The start of our African Adventure:
Descending the stairs into what could only be described as pandemonium, my boyfriend James – who has the patience of a gnat – and I, attempted to fill in the immigration forms, and join the two-hour wait for a Tanzanian visa. Yes, it was a TWO hour wait, with the most ridiculous process I have ever seen. Thank God our connection to Kilimanjaro airport gave us a four-hour transit stop in Dar es Saalam. First tip… if you can get your visa before you travel, do it!
After chatting to a Norwegian back packer, who had spent five months in Tanzania volunteering, it was time for us to take our Precision air flight to Kilimanjaro. Everything went smoothly and we were at our hotel, the Meru View Lodge in Arusha, three hours later. The lodge was compact, cute and characterful, with a lovely wooden hut restaurant complete with open fire. The food came in generous portions and was surprisingly good. Definitely recommended for any safari-goer looking for a cheap place to rest their head for the night.
Up bright an early the next morning, we could hardly wait to meet our safari driver/guide, Emmanuel and our cook Aristes from Tanzania Experience. An exciting day lay ahead, and it also happened to be my 26th birthday, so I was hoping it would be one to remember! We drove the three hours across Northern Tanzania to Lake Manyara. It was a three-hour drive that seemed more like half an hour, with so much to take in during the journey including local town markets where they sold everything from beds to bananas. You wouldn’t think that the goat would be the most common animal in Africa, but we saw thousands grazing along every roadside – not quite a pride of Lions, but it was a start!
Lake Manyara National Park
A small park in comparison with its more famous counterparts, the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. Lush landscape surrounds the shallow lake which stretches 89,000 of the entire 127,000 square feet. Lake Manyara is a great beginners park, with no shortage of birds, baboons, elephants and zebras. A major tip for any safari would be to ensure your safari jeep has a pop-up roof, as some of the best sights are seen from above, and it also provides good shade from the beating sun!
Our first sighting in the park was the Baboon, he sat eating a large long fruit, shaped like a sausage which had fallen from a tree above. Baboons are extremely common in Africa, and in South Africa they are seen as a pest not to be reckoned with. With their sharp teeth and claws you wouldn’t want to come face to face with one in a dark alley! Best advice when leaving your 4×4 unattended is to close all the windows. The Baboons are adept at stealing any packet of crisps or bar of chocolate you may have left inside! Next stop we came across a lone Bushbuck, the most widespread member of the antelope family in the Sub-Saharan Africa, a beautiful dainty animal with an ability to jump six feet in the air.
The most exciting moment of my day was seeing my first wild African elephant. It crossed in front of our jeep with its young calve, which made my birthday! According to our guide, the gestation period of an elephant is nearly two years, and roughly 99% of calves survive in the wild. The mother will do anything and everything to protect her young from predators. Who wouldn’t after a two-year pregnancy!
During the safari we came across our first herd of African Buffalo, I didn’t realise just how big they were, with some of them weighing up to 900 kgs! They seem so docile, like a big happy cow! However, they are one of the ‘Big Five’, and traditionally this phrase meant they were one of the five most dangerous animals to hunt. So maybe they aren’t so docile! These days poaching is illegal in Africa, however hunters still manage to sneak into Africa paying up to $10,000 dollars to kill these beautiful creatures for their horns. If caught, these poachers can serve up to 15 years imprisonment. Not long enough if you ask me!
As the day drew to an end, and the sun was starting to set, we came across an enormous male elephant, known as a ‘bull’. We watched him stamping through the trees, eating everything in sight until suddenly, not so thrilled with our presence, he turned to face us. A little unnerving, he stood completely still staring at us for a few moments, before going into a full charge straight at our unsuspecting Toyota Landcruiser! The driver slammed on the accelerator and luckily he just missed us – our first near-death experience of the holiday! One point to remember; animals always get first right of way within National Parks and it is important to know they are extremely territorial.
The first day of our safari had flown by. It was an exhausting one and neither of us could wait to pass out! We hoovered our dinner down and were tucked up asleep in our tent by 9pm – a wild night!
It was a long four-hour drive from Lake Manyara to the Serengeti National Park, through mountainous and Sub-Saharan terrain, so we decided a short detour to a local Maasai village would give our legs a much needed stretch. There are over 180 different Maasai tribes in Tanzania and Kenya, and some tribes welcome tourists to visit and learn about their semi-nomadic way of life. Each tribe has a different dialect, and learning about the tribe was an unforgettable experience that I would recommend to everyone. The Maasai leader asked for $50 for a tour of the village, and explained that there were 30 different huts each belonging to individual families. The men and women presented a welcome dance to us with singing, chanting and jumping – which somehow I managed to get roped into! The tour was complete with a visit inside a family hut and the village school. The huts are made from sticks and cow dung, and have a small fire smoldering inside for cooking and providing warmth at night. The leader explained the ladies were in charge of building the huts – which takes approximately a month to build – while the men were in charge of the livestock and ensuring food was provided for their family. Their diet consists of raw meat, milk and blood from the animal (not quite my cup of tea!), whilst the skin and bones of the animal were used for clothing, beds and making jewellery.
Each Maasai lady has a stall selling her beaded jewellery, and we bought a couple of bracelets and a necklace. At $100 for the lot it wasn’t exactly cheap, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay to support one of the families. Lastly we visited the ‘Kindergarten’ which is attended by all the children from the tribe between the ages of four and seven. They were counting out loud in English when we arrived and the teacher explained that the children learn to speak English, and read Swahili. It was amazing to watch them learn with such enthusiasm, and the smiles and laughter are something I will never forget.
Make sure you use a good deet spray, day and night – not only for the mozzies, but the tsetse flies tend to cause a bigger nuisance. Plus, don’t forget to consult your Doctor well in advance of traveling to Africa for any Malarial medication or injections.
To read the next installment of my adventure… look out for my next blog ‘Tanzanian Safari Part 2: Sensational Serengeti’. Coming soon!
A few other favourite photos from my day in Lake Manyara: