MistyNites

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Archive for the tag “Ngorongoro”

Wildlife of Tanzania

From the open-spaces of the African Plains, to the slopes of the continent’s highest mountain, I saw an incredible array of wildlife in Tanzania. While the Serengeti is probably well known to a lot of people, a regular backdrop of wildlife documentaries, there is more to Tanzania than just this national park, although it offered me so much in terms of incredible sightings. Across three national parks (Kilimanjaro, Lake Manyara and Serengeti) as well as one conservation area (Ngorongoro), I had an incredible two weeks in a country that I found to be full of some very friendly and welcoming people. It was my second time in the African continent and this trip did not disappoint. From Africa’s Big Five to some of its smallest creatures, I was ecstatic with all that I saw.

 

MAMMALS

Warthogs

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Serengeti NP

 

Olive Baboon

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Manyara (Blue) Monkey

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

(Hilgert’s) Vervet Monkey

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Common Impala

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Wildebeest

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

African Buffalo

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Plains Zebra

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Giraffe

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Bushbuck

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

African Savannah Elephant

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Black Rhino

Sightings: Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Southern Grant’s Gazelle

Sightings: Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Thomsons Gazelle

Sightings: Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Eland

Sightings: Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Topi

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

African Lion

Sightings: Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Leopard

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Rock Hyrax

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Cheetah

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Hyena

Sightings: Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Dik Dik

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Hippo

Sightings: Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Mongoose

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Rat

Sightings: Arusha, Serengeti NP

 

Serval Cat

Sightings: Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Golden Jackal

Sightings: Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

BIRDS

Streaky Seedeater

Sightings: Moorland zone of Kilimanjaro’s slopes

 

White-necked Raven

Sightings: Moorland zone of Kilimanjaro’s slopes

 

Alpine Chat

Sightings: Moorland zone of Kilimanjaro’s slopes

 

Dusky Turtle Doves

Sighting: Alpine zone of Kilimanjaro’s slopes

 

Southern Ground Hornbill

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Saddle Billed Stork

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Grey Heron

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

African Jacana

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

African Spoonbill

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Cattle Egret

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

African Swamphen

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Hadada Ibis

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Squacco Heron

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Von Der Decken’s Hornbill

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Ring-necked Dove

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Flamingo

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

African Fish Eagle

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Egyptian Goose

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

African Pied Kingfisher

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP

 

Common Sandpiper

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Serengeti NP

 

Grey Crowned Crane

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Speckled Mousebird

Sightings: Lake Manyara NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Tawny Eagle

Sightings: Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti NP

 

Marabou Stork

Sightings: Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Ostrich

Sightings: Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Caped Wheatear

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Superb Starling

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Oxpecker

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Hooded Vulture

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Finch

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

African Black-winged Stilt

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

 

Shrike

Sightings: Serengeti NP

 

Red-winged Starling

Sightings: Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Abdim’s Stork

Sightings: Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

 

REPTILES AND OTHERS

Long-tailed Admiral Butterfly

Sightings: Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Mwanza Flat-headed Agama Lizard

Sightings: Serengeti NP

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The sky had turned from black to blue as we arrived at the entrance gate. As with the previous parks, we had to get permits checked before entry, so in the freezing cold we sat watching the colours of the sky change from the top of the crater. The blues progressively lightened, and a rim of yellow appeared, before pink and purple tinges popped up. There was a decent bit of light by the time we were waved through and as we began the descent down the crater side, the road quickly deteriorated into a pitted and crevassed mess which we bounced over and round. It made for relatively slow moving. But on reaching the bottom, we almost immediately found the road blocked by a few other safari jeeps in front of us and with no way of getting round them, we stopped. There was a good reason for them being there though, because off to our right was a lion. As we waited, he gradually moved closer before cutting through the line of traffic and finding a rest spot off to our left. Not long after, two more male lions appeared out of the forest, one of them sauntering towards and past us to join their brother whilst the other hung back. In the early morning light, with the sun’s rays just reaching over the crater edge, they glowed as they walked and they were stunning for it. Another male appeared and as he approached his brothers he started to call, a low guttural noise that sounded haunting. The roaring male greeted the first lion, and eventually the last lion, scarred and dirty and with the biggest mane, joined them. These male alliances seemed rather common, as we’d spotted several on our various safaris in Tanzania.

