Safari in Northeast Tanzania

 

Our tour of the Ngorongoro and Serengeti game parks, led by Matay, a highly-knowledgeable, highly motivated half-Maasai with keen eyesight and bush equally-keen instincts, was a not-to-be missed experience despite the daily kidney-jarring “African massage” on unpaved roads. (If you’ve ever competed in a dirt motocross, you know what I mean.) See http://rangersafaris.com/ to book a similar trip.  Our own trip was part of a package bungled together by Groupist doing business as ETAfricn safaris.  Our critical review of those clowns may be viewed at

Our hotels were great, our food abundant and often quite tasty, and a delayed onset of the rainy season meant few biting insects.  As for the birds and animals–read on.

 

We begin with the vaccinations: tetnus booster, polio booster, yellow fever, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B.  We stock up on immodium just in case and take instect reprellant.  It seldom rains and insects our few; we end on our return home with a head cold.

We leave LAX on Wednesday afternoon and arrive at the Mt. Kilamanjaro airport in Tanzania on Friday afternoon, ten time zones later. Vans are waiting at the airport to take us to the East African Safari Suites in Arusha. My name isn’t on any of the drivers’ lists but when I show them my paperwork from Groupist, they agree to take me anyway. The hotel may or may not have had my name, but they give me a room key, and soon I am ensconsed in an enormous suite, where I quickly turn on the air-conditioners (two of them) and the water in the shower.

At one p.m. the next day, I meet our driver and the five others with whom I’ll be riding for the next five days.  These include mid-twenties honeymooners Maria and Kevin from Kent in England (Maria soon distinguished herself by her ability to see a pair of racing cheetahs at 300 meters and her inability to recognize a bull elephant by his private parts ), Samir and Amir, two Syrian-Americans who switch back and forth between Arabic and English when talking to one another, and Walter, a Belgian Red-Cross worker who speaks Flemish, Rowandan Swahili (his wife is Rowandan), English and French.  All of these come equipped with cameras and sit and stand in the back of the van which has a pop-top to facilitate photo-taking.

Walter has a point and shoot, Amir an Iphone-4 with 64G memory that take incredibly sharp videos.  Kevin and Samir come with SLR cameras whose lenses cost more than most cameras.

I, most charitably-described as the doom-predicting old guy who likes birds and needs to urinate frequently, do not have a camera and sit in the passenger seat next to the driver.

 

Day 0. A description of our lengthy flight from Dulles (my flight actually left the previous day from LAX) will be found at http://www.reviewcentre.com/reviews103881.html  We are seriously fatigued, jet-lagged, and sleepy-eyed when we arrive at the Mt. Kilamanjaro airport.  Our group was struck by a common idea: get down to the basement washroom as soon as possible and change to short sleeves and short pants.  The European women strip in the hallway; the Americans conceal themselves in the bathroom stalls.

Next we queue to purchase visas: $100 for US citizens, $50 for all others.  Our fingerprints are taken electronically.  Outside the airport among the waiting vans, the vegetation reminds me of Hawaii.  This impression will be reinforced when we arrive at our hotel in Arusha.

My name is not on any of the van drivers’ lists–Groupist strikes again–but I persuade one of the drivers to take me on to Arusha anyway. Thankfully, an air-conditioned suite awaits me there.  See my review of the accommodations at  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g297913-d1122807-Reviews-East_African_All_Suite_Hotel_Conference_Centre-Arusha.html.  Their coffee, served in the drip coffee pot in which it is made, was worth the stay alone.

No sooner do we check in to our hotel, then it rains for an hour.  Once the rain stops, I go for several walks before dark to minimize jetlag,  admiring the African tulips (bright red flowers that grow in trees). I accompany Samir and his camera to a busy traffic circle.  It’s the commuting hour but Tanzanian school children are everywhere in evidence.  Despite the heat, each wears a brightly colored sweater over a white shirt or blouse; the color of the sweater denotes the school and the religion which sponsors it: yellow, blue, green , gray, mauve, red.  Samir wants to take pictures of the vendors but they are all camera shy.  We dodge in and out among the cars as Samir searches for the perfect shot.  We stop at an outdoor fruit market on our return and are offered a huge bunch of over a dozen bananas for just a dollar.

