Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day 12 - Tanzania - First day on safari

All rested after my climb I'm now excited to start my safari in Tanzania. The schedule takes us on our first day to Lake Manyara National Park. On day two we'll head into the Serengeti for a couple days and finally our last full day will be spent in the Ngorongoro Crater National Park.

I found out last night that because I'm the only guest that is leaving today for a five day safari I will have a vehicle all to myself. Can it get any better then that!? No need to worry about other passengers shaking the truck or blocking my view or wanting to go somewhere different. It's like my own personal tour of the parks and I'm loving it. I'm supposed to be on a "premium camping safari" which means sleeping in tents every night but not quite as roughing it as we were on the mountain. These tents have beds and bathrooms in them. More about that later. I'm told though that they no longer offer tent style camping at Lake Manyara or at Ngorongo Crater parks so we'll be staying at the Highview Hotel for our first and last night.

I'm met at 8:30am by my driver, Ben, who's been a safari guide for 12 years and we load my gear into the truck. No need to worry about packing tight here since I have the entire truck to myself. My suitcase and camera bag get spread out on the back row of seats and I take the center section. These are Toyota Land Cruisers but not your normal U.S. street models. They are specially equipped with a higher rear end and the roof pops up with two large sunroof openings that allow you to stand up in the vehicle and clear the roof while still maintaining a cover overhead to block the sun. It's really a nice way to tour the parks. Here's a shot of another safari tourist to show you what my ride looks like because I never got anyone to take a photo of me in my truck.
 

We leave the Springlands hotel which is outside of the town of Moshi and head for Lake Manyara. It's a bit of a drive this morning and we are given box lunches to eat on the road.  We first have to drive through the much larger city of Arusha before getting to the edge of the park and it will take us until 1pm to get there. Along the drive I snap a couple pics of things that catch my eye like this shot of a car with the driving school sign on the roof.
The Toyota
There's a couple things interesting about this photo. One, the car is a Toyota "Comfort" model. I don't think they sell that model here in the states. The other thing I found interesting is that they even have driving schools here. The people drive like mad men everywhere. Just getting through this city is far more dangerous then climbing the mountain. People pass with heavy traffic in both directions and oncoming cars just move over to the shoulder. In fact we are starting to pass this car as I snap this shot. Notice the oncoming trucks?  Later on in the morning I mention to Ben something about the driving being so different here. He tells me the drivers in this country are "Kichaa" or "Crazy". Of course he says this as he's passing a slow moving truck while checking a text message on his cellphone. Oh, and yeah, there's oncoming cars pulling off onto the shoulder. I'll feel so much safer when we make it to the wilderness and I'm surrounded by lions....

Next is this shot. Nothing seems too strange about this shot except notice the Toyota Caravans, one on the left and two coming towards us on the right. Yeah they drive on the wrong side of the road over here.

What's really strange though is the number of these Caravans everywhere. They are the local "city buses" here and each are independently owned and operated. Is one of the biggest entrepreneurial ventures in this country. Everyone seems to own one and if you don't own one you pay to ride in one or walk. Ben tells me they charge about 500 Shillings for a ride which is about 35 cents U.S. There's no specific route either, they just drive in a general direction taking side streets for specific passengers. They all have different names stenciled on the backs, fronts and sides. Some have religious quotes like "God is Great", others have Rock & Roll band names like "Led Zeppelin" on them. I even saw one that said "SOX" on it in the letter style of the Boston Red Sox. It's just strange and I wish I had photographed more of them.

Eventually we clear the city and start heading out across a rural section and this is the first big animal I see. Not exactly a wild animals but I'm sure there's a joke or two in there.
Two asses on the side of the road. i know there's a joke there....

