When I was a kid, I was utterly obsessed with animals. I was never the girl who would play with Barbies and dress up as a princess, nor was I the one who’d beat you at penalty shoot outs and constantly be climbing trees. I was the girl who could list you 25 facts about dolphins from memory. I was the girl who played Zoo Tycoon religiously. I was the girl who’d watch Walking with Dinosaurs three times a week.
So as you can imagine, I’ve dreamt of going on safari ever since I knew what the African savannah was, which made visiting Lake Manyara National Park and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area the highlights of my post-Kili adventure.
I realised lie-ins were a thing of the past for me as we clambered into the open-top jeeps – bright and early (although not the 6am start we were used to!) we left for Lake Manyara. A fair drive from Moshi but there was an ample supply of water and fizzy drinks for the ride. On the way I learnt that safari means ‘travel’ in Swahili. I got to add that to my list of words and phrases I’d learnt whilst on Kili. (Most notable being ‘poa kichizi kama ndizi!’ which means ‘crazy cool like a banana!’)
We stopped for lunch at a picnic area and I was bowled over when I discovered our ‘picnic’ included a burger! Hands down one of the best I’ve ever had (my mouth is watering even now). Accompanying that was a chicken leg, a baby banana, an orange slice and even a muffin! By the end, I was so full that I began wondering if I would even be able to stand in the jeep!
Once we were on the road, there’s very little to mention other than it was wonderful to see these animals in their natural environment! Over the course of the day, we saw blue monkeys, baboons, warthogs, zebra, antelope, wildebeest, hippos, cape buffalo, flamingos, pelicans, cranes and even giraffes in the far distance! I also spotted alongside the jeep my very first African wasp – the size of my thumb… eeep. Everything below was shot on my Canon EF 70-300mm IS USM lens and I have no idea what I would have done without it!
With our time at the lake at an end, we finished the day at a view point, just about making out the pink flamingoes on the lake. Our accommodation for the night was a camp just down the road. We were greeted warmly by the owner and given pineapple juice and popcorn (a snack that will never be the same for me after the mountain!) before being shown to our tents. I thought I’d be sick of camping but apparently I feel very differently when the tents contain beds.
While a lovely, the camp felt very traditional. When we were eating dinner, the owner made sure women served themselves first from the buffet and the staff/family seemed very uncomfortable to see white women sit down to watch the world cup on a small CRT television with them… Additionally, the ‘European’ style of watching football (i.e. enthusiastic shouting) was nowhere to be found here which made both cultures even more uncomfortable (cultural differences have always fascinated me so I was quite happy to watch everyone squirm!). We knew we needed to get to bed, however, as the next day would be very long.
Because I’m a gigantic nerd, I always do a lot of research on where I’m going. Before I left for Tanzania, I knew that Ngorongoro Crater is the largest complete caldera on the planet and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was even more excited for this day than the last and my anticipation was only heightened when our guide and driver, Edward, explained that Ngorongoro is home to lions and elephants.
He explained that ‘Ngorongoro’ is the Maasai word for ‘bowl’ and the Maasai people are permitted to drive their livestock into the crater to feed (something they wouldn’t be able to do if Ngorongoro was a true national park, rather than a conservation area). According to fossils found in the area, hominid species have lived in and around the caldera for over 3 million years (I can finally check visiting the Great Rift Valley off my bucket list)! Unfortunately, visiting Olduvai Gorge
wasn’t on our itinerary, as it’s quite a distance from the caldera itself, but that’s probably just as well – turning the trip into an anthropological pilgrimage would have likely killed me.
Having left the camp at 7am and driven out to the conservation area, we began our descent into the caldera through a cloud. I caught a quick glimpse of an elephant feeding in the forest (and freaked out, of course) but little did I know how elusive these elephants would be!
Today was spectacular for animals though. Lions, jackals, hyenas, hippos, zebras, wildebeest (Edward explained that zebras and wildebeest often migrate together, as zebras have very good memories and wildebeest are excellent at finding water and knowing when it will rain), flocks of superb starling, cranes, ostriches… and just as we were leaving, elephants obscured by trees.
These two days were incredible, and it was fantastic to realise a dream I’ve had since I was so small. The long drive back to Moshi was entirely worth the memories of watching lion cubs roll around in long grass and see zebras and wildebeest begin their migration back to the Serengeti.