After a short flight from Zanzibar, we landed in Arusha airport. It was a welcome feeling to be on the road again, so to speak, and finally we felt like our African adventure was about to begin. After landing we walked together with the handful of passengers that were on the plane with us over to a small and inconspicuous building we were told was the arrival lounge. We sat down on one of the few seats inside, and after a couple of minutes a man came in from the airstrip, pushing a small trolley containing our backpacks. The downscale style of things gave us a feeling that we were about to do something a bit out of the ordinary. And so we were, at least for us, as we had decided to do a two week tenting safari around northern Tanzania. We felt this was a good place to invest some time and visit some of the most fascinating places East Africa has to offer, and see some of its most beautiful landscapes and wildlife.
Tanzanian Safari – Day 1-2
Outside on the parking lot we found the team from Wild Things Safaris waiting for us by the car. Just the sight if the car, a 4WD Land Cruiser with safari modified roof and worn exterior, made us excited about what was to come — to think that we would spend most of our time the next two weeks exploring the better part of Northern Tanzania in this vehicle! Inside, every seat was covered in a leopard skin patterned fabric, a bit bad taste in most other circumstances maybe, but quite fitting for this car, and this occasion, we thought. We were greeted by our great team, Rashid the driver and guide, and Ramadani the cook, and set off.
We lost some time hunting for cash (without luck) in Arusha, so we were a bit late when we arrived at the campsite by Tarangire National Park. The campsite was surprisingly fancy, at least to us and our standards. When we were on safari in Selous Game Reserve twelve years ago, our campsite was barely a clearing between the trees by a river, and our toilet a hole in the ground. This was a fully stocked campsite, with walls, a dining area and … flushing toilets! In some ways we were a bit disappointed, because we liked the solitary and quiet back-to-nature experience last time, but now we were in a very different area than the Selous, and camping outside of designated sites is strictly forbidden. However, the running water and solar power to charge cameras and phones was a welcome upside.
As soon as our tent was up, the car unpacked and made ready, we set out for an afternoon game drive in the park. Rashid raced us towards the park entrance, got out of the car to register at the office, and back in again. While he drove as fast as is safe on the bumpy gravelled road into the park, he explained to us that we only had a couple of hours until we had to be out of there, and that he wouldn’t be giving us much information about the place today. That suited us fine, this was our first game drive and we were already standing up with our heads out of the roof, mesmerised by the view and the feeling of once again being on safari. It was as we remembered, exhilarating and exiting. As soon as we entered park grounds, while the sun was heading for the horizon and the light slowly starting to dim, wildlife began to appear everywhere around us. Zebras, Elephants, Wildebeest and different antelopes dotted the landscape, and jumped away from the car as we were driving along the dirt tracks. The variety of the landscape was amazing, from dry and dusty savannah, to green rolling hillsides and deep canyons, each turn seemed to reveal a different feature to this enormous and beautiful area. It was getting late, and as the light began to disappear we had to head for the gate again. But it was a wonderful introduction to Tarangire, and a nice beginning to our safari. Rashid promised us we would see many more animals and especially elephants the next day. And he was right.
The next morning, after a nice breakfast at the camp, we set out for a full day drive in the park. Almost immediately upon entering we noticed that what we’d seen the evening before had just been a taste of what this park was. Now, in the morning light, the place looked even more magnificent, and the number of animals and birds around us even greater. Soon we came to a waterhole where a group of elephants had stopped for a drink. More animals were gathering, zebra, wildebeest … all coming to have a drink of water. We stopped the car and turned off the engine and just sat there enjoying the view. After a while we spotted a large male elephant in the distance, his course set for the water. We followed him as he came closer, entered the waterhole and walked down to the edge. A zebra who was standing there before him jumped up and ran away as the elephant came, swinging his trunk as if to lay claim to the spot. He stuck his trunk in the water, filled it up and sprayed it into his mouth to quench his thirst. Each spray can contain up to ten litres of water and an elephant needs to drink between one to two hundred litres of water every day.
As we continued the drive we encountered an amazing number of elephants, in large and small groups and of all ages, some far away and some right in front of us, some walking and some laying down for a nap. Some relaxed and calm, and some a bit agitated and noisy. And, also, some examples of the famous five-legged elephants (picture on the left). This truly was the perfect place to encounter one of our favourite, and sadly somewhat endangered, animals. It’s almost strange that such a large beast can be so gentle and sweet, but they truly are. Even up close they’re not the least bit intimidating. Perhaps not so strange, then, to imagine that their distant ancestor was a small, cute pig.
At mid-day it was time for lunch, and we stopped at a picnic site with a beautiful view of the Tarangire River. Among thieving monkeys and starlings we rather quickly finished our meal, eager to move on. We had talked to someone who told us about a lion sighting somewhere in the park, and Rashid was already on the radio checking in with other guides in the area for news. We sat out towards the river where tracks of the lion had been spotted. The hunt was on.
Rashid had told us that some other clients had called him African Fish Eagle, because of his wildlife spotting abilities. Now, he had to work hard to earn the title. We continued to drive into the park, following the river, and every now and then another car came by and we would stop as the guides exchanged news of sightings in Swahili. Every now and then Rashid would stop the car, back up a bit, and peer out into the distance with a very focused look. Then he would just shake his head and mutter “no … nothing” as he drove on. Meanwhile we were standing with our heads out of the roof, the wind in our hair and just enjoying the experience of driving around in such a beautiful landscape.
We’d almost completely forgotten about the lion when suddenly we heard the magic words uttered: “lion … over there”. Super excited we sat down and tried to focus our gaze in the direction Rashid was pointing. “Where?”. We couldn’t see anything but bushes and trees. “There! About 200 meters”. And then finally, once it moved a little closer, we saw it, a young male lion walking slowly towards us in the distance. How Rashid was able to spot the animal from that distance, while driving, will forever be a mystery to us — but he has certainly earned his nickname. “See … you do appreciate me!” he exclaimed, visibly proud of the achievement. It is good practice to tell the other guides in the area of the find, and so he did over the radio. The lion had come right up to us now and was sitting down for a while as our cameras were being worked to the limit. In the distance we could see the dust clouds of other vehicles moving closer … but we’d been there first. “We got the best pictures” Rashid said. That we did indeed.
Male lions in a pride are pampered by the females, as they do practically all the hunting for them, but this one was out on his own, and looked a little hungry. He saw a small group of wildebeest in a distance, sniffed the air a little, and started walking towards them in a hunting pose. But it was obvious from the start that he would have no luck. He was too impatient and seemed to think he would be able to just stroll over to the dinner table and have his fill with little effort. But the wildebeest caught his smell long before he was anywhere near close enough to hunt them. Lions need to be within 3-5 meters of the prey before launching an attack, and that takes stealth and patience this one obviously lacked. We watched as he made two more similar attempts, with similar results, and the whole thing almost became comedic. As we laughed and joked about it, Rashid said he was just too lazy … “Like a Maasai man!”.
We followed him a while longer, and as he approached the river we could see he had set his eyes on a group of zebras standing in an enclosure between a small hill and some trees. If he could just keep hidden long enough to sneak up on them he might have a chance. This time he showed more hunting skills as he hid in the grass and moved ever so slowly towards the zebra. We watched him from a vantage point using binoculars, and even we would loose him form time to time. Then we’d find him again, and we could see his teddybear-like ears sticking out over the grass. Now he was very close to the zebra, and they still hadn’t spotted him.
Now some more zebra were moving from the river towards the group, and they would soon walk practically right past the lion as he lay hidden in the grass. Surely now was the time. He started moving towards the zebra. Cleverly he decided not to go directly at them, but to move around a tree and come at them from behind. He came round the tree and started speeding up very quickly. Now! The zebra all reacted and scattered around, and the lion started to run towards one of them. But he soon stopped. Either he had miscalculated and started to run too soon, or he was just too tired. Or, perhaps Rashid was right, he was just lazy.
With that exciting finale to our experience in Tarangire we went back to the camp for the night. Tales and jokes about the lion who was as lazy as a Maasai man became the topic of the camp during dinner. For us it was a sad moment as well, as Rashid told us he would have to leave us that night for another job, and that another guide from the company would come to take us the rest of our journey. We were sad to see him go, but we promised too keep an eye out for each other in case our safaris would overlap someplace … which they did almost two weeks later at Lake Manyara.
For now we were off to bed. We needed a good night sleep before the next morning, when we would set out on the long drive north to Lake Natron. Luckily, a good night sleep isn’t hard to find when you’re lying in a tent under starry skies in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania.