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After a few days in Arusha, we embarked on our safari. The first stop was Lake Manyara. This park was beautiful, resplendent with baboons, giraffes, impala, elephants, zebras and more. There were even vervet monkeys with bright blue bottoms.
We felt as if we were living an episode of National Geographic. We quickly realised that animals in the zoo are just a shadow of themselves. Out here they were bigger, their coats were healthier and the colours were nothing like we imagined. The animals moved with confidence; it was clear who was in charge.
Lake Manyara is a relatively small park and more like a testing ground for the safari. That said, we had our most exciting animal encounter on that day, a lioness with a cub who growled ferociously at us as we tried to get a better look at her in the bushes.
At the hotel that night, we were asked to sign a release basically stating that we would not blame the hotel if we were attacked by wild animals. Very reassuring. The hotels in these parks run on generators, some wind powered, some fuel powered. They therefore conserve energy by turning off the power between mid-night and 5 am and limiting the hot water availability to certain hours.
On our second day, we headed to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which encompasses the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and several places of interest including, the Olduvai Gorge where the earliest remains of man have been found and dated back to three million years; the Shifting Sands (remarkable crescent-shaped mounds of volcanic dust–technically known as barkan–from the Oldonyo Lengai, which collects around a stone, grows into a large mound, and then begins to move imperceptibly in a beautifully symmetrical shape, convex on the windward side, where the wind constantly pushes the fine grains of sand up the slope, and steeper and concave on the leeward side, where the sand topples over the rim); and many Maasai villages where we learned a little about this fascinating group of people.
That night we drove into the Serengeti National Park and topped off our day when we spotted a leopardess and cub just before we headed in for the night.
We spent the next two days wandering around the southeast section of the endless plains of the Serengeti National Park which covers almost 15,000 square kilometers. The word Serengeti is an anglocised version of the Maasai name for this area, Siringitu – “the place where the land moves on forever”.
I developed a love for the quiet giraffe who seemed to observe us with as much interest as we observed them. The baboons did not endear themselves to us, especially when one of them jumped on the back of the jeep and screamed at us. Well, I screamed right back at him and he jumped off and ran. Don’t mess with mothers! Other highlights of our time on the Serengeti included hippos and finally, the tree-sleeping lions, almost close enough to touch.
Tanzania had even more to offer and so we dragged ourselves away from the Serengeti and headed for the Ngorongoro Crater. This crater was formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. It is 2,000 ft deep and the floor of the crater is about 100 square miles. We drove down into the crater and spent five hours searching for a cheetah. We saw rhinos, beautiful and unusual birds, ostriches, hyenas stalking zebras, a cerval cat, warthogs, wildebeests, buffalo, and more of the usual suspects such as giraffes, elephants and so on. We got so close to a lion we had to restrain the urge to reach out and touch its mane. A few minutes before our time in the crater was up, we were rewarded for our patience as we spotted a cheetah.
We headed back to Arusha that night, but we still had to visit one more of Tanzania’s highlights, Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and the second tallest in the world. We could not climb it in the time that we had, however, on our way to the airport, we took a detour to the first level of this incredible landmark.
Tanzania also claims the southern half of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake by area, and the largest tropical lake in the world.