Considering the wonderful safari we had had the week prior to Lake Manyara, everyone was perfectly happy (or at least willing) to awaken well before sunrise to begin our trek to Tarangire. Animals are more active in the morning hours and the evening and so we had wanted to arrive shortly after the gates open at 6:30 am. Packing the car and hitting the road at 5:30 meant that it was a bit cool and quite dark as the sun wouldn’t be rising for nearly an hour, but it would hopefully get us there shortly after opening. Tarangire is a wonderful park that is a bit larger than Lake Manyara, but still much smaller than Serengeti National Park. Still, there is lots to see there and we would not have time to explore the entire park. The biggest attraction is their population of elephants that rivals any other park in Tanzania, and perhaps Africa. Elephants spend their nights away from the river in the hills, each day making the journey to the river for their water. In the drier months, the river is packed with animals which usually means that lions are nearby and we were certainly hoping to see some today.
The drive was uneventful other than my mandatory run in with the traffic police here. Sure enough, on the other side of Makuyuni, I was stopped for traveling 56 kph in a 50 kph zone. Once again, the zone was not marked, but I was told that it is 50 kph anytime you’re traveling through a populated area, which here means a few buildings and a crosswalk. I handed over my 30,000 TSh (less than $15 USD) and received a receipt on the spot that was spit out by the officer’s handheld device that had registered my details. Needless to say, I drove a bit slower for the remainder of the drive and made sure that I didn’t speed in any area that could be considered “populated.” Oh, and by the way, 50 kph is the same as 31 mph, so you can imagine how hard it is to keep you speed down to that range while driving on a highway.
We pulled in the parking lot at Tarangire and while I went to pay our fees, the rest of the group used the bathrooms and prepared the vehicle for game viewing by popping the tops on Turtle so everyone could stand while we were in the park. Several people also went to the concession stand there to score some coffee which most had missed due to our very early departure from Karatu. Once paid and with everyone back in the vehicle we went through the entrance gate after showing our receipt for having paid our entrance fees.
We were now in the park proper and it was time to get into the mode of game spotting and viewing. I have a navigation application on my iPad in which I have loaded maps of all the areas I drive in as even without cell service here I will never get lost as long as I continue to receive a satellite signal. I have also recorded all the roads that I’ve driven on during my many safaris along with where I’ve seen lions and other interesting sights during our drives. Although I know most of the roads here in Tarangire by heart, it is still helpful to see where I’ve seen things before or to double check regarding a turn or two. Turtle is equipped with a two-way radio that is very helpful as all of the guides talk to each other and share sightings, but unfortunately, they all do so in Swahili which is of little use to me since I speak so little of it.
It took very little time for us to begin spotting the more common animals here that included zebra, wildebeest, warthogs, and impala. As we drove down and crossed over the river, we began to spot the many elephants here along with Cape buffalo and giraffe. The elephants here are the most fascinating, though, in their large extended families that are purely matriarchal and contained many, many babies. Driving along the river, we encountered family after family making their daily journey down to the river to bath and drink and generally carry on. My plan was to continue driving along the river and eventually reaching the Silela Swamp that sits on one end of the park and has a lovely lunch area overlooking this incredibly large area that is usually flooded with water, making it home to many, many animals. Before we get to the swamp and lunch, though, we have quite a bit of territory to cover and it is far from disappointing.
At one point, while watching a family of elephants making their way across the road in front of us, someone spotted a lion directly behind us also crossing the road. We quickly swung Turtle around along with another vehicle that had also been watching the elephants and found that the lioness was one of three who were slowly making their way across the river very likely in search of game. One of them was already across the river under a tree while the one we were watching had stopped on our side in the shade of a tree and yet a third was sitting above us under a tree. Eventually, they all followed the same path ending up in the shade of some trees and probably waiting for a passing herd of wildebeest or zebra. It is difficult to see lions during the day that are doing much else than sleeping so it was great that we at least got to see them walking, even if they were hunting at that very moment.
We had watched the lions for a good amount of time and had decided to get back on track heading for our lunch spot overlooking the Silela Swamp. As we rose higher to cross over the crest of a hill, the swamp came into view and as dry as most of the park was, the swamp was green and luscious and covered with elephants. There were huge herds or families of elephants that were spread across the lush green vegetation and numerous watering holes there were visible and many that were not. It was an amazing sight to see hundreds upon hundreds of these elegant creatures all interacting and enjoying themselves in the water and mud. We pulled into the picnic area with a number of other vehicles already there, but were able to find a nice table with an umbrella to shade us.
The view from the picnic area of the Silela Swamp is just incredible and the weather was absolutely perfect for our day in the park. We enjoyed our lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, in various combinations with jelly, Nutella, honey and bananas, along with hard boiled eggs, cheese, crackers and fruit. Everyone was happy to have some moments to relax with our beautiful views and there was absolutely no rush for us to head back out as we had the entire afternoon to make our way back to the entrance. After lunch, we drove along the edge of the swamp for some time admiring the hundreds and hundreds of elephants, some who were close up and others out in the middle of the swamp, though all enjoying the cool water and mud. Many were playing or flopping down in the mud no doubt to cool off and coat their hide against the insects and heat. Watching them relax and enjoy the day was great to see and gave us all such a sense of warmth and for those moments you can almost forget the outside world and share in their existence.
Along the swamp we were able to see some animals that were not up in the woodlands we had traversed. There were a pair of reedbuck, an antelope mostly spotted around water, and a lone oribi, another antelope that I hadn’t seen before. We doubled back and drove along many more families of elephants before finally leaving the swamp and driving up over one of the hills that parallel the river, spotting a small group of Klipspringers which I hadn’t seen before in this park. Large groups of zebra and wildebeest were absolutely everywhere we turned and there were also many giraffe. Unfortunately, we didn’t see as many lions that we had hoped, but knew that we would see them next weekend in the Serengeti.
We didn’t leave the park until after 5 pm which meant that we would be arriving in Karatu after sunset, always a risky proposition here as driving at dusk is the most difficult with motorcycles and pedestrians popping up in front of you continuously. We were both starving and exhausted, though the exhaustion won out and we decided to head back to the house and scrounge for dinner. We had bread and cheese which was more than enough for us, though, so I made grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone and John has some of his chicken soup he had made along with his sandwich. The remainder of the evening was quite quiet with everyone passing out and heading to bed at various times. We would have a light day at clinic tomorrow for it was a wellness day in the afternoon and we had plans for lunch at Gibb’s Farm, always a highlight of the trip.