A band is playing below my room in the hotel courtyard where they are holding a barbeque around the pool, but I enter my by-now air-conditioned room, lie down and immediately fall asleep.  (I wake several times during the night occasioned by power failures that turn the outside lights off and on, and the inside air-conditioners off.)

 

Day 1.  At 9:30, we are briefed on what to do and not to do during the coming week.  For example, drink plenty of water and keep your windows closed at night if you don’t wish to share your room with a monkey or baboon.  At one, we meet our drivers.  (One pm African time that is, for the drivers show up when they show up and the 9:30 briefing was scheduled for 8:30.)

For the first half hour of our day’s ride, we join the heavy traffic through the urban slum that stretches along the highway.  It seems that once past school age, the young men of Arusha have little to do but hang about jobless, hoping that someday they may somehow be able to afford a motorbike or a wife.  They wear Western clothing as do the younger women.  The older women wear African clothing, a colorful skirt and a bandana tied about their heads.

We pass two veiled women in black chador.  The older one’s face is exposed, but only a slit in the headpiece reveals where the younger women’s eyes must be. Surely a white chador would be cooler while still allowing them to preserve their modesty.

Everything is for sale.  The vendors weave in and out of the crowd, their wares stacked on their heads or on the cross-bars of their bicycles.  They sell only to each other, for no tourists are to be seen.  Outdoor furniture showrooms display beds where wooden slats take the place of box springs.

Outside the town at last, the traffic thins as we pass coffee plantations, the shrubs no taller than a man.  Yellow-flowered acacia and red-flowered African Tulip trees serve as windbreaks. 

We stop at a craft shop to view rows of identical mass-produced wooden statutes (though outside the shop’s door, there are one or two large statutes of men in tribal dress that are genuine works of art.)  Bright blue Tanzanite rings are on sale inside for US$5000!  (But one is expected to bargain.)

Past the coffee plantations, the land is dry, inhospitable.  Termite towers rise on either side of the road. Only goats can survive here and the Maasai who tend their flocks.  The very young Maasai boys wear only singlets.  Those old enough carry sticks with which to herd their flocks. They live in villages of round mud huts with thatched roofs.  Yet there are other villages along the way consisting of rectangular prefabs, where the men of other tribes wear western clothing and their women wear bandanas and colorful skirts.

Jut before the road begins to rise into the hills, we spot Lake Manyara off to the left.  A troop of baboons including a silverback plus several mothers and their tiny offspring are eating by the roadside.  See http://www.myspace.com/video/j-a-n-a/troop-of-baboons/12844415.

A family of humans ride their bicycle down the hill, the man on the seat peddling, their child trapped between him and his wife.  Hope their brakes hold.

Higher up where the rain falls more often, the grass is thicker, fields of maize bordered by sun flowers line the road and cows replace the goats.

Sharp curves are marked by lines of stones painted white with red slashes.  Obviously, a truck driver has not paid attention to the markings, for he has dumped his load across the roadway and our van can barely slip past.

At our next rest stop, a tall acacia holds several dozen basketweavers’ nests at the tips of its branches.  The nests of this tiny yellow bird are built upside down, so that eggs and fledglings are invisible to the raptors in the skies above and can’t quite be reached by climbing primates.  Entering its nest from below, its wings fluttering, a basketweaver snatches a dragonfly from the air for a quick snack.

 At, the entrance to the Ngorongoro Nature Sanctuary, the paved road gives way to dirt and we start the bone-jarring, kidney-loosening African massage that will torment us for the next few days.  We must stop occasionally to allow herds of horned black buffalo to cross; they appear, then disappear in the thick foliage on either side of the road.

Finally, we reach the rim of the long dormant Ngorongoro volcano and look out across the 19.2 Km caldera.  (The volcano exploded with such fury millennia ago, that its contents were tossed into the air to land many miles away.   As a result the caldera is many kilometers below where we now stand.)  We see an elephant I am told, though my hand shakes so that when I view him through my binoculars, I can only testify that I saw something huge and gray.

The Ngorongoro Serena Safari lodge is located on the rim of the crater at an elevation of 7500’, a half-hour bone-jarring ride to the caldera below. We will eat breakfast and dinner here and be given a box lunch each of  the next two days to take with us on safari.

