We awakened before sunrise as we had planned to get an early start for our safari today. We all met in the dinning area at 5:45am for an early breakfast and were greeted by the wonderful staff. Fresh coffee and juice, pancakes (crepes), homemade granola and eggs to order were on the menu this day. We talked again about our plans for the day and where we would be heading in the park. I was very excited because I hadn’t been to many regions of Tarangire since my original visit here in 2009, and it is a very large park with some amazing sights. Today we planned to visit the Silale Swamp which was at the very far end of the park and opposite the main gate that I normally used to enter when we come to visit for day trips. It would be at least several hours to reach this region.
The Sangaiwe gate was only a few minutes from the lodge and we entered the park just after the gate opened. Like most entrances to the parks, they take no cash and only credit cards so as to minimized theft by the workers which had been a significant problem in the past. Because I have a resident permit, I’m able to get into parks other than Ngorongoro for half the price of the normal day rate of which is a bit over $50 now with the new 18% tax that has been imposed (or finally instituted) after President Magafuli took office last October. Though it was a shock when it occurred overnight, the new prices and taxes for the parks and the Crater will hopefully all be for the best as they are intended to all benefit the wildlife and conservation here. Tourism and the wildlife they have here in Tanzania are their greatest financial assets not to mention the importance to our planet in the preservation of these unique species that have been so impacted by the presence of humans over the last several hundred years.
The Sangaiwe gate is located about 45 minutes from the river area which is where most of the animals congregate during the dry season. Tarangire is a region that is dominated by a river ecology so that during the dry season all of the animals travel from the surrounding hills to obtain water from the only source available. Families of elephants, large herds of wildebeest, zebra, and Cape buffalo migrate to the river on a daily basis. Meanwhile, Grant’s and Thompson gazelle, who don’t migrate and need much less water are found in the open areas of the park and countless groups of Impala reside in the woodland regions. Waterbuck, reedbuck, elan, and dikdik are scattered amongst the others throughout. Tarangire is also known for it’s exquisite birds including numerous types of vultures, eagles, hawks, plovers and Kelley’s favorite, the Lilac breasted roller.
As we leave the gate we begin our drive along the higher woodlands that are unfortunately the home to tsetse flies. These are the flies that carry trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, but thankfully don’t in this region of Africa otherwise we would have been in big trouble long ago. The tsetse is a blood sucking fly whose bit is very painful (much worse than a mosquito) and they are masters of stealth until you feel the severe pain of their bite. Humans are obviously not their primary target otherwise they wouldn’t be so numerous and they are usually bothering the other large animals around including all the antelope and the Cape buffalo. They are attracted to anything that moves and this typically means a large animal, but in our case it means our vehicle and, unfortunately, us inside. They are like guided missiles and once locked on their target they are relentless and tireless in their quest to bite us. Since I’m riding behind Kelley and Laurita, I can watch their backs and swat the flies off and all that is available on me are my shoulders as my shirt is flapping enough in the back with the movement of the car and the wind so as to keep them off. The morning was fairly cold and I wore my only fleece which happened to be blue, a color they are attracted to while I had forgotten that they also like black which both Kelley and Laurita were wearing. Oops! Needless to say, we were all a setup for an impending tsetse fly disaster. It wasn’t pretty, but since it was their first exposure to these little conveyors of agony, the girls were only moderately annoyed, but worse was to come later in the day.
Once out of the woodlands, the tsetse pandemonium abated and we once again relaxed to enjoy the truly amazing sights of this park. As we traveled along the various river circuits whose trails were dry and dusty, but had been very wet and slippery in March during our visit. The early animals were just arriving to the river while the majority were still traversing the plains from their homes in the hills. When you see several safari vehicles stopped in one location, it usually means some kind of large cat, either a lion, cheetah or leopard, and this morning as we approached one of the river crossings we came upon this scene. Far up the dry river bed was a lioness just laying in the shade, but it was enough to attract a crowd. A family of elephants were milling about high above the river bed, though eventually decided it was time for cool mud and ambled down a path that was immediately next to the relaxing lioness. Not necessarily mortal enemies such as the big cats are to each other (lions will kill cheetahs on sight), elephants do not tolerate lions for a moment and when they realized her presence, they immediately charged after her, chasing her further away from us down the river bed. We turned our vehicle around to follow the lioness and after a few moments spotted the rest of her pride under a tree in the distance, a male and several other females doing what lions do during the which is mostly to sleep.
