Morning dawned on my first full day in Africa. Our meeting with the AAC representative was scheduled for a little later in the morning, so we had some time to sleep in and enjoy breakfast at leisure.
Breakfast was a buffet, like dinner the night before. There was lots and lots of fresh fruit. There was also some dry bread type products. There was also cold cereal, like corn flakes. This was eaten, sweetened with a coarse, brown colored sugar. Although not brown sugar in the sense we appreciate, it was not the highly refined sugar we enjoy in the West. Eggs and meat were by order. I ordered only sausage. I got two small, irregular sausages, red in color. They were spiced in a manner unusual to me. I ended up eating a lot of these over the course of time, and grew to like them very much.
After breakfast, I went up to the observation deck, which was on the roof of the main building. There, I had a stunning view of Mt. Meru. However, at that moment I wrongly thought it Mt. Kilimanjaro. I got my camera and took pictures of this stunningly beautiful mountaintop. (1:30,29,28) It was a few minutes later that I realized this was only Mt. Meru! I was later told that 'Kili' ws visible from this spot as well, but only on exceptionally clear days. Indeed, no trace of Mt. Kilimanjaro can be seen on the Mt. Meru photos.
After this, I went to my room, and showered, etc. The open shower was easier to use than it looked, and there was plenty of hot water despite the small size of the water heater. I was also starting to get used to brushing my teeth with bottled water.
We then assembled for the meeting with our representative from Africa Adventure Company. She took the time to explain our itinerary (Which had changed slightly, and unfortunately included less time at Ngorongoro.), and answer all our questions. At the end, she introduced us to Peter Njau, who would be our guide throughout the rest of the safari. He would be addressed henceforth only by his last name, Njau. He was a very pleasant, knowledgeable individual, and easy to like even at first.
Njau took us to our permanent safari vehicle, a British Land Rover. It was smaller and more rugged than the minivans we had been using up to this point. Unlike the minivans, the top opened completely through two hatches. There was no roof over your head.
Originally, the safari was to have two land rovers, with four persons in each. But, 5 persons was the critical breakpoint for still using one vehicle. Thus, the land rover was a bit more crowded than originally anticipated.
I agreed to take the passenger's seat, which is where the driver's seat would be in the USA. Larry and Teri took the back bench seat. Joe and Joyce sat in the bucket seats immediately behind the driver/passenger. Since a land rover has four doors, this seating arrangement was very helpful for Joyce, who had a fair amount of difficulty getting in and out of the vehicle. She usually sat immediately behind me. Since the view wasn't as good from the passenger's seat, the deal I worked out was to sit there at all times except when we were in prime lion country, where I would swap with someone else for a better view. As it turns out, this was never necessary. The view from the passenger's seat was very good. There were only a couple of spots in the whole safari where everyone else could see something and I couldn't. I didn't initially spot as much game, but I could usually see it once spotted. I also offered the front seat to the others from time to time. Nobody wanted it, even though the ride was a bit better in that seat. That made life easy for me. I'd choose the front seat again, if I had to do it all over!
The land rover was also equipped with an HF radio, a Yaesu FT-80R. It was a basic HF transceiver, intended to be used mainly as a channelized two-way radio. As configured, it could also function just fine as a basic Amateur HF transceiver. It undoubtedly had a VFO mode, and could operate all the commonly used modes except FM. It also had provisions for a CW filter. The antenna was a broadband, base-loaded whip. This antenna and others I had a chance to examine were rated for a range of frequencies, typically about a megahertz in the 39 meter range.
We were finally off on our way to our first game drive, in Arusha National Park. On our way there, we passed over a river with a curious name, the USA river! Where the road crossed this river, there was a village of the same name.
Arusha National Park was a much more rugged place than the travel guides with their flat maps suggested. It contains a good deal of Mt. Meru, including the current volcanic part and the summit, and a volcanic caldera, Ngurdoto crater. This park was much more up-and-down than it was flat.
On our way into the park, we saw some giraffe close to the road. They moved away as soon as we were close. "They will maintain their flight distance", Njau told us, "All animals have a flight distance. Some animals like warthogs will run completely away. Other animals, especially lions, will sometimes sleep under the vehicles, or use them as cover for hunting. Most animals will just back off a bit, but not run away. They have come to realize that the safari vehicles are not serious threats." We ended up seeing a lot of giraffe in this park.
I got some nice pictures of Mt. Meru and Kilimanjaro as we made our way into the park. (1:26,25,24,23) One can easily pick out the ash cone, and some of the foothills in the photographs. I also have animals in the foreground of the two mountains in two of these shots-- 'must get' photos for travelers to this region of Africa!
Shortly thereafter, somebody saw some sort of primate off to our left. It turned out to be a couple of baboons. As we watched, more and more baboons appeared out of the bushes until there were well over a hundred of them. They were playing, foraging, grooming, asserting dominance, etc. (1:22) We spent a good deal of time observing their fascinating behavior. We saw many baboons in this park.
As we entered the forest that makes up most of the park, it was time to look for black and white colobus monkeys. It was considered a treat if you saw one-- they are very shy. At one point along the road, someone heard something move in the trees. (This was one of those few spots where I couldn't see any of what was going on.) The others looked for a long time to see what had moved. Whatever it was, it never revealed itself. This is as close as we got to seeing a colobus monkey.
We continued to the park headquarters, which was almost in the middle of the park. There Njau had to file some paperwork. While we were there, I read a poster asking visitors to report sightings of a long list of animals to the park rangers. One of these was lions. Njau later explained that there are a few lions in the park, even though it's considered to be a park where there are no lions. The park officials just want to get an idea of how common the 'not present' species are in the park!
We now continued through the forest, heading East towards th Ngurdoto Crater end of the park. We continued our vain search for colobus monkeys. (This is the only park where we were likely to see them.) Of course, we kept our eyes open for other wildlife as well.
Eventually, we reached a sign along the road that said 'Rhino Crest', and pointed towards a small trail that went up the hill. Njau got out and checked out the area to make sure there were no dangerous animals about. (Cape buffalo are the most commonly encountered dangerous animals in this park.) There were none. So, Joe, Larry, Teri, Njau and I took a short hike to the rim of Ngurdoto Crater.
From behind the safety of a simple wood fence, we beheld a huge depression below us, with many animals scattered on it's floor. (1:20,19) Ngurdoto Crater has no roads going down into it, so it is basically unspoiled. There were forests, grassland areas, and a swamp on the crater floor. Different kinds of wildlife could be seen in the different areas. The most conspicuous animals were cape buffalo. (1:21) There were well over a hundred of them, peacefully grazing. Near the swamp, we saw 3 warthogs about their business. Way off (About 2 miles away) on the opposite end of the crater, we could just make out more baboons playing around a tree. There was also a bright white object across the crater from us. We really never did quite figure out what it was. After enjoying the view for about 20 minutes, we went back to our vehicle and moved on.
We next explored the Northeast (I think) corner of the park, home to several lakes. As we rounded a corner, we ran into a herd of waterbuck almost right on the road. We slowed and stopped, and avoided spooking them. We watched them for a while, and got some nice pictures. One of the does had a fawn that was suckling. I got some nice photographs of this. (1:18,17,16,15) Shortly thereafter, we spotted a somewhat less common antelope through the trees, on the shore of one of the lakes. I believe it was a pair of dukier we saw.
Our time was limited in Arusha National Park, as we needed to be back to Mountain Village for lunch. On our way out of the park, I got a nice picture of a giraffe browsing (1:14) and more shots of majestic Mt. Meru. (1:13,12)
All in all, I felt that Arusha National Park was underrated, and worthy of a more thorough exploration. I'll keep this in mind the next time I visit Tanzania!
We drove back to Mountain Village for lunch. This was ordered from a menu, if I remember, but parts of it were also a buffet. We then said 'goodbye' to Mountain Village for almost two weeks and headed for Tarangire National Park.
One item I spotted was a tall, thin tower on top of a hill on the outskirts of Arusha. I only got a glimpse of it. It appeared to be an FM tower. It was the tallest tower I saw while in East Africa. A bit later on, we came upon a sign promoting an FM station and a TV station. TV is still very new in Arusha, and the sign said TV channel 6, 183.25 Mhz. I've never seen a TV that tunes by frequency!
Njau explained that most of the radio stations were on what we would call the AM band. He had a couple of these programmed into his HF transceiver. FM broadcast was still new, and TV was even newer. The government was encouraging the development of broadcasting in Tanzania.
On the way to the park, we passed through downtown Arusha. This part of town was much different than the outskirts had been. Things were neater and more organized. Still, people liked to be out on the streets, interacting with other people. Even though the architecture, etc. was generally neater, the city was laid out in what appeared to be a haphazard manner. Streets intersected with each other in odd ways.
One notable thing we saw was a triangular tower, made of some solid material, perhaps concrete. It was hollow between the three legs, and these converged to a pointed spire. Overall, it was somewhat reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. (Although that tower is square, made of steel latticework and is 20 times higher!) This was a memorial to some movement that had taken place in the past. I did not get a picture of it.
We stopped at the headquarters of Ranger Safaris. Like most places that have valuable items, their buildings were in a solidly fenced-in compound. Inside the compound, there was a whole fleet of various types of safari vehicles. It was clear that Ranger Safaris was a big outfit and had plenty of business. We fueled up there, and had a minor repair performed to the land rover. We were soon back on our way.
On the edge of Arusha, not too far from the airport, we stopped at a big curio shop. This was one of the biggest curio shops in the area. It was also generally reputable. It was actually a collection of several different vendors working out of the same building. They had thousands of wood carvings, of all conceivable sizes. They had metalwork, stonework, trinkets, musical instruments, etc. I bought a small lion carving made of a pretty green stone called malachite. They had a couple of lion books that were missing from my collection, but they were titles I could easily find stateside, so I didn't buy any.
One thing I saw there was a gemstone that this part of Tanzania was famous for, called tanzanite. It is a very pretty purple color. The larger the stone, the deeper the color. I did ask it's chemical composition. I forgot what it was, but it was nothing extraordinary. I also didn't bother to ask a price, as I was not into buying gemstones. One valuable thing I learned there is that there are only a few dealers licensed to sell tanzanite, and that there is lots of poor quality or fake tanzanite on the black market.
Soon, we were back on the road. The stretch of road from Arusha to Tarangire National Park is a very good road, perhaps the best road we drove on while in Africa. If we stayed on this road, it would eventually take us to Dodoma. It was a continuation of the Trans-East-African Highway, Hwy. A104. Njau explained that the government was very keen on improving the roads. They had hired a Japanese firm that was slowly rebuilding the roads all over the country. They were doing a complete, from the ground-up rebuild that was intended to last much longer than the roads had been lasting. This was one of the first roads so repaired.
There was a large electric transmission line following the road for most of the distance we followed it. Njau explained to us that the government is planning to electrify the whole country, to the point where everyone would have access to it. Right now, only the big cities had electricity. This was also why telecommunications is an up-and-coming industry in Tanzania.
We saw many Masai with their cattle along the road. This was prime grazing land for the Masai, who moved every few months to take advantage of good pasture for their cattle.
Although the land was quite flat, we still got a few nice glimpses of Lake Manyara.
We turned off of A104 and took the much rougher road to the main gate of Tarangire National Park. On the way, things quickly became more wild as we got away from even Masai civilization. We were, for the first time, truly in the bush!
The park gate was a simple building with a short wall attached. In this wall was the actual gate. On top of the wall were the skulls of various animals one could find in the park. The most impressive of these was the elephant skull. There were no predator skulls. I have pictures of these that I took when we left the park.
Inside the gate building was a nice map of the park. It was published by Hoopoe Adventures, the same people who had published the Ngorongoro and Serengeti park maps I had. There were none for sale. Well, you can't win them all.
We would be staying at Milega Special Campsite. This campsite was situated on a seasonal watercourse just inside the park on it's Northeast side. It was about one-fourth of the way down this side of the park, starting from the Northern tip.
While waiting in the parking area, we watched some beautiful birds. There were love birds and superb starlings. Both of these birds have striking coloration. A picture (1:11) that I thought was a love bird turned out to be a superb starling. While this is a nice back view of the bird, it does not do justice to the beautiful blue-and-green iridescent feathers on this bird.
We were admitted through the gate, and we were in our first park with substantial savannah lands. Tarangire National Park is a haven for elephants and other animals who benefit from a year-round water supply. Although most of the land dries up during the dry season here, there is always water in the Tarangire River. This attracts lots of thirsty animals. As a result, this park is best visited during the end of the dry season in October or early November. This year, the short rains in November-December had failed, so it was drier than normal. In fact, it had forced most of the herds to move to the South. As a result, there was less game than normal in our part of the park. Still, there was plenty to see!
It wasn't long before we started to run across herds of impala. (1:9,7) The impala is a smaller antelope, but not so small as a gazelle. They appear the be a bit smaller than a North American whitetail deer. There were generally two types of impala herds you would encounter. One is the Harem herd, which consists of one male, and adult females with young of varying ages. The other is the Bachelor herd, and this is made up of sexually mature males, who do not have a harem. The male of a harem is frequently challenged for control of his harem. If he loses, he joins a bachelor herd until he has another chance to regain a harem. This arrangement is common to many other species of African Antelope as well.
We also saw zebra (1:10). Whenever we would find any number of zebra, they were strung out in a long line. This is an anti-predator strategy. It works by not giving a lot of targets for a predator in a given area. The fewer the targets, the less the chance of one being caught.
Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain on my shoulder, like somebody had pricked me with a pin. I reached back to see what it was, and found nothing. I had just become the first person in our group to be bitten by a tsetse fly! By the time we were done with the safari, I suspect I got more tsetse fly bites than anybody else! The tsetse fly is very unique in that it raises just one young at a time. It is fed by a milk secreted from the mother's body. So, the tsetse fly is like an insect mammal.
One bird you see everywhere in East Africa is guinea fowl. (1:8) These curious birds are most often seen in groups. In the morning, large numbers of them may congregate in one spot. We saw this later on in the Serengeti. I ended up taking many pictures of this interesting bird.
Although Tarangire National Park is most famous for is it's elephants, and may be the best place in all of Africa to observe elephants, we hadn't yet seen a single one.
It was now close to sundown, and we needed to get to camp. On the way, I managed to get some nice pictures of the African sunset (1:6,5,4,3). It is said that sunrises and sunsets in Africa are more beautiful than anywhere else in the world. Now, I know why! The numbers observable in the foreground of two of the photographs is the license number of the land rover. Many vehicle owners etch the license numbers of their vehicles on the glass to discourage theft!
Njau tried to raise camp on the radio. It was then that he learned that a low spot in the road was impassable, and we would have to take a different route to camp. A truck had nearly gotten stuck in this spot. So, even though it was after sundown, and rapidly getting dark, we would be on the road for a while longer. A bonus night game drive! (Night game drives are generally not allowed anywhere in Tanzania.)
While working our way to camp, we finally came upon two elephant. It was so dark by this point that it didn't pay to try to get a picture. We just sat there for a few minutes and observed.
Eventually, we ran into the truck that had been talked about on the radio. We had to follow it for a while, which slowed us down even more. It was quite a large truck to be this far out in the bush. It must have been a supply truck for another camp.
We finally made it to our camp. It was well after dark. The camp staff had a nice fire going for us to sit around. But, no one really did that night. There was unpacking and exploring to do!
Each couple, and myself, had a tent. (2:14,17) This was a large, well made affair that was perhaps 10 by 10 or 10 by 12 feet. There was a separate rain fly over the top of the tent. The material was heavy canvas, intended for the very heavy use it received. Each of the two ends could be opened completely up, if desired. Normally, they were kept shut to keep out mosquitos and other insects.
The rain fly extended over the front and back of the tent to form a front and back porch. In the front was a chair, and a portable wash basin on a triangular stand. The camp staff was keen to have this filled with warm water whenever we might have occasion to use it.
The back porch covered a small, enclosed walkway. This walkway serviced two items immediately behind the tent: a short-drop toilet and a bush shower. These were enclosed in rubber coated canvas stalls on pipe frames. The toilet was a typical outhouse seat arranged to fold for storage. A small pile of dirt, and a shovel were provided to bury your waste.
The shower was simply a rubberized canvas bag with a shower head on the bottom. A valve allowed you to control the water flow. It was hung by a block and tackle from the top of the pipe frame. Simple and effective.
Inside the tent (3:31) was a wooden bed frame with a thin mattress. There were sheets and blankets on top of this. A rug was provided next to the bed. At the head of the bed was a table with a mirror, a drinking glass, bug spray, and some important reminders from the camp staff. There was a small folding stool intended to hold luggage. A couple of bath towels were also hanging in the tent, but no wash cloths! Again, simple, but considerably more than adequate.
There were plenty of windows to open and close depending on your comfort.
At night, a lantern was placed on the front porch, and in the walkway on the back. These were to be left burning all night. This was to discourage animals from becoming too inquisitive. Lions, hyenas, baboons, etc. like to explore things!
Since I didn't have much to unpack, I had some free time before dinner. I walked over to the fire. On the way, I didn't notice a sharp drop-off in the ground, and nearly fell! In a way, this was fortunate, for I discovered a large bone! It looked like a humerus or a femur from a grazer, and a good-sized one at that. A little searching around turned up more bones around. The conclusion I reached was that this had recently been a predator kill site.
I tried to update my journal by firelight; it simply didn't work. So, I gave up and enjoyed the African night. I spent some time studying the stars. Again, I had no trouble finding the Greater Magellanic Cloud, but I could not find Leo.
Dinner was soon served in the dining tent. A salad was served first, but it already had dressing on it. I ate some of it, but did not enjoy it. After salad, the head waiter (Whose name was Thomas, and curiously enough had a degree in hospitality science. His assistant was named Juma.) would lay a plate face down in front of us. Later, when serving the main course, he would turn the plate face-up. I later asked him why he does this. His reply is that it keeps dust and insects off the plate. The details of the service amazed me! Although wine, etc. ws available, I settled for soft drinks. They were included in the cost of meals, anyway.
The main course that night was breaded nile perch. Desert was some fruit, which again I passed on. Despite having been somewhat picky, it was a good meal.
We decided that tomorrow, we would go for an early morning game drive, come back for breakfast, and then back out for a midmorning drive. We would go out once more in the late afternoon for a late game drive. We all hustled off to bed, because it was late!
I had a very sleepless night. First of all, there was a ridge running right down the center of the bed. It was hard to find a comfortable spot, and in fact it took several nights to get used to these beds. Nearby animal sounds, although very interesting, also helped keep me awake. Especially annoying ws a bird that made a noise like a radar blip in a movie, or some kind of electronic beacon. There were two of them in the camp, calling to each other. Most of this took place about 3 or 4 in the morning. Njau was never able to identify this bird from my description. At that time, I called them 'beacon birds'. After the trip, I learned out that these birds may be blacksmith lapwings, so named because of their pinging call. (They are also known as blacksmith plovers, and the names are used interchangeably.)
In the less annoying and more interesting category is an animal that made a noise like a series of grunts, followed by a sound like venting steam or air. Turned out to be an impala. This was heard the next night, as well.
There was also a lot of screaming and related noises at one point. It was A troop of baboons. It must have seen a predator or something to get them that excited, Njau explained.
But, the sound that gave me a thrill of joy was the lions. I heard it-- first very far off-- the unmistakable sound of a lion roar! (They don't sound at all like you see in the movies. The roar is a succession of deep high-to-low sounds that ends by getting shorter and shorter. Finally, it is little more than a few grunts. It is highly effective-- it can be heard for 5 miles or more!) It was very far off-- Njau estimates 5 miles, as he heard it too. A little later, there was another roar, this time somewhat closer. (But still a long ways off.) Unfortunately, this was the best roar I heard the whole trip. (Glad I didn't bring any audio recording gear on this trip, but this sort of thing is luck-of-the draw. I'll bring gear next time, just in case!) I heard one more very distant lion roar, and that was it for the night.
One bird I heard not just that night, but off and on throughout the entire trip was the ring-necked dove. This bird has a very irritating call that sounds like 'work HARD-er' over and over again. I mentioned to Njau that this bird was convicting me, and that I needed to return home immediately and go back to work! I am even hearing this annoying bird in the background of African nature documentaries now!