The poorly-trained front-desk staff do their best to make us feel unwelcome.  Apparently, they don’t keep track of the number of reservations.  Our group of 6 are in the last van to arrive that day.  The honeymooners are given a key.  And Samir and Amir are each offered a key.  Thankfully, after a great deal of argument they convince the staff to put them together in one room.  Otherwise, the staff would not have even the single key they hold out to Walter and I.

“We’re not together.”  If one lies down on one of the benches in the lodge’s front lobby--inevitable if you are as prone as I to altitude sickness--instead of going away as staff had rather hoped you would, a room will be found for you, perhaps even two rooms, once they accept that the man standing next to you at the counter is a total stranger.

Still, I’d be lying there for half an hour while they dithered until I summoned the strength to command, “Give us the key.  We’ll wait there, rest and take showers while you try to find us a second room.”

The rooms are spacious, the beds firm and comfortable, and, once you are let into a room, you can take a shower and find plentiful towels, washcloth, and hair dryer.

Dinner starts at 7.30pm and there is a wide choice with a self-serve salad bar. Indian dishes, and deserts as well as a choice of two soups and two entrees served to Walter and I  at our pre-designated table.  Yes, Walter and I, once strangers, are now friends. (The lodge staff is pretty firm about those pre-designations, but at breakfast on Day 3, Samir ignores them and sits at a table with an excellent view  of the caldera, rather than at the back of the half-empty room at the table where they had placed him.)

For those who require a walk to aid their after dinner digestion, the rooms are laid out along a very long multilevel corridor.  I take a walk at 1:30 am as far as the front desk where I am strongly advised not to venture outside the hotel after dark to avoid being trodden on by a buffalo.  (Note: even at that early morning hour the hotel bar is the center of noisy near-drunken activity.)

 

Day 2. The breakfast buffet offers many choices--I try the arrowroot, baked beans, baked tomato, plus beef bacon and scrambled eggs.

 We leave at 8:00 to descend into the caldera–the road in will be our road out.  The first mile takes us through rain forest where the trees fight to see who will reach the sun.  Gradually the forest thins, giving way to grassland.  The first animal we see is a vulture high on a tree top waiting for the heat of the day to launch him on the hunt.  Next comes a Maasai driving his herd of cows before him; we watch as the herd passes a group of zebras, the domestic and the wild side by side, seemingly indifferent to one another.

 

 

 

We pass a herd of snorting gnu’s or wildebeests, their foals identifiable by their size, lighter coloring, and lack of a mane.  Groups of wildebeests, black-horned buffalo, Thomson’s gazelles (distinguished by their small size and the black stripe along their flank), Grants’s gazelles and zebras graze side by side.  One zebra’s neck bares a bloody gouge where he has just escaped a predatory cat. 

A kon bustard, the largest of the flying birds in the area, searches for lizards, mice, and large insects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  In and around a saltwater lake (salty as a result of evaporation) are white and pink flamingos, Egyptian geese, gray-crown cranes (the Tanzania national bird), and a black-headed heron.  We marvel that Matay, our driver, is able to identify so many of Tanzania’s 1103 bird species.

 

Our heads swivel constantly as we spot pin-headed Guinea fowl (aka bush chicken), the males bearing florescent blue wattles, white storks from Walter’s home country of Belgium, saddle-bill storks, a spur-winged goose, three prowling hyenas! But the birds have nothing to fear from them; the gazelles will need to be careful, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spy an elephant with a single tusk, the other tusk lost, perhaps, when it attacked a too-study tree.   A quarter hour is spent trying to get close to a family of three black rhino (mother, father, baby).  They are white in color as a result of the clay they roll in.  If only we could get closer, but we are constrained to remain in the van and on the road.

The CB lets our driver know that lions have been spotted.  Three of them.  A male lies close to a female who is almost but not quite in heat, waiting for his opportunity.  A second male lies in the grass close by, just in case things don’t pan out for male #1.

