I’ve written several times before about Lake Manyara as it is always a regular on my safari circuit, but not only due to its close proximity to Karatu. True, it’s only thirty minutes down the rift and is a bit smaller than Tarangire and doesn’t have the reputation of Ngorongoro Crater, but it is a park that is very unique with much to offer. It is almost a hidden jewel as it is often overlooked and left off many a safari itinerary. Lake Manyara was formed millions of years ago with the Great Rift Valley and for that reason the geography is unlike any other park here.
We awakened early and packed our safari consisting mainly of our camera equipment and lunches, but somehow managed to forget the fantastic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made in the fridge – we were left with bananas and Cliff Bars for the journey but knew we’d survive. Arriving at the gate a bit before 7:30 we were the very first group to enter the park that morning. Amazingly we practically had the who park to ourselves for most of the day. It was probably two hours before we saw another vehicle.
We saw everything to see there during the day much to Christyn’s and Payal’s delight. It’s always so exciting for me to take friends on their very first safari here in Tanzania and to share the beauty and wildlife of the area with them. I had brought several camera bodies and lenses for them to use while here and with the very first baboon troop we ran across their shutters were furiously clicking away. There was no reason for me to tell them that we’d see dozens more baboon troops during the day and by the end they would be merely saying “look, more baboons.” We drove to the first hippo pool, but after the sun comes up most of the hippos are wallowing in the mud and water so their hard to see. Driving away from the pool, though, Christyn spotted a hippo right next to the road ambling along in the mud, sinking up to it’s knees with every step under its massive weight. We sat watching for several minutes as it mostly ignored us and then disappeared into the brush and reeds.
We saw lots and lots of giraffes and a few elephants and had our meager lunch at Maji Moto (hot water) sitting under the trees at the mouth of one of the hot springs. Hearing the trickling water and the quiet sounds of Africa were amazingly relaxing and had it not been for the fact that we would have either been attacked by one of the nearby Cape buffalos or eaten alive by the bugs we would have all taken a nap in the tall grass leading out to the lake. Thankfully we all had our wits about us and chose to head back to civilization in the form of our Land Rover.
After lunch we headed further south along the road in search of a lion pride. I had seen a very nice pride last September and had them marked on my iPad’s GPS. As we turned off the main road towards the lakeshore and the prior pride sighting on my GPS we saw two vehicles off to the side near the hippo pools. One rule of safari driving is that if you don’t find it yourself (which is often the case) then you look for someone who did find it and head in their direction. As we drove up alongside one of the vehicles and were looking over at the hippos, one of the guests in the vehicle asked us if we had seen the lion pride. When someone asks you this it is usually attached to a long dissertation on how to get to wherever the sighting was and then only to find out that whatever you might be looking for has moved on. This was not the case as he merely pointed in the opposite direction of the hippos towards some trees and there under a tree were ten plus lions led by two very healthy males.
The lions were all sleeping as they do most of the day, but almost immediately several of the lions got up and started to walk away or move around. The other vehicles which had driven away towards the hippos quickly reversed course and came back in our direction. We drove a tad bit closer to the lions on the trail of the other vehicles and then sat and watched them for a good bit of time. They are just so very majestic and grand. Payal and Christyn really wanted to see the lions so it was great to have found them.
We spent the rest of the time in the park looking for more elephants after a return visit to the lions and the hippos. We ended up spending almost eight hours driving in the park which is a good amount of time.
Having essentially skipped lunch (Cliff Bars and bananas just don’t cut it for hungry explorers I’ve found) we were definitely willing to accept Kelley’s suggestion of pizza for dinner at a small club down the road. Payal wanted to call it a night so ate one of our forgotten PB&Js while Christyn and I (the more food oriented members of this party) decided to go for the pizza. You might wonder whether it’s really possible to get good pizza in East Africa or not. Leaving all suspense aside I will answer the question for you in advance. It is not possible. We sat down outside and the weather was gorgeous so we definitely had that going for us. The beer was fairly cold (another plus), but unfortunately they weren’t making pizza that night. Not a problem as they had other things on their menu that sounded very appetizing. Problem was that none of them were available either – not any of the pastas and not the local version of beef barbecue. I ordered pepper steak, Christyn the fish and Kelley (who was now with us) the chicken. The waitress came back ten or fifteen minutes later to tell me that there was no pepper steak so I went with the fish. An hour and a half later, she came out with our food. The fist was a whole local fish deep fried and served with fries. Kelley’s chicken was too touch and gamey for her to even bite into.
We arrived home so late and tired from the safari and our dinner experience that I fell asleep trying to type my blog while Christyn hiked up to use the internet at the clinic. We have our first day at FAME tomorrow for our dedicated neurology clinic and are all very much looking forward to it.