP) by having a big water tank on the roof of the toilet building. The showers were cold, so we usually took them at our lunch break. At the campsite in Serengeti the water ran out while we were there, which didn’t make for a pretty site. But they had new water less than a day later.

So with all the boring stuff out of the way, I think I can now tell you about the actual game drives.

IMG 2512 Oh, one more boring thing. We drove exclusively on dirt roads. And not just unpaved hardened roads. There were places where Walter decided to drive next to the road for a bit because that was better. This was mainly an issue in the Serengeti, which is a great plain criss crossed with unmarked dirt roads. It was fine while we were actually looking for animals because we’d go slow, but if we were going somewhere then the ride could get pretty bumpy.

IMG 2523 We went to 3 different parks. On our first day we were in Lake Manyara National Park. It’s relatively small, going from thick forest to plains at the lake. Then we spent 4 days in the Serengeti, which is mostly plains with (at this time of year) brown grass. We did spend most of our time in the more interesting parts of the Serengeti, namely kopjes (rock formations), areas with trees, and water. Finally we spent a day at Ngorongoro crater, which is a giant crater of a volcano that erupted 2.5 million years ago. It is mostly plains, has a few salt lakes,

IMG 2454 So, game drives. The first thing we saw were blue monkeys (maybe 20 inches of body) at Manyara. We saw more monkeys in that day than any other. We saw many baboons, in large troops. There were also vervet monkeys, and some other kind I don’t remember (but I think there is 1 picture). It’s really cool to see monkeys do actual foraging, and that’s really true for all the animals we saw. It’s great to see the actual natural behaviors and group sizes. In the zoo you can see what the animal looks like, but you get pretty much nothing of any food gathering behavior which is, after all, what takes up most of an animal’s time. (BTW, I nominate the picture on the left as the official baby Mackay picture, since it was taken on her birth day.)

IMG 2402 We were lucky to see a lion sleeping in a tree in Manyara. This is something the local lions are known for, but don’t do much anymore. The lake used to be bigger than it is today, and the surrounding countryside was swampy. In that environment, the lions would often climb the trees to be dry. Anyway, we were lucky to see that. In the Serengeti we found some cubs just hiding in the tall grass, waiting for mom to come back. At zoos baby animals seem to be a rarity; something to be treasured. In the wild you see them everywhere. For just about every animal we’ve seen, there were many babies. We never saw the “traditional” lion view of a pride of lions hanging out under a few trees. The prides we saw were much more spread out. Also, they like to hang out in tall grass so while you might see one animal, there could be 5 others asleep, invisible.

IMG 2855 We saw several lions stalking, but managed to miss the actual hunt. We were watching a lion stalking maybe 3 meters from the car. It went along a ditch a bit away from us when we heard the lions half a mile away had made a kill. So we went to check it out, but it wasn’t very visible from the road. Then we heard that one of the lions we had been watching had caught a warthog, so we went back there. The male came over for that kill, and just carried the whole pig in his mouth. Several cubs pestered him for a bite, but he rebuffed them several times. Walter says warthog is the sweetest tasting animal, and the lions really like it.

IMG 2715 Another time we were driving along, and saw a female lion with two cubs walking across the plain, and then breaking into a run. They stopped just a couple meters from a road, where we saw them again. They were behind a bush so we couldn’t see much, but we could definitely hear them tear a carcass apart. Presumably the mom had made a kill, and then went to fetch her two cubs so they could eat.

IMG 2414 We saw a lot of elephants, which have become my favorite animal. Even more than most animals, they ignore the cars, and it’s awesome to see a family group amble on by, or just listen to them crunching up trees as they strip off the bark. Early on a big bull elephant blocked the road for quite a while. Eventually several of the safari drivers decide to “chase” it off by getting the cars 3 in a row, inching towards the elephant, and revving the engine. The elephant did leave, but I did not get the impression it was because of the cars. Then later we saw larger groups of elephants, including several calves. I am amazed at how many of these large animals we saw. From TV you really don’t get a feeling for how frequently you see them (and most other animals).

IMG 2831 We saw many other grazers as well, even though the majority of them have migrated north. (We are contemplating trying to catch the migration in Kenya. We’ll see if that pans out.) We saw many gazelle, who don’t migrate. They’re everywhere. Then on the Serengeti we saw some small groups of zebra and wildebeest that had missed the migration. Apparently they’re all going to be lion food before the migration returns. In Ngorongoro crater we did see large herds of those 2 animals, because there is enough food/water available there year round.

We managed to see a few rare animals. Walter got a cell phone call, and just said that somebody had seen “something.” By the way he was driving we figured it must be something pretty special. It was a leopard in a tree, but it was so far away that I couldn’t even make it out in the binoculars. (There’s a picture, but I doubt you can see it there either.) Then we got a better view point where you can just make out a cat silhouette sitting in a tree. But we were lucky, and later that same day we saw another leopard. This one was much closer, so that with the help of binoculars we were able to recognize it as a leopard, spots on yellow coat and all.

At one point we saw two cheetahs sitting under a tree. They were also pretty far away. Watching cats relax isn’t very exciting, so we did not spend much time there. Finally we saw a black rhino in Ngorongoro park. To give you an idea of how rare that is, there are 30 of these shy animals in the crater, which is about 250 square kilometers in size. Being shy, the rhino was really far away, though. There is a somewhat high res movie of the beast where maybe you can make out that the little black line is a rhino. I don’t feel like I saw a rhino at all, and only barely that I saw a leopard, but now we have at least technically seen the “big 5.”

IMG 2502 We saw several animals that we weren’t expecting to see. That’s probably down to us not doing a lot of research, but they were welcome surprises. The biggest surprise was the amount of hippos we saw. They are cool to watch, cooling down in the pools. The first night at Manyara they were even making their deep, laughing calls to one another. I didn’t know we were going to see ostriches, but we saw quite a few of them. Fun fact: males, who are black, sit on the eggs at night while females, who are gray-brown, sit on the eggs during the day. I also really enjoyed watching the secretary birds high step through the grass looking for various reptiles.

IMG 2487 There were a ton of birds in general. Danielle is much better with those than me, but I enjoyed watching their pretty colors, as well as the raptors. In one place we saw a nest with 2 eagles and 2 chicks. Then one eagle took off and it was great to watch it gain altitude without flapping its wings once. We also saw shrikes, which are the birds that pin baby birds to acacia trees and then later eat them. (We did not see that actually happening, though.) There was the bastard bird, which is the largest flying bird (30 lbs). Several kinds of vultures up in trees, of course.

IMG 2518 We saw some smaller critters, like large groups of hyrax climbing acacia trees. There were 3 kinds of mongoose, including one huge group of banded mongoose. I always thought dik dik lived in South American rain forest, but apparently they’re right here in Africa. We certainly saw several. We saw one mouse. In the Serengeti there’s a very colorful Agawa (?) lizard. The few lizards we’ve seen here are much more active (and bigger) than the ones we have at home.

IMG 2809 On our way from Serengeti to Ngorongoro we stop by Olduvai Gorge. There is a small museum with an interesting exhibit about the place, along with a nice collection of bones and early human tools to look at. A docent then explains it all to you, pointing out various features of the canyon. This is where they’ve found remains of Homo Australiensis, Homo Habilis, and Homo Sapiens. Just 25km away is the site where they found the famous footprints made by humans 3.6 million years ago.

To all of you at home, sitting on a pile of money, let me tell you, come to Africa and do a safari. And if you are, here are my safari tips: 1. Bring plenty of extra water. 2. Bring your own toilet paper. 3. Bring 1 pair of binoculars per person, they’re not that expensive if you consider your plain ticket and safari cost. 4. If you want pictures, bring a telephoto lens.

We were very happy with Roy’s Safaris. Peter was always friendly and a great cook. Walter was a great guide, and could answer just about every question we had about the animals. Only sometimes did he have to refer to his bird book to ID a bird.

Equipment rave, our binoculars are great. The only thing better would be to have 2 pairs. We’ve used them to look at foxes at home, church towers in Europe, and now at animals in Africa. They’re light weight, compact, and sturdy. They are Nikon ProStaff 10x25. I think we paid about \$150.

No workouts this week. Safari is only marginally healthier than being a couch potato. You sit on your butt and get fed good food.

Pictures are still uploading (not in order), but most of them are there now.

About the author

Living the good life in Seattle, occasionally sharing something interesting with the Internet.