We are driving toward the picnic area, scanning the road on either side, when suddenly our driver reverses course and heads down a side road.  What has he seen?  A spotted serval cat, only slightly larger than a domestic feline.  It has huge ears (the better to hear you with, my dear).  The cat is barely visible, unmoving in the grass by the roadside.  What has he seen?  Or heard?  He bites downward and comes up with a rat in his mouth which he slowly swallows head first and whole, before immediately resuming the hunt for food.

We stop to watch a pride of lions scattered among the rocks just below the top of a hill.  Despite objections, I step out of the van to urinate behind it.

 

 

 

 Once at the picnic area, we eat our box lunches inside the van to avoid the attentions of a black kite circling over the picnic area who is known to dive and steal food from the unwary. The nearby lake is filled with snorting hippos, one of whom, judging by the frequency with which he surfaces nearby, is every bit as fascinated with us as we are with him.

  The acacia trees here hold dozens of boxweaver nests, while starlings, their wings an iridescent blue, blacksmith plovers, African darters, white egrets, and two great white pelicans hop or swim nearby.

The return trip through the park proves equally-rewarding.  Though many guidebooks and Matay assure us that there are only a few bull elephants in the caldera, we come upon a breeding herd.  A recently ejected young male stands close to the roadside while among the trees can be seen several females and their young.

 

 

 

Then, just as we about to head upward, we spy two lioness lying in the grass. One stands up and we follow her gaze several hundred meters to where a maned lion is climbing down the hillside.  Will there be a fight?  Yes, if the lion is from a different pride.  No, if he is returning home.  Ten minutes pass before the new arrival makes contact.  The female rolls over on her back to welcome him.  Unexpectedly, a second till-then-unseen lioness rises from the grass nearby and accompanied by her two cubs (till then also unseen) walks over to say hello, also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3.  We leave the lodge at eight in the morning to head in the direction of the Western Serengeti and almost immediately encounter a dozen giraffes browsing by the side of the road.

 We stop at a Maasai village devoted to the entertainment and fleecing of tourists. They love to bargain and one of our tour group brags of having traded an inexpensive watch that lights up for a Maasai spear that he can’t fit in his luggage. The ground has collapsed in one small spot revealing an underground stream; the Maasai have built a hut around it to serve as an outhouse. A small herd of burros that included one or two still suckling foals. relieved of their hauling duties for the next few months (till the village moves again), cavort happily among the trees.

 Our next stop is at a museum perched above the Olduvai Gorge devoted to the Leakeys and their discovery of the impressions of the footsteps of the early homonids.

 

 Finally, we descend to the Serengeti plain, its flatness interrupted only by termite mounds (in contrast to those we'd viewed on the road from Arusha, these take the form of multilevel townhouses rather than isolated towers) and by rock mounds 30' or so high and in diameter which our guide assures us had been tossed out onto the plain in the same volcanic explosion that formed the Ngorongoro caldera.

 In the caldra, the grazers could be found in groups of at most a dozen, here, herds of wildebeeste of up to a thousand or more sometimes extend across the entire width of the plain reaching from near the roadside to the far horizon.   Absent the expected rains, the gnus have not yet determined a direction for their migration and move to and fro in long lines scouting for better grass.  We watch as a second deviant line heads south at right angles away from the main herd, travels for a hundred meters or so, then winds back upon itself.

Herds of Thomson gazelles, of Grant Gazelles, and Harte antelope can be viewed also.  And though Matay has assured us that ostriches travel in groups of two to five only, here fifty or so can be seen scattered across the plain.  We see fox-like jackels for the first time as well as bustards out searching in the sparse grass for mice and lizards.

 

The ground rises abruptly, separating the western from the central Serengeti plain.  We stop for lunch and I carry my box further up a boulder-strewn hill to eat on top just beneath a pair of hunting vultures.

Continuing east, we descend to the plain once more.  The grass is longer here, perhaps as a result of the streams coming down from the hills.  We stop; the back of a leopard can be glimpsed sneaking through the tall grass until it disappears behind a hedge.  We wait in vain for ten minutes or so for it to reappear.

Our van startles a rabbit-sized reebok (antelope) which takes off through the grass.  A detour from the main road leads us in sight of five (presumably well-fed) lionesses stretched out along the large branches of a tree.  Those with better vision claim there may be as many as eight lions in the tree.

