Monday, December 28, 2015

Tarangire to Ndutu and the Serengeti

We awoke early to a beautiful sunrise over the park and to small miniature deer-like critters called Dik Dik milling around outside our tent.  They sure are curious looking little guys!  We had just enough time to pack up and have a wonderful breakfast of beef, bacon, omelettes and of course wonderful fresh fruit juices before Shange picked us up at 7:30am for our morning game drive.  

Just as the day before, we saw incredible numbers of Giraffe and Elephant roaming the landscape all around us. Shange kept a close eye out for signs where animals may be such as circling vultures or from prior knowledge of the park in many years as a local guide.  We got to do some pretty fun off-roading as well.   On our morning drive I think we were able to actually get closer to the giraffes then the day before and we saw our first cape buffalo and the only banded mongoose we’d see on our trip.  

The highlight of the day was when we stopped at an overlook above the river for Shange to use a restroom.  We still don’t know if he secretly planned this for our experience but it was the only time in the full 6 days that we left the car unlocked in a park with windows open…. We were all walking to the overlook over the river when Eric and I spotted a vervet monkey making its way ever faster toward our vehicle.  When it got to almost a run Eric and I took off after it to see if it was daring enough to go in… yup!  

It went from tire to hood to open canopy in seconds and I launched myself into the back seats only to find myself face-to-face with two monkeys ALREADY IN THE VEHICLE.  Stunned the only thing I could think to do face to face with wild monkeys was to growl loudly at them!  This seemed to work and they scurried out of the vehicle… with a decent portion of content from our lunch bags in hand and right at Emy who yelped “help!”  We watched as they happily munched down on crackers and apples taken from us.  Shange just chuckled about this…  How could we be mad though with mother monkeys and baby monkeys all around us!

After 2 hours of driving we left the park around 10am for a day long drive over Ngorongoro Crater to the Ndutu region of Tanzania right on the border of the Serengeti.  This was where the wildebeest migration currently was and it is well known that wildlife also follows the migration so it was the best place for us to see wildlife while in Tanzania and we would also have a chance to drive into the Serengeti as well.  

The drive was beautiful but we did have one hiccup.  Shange had noticed something odd about the steering of our vehicle while at Tarangire so when he dropped us off at a big roadside gift shop for lunch and to browse he took the vehicle into a small town to get new bolts put on the steering wheel for safety.  It only took an hour extra so it wasn’t a big deal and gave us time to relax in the sun and peruse locally made gifts.  I was curious about Tanzanite so I inquired about the cost of it for Ellie or Emily.  They said $500 and knowing that Tanzanian’s barter for goods I said I didn’t want to spend more than $100.  The response was “have a nice day”!  Ha!  I guess it really is rarer than diamonds!

The drive towards Ngorngoro Crater was much steeper than I had expected.  We gained a ton of elevation and had great views of Lake Manyara below us as we drove up the winding roads.  When we reached the entrance gate Shange had a little bit of trouble as the attendees wouldn’t allow him to pay in USD, even though the week before they insisted on it..  

He said this kind of corruption and confusion amongst park officials was quite common and very annoying.  He told us they were ignoring him and not doing their jobs.  “This is Africa” he kept saying to us.  This kind of attitude amongst officials is something I commonly read in guidebooks before our trips and perhaps is one of the leading reasons why poaching is still possible in the parks of Tanzania despite its illegality.  

When we got up to the crater rim we stopped at an overlook for some photos.  It was several thousand feet below us and far more barren of vegetation than I expected it to be.  Barely any trees at all!  We could see the famous hippo pond from above and could see lots of wildebeest and safari vehicles below.  Later in the imagery I even noticed I captured a mother and infant black rhino!  There was also a beautiful crowned eagle floating on the updrafts below us.  This also served as a great spot for us to get some group shots of us.

We continued our drive around the rim on a super sketchy dirt road with tight turns and other safari vehicles whipping past us.  We tried not to think of the massive % of vehicular deaths in the country and instead decided to trust in our experienced guide to get us around safely.  On our western decent from the crater towards Ndutu we passed many Maasai villages with them all waving to us as we passed.  We even passed some young boys who had their faces painted and were going through initiation to become Warriors as Shange explained to us.  

Gradually we began to see more and more animals around us including our first Zebras.  I noticed a large pack of animals and Shange took us closer to see them.  It was several hundred wildebeest crossing a dry river bed.  I thought this was the “great migration” and was super excited, to which Shange just laughed.  He said the real Great Migration was “millions”… like grains of sand on the landscape… this was apparently just a small group.  Wow.  We got some great shots of the beasts as they ran off in a dusty pack before continuing on.

It was a long drive over dirt roads towards Chaka Camp (run by Duma).  Landscape that stretched to the horizon with nearly no visible trees.  Plenty of room to spot large mammals.  Just before we reached camp we entered a grove of trees and came across about 4 stopped vehicles who had spotted a big cheetah in a nearby tree.  This was of course a lot closer than the one we saw in Tarangire so we stopped for a while to also take photos and video.

When we arrived at camp we were greeted with hot towels and smiling staff.  The camp host David explained to us the familiar camp rules and took us to our tents where we saw giraffe nibbling on trees just a couple hundred yards away.  Our tents were wonderful and Emily and I had a big King bed.  There was also a postcard and wooden “Karibou” (Welcome) sign for us to take with us as gifts.  

Walkie Talkies were provided for us in our tents to call for escorts at night if we needed one.  For showers at this camp we had to request a time for staff to bring us buckets of boiling water they would dump in the gravity shower built behind our tents.  This was good for about a 5 minute shower with the low-flow head they had installed.  Perfect for me but a little tight for Emily.. ha!. 

After freshening up with fresh water bottles provided for us to brush our teeth and wash our face with, we headed back to the main camp where we met up with Emy and Eric and enjoyed some cocktails in the lounge tent which had a full bar and wasn’t too expensive.  Two large families (9-10 kids total) who were traveling together joined us in the lounge.  They were all blonde and from Salt Lake (mormons?) and San Francisco Bay (go figure…).  When they heard we had successfully climbed Kilimanjaro they wanted to hear all about it.  It was their third night at the camp and they had seen so much wildlife they were happy to get us excited about also seeing.  We did have one thing in common - they hadn’t seen a leopard and nor had we, or would we on the trip.  

We were brought baked plantains and appetizers before our amazing “Swahili Inspired” buffet dinner which consisted of delicious mushroom soup and roasted lamb and chicken with root vegetables.  After dinner and drinks Emy and Eric headed to bed while Emily and I sat up by the fire chatting with David a bit longer and taking some star photos.  We watched as staff patrolled the border of camp with flashlights to ward off animals.  

This didn’t of course quite the animals, as when we did turn it we heard lions roaring in the distance and the sounds of leopards in the trees and monkeys whom I was worried would take my GoPro I had left out for a nightlapse!

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