(All photos are by Chris Perrone since I was occupied)
It’s still dark outside, but my alarm is telling me that it’s time to awaken as we are leaving bright and early this morning for a safari in Tarangire and then on to Arusha. We are leaving FAME and the spring 2017 neurology clinic has been completed and was another success. Thankfully, the remnants of our late night are a distant memory and I am no worse for the wear, ready to load our car with all our bags and begin our trek. Packing the vehicle on these mornings can be a chore as it is like a game of Tetris to fit in all of our bags and still make room for game viewing once the top is up. Abbey is coming with us this morning as well as she has decided to leave tomorrow from Kilimanjaro International Airport along with the others so she can see someone at home about her ankle which continues to bother her.
It’s still dark when I go outside to open the vehicle and turn the inside lights on so we can all see where things are going and to pack as judiciously as we can given the large duffels we travel with here and have to return home with us. Joyce and Terry are up and have brought Abbey’s bags as she’s still a bit hobbled and they hadn’t had a chance yet to say goodbye to those of us who stayed late at the Golden Sparrow. Nan’s overslept and appalled at herself, though there are no worries as we’re still ahead of schedule and, besides, it’s a rare indiscretion for her as she’s worked so hard during her time here. We’re loaded and packed, get our goodbye hugs from Joyce and Terry, who will be returning home in two weeks with the arrival of the rains, and we’re off. Despite the time, the skies are dark with thick clouds that still remain from the nighttime hours and will take several hours to burn off.
Traveling through Karatu it is a bustle with activity and children are walking to school everywhere. The fog is thick and for a time it’s difficult to see much into the distance as we travel along the tarmac. As the road crests in Rhotia and we begin our descent towards Lake Manyara and Mto wa Mbu we can see the effect of the sun on the clouds and sky and it looks as if the clouds will break soon in the direction we’re heading. We descent the rift into the valley and eventually pass the turnoff to the boma we visited on Tuesday, a nondescript turn off the tarmac where so many live in the bush, with their simple lives and their tradition. The Maasai are so unique and majestic. The clouds are lifting and the sun is now out as we roll into Makuyuni where we turn in the opposite direction of Arusha and head towards the entrance to Tarangire. We are now traveling on the opposite side of Lake Manyara, heading southwest on a very good highway that would lead us to Dodoma to the south, a major city with a university.
We are only heading a short distance, though, and leave the tarmac to travel along the seven kilometer road towards the entrance of the park to begin our game drive. At the gate as I begin to fill out the paperwork, the attendant tells that that is for the driver to complete and I promptly tell him that I am the driver. My comment is certainly made with some pride on my part and probably with some trepidation on theirs, but I take care of all the registration and fees as I have done so many times in the past as I have lost count of all the safaris I’ve driven now. The job can be exhausting, sitting in the driver’s seat for twelve or more hours, constantly scanning the horizon for that small clue that there’s a lion or cheetah in the brush or a leopard in the tree, starting and stopping the vehicle constantly to give everyone the very best view possible. This is what I love and look forward to sharing Tanzania with everyone who I bring each time I come.
We begin our drive into the park and the day is gorgeous. Bright sun, but not too hot and some high clouds to add some accent to any photos. I drive to spots where I have seen lions on previous trips and they are not to be found, but the day is young. We drive past the public campsites and off towards the river where the bridge appears to have been nearly washed away, but has repairs that make it passable and, in short order, we’re on the other side. The grass is very high and we see little wildlife for some time, but then the elephants begin to appear, numerous family units with many infants staying close to their mothers, both for safety and an occasional meal. Tarangire is known for its elephants and it did not disappoint today. We saw so many many families that were so close you could almost reach out and touch them. At one point later in the day, Nan was sleeping in the back and we were surrounded by a group of elephants so that when we woke her up, there was one staring through her window at her.
We traveled along the river and eventually made a crossing through rain swollen waters and I was quite thankful that we had fixed the four-wheel drive for this visit as it definitely came in handy on several occasions. I even had to shift it into four-wheel drive low on two occasions which converts the Land Cruiser into a tank that could probably climb a tree if it were requested to do so. Climbing out of a river bed onto the opposite steep shore was a common place to use it. We drove along looking for lions, but continued to strike out despite visiting areas where I had come across them in the past, such as down by the river crossing or along the embankment where we had seen a kill last October. We eventually decided to make our way down to the Silale picnic site that overlooks the Silale swamp and where we had lunch last October with Kelley and Laura. I was driving a faster pace heading to lunch (perhaps I was hungry) and at one point, Nan was again sleeping in the back seat as I drove through a rather large area of water such that she got hit with a pretty big splash through the open window much to her surprise.
We had the entire park to ourselves it seems and considering it is the end of the season, it was not surprising to find the picnic site completely empty with no vehicles in site in any direction for many miles around. We relaxed with our PB&J sandwiches and cut our sole candy bar into five sections to share. No luxury box lunch or picnic basket from the lodge like we had last October.
After lunch, which traveling back to the river, we came upon our sole lion of the trip, sitting on top of a termite mound directly in front of us. She was the same color as the mound so when I alerted the others, everyone replied “where?” To which I said “right in front of us” and there she sat literally in our path. She was probably an older lioness and had a radio collar on that is used for tracking the movement of animals in the park. Chris also later noticed that she was missing one canine, another clue to her age. We sat for some time just watching her until she finally got up, walked along side the road past our vehicle and then onto the road for a good ways. We followed her in reverse at first, then turned around to follow her, but she eventually left the road and wandered off into the thicker brush where we finally lost sight of her. Whether she was in the hunting mode or not, it didn’t seem like anything was going to happen in the near further so we left her there to her own devices.
We traveled back to the river and crossed at the most southern spot to do so and then drove up the other side of the river where we hadn’t yet been. There were elephants galore as we traveled through the beautiful landscape and we also spotted a small herd of Cape buffalo as we traveled. We crossed the river one again at the same spot we forded it earlier this morning and now drove back towards the main gate on the opposite side we had driven earlier. As we drove by the public campsite on the same road we were on earlier today we ran into a small family of elephants that seemed to notice us a bit more than those before. A rather small adolescent wasn’t very happy with us and charged, but seemed to stumble over a small rise and ended up on its front knees, quickly able to get right back up though agitated. Then one of the other smaller members gave us a loud trumpeting using as he was apparently displeased with us as well. We were quite shocked with the sudden display of emotion as they are typically much more nonchalant about our presence. No sooner had we gathered ourselves to move on, we received another loud trumpeting from a different elephant that was apparently equally unhappy with our intrusion. It was a very interesting behavior that I hadn’t experience before by a small family and, more so, by such adolescent members. Perhaps they were just misbehaving.
We were all quite beat after such a long day and pulling up to the gate to put the top down and get ready for the drive to Arusha, I think everyone other than me was anticipating a nice nap on the way. We traveled back to Makuyuni where we stopped for fuel and cold drinks and were then on our way. We pulled into the outskirts of Arusha just after 5pm and made our way to the Impala Hotel where we dropped off Abbey so she could fly home tomorrow along with Chris and Nan. Jamie would be leaving later in the day and heading to Johannesburg. We arrived to Leonard and Pendo’s house and emptied the vehicle of most of the luggage to be repacked before our flights. I would be spending two extra nights in Arusha with the Tembas and departing on Monday. We were all exhausted that night so everyone pretty much crashed after dinner and we slept quite well with thoughts of our time here in Tanzania.