Region: Africa >> Tanzania
Travel time: 2012, June 24th to June 29th
Picture Gallery: Link
Jamaica accelerates the Jeep, heading straight towards yet another water hole in front of us. The vehicle roars up as it gets stuck in the hole, leaving us stranded in one of the most isolated parts of the northern Serengeti. Our guide calmly tells us to stay in the car while he gets help. “Don’t you have a gun with you?”, I ask. “No… I have god with me…”, he says, and wanders out into the vast lion territory around us.
I wake up in the Weru Weru River Lodge after a very active week on Mount Kilimanjaro, looking forward to the upcoming days sitting in a 4×4 Jeep. I have never heard about our starting location Lake Manyara and constantly fail pronouncing the Ngorongoro Crater, which is supposed to be a real treat though! At least I am familiar with our final destination, the famous Serengeti. Eager to finally utilize the 600mm zoom of my new camera, I don’t spend much time eating the lousy breakfast and quickly head outside to meet our waiting guide.
He looks at us in disbelief as he spots our luggage, which he somehow has to wrap up on the roof of the Jeep. Two German girls with the same itinerary got integrated into our group and we have to squeeze into the vehicle with a total of eight persons! Not a problem though, I soon get used to the limited space and time passes quickly as we have a lot to talk about. Our guide Jamaica turns out to be as cool as his name suggest, much in contrary to our silent cook.
Part One: Lake Manyara
We drive to our tour operator’s office and store some of the luggage here. I don’t have a lot with me and use the time to talk with the boss. “A tourist was killed by bandits two days ago in a Serengeti Camp.” (Source), he says and explains that another assault is unlikely as the authorities would search for the bandits now. I feel neither lucky nor afraid and just want to begin the tour now! We start driving and soon find ourselves in the Lake Manyara National Park, parking next to a big elephant – it’s finally time to start taking pictures :-)
Spotting elephants, baboons, hippos, wildebeests, zebras, giraffes and other animals is certainly a good start to our program, but I am sure that it will become way better in the following days. We are leaving the National Park after two and a half hours and examine our first camp site, very close to one of the major routes and not remote at all. Turns out we have some amazing tents and sleeping bags for cold temperatures – why didn’t we have those during our Kilimanjaro trek? Our first dinner is served and Jamaica tells us about his previous Malaria Infections, while mosquitoes are constantly buzzing around us. We were safe on the mountain, but now it is time to use the Malerone pills with each dinner and put on the smelly repellent.
Part Two: Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The alarm rings at 8AM and we head out to get breakfast: toast, tea, sausages & scrambled eggs. I am not too excited about it – just reminds me a lot to our previous breakfasts. We have some extra time and decide to wander around the streets and check out the local market. The people here are used to have tourists around and either try to sell stuff or mind their own business. We start our journey and enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the highest density of wild life in Africa. Jamaica handles the entry regulations and we set up our tents at the rim of the crater before we drive down, passing some Maasai villages on the way.
I start spotting huge groups of wildebeests and zebras in this unreal beautiful location, the surrounding walls of the crater combined with all the wild life create a very special atmosphere. The zebras seem to have a good time too, resting their heads on other zebra’s backs and scratching their tummy with a big rock. Hundred’s of flamingos cover a big lake in the distance and Jamaica’s trained eye constantly spots close-by animals, such as a lion couple chilling in the high grass. Certainly a first highlight so far!
We encounter two tired lion ladies after their hunt in the middle of the path and get so close that I could even touch them! Excitement rises as they get up to slightly change position, one of them putting her pawns against our front right wheel next to Jamaica, who is obviously enjoying the sight as well. More jeeps are coming in and we are now surrounded by 7 or 8 of them. Time to leave the scene after 45 minutes, hopefully we will encounter some rhinos as well!
