Lake Manyara National Park
(October 26th – 30th 2010)
I got picked up on the morning of the 26th to the ‘Victoria Expedition’ office. A Korean girl, Alex, whom I had met the day before at the safari office, was the only one of the original group of 4 who showed up. I asked where the 2 Slovenians and 1 Dutch person were. I was told that they would meet up with us the next day. I immediately felt suspicious. I had asked to see their contracts the day before, when I was signing up, for proof that they indeed existed and were coming on the tour. The managing director (a guy named Barbarai) told me they had signed up via email and the internet so they didn’t have the same contracts I did. I saw some backpacks in the office and he said it was theirs. I didn’t put too much thought into it. It was just me and the Korean girl who left for the safari that day, along with the driver/guide (Abdul) and cook (Kefis). We stopped to get some bottled water along the way. (Barbarai had told me they would provide it but I thought this stop was for us to get EXTRA water if we wanted). A black guy jumped into our Land Cruiser at the stop and I thought he was another member of the safari staff. So I asked him if he was and he turned around with an annoyed look on his face and said he was on the tour too. His name was Richard and he was from London. I apologized and told him that Barbarai had said 2 Slovenians and 1 Dutch guy was joining us on the tour and I had assumed they were white folks. Anyway, after the cook bought some supplies, we left.
After driving for about 2 hours, our car had funny sounds and soon stopped running. Abdul popped the hood and looked under and I began to get worried. There were a lot of red flags and we were only 2 hours into our tour. Abdul somehow got the car to inch its way to a nearby town where he got the assistance of a few locals and got the car running again. I took pictures and documented the times and problems which occurred, in case I wanted to make a claim for a refund at the end of the tour.
(Black Tiger balancing on a ladder and juggling at the same time. Don’t try this at home.)
After a couple of hours of driving and waiting for Abdul to pay our park entry fees, we arrived at Panorama Camp, near Lake Manyara NP. We put our stuff inside our tents and headed out to do a game drive of LMNP. After seeing a bunch of different animals, we headed back and had dinner and watched some locals perform acrobatics. One of them, called ‘Black Tiger’ had amazing hand-eye coordination. In one act, he put a ¾ inch diameter stick in his mouth and balanced bottles end to end. That night, I had to battle some mosquitoes while trying to sleep in my tent. Those guys can find the smallest cracks in tents and sneak in.
(Sun-rise view from Panorama campsite. Looks like a scene from Lion King.)
(Masai doing a dance to welcome us.)
(Shoes made from used tires. Most Masai men wear them.)
(Our guide, Dowdi, showing us a Masai hut. All huts are built by women.)
(Masai kids in their elementary school.)
We woke up early the next day and were joined by an Italian guy named Carlo. All of us saddled in to make the 3 hour journey to the Serengeti, passing through the Ngorongoro area. We took a short detour (per Richard’s request) to a Masai village on the way and got to experience a little bit of Masai culture, hear them sing, see where and how they live, and check out their elementary school.
(Baby elephant. Check out the baby ‘teeth’ (tusks))
(A rare sighting of a lazy leopard. Sorry for the bad pic, it was far away and all I had was digital zoom.)
(Sasha christened these two lions ‘Bert’ and ‘Ernie’.)
At the entrance of Ngorongoro, Abdul paid for our park entry fees, we were joined by yet another person, an English doctor named Sasha. We did a game-drive, seeing all the usual African animals. I am no expert on animals but I can say we saw the usual zoo animals (and more) but in their natural habitats. The Serengeti is so vast that animals are spread out and we had to stay on approved roads. Abdul used his knowledge of the area to help navigate us to areas where certain animals tend to congregate. We also looked out for groups of other safari cars that have stopped in a particular spot, meaning there was something to see there.
After the game-drive, we went to the Seronera camping grounds. There were only 4 tents for 5 people so the 2 girls, Sasha and Alex, were paired up in the same tent. By this time, I had realized I left my headlamp back at Panorama Camp. The Seronera grounds had no electricity. Since I had given Sasha a bottle of my water (she was told she didn’t have to bring any. See, management didn’t just lie to me), she offered to lend me her headlamp for the night, as she had Alex’s torch to use. We ate dinner in a wooden shelter, lit by a solitary lamp. There were insects around us, crawling onto our dinner table. We had to make sure they didn’t get into our food. At the end, a giant spider crawled onto our table and that’s when we all decided to call it a night.
