Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Looking back through my blogs from last year I see that 2010 started off with a cancelled trip and it seems as if dejavu is following me. 2011 was supposed to be the year that I fulfilled a dream to visit the Mountain Gorillas (it was in fact my Christmas present from my loving husband). But, not to be! Due to a lack of interest the trip was cancelled and I had to look at alternatives. While scouring the internet and looking at all sorts of options my beady eyes fixed on a trip to the Serengeti advertised on the C4 Images Safari website and it looked like a viable replacement for my big disappointment. In a matter of weeks I was packing my bags once again heading for another African adventure.
I had, in the interim, moved up in the world and bought myself a Canon EOS1D Mk III (to replaced my 1 D MK ll N) and was looking forward to putting it to the test. However, in a reversal of fortune, I think the camera put me to the test. This is a serious piece of equipment! Not meant for the fainthearted or the uninformed.
On arrival at Kilimanjaro Airport we were met by an upbeat Greg du Toit who was looking forward to the days ahead. We headed off through Arusha towards Mount Meru Lodge where we were to spend the night. Arusha is a surprising town. In the growing darkness the candlelit windows dotted the passing landscape while the manic traffic zoomed past us in a frenzied flow. The journey was a stream of passing lights. Suddenly we veered off to the left leaving the tarred road behind and we wove our way between some ramshackle houses up towards the Lodge gates. Suddenly we were inside and unpacking our bags from the vehicles.

The next surprise waiting for us was one flight of steps after the other. Up and down we went from reception to the room, back to the dining room and back to the rooms. Good exercise but entirely unexpected. Dinner was served in a diningroom atop the mountain and it was our first introduction to the limited availability of really cold beverages and ice and the challenge of conveying what you would really like. However, the mood of the group was good and the news that there was only one bottle of tonic water in the Lodge was met with some laughter and much changing of minds on what to eat and drink. After a good meal it was off to bed for a good night’s rest with the prospect of a very early start in the morning. 

In the nervous excitement of travelling north I had the usual anxiety around the time. My Blackberry has its own way of setting different time zones and it does not auger well for a good night’s rest. To double check on myself I asked reception for a wake- up call at 5.30am. The first wake-up call came at 4.30am while the illuminated face of my technological wonder said on one clock 4.30am and on another 5.30am. Then after having a quick shower and packing up my bags I got another wake-up call from the Lodge. As a result of this I was at breakfast an hour before anyone else and I still didn’t know what the time really was!
Once we had finished our breakfast and I had foregone the pleasure of what is referred to in Tanzania (and Kenya) as coffee we checked out and headed for the vehicles. But, our early start was to be delayed by an accident down the road and a broken shock absorber on our vehicle. Finally we were on our way speeding towards Tarangire National Park.
Once we left the limits of the city of Arusha behind the countryside opened up and the drive became an enjoyable experience. Soon we could see the wild animals starting to dot the landscape and then we were there. The joy of going on an organised trip is that all the unexciting things such as entrance fees and paperwork are taken care of and all that is left for you to do is sit and enjoy the moment.
Research reveals that Tarangire National Park is 2 850 square kilometres in extent and lies 118km’s from Arusha. It is reputed to be home to herds of up to 300 elephants and a selection of other flora and fauna the most unusual being the gerenuk and the fringe eared oryx while its birdlife is prolific. Game can be seen at any time of the year.
Godwin, our trusty driver/guide from Maasai Wanderings, efficiently removed the roof from the vehicle and we could now enjoy the view from the top too. We had hardly driven 200 metres into the park when we came across our first bit of excitement. A troop of baboons were making themselves heard. The screeching was deafening and it certainly sounded as though someone was certainly being murdered. Tree branches were being broken, smaller baboons were being chased by bigger baboons and there was havoc everywhere. The little baboons of this rather large troop were hiding out under bushes, behind mothers, brothers and sisters and trying to make themselves as small as possible. We watched as there were skirmishes going on in trees, under trees and on the ground. One poor little soul was being mercilessly pursued through the branches by two larger assailants literally to the point where he was hanging by a thread on the flimsiest of branches at the outer extent of the tree. As the din escalated three large males appeared out of the underbrush. This was a serious skirmish. Dust clouds grew under their feet, teeth were bared and the crescendo of screams grew louder as they moved closer to the vehicle.
Cameras at the ready the shutter symphony started and it was a challenge to keep tracking the fast moving baboons. However, a new piece of equipment in my arsenal, a panning plate combined with a substantial beanbag proved equal to the test, and one or two sharp shots emerged from the melee despite the challenges being presented by my new mighty camera.
The reason for the skirmish soon made itself apparent as one male emerged victorious to claim his prize ......a blushing bride standing off to one side watching. The cacophony died away and we could photograph the rest of the members of the troop as they emerged from the bushes. Then, suddenly right in front of us on a termite mound a very young baboon emerged to stare curiously at us. Eye to eye we snapped away.
Our progression through the park was a hot affair. The sun burned down mercilessly and the animals were heading for cover. We found some elephants hosing themselves down at a waterhole and some others resting underneath the welcome shade. We came across some more baboons chewing through the hard outer layers of the sausage tree fruit while some impala grazed lazily inamongst them.
At the lunch stop we were grateful for the clean toilet facilities with running water. However, the lack of ice and cold beverages was becoming a hard-hitting reality. The vervet monkeys made lunchtime an entertaining affair as they raided open vehicles and were even bold enough to grab food from tables where groups of people were not being attentive. To one side three little vervets were putting on a display of acrobatics jumping from branch to branch and while eyes were averted the larger ones made the dash and grab.
On our way out of the park we came across some more elephants wallowing in the mud and another group where there was some mating going on but by that time we had closed the roof up again and we were on our way.
We headed off to Manyara Lake and Maramboi Lodge where we were treated to ice for our drinks. Gin and tonic and ice have seldom tasted so good. The dinner organised on the decks was the epitome of the African experience. There is no other place in the world where eating outdoors under the steady gaze of the Milky Way can bring such undeniable pleasure.
On reflection, our visit to Tarangire was all too fleeting. We needed to stay at least another day or two to experience all that it has to offer and it was with regret that I moved on.

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