Some hyenas enter the scene about 20 minutes later and they nervously look around while eating a dead wildebeest. I am getting very excited in anticipation of a possible lion coming in to witness a kill. But they are actually just running away from two other hyenas, while I record the complete action. Even though no fight is about to start, just the chasing part is really exciting and we are right in the middle! One of the hyenas carries the remains away, which basically are only the head and spine. Just a couple of minutes pass and a huge group of living wildebeest’s are crossing the path in front of us. My mind wanders out imaging millions of them during the great migration in the Serengeti, sadly we are about a month too late for that…
We are leaving the crater again and pass more lions on the way out. The scenery now contains a lot of green plants and trees and it is just an amazing feeling to drive around here with the setting sun. I take some last pictures before we head towards the exit of the Ngorongoro crater, too bad this ends so quickly without seeing any rhinos :-(
Our camp is very busy tonight, offering shelter for at least ten individual groups from all over the world. I join some of them at the fireplace after dinner and we are singing songs together. Camp sites here have a very special atmosphere and I can hear sleeping lions for the first time tonight. It sounds like they are ten meters away, but in reality it could be miles. In any case, it’s a great experience listening to sleeping lions… and time for me to do the same now.
Part Three: Serengeti
Another day of Safari action is about to begin and Jamaica drives very fast as usual, not caring at all about the bad state of the streets or the occasional holes in them :-) At least nobody in the Jeep can complain about a boring journey! We are getting closer to the Gate of the Serengeti and take a planned stop at the Olduvai Gorge, where the the earliest known human species, Homo habilis, were discovered. The Gorge offers a nice view but the small tour, or let’s say the boring voice of guide, nearly makes me fall asleep in the middle of the day! I am able to get some nice shots in the area though, including those of a colorful Lizard.
We continue our journey and soon reach the Gate of the Serengeti. It is very hot this morning and we have to stay here for an hour to eat our lunch, which consists of the usual chicken/potato/sandwich/egg combination. As we are leaving the Gate into the huge Serengeti, I can quickly tell that the new environment is completely different to the previous ones. We are now already driving for 30 minutes without seeing anything special and the only thing that changes around us is the weather, turning from sunshine to a grey sky with first raining pouring down.
——– Please check out the video for this report as well when you are done reading! ——–
The car suddenly stops, just when I started to get a little bit disappointing after driving around for nearly an hour. I look around around and can’t see anything! Jamaica quickly points to the left and I can finally spot something in the distance. “There are some cheetah‘s lying in the high grass”. He really is an expert in his job and we are all very grateful to have him as our guide.
Everyone has his camera pointed into their direction now, as they are slowly getting closer to us. They look majestic and calm and it is a great experience to see them live! One of them is using a nearby tree to mark his territory and afterwards both of them are getting closer and closer. My heart starts to beat faster as this is the by far most exciting moment of the safari so far. The first cheetah is just 2 meters away from the car now, jumping over a little rill. The second one takes a close look at us before following his friend and they both wander off on the path, just in time for two incoming Jeeps.
Jamaica slowly drives back to follow the cheetahs and it just takes a little while until they start running away into the high grass. Luckily, we could observe them for nearly an hour – certainly the highlight of the Safari so far! We continue to drive further into the northern part of the Serengeti and spot a lot of zebras and the occasional hippos. The roads are very muddy from the rain now and we are actually stuck a few times, so far we always got away though by turning on the 4WD mode of our Jeep.
I spot some Jeeps gathering around a tree, unable to see what they are looking at yet. We are getting closer and it turns out to be a sleeping leopard in the tree! Too bad he is very tired and does not move at all, but at least we see one of them live! :-) This was also our last encounter with animals as it is pretty late and we have to head to our camp site.
The next morning starts sunny again and we encounter a lot of elephants on our way to the Serengeti Hippo Pool. This rather small pool is so packed with farting hippos that it really takes some discipline to stick around for some good shots. Definitely a fun situation to see all of them lying on top of each other and making funny noises – two of them are even kissing!
Soon after our encounter at the Hippo Pool, we are forced to stop due to a flat tire – this just had to happen at some point! Jamaica tells us to “go play with the giraffes” while he and his cook change the tire by using some rocks to elevate the car, apparently the way it’s done in Africa :-) It actually works quite well and we have the opportunity to take a close look at the curious giraffes around us before they eventually run away from us.
I really like the landscape in this area, getting closer to the Loliondo Part of the Serengeti in the North-East. We are heading towards Lake Natron and other tourists are more and more replaced by Masaai people, who live along the way in small villages. There are a lot of buffaloes, wildebeests and lions present in the area. The latter just seem to rest from their last meal as usual and are not all interested in performing a kill in front us – too bad! :-)
Time passes and there is not a lot to going on except for the usual animals we’ve seen on multiple occasions already. Jamaica accelerates the Jeep, heading straight towards yet another water hole in front of us. The vehicle suddenly roars up as it gets stuck in the hole, leaving us stranded in one of the most isolated parts of the Serengeti. Jamaica calmly tells us to stay in the car while he gets help. “Don’t you have a gun with you?”, I ask. “No… I have god with me…”, he says, and wanders out into the vast lion territory around us. There is no cell phone reception here and we can just wait for him to come back with help… and hope that he will come back at all!
It’s been 90 minutes now and there is no sign of Jamaica. What if he really got into trouble on his way? I’m not sure if he’s been in a similar situation before, but it would not surprise me to be honest. However, there is no need to panic just yet, as he might have to walk some time find any sort of civilization and then come back to us. Nevertheless, we have to prepare for the worst and start collecting firewood to set up an emergency camp next to the car. We pile up some branches, use elephant dung and some newspaper to start the fire and wonder if we would really need to stay here. I am filming the whole scene and just a couple of seconds after the fire is set up, Jamaica is coming back with a big truck to rescue us :-)
Watching the two guys who came back with Jamaica is really entertaining. They are trying to wrap a steel chain around the car just as it would be a rope… not sure if this will work out. They give it a shot and the chain does not hold up, leaving our car back in the hole. One more try seals the deal though and our car is free again. Jamaica hops in to drive it back and nearly gets stuck in the same hole again, just hilarious! (check out the video) It is pretty late now and the sun starts to set, so we will reach our camp site at night fall. Getting there, we spend no time setting up the tends while our guides get a fire going to prepare dinner. It is dark now and I can hear sleeping lions again, this time it’s even louder and they must be very close.
The camp consists of two fenced off huts, usually to separate the cooks from the tourists. We stay in just one of them since no other people are around. The toilet facilities are actually really nice here, except for a bunch of bats flying into us when we walk in there for the first time :-) There is also a water tank next to our dining hut and our cook tells us that he was once standing next to a lion in the night while pouring out some water. I’m glad he told us this story after I was there to get some water for him and am really looking forward to use the toilet from now on! No encounters with lions happen though and we enjoy our dinner before heading back to the tents.
The next morning is sunny again and we pack up everything, still alive and breathing. One last group picture on the Jeep and off we go to Lake Natron; a remote, hot and dry area about five hours away in the north. It is really off the beaten track and does not maintain a lot of tourism, but offers some great landscapes and a perfect view on the active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai. I am very excited to see the volcano and the Lake, but first we have to get there and the drive will be very long. About half way, we are forced to stop again due to another flat tire. We use the time to collect firewood for tonight in the nearby forest and soon head off again to Lake Natron.
Nightfall soon surrounds us as we pass Masaai walking from village to village. Spotting them on the street in utter darkness right before we pass them is a very creepy sight and I’m happy that we finally reached our camp after a long drive. Before we set up the tents again, it’s time to put on an extra layer of mosquito repellant due to the close proximity of Lake Natron. We’re having dinner at a big fireplace this time and hear loud screams in the distance. One of the Masaai explains that they are having some sort of ritual, but it sounds more like an orgy to me..
Jamaica joins us to explain the situation for the upcoming day. We can basically only do one out of three possible activities and need to decide which one it should be. Option 1: Take a walk to Lake Natron and see the flamingos up close. Option 2: Trek to a remote waterfall including a natural swimming pool. Option 3: Climb up the Volcano. My favorite is the last option but sadly we can’t agree on this one in the team, so we decide to take a swim by the waterfall next morning.
A friendly yet very quiet Masaai is destined to be our leader on this wonderful morning and will guide us to the waterfalls. We leave the camp site and soon find ourselves walking next to a river, surrounded by some high cliffs. It’s necessary to cross the river about five times and I nearly lose my flip flops on various occasions, but eventually we reach our destination: A picture perfect Waterfall coupled by a Rainbow.
We spend about one hour swimming around the waterfall and film everything with our two GoPro cameras. The weather is perfect as well and I am very pleased with the way we end our Safari. Some Masaai children try to sell us their self made jewelery on our way back to the camp, luckily they focus on our two girls in the group :-)
Nothing happens on our long drive back to Moshi to our hotel, where we will meet up for some last drinks before continuing to Zanzibar the next morning. It’s been a great experience and we had two lovely weeks in Tanzania, but now I’m also looking forward to relax on the beautiful beaches of Paje!
Don’t forget to check out the 21 minute Video of this trip right here!