K2inCanada's Blog

November 30, 2014

Day 4: Lake Manyara – a slower day

Filed under: Africa, Animals, Travel — K2 in Canada @ 9:21 PM

Day 4 in Tanzania (Sep 1). I was up before the sun hoping for a nice sunrise which was rather disappointing. In truth I also had to use the washroom real bad – my first experience with #2 using these “hole in the floor” toilets. Needs practice – let’s keep it at that :-).

We took our time getting ready that morning – apparently Lake Manyara isn’t the most interesting place to visit at the end of the dry season when the lake is at its lowest. On the way we stopped in Mto Wa Mbu (Mosquito River) where Mike had to run some errands and to drop off Hamisi for the night. Hamisi never went with us when we stayed in lodges, only when we camped. If I had known that I might have done things differently. Tonight’s lodge stay was just because I wanted to stay in a secluded Tented Camp which Tarangire kinda was. So we could have skipped that night BUT … it ended up to be a very special place.

Jeff was not feeling well that day – cold like symptoms with sniffling and sore joints. He probably got it from the guy on the flight from Amsterdam to Tanzania. I am not even sure how much he remembers from this day – probably the part where a gecko was running across his chest at the place we had lunch :-). But I am jumping ahead again.

This park was very different from Tarangire. The lake is part of the East African Rift Valley and lies right below the escarpment. When you first enter the park it almost is jungle-like – the water running off the escarpments collects in an underground river and transforms an otherwise very arid region into a green lung. And like any good jungle there were lots of primates around – Baboons, Sykes and Vervet monkeys – as well as lots of Hornbills. A bit further into the park the bush became much drier again but still much denser than Tarangire. Not easy to spot animals and we didn’t see much until we hit the “lake” for the first time. Lake is a bit of an exaggeration. All we saw were empty flats for almost as far as we could see. In the far distance we could just spot some wildebeest and some warthogs. The sky was cloudy and it all looked quite gloomy. Is this going to be it? We continued on through the bush – few impala, some eagles, more monkeys – until we reached the next access point to the lake – at least there was water visible. Here we saw a lot of giraffes right in the open. Many of them actually sitting down resting. Giraffes don’t sit down often but in this open space they can spot predators from a long way off. And it is easier to eat the short grass in a seated position when you have such a long neck :-).  In the far distance we could just see this pink line when the sun tried to poke through the high clouds – flamingos! Lake Manyara is not a nice freshwater lake, it is salty. Most of the lakes here are salt lakes and the flamingos live off the shrimps that strive under these alkaline conditions! Hence in the wet season this park becomes alive with flamingos. It almost looked like it wanted to rain but at the end the sun won out again that day too.

We continued on through the bush with few glimpses of the lake here and there where we saw more wildebeest. Close up we noticed that these animals had a distinctive different colour here than the ones we saw in Tarangire – apparently their fur colour depends on their diet. We saw some elephants hiding in the bush. We saw very few other vehicles and every time Mike chatted with the driver. After one of those encounters he all of a sudden, without saying a word, started speeding along the narrow track. We barely managed to stay up and there was no chance of spotting anything. We emerged from the bush and all these fantastic views opened up around us. I consoled myself that I will always be able to take more pictures on the way back. We had learnt to trust Mike’s “silent missions” – speeding usually means something cool is somewhere down the road and he didn’t want to ruin the surprise by telling us.  So we flew by hundreds of flamingos close to shore onto a wide open plain. But all we encountered there were some water buffalo and more warthogs. Warthogs are the funniest animals. Okay, they look kinda mean with their tusks and mane but when they run on their short legs and with their tails straight up in the air they just look cute. I am big a fan of pigs! And I made Mike stop for both of those animals during our mad race. He may have blamed me for missing the lions that had been out there apparently. More likely he learnt the lesson that Jeff and I can get excited by any animal sighting out there – not only the big cats :-). We slowly worked our way back to where the flamingos were – enjoying the great views over the escarpment and the lake below it and taking pictures. The flamingos were hanging out near the hot springs where we stopped for lunch. This spring was actually fresh water but too hot to even stick your fingers into. Fresh water though meant lots of nice green grass in front. And past the grass the lake was full of pink flamingos. By now the sun was out fully and the colours were just amazing. We may not have seen the same amount of animals as we saw the first 3 days but the scenery being so different was just as stunning – dry season or not.

We saw more warthogs, giraffes and elephants on the way back and I thought the day was done as we entered the underground water forest again but then Mike turned off towards the lake one more time. Only that this time we ended up in a marshy area with a fresh water river meandering through it rather than at the salty lake. Here we saw a whole bunch of pelicans and storks, ibis and spoonbills, herons, cranes and Egyptian geese, a night heron and …. hippos!!! I love hippos even more than pigs. You had to get out of the truck on a little ramp to see them. They were quite far away and all in the water barely having their eyes and noses sticking out above water. No more than 10 animals.  Jeff and I spent 45min! with the hippos – if Mike hadn’t learnt the lesson earlier, now he did – just to see one yawn. Many other tourists came and went but none of them saw the yawn :-). Patience, people, patience! With the hippos being a real highlight Lake Manyara was definitely no disappointment.

Next we needed to get to our Tented Camp. We drove through Mosquito River town again and turned off on a good gravel road. Shortly after we left all civilization behind and entered…nothingness. It was really dry – almost dessert like with few bushes. Cacti here and there and a couple baobabs on some small hills but that was it. Jeff asked where the hell we were going and honestly I had no idea. I found this camp because that’s where my colleague and his group stayed and it was the cheapest of all the places. Jeff wasn’t impressed by the barren landscape. Even Mike had never been here before. A half hour or so later we turned off from the road into the desert – I could barely make out the track we followed. And there nestled underneath a couple large Baobab was “Ol Mesera Tented Camp”. We later learnt that Ol Mesera means Baobab in Maasai. The owner Barbara and 3 Maasai men greeted us. We were the only guests. Right away I noticed the quiet. All I could hear were some birds and cow bells from down below in the valley where the Maasai were bringing in their cattle. Apparently their village was close. The Maasai showed us to our “tent”. It was situated on the edge of the hill overlooking the rift valley below and the escarpment across. WOW – if you know the movie “Out of Africa” – I felt like Karen sitting on her favourite hill overlooking the land below waiting for Denys (Jeff was having a shower). The inside of the tent was wonderfully done – again with a full size washroom in behind. You could not even see any of the other 2 or 3 tents – all were separated by dry bushes and cacti. Even Jeff, who had been sick and not really into it all day realized this is the place to be if you are sick and not really into it. Mind you, he started to feel better and when we went back to the open common area for dinner he started chatting with Barbara right away while we waited for dinner to be ready. In Tarangire, Mike had been put up in the drivers quarters, which were a bit crowded, and had dinner with the drivers. When we camp he usually ate with us. Here at Ol Mesera Mike got his own tent – like ours – and was dining with us. We invited Barbara, our host, to join us for dinner. She was reluctant at first but eventually gave in. I am glad we asked her, she had many tales to tell about this country. Unfortunately I only remember a few but we had a wonderful evening learning about life in Tanzania.

Barbara and her husband, a doctor although we never found out if he is still around, came to Tanzania in 1968. The year I was born! They were originally from Slovakia. She had worked with tribes in different areas of Tanzania before opening this Lodge a few years ago. She picked this place because she liked the Baobab trees. She herself oversaw the building of the place. The power is coming 100% from solar. Backup batteries provide the power at night. Even charged my camera batteries. She only employs people from the local Maasai village and that was not easy at the beginning. Originally she asked for young women to help her with the cleaning and cooking. But Maasai women are not allowed near male strangers until they are married and once they are married they only work for their husbands. Hence, the village elder did not allow any women to work for her. The men were eager to come work but all of them wanted to be guards. Maasai men do not cook or clean, that’s women’s work. But over the years her Maasai helpers did get used to cleaning and cooking and we left a good tip for them. Years ago she still had wild animals come through – giraffes, elephants, genets – but not for a few years. Too much competition for food with the cattle. Now she only has 2 or 3 wild cats hanging around her place – some are friendly, some are not so friendly. They do keep the snakes away though. All of these things – the surroundings and people – made “Ol Mesera” a very special place!!! Even Mike fell in love with it and the Maasai helpers really connected with him.

We slept very well that night :-).

If you want to see more of Lake Manyara National park click here.

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