 

As the jeeps ahead pulled away, we spent a little more time with the couple of lions that remained in view, but as we drove through the vegetation that bounded the rim of the crater floor, we didn’t have to go far to find the full-maned lion who had settled down in a patch of grass not far from a herd of antelope. From here, the expanse of the crater floor opened up, and we could see herbivores off in the distance, the nearest ones eyeing up the resting lion as it glowed in the sun. From the crater rim viewpoints, the crater floor had looked devoid of life, but now that we were down here, the place looked huge and there was life visible everywhere we looked. In fact we barely had to drive far to find more carnivores, this time a couple of jackals out on the hunt. They camouflaged well against the dry grass, but they skipped about, noses to the ground, occasionally looking up to look around. A nearby eland, huge in comparison, gave them no regard whatsoever.

 

A hazy waterhole housed a plethora of flamingos. The road never went near enough to see them in focus, but the blur of pink bodies meant there was no shortage of them. In the grasslands around it, the grazers congregated, and we drove past zebra and gazelles and wildebeest. There were several small groups on the near side of the waterway but in the distance we could see herds, and as we skirted round the water we spotted not only some impala but also a couple of black rhinos. This was the last of the Big Five that I had to see. I had in fact spotted a rhino from the view point when we first drove past on the way to the Serengeti, but it had taken the full zoom of my camera to see it and even then it was only just discernible as a rhino. I wasn’t going to be satisfied enough with that, so now seeing them from ground level, I was much happier. That being said, they still were some way away, and they were ambling away from the road, meaning I was still reliant on zoom to see them well. We gradually followed the road, stopping every now and again to watch the rhinos further, but nearer us we were among the zebras and wildebeest and I was loving watching them just as much. It was hard to know where to look, with animals mulling around on both sides of us.

 

There was a noticeable amount of juvenile zebras here, just like in the Serengeti, and the herds milled around, crossing the road in front of and behind us. We were gradually moving towards the centre of the crater as we watched, and at one point when we stopped to look at something on our right, I noticed that there was a sleeping hyena immediately to our left that no-one had noticed. I don’t think we would have parked so close had we realised ahead of time that it was there, but after initially raising its head to eye us up, it simply plopped it back down again and closed its eyes. We clearly weren’t worth worrying about, nor was it interested in the Thomson gazelle nearby. Another hyena appeared and drank out of a puddle on the road, but clearly a hunt was not even on the agenda.

 

We found ourselves by a large wildebeest herd, and unlike in the Serengeti, there was a plethora of calves among them. As odd looking as the adults are, the calves were utterly cute and fun to watch. The driver knew we had a lot to see, so although he stopped often, we encouraged him to move on once we’d got our fill of photographs. The zebra and wildebeest appeared to be everywhere, small clusters spread out across the plains of the crater floor and at one point we found some ostriches wandering among them. Even a hyena den didn’t keep the grazers away and with much excitement, we spotted a couple of hyena pups pop up from the hole in the ground and hang out with the adults. It’s really difficult to know which hyenas are male and which are female because for some random evolutionary reason, the females have a pseudopenis. They live in matriarchal groups so presumably most of the ones we saw were male, but it was weird to see them wave their pseudopenis about and when its presence results in infant mortality during birth, you have to wonder what on earth is its evolutionary advantage.

 

A change in vegetation as we drove meant bigger congregations of both wildebeest and zebra. It almost looked like there was a wetland behind them and some large trees were evident behind that. As the road rose up a little and came around a corner, a lake came into view and as we parked up next to it, we were given the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs. It was a gorgeous spot and initially looked innocuous but on closer inspection we could see rings appearing in the water nearby and every now and again a pair of nostrils would break the surface. Further away a group of hippos were just visible, and we realised that just metres away, below the surface, was one of Africa’s most dangerous animals. We were apparently safe to mill around the water’s edge here, within a few metres of the jeeps, and it was a great photo opportunity. I wandered along the road a little towards the other end of the lake but I was called back hastily. You never knew what wild animal was lurking about, I was told, and it was safer in a group. It was too easy to get complacent. Not long after I returned to the vehicle, one of the hippos came out of the water and stood on the bank staring at us. It was a juvenile, but it was still a chunky animal. It stared us down for a bit before walking back to the water.

