Day 7- Lake Manyara

The camp was pretty quiet and I slept well, waking up earlier than we needed to- which ended up being a good thing since Rasta told us the wrong time for brekky! He had definitely told us 830 and then we’d leave at 9am…but at 730 one of the guys from the camp came and told us our brekky was getting cold!

We were basically packed and ready anyway, so this was fine. We went down to our table for avocado toast, egg, crepe and some fresh oranges. I wasn’t sure about eating the orange slices since we suspected that was what may have made us a little yucky for a day when we were in Borneo, but they are so good! The fruit here is just THE BEST and I needed some vitamin C as I am now battling a gross chest cough along with the sore throat (which may very well be from the dust in the Serengeti). However, I CANNOT have any symptoms of illness or appear sick in any way or they will not let me see the gorillas!

Bryan had started stressing again about the money conversion and we went through the tip we needed to give Rasta a few times. He noted how stressed he is when we don’t have the money we need for something but then how stressed he gets when spending it because he has no concept of how much he’s spending and saying, 100,000 sounds like a lot. Thankfully with calculators on the phones, as long as you know the general rate, it’s easy to do…but he asked me no less than 5 times if the calculations were right…

We ate fast and ran to grab our things and joined our new group comprised of a German guy and his 15 year old and 3 French guys. We introduced ourselves and the German guy promptly put his head to the side to sleep. He really didn’t make any attempt to stay awake for the rest of the day- and I don’t think he was just so tired either. He was a bit odd and didn’t even seem to interact with his son much- though the son was very friendly and spoke English well. Turns out he had started surfing recently so we talked about that a little bit.

The ride to the park entrance was no more than a few minutes and I noticed on this very road there happened to be a guardrail to keep you falling off the 1500 ft cliff…but I am also pretty sure it wasn’t there yesterday when I noted I’d not seen any. They must have put it up overnight 😉

The park entrance was pretty cool, kind of a Jurassic park like gate with waterfalls down either side- pretty elaborate really. The permit entry was fast and we quickly started the slow drive through the park. Our driver was Herman who ended up being really nice. He was kind of the opposite of Spear where he drove really slowly all the time and gave us a ton of time at each animal. He did know a lot and shared plenty with Bryan and I- but the others neither asked nor seemed to care. The French guys NEVER stopped talking- unless they were asleep. They didn’t seem terribly interested in the animal sightings but their were not dismissive of them either, like the German guy was.

The lake area started in a somewhat forested where we saw a bunch of blue or syke’s monkeys, which I imagine are named because they have a round, blue butt. There were some vervets also with their cute black faces- and then A TON of baboons. Oodles of baboons. We certainly caught a variety of silly antics on vid and in pics- and they never really stop being funny- although they are a tad shy compared to the ones we have seen in towns, who are super bold and pushy.

Herman identified a variety of trees for us and told us what animals ate them. I was surprised to see palm trees here, which Herman told us the elephants and monkeys like to eat the palm fruits and the elephants will sometimes ram the tree to shake them down. Our favorite however (which needed no identification) was the baobab- the very wide, old trees from Madagascar, that look a bit like they are upside down. We didn’t know they grew here and there were some very impressive examples.

One of them was about 15ft wide- maybe even 20- larger than any redwood I have ever seen pictured. It wasn’t very far off the road and I was so tempted to ask Herman if we could get out but 1. I didn’t want him to compromise his rules if he was trying to be nice by allowing me when he shouldn’t and 2. I figured the last thing we needed was to get bitten by a snake trying to take a picture, so I decided no…but it would have been an amazing shot.

The forest opened up into a more scrubby and grassland area where we started to see Cape Buffalo (not water buffalo, which as Mat has told us are only in India), wildebeest and 2 new antelope types we’d not seen before: bush buck and water buck. There were pumba (warthogs) and even giraffe, who were even laying down, which is seated with their necks up, which is how they sleep. 

The grasslands opened up to the lake, where there is a large swath of wet, sandy, marsh before the water starts a ways out. Thousands of pelicans dot the shore along with storks, egrets (the kind you often see riding on the backs of cape buffalo). There was a pretty kingfisher, which are pretty small but super colorful- we saw them in Borneo too and a very loud pair of hornbills- who are often seen together. The male has almost a double bill, one stacked on the other and the female lacks the extra one but is colored the same otherwise. Zazu from Aladdin was a hornbill if that helps for reference 😉

Off in the distance, almost like a mirage, was a line of pink which are the many flamingos gathered together in the lake. It is a salt lake- and pretty shallow- so not too many animals like that, but flamingos love it. They flock to this area (and Lake Natron) from all over- and if you’ve ever seen the flamingo stuff on nature programs it is often filmed here (though there’s also a high plains South American lake like this as well). Please do yourself a favor and look up flamingo mating dance and watch a video of it because it is hilarious. You can thank me later 😉

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We entered a forested area again and quickly heard a “woah” from one of the French guys. Herman slammed on the brakes, reversed and found a huge bull elephant just a few feet from the road! It is really amazing how something so large can actually hide so well.

Our guide Mat told us of a time they were in a very elephant rich area, basically on the trail the elephants used to get up and down out of this valley. One of his guests had to go to the bathroom so they stopped near a tree. Mat got out to scout the area out and went around the tree about ¾ of the way and told the guy the coast was clear. A few seconds later the guy comes running out from behind the tree with his pants down shouting that the coast was NOT clear and there was an elephant right there!

This guy just watched us curiously as he picked around the tree and even came closer towards us. We were very close for about 5 minutes as we all just looked on in awe- except for the German guy. When the elephant was spotted he glanced at it and then turned his head away! It’s one thing to look and take pics and stand up and gawk and another to watch casually- but he was choosing not to even watch this amazing interactions.

I am not sure how or why you’d come on a safari if you don’t even want to just LOOK at the animals- or sleep, as much as we see people doing so- but my goodness it is dumbfounding and sad. It seems especially sad to me that somehow this moment and these experiences are not enough to wake someone from their first world bubble and offer them a different perspective on life and it’s entire meaning. I am so glad I am not so zombified by the world that I can’t even appreciate the real beauty and meaning of our existence…I pity people that are- and it’s happening more and more with technology.

The elephant started to walk behind the truck and off into the bushes behind us so we headed on down the road to actually get out and see the lake. There is a hot spring that trickles into the lake which was pretty hot. It is not super impressive like Yellowstone but it does create a pretty orange and green series of streaks as it heads to the water. 

The Lake itself is vast- about 220 sq km – and it seems to go on forever. The edges dance in the heat like a mirage, and it was indeed pretty dang hot at this point! The lake never dries up and neither do some of the rivers in the area, which means the animals don’t necessarily have to leave seasonally to survive. The entire lake Manyara park is about 330sq km, so the lake takes up the majority of it.

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We walked out on the boardwalk where we saw some stray juvenile flamingos, who are white. I am not sure if you remember, we first saw some in Namibia, which surprised us that they were white when juveniles and don’t get pink till they are older. I am not sure why these ones were straggling out at the shore vs being in the larger groups out on the horizon- maybe Mat would know…I didn’t think to ask Herman at the time. We were glad though, otherwise we would have come to the famous flamingo lake, only to see no flamingos 😉

There were a ton of pelicans- and there were even hippos! We were pretty surprised at this with the water being salty, but Herman said they tend to wallow near the hot spring where the fresh water is meeting the salty, which makes sense. We meandered around for a bit but it was pretty hot and we were not slathered in sun lotion yet, so we wandered back to the truck to rest in the shade. 

The tree we were under had these large gray, bumpy balls hanging from them- I’d seen one of these pods with a baboon but didn’t get a close enough look. Here they were hanging over our heads however, and Herman said they were mgweva tress and this was their yummy fruit that the animals liked. I’d have to check it out as this is definitely a fruit i’d never heard of before- or maybe it’s their version of guava, as that’s kind of what it sounds like? More investigation is required on this one.

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We all piled back in the truck and made our way to a picnic area where many other safari trucks were parked. Everyone gets a packed lunch- and most seemed the same. It was the same meal we had the first day on this leg of the trip: a veggies samosa, a double decker butter and shredded carrot sandwich; a banana, juice, a muffin and shortbread cookies- also chicken for those that partake.

The French guys were talking and although in French I knew they were complaining about how much chicken they’d eaten on the trip- and it sounded like they wouldn’t eat it again for a while…but really, what do you expect? Chicken is pretty universal, it’s very plentiful and the cheapest here…I can’t imagine what else they’d really be able to provide for the meat eaters otherwise? Anyway, even if I was tired of something, I’d still think, “but at least I am tired of it in AFRICA” rather than just being bored in general 😉

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After lunch we wound our way back through the various landscapes and eventually back to the camp, where we weren’t totally sure what the plan was. Bryan and I were to head back to Arusha, as our safari journey here was over, but the French guys had a few more days left. Eventually it was decided Herman would bring us and the German guys back to Arusha and the French guys would get another driver. I was glad for this as I really liked Herman.

The drive was about 2 hours and the German guy did talk a little, and it turned out he and his son had climbed Kilimanjaro the week before, so we asked a bit about hat. He seemed excited to talk when it was about him 😉 I asked if they’d consider Everest but they said no and we discussed how bad it has actually gotten there. There are so many people wanting to climb and only so much time you can do so with the weather, so they must limit the number of people who can climb. It seems they gave out too many passes this year and people were dying while waiting to summit- and the people behind them just step over their bodies to hopefully make it themselves. That certainly doesn’t sound like fun to me…although admittedly, I am no mountaineer either! 

I still debate whether I will do Kili, as of all the mountains like that, Kili is the most “friendly” for the not so mountaineering type. The hike is a week and the trails are steep, but there’s no crampons and ice climbing. Cold weather I can tolerate, but the glacier camping stuff is a bit too cold for me. With Kili, it’s cold, but the snow part is just the very last bit and you’re not camping in it. A friend of mine did it a while back on a whim, so did someone else I know and neither are the mountaineering type, so I imagine if they can, I could…I am just not sure if i want to or not.

I really will do just about anything once- and I would like to add climb a mountain to my list of things I have tried…but the idea of spending a whole week doing that and not seeing the animals, makes me not really sure I would do it even if Bryan did. I’d probably go on a safari instead- even to the same places we went, because they are so amazing and you never have the same experience twice. Either way this is not a trip we will be doing any time soon- and as i am only getting older, achier and less liking of exercise, I think the odds are not in favor or me doing it 😉

On this drive we learned about the new speed camera system they use to catch people speeding- not really because they are out of control but because they have set up new, lower speed limits in different areas, specifically for the purpose of catching people, ultimately for raising revenue. The fines are only about $20 or 30 (which is expensive for them here)- and as a safari guide if this happened multiple times on the many trips you did, it would add up significantly.

They also do this very stealthy too, it’s not like they tell you with a sign as for the most part they do at home. Even if at home the cops just sit and wait, it’s not like a “set up” that this seems to be. Often the cop will sit by the side of the road wearing a Maasai blanket and facing away like they are tending their goats. This is a sight you see dotted along your journey wherever you are- even out in the middle of nowhere. 

Herman apologized for going so slow and explained this to us, but we told him we weren’t in a hurry and we certainly didn’t want him to get a ticket on our account! He started laughing and it turned out his friend who was behind us, was one of the ones who got stopped- and he said “he knows better”.

We would find out later too that in cities, if you stop your car and go to unload something, if there is no one in the driver’s seat, someone will literally jump out at you and throw a boot on your tire, so you have to pay a fine to get it removed! When we did get to Arusha, we saw Herman make another guy just sit in the car while he helped the German guy and his son unload, so that didn’t happen. 

After dropping them off in the city center, we drove through the city during a pretty high traffic time. Herman asked us to close the windows, I think so no one would try and haggle with us or grab anything, but whatever he said the reason was I didn’t hear. I like looking out and seeing the people, but I definitely understood there is a safety element involved, even if just to prevent people coming close enough for him to accidentally run over their feet. We passed a few fancy hotels which I wrote down the names to see if they are priced as fancy for future reference. Herman pointed out a clock tower that is the center of Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. I don’t think my picture came out very good because I wasn’t ready for it but it wasn’t a fancy clock tower either so not a huge disappointment.

We drove through to the other side of town and turned off the road on to a sketchy dirt one. I was sure Bryan and I were both thinking the same thing and concerned about where this road would lead us. Up and up a hill, it reminded us a lot of the cool, weird place we’d stayed at in Borneo, so we hoped the payoff would also be worth it.

At the top of the hill was a gate and there was a guard opening it. It lead into a pretty courtyard and we could see cool huts with thatched roofs and we took a sigh of relief, as this place looked really nice- not sketch at all!

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Herman with Bryan and jme

We unloaded the car of all our goods- later to find that Bryan had forgotten the souvenir we had bought, as he had not packed it in his bag because he was worried it would break (not sure then how he thought it would get home if not safe now)- and wrapped in paper, blended in with the car. To be clear I could have remembered it too, but not being “in charge” of it ever, namely never handling it, it was not on my radar of things to consider not forgetting. 

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We had a brief chat at reception and asked they arrange a driver for us to get to the airport the next day, which the concierge said he’d do. We were lead to our #10 hut and waited as the guy struggled to get the lock open. It was a padlock on a little bar and after a few minutes, Bryan said let me try. He tried for a few and then the guy took another turn. Finally, it was opened and we went in. 

It was a really cool place with a queen sized bed (with mosquito net) that had zebra bedding on it- of course, of which i approve! There was a nice little balcony and the toilet and shower were their own little corners of the room, made with carved wood poles, kind of like you’d make a fence.

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We were pretty hungry and keen on getting a drink, so we stepped out to lock up and make the short walk back to the main building. I didn’t want to have the problem with the lock again, so I decided to give it a try myself. I latched it, and unlatched it- no problem. I tried again, same thing. I put it on the door and locked it, unlocked it, no problem. Bryan just looked at me and said “We greased it up for you”.

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The bar was really pretty with a modern lounge overlooking the pool. We chose a table next to the window and ordered pina coladas. I saw a book on the coffee table about Tanzania- sponsored by the mining and development industries- therefore much of it’s text was discussing investment opportunities in Tanzania, but there were a lot of pictures too.

We looked at Zanzibar, which seemed the popular destination for Europeans. Almost every one we met was going there for part of their trip. It’s a beautiful island (Tanzania has amazing, not very crowded beaches) that sounds like a spring break destination to some extent (not the whole island) considering it’s popularity.

The books said there was great diving and had some beautiful pictures. It sounds like a pretty nice place to go as long as we found the not party spot. We’re more of a cocktails on a desert island type 😉

It seemed like forever- and was at least 30 minutes- our drinks came out. It is always when you start to think they have forgotten your order that they finally come. Africa is not known for fast service at all…she asked us to taste them and make sure they tasted good- which is a bit odd, but might explain the 30 min delivery time. Perhaps they needed to learn how to make it first 😉

They were good but by that time dinner was being served and we were hungry! Dinner was a buffet and here most of the time they prefer to just charge the incidentals as such to your room- which actually makes it easier for us too- especially if you have a credit card that charges an international fee per transaction. We finally got wise- or rather Bryan finally decided it was worth taking a hit on his (stellar) credit to apply for a new one without international fees.

When we had arrived they gave us a welcome drink, which was watermelon juice. It is like all the best part of the watermelon in drinkable form and it was really good. This was an option for dinner as well, but I already had my pina colada to content with.

We started with leek soup. I will say, we have had soup almost every day and I have enjoyed it. I didn’t think I’d be eating much soup in Africa, but it’s a nice staple, especially because they are all great.

There were a lot of great veg options besides such as mini enchiladas, South African eggplant casserole which had peanuts in it (and was delicious), coconut rice (just plain rice cooked in coco water I believe as it was not creamy), local braised spinach, mashed potatoes and rolls. For dessert there were small bites of sugar pudding, which tasted like a semi-firm, gelatinous snickerdoodle; and lemon bar which had a thick crust. All of it was extremely delicious. Thankfully we’d learned how to say very good, “zuri sana”, and they seemed pleased.

We were tired despite it not being very late and pretty much went straight to bed. Tomorrow would be our first morning where we didn’t have to get up ass crack early and it was nice to think we could just sleep as long as we wanted. We’d been on the run for days now, and those few hours of downtime would be great.

 

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