Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tanzania: Safari, Seronera Wildlife, Ngorongoro Crater

Most people get to Tanzania by driving from Nairobi, and crossing the border at Namaga and on to Arusha. You can now, if you wish, fly directly into Tanzania.

We left Nairobi for the long drive into Tanzania. As we left Nairobi our driver/guide said as we approached a large roundabout, "This is called Holy Corner". I thought he was going on to tell us about traffic accidents, but no, " there are five churches on this roundabout". We have a driver with a sense of humour!

The road to the border is pretty rough in places with large pot holes that the driver drives round with gay abandon.

About three hours after leaving Nairobi we arrived at Namaga, the border between Kenya and Tanzania. The formalities and the form filling at both sides of the border are soon completed. After saying goodby to your Kenyan driver/guide you are met by your new Tanzanian driver/guide and change vehicles. Around the border area are a lot of Maasai women hounding you to buy their wares. They will soon be shooed away by your guide.

You now have about a three hour drive to Arusha. As we approached Arusha it was dark. We passed lots of people who had lit fires outside their houses and who were cooking their evening meal, it looked very cosy seeing all the fires and people outside cooking and talking, the smell of woodsmoke filled our nostrils as we approached the town.

Arusha is situated beneath Mount Meru and the town has a half-neglected look. It is a base camp for most safaris in Tanzania's northern game reserves.

The next morning we left Arusha for Tarangire on a good fast tarmac road. Tarangire lies across the Ardai Plains west of Arusha. Named after the shallow but important river which passes through it. We had a good game drive here. Tarangire is meant to be famous for lots of elephant but we only saw one. We rounded a corner and obviously startled this elephant, he squealed in annoyance at us but we were already past him by then.

We left Tarangire and the ride to Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge was very rough indeed. We were just having lunch here, although we would return later on to stay for two nights. and we then drove on and entered the Serengeti National Park. Once we were in the park we were game viewing. Driving through the Serengeti we saw hyena, lion, hartebeest, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest.

The Serengeti is, I think, one of the best places in Africa for game viewing. If you go in February you have a good chance of seeing the incredible mirgration of wildebeest

We were making for the Seronera Wildlife Lodge. Seronera is located in the middle of the Serengeti National Park. The name Seronera is taken from the Maasai word "seroney" - the name of a Maasai boy killed here by lions. The rocks around which the lodge is built are granite in a formation know as a kopje. The Lodge was opened in 1971. Seronera was selected as a site because of the prime location at the edge of the grasslands. When the architects and the Chief Park Warden first visited the site, they were chased off the kopje by a pride of lions feeding on a kill in what is now the lounge area.

We stayed here for two nights. You get two game drives daily on safari, one early in the morning and one in the afternoon. The amount of game seen on the two days we stayed at Seronera was superb. We saw; giraffe, monkeys, impala, wildebeest, topi, hartebeest, zebra, Thomson's gazelle, lots of wonderful birds, lion, cheetah, hyena, golden mongoose, baboon, buffalo, rabbits, some owls, bat-eared foxes, these are very rare and not normally seen in daylight. We found a pair of mating lions as we returned to the lodge in the evening, the last animals before we got back to the lodge was two young hyena pups looking all fluffy and sweet.

The following days game drive we saw most of the same plus some dik dik which are the smallest antelope, only the size of hare.

We watched a family of lions who had two cubs. One of the cubs was a real little tearaway. He first tried to annoy mum and got told off; he wandered over to dad and tried to get him to play by chewing dads tail, he was given very short shift from dad. So he looked around to see what other mischief he could do. He decided he would climb a tree. He picked a very spiky thorn tree and up he went, once he got up, he didn't know how to get down, and it was obviously very uncomfortable up there too. He got himself down eventaully by half climbing and half falling down. It was a delightful time watching the cubs playing. And learning.

Around the lodge there are a lot of rock hyraxes and some very colourful lizards. There are monkeys everywhere and we were woken up in the early morning by the monkeys running over the roof.

The first time we stayed at this lodge we went for a snooze after lunch to our room. We had been advised to keep our windows closed as the baboons had been known to get into a room. One of our party went to sleep without heeding this advice and woke up to find a baboon in her room, she screamed and the baboon grabbed her make-up bag and made off. The boys saw the baboon up on the roof and threw sticks up at it and it dropped the make-up bag. There were lots of jokes that night about baboons wearing make-up. What she didn't tell us until a couple of days later was that she also kept her spare false teeth in the make-up bag, these were missing when she got the bag back. We wondered what the insurance company would say when they found out how the false teeth got lost and the thoughts of this baboon wearing false teeth and make up kept us giggling for quite a while.

We left Seronera Wildlife Lodge and drove further into the Serengeti we were making for Lobo Lodge. On the way we took a detour to visit a hippo pool. We saw a lot of game on route. We sighted crocodile, topi, giraffe, lion, civet cat, klipspringer, kori bustard, secretary bird, We met a big bull elephant that was walking down the road towards us. We stopped and he kept coming. We backed off and then drove slowly forward the the big bull elephant calmly and sedately stepped off the road and made off across the plains.

Our driver Muhanga, showed us the Acacia Nilobium or the Whistling Thorn tree.

He jumped out of the vehicle, cut off some thorns with the fruit on it. The fruit was an empty shell with holes in and ants were living inside. The ants reward the tree for giving them a home as, when a passing giraffe tries to feed from the tree, the ants run onto the giraffe's nose, and bite so discouraging it and protecting the tree. When the wind blows through the holes, it sounds as if the tree is whistling, hence the name.

We arrivedf at Lobo Wildlife Lodge which is high up and, like Seronera, built into a kopje. Lobo Lodge was completed in 1970. Lobo means in Maasai "The place belonging to one man". The springs had been given to an old warrior for his personal use - a very rare thing in a nomadic tribe. All the stone used in building comes from the surrounding hills. Where the rock floor level was too high it was split off in layers by lighting fires over the top and then pouring cold water onto the hot rock. The lodge is self sufficient in that it generates its own electricity, pumps its own water, and bakes its own bread.

One of our party had watched a baboon go along and try and get into everyone's bedroom windows; he was unlucky on this occasion!

On our way back across the Serengeti, game driving though the National Park, we saw a lot of animals. We stopped off at Olduvai Gorge. In 1931 Dr Louis Leadey and his wife Mary following up previous explorations of Olduvai, uncovered a man nearly 2 million years old. Work is still going on at this famous site.

We stopped off at a Maasai village where we had the opportunity to go inside. The Maasai chief was charging $5 per head which we thought was pretty steep but seeing a real Maasai boma and seeing how they live makes it a worthwhile thing to do. You can also take photographs of anything you want to as the chief has given his permission.

We were making for Ngorongoro Wildllife Lodge where we were staying for the next two nights.

Ngorongoro Crater is in northern Tanzania. It lies at the western edge of the Great Rift Valley. The lodge is 7,500ft above sea level, 2,000 above the floor of the crater. The crater covers about 261 square kilometres and is the largest unflooded unbroken caldera in the world. The name Ngorongoro comes from the Maasi work Ilkorongoro, which was the name given to the age group of Maasai warriors who wrested the highlands away from the previous occupants, the Datong. The name Ilkorongoro echoed the sound of the battle balls the Maasai warriors wore when they first occupied the highlands in the year 1800. This sound "kohrohngoroh" struck terror into the hearts of the enemy. The Maasai also gave their own names to the crater's walls and floor. The walls are know as En Tiak, which means sheer drop, while the floor is Ramat, health land. Ngorongoro is thought to date back 2.5 million years and at one time to have rivalled Mt. Killmanjaro in size. As the lava subsided, circular fractures developed and the cone collapsed inward to form the caldera.

The lodge was opened 25 years ago and is self reliant for the production of electricity. Water is pumped from a spring 600 metres down in the crater.

After an early breakfast we got into four wheel drive vehicles to decend into the crater for a full days game viewing. When we got to the crater floor we all got out and while the drivers put up the roofs of the landrovers there is time for some photography. The Maasai water their cattle in the lake in the crater and there are always young Maasai boys wanting some money so you can photograph them.

The amount of wildlife in the crater is just remarkable. The only animal you will not see is giraffe, the sides of the crater are too steep for them to get down. We have also never seen a leopard here. This is the best place to see black rhino.

It was here I saw the first snake I had ever seen in Africa, a large python hidden in amongst the reeds. I would never have seen it if the driver hadn't pointed it out to us.

After an exciting and productive game viewing morning we stopped about 12.30pm for lunch by the hippo lake. There are good clean loos here as well which are welcome. You have to be careful here the kites which are large black crow like birds will swoop down and take the food out of your hand if you're not very careful.

You arrive back at the lodge around 4.30pm. The view from the lodge which sits right on the rim of the crater is spectacular.

The next morning you start the long drive back to Nairobi. Leaving the crater lodge at about 7.30am. Stopping for lunch in Arushu you arrive at Namaga where you cross the border into Kenya about 4pm. Leaving your Tanzian driver and transferring to another Kenyan vehicle you leave for the last leg to Nairobi arriving at the Serena Hotel about 7.00pm.

Tanzania is a wonderful country. It is a much poorer country than Kenya. The roads are pretty awful but it is worth the long and uncomfortable road journeys for the spectacular wildlife, which is the best there is anywhere we have seen in Africa.

If you need a rest after your safari it might be worth thinking of going and spending a few days in Zanzibar.

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