 Next comes a pond created by damming.  A small pod of hippos occupy the pond while a dozen Marabou storks are perched in the trees above.

It has rained here, for a troupe of black-faced monkeys are eating mushrooms by the roadside.

As we start up the hill to the lodge that will house us for the next two nights, we pass an adult baboon and four impala females.  At the lodge, we are greeted by hot towels and a glass of fruit juice.  For a review of this wonderful lodge, see http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293751-d569713-Reviews-Serengeti_Serena_Safari_Lodge-Serengeti_National_Park.html.

Later, I walk out of the lodge past the pool to where deck chairs overlook the Serengeti plain.  An orange-beaked von der Deken spoonbill is cracking the nuts someone brought out from the hotel bar.  The rutting sounds made by impala rams rise up from the cliff’s base.  Off in the distance are lines of buffalo.  Once night falls, this ledge is off-limits as one may encounter the resident leopard.  Lodge guests are advised to request a porter when returning to their rooms at night.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4. We are to tour the central Serengeti again.  What can we see that we haven’t seen already?  The passengers in the back of the van holler that they want to see a kill. What chance of that?

Bottles hanging from a roadside tree warn of a hole in the road that should be avoided.

A pair of dik-diks (the smallest members of the deer family) graze by the roadside.  Ring-tailed doves flutter through the underbrush.  A Bateleur or short-tailed eagle circles overhead.

The leaves of some of the thorned acacia seem safe from grazers; I’d be afraid to even touch a leaf given that two-inch long thorns protrude at every angle along the branch.  But if an animal has a long prehensile tongue it might just be possible to snatch the leaves.  A breeding herd of giraffes includes a calf who browses on an acacia  tree not much taller than a basketball hoop, adolescent males and females, a few adult females, and a single male judging both by the height of the tree he is browsing and the length of his horns.  They seem indifferent to our presence and come quite close to the roadside.

Our first rest stop is a hippo pond created where a stream widens.  The hippos bunch together in pods of 40 to 50 animals.  Some jockeying for position occurs: two hippos confront one another, jaws raised to the maximum, clashing together until one or the other retreats.   Further upstream and downstream are two solo hippos who’ve been ejected from the pod by the dominant male.

The hippos have little to fear from the tiny crocodiles who occupy the banks of the same stream.  A troop of blue-faced monkeys cavort on the grass nearby.

Leaving, we come face to face with a long-tusked elephant in the road; his tusks are far from smooth and seem to have scrimshaw work already in progress. Our driver sensibly turns around and finds an alternate route.  Our passage through the grass provokes an iridescent blue butterfly–no, a lilac-breasted roller, to take flight.

The CD, constantly on so that the van drivers may talk with one another in Swahili, relays news of a hunting pair of cheetahs.  We race across the plain.  Thankfully, I am wearing the back brace I’ve worn since the safari started. 

 
 
 We stop and some watch where 300 meters away the cheetahs stalk and bring down an antelope, at least, so our driver and Maria claim,.   I’ll believe it when I see some actual photos.

On our return journey, we pass a lion and lioness copulating in a berm close to the roadside, a baboon family perched on a log over a stream and a leopard hidden in the grass near the stream. Only the tip of his tail, white with a black ring, is visible initially, though occasionally, we can glimpse his spotted yellow back as he slips through the grass.

Two reebok stroll by; they stop and look about them; they know that’s something is wrong but can’t quite put a hoof on it.  The leopard moves closer.  Then, as the reebok cross the stream, the leopard strikes.  One reebok bounds away, free.  The other’s legs thrash about furiously as the leopard pins the reebok upside down, its head beneath the water.  Finally, the antelope drowns as the thrashing stops.  Slowly, the leopard starts to drag it prey out of the water and onto the bank.

It all seemed grossly unfair, this tiny animal versus a huge carnivore.  But as the full extent of the antelope’s body is revealed side by side with that of the smaller leopard, who, exhausted, must rest every few feet as it continues to drag its kill upward, we recognize that the struggle was more of an even match.

Surprisingly, the leopard does not immediately tear into and devour its prey.  Matay explains that the leopard will first haul its kill up into a tree to keep it safe from other predators.  “Up a tree!”  The leopard can barely drag its kill across level ground.  Moreover, the leopard will allow its cub to feed first.