It was still quite early as we began our drive over one of the hills towards the Silale Swamp, a very important natural area for the animals here. The swamp is massive and occupies the majority of the valley it sits in. It is very green even in the dry season and families of elephants can be spotted everywhere along with groups of buffalo. Wildebeest and zebra don’t seem to wallow through the mud of the swamp which I suspect is more for safety reasons as they would probably become mired and when speed is your main defense, that would be serious problem. The Cape buffalo use their size and horns as their defense against predators as well as their strength in numbers while the elephants are much less often targets of predators other than the smaller babies.
While over on the swamp side, Yusef heard news of some cheetahs a distance away across the river. Initially it was decided we’d lunch first, but then he decided to hightail it to the cheetah sighting so we all held on for dear life while we sped across the countryside in search of the world’s fastest land animal. It turned out that the location was up Tarangire Hill, a landmark far down river and when we came up the location, there were two cheetahs laying in the shade of a bush and several vehicles already watching them. Cheetahs are the most elegant of the cats and it is their speed that they are known for rather than their strength. It was so exciting for Laurita and Kelley to finally get to see a cheetah and now here were two. One cheetah was lying in the middle of the bush and more difficult to see, but it eventually came out and the two cheetahs greeted by washing each other’s face with their tongues. They didn’t seem to be interested in hunting so we watched them for a bit and then left to drive back over to the lunch spot overlooking the Silale swamp.
The lodge had packed us a picnic lunch rather than the usual lunch boxes and we found the perfect table that had a great view of the swamp with all it’s elephants and flocks of birds laid out before us. Lunch included a large container of pasta with ham, peppers and onions that was out of this world good, hamburgers, small individual quiches, apples for desert along with a small chocolate bar. We were all starving as we had stopped for a later lunch and it was so relaxing to sit in the shade and share such a feast among friends. The leftover pasta and anything else went to some young workers who were digging a new foundation near the bathroom in the heat of the midday.
After our rest, we all climbed back in the Land Cruiser for our second half of the day and decided to head back to visit the cheetahs we had seen before. They were still there, though perhaps somewhat more visible as they had adjusted themselves to avoid the strong midday sun. They were still the same gorgeous creatures we had seen just recently and were interacting again with each other. Cheetahs are typically solitary animals who hunt alone as well, but you will occasionally see them in pairs and much less frequently three of them together. When this happens, they are all of the same sex and almost undoubtedly males and often brothers. Females never travel together. Two years ago I had seen a threesome of males here in Tarangire on the small Serengeti drive. We decided finally to leave our two cheetahs, though it was admittedly difficult as they were the first for Laurita and Kelley and they are definitely amazing animals to see up close.
The remainder of our afternoon was spent driving along the river in search of other sights, but the tsetse flies were definitely becoming more of a nuisance and I was quite worried about Kelley’s sanity. She seemed to be our tsetse magnet, that person you always like to have along as the biting insects seem to favor them for some reason giving the others a bit of a reprieve. Unfortunately, Kelley was not quite as enthusiastic with her assumed role and had taken it upon herself to personally annihilate as many of these pests as she could using one of my work gloves I had brought along in the car. She enlisted Laurita who seemed to muster a similar hatred for the flies and chose to use the other glove as her weapon of choice. Between the two of them, they managed to scatter the lifeless carcasses all over the floor in short time. I would not want to run into these two in a dark alley if they had a grudge for any reason and especially if I saw them carrying those work gloves. Traveling back through the acacia woodlands where the bulk of the tsetse flies were earlier in the day, first Kelley and then Laurita covered themselves up in Maasai shukas (blankets that we had in the car) so very little of them was exposed for the flies, but they were somehow still occasionally finding their target and there would be on onslaught of brief action before covering themselves up again. I certainly wasn’t immune to the flies, but did seem to have less of them bothering me along the way so enjoyed watching the two of them ranting and raving in between my less frequent run ins with these devils.
We arrived back to camp just before six which was perfect as the gate to the park closes then and we had to be out by then. We were again greeted with cold washcloths and looked forward to relaxing for a few moments in our rooms though Laurita apparently went right to the observation deck where she could get internet coverage. Both girls are avidly playing in the resident fantasy football league and had to make sure their lineups were set for the following day. We later all met on the deck and enjoyed a cold beer together after a long day in the vehicle on our game drives. We had seen so much that day and we enjoyed reminiscing about the events including the war with the tsetse flies. We sat outside under the stars for dinner and later laid again on the deck to watch the Milky Way and shooting stars and this time even decided to try some long exposure photos. I had somehow left my quick release plate at home so my tripod was useless and we used a towel to prop up our cameras and get some photos. It was finally time for bed so off we went to our tents for a relaxing night with thoughts of more game drives tomorrow.