As we walked to our tents, we looked to the sky. I had never seen so many stars in my life. The sky was flooded with them. Having lived in places where there was at least some form of light pollution, I was now in a place that was completely dark. For me, this was a new experience. We all woke up early the next morning, had a light breakfast, then left to do another game-drive. Richard, the Black English guy, was constantly demanding to see certain things. (“Lions, Abdul, take us to see the lions!” in a demanding tone.) He had been doing this the day before as well and it was rubbing some people the wrong way. Although he looked very young, maybe in his early 30s, he was 43 years old but acted a bit like a spoiled kid. This was a constant theme throughout our safari, which had a dramatic conclusion, which I will explain soon.
(Who can find my backpack?)
(Elephant helping himself to the water tank.)
After our 5-hour game-drive, we went back to the Seronera to pack up and leave for the Ngorongoro camp on the crater’s rim. The Ngorongoro used to be a volcano a long time ago but all that’s left now is a crater that’s 20 km in diameter and filled with an amazing ecosystem that supports all the animals that live there. We arrived around dusk. We saw some locals Masai around the camp with their spears and shields. Apart from trying to sell some of their hand-made souvenirs to all the safari-goers at the camp, there was another purpose they were there. An elephant showed up near our camp and was walking around. It eventually made its way to a huge water-container sitting beside the kitchen area and dipped its trunk into the opening at the top and started drinking the water. Everyone started taking pictures. It was interesting how smart the elephant was. I’m sure it has visited the camp before and somehow figured out how to get water from the container. Anyway, everyone made sure not to get too close, less we agitate the fella and he (I established it was a ‘he’ because he had a male organ) goes berserk in our camp. Anyway, the camp had electricity and we could eat dinner under some lights.
(Sunrise at the top of the Ngorongoro Crater rim.)
Around 4:30 am the next morning, everyone woke up to 2 gunshots. I thought I was dreaming but I found out later, the game-ranger protecting the camp had fired 2 rounds in the air to scare off an elephant that was too close to the camp, apparently looking for food. Carlo and Richard said they had also heard zebras walking around outside their tents. It’s crazy how close we are to the animals. Camping in the USA meant having raccoons come at night but here, we had elephants and zebras wandering around.
(Little Pumbas following Mama Pumba. Warthogs.)
(Want to know how close we got to some animals? This close.)
(And this close. They wouldn’t move. Just lay there, soaking up the attention.)
(Hippo filth pool.)
The game-drive of the Ngorongoro was spectacular. After watching the sunrise, we descended slowly down the only road leading into the crater. From up top at about 600 m, the bottom looked extremely flat and blank but once we reached the bottom, I was surprised at how textured the landscape was. There was dense forest (where we spotted a rare black rhino in the distance, 1 of about 27 remaining in the entire area), dry plains where a male lion sat on a flat rock while watching some zebras in the distance, milky alkaline lakes, a beautiful lake filled with hippos, and much more.
At one point, Richard had been in another demanding mood again. He questioned why Abdul, at a fork, took a left instead of a right, where he saw some animals in the distance. I was sick of him at this point so I said ‘I think Abdul knows what he’s doing’. The day earlier in the Serengeti, we saw some lions sleeping under a tree and after leaving them to check out other areas for another 20 minutes, Richard demanded to go back because he was sure the lions would be awake and doing stuff by. I said that I didn’t think they were because it had been only 20 minutes and even after 15 minutes of observing them earlier, they barely budged. We made some sounds to try to wake them up but they didn’t pay any attention to them. Anyway, no one else agreed to go back as we wanted to move on to another area of the park, and it was only Richard who wanted to. Abdul gave in and we drove all the way back, and guess what? The lions were still asleep. I was right and this must’ve made Richard mad.
After our Ngorongoro Crater game-drive, we made our way back to camp. Alex, Sasha and I were sitting at a table, having some coffee when Richard walked in and said to no one in particular that he couldn’t find a charger for his Tanzania cell-phone. So I asked ‘The phone didn’t come with a charger of its own?’ and he snapped ‘No one was talking to you!’ before walking off. Alex, Sasha and me exchanged surprised looks but I shrugged it off. Richard would always disappear to God knows where and would always show up last for meals.
