Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tarangire National Park

After a nice breakfast we were picked up from the Arusha Hotel at around 9am by Duma.  We were expecting to see Raymond but instead an older man named Shange showed up.  We really liked Raymond from our experience with him from Mama Anna’s and Shange said he was asked to take us even though he had literally just come off a safari with other clients so I we were worried he was angry and it wouldn’t be a happy experience with us.

He’d been with Duma for just a couple years and at first I wasn’t sure if he was happy with them, or with thee fact he now had to take more people on safari without a proper break.  Thankfully, over the next few days, any concerns I had about Shange were quickly extinguished as he proved to be possibly the best guide in all of Tanzania!

It was a 2 hour drive from Arusha to Tarangire National Park, our first park on our 6 day safari.  We had to stop on our way out of town to pick up more cash for tipping on our safari.  Shange took us to a local bank where everyone was able, over multiple transactions, to take out more money… except Emily.. who’s last transaction ate her ATM card!  Uh oh!  Shange was kind enough to give us a hotspot via his phone to open the Bank of America App only to realize there was no function to report a lost ATM card.  

After struggling a bit on the drive to find a solution we were passing the Duma headquarters and Shange asked if wanted to stop by to say hi to Stacy.  Although we were unable to fix the lost ATM card issue, even with Stacy’s help it was cool to see the Duma headquarters and Stacy was really nice.  

Unfortunately, one of her key guides had suffered a stroke just days before (perhaps why Shange was assigned to us) and her whole staff were pretty shaken up.  We told her about our climb and she told us a crazy story about her first climb as well with people passing out and going blind.. yes blind.. around her on the climb from the altitude!  She thanked us for the donated gear we brought as well.  We later found out that the computer battery was for Shange and the computer we brought might be given to a relative of his. 

On the way we drove by beautiful Tanzanian countryside and many Maasai communities where we saw young boys herding sheep and older men herding cattle.  Nearly almost everyone we saw waved happily to us, especially the children who always gave us big smiles!  We also saw some amazing native vegetation and huge baobab trees in the distance.  Shange explained to us that the women often wore blue as it symbolized purity and closeness to God while the men often wore red as a symbol of being a warrior and similar to the color of the red, iron rich, volcanic soil of Tanzania.  It really impressed me to see how traditional the Maasai of Tanzania are, seemingly way less westernized as I expected them to be.

We also noticed that Duma had provided a cooler of water for us, binoculars and even animal tail fly swatters in the vehicle for us.  No mentionable wildlife on the way but I did notice a lot of really big termite mounds, some as high as 6-7 feet!  We also passed a group of children who waved hello to us and tried to show us a turtle they caught in exchange for donations or cash.

When we got to the park entrance it was completely packed with Safari vehicles during this busy season and we had a while to wait while Shange stood in line with other guides to fill out the entrance paperwork.  I used this time to walk around the area to check out the informational displays and to also take photos of the beautifully colored birds flying around all the thorny trees and bushes around us.  It seemed like half the vegetation in Tanzania had evolved sharp thorns as protection from the wildlife.  Hornbills, weavers, colorful lovebirds and the amazingly blue colors of the lilac-breasted roller which looked most colorful mid-flight.  

After about an hour we packed back into the vehicle and entered the park.  Immediately we were surrounded by wildlife!  Impalas, baboons, vervet monkeys, and warthogs seemed to suddenly be all around us!  We popped the roof of the vehicle up as a canopy, took our shoes off, and stood on top of the seats for an open-air view of everything around us.  Duma had even provided super useful beanbag sacks to rest my long camera lens on for photography!  They had thought of everything!  Within 20 minutes of entering the park we saw yet another part of the African “circle of life” as we watched a big baboon mate with a smaller female just beside our vehicle.  Now all we needed to see was a predator kill something and we’d have the full circle.

This post as well as the other safari day posts will have photos of the day that don’t necessarily follow the storyline of the post.  This is because of the sheer number of animals we saw that I want to include in this blog.  I can sum up the rest of the day as us driving around the park with Shange pointing out interesting stuff to us and trying to track down animals based on his extensive experience knowing where they would be.  

We even bumped into Hobie and Anna again from the climb but they were unfortunately staying at a different camp than us.  We also met some girls from the Bay area, one of which we would meet again on our way home… and that Eric I think fell in love with… hehe.  The only negative of this day or any other subsequent safari day was the occasional appearance of painful biting tsetse flies which thankfully could be scattered by using the provided tail fly swatters in the vehicle.

Highlights of the day were when a baby male elephant “challenged” our vehicle and started to mess with front bump guard and a huge male elephant scuffling his feet ready for a mock charge at us if we hurt the baby.  Instead Shange scared the baby away by clicking away at the starter of the engine.  Tarangire is known for their massive elephant populations and I can safely say that we easily saw over 50 different elephants in the park, many with adorable babies and some older males with tusks that had to be pushing 6-7 feet in length.  

We also saw many giraffe, water bucks, a ton of water birds including herons, ibis and ducks, cranes, a cheetah in the far distance under a tree after a recent kill and even a tree that held 7 massive Tawny Eagles!  During this safari and all others I suctioned-cupped a GoPro to the top of the vehicle to record our travels and all the wildlife we passed while Emily used her new camera to zoom in and record everything on video in full 4K resolution while my huge 900mm DSLR lens captured everything in high resolution stills.  I had done my work preparing and had spent some cash in doing so but from looking at photos and video from that first day it had all been incredibly worth it!

After a full day Safari Shange brought us to the amazing Tarangire Safari Lodge under a beautiful rainbow in the sky.  We had been lucky enough to score a room for a night.  On the drive into the lodge we were held up for 10 minutes by a small pack of Impalas blocking our way.  Throughout our days on safari there was one thing in common.  No fences, no barriers, nothing between us and the wildlife of Tanzania.  At each lodge, tented camp, etc we were surrounded by wildlife walking amongst us like impalas, monkeys, waterbucks, giraffes, zebras, etc.  And at every place we stayed all guests were required to get an escort by staff back to their rooms after dark.  It was really living in the bush, and we loved every second of it, especially the amazing animal cries and calls we heard every night.

After an introduction to the lodge and a safety talk we were escorted to our rooms where we dropped our gear and headed to the stunning overlook the lodge had on the Tarangire river winding it’s way through the park below us.  There were free snacks and $6 cocktails we helped ourselves to as we watched the sunset over Tanzania with stormy clouds over Meru and Kilimanjaro in the far distance.  

Below us we watched giraffe, impala, and elephants roaming around and at the lodge we were surrounding by beautiful birds such as the big hornbills as well as curious vervet monkeys who loved to steal snacks and who were constantly being chased by staff.  One had a full sleeve of crackers!  Truly one of the most beautiful places I’d ever stayed at.  Could have easily spent a week at this lodge.  

Dinner at the lodge was amazing.  Breaded chicken with grilled lamb, minestrone soup and other sides!  While we were sipping beers again on the bluff of the lodge watching stars come out a father and son walking the stone barrier came up to us with a blacklight.  Curious we asked about it and the boy responded with a smile “we are looking for scorpions!” at which time he pointed it at our bare feet in flip flops to point out 2-3 glowing scorpions about 4 inches from our toes!  

They were lit up bright green in the deep purple of the black light and all had stingers raised in protection.  I’ve always heard the small ones are the most dangerous so we decided to head back to tent #31 around 9pm and try to ignore the fact that they very well could be in our boots, shoes, or under the covers with us.  Just believe in the old saying, “if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you”.

The “luxury tents” we stayed in at each location had showers, toilets, sinks with hot water and comfortable beds and all had locking zippers for privacy and to keep monkeys or other animals from joining us in bed (I heard something trying that night).  The sheer volume and variety of animal noises surrounding us at night can’t be described in words.  We felt safe in our tent of course but it was amazing hearing all the sounds so close around to us throughout the night.  We found that one of the most interesting and varied came from what looked to be a common dove that others in guidebooks have referred to as “the voice of Africa” because of all the unique sounds it makes!  What an amazing first day on Safari!

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