Eastern, southern, and northern Tanzania December 2015

26/12/2015 10:20

Gallery at bottom of this page.

We rented a car in Arusha from our friends in Comfort Holidays. A 1993 Landcruiser 70 ZX, a six-cylinder powerhouse that would take us four through rivers and mud without complaining. Not exactly environmentally friendly, something we have to compensate for the other 49 weeks of the year.

Per, Marita, Janne och Barbara framför LandCruiser 70 ZX
From left: Per, Marita, Janne and Barbara

We headed east on the A23 road towards the volcanic Lake Chala east of Kilimanjaro. We chose to camp on Lake Chala Safari Camp and after a light lunch we took the walk down to the lake for a dip in the 25 degree waters. The border with Kenya cuts across the lake in the east-west direction, the opposite bank on the picture lies thus in Kenya.

After self-cooked breakfast we headed south on Highway B1 along the mountain range Pare Mountains and further south the Usambara Mountains. Our goal was the town of Lushoto 1400 m.a.s.l a bit up in the Usambara. Both Pare and Usambara are parts of the previously forested 600 million years old Eastern Arc stretching from southern Kenya to southern Tanzania. The population explosion after independence has meant that most of the forests have been cut down. Here in the West Usambara, some smaller areas are saved as forest reserves, but an estimated 80% of the forest is gone. 600,000 people are currently residing atop plateaus and are experiencing growing problems with the water supply when the forest has disappeared.
We took a walk with a guide Aggrey Shempemba in one of the reserves that were not larger than a few square kilometers. It was beautiful and wlld but also depressing to realize that this is how the whole Usambara looked only 50 years ago. Homo sapiens creates problems wherever she appears on earth. With Einstein's words: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the former."
Anyhow, we had the pleasure to see several West Usambara Two-horned chameleons.

After two nights at Irente Farm Lodge, we headed down the serpentine roads and back to B1, after which the course was set to Segera where we turned east on the A14 towards the coastal town of Tanga. Exactly halfway between Segera and Tanga we turned south on a smaller and initially woefully poor dirt road where the speed did not exceed 40 km/h, rather half of that. Gradually the road became better and we arrived in Pangani early afternoon. The ferry across the Pangani River took only a few minutes and cost almost nothing. We were not clear where to choose the accomodation but ended up in a simple place we never noticde the name of, just north of the much more exclusive and more expensive The Tides Lodge. Marita and Per chose a simple banda directly on the beach, Barbara and Janne