NAAAAAAAAAA TSA BENYAAAAAAAA
BABA ITSI BABAAAAAAAAA! *
Apologies to my Zulu friends, but it was this poor reproduction of the opening words to the song “Circle of Life” from Walt Disney’s The Lion King that was most definitely going through my head as the sun rose over the Serengeti behind a pair of giraffes.
In most ways, the safari was a cushioned and somewhat surreal experience after summiting Kilimanjaro.
The first National Park was Tarangire, which was so loaded with wildlife that by the time we were leaving we were already bored of zebras. (Well, as bored as one could ever be of zebras, which is about the same as being bored of kangaroos: they’re common enough for me to no longer to note their presence in a high-pitched squeal, but remain, nevertheless, adorable. We became similarly apathetic towards wildebeest, though I never tired of smiling to myself at their other name, that most wonderful of words: gnu. Thanks again to Jo for introducing me to this delightful song about gnus.)
We had taken the same tour company for our Kili and Safari to save on costs and hassle, which had the unexpected disadvantage of ensuring that we received the same boxed lunches for both trips. Scarred as we were from the nausea of the last days of Kili, this meant that we could at best pick at lunch whilst distracting ourselves with the Superb Starlings and monkeys that loitered around the lunch area. Still, our wonderful chef was able to save us with plates of deliciousness each evening.
The highlight of Tarangire was undoubtedly the family of elephants around the river. We were mesmerised by the greeting rituals, which ranged from the trunk version of a handshake to a quarter hour standoff between two males. And we were delighted by the young elephants, which frolicked about like fat drunkards, variously chasing birds and splashing water.
The next day we drove to the Serengeti. Of course, you should not assume that by “drove” I mean that we made it to our destination without incident – this was Africa, after all. In the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, careening wildly down a dirt road through clouds of dust, we suddenly heard the sickening thud of a rock striking the underside of the safari vehicle. We pulled over – something was wrong.
Another Kessy Brothers vehicle pulled over, and they discussed the Land Cruiser in Swahili, while us ignorant tourists loitered by the side of the road. It was a warm day, cloudless, and the plains stretched in dramatic pale nothingness towards the horizon in all directions. A Maasai girl came over to watch, though all the other vehicles passed us in the dust, continuing in their furious mastery of the straight dirt road.
We watched, bemused, as our driver and guide Emmanuel tied the “main cross member holding up the rear end of the transmission” (thanks Jon! To me it was a metal bar) back onto the vehicle… with twine and a rubber cord.
No, really. Here’s a photo.
And apparently that was enough! Off we galloped, seemingly no more carefully than previously. The Serengeti was much vaster than Tarangire, and it was not migratory season, so at first we saw very little. After all, “siringet” is Maasai for “land of endless space.” Finally we began to spot animals, from half-asleep lions to very alert little dikdiks (everything out there seems to have spikes, from the grass to the trees to the males of these most adorable and tiny of antelope).
Again, I was amazed at the animals’ apathy toward the loud and obnoxious safari vehicles. It suddenly made all those documentaries of my childhood somewhat less impressive – for indeed, it is easy to watch all the activities of the animals out there without disturbing them in the slightest! Still, this was better than the alternative of the last century, when game hunting had reduced numbers of some animals to danger and extinction. And this is not to imply that poaching is not still a problem in Africa – only in September there was a discovery that more than 80 elephants have been killed using cyanide in water holes in Zimbabwe.
We slept in a campsite in the Serengeti, with the kitchen guarded by cement and wire walls. We were deemed not so delicate, and after watching a beautiful near-equatorial sunset we curled up in our tents, and awoke to the footprints of hyenas evident in all the dust around the camp. (Jon and Ryan had listened to them trying to get into the bins, though Madd and I slept obliviously on.)
This was the morning of the giraffe sunrise, with other highlights being some far away cheetahs and leopards, Secretary Birds that reminded me very strongly of Walking with Dinosaurs (I am quite convinced that they can’t be very far removed from velociraptors), a lioness strolling along the road in front of a safari vehicle, and a lioness hoarding the Thompson’s Gazelle in her mouth from the other lionesses. The gazelle, I might add, bleated intermittently for a time.
