On our way back to Karatu I started getting worried a bit because some sinister force seemed to repeatedly kick the car underside directly under my seat. Well, the shock absorber had given up, so the rest of the drive overdid the “African Massage” somewhat, but with proper “Hakuna Matata” attitude we managed to keep our spirits up and our heads down, except for the two times I tested the strength of the car´s roof with my head. People sometimes call me a bit bull-headed but no contest, the roof definitely won.
So we were quite relieved when we got back to the wonderfully smooth Japanese streets and made a stop in Karatu to visit the local market. A nice experience, people were very friendly, smiling at us (well, not on this pic I admit ) and I tasted some baobab fruit and red bananas. Delicious, tasting a bit like strawberries.
By necessity I had gotten used to all the children that would unavoidably follow your every step and beg for a little something with heartbreaking looks. Still, it´s not that easy just to ignore little children telling you that they are dying if you don´t give them money but I managed till we drove off again where I just had to give them something.
Although driving off took some time. Some of our group had decided to stay back in the car because they hadn´t felt comfortable about the market visit and had safety issues about it. Not a good choice because in the time we were away a real siege had built up around the car. More than a dozen of young men armed with T-shirts, bracelets and other touristy stuff were hellbent on making a sell, so all of them were knocking on the car´s windows and two of them even tried to push them aside. The situation quickly resolved after our return, and our companions were very relieved about the “save”.
Before we returned to the Highview Hotel we visited an orphanage nearby. Orphanages are oppressive by definition, and when the warden started to show us around the facility I felt very silly about all the note pads and crayons we had been told by the travel agency to bring along, and the sugar bought on the market didn´t do it either. It was very apparent from the scarcity and poorness of the institution that the one thing really needed was money. I was a bit disgusted when the warden would even show us the room with HIV-infected babies because it felt too much like visiting a zoo. But it´s totally understandable why they do it, they want the visitors to feel miserable and guilty about the whole thing, and want financial help. Luckily for them it works, it´s just impossible to leave this place without giving substantial donations, so it´s a good thing our travel agency had put this visit in the itinerary. We were seen off with a heart-warmingly uncoordinated and disharmonious chanting performance by all the kids.
Next morning we headed to the Ngorongoro Crater. We all were curious if this place could live up to its reputation of having an almost as high game density like a zoological garden, as my travel guide book claimed. Of course this is widely exaggerated but the place is absolutely stunning nonetheless. Things started slow, on our way down the scenery itself was lovely, I especially enjoyed these mystical-looking trees.
Game was reluctant at first. But soon, the ever-reliant zebras seemd to form a welcoming committee for us next to the road.
Then we spotted cape buffalos, but before I could properly watch them the car raced off. Lions were nearby, and so we soon joined about a dozen of other jeeps waiting for a young lion to get closer. He did, and in fact so close that I could have touched him as he passed our car.
Curiously he just kept walking on the road although he was permanently chased by the cars whose drivers always seemed to nearly fight each other for the best places. Which did spoil the sighting a bit, and I was quite relieved when the cars dispersed and we were alone again. It´s really remarkable how fast an almost traffic-jam-like congregation of jeeps can dissolve into nothing.
Ostrichs, hyenas, more lions, a black-backed jackal and more zebras gave us some nice sightings. Then a big herd of hundreds of wildebeests surrounded us. A very special moment for me, probably my personal highlight of the day. We were alone, it was absolutely calm and all one could hear was a never-ending “gnu … blö … gnu …” from every side. Everything felt absolutely peaceful and perfect, a little taste of what experiencing the great migration must be like.
We eventually moved on to Lake Magadi, with lots of Thomson´s, fewer Grant gazelles, some warthogs on the way and lots of flamingos, crowned cranes and Egyptian goose in the background.
And then something I would never have spotted but our driver Roy really had eyes like an eagle. A caracal cat, apparently not something you see every day. Quite far away unfortunately, but its long and pointy ears were very visible.
A lazy cheetah was dozing by the lake. Understandably, as it was getting quite hot now. We entered Lerai forest and I was quite surprised to see an elephant family. Surprised because my travel guide book claimed there were only tuskers down in the craters but no female and little ones. Definitely wrong. What we really had been hoping most for in the crater came next. Sort of. With the binocs I could … kind of see the butt of a rhino disappearing in the bushes. I think. Since about 30 cars were staring at those spot it´s no wonder it ran off.
At the picnic site we felt very elitist. While all the other cars had their packed lunches we enjoyed hot buffet prepared for us by the staff of Highview hotel. Yes, very decadent, but it still felt absolutely magnificent sitting there in the wild, enjoying the crater and having a fabulous meal. A Masai was standing guard, we were told that lions were afraid of them and therefore wouldn´t come close.
After lunch we encountered more lions.
I was quite astouned to hear that apparently no less than nine prides are resident in the crater. Felt quite a lot to me, the place isn´t that big.
Kori bustards and ostrichs came next, and then two very sleepy spotted hyenas who had a bit of a bad-hair-day.
Some hippos near the crater slope made me wonder how these big, short-legged animals had ever gotten down here. I can understand why giraffes don´t bother for the crater but I absolutely can´t fathom how and why the hippos managed to get there. We were circling back around Lake Magadi in hope of getting a better shot at the rhino. Caracal and cheetah were still dozing by the lake shore, and we enjoyed the flight of several crowned cranes.
Back in the forest, the elephants showed up again, and luckily, so did the rhino. Still quite distant unfortunately, but we were happy having completed the “Big 5”. (I assume old hands like most of you here will frown a little bit on this Big 5 thing but I have to admit for a first-timer like me it felt important.)
It was time to leave the crater again, but not before it granted us one last special wish: I had seen lots of lions on this trip but no big male “lion king” specimen. And now there he lay, a few m next to the road, and veeeeeery evidently completely gorged. Our driver impolitely woke him up with an engine howl but the big guy just gave us one short stern look before he decided he couldn´t be bothered and went back to sleep.
Great end to this trip to Ngorongoro, and everyone was smiling all the way back to the hotel thinking about the wonderful experiences this day had brought us.
A gorgeous sunrise marked the beginning of our last safari day next morning.
Lake Manyara was our last stop. A bit of a disappointment. We had only two hours because we had to catch our plane to Zanzibar and surely this extremely short visit didn´t do the park justice. So, no lions on trees for us, not too much else in truth, but the more forest-like feel of the park is beautiful and you can see some enormous sausage trees there. Vervets, baboons, several hornbills, a nice hippo pool, some elephants and a solitary bushbuck showed up, too, so we didn´t see nothing but all consented that our Lake Manyara experience should just be seen as a coda to a wonderful safari week and not really as safari on its own right. (Zanzibar was wonderful btw, but since it´s not “safari”, I won´t write about it.)
Didn´t matter, as I said it had been a fantastic week, definitely one of the best of my life. The sheer beauty and power of Tanzania and its wildlife have touched me deeply. On bad days I like to just close my eyes and think back to my buffalo walk in Arusha, the Tarangire river with all its eles, impalas, wildebeest, giraffes, ostrichs and zebras congregating to drink, the cheetah kill in the Serengeti, my nocturnal zebra visitors in the camp, the stink of the hippo pool, the tranquillity in the middle of the wildebeest in Ngorongoro … and feel better. So much better. I had loved animals as a kid, learned all their scientific names and would be most delighted about big encyclopedias with lots of pics and facts at Christmas. Somehow, growing up, I had lost this enthusiasm, or rather buried it. This safari brought it all back, and I´m quite sure that my enthusiasm for wildlife can´t be buried again.
It was fun writing this and reliving this very special week, I hope some of you enjoyed it, too.