Before leaving to fetch its cub, the leopard sits on the grass motionless for some time, rotating its head to look and smell fixedly in each direction, to be sure no other predators are in the area.  It drags the antelope carcass one last time to conceal it in a grass thicket, then walks away from the stream across the road.

The cub has been left up a tree some distance away from the hunting area.  (Visualize yourself at your job with a must-complete-by-five project before you.  Would you have brought your infant to work with you?)  The other vans–for though we were the only vanload to witness the kill, five or six vans have arrived since–drive off to search for the cub.  “We’ll wait for the mother to return,” Matay advises.  But our wait proves fruitless; apparently, the cub has been stashed some distance away.

We rejoin the other vans in time to witness the mother leopard call her cub down from the tree.  They play awhile together and then the mother starts off, stopping after a few yards till she is sure her cub is following.  They repeat this procedure over and over; each time the cub follows successfully, he or she is rewarded with several minutes of play.  When they disappear for a few moments into the tall grass, we realize the value of that white-tipped tail; it gives the cub something to follow when his mother would otherwise be invisible.  Her tail also proves useful later when the pair weave in and out among the parked vans for the mother to signal, “wait,” or “now, cross the road.”

The leopard seems utterly indifferent to the many parked vans (though the passengers are advised to remain well inside).  I’ve climbed up into the back of the van to stand with the others by this time and at one point the leopard passes just beneath my window, well within touching distance.  

When the leopard and her cub disappear into the grass at the opposite side of the road, we return to our original parking spot by the stream to await the leopards’ reappearance.  Matay explains that the mother will first disembowel the antelope with one quick stroke of its claws, then allow the cub the first chance to feed on the tasty organs, heart, liver, pancreas finishing whatever the cub leaves before dragging the now much-lighter carcass up into the tree.

Mother and child do return and the child is dispatched inside the grass thicket where the mother has hidden the antelope.  Alas, what happens next is completely hidden from view and we head back to the lodge passing and being passed by a blue heron, a long-crested snake eagle, a female water back antelope (the male has the truly impressive horns), and a small herd of giraffes with their young along the way.

 

Day 5.  A dik-dik visited my lawn briefly this morning and we saw a second of these tiny deer crash through the underbrush just as we left the lodge.

Blue and black clothes impregnated with insecticide hang in the trees in and around the lodge and on the road leading from it.  These clothes are designed to attract and kill the tsetse flies that carry sleeping sickness.

This was Matay’s longest and most-tiring day; leaving at 0730, he has to take us up and down hill, occasionally though pouring rain, several hundred kilometers as we retrace our ride from Lake Manyara.  Oh, and the valve stuck that was supposed to give him access to our van’s second gas tank. 

Sitting as I was in the front seat, I couldn’t help but notice that the main tank read empty.  We pulled into the area that housed the hotel employees hoping we’d find a mechanic.  The employee area seemed to have its own miniature zoo.  Baby monkeys scampered from tree to tree. A hyrax sat atop a mongoose village and a Marabou stork, the height of a child, stood calmly on the ground presiding over the scene.

Though no mechanic puts in an appearance, Matay finds the hidden valve!

 We pass a breeding herd of elephants that includes three infants, a bustard out looking for lizards to eat, Guinea fowl, a black-wing stilt, ducks, and blacksmith plover.

We stop, and there, close enough to the road that I can see them, atop a termite mound, are the two cheetahs I didn’t see the day before, well-fed, content to rest in the sun.  We cross back out of the riverine central Serengeti onto the dryer western plain.  A string of zebras cross the road; one takes a dustbath. Then come the antelope and the wildebeests, several fell-fed hyenas watch the herds.

The rain begins to fall as we circumvent Ngorongoro.  Will our van stick in the ruts?  Matay is driving at top speed in order to catch up with the balance of our party. 

The Maasai pass with mixed herds of sheep, goats, burros, and cows.  Then we enter a town and, less than five minutes from our goal, we stop at a souvenir shop.  Half our vanload goes crazy inside the store, the two Brits and I remain outside wondering how long it will be until lunch, until a shower, until we can go to the toilet.

Alas, the reception staff at the new lodge, won’t let us in our rooms until we’ve had lunch.  A review at http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g488125-d304448-Reviews-Lake_Manyara_Serena_Safari_Lodge-Lake_Manyara_National_Park.html describes a hot towel and a glass of juice on arrival as well as an infinity pool.  Not!  Though we did find all the above at our previous hotel. This hotel has a magnificent view of the clouds reflected in the mirror like surface of Lake Manyara.  It also features a frog pond, geckos, insecticide and mosquito netting in the room as well a tree that had been planted by Ted Turner, a major benefactor of the National Park.

Lunch, toilet, shower, and a change of clothes later, Matay drives us down to the lake inside the Nature reserve. Blue monkeys greet us just inside the entrance. Baboon families are everywhere; a neonate doesn’t quite have the strength to pull himself up on or grasp the branches near him, so returns to cling to his mother. Silver-cheeked hornbills sound the alarm from their perches halfway up a multi-root thick trunked boboa tree.

A recent rain has caused Lake Manyara to overflow so we can’t get as close as we would like to see the hippos.  One has emerged completely from the water to stand amid the mud-rooted trees by the side of the lake.  We must park so far away from the lake, we can’t see the flamingos at all.

A one-horned male impala has lost the battle; he watches where a second male stands close to a breeding herd.  The tiny bee-eater nests on the bank accompanied by plovers and several Tanzania blue-capped cordon bleu.  While in and around the trees on our return trip are ground hornbill and the Von der Deckens' hornbill.

That night, a black bat flies through the lounge.

 

The Longest Day

At 9am, Tanzania time or 23.00 PDT, the previous day, our van left the Lake Manyara lodge and proceeded down the hill past the baboons, through a village or two, retracing our steps of the first day.  Forty-five hours of continuous motion later, I would arrive home. We stopped first under the basketweaver laden acacia tree by the souvenir store where we had stopped before.  Here, the two Syrian-Americans and I transferred to a second van, while Matay, Walter, and the two Brits went off together to tour two more game parks.

   We reached the outskirts of Arusha, passed the Coffee Lodge where we would have lunch and continued on till we reached the Cultural Museum, the only van to do so.  We were a fortunate three for the Cultural Museum is not to be missed and is worth at least a half day rather than the hour we were given to devote to it.  Outside, the central structure is an incomparable work of modern architecture; inside the central structure resembles the Guggenheim with exhibits of paintings, furniture, and sculpture on and off a spiral ramp.

   Several sculpture gardens may be found outside along with typical Maasai huts.  My favorite sculptures include a boatload of black slaves rowed by two Arab slave traders with a European at the helm, and an around-the-stump conference led by an elephant with a giraffe, a lion, a leopard, and a hyena among the other participants. 

   We take an excellent lunch at the Coffee Lodge with all 17 of the members of our tour group before heading through heavy traffic for the airport.  An hour and a half later we are in the air, stopping briefly in Mombasa, Kenya before proceeding on to Addis Ababa where, after several hours delay, we launch into the air once again. But not to go directly to the USA.  Instead, we land first in Rome, where we neither pick up nor land passengers and then begin the long flight home.  I did my best to sleep and did catnap from time to time. But for some unhealthy reason, Ethiopian Airlines chose to wake us at 3am local time and serve an unwanted meal.  The truly bad news: my ankles were swollen with blood and I had to walk up and down the aisles for a good half hour to reduce the swelling.

  At Dulles, we retrieved our bags, then went through customs and immigration.  Changing terminals, I reached the American counter to pick up my gate pass only to learn that the plane for LA was leaving at that very moment and I would have to wait five hours for the next one. Time was killed in a variety of ways, changing my underwear and pants (I was already wearing my last clean shirt), eating a hamburger and  huge pile of French Fries, reading a paper, talking with anyone who wanted to talk and recharging my ipod.

  I arrive in LA finally, just as I finish listening to the last chapter of the Girl Who Upset the Hornets’ Nest, catch the shuttle and fall asleep.  I wake to find the shuttle driver had overshot my home by several blocks, I tip him anyway, enter the back gate to piss in the garden only to find my wife is home, kiss her, shower (she declines to get in the showe with me), and go to bed.