Just as we get near the entrance to Lake Manyara park I spot three giraffes on the side of the road.
Holy crap! Giraffes! I ask the driver to pull over thinking I'll NEVER get a chance to see giraffes this close again. What am I thinking?
My first giraffes! We are just driving down the road and there's three giraffes just chillin on the side of the road. Of course I ask my driver to pull over so I can grab these shots. Hey, you never know, this might be my only opportunity, right?
My first giraffes! We are just driving down the road and there's three giraffes just chillin on the side of the road. Of course I ask my driver to pull over so I can grab these shots. Hey, you never know, this might be my only opportunity, right?
My first giraffes! We are just driving down the road and there's three giraffes just chillin on the side of the road. Of course I ask my driver to pull over so I can grab these shots. Hey, you never know, this might be my only opportunity, right?

Eventually around 1pm we get to the park entrance and sign in with the rangers. Driving into the park the first thing we see are baboons. Not my favorite animal in the world. In fact they sort of creep me out. They seem very mean looking and it also seems like they could so easily jump onto the roof of the truck and scratch my eyeballs out.
Creepy mean looking animals. These baboons were all over the park and wouldn't move out of the way for the safari vehicles. It's like they belong there or something.
Creepy mean looking animals. These baboons were all over the park and wouldn't move out of the way for the safari vehicles. It's like they belong there or something.
Creepy mean looking animals. These baboons were all over the park and wouldn't move out of the way for the safari vehicles. It's like they belong there or something.
Anyone remember the scene in the movie The Omen when they are driving through the safari park?

Next on tap is the Vervet Monkeys. This animal gives new meaning to a well know term among most guys.



After passing through the "monkey zone", a heavily forested area we enter an area where the brush and trees thin out a bit and it is crawling with Grant's Gazelles.
First up, a group of females.
A group of female Grant's Gazelle.
And then a few males.
A male Grant's Gazelle.
A group of male Grant's Gazelle.
They are very alert, always on the lookout. I don't think they are afraid of us but there are predators around.

It's mid afternoon so I really don't expect to see many animals moving around. We drive over to the hippo pond and as expected the hippos are just laying around.
I've heard of hungry, hungry hippo but they really should be referred to as Lazy, lazy hippos. All they do is lay around or float in the pools.
Next we discover a deeper pond where several hippos are enjoying the cool water.
What are you lookin at?I've heard of hungry, hungry hippo but they really should be referred to as Lazy, lazy hippos. All they do is lay around or float in the pools.

A couple of baboons have to pass through the hippo pond area and steal the show for a moment.
Baboons stealing the show near the hippo pond.

Finally we catch a couple hippos getting "busy". At least that's what I'm told by my driver is happening.
Hippos humping.
Hippos humping.
That's it, he's done.
Hippos humping.  He's done.

 Finally we drive out into a wide open plain that is near the edge of Lake Manyara and we manage to catch a Cape Buffalo wallowing around in the mud.
A Cape Buffalo enjoying his wallow in the mud.

And then the Zebras. They are all over the place. Hundreds of them.
Zebras, ever alert. At least one always had an eye on us.Don't worry, the little one is not dead, it's just laying down to roll in the dust. Fly control.
 Zebras, ever alert. At least one always had an eye on us.
Side & Rear
Zebras, ever alert. At least one always had an eye on us.
A Zebra drops and rolls in the dust. It's their way of bathing and helps to rid them of the nasty biting flies.
Zebras, ever alert. At least one always had an eye on us.Taking a dust bath. They do this to rid themselves of the biting flies. It's strange to watch them drop and roll though. It almost looks like they are getting shot the way they just fall over.
Zebras, ever alert. At least one always had an eye on us.
Zebras, ever alert. At least one always had an eye on us.
Left or Right, always alert.
Zebras, ever alert. At least one always had an eye on us.

Then we come across what has to be the strangest looking animal in all of Africa, the Wildebeest. This animal looks like it was put together with leftover parts, sort of a mix and match game of pieces.
This lone Wildebeest is just standing there, never moving so this is the only shot I take. Hopefully I'll see more....
A lone Wildebeest. Natures mix up.
Everyone has heard of the great migration that is in constant motion throughout the Serengeti where millions of Wildebeest and other animals are constantly roaming a huge area following the rain and fresh grass.  My concern is that I've missed it and will see few animals as we explore only a very small portion of the Serengeti over the next few days. My concerns are unfounded fortunately.

