Thursday, October 17, 2013

Africa Trip Part 5 - Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Because we only stayed in Lake Manyara one night and had the same guide, Ray, from our arrival there until we left Tanzania at the Kilimanjaro airport two days later, I’ve decided to lump our days in both places together. Plus, their landscape and weather are similar – dry, dusty, with mostly red clay soil.

After a long plane ride to Lake Manyara, Ray picked us up in an enclosed truck with an open roof where we could stand up and take our photos by leaning out through the top. However, since I’m so short, I had to continually climb up and down from my seat so I could get my camera and head out there. Once we arrived at the national park and had our picnic lunch we proceeded to look for game – as we’ve done for the last eight days. And while I was beginning to feel ready to stop this, I began to click away with great enthusiasm, climbing up and down off my seat, and soon as I  saw more elephants, giraffes, and a lion relaxing in a tree. 

We stayed at the Lemala camp at the lake, and though smaller than the others, it was as beautifully appointed. Plus the food was excellent, including a great African buffet for dinner. The two chefs were very happy to cater to my dietary constraints.

Ray took us another game drive after we left Lake Manyara the next morning, and the highlight was seeing four lions looking very comfortable up on the branches of a tree. We also saw the blue monkey, thousands of pink flamingos, a great white pelican, ostriches, and more giraffes. Sadly, we also saw an elephant with one tusk.
Another sadness was the many beggars who came by every time we stopped. Although Ray discouraged us from giving them anything, he stopped the truck several times to give our leftover food to young boys walking along the road. Every village we passed showed this level of poverty. Lots of little shacks where people were trying to sell practically anything that they could: a few t-shirts and dresses hanging from a line, flimsy necklaces, and bracelets. There was a butcher shop and a place to buy medicines – called medics, umpteen curio shops, and beautiful rows upon rows of garden material on the other side of the road. However, everyone was trying to sell the same thing, so no one was buying anything. Except us. Much to our travel mate’s delight, Ray also took us to the best African handicrafts emporium of our whole safari experience during that drive.

We arrived at the Ngorongoro National Park by mid afternoon, and I was surprised and actually taken aback at the amenities it provided: actual toilets, picnic areas, lookouts. It lacked the raw and naturalness of the other reserves and parks we had visited. But then we should have known what was to follow: the Explorean Lodge where we would stay the next two nights. Here we were really back in civilization and a very elegant one at that. Our room was huge – actually it had a both a living room and bedroom – with an outdoor deck that looked out to the lodge’s huge vegetable and flower gardens. The food, however, was not so good. At first we all thought how lovely it would be to stay in this paradise for the rest of our lives, but after we sampled the food, we changed our minds. Going home soon was beginning to sound pretty good.

The next day, on our last game drive to the Ngorongoro Crater, further cemented our thoughts about leaving Africa. We drove and drove and drove up and down hills in a thick morning fog to get to the crater. There we saw wildebeeste and elephants and a few lions – actually a male lion was having his way with a female lion right in front of us – and many birds we hadn’t seen before. However, the red dirt road and so much foliage covered with red dust were what I remember most about this area. Every time another vehicle would pass it kicked up dust such that we were left with a coating of red dust on ourselves, inside ourselves, and upon every thing we carried. I wrote:

I’m satisfied
on this last day of safari.
I’ve seen more animals and birds
than I ever dreamed of – so many more
than Jonah could ever board in his ark.
The geography and weather varied
in each place we visited.
Bumpy hills with bare trees in hot Samburu,
a vast plain with little vegetation
called the Savanna in the Masai Mara,
rolling greens covered with dense rocks
and thunderstorms every evening in the Serengeti,
dust and hot dry air in Lake Manyara,
and now at our last place Ngorongoro
wind-blown red dusty soil that covers
all of me inside and out.

The next morning Ray drove us to the airport just past Arusha, Tanzania. We spent another four hours on a combination of bumpy and newly paved highways. He told us the Chinese designed and built the new roads with labor by Chinese prisoners and a few newly-trained Africans workers. The Japanese paid for the whole enterprise.

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