We drove back along the dirt road, and spent the night near the Ngorongoro Crater. The next morning we descended into the crater – the UNESCO World Heritage site, with a high density of a variety of animals. We spent the longest time within the crater watching the drama around an old buffalo carcass. A lion, finally full, toddled off to sleep with the rest of the pride, and a lioness took over the feast. A pair of jackels circled, wary but brave, and another lioness with tiny cubs stared out longingly from the cover of the trees.
We ate lunch, and then had to depart. We got back to our first lodge at Mto Wa Mbu near Lake Manyara, and lounged by the pool for the rest of the afternoon. We were a little disappointed that we’d chosen a five day safari – a six day one would have seen us at Lake Victoria, and a four day one was what we had already completed. The fifth day was to be cultural tourism – very interesting, but it could have been accomplished at a much lower price rather than as an extra safari day. Still, we intended to make the most of it.
To Madd’s horror, we were all inclined towards exploring the area on bikes, and she relented. As per usual, no bike was the right size for her except for the one with difficult brakes, but she still managed to keep up as we rode through Mto Wa Mbu, out through an acacia forest and to Lake Manyara. The local children seemed curiously enthusiastic about our presence, yelling out “Jambo!” or “hullo!” and often running out onto the dirt road to give us high fives, or to run with us for a time. The area was full of banana plantations, and we tried some of the local banana beer in a wood walled pub, as well as visiting a local studio and gallery for artists.
We then rode out to a Maasai village, which was an interesting experience. I felt self-consciously white and colonial as we were greeted with a traditional dance and shown around the mud/dung and wood huts. My request to learn how to ask “please” in Maasai (the women receive no education in English or Swahili, as they are worth, literally, one cow (the price of a bride)) confused our guide, and he assured me that I was allowed to take photos without asking, though he gave me the word eventually. Jon and Ryan bought some little bowls from their stalls; put on for the white tourists, these stalls of handmade goods are actually quite important in providing more than a subsistence income for the Maasai. We left, not entirely sure what – if anything – we were meant to have learned from the experience, but glad to have had it nevertheless.
We returned to Moshi that night, and flew out to the island of Zanzibar the next day. This was an entirely different geographical and cultural setting, and Jon and I took a walking tour of Stone Town in order to appreciate the blend of Persian, Indian, Arab and European architecture, to experience the colours and smells of the Darajani Markets, and to learn about the slave history of the island. Ryan and Madd, conversely, found themselves a beach, some deck chairs, and some beer. That evening we enjoyed the night market at the Forodhani Gardens, which was set up picturesquely next to the ocean, and full of delicious food.
Our only full day in Zanzibar was spent on Safari Blue – not the official one of course, but the same experience for half the price. We were at first worried that we’d made a poor decision, as we watched one of the little wooden boats (dhow) being emptied with a bucket, and realised that the ropes and wood sticking out of the water was the mast of another dhow… but our eventual dhow was a beautiful little thing, and we slid across the calm water out to an area of mangroves for a swim. The tourists of the dhows were then unloaded onto a little sandbar, where shade clothes were set up and fresh tropical fruit served. If the safari was surreal, safari blue was even more so! But, as a ginger, I certainly enjoyed sunbaking in the shade of the cloth.
We then snorkelled for a time in the gloriously warm water, and finally feasted on a seafood lunch. The sail was put up for our return, and we glided along the almost unrealistically blue water back to the main island of Zanzibar, Unguja.
Tanzania had been, truly and literally, awesome.
And, oddly, who should Madd and I run into on our last day in Moshi? None other than our incredible guide from Kilimanjaro, Benjamin…
♫ In the Circle
The Circle of Life ♪ ♬
*The actual Zulu words to the Circle of Life read:
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhm ingonyama.
Which means “Here comes a lion, Father/ Oh yes, it’s a lion.”
You can also see more of my photos on Flickr.
This post has now been published! (Albeit somewhat edited and shortened, of course.)
You can check out the changes at Canberra’s local online magazine, Surya.
I’ve also put together a video of the best parts.