One can set goals for the wild animals you wish to see on Safari, but no such guarantee exists; for if you wish to see the real world behaviours and environmental interactions that make animals truly “wild,” luck is all you can truly wish for. Steve and I were very, very lucky on this 8 day Safari to see nearly every single animal we hoped to encounter, and more. Tanzania’s wild places are a sight to behold; perhaps more then anywhere in Africa. From the giant and ancient Baobob trees scattering the rolling hills of Tarangire NP to the vast golden plains of the Serengeti, to the massive caldera known as Ngorongoro Crater; our path was a loop covering over 1200kms on the smoothest and roughest of roads. Our 3.4L, inline 4 cylinder diesel Land Cruiser was a veteran with 630 000 kms and counting, but was as smooth as the day she rolled off the Toyota assembly line.
Each day is written by either Steve or I and we hope the pictures can do some justice to the natural treasures of this beautiful country.
Day 1 – Tarangire National Park (written by Steve)
We leave Arusha with high hopes of the adventures we will undertake and the beautiful animals that we will hopefully see. Our first problem arises when we learn that our guides name is also Steve, a problem we overcome by calling him Baba Steve (father Steve) which he finds very amusing. Baba Steve has worked with Tropical Trails since 2006 and freelanced before that. He greets us with a big smile, “Good morning, how are you today?” Our cook, Nasoro, is also very nice, although he can speak only a little bit of English. Our drive to the park takes roughly 2.5hours, even though it is peppered with stops. After a nice lunch at Zion campsite, we head out on our first game drive. Needless to say, our first day is not disappointing. Within half an hour we come across scores of roaming wildebeests and zebras.
After that we witness a family of elephants grazing in the forest and Ostriches roaming the rolling plains.
It was not just the animals that amaze us but the flora as well. Giant Baobab trees litter the national park, some of which were roughly 4-5 meters wide and are over a thousand years old. Towards the end of our drive we catch a glimpse of a leopard sleeping in a tree, a very rare sighting in Tarangire says Baba Steve, sleeping within a trees lower branches.
Fueled on excitement we returned to Zion campsite completely satisfied with how the days events unfolded.
Day 2- To Ol Doinyo Lengai; Mountain of God (by Ryan)
Baba Steve looks over our itinerary carefully and suggests we make a change starting today to give us more time at Ngorongoro Crater later in the trip. Instead of heading to Lake Manyara NP we take off to Lake Natron where the active volcano called Ol Doinyo Lengai- known by the Maasai as “Mountain of God”- beckons from its spewing summit for us to attempt its steep slopes. But before we take off we help jumpstart another company’s Land Cruiser in Zion camp. We stop to learn about termite mounds.
Our path quickly turns from asphalt to dirt road and Baba Steve contently calls it “Time for Rock and Roll!” This region is very dry, whenever we pass another vehicle or get passed we slide the windows shut to avoid a lung full of choking dust. Ol Doinyo Lengai appears on the hazy horizon as we drive over the dusty plains. Maasai herders wave as we pass, some look no older than 6 or 7.
Giraffes, gazelles, and zebras roam these plains along with the Maasai, and Baba Steve says the government prohibits any hunting of wild animals without a permit. Baba Steve has brought refilled water bottles that he hands out to passing Maasai women and children. Many must walk several kms every day to gather water so this small gesture is greatly appreciated. Two Maasai boys appear on the road ahead, one is carrying 2 huge eggs. Baba Steve rolls down his window, says the little Maasai he knows to the boy, and hands him 1000 TSH for one egg. That’s about $0.66 Cdn for an ostrich egg that contains roughly 2 dozen chicken eggs. “How did he get the eggs?” we ask Baba Steve. He replies, “ostriches are very protective and aggressive of their nests; he must have been very quick. This will make one big omelet!”
We get into Kamakia campsite at 3PM, and start a game of haki sack with the locals boys hanging around the camp. They have never played, but their football skills would say otherwise. We join them for a game of soccer at 5 with boys from the village, mostly Maasai, some in traditional red gowns, others in shorts and even the rare soccer jersey. The field is on dusty volcanic plains and we play in bare feet as if we were on a beach. Steve takes a break to amuse them with his camera, at least 15 gather on all sides to watch videos he records of them seconds before.
We meet our guide, Raymond, a Maasai of age 23, who shows us the village after supper, a short walk from the camp. Here they have plenty of water, supplied by the Ngaresero River that flows through the Great Rift Valley. Over a beer, Ray tells us the rappers he likes; Jay-Z, “because he raps from the heart,” Kanye, some others. Funny how even here, in the seemingly far off reaches of Africa’s Rift Valley, Western culture influences the young minds of even the Maasai. We help jumpstart a large supply truck with 20 other locals before we leave. Back at camp Nasoro is busy making supper.
We hit the sack at 9:30; for tonight we wake at 11PM to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai under the half moon.
Day 3- Lengai & Ngaresero Falls (Ry and Steve)
Ryan: At 2878m, Ol Doinyo Lengai is not even half as tall as Kilimanjaro, but Steve and I both agree that it is far more technical shortly after we start. At 12:30AM, Sept. 29th, we start at the base. Bamboo like, golden grass rubs past our shins as we ascend, quickly disappearing as volcanic rock and dust take over. The climb get steeper and steeper.
We estimate a 40-50 degree slope half way up; making climbing on all fours the most efficient. “You have a good technique,” Ray comically comments. At 20 to 5AM we are a few 100 metres from the summit, the moon remains the only light from the sky for another 1.5hr. You have never seen stars until you climb a mountain at night; millions glisten like a glowing canopy of fireflies. Here we rest in a small crack until the sun rises.
I dig out a small depression in the dust and sit with my back to the summit, looking out over the vast plains and onto the plateau above the Rift Valley. A small fire burns distantly on the plains. At 6:10 we start for the summit. This is where the fun ends for Steve. I’ll let him explain.
Steve: After our rest in the crevice 1.5km straight up from the valley floor the weather changes for the worst. What began as a beautiful night, with relatively no wind turned into the most terrible wind and dust storm I have ever seen. As we near the top, 70 – 90 km/hr winds threaten to knock us off of the volcanic cliff faces and dust finds its way into every single crack and orifice of our bodies (don’t picture it). Slowly but surely we continue to climb the slope. As we near the top the winds worsen further and visibility diminishes to 10 feet at best. The air is thick with sulfur and volcanic dust that plasters us. Even now we still have hopes that perhaps the crater at the top is clear and that we might get some respite from the brutal winds and dust. Unfortunately… we don’t. As I poke my head over the rim of the crater I turn away a split second too late. My face gets buffeted by a blast of sand and both of my eyes get cut by granules of dust, leaving me practically blind. Now I have to climb down almost 2 km on a 50 degree slope with no vision… fun? I think not.
Ryan: We stay for maybe 5 mins max at the summit, I too get hit with waves of dust in the face but manage to avoid the blindness. The wind is strong enough to stand at an angle on the crater rim, and I laugh with joy; I’m absolutely loving this, apart from the sand blasting. Ray and I start down on our bums but Steve remains cursing at the crater’s crest, covering his face in apparent agony. I go back up to get him and he’s in a lot of pain. We guide him down to the same crack where we rested under the moon, clouds passing us furiously and the wind changing direction aimlessly. I grab the syringe from the first aid kit, fill it with water and attempt to wash out Steve’s eyes with some success. We wait nearly 40mins here, hoping for a break in the clouds but when 8AM arrives, no such opportunity arises and we decide to head down. I grab the GoPro helmet cam and take some shots, the three shown below are taken consecutively in less than 15 seconds.
“I have never seen it this windy and dusty,” Ray says, he too suffering from the dust in his eyes. Steve’s eyes get worse as we shuffle down, he opens them for only a few seconds to memorize the next few metres, then walks and repeats.
More than half way down he can not open them anymore. Ray grabs his hand as I help stabilize his steps by holding his bag from behind. “Small drop, smooth, steep,” I try my best to describe his next steps. A little farther down he sprains his right ankle. I take his bag. “That’s it man,” Steve moans. “No more effin mountains this trip…2 is enough. I’m so done with these damn mountains!” I can see the Land Cruiser waiting, Baba Steve must know something is wrong. 1km or so from the Cruiser Baba Steve meets us with a Maasai boy. He swings Steve’s arm over his shoulder and the boy grabs his bag.
Steve: Tired, miserable, blind and in a lot of pain I ask Baba Steve how far it is to the land cruiser.
His reply, “Oh, only about 100 meters, we’ll be there in no time.” Ten minutes go by so I ask him again… same reply. Another ten minutes go by and now I don’t know what to believe. He finally says, “Ok my man, we are here!” My reply, “Nuh uh, let me touch it.” I hug the land cruiser and man, cold steel has never felt so good. After a 40 minute drive back to the camp I go straight to washing out my eyes. It took a while but finally I could see, only barely, but it was the best feeling in the world.
Ryan: We rest for 1-2 hrs then wake at 4:30PM to go see Ngaresero Falls with Ray.
My right knee kills from the Lengai descent but the swim under the falls is replenishing and we return to Kamakia camp at 7PM, Nasoro has dinner hot and ready. Baba Steve is enticed by our stories of Canada’s landscapes and its wildlife.
Day 4- To Serengeti NP (by Ryan)
We wake at 6AM to see the sun rise over Lake Natron, a 15min drive from camp. Lesser flamingos are plentiful as the first rays of light set their slender figures a brilliant pink.
We stop at the village to say goodbye to Ray and thank him for his help on the mountain. We exchange emails and promise to stay in touch.
The road is long and rough. 2, old, dirty diesel, public buses pass us heading for the village; hard to believe they can make it on this road. The road bed turns to rolling hills of crushed quartz as we enter the small village of Loleondo. We stop at a makeshift garage where Baba Steve attempts to fix a sticking rear brake. Once fixed, we drive into a transformed landscape of green 1hr from Serengeti NP; early rains according to Baba Steve. At the park gate, vervet monkeys play in trees as we wait for the clerk. The credit card network is down so we must pay the park fees the next day. 10 mins into the park we spot wildebeest, elephants, zebra, and a lion napping on the road bank.
The evening sun shines through the clouds and dew on the trees and grass shimmers. This is the last Eden. Lobo Camp lies on the gentle slope nestled in front of a granite kopje. There are no fences here, Cape buffalo graze not 100’ from our tent. “Here you do not walk far from your tent, and if you need to go to the toilet at night, make sure you are quick,” Baba Steve warns. “Best you hold it till morning.”
Washrooms are nicest we’ve seen so far; 2 stage flush toilets WITH TOILET PAPER! Bats fly above the urinals. A large group of South Africans join us in the the dining hut; very friendly but seem a little too “pampered” for us.
Day 5- Serengeti NP (by Ryan)
The Maasai know it as Siringit – endless plains- the Serengeti ecosystem covers ~26 000 km2, while the Park only comprises of the central core zone, surrounded by a number of buffer zones that each have their own unique conservation strategies. We wake at 7:30, swallow breakfast without chewing and head off for a morning drive in the North. We encounter giraffes and elephants not 7m from our cruiser and Baba Steve nearly causes one of the females to charge when he squeaks the breaks by accident. I get some fantastic footage.
Buffalo, zebra, tons of antelopes, and many species I have already forgotten the names of.
We return to Lobo for lunch, shower and pack up. Steve puts the GoPro on the roof rack; hopefully some good footage, and I roll out the solar panel on the roof to charge the camera batteries. Tonight we stay in the Southern Serengeti at Seronera camp, a 75km drive from Lobo. We stop at the “hippo pool” on the way; have never seen so many in such a small spot.
Young ones, maybe a few 100kgs roll around and play with one another. Larger, old, seemingly grumpy adults snap at others for invading their private space. We continue on to rolling hills of yellow-barked acacia trees; the sun shines that all too famous African Gold from 5-6PM. Marabu storks relax high up in an acacia tree.
