K2inCanada's Blog

November 11, 2014

Day 2-3: Tarangire – Land of Giants

Filed under: Africa, Animals, Travel — K2 in Canada @ 10:30 PM

Day 2 of our Africa trip (Aug 30). Woken up early again by the dogs and roosters. We got up with the sun and had an early breakfast again. Mike was picking us up at just after 8AM for the start of the road trip. With him was Hamisi our cook – yep we had our personal chef for all the nights we camped. That’s not really roughing it now is it? And Hamisi was a master chef – I was amazed by all the food he produced on this one propane tank. I ate way too much! The truck was full of gear – water, food, propane, tents, table, chairs … we just had the two seats in the back to sit on. Off we go – SAFARI! Below is the map of the trip (green is driving, orange is hiking).

It took some time getting out of town, exchanging some US$ into Tanzanian Shillings on Achmed’s suggestion. While Jeff headed into the bank the truck was instantly surrounded by people who wanted to sell stuff – T-shirts, book, pictures, necklaces…. a never ending stream of mostly men. I wasn’t going to buy anything on day 1 mind you. Finally we left town – the centre looked a bit more like a city and was BUSY with cars and people. As soon as we left Arusha the surroundings changed. It was much drier, open bush, few trees. Lots of Masai tending to their small herds along the road. Waterholes where animal and humans were getting their water. Maasai Bomas – the traditional Maasai huts – and small villages along the way. We stopped at one of those small villages – Mike and Hamisi didn’t have breakfast that morning getting ready for the trip. They left us behind to go inside to get some food while we thought we look around a bit. Lesson 1: You do not look around where there are people, you are being surrounded immediately by those wanting to sell you something. The guys with the T-shirt were targeting Jeff, the women with the wrist bands and necklaces were targeting me. We didn’t really want to buy anything but these people are very persistent. Uncomfortably so. Eventually I offered my “girls” some money to take their picture. Lesson 2: $2 each was way too much – in those little of the beaten path villages they do not understand the value of the US$. They wanted 500 Shillings which is less than $1. Eventually one of the male merchants explained it to them in Swahili – they didn’t speak any English – and all sudden I was their best friend and they were very happy to have their picture taken. We finally joined Mike and Hamisi in the open restaurant inside the fenced in area. Lesson 3: People who sell stuff are NOT allowed on private property – safe havens for us!!

Not long after we hit the road again we turned off the paved highway onto a rough gravel road. We dropped Hamisi off at a campground along the road – we would have camped here if not for wanting to do a night safari which only the lodges inside the park offer – and continued on to Tarangire National Park just another 15min down the road. So far we had only seen cows and goats on the drive and we were anxious to get into the park. But first Mike had to deal with getting the permit. Entry passes are sold in 24hr increments and they are very firm about those 24hrs – you get in at 11AM you must get out at 11AM the next day. Since we were here for 2 days Mike got 48hrs worth. The entry fees are NOT cheap – $50-100 per person per day!! It seemed to take forever….and the elephant skulls displayed at the gate could only entertain us for so long. Good thing there were one of the giants the park is known for right at the entrance. A Baobab tree (Affenbrotbaum) – these trees can be thousands of years old, grow to a heights of up to 30m, can have a diameter of up to 11m and are very unique. We did not see one that big but we did see many awesome Baobab tree specimens. Since it was the end of the dry season they weren’t carrying any leaves or fruit. There is one other tree that stands out in the park – the sausage tree – of which we saw many full of green leaves and with fruits and flowers. But I am jumping ahead.

Finally we had all the permits sorted out and were able to drive into the park. Up comes the roof and Jeff and I are standing for the next 7hrs watching animals. And it only took a minute before we spotted the first Wildebeest. OMG – the amount of animals we saw in this most beautiful landscape of Baobab, Acacia, Sausage trees, the Tarangire River, savanna grasslands was just mind boggling. Impala, Dik-dik, Zebra, Wildebeest, Giraffes, Ostrich, Buffalo, Warthog, Water Buck, Red Buck and not to forget hundreds of Elephants – #2 of the Big 5. Amazing. You get so close to the animals that you could almost touch them – which of course is not allowed! Colourful birds, eagles, storks, vultures. Mongoose and squirrels. Baboons blocking the road below sausage trees since baboons LOVE sausages. So do Impala, hence they follow the baboons as they can climb up into the trees and get the fruits. Baboons never eat them all and there are plenty of sausage left for the Impala. We stopped for lunch at the picnic area – a place you can actually get out – overlooking the Tarangire River with Wildebeest, Zebras and Elephants in it. Vervet Monkeys were running around us looking for scraps. The reason there are so many animals here is the Tarangire River which is one of the few rivers that always has water in it even in the driest of dry conditions. Tarangire has the highest concentration of Elephants of any park and at the time we were there I think they said the park housed 1500 animals. All ages too – we saw old elephants and baby elephants and everything in between. Elephants also like Baobab trees – especially the fresh bark. Apparently it is good for their tummies. So you see some big trees that are half eaten on the bottom – I don’t think it really gets windy here or else those trees would have fallen over. Only fallen trees you see were those toppled over by Elephants.

