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Wednesday, February 10, 1999
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

After sleeping in for a bit, we had breakfast as usual. Then, it was time to pack and prepare to leave this camp. Even though this was just the first of the three camps we would be in, it had been a most memorable experience! We climbed into the land rover, and were soon on what would turn out to be one of the more interesting game drives of the trip.

This would be the day when we would see hundreds of elephant together in one spot. We proceeded down the West Bank Road, as we had the previous day. Everywhere, we saw elephant! In one spot, we were able to get particularly close to some elephant. I got some good pictures of the elephants, who watched us, but were not nervous. (3:7,6,4) We were also able to observe up close a little-known characteristic of elephants: they sometimes exude a substance from a opening between their ear and eye, that runs down their face. This is most commonly seen on bull elephants. (3:5) Sometimes, this secretion collects the reddish dust from the soil, and looks like blood. A lot of people mistakedly believe the elephant is bleeding. This is one of many fascinating facts that Njau shared with us.

We came upon more columns of zebra. The zebra were moving West in general to the greener grazing in the Western end of the park. Along with the zebra, we came upon a warthog who hung around long enough for a couple of pictures. (3:3,2) We also came upon zebra who had decided to take rest in the shade of a sausage tree. The morning light accentuated the sausages in this picture. (3:1)

Sausage trees were a common in Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks, but were found to some extent everywhere we went. They bear a sausage-like fruit that grows moderately slowly. These sausages hang at the end of long stems. Elephants are especially fond of the sausages, and pull them out of the trees with their trunks. People sometimes eat the sausages once they are fully ripe. I suspect they do not taste anything at all like the meat product of the same name!

We soon came upon 'the valley of the elephants'. A turn in the Tarangire river cut a large canyon at one point in it's course, and that day, it had hundreds of elephants scattered about in and around it! This was a big family herd, and there were many young elephants about. (4:36,35) This was a tough spot for me, as the valley was on the wrong side of the road for me to get many good photographs. So, instead, I enjoyed studying what I could see with binoculars. Even if (more like when!) I come back to Africa, there is a good chance I will never see so many elephants together in one place again! (Interestingly enough, despite all it's elephants, Tarangire National Park is not at it's carrying capacity for elephant.)

A bit further down the road, we saw a nice herd of zebra, along with a single elephant. (4:34)

We then spotted a new antelope species, the hartebeest. (4:33) We saw a moderate number of this attractive animal in the central part of the park. The hartebeest shared this particular picture with (surprise?) an elephant.

In the next couple of miles, we found some very young elephants. Here a young elephant briefly moves far enough away from it's mother for a nice view. (4:32) A few moments later, we saw an even younger one, perhaps just a few months old. (4:31. Unfortunately, this picture is just a bit out of focus.) In any case, we stayed a while and observed the youngsters and their mothers.

We didn't have to drive far to find another young elephant. We found it and it's mother under the shade of a tree. (4:30) Mother elephants guard their young very carefully. Although it does not commonly happen, lions are occasionally known to take young elephants. But, even these give the lions fits. I once saw a video of a couple of lions bringing down an elephant calf. They had it on the ground, and were trying to gnaw through the tough skin. They worked at this for a few minutes. Suddenly, something got the lions' attention, and they ran off. A few moments later, the young elephant got up and walked away, apparently none the worse for wear!

It wasn't over. A fine elephant youngster showed us his big ears. (4:29) A short distance later, we came upon a bunch of elephants crowded under a tree. As we watched, we saw at least 2 very young calves, and two older calves. (4:28,27. Shadows were enhanced in 4:27) This ws truly a productive family!

After having our fill of elephant families, we came upon another column of zebra. (4:26,24) There were also two zebra here that were involved in a dominance struggle. One of the zebras had it's neck on the top of the other zebra's neck, and they were pushing each other. (4:25) We saw more of this in the Serengeti.

In the North Central part of Tarangire National Park is a beautiful conical hill called Tarangire Hill (4:23). This hill is a landmark, and Njau told us he can always find out where he is in the park by referencing the position of Tarangire Hill. It's a safe bet to assume they decided the park boundaries as 'all that land in the area where Tarangire Hill is visible'!

