The views expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not reflect those of VSO

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Northern Tanzania

Four days before we were due to fly to Kilimanjaro we thought we'd better decide what we were going to do in the region. I find it difficult to organise too much in advance and getting the air tickets was a major achievement from Kibungo. Besides, looking at guidebooks and studying future travel details seems so terribly irrelevant to the present. (I like reading about a place during or after a trip.) Jared and Michelle, who spent that intense weekend birding with us described in the last instalment, mentioned then that they were going to do a tour of Northern Tanzania in mid-April. What is good for the goose is supposed to be good for the gander so at 72 hours notice I sent off a barrage of emails to a bloke called Anthony in Arusha who runs a company called 'Birding and Beyond'. This resulted in the purchase of a six-day package tour visiting four national parks in NW Tanzania, the electronic transfer of a sum of US dollars equivalent to the GDP of a small Pacific nation and all administered by our London accountant who goes by the name of Liam Walls. (Yes, he is a vague relation).
Cloudscape over Mt Meru
This is after all why you have children who ought to end up in large capital cities earning copious amounts of dosh which is then used to fund the 60th birthday shenanigans of one of their ageing hippy parents. (Shucks, that's me!) A virtuous cycle of need and counter need, indeed. You provide for them as children and students and they reward you when you're in a part of the world that can work mobile telephony like a dream but, strangely, still doesn't seem to have discovered the advantages of regularly accepting credit cards. (Note to potential visitors to the Dark Continent - bring large bundles of $100 greenbacks if you want to visit the game parks. News of that currency's demise has been greatly exaggerated).
Masai village against Rift Valley escarpment

Now a word of warning: this blog and its pictures could contain content of the 'tooth and claw' or 'beak and feather' variety. I didn't have a gun but everyone you meet is after the Big 5 of legendary hunting fame - with their modern day Brownies and Instamatics of course as bullets are frowned upon in most national parks. Our achievement was completion of the Small 5, the full set of which was only realised on the second last day of our trip. Rhinoceros Beetle is a fairly easy one to get as is Ant Lion. We already had those boyos covered. Buffalo Weaver is an African speciality which was soon nailed. Then Leopard Tortoise trundled up to us outside our hotel room in Lake Manyara but didn't show any evidence of its famously powerful acceleration. It also preferred to keep its vicious canines well inside its shell. (Can this be true? Ed) The finale occurred in Zanzibar. Imagine the excitement as we sweated our way through the Jozani Forest Reserve (practically the last remaining forest haven on the island) having just seen the rare red colobus monkey, to witness a very large backside (up to 15 inch body + 10 inch tail) scuttling off into the scrub whereupon our knowledgeable guide very confidently stated that it was an Elephant Shrew. Bingo! We burnt some rubber and drank a case of beer that night in celebration.
White-headed Buffalo Weaver

Of the Big 5 only leopard slipped under our radar although one apparently paid a visit to the restaurant at Tarangire NP, fortunately not while we were eating our chips, and made off with a young boy. It came back the following night looking for more tucker - this was actually about three years ago - and was shot. Tarangire is quintessential 'Out of Africa' with a stupendous view, from the tented accommodation and restaurant deck, overlooking acacia woodland dotted with browsing and trumpeting elephants of which there are around 2000 in the park. It also contains large numbers of ancient, giant baobabs, some about 600 years old, from which the elephants tear off the bark during the dry season to get some moisture. I don't know what the long term effect of that will be as it causes serious damage and there aren't young baobabs coming through as they get gnawed by the warthogs.
View from Tarangire Lodge
However, being the wet season - although we got practically no rain during the trip - the land was green and the tourists were few. I can't say the same about the tsetse flies which is the one downside of this national park. They don't carry sleeping sickness here, however, and in any case you need to be bitten repeatedly, in those parts of the continent where the disease is prevalent, to be at risk of falling ill. Another myth exploded! I grew up imagining that one bite by a tsetse fly would send me unconscious requiring the kiss of a passing princess to wake me up. Sensitive and obviously not very original child I was. Same thing for bilharzia. Never swim in African rivers or your liver will instantly swell up and probably have to be removed. I blame Ding Dong Bell, my old geography teacher, for always exaggerating things. I remember him saying in the '60s that in the future strawberries would be the size of oranges thanks to genetic manipulation. Come to think of it, he's not far off on that one!
On the rim of Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Crater is everything and more that I imagined it to be. Over expectation usually leads to disappointment but maybe you can pass through an anticipation threshold for famous places so that they can be seen again as unknowns. Before I start to channel any more Donald Rumsfeld, it certainly helps when you arrive at the crater edge with a perfect view (it's often enveloped in mist) and not another vehicle in sight. Down in the crater the following, perfect morning, most of the big animals were on show with a couple of the rare black-maned male lions in view and one of them even getting up from his 16 hour snooze to stagger about for a minute before collapsing back to the ground in exhaustion.
Lioness stalking wildebeest

The major piece of tooth and claw was a spotted hyena loping in front of us to steal another animal's kill (a dead Abdim's stork) on which two tawny eagles were feasting. It really was a most unattractive creature (now I'm channelling my mum!) smeared in extraordinary filth. A cocky little golden jackal thought about trying to filch from the hyena but changed its mind. Earlier a black-backed jackal had come incredibly close to tease a lioness which had just failed in a hunting attempt on a wildebeest. Some guys from the crater rim lodge passed by at the crucial moment and their yahoos alerted the world's ungainliest ungulate to the lion's intent. Still, a living thing got to survive for a while longer although we dipped on our bit of carnage and the lion's cubs, on the other side of the road, went hungry for a little longer. I thought the lion was a bit slow to be honest as the wildebeest was so close but I suppose a lion knows its capabilities better than I do. Judging by the number of lions in Ngorongoro it mustn't be that difficult to get a feed.
Hippo pool at Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara was hippo heaven with much yawning and farting in the overcrowded pool, as well as plentiful elephants, and Arusha NP is the best place to see one of the world's most beautiful monkeys, the black and white colobus. Here we got great views of Mt Meru but Big Mt Kili remained shrouded in cloud or never 'up' as the locals say - one of the disadvantages of going in the wet season. Masai in traditional costumes and in their round-housed villages were everywhere but you will not see any pictures of them in picasaweb partly because of their shyness but also because we were told that they often demand $10 for a snap!
Black and white colobus monkey

Arusha itself is interesting. Our guide told us the Clock Tower in the centre of town was deemed to be at the heart of Africa but maybe that is just parochial boosterism because however much I look at a map I can't see how that fits in geographically. Unless it is metaphorical, because it is the site of the famous Arusha Declaration of 1967 which committed Tanzania to a policy of socialism and self-reliance based on the concept of ujamaa or familyhood. (There will be more on Tanzanian politics in next week's episode on Zanzibar). Also, coming from Rwanda, Arusha is an intriguing place because the UN administered Genocide Tribunals are still being held there. One of the leading perpetrators, who has been held in detention for the last 16 years, is finally having his time in court. We were away from Rwanda during Genocide Memorial Week which started on 7 April and concluded on 14 April a day after we got back. There are many stories to report on that another time.
Lilac-breasted Roller

I have not dwelt much on the birdlife in this instalment in order to appeal to the broader audience and because the blog would end up being too long. I will, however, do a separate bird report to send to those on my bird email list. If you would like to be added to that list please let me know by email or via a post on this blog.

Next time - Zanzibar

1 comment:

  1. From one ungainly ungulate (love that) to another, thanks for the updates. We look forward to the adventures in Zanzibar.