You probably noticed that I have not yet mentioned any carnivores. Achmed had warned us that they are not as common in Tarangire. We saw a Jackal just after lunch but it took all day to find a cat. Well, Mike found them. 3 lioness were sleeping in the high grass. Barely visible at all. But our first lions!!! #3 of the Big 5 – and this is only day 2. Lucky for us it was already late in the day and finally one of them decided to go for a walk. 5 safari trucks like ours were racing after her trying to get their clients into the best spot for viewing. I have not really mentioned it yet but there are a lot of safari trucks in the park – and this is the low season!! You may have an elephant to yourself but never ever any of the predators. Actually the easiest way to find the predators is by looking for agglomerates of trucks :-). But back to our lioness. I thought she just had about enough of us chasing her when she crossed the river – cats hate wet feet – and crawled up the bank to hide in a little hole. But I was wrong – she was not worried about us but her offspring. 3 or 4 tiny little cubs – I could just make them out with my 60x Zoom!!! It was awesome. Even Mike was impressed – more with the zoom on my camera than seeing lion cubs. He estimated them to be 2-3 weeks old. They were definitely the tiniest cubs we saw.

While everyone else stayed, straining their eyes to see the cubs, we went back to the other two lionesses. They were still lying in the grass but we managed to wake them up. So one after the other they started walking and we had them all to ourselves. One of them found a little mount to sit down on – posing really, just for us. And the second one joined a bit later. We saw them cuddle a little bit with each other. I got some reasonably nice shoots but the light was fading away quickly. So cool!!

Eventually we had to leave them since we needed to check into Tarangire Lodge and get our night safari organized. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Tarangire Lodge – never even checked the Lodge online before we went. All I wanted was the night safari. That place was HUGE. Situated above the river with an awesome view over the park below from the patio. There was a big restaurant, a big common area, a pool and a lot of tents and a few cabins. We stayed in a “tent” – talk about luxury tenting. Okay, the walls were made of canvas but we each had a full size bed and there was a full bathroom with shower in the back. And the view from each cabin was the same as from the main patio. You are actually not allowed to leave your tent after dark. But they do a have a guard with a gun to walk you back and forth since most people don’t go to sleep when it gets dark at 7PM. All I saw around the tents were dik-diks. We arrived at the lodge around 6 and had a bit over an hour to get ready for dinner at 7:30PM and the night safari at 8PM. Dinner was wonderful – buffet style offering a variety of curries. The waiter was very helpful in getting us fed in 30min.

A long day but I was very excited about the night safari. We met Brandon and his native African helper Leonard. Brandon is the son of the white lodge owners and was actually born in Tanzania. He had spent his whole life at the lodge, I would have guessed him no more than 20 years old, and really seemed to love his job. The four of us  I had thought there would be more – jumped into yet another 8-seater jeep and took off into the pitch dark. Brandon was driving and holding a strong light that he swept back and forth to catch the glow of a pair of eyes. I am not sure how he did it but he always knew what type of animal these glowing eyes belong to. Zebras, Wildebeest, Eland, Dik-dik, gazelles…but those were not the creatures we were after at night. The first real night creature was a spring hare. But we only had a quick glance. Then a Genet – cutest creature, like a mini leopard. The 2nd one of those actually sat still for us in plain sight for a while. Too bad I could not take pictures at night. Then we saw a Whitetail Mongoose – sitting right along the road in plain view. Apparently they are usually much more shy. We saw a glimpse of Hyenas, a Bat Eared Fox and a Porcupine – which I really never saw. What was surprising was the amount of night active birds, other than owls. We were driving along at low speed looking left and right to see some animals when all sudden we hear a sound from Leonard in the back “Tembo”. Brandon swept the light straight ahead and hit the brakes at the same time. Right in front of us in the middle of the road were a couple of Elephants – we almost ran right into them if not for Leonard. And they weren’t going to move either. We had to drive off the road to get around them. The whole tour took maybe 90min but it was well worth it. Brandon is very knowledgeable and has many interesting stories to tell. We found out that he will also be our guide for the morning walking safari tomorrow at 6:40AM. We hung out in the common area a bit sharing a Safari beer to wind down from the adventure before hitting the sack by 11PM.

Genet - not my picture mind you but that's what it looked like

Genet – not my picture mind you but that’s what it looked like

Day 3 (Aug 31). This was our first night tenting in the “wild” but I slept really well. Only woke up once to some noises right next to the tent – probably dik-dik or mongoose. 6:00AM came pretty darn early. We only had a cereal bar for breakfast and got ready just in time to see the sunrise. We thought we had spotted a hyena down below while waiting for the bushwalk to start. Brandon and another native African ranger met us right at 6:40AM, both of them had guns. Again we were the only ones, cool! We walked past the tents – including ours – and Brandon pointed out the fresh Giraffe tracks from not too long ago. And we could spot a Giraffe down below in the valley. The landscape looked even more beautiful in the early light as we walked down to the river. Brandon showed us a lot of tracks and other traces of animals. We saw some dead water buffalo and warthog. We saw some very much alive Impala, Water Buck and Vervet Monkeys – the later not as bold as the picnic area relatives. We saw a variety of vultures in the trees as well as Marabou Stork in the river and an abundance of other colourful birds which names I already forgot. Only one I remember is the Love Bird from the parrot family. We apparently saw a really rare bird but again, the name went in one ear and out the other. Nothing too exciting – we walked slow and quietly – but it was just the greatest feeling to walk the same dirt as the Elephants did the night before. We learned about termites – the queen can live 60 years and produces thousands of eggs day in day out. The walk took about 90min – absolutely serene. Although Brandon told us the story of him and some clients walking right underneath a tree with a lion in it. Nobody got hurt.

Back at the lodge we had plenty of time for breakfast – again buffet style – before meeting Mike at 9AM for another day driving in Tarangire National Park. The weather was even better than the day before – endless blue sky. We saw a similar variety of animals as the day before plus a banded mongoose. We saw dwarf mongoose at the lodge already. We also got to see our first male lion who was making out with a girl for a bit. Mating for lions is quite a chore. It takes 7 days. They hunt together beforehand but then do not eat for the next 7 days – all they do it mate. First every minute, then every hour, then every few hours …etc. If the male makes it to day 7 he has proven to be strong enough to be the father of the next generation of lions. For lunch we actually left the park to set up our tent – like a tent tent – just outside the park and to meet up with Hamisi again. Mike had to get something fixed on the truck so we had a couple hours break which we spent chatting with some Tanzanian youth that were employed at the campsite. The population of Tanzania comes from 130 different tribes. The 4 guys we talked to were all from a different tribe. Maasai is one of the largest tribes but since they tend to live a traditional life they mostly stay by themselves. All the tribes intermingle though. Mike for example is half Masai. Every tribe seems to get along with each other – one reason why Tanzania is considered a very safe country to visit.

In the afternoon we went back into the park for more. Did I get bored of it? NEVER. Every Elephant does something slightly different – like the one who went on his hind quarters to get to the leave in the tree. Few Elephant facts I remember. they do eat everything – grass, leaves, twigs, trees … they eat up to 300kg per day. But only 40% of their food gets digested. They live together in family groups with a female matriarch. An Elephant pregnancy is 21-22 months long. We saw quite a few very young calves. They actually nurse at their mother’s breasts and not their bellies like most other herbivores. We saw an injured young Elephant that was left behind by the herd. It is possible that another female would pick him up – they do adopt lost calves that are not their own. If not, the chances he would survive many more nights was slim. That’s Africa for you.

We also saw our lion couple again. They were resting near the river. We spent quite some time with them – like about 10 other trucks. They actually both got up and walked around a bit, kinda cuddled a bit but not much action. This was hopefully day 7 or this male – he looked young – is not going to make it. And like any good couple that had been together for some time they snarled at each other and then she took off. He was just tired!! Some trucks followed her, others like us stayed with him. But then Mike got a tip from another driver and all sudden bolted off after the lioness. She had climbed up into a trees. Usually big cats like this do not climb tree. Here though they can get away from the flies by going up higher and sausage trees are fairly easy to climb.

The sun was almost setting when we left the lions – I was sad to leave this place. You have to be out of the park or at a Lodge by dark and we raced the setting sun – only stopped once for a quick sunset picture but Mike was in a hurry. Back at camp we finally got to sample Hamisi’s food for the first time. It was really good – Talapia, vegetable curry, roast potatoes and a fresh salad with huge chunks of avocado and apples. And always soup to start and tee and fruit for dessert. It was just awesome!!! Given that all this was prepared on a single propane burner in a tiny little kitchen area!! The campsite was very basic – more like what I expected. The toilets were not the comfy flush toilets though but just a whole in the ground. Definitely not bare feet washrooms. The water was coming from a small water tank and I never thought twice about if I could use it to brush my teeth. Just did. I am sure they did not want all their tourist to get sick. We weren’t the only ones camping here. And both of the other two groups were older than Jeff and I. One group of 3 from either Switzerland or France and another single guy from Germany. He was in his 70th and on his 3rd or 4th camping safari. We saw him again and again in other campsites we stayed at.

The night was a bit rough – not because of the nice comfy mattresses we were sleeping on but because of the donkeys from a neighboring village making a hell of a noise all night long. It sounded like someone was going to kill them…I take lions roaring near the tent over that raucous any time!

If you want to see much more of Tarangire National Park use the below link. But be warned – it over 200 pictures (and I may add some more): https://google.com/TarangireAug30312014. This park was definitely one of the highlights for me – if you could only visit one park in all of Tanzania, I would pick Tarangire.

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: