Arusha Town: 23 / 25 March – Amid the Chaos!
The road from Tarangire to Arusha was pleasant enough. These are quite fertile lands, creating varied scenery along the way. Southern Tanzania was filled with tea and coffee plantations and plenty of bananas. That now gives way to more grazing and pasture land and we encounter lots of the Masaai tribe en route. There were some younger boys dressed in quite a flamboyant style in black and white, their faces painted in black & white patterns with headdress. I was later informed they had gone through the circumcision ritual and marks the passage of right when they become men.
The approach to Arusha was quite colourful but as we reached the town that all changed. At one stage I politely allowed a car at a T junction access to the main road. That was it; there was now an endless stream, bumper to bumper that didn’t allow me to move. When I protested I received verbal abuse and all manner of gestures! Karibu Arusha, Karibu my ass!
We opted for the Outpost Hotel on the edge of town in a quiet suburb. It was just fine, relaxed and chilled with a nice pool and decent restaurant. I needed to get the jobs on the cars completed i.e. new windscreen and fix the spare tyre. The restaurant manager, Elisha (a Masaai come good) also runs a garage business and owns a Landy. He was keen to do the job. So, I said to him “OK Elisha, but I want local prices; not Muzungu prices!”. His reply…….. “my friend, you are still paying back the debt of your ancestors!”. We both had a good laugh at that one. Anyway, the jobs were completed the next morning for the princely sum of US $80.00!
Now for the interesting stuff, booking Ngorogoro and Serengeti. The TANAPA office for the Serengeti is on the main road just outside town. They were really helpful and considering how much time we will be spending in Serengeti have allowed us the freedom to choose our camps on an ad hoc basis, based on the location of the migration. The rains have been quite sporadic this year; that has resulted in the wildebeest migration being quite unpredictable. As they move to wherever the rains fall, it’s ideal to have this level of flexibility.
Next to Ngorongoro Conservation Area offices; close to the Clock Tower. Booking with them is quite an ordeal. Tanzania is trying to stamp out corruption, so no cash changes hands, everything needs to be paid by VISA or MasterCard. That goes for all the parks. However, with NCA, you have to work out your itinerary and costs directly with them. Next, it’s necessary to deposit the monies into a specified account at CRDB Bank. Once that has cleared, make your way to Karatu (the nearest town outside of NCA), collect a temporary card which allows you to receive paperwork at the gate……easy eh?! What a schlep! Anyway, we are not going to the Crater, I have been on several occasions before and at $300.00 entry fee per person per day, I think they’re having a laarf! We were fortunate enough to be able to book Camp #7 at Ndutu in the NCA. I was informed that these Camps are reserved for commercial tourism companies but NCA was quite obliging.
Shopping and Business all done! Let’s move on.
25 to 27 March: Arusha National Park – Home of The White Baboon!
Just a short drive to Arusha NP. We were in two minds whether to include this in the itinerary but really glad we did. We found a lovely place to stay, right outside the park gates, Meru Mbega Lodge. Stunning views of the park and Kilimanjaro (on a nice day). Thomas the Masaai looked after our every need, great facilities…….pool, bar and restaurant and pretty exotic gardens.
There is a Church, very close to the lodge. As we stayed over Easter, we could hear the most beautiful singing from the choir. You’d have sworn it was Westminster Abbey! Such perfect tones and harmonising; from this tiny little village in the middle of Africa?! I’m a lapsed Catholic, made me feel like going to confession :). On Sunday when we left, I drove down to see the church; it’s a very simple basis affair but obviously has the right connections upstairs!
We just had a couple of hours drive, late afternoon on the first day. We made our way to “The Fig Tree Arch”, which is quite a surreal sight, like something out of a Tolkien book. It’s huge Strangler Fig that has created an enormous pointed Arch that you can drive through.
After that, we were on a game drive when we encountered a troop of Baboons ahead of us. I stopped to see what this white thing was. I thought it was a goat as it was pure white and moving steadily with the troop. Then I realised it was a snow white baboon! OMG – never seen anything like that before and couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. He was a little shy so I parked way up ahead and waited for him to approach. It worked! I managed to get plenty of nice pics and also got some with specs of backlit rain. They are now making their way to my agent, I expect a rarity like this will get published.
Following day, we made tracks for the Crater rim. It’s a long drive up but we got there just as dawn was breaking. There was an ethereal mist all around the Crater rim; which created an eerie, almost mystical feel to the place. Shortly after we arrived the black & white Colobus monkeys awoke and started their daily routine. It was a huge troop and they skipped and swung through the branches above, calling and playing as they ushered in the new day. Seeing them jumping across from tree to tree in the mist was quite a special treat. In amongst them were more Trumpeter Hornbills than you could shake a stick at. They sound duck like and are enormous; never seen so many in one place. There were also Blue Monkeys and Baboons and all seemed to be living in perfect harmony together.
From there, we toured the lakes, saw hippos, buffalo, giraffe and other game near the lakes. We also walked and stopped at a few places where there are great views of Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, towering above us.
27 to 29 March: Lake Manyara – The Living Sponge
Lake Manyara is about a 4-hour drive from Arusha NP. Arrived around midday; the place was mobbed by day trippers as it’s Easter.
Our plan was to stay at Endabash, in the middle of the reserve. As we approached Endabash, there was a troop of baboons numbering >100; never seen so many baboons in one place. They followed us to the camp; from the smell it was clear they must have been roosting there. No brainer – time to move on! Baboons, it’s all your boys! Poo to your hearts content.
The Head Gaffer at Lake Manyara was very accommodating and offered us a room in the newly upgraded bands. It’s just fine, en suite facilities and no baboon poo!
The upper slopes of Lake Manyara are like a Garden of Eden. Huge trees, Mahogany, Sausage trees, Sycamore Fig, Ebony and he towering Baobabs. There’s lots of creepers and vines; I’m just expecting Tarzan to come flying through the trees at any moment.
Following morning, up at first light and down to the Lake shore. Lake Manyara is at the base of the Rift Valley. It’s a very beautiful setting, dwarfed by mountains and the Rift above. There are swamps (with hippos and a great circular route), backdrop of mountains, loads of game on the plains (buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest), also spectacular aquatic birdlife and a pair of Fish eagles.
Back at the Bandas there are quite a few Silvery Cheeked Horbills eating berries from the trees in camp. I managed to get a lovely photo of one of them. They are really large birds, probably about 2 feet head to bum and they make the quirkiest of sounds.
The icing on the cake would be to find the famous Tree Climbing Lions of Manyara; I will dance an Irish Jig if we manage to get them (apparently very hard to spot).
The next day we have the first problem with the Landy. I heard a strange noise coming from the rear, stopped and inspected the vehicle. One of the shock absorbers had sheered off at the base! Nothing to do but remove it, drive back carefully and get it fixed. The local village only have Mickey Mouse spares and cheap shocks, way too risky. So………I call Elisha to the rescue. He was able to source two very good Australian made shocks and send a “Fundi” out the next day. The Fundi arrived on the bus from Arusha (a 6 hour return journey) and the whole job cost £130.00 – not a bad result!
29th to 31st March: Panorama Safari Camp – What is says on the Tin
Two days of R&R and before we set off to NCA and the Serengeti. This is a comfortable place, high up on the Great Rift Valley, with fabulous views, overlooking Lake Manyara. Timing was good, we had time to get the Landy repaired and take time out before the heading to Ngorogoro and Serengeti.