After packing up the tents and gear, we got into the car and I looked around for my remaining 2 bottles of water I had left on the front seat. Richard then pulled a new bottle out of nowhere and told Alex she could have it. Realizing Richard had a problem with me that day, I thought maybe he took my water to spite me. So I asked if that was his and he shouted at me ‘Shut your fucking mouth when no one is talking to you!’ Everyone went silent. I asked him what his problem was and I don’t remember how the rest of the conversation went because I was caught up in the heat of the moment. All I remember is that I eventually told him to go fuck himself and that we exchanged a few vulgar name-calling and Carlo told me not to pursue the argument even farther. (In hindsight, I wish I had been calm and not resorted to name-calling, even if he started it. I wasn’t ready to tolerate his attitude but I definitely could’ve handled the situation better. It was very childish but emotions got the better of me. I am quite disappointed with myself.) But again, I was caught by surprise and by the moment and we had apparently been rubbing each other the wrong way the past few days. Richard knew today was the last time we would see each other so he picked today to erupt.
After arriving at Panorama camp where Alex, Carlo and I would stay for 1 more night and Richard and Sasha would leave that day, I was in the bathroom when Richard walked in. With no one around, I decided this was a good time to discuss the problem. I asked him what issues he had with me (with the intention of listening to his side of things and if necessary, apologize) and he was adamant that he didn’t want to discuss it. He mentioned the time when I said ‘I think Abdul knows what he’s doing’ and the water-bottle incident. He changed what I said and when I denied that I had said that, he was insistent. Then he says ‘You’re lucky I didn’t give you a kick in the face’ before walking off. I told him I wanted to resolve this man to man and for a 43 year old man, he was being a child. Anyway, at the end of the day, I had the support of everyone in our group. Alex kept telling me days before how she disliked Richard for being ‘arrogant and spoiled’ and Carlo said ‘That’s not how a 43 year old man should act’. Abdul told me he had been doing safaris for many years and he will never forget Richard. Anyway, I actually find this entire situation to be quite funny. Richard has plenty of other antisocial moments but there is no point mentioning them.
(Paolo’s humble home where he, his wife, and little girl Janet live.)
(Paolo and little Janet. The extension of his home that he’s building with his hands is in the background.)
(Paolo’s family’s kitchen.)
(Typical mud hut in Manyara Village.)
(Where locals get their meats.)
We had about 3 hours to spare that afternoon so the manager of the camp, a Masai named Paulo, took us on a walking tour of Manyara town. We got to visit his little humble home nearby, on a small plot of land he worked very hard to buy and is now building, with his own hands, an extension of his home. His home was an extremely small space, the size of a room. A bed was crammed in together with a small table and chairs for eating, and a cabinet of various things. Paulo knew I lost my headlamp so it was to my relief he told me he had found it in my tent and kept hold of it, so I managed to get it back that day.
Paulo took us to the town and we got to try a local alcoholic ‘banana beer’ (really, it’s more like rum but they call all liquor here ‘beer’ and yes, it really is made of bananas). We ate sugar cane, freshly chopped and cut.
(Elephant spa treatment.)
(He looks happy.)
(Vervet monkey watching for stray food.)
(Mama and kiddo vervet.)
The next day, Alex, Carlo and I had only Lake Tarangire NP to do. The place had many elephants and tsetse flies. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and was looking outside my window when I felt a painful bite on my forearm. It was a tsetse fly. They were quite large and had stinging bites, even through clothing. We had to battle those damn things the entire day. We left for Arusha that afternoon.
Had a good time overall, there’s so much more I want to write about the safari experience. It was quite amazing to be so close to the animals. Lions sleeping on the roads in front of safari cars, a leopard lying lazily on a tree branch, a baby elephant trying to eat and showing its baby tusks, a group of lionesses running at a herd of antelope but not getting anywhere near because they all ran off, vervet monkeys watching us and ready to swoop for scraps as we ate our lunches, wildebeest and zebras migrating together in straight lines, hippos fighting each other, those countless stars above the Serengeti that made me feel so small…