Drive into camp shortly after 6PM, busiest we have seen yet, over 70 people. Eat a filling meal and hit the sack, exhausted. Every day we experience something completely new and as we rest our tired eyes, hoping for a glimpse of a cheetah tomorrow, we feel truly alive.
Day 6- Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater (by Ryan)
We start with a early morning drive at dawn, for this is the time when a hunt is most likely to occur. We pass a pregnant lioness walking on the road and soon see another in the bushes contently watching a herd of buffalo passing 50 m away.
A little farther on we see our first cheetah, crossing the road not 20m in front. Baba Steve quickly turns the cruiser around. “It is heading towards that plain, we will try to meet it.”
With binoculars we watch it approach the horizon and as we are about to drive on, a hunt commences instantly. A cloud of dust is all we can make out as it bolts after an impala over the horizon but Baba Steve is quite sure it was successful. Further still we spot a leopard dosing in a tree.
We leave the endless plains behind and continue our path to Ngorongoro Crater, and just our luck we drive by a cheetah resting on a termite mound on the road side.
We make a quick stop at Olduvai Gorge, northwest of the crater, the discovery site of 4 early hominid species dating back some 2 million years, preserved by the unique volcanic deposits laid down sequentially over that time. It was Mary Leakey, who in 1959, found the 1.8 MA old skull known as Australopithecus boisei that gave rise to the heated arguments over our evolution.
We reach Simba camp shortly before 6PM and race to find a nice, flat spot before they are all taken. A giant fig tree shades our tent in the middle of the campsite, and the view encompasses the crater rim with clouds rolling over.
We thoroughly enjoy our first hot showers all trip then sit down to delicious pumpkin soup, rice and beef stew. An elephant wonders on to the camp’s border but is scared away by some of the guides. Baba Steve revels in content as we show him some of the GoPro footage from the previous day.
We go to bed excited for tomorrow, crossing our fingers to see the extremely rare and elusive Black Rhino.
Day 7- Ngorongoro Crater to Lake Manyara NP (by Ryan)
Ngorongoro Crater is considered the one place in Tanzania every Safari goer must visit. At ~20km wide it is one of the world’s largest calderas, and contains forests, wetlands, saltpans, a lake and a very high diversity of wildlife. Its blue-green vistas are hard to describe in words and the pictures simply do not do this crater justice.
We wake early to beat the morning bustle of cruisers into the crater. The descent in is steep and Baba Steve puts the Cruiser into 4Low on the windy, red dirt road. We are instantly greeted by hundreds of wildebeest and zebras.
Cory Bustards, Africa’s heaviest flying bird, walk amongst the grass looking for some easy food. We follow the right wall along the the bottom into dense forest. Vervet monkeys chew the fibre out of the acacia horns.
Steve jumps out to pee and change the GoPro battery as a large elephant comes out of the bushes not 10m in front of us. “Steve! You must get back inside!” Baba Steve yells. Steve doesn’t have time to finish as he jumps back in. We catch our first glimpse of a Black Rhino a couple kms out on the plains towards the crater’s centre; barely visible with binoculars. We drive on and I spot a mature male lion walking diagonally towards our path straight ahead. Baba Steve quickly drives to intercept and we get to drive directly along side it for 0.5km.
It does not take any interest to us, though it does look take a second look at the tour group out of their vehicles having lunch at a rest stop. We wave to them frantically, and as soon as one of the ladies spots the lion beside us the whole group rushes back inside their Cruiser.
We continue onto the wetlands bordering the forests, spotting gazelles, saddle-billed storks, cattle egrets, sacred ibis, and black-headed herons to name only a few. 100’s of wildebeest form a straight line across the grassy plains and 10000’s of lesser flamingoes eat algae on Lake Magadi.
But our attention is soon focused on the large grouping of Cruisers a few kms ahead. Our curiosity draws us nearer, and in the distance is a black rhino, no 2 black rhinos, a mature female and her infant, approaching the rapidly growing line of Cruisers. “They are going to cross the road,” Baba Steve says as we drive towards the cluster of Cruisers. It seems every Safari Cruiser in Tanzania is here, all jostling for the best position as the rhinos approach. Black rhinos, unlike white rhinos, are very apprehensive and can get aggressive in an instant if provoked. The mother approaches a solid wall of steel, rubber, glass, and tourists, gets to within ~50m, then backs off. She does this 3 or 4 times and moves down the line each time, the Cruisers following their every move. “They won’t be able to pass here,” sighs Baba Steve. “She is too nervous around vehicles.” So we wait for 0.5hr as the rhinos move further away, attempting to cross the road every few 100m. We all agree we need to help them pass so we drive to the end of the wall of Cruisers. The rhinos start to turn around and head back towards us; the Cruisers follow. Baba Steve signals to the first car that approaches to stop in the other lane, blocking the road for the mass of Cruisers approaching. In 10 mins, we experience something I will never forget, nor will Steve or Baba Steve. The mother and her young cross the road behind us, only 1 Cruiser is closer, I snap photos and take video in complete awwwww. I am lost for words.
There are 20-40 black rhinos left in Ngorongoro- the exact number is kept secret- and that same estimate exists only in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. This mother and her young represent some of the very last of their kind, hunted to near extinction for the one, completely illogical reason, of their horn being worth more than gold to some Arabic princes who believe it cures cancer and is an amazing aphrodisiac. Baba Steve tells us that there are 5 watch towers surrounding the crater, each equipped with a telescope and radio, constantly monitoring the whereabouts and security of every black rhino in the crater. And yet, in 2007, a poacher carrying a silenced rifle managed to sneak in and kill one, cut off its horn and escape. “Corruption,” Baba Steve says, “is most likely to blame. We need people with a good heart to protect these animals, not those who feed from greed.” We start our way out of the Crater and see a spotted hyena on a fresh kill, a black-backed jackal and white-backed vultures watch closely. A golden jackal passes us soon after having smelled the torn flesh.
We arrive at Jambo Camp in Mto wa Mbu (River of Mosquitoes), the village bordering Lake Manyara NP, around 3PM and relax for the rest of the afternoon; soaking in the sights and sounds from the past 7 days. We meet a Slovenian couple who was also in the crater that day but did not see the rhinos cross the road. They did however see the cheetah hunt that day in Serengeti. Marabu storks nest in the tree tops above and drop some of the days catch from Lake Manyara on the lawn. We go to bed with the feeling of complete satisfaction; what else could we see?
Day 8- Lake Manyara NP to Arusha (by Ryan)
Lake Manyara NP is a small park in comparison to the others we visited and is often underrated for high diversity of birds, tree-climbing lions, and multiple types of habitat bordering the western escarpment of the Rift Valley.
We get to the park shortly after 8AM, and start through the lush forest of acacia and mahogany trees; all fed by a shallow water table flowing from Ngorongoro. A young male elephant peacefully eats leaves on the roadside, baboon troops are everywhere, young ones play carelessly among the trees. Baba Steve barks and shows his teeth at the young ones jokingly, scaring the heck out of some while others just stare in confusion.
A blue monkey licks sap from a bleeding tree, vervet monkeys cause a ruckus in the canopy overhead. An eagle (the exact species I forget) drinks from a stream.
We cross a perpendicular path on the road ahead, 4-6 inches wide and smooth. Only one pair of tire tracks have crossed over it. “This is a python path,” says Baba Steve. “Must have crossed very recently.” We look in the nearby bushes for any signs but see nothing. He estimates 3-4m long. We continue on to grassland where wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, antelope, and giraffe graze.
We get back to camp for a hot lunch and learn from the Slovenians that the python was indeed 4m long and had a fresh meal inside. We take a group photo with the Cruiser before departing Jambo camp and head back to home base in Arusha.
Next we are off to the island of Zanzibar…
All the best,
Ryan & Steve