The next sighting, even though I didn't see much of it, was perhaps the keynote sighting of the entire safari. Larry, Teri and Joe, were standing in the roof hatches as we drove along. Suddenly, Larry shouted 'wild dog'! We stopped and looked. I give much credit to Larry for being able to see them at all. From my lower vantage point, all I could see was an occasional ear or part of a head. I don't think much more could be visible from the hatch!

In any case, wild dogs are extremely uncommon in most parts of Africa. Few and far between are the people who get a chance to actually see them. In fact, word quickly spread about our sighting, and soon there was a bunch of safari vehicles at that spot vying for a good look. (Often, when we encountered another safari vehicle, Njau and the other guide would compare notes. They used a variety of languages and word forms, and it was not easy to pick out animal names even when I knew them in Swahili. This is one of the mechanisms the guides use to keep track of game movements. These chance encounters often gave us bonus time to watch animals we would have otherwise driven by!)

Word about the wild dogs spread so quickly that a park ranger vehicle appeared on the scene and drove out into the grass to see the dogs. (Normal safari vehicles are not allowed off the road in Tarangire National Park.) They were maintaining a close watch on the dog population, and took every opportunity to check out sightings. It was later reported they had seen six dogs. If you look carefully at the first two photos (4:22,21), you can make out 3 or 4 of the dogs in the grass. They are just to the right of the tree in the foreground, in the little clearing to the left of the large bush. (I am seeing much more now that I have a chance to carefully examine the pictures, than I did in the bush! I initially thought I just caught the top of one of their heads.) The dogs have ran off in the next picture, which you can use as a reference to determine if you have actually spotted them. (4:20) In any case, even though we couldn't see much, this was about as thrilling a thing as you could hope to see in East Africa!

We were also seeing a gradual change in the flora. Less common were the giant baobab trees, and more common were the acacia trees. (There are 14 species of acacia in East Africa.) Along with acacia, you find giraffe. We saw a few of them, including a mother with an older calf. (4:19,18)

We came across two lone zebra, fighting. (4:17) In all likelihood, they were settling dominance issues. A few moments later, we came across another lone pair of zebras doing the same thing! (4:16) This must have been the day to settle zebra disputes!

We hadn't seen any cape buffalo in this park, even though there are buffalo in the park. But, we did come across the remains of one, right on the edge of the road. (4:15) The hind quarters is completely absent and so is most of the front quarters. There are the remains of some of the legs laying about. Although it is now dried out, there is still a modest of meat on the vertebrae, which indicates to me that this kill can't be more than a few days old. It is undoubtedly the work of lions, as they are the only predator that is capable of taking out a buffalo. Even so, they almost always have to hunt buffalo as a group.

Less than a mile down the road, we may have found one of the perpetrators of this kill. A lone female lion was resting in the shade of a tree. It was a long ways off the road and hard to see. At the moment I took this picture (4:14) she had laid down, so it is tough to say there is a lion in this picture at all. However, on closer examination, there is evidence to suggest that there are several lions there. Starting about the center of the tree and working towards the right, several lion-like objects can be spotted. Especially if this is a pride at rest, they are probably sleeping off a bellyful of cape buffalo. This is a task that takes a few days!

'Praise the Lord for He is good! Lord, now I can die. I have seen lions in the wild!' I said to myself in jubilation, even though at the time this was kind of a lousy sighting. My first wild lion sighting!

After crossing an extremely narrow bridge, we headed for the shore of Silale Swamp for lunch. Another safari vehicle waved us to go the other way when we got close, but we decided to check out this particular swamp road that they wanted us to avoid. After driving up and down the road and seeing nothing noteworthy, we decided to share the picnic spot with another group from Bushbuck Safaris. It was a perfectly pleasant spot, on the edge of Silale Swamp, under the shade of a tree. The tsetse flies were not bothersome here, either.

Our lunch consisted of cold chicken, meatloaf, and tuna salad sandwiches. There were crackers and popcorn(!) for dessert. There was also fruit to enjoy. Drinks were soft drinks or water. (We were each allotted two bottles of pop per day. This was carried on board in a cooler. There was coke, lemon-lime and tonic water.)(Incidentally, tonic water is not compatible with lariam, as it contains quinine!) Njau purchased cases of bottled water and sold it to us at cost. Although I was buying water at lodges and in camp, it soon worked out to be better to buy it from Njau. From this point onwards, almost all the water I drank was carried with us in our land rover.

During and after lunch, we observed the wetland birdlife in the swamp. I walked a short distance away from our picnic site and shot some photos of the swamp in general. (4:13-11) The hills visible in the distance are outside the park to the East. They are the Sambu mountains. Notice how the vegetation is different here, too. Despite the swamp, this part of the park is more arid. Many of the bushes and trees here were unique to this area. The most interesting of all was the candelabra tree.(4:10) These thornless, succulent trees had a milky sap which was poisonous and would burn the skin on contact. Njau had never seen any animal eat them, although my field guide says rhinos really like the fallen branches.

We saw a flock of African open-billed stork looking for lunch in the swamp shallows. (4:9) These birds are called open-bill because of a perceptible gap between their lower and upper bills.

Superb starlings are amazing birds. They don't have a deep fear of man as do North American songbirds. If you are still and patient, they will come right up to you, looking for leftover lunch on the ground. I was able to get several 'superb' pictures of this magnificently colored bird. (4:8-6)

Back to water birds. We spotted three crowned cranes on the shoreline. (4:5) At the same time, we saw a grey heron and a few yellow-billed egrets.

Elephants like to occasionally browse in the swamp. We saw three of them out in the water. (4:4) As it turns out, the swamp isn't that deep, and you can almost drive through it in a land rover. At the same time, many people have gotten stuck trying. The soil in the swamp is referred to as 'black cotton soil'.

Once we were away from the swamp, we came across this big giraffe sitting down. (4:3) This isn't something they do very often.

After that, we saw a nice grouping of hartebeest resting under a tree. (4:2)

We finally found some cape buffalo! There was a whole herd of them, close to the road. (4:1) This may be the closest we got to this magnificent and dangerous animal on the whole trip. Their curved horns can easily throw a lion!

Dik-diks often took us by surprise. Although other members of the group had trouble getting good pictures of this tiny antelope, again I was blessed with a good picture. (5:36) You can clearly see the orbital gland as the smaller spot in front of the large eye. The dik-dik will mark it's territory by poking the end of a twig into it's orbital gland, and leaving a scent mark on it. Dik-diks are almost always found in pairs, but it's mate is not visible here.

Two giraffe found themselves in excellent light for a great photograph! (5:35)

We found a big mudhole frequented by elephants. (5:34,33,32,31,30) Elephants like to wallow in the mud to cool off their immense bodies. They also throw mud on their backs with their trunks. This forms a coating that reduces solar heating and staves off insects. A young elephant is also visible in some of these photos.

We came across a nice grouping of their adult elephants with three calves. (5:29) The acacia forest in the background makes this picture even more dramatic. The astute observer will also notice more elephants under a distant tree. A cattle egret is visible in a bush in the foreground to the left.

Here's another nice elephant family portrait. These were pretty easy to find in this park!(5:28)

Cattle egrets follow large animals around to eat the insects stirred up by their movement. Here, three of them clean up after an elephant. (5:27)

Elephants struggle for dominance, just as all other animals do. Only in their case, these competitions take on big proportions. Here, two elephants spar with their trunks to see who's stronger! (5:26,25)

One important thing travelers in East Africa must know: elephants have the right of way! (5:24,23) This elephant decided to stand in the road and eat while we waited and observed. Notice the food held in it's trunk. Notice the forked tail and the mud on it's back.

Njau was very good at judging an elephant's mood. If he came upon one that wasn't happy with us, he could tell and keep his distance. This didn't happen very often. Normally, the elephants are quite tolerant of the presence of the safari vehicles. If they started to act nervous and flap their ears, it was time to back off or move on. In any case, this elephant didn't move for us. We finally backed up a few feet. Then, the elephant finally decided to leave the road. Almost immediately, a warthog mother with three piglets emerged from the grass! (5:22) An unexpected double treat!

Larry saw them first. 'Lions' He shouted. My heart pounded. We stopped. Sure enough. There under a tree, a whole pride of lions, snoozing in the afternoon heat. (5:21,20,19,18,17,16,15) At first, the lions ignored us, sprawled out in all sorts of crazy positions. Often, a paw or leg would rest on a neighbor; lions like to contact each other. Every once in a while, one or more of them would look up at us. It looks like there are three adult males and three adult females. They all look well-fed and healthy. These are the best pride shots I got on the whole trip. Praise the Lord!

We came upon a secretary bird. (5:14) Secretary birds are so named because of the black feathers sticking out of their heads. They look like writing quills stuck in the hair of early secretaries. They also have two distinct, long tail feathers. We ended up seeing a lot of these fascinating birds.

We were always on the watch for unusual animal behavior. One thing in particular was animals ready to give birth. We saw this very pregnant zebra. It wasn't quite ready to give birth, but it wouldn't be long.....(5:13)

As we approached the park gate, a flock of ostrich presented us with some nice photo opportunities. (5:12,11) Much to our pleasant surprise, another flock appeared a few seconds later! (5:10) They joined together to form a single good-sized flock. (5:9)

At the park gate, I got a good photo of a cape buffalo (I think) (5:8) and an elephant skull (5:7). Notice the tusk sockets and the enormous molars of the elephant. An elephant has three sets of those large molars. When one set wears out, they fall out, and another set moves in to take their place. Many elephants die because they run out of teeth!

One of the things they had for sale in the gatehouse was some videos. One of them was a favorite nature show I had seen almost 15 years before: 'Year of the Wildebeest'. Even though the tape was in PAL, I bought it anyway, as I have access to a standards converter to convert it to NTSC. I paid for it with a traveler's check. It is amazing how much paperwork I had to fill out to buy that tape. The other game parks saccepted my US dollars with no questions and no forms!

Soon, we were back on the road to Lake Manyara! Here is a nice view of the lake as we turned onto A104 (Trans-East-African Highway)(5:6) The concrete block structure is a sign. Because of the termite problem, many signs were built of concrete blocks.

This section of A104 was very nicely paved. I took two pictures of it as we drove along. (5:5,4) It would be hard to tell this road from any in rural America, except we were driving on the wrong side of the road! Notice the electric transmission line to the left. This is one of the main long-distance transmission lines in Tanzania. There are only a couple of major power generating facilities in Tanzania (Hydroelectric, if I recall), so power often comes from a long distance, and is expensive. In one of the pictures, you canalso see a couple of Masai, with their cattle under a nearby tree. The buildings nearby may be their home. Not all Masai live in Bomas. (A term used both for predator fences and for Masai villages.) The big hill off to the right is Mt. Meru. The hills off to the left are Mt. Losimingur.

We soon reached the village of Makuyoni, and turned onto hwy B144. This road services all the Northern Circuit game parks except Tarangire. It ultimately goes right up the middle of Serengeti National Park, and crosses into the Masai Mara in Kenya. We would be on or close to this road for the rest of the trip. Unlike A104, this road ws much rougher. It was also very dusty. But before long, we started to again enter civilization as we entered the town of Mto Wa Mbu. This was a good-sized, busy town. It was like any of the towns we had seen before: people everywhere, congregating along the roadside. People burning trash or cooking right along the road. Concrete structures, often without glass in the windows. Banana plantations everywhere. Despite being somewhat run-down, It looked like it was a prosperous town. Njau took time to point out some public school buildings. These buildings also had no glass in the windows.

We passed the administrative center, and the main entrance for Lake Manyara National Park. At this point, the park was on our left, and a banana plantation on the right. Baboons came out and begged for food from passerbys! They were usually well-behaved, but would occasionally injure someone. Njau told us there used to be a problem with elephants crossing the road to browse in the banana plantations. The owners solved this problem by making lots of racket when they saw elephants. Elephants hate this kind of disorganized noise, and would leave. Eventually, they learned, and stopped coming out of the park.

We finally reached the rift valley escarpment road. The escarpment was much larger than I ever imagined, and we climbed nearly 1,000 feet on the multiple switchbacks. Many people were bringing loads up and down this steep road, or were herding cattle along the road's edge. I can just imagine how good the physical condition of these people must be to do this day in and day out!

There were a couple of spots along the road where one side was a steep dropoff to the rift valley floor below. The view at these points was spectacular. (7:18-16)

As we approached the top of the escarpment, I attempted to get some pictures of Lake Manyara. They didn't turn out the best, but are nonetheless interesting. (5:3-1) Notice the electric pole with the wires down in one picture. There was once a power line running up the escarpment, but it had been ruined long ago.

After we got to the top of the escarpment, it was a surprisingly long drive to our camp, Kirurumu Tented lodge. This was a beautiful facility in a beautiful setting. We were greeted with cups of pineapple juice, and Masai porters to carry our luggage.

Our rooms were in tents with permanent frames. There was a porch on the front, with a couple of chairs. The room itself was equipped with a real shower and toilet. There was a pitcher of filtered water in each room, but I didn't recognize it at first, because it was so clear! There were electric lights everywhere , for after dark.

The first order of business was a shower. The manager of the lodge (Who was there to greet us when we arrived, an American woman.) explained that Americans always try to conserve water. Here, the water is solar heated, and there is plenty of it. She said let it run until it is hot. Apparently, even though water is generally scarce in Africa, it is not here! In any case, the shower felt wonderful after the very dusty road.

I wandered back to the main center, up a long path that had lots of marked plants, etc. to study. I asked at the check-out if there was a good place to look over the escarpment. She told me that guided tours are given on request; it is not safe to go alone. So much for views from the camp!

I also came to understand that Kirurumu was somehow using satellite communication to communicate with other offices. Although I doubted this at first, the presence of a VHF antenna behind the main building does not rule this out. It was a ground-plane vertical, a type not normally used for satellite communication. It could also be used to communicate with local safari vehicles in the park. Like all places I had been so far, they had an HF radio system. I never did find the antenna for this system.

I went back to my tent-room, and took a nap. When the power came on about 6 PM. (They generate their own power, and have it on only in the morning and evening.), I cleaned my camera and binoculars. After a long wait, I went to find Larry and Teri and ask what they planned to do for dinner. They said they wanted to be alone that evening. Joe and Joyce were getting room service because Joyce had a lot of trouble getting up and down the steep path to the tent-rooms. So, I was alone for dinner.

It initially took a few minutes to find the restaurant building. This turned out to be an open-sided affair somewhat like a park shelter, with a low wall around it. There was a nice view, and you were close to the outside when you ate there.

But, I went down for dinner too early. They weren't quite ready. (Most restaurants in Africa I encountered only serve food for a couple hours each evening.) While waiting for dinner to be served, I went up and explored the gift shop, which was finally open. They had a complete set of the nice maps I had for Serengeti and Ngorongoro. It turns out that Kirurumu is owned by Hoopoe Adventures, the publishers of this map series. I purchased the maps for Tarangire , lake Manyara and Arusha National Parks. They also had the Tanzania Wildlife Service's official park guides for a good price. I made a big mistake by not buying those right there and then. I never found a better price, and I never did end up buying them.

I finally got to eat dinner, alone. The waiter's english left much to be desired. You had a choice of 3 entrees. Of course, I chose the beef one every time. Still, I had a hard time explaining to him not to bother with the Caesar salad, etc. While waiting for my food, someone from the camp staff asked for my room key, so they could spray the room for mosquitos.

When the main course was served, the plate was prepared gourmet style. Not a lot of food, artfully displayed. Luckily, I am carrying quite a reserve of food about my midriff, so the small portions wern't the worst thing. I actually tried the 'filtered banana' dish they had for dessert. It was like reconstituted banana. I like banana flavor a little, but I am not fond of that (or any) fruit. Still, it was OK.

When they were done spraying the rooms, the keys were placed on a table just inside the dining area entrance. Turns out another couple had mistakedly taken my key. After waiting forever for my key to show up, (I had just learned about the key table. Before that, I was expecting my key to brought back to me.) I heard another couple expressing frustration that they thought they had the wrong key. I compared notes with them, and they indeed had my key. (The keys were attached to an Africa-shaped piece of wood. The room number was displayed prominently on it.) Their key was still on the table. They were happy, I was happy.

I noticed one family there from California, with a kid who was wearing an 'A Bug's Life' shirt. For some reason (Maybe it's I liked 'A Bug's Life'), I made a mental note of this.

When I walked down the long path to my tent-room, I was surprised to find someone sitting on my porch. It turned out to be a fully armed Masai Warrior! They used authentic Masai sentinels to guard the camp at night. Since my tent-room was one of the most distant ones away from the main building, they liked to stand watch on my porch.

I spent half an hour or so studying the maps I had purchased. Then, I turned out the lights and went to sleep.

Next: Adventures along the Rift Valley Escarpment!

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