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Betsey's Excellent Safari

While Mark was off climbing, I went on a six-day safari in northern Tanzania – lots of animals and lots of driving!  I went with a small group – a Chinese national and her grown daughters all living in Germany, and two young women from the US, each traveling independently.  While 4 of us were staying in lodges, tented or otherwise, the two Americans were sleeping in sleeping bags and tents at the public campgrounds. The tour accommodated everyone, and we all had a great time. 


Our driver/guide Daniel was very knowledgeable, personable and a great mechanic.  On the second day at one particularly bumpy stretch of road, the clutch cable broke.  He climbed under the car, removed the broken piece, hitched a ride back into the nearest town 30 min away leaving us with the chef, Rashid and several curious Maasai men hanging around on the hills.  Daniel found his way back an hour and a half later with a makeshift cable and after fitting it back in place, we were off!  It was a great thing to happen where it did because there were no towns for hours once we entered the Serengeti. 

First stop was Tarangire National Park with its granite ridges, river valley and swamp land.  It is, home to the enormous baobab trees, lots of elephants and part of the annual migration route for zebras and the white bearded wildebeests.  The Great Migration, from the Maasai Mara in Kenya to the southern Serengeti occurs from August to October when millions of zebras and wildebeests leave the dry north in search of better food in the south.  There were more of both than I could possibly imagine, always eating or on the move.  


They seemed very purposeful and less social among the herds than those we saw in Botswana.  They still had quite a way to go before they arrived at their summer destination.  The females were eating for two as well because the birthing season is during the rains when the food is plentiful. There were also plenty of elephants, young and old.  While water wasn’t always evident, it was not far below the surface.  Elephants are experts at making water holes for all to drink.  It looks like they are extending their trunk into the dirt but actually they are quenching their thirst.  When a hole gets big enough, it becomes a playground for the youngsters rolling around and piling on top of one another.

The baobab, the huge tree pictured, is actually a succulent that can live for a few thousand years, reach 50 meters in circumference, and grow to 30 meters tall.  It is a strange looking tree with its spindly branches and enormous trunks.  Since it stores a huge amount of water in the wet season, it is able to produce nutrient rich food during the dry season for a variety of animals.  Certainly, the largest tree in diameter I’ve ever seen.


Serengeti, which means endless plain is Maasai is vast with a golden sea of grasses and the occasional acacia tree or rock pile scattered in.  It’s home to a large lion population along with 70 other large mammal and 500 bird species. We saw several cubs playing, families lounging and others stalking.  We also saw a leopard stalking some wildebeests that gave up when a hyena appeared.  Hyenas often steal food from leopards so there was no point in hunting with one so close.  

And then there were the birds - beautiful little kingfishers, lappet-faced vultures, huge marabou storks with their pinkish necks and many others. Finally, we saw zebras and wildebeests crossing the Mara river in large groups.  The migration was winding down but we still saw hundreds of wildebeests congregating on the banks waiting for the first one to head for the water.  The thing that struck me driving through was how truly spacious it was.  Several species could be seen at any one time but with lots of space each.  Lions would be walking or lounging on one side and on the other in the distance would be wildebeests and zebras or warthogs or any other number of species.  Each just going about its business of living.


Ngorongoro crater conservation area is the world’s largest inactive unbroken and unfilled volcanic caldera that formed over 2.5 million years ago when the volcano erupted and then collapsed in on itself.  Before it erupted, the volcano was believed to be about the size of Kilimanjaro.  There is a large variety of wildlife living on the crater floor including the extremely rare black rhino, which we were lucky enough to see.  Plenty of elephants mingled about along with the ubiquitous zebras and wildebeests.  In the waterholes, hippos crowded one another riding out the warm days until sunset when they could come out to eat.  A few beautiful crown cranes were watching males in courtship dances and greater flamingos fed along the banks of a small lake. One animal missing is the giraffe because the sides of the crater are too steep for it to climb – from the base to the rim, it is almost 2,000 feet.

After Ngorongoro crater, the other tour members were dropped off at a small town nearby having completed their safari.  I still had a final day, so Daniel and I headed out on a private safari to Lake Manyara, a nearby soda lake to check out the bird life and find some tree climbing lions.  We found several species of hornbill, some little blue monkeys, more flamingos, elephants, and giraffes but no tree climbing lions.  In fact, this was the only day I didn’t see lions.  Beautiful lake and conservation area, nonetheless. 


While the safari had long days, the scenery and animals seen were spectacular.  Couldn’t think of a better way to pass the time while Mark trekked up the mountain!  I certainly slept better 😊