 

Back among the herds once more, we came across a wildebeest creche with multiple calves feeding simultaneously. The number of calves was incredible but as we moved our way through them, we soon realised we weren’t the only ones interested in them. Some hyenas appeared and at first they looked like they were just out on patrol, but as we stopped to watch them, we could see the moment they appeared to lock on a group within the herd and the next thing we knew, a hunt was on. The hyenas worked as a group, a pair taking one flank as another took a different approach. The herd began to scatter and the calves ran for their lives. The hunt moved away from us, making it harder to follow the action, but I was torn between wanting to see a successful hunt and not wanting to see them kill a calf. It was difficult to take my eyes off it though, and all too soon the hunt was over. The selected calf lived to see another day and the hyenas regrouped and retreated.

 

We stopped to watch a stunning tawny eagle in a tree, the nearby wildebeest having no idea about the chase that had happened further up the road. Here, the calves chilled out as if they had no care in the world. The eagle was constantly on the lookout, and this was the same species that had swooped on us for food up at the picnic spot on the crater rim, and potentially could have been one of the exact birds that did it. Unsurprisingly given the vast herds down here, there was no shortage of predators about.  Not all of them were big enough to kill a grazer though, and I was excited to see another serval cat creeping through the grassland near a small pool of water where a hippo was hanging out. We even spotted a male lion walking out in the open too.

 

The hours had been ticking past and I could see as we drove that we were working our way back towards the crater edge to leave. As usual, some jeeps ahead signalled the presence of lions, and we found a beautiful male lion resting in the shade under a tree. It was panting, displaying it’s huge canine teeth, and like most lions, it bore a multitude of scars across its face. We spotted another serval cat not far away and nearby a female lion lay fully exposed on the open ground. Some grey cranes wandered near some buffalo, and I wondered whether either of the cat species was eyeing them up. Both the serval and the female lion moved away, constantly being watched by the nearby gazelle. The buffalo seemed less phased by their presence, munching away on the grass with barely a look in their direction. Looking at them in the daylight with their sheer bulk and the broad horns, it was hard not to think about the one that had used our tent as a scratching post in the middle of the night. It could have flattened us had it wanted to.

 

The lions were the last wildlife we were to spot on safari, and once past them, we began the ascent up the winding track through lush green vegetation back up to the crater rim. As we gained altitude, the crater floor once again looked sparse of animals and all that we had seen blended into the background, an entire ecosystem enveloped within the walls of the crater. We stopped at the same picnic site on the rim for lunch, as we had done on route to the Serengeti. With most people having learned from the last time and choosing to eat in the jeep, I was keen to stretch my legs and get some fresh air so once more sat on the same logs and ate my lunch rapidly as I watched the sky for circling eagles. The giant maribou stork paraded around looking for scraps, and after successfully eating my lunch without attack, I watched an eagle swoop down and grab food from someone else at the site as I moved off from my seat.

 

We had a long drive back to Arusha, the only break being the same tourist site we’d stopped at on the way out west. To make it worse, we hit rush hour, and the approach into Arusha was chaos, our driver trying to find a quieter route down backstreets, only to meet more traffic jams. We were shattered by the time we got back to the same hotel we’d stayed in previously. The group split up, some staying elsewhere, others due to leave in the darkness of night for the airport. I enjoyed a cold swim in the pool before dinner, but then our depleted group had a last meal together with some local beer. I’d shared my entire Tanzania trip with one of them, and I couldn’t believe I was heading home the next day after what had been the most incredible experience. I was on my own for the morning, sunbathing by the pool until it was my turn to head to the airport. When I arrived it was utter chaos, a queue of people streaming out the front door. It took so long to get into the airport building, and so long to get through the various baggage and customs queues, that I actually had little time to wait to board my plane. Before I knew it and with very little fanfare, my African adventure was over.

Close Encounters

Although to this day, I have no idea where exactly our camp was within the great expanse of the Serengeti National Park, I knew that we had a long drive out of the park ahead of us. So although we were leaving this incredible spot behind, we would still effectively be on safari for another morning. The campsite had been in an area rich with acacia trees and with a backdrop of a mountain range, so animals aside, there was plenty to see as we sat in our jeep watching the world go by. We didn’t need to travel far to see antelope, including a dikdik, one of the smallest antelopes in the World. Our driver was great at spotting things that were well hidden, and he pointed out a mound just visible beyond some grass where a clan of mongoose sat astride. At first I thought they were meerkat, not realising at the time that they don’t exist that far north, so had got exceptionally excited only to be a little disappointed on realising that they weren’t.

 

We took a convoluted route through the nearby grasslands, finding ourselves at a muddy quagmire that we drove over before skirting around a nearby pool of water. Huddled at one end was a large congregation of hippos. The rest of my group had come here the day before when I was up in the hot air balloon, so I was grateful that the driver made the effort to take me there too. My companions didn’t seem to mind the second chance to watch them, as the melee of hippos farted and jostled for space, occasionally shoving another hippo out the way. Every now and again one would yawn or groan, displaying some impressively long and discoloured teeth, and this was the only evidence of their immense power, the bulk of their gargantuan bodies hidden by the murky waters below the surface.

 

When we came across a large troupe of mongoose nearby, I was more excited because not only were there some adorable babies running around, but they were just as fun to watch as meerkats. There were those on sentinel duty, standing up on their hindlegs and looking around, those digging around in the dirt, and those berating or herding the juveniles around. Whilst not as eye-catching as meerkats, there was just as much activity to watch as they ran around in groups.

 

As we continued, the landscape began to open up again, the trees thinning out and the land flattening somewhat off into the distance. A few mounds in the ground offered a platform for topi to stand tall on, and we passed them by, a few buffalo off in the distance. These were the first buffalo we’d seen since Lake Manyara National Park and even from far away, they looked chunky and formidable. At some point, the call came out that elephant were afoot and suddenly there they were, a family unit just milling around in the grassland. Among them we spotted a very small baby elephant that was just visible through the long grass. It was well protected by the adults, rarely being in full sight as the adults shielded it and herded it between them. It is hard to think about how much these creatures have been decimated by poaching, and I guess that made it all the more special to see them. At one point as they moved, a flock of birds stirred and flew through the herd, and it reminded me of nature documentaries I’d watched as a girl. It was one of those unbelievable ‘pinch-me’ moments.

 

Some distance away, we came across a parked jeep and stopped to see what they were looking at. There were a few patches of bare ground in between long grass and it took a moment to spot the object of their attention. The camouflage out here was incredible at times, and in the end, it was a muddy face that gave it away. Once we’d spotted one muddy lioness, we realised there was a whole pride of females and cubs here, most of them covered in mud. Barely visible there was a mud patch, which I’m not sure if they’d been playing in, scent-marking in or trying to drink out of. The cubs especially were brown from head to foot, and a pair of them chased each other joyfully through the undergrowth. They were completely unfazed by us, the adults rolling onto their backs and rubbing themselves down, younger cubs staying close to mum and the older cubs chasing each other. We sat in hushed glee watching them for a long time.

After a bit more driving we seemed to turn down what looked like it would be a dead end. We had been summoned here over the radio and on arrival we found ourselves to be one of about 10 jeep jostling for prime position under an acacia tree. We ended up hemmed in towards the back of the group, the odd jeep occasionally shuffling its position to try and regain the optimum viewing spot. These were the moments that irked me about the safari, the overcrowding and unwillingness to give some of the wildlife space. The object of everyone’s attention had vertical space though, as it lounged on a branch high up in the large acacia tree. I’m not sure if the presence of the vehicles was a noise nuisance or unwanted attention, but not long after we arrived the gorgeous leopard we’d been watching stood up on the branch. She turned and stretched, contemplating her surroundings as she moved down the branches, continuing to stretch as she lowered herself. Once on the fork of the trunk, she paused briefly, almost level with our eye line now, licking her lips as she looked beyond our vehicles. She was simply stunning, and as she turned to leap out of the tree, she flashed her beautiful spotted coat before she was swallowed up by the long grass. Immediately the jeeps leapt into action, those that were in a position to move tried to follow her, whilst those of us that couldn’t had to wait for the other jeeps to shift. She was quick to disappear from view though, and before long, the jeeps were backtracking onto the main road and gradually drifting off on their separate routes.

 

With the hills and mountains directly behind us, I knew we were heading out of the park now. In the distance a group of giraffes wandered among the tall trees that we were leaving behind. Out of nowhere we arrived at a large expanse of water. Judging by the colour of the ground at the water’s edge, I suspect it was a salt marsh rather than freshwater, and as such it was almost deserted. A few wading birds wandered along the shoreline, and a little way into the water, a buffalo skull poked above the water line. With little to see we pushed on, returning to open grassland where we spotted a group of hyena. They were trotting through the undergrowth, looking initially like they were concentrating hard, but once we were passed them, they stopped and stared at us. There were no other animals visible, so whatever they were hunting was out of sight to us.

 

There was a long drive back to the entrance gate and offices of the park where there was a picnic site for us to enjoy another delicious meal on. There were a few birds flitting around, including the gloriously colourful superb starling that were hopping around the place. I even spotted a rat, which probably shouldn’t have been surprising with the amount of people eating here. The glorious blue of the starling though was the main distraction, the sunlight breaking through the foliage and causing it to shimmer. I spent most of my time there trying to capture it in a photograph.

 

Our campsite for the night was high on the ridge of the Ngorongoro crater, and even from here there was still a large expanse of African Plains to cross before the road was to cut back up. The wildlife grew sparser as we travelled and there was no point in stopping until suddenly a serval cat appeared. I’d briefly glimpsed one in the headlights on the drive to the hot air balloon the day before but it was great to see it in the daytime, even if it was brief. When the flat Plains gave way to a rise in altitude, we found ourselves back among the giraffes, these seemingly gentle giants roaming peacefully among the taller foliage. This time round we didn’t stay with them for long, pushing on towards Ngorongoro.

 

The road pushed higher, skirting round the Maasai village as it climbed eventually onto the crater rim. We stopped at a lookout where we could see not just the road that we’d be taking the next day, but almost all of the crater floor. About a third of it looked to be made up of a large lake and it didn’t seem possible that there was much wildlife down there. It didn’t feel like we were that high up, but the whole thing was an optical illusion as we would discover when we headed down on to the crater floor the next morning. Along the ridge we arrived at our campsite just before 4pm. We were the only ones there to begin with but as the hours went by more people arrived. This was one of a few campsites dotted along the crater rim, and being so high up, I didn’t really think we had much to worry about in terms of wildlife. With a few hours of daylight left, I took a walk around the margins of the camp, studying the flowers and berries, repetitively coming across signs stating ‘Danger, do not go beyond this point’. Behind them, the bush was thick, and I imagined that it could hide all sorts of creatures, not to mention that the slope of the crater lay hidden among it also.

 

The skull and leg bone propped outside of the food hall was the clue to what we had to contend with in the night. As we ate our dinner, we were given a briefing on camp safety. It was similar to the nights before in the Serengeti: go to the toilet in twos, remain in your tent, and do not engage the wildlife. As darkness fell there was again a nervous excitement as we wondered what the night would bring. It started off quiet enough and we got to sleep fine, but both myself and my tent companion woke at some point to the sound of munching and grass ripping, not far from us. Occasionally there were footsteps, and the munching sounds would grow quieter or louder. Our tents were set up in 3 rows, and we tried to guess how close they were as they moved around. At one point, the noise was directly behind me, just through the fabric of the tent, the loud ripping of grass followed by chewing the cud. There was just a mere piece of tent fabric between me and one of Africa’s Big 5, the large and powerful, Cape Buffalo.

 

The two of us in our tent stayed hushed, occasionally whispering in stifled panic as it walked around us. We were immensely grateful when it moved on and after a period of near silence, we decided to make a group trip to the toilet block. We didn’t see anything on the way there, but as we headed back to the tent, a brief outline of a dark hulk of an animal was picked up at the back of the tents as we hot-footed it back to ours. We lay there with a flourish of adrenalin before sleep took over once more. I don’t know how long I slept for before once again the sound of ripping and munching of grass woke me up. There were two of them now, one walking past our tent, another a little further away. Even in the darkness, there was an impression of a shadow as its hulk past us by. It was close to us, then further away, then suddenly behind us, again just separated by the tent fabric. The adrenalin was flowing as the pair of us whispered once more, and as the tent suddenly shook, we both bolted upright. The beast clearly had a bit of an itch, and despite its large curved horns, it decided that the support pole of our tent made a good scratching post, rubbing the bulk of its head up and down as our tent shimmied and shook at the force of it all. We had no idea how many buffalo were in the campsite, and we had no idea what the others were experiencing in their own tents, but this was as close an encounter as either of us wanted to have with the wildlife of Tanzania.

We were given a brief reprieve as it walked off to munch more grass, but it wasn’t long before the itch returned and our tent pole seemed to be the only one that was good enough. In the darkness we remained glued to the vision of our tent shaking as the vague shadow danced in front of us. The ripping of the grass and the munching was so loud through the fabric and the sound of the head against the rope was no quieter. After a good bit of rubbing, something finally gave way at the front of the tent, the sound changing and the sensation of the shimmying changing also. I’m not ashamed to say I was a little scared at this point, worried that it would proceed to bowl our tent over. Thankfully though, the main tent structure held true, and after what seemed like forever, the sound of the ripping and munching grew fainter and we were able to get back to sleep. We had an early alarm for a sunrise safari, and as we tentatively stepped out into the ongoing darkness around 5am, there was not a buffalo in sight. The one side of our tent porch had collapsed where the buffalo had pushed the support post over, the only sign of the night’s excitement. Incredulously we discovered that others in the campsite had slept right through undisturbed. For three nights running, our campsites had offered an incredible and unique African experience, and there was still another day of safari to come.

Maasai and the Serengeti

As someone who usually travels independently, it can be hard to know that the money is going to the right place when using an organised tour company. This was my second G Adventures trip, having toured the Galapagos Islands with them a few years prior, and I had so far been impressed with them from the Kilimanjaro portion of the trip, having spoken to the local guides and porters who seemed happy to work for them. The company is linked with Planeterra, a not-for-profit organisation that funds social enterprise projects and supports healthcare and conservation projects around the World. One of those projects was the Clean Cooking Stove Project which was helping families reduce the air pollution in their homes created by the fireplace that would be traditionally used. This particular project was also empowering women by teaching them the skills to install the new chimneys and stoves, and our first stop of the day was to a small Maasai village to see the project in action. As a portion of G Adventures profits goes directly to Planeterra, it was effectively a show and tell of where some of our money was going in to the local communities.

I’m incredibly introverted, so always find these kind of things awkward, especially when some of the women and girls seemed very overwhelmed with the group of strangers that came into their small homes. That being said, it was interesting to see how they lived, and the huge difference between the homes that didn’t have the clean stove, and those that did. We met the ladies who were currently installing a chimney and they showed us how they did it all by hand. The village chief was lovely, and he spoke a little English, with our guide aiding with translations where required. Those of us who had climbed Mt Kilimanjaro the week before, had already picked up a few key phrases of Swahili, and although the Maasai language had some key differences, the chief seemed genuinely excited when we spoke what little we knew. Maasai men are polygamous so each house we visited was inhabited by a wife and the children that he’d fathered to that wife. The age range was incredible, and the youngest wife looked to be in her teens, and frankly looked like a deer in headlights when we went into her home.

 

A few of our Kilimanjaro porters were of Maasai descent so we had learned a little about their culture from them during our climb up the peak. It had made a few of my companions indignant to hear about the forced marriage of women and the adult circumcision of the boys (without anaesthetic) upon coming of age. What we’d also learned though, was that the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Maasai was gradually losing its traditions, and this was evident on the village tour, not just because of the houses that they lived in but also by the motorbike that the chief drove about on. As we wandered around, the children were either fascinated by us or scared of us: the younger ones hiding behind mum, the bolder ones following us and laughing at us. A few of us played games with them, and surrounding us all, a large herd of goats milled around the place, tearing up what little vegetation there was to eat.

 

Returning to Mto Wa Mbu where we’d spent the night in our large tents, the road heading west climbed almost immediately upon leaving the settlement behind. The altitude gain brought us to a lookout overlooking Lake Manyara and the National Park that we had visited the day before. It was hazy, so we could only just make out the lake margins, and we tried to work out where exactly the different features we’d driven past were. After stopping at a large tourist trap near the top of the ridge, the landscape opened out again and for a long time we drove through a red landscape, past towns and villages: open, empty lands merging into urbanised hustle and bustle. After what seemed like forever, we reached the gate for Ngorongoro Conservation Area, beyond which lay the large expanse of the Serengeti.

There was a lot of paperwork involved in entering these more western parks, so this was to be the first of many stops hanging around waiting for permits to be okayed. After finally getting cleared to proceed, we were immediately into thick bush and from here onwards, the road climbed high up the edge of Ngorongoro Crater. It was such a contrast to the arid landscape we’d been through in the last couple of days. The bush was unbelievably thick and green and as we climbed higher, we got sneak peaks of the view far below, although it wasn’t until we reached the crater rim, that we got our first sight of Ngorongoro Crater floor itself. From a lookout at the top, the crater looked green below us, but it seemed difficult to imagine that it was teeming with life. We knew we would be doing a safari here in a few days, but from so far away we couldn’t make out herds or much in the way of animal life at all. With the amazing zoom on my camera, I did spot a rhino which was an exciting find, and my mind wandered to thoughts of the safaris ahead.

 

We’d been warned that the picnic site we were stopping at for lunch was patrolled by birds of prey that liked to harass people for their food, so we were given the option of eating outside or eating on the jeep. It was stuffy inside though, and I, like most of us, opted to eat outside. Sat on some well placed logs, we started to tuck into our chicken drumsticks, sandwiches and snacks, all the while watching as 3 tawny eagles circled above us. Every now and again they dropped down suddenly, and we watched as they swooped on some other people that were there. I thought we were doing a good job of looking out for them when all of a sudden I was whacked on the back of the head, and as I realised what was happening, I saw out of the corner of my eye, the hawk that had just hit me with its wing, grabbing the chicken drumstick out of the man’s hand that was sitting opposite me. Amongst the hilarity, several of my companions retreated to the jeep, but I remained steadfast, eating the rest of my food al fresco. What appeared next was one of the weirdest looking birds I’ve ever seen, a marabou stork. Large birds, they looked both reptilian and jurassic, and reminded me of pterodactyls. Their size was almost intimidating, and the look they gave you uncomfortable, but although they were there to scavenge, they didn’t try to steal, instead just wandering around the site looking for scraps. I spent the rest of our time there just staring at them in awe.

 

As we descended down the far side of the crater wall, we passed by another Maasai village where incredibly, wandering among the villagers and their goat herds were zebra, antelope and wildebeest. We’d left the lush vegetation of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area behind and were back to open, deserted landscapes again. The odd animal was spotted as we drove, but when we reached a ridge where the road dropped down, there were some trees again, and to our delight, this area was rife with giraffes. I adore giraffes, and they were one of the species I was most excited to spot. At first, they were far from the road, and again surprisingly mingled with some nomadic Maasai walking their goat herds. As we continued along this stretch of road however, we came across some that were close by, and I was grateful to spend some time here and watch them.

 

Once on the valley floor, it was full speed to the Serengeti National Park. It was a long drive to reach the sign that marked our entry into the park. There were a few herd animals visible in the distance, but from this point onwards we were officially on an afternoon safari, so as we headed west deeper into the park, we stopped to see some ostriches and kudu, and even spotted our first lions. The females were just sleeping on the rocks, and knowing that there would be much more to see, we didn’t stay with them for long. Eventually we reached Naabi Hill Gate, the official entrance to the park where once more, we had to bundle off the jeeps to wait for our permits to be sorted. A colourful bird entertained me in the picnic area, and behind the office, a short trail climbed up a small hill to a rocky outcrop where we got a bit of a view over the complex and the African Plains beyond. There were lizards everywhere, different sizes and colours lounging on the rocks to warm up. They were entertaining to watch, and filled up what seemed like an endless time to get the paperwork sorted at the gate. I’m as interested in reptiles as I am in birds and mammals, so although my companions weren’t fussed, I was happy to be entertained by these little creatures. Finally though we were allowed access into the national park properly and now we were officially on safari. The initial sightings had been a great start, but boy was there so much incredible things to follow.

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