A couple of warthogs standing watch.
Warthogs.

Hey! More giraffes!
 Hey, I guess I will see more giraffes.

Finally we get to a spot where the edge of the receding lake can be seen off in the distance. Ben, my driver and guide points to the horizon and says, "Look at the pink line." "What is it?" I ask.
"Flamingos" he answers. Really! There must be houndreds of thousands of them to form such an immense area of pink.
The pink line on the horizon is thousands of flamingos. So far away they are just a blurry pink haze on the horizon.
Unfortunately we can't get any closer and even with the monster super-telephoto lens I'm shooting with it simply can't resolve the giant birds into anything other then this floating pink line on the horizon.
The pink line on the horizon is thousands of flamingos. So far away they are just a blurry pink haze on the horizon.

Heading towards the exit of the park we run across these two strange tiny deer-like animals on the side of the road. They are called Dik Diks. They look like very tiny deer except they are full grown. They max out at around 12-16" tall. Very few people know this but as a child my parents had a green leather couch in our den at home. Over the couch my dad had a white tailed deer head mounted. I had nightmares as a child of tiny deer living under the couch and when you would sit on this couch they would come out to nibble on your feet. This was a re-occurring nightmare I had as a child and as a result I've always got the heebie-jeebies from the sight of tiny deer. I'm not talking about baby deer like Bambi, I'm talking about miniature deer like the two that are now blocking our path on the road.
Fortunately I've got my boots on.
Dik Diks. Very tiny deer looking creatures that totally creeped me out. Full grown they only stand about 12-16 inches high. As a child I used to have nightmares of tiny deer crawling out from under our couch and nibbling on my feet. These brought back some vivid childhood memories.

Just watch this clip on YouTube and tell me you can't picture these things nibbling your toes off.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fd_4kn-7y9E

At the end of the day we head out of the park and over to our hotel. Ben stops at an overlook point that looks down onto Lake Manyara. It's another interesting perspective on the flamingos that are forming the "light pink line" on the left edge of the lake. At first I thought it was the beach but Ben tells me it's the flamingos. We are easily 6 or 7 miles from the lake and the mass of birds is huge.


Next stop the Highview Hotel. The only hotel I've ever stayed at that had a sign indicating its latitude, longitude and elevation.
The Highview Hotel, my stay for the first and last night of my safari. http://www.highviewhotel.com/
It's a beautiful property with really nice people and accommodations.
The Highview Hotel, my stay for the first and last night of my safari. http://www.highviewhotel.com/
I never had a chance to take a dip in the pool but did witness quite the party going on this evening.
Poolside. The Highview Hotel, my stay for the first and last night of my safari. http://www.highviewhotel.com/
Several of the safari companies dropping off guests. The hotel caters to American and European tourist here on safari.
A couple of the many safari vehicles dropping off guests. The hotel caters to U.S. and European tourist here on safari. The Highview Hotel, my stay for the first and last night of my safari. http://www.highviewhotel.com/
The view from my doorstep looking out over the coffee plantation and organic farm that is part of the hotel property. All the fruits and vegetables served at the hotel are grown right here on the property.
 Looking down onto the coffee plantation and 28 acre organic farm that is part of the hotel. All our fruits and vegetables are grown here.  The Highview Hotel, my stay for the first and last night of my safari. http://www.highviewhotel.com/

At dinner this evening I join Colleen and David for one last meal together. David's eyes are doing better but he's still wearing my glacier glasses I loaned him. They are doing a two day safari and will be heading off in different directions tomorrow. Tomorrow I head for the Serengeti for two nights, three days of adventure.
Stay tuned.

BTW - If any of my friends here are interested in purchasing prints from this trip, please don't do it automatically through the website here. Let me know which image and which size you are interested in and I can get it for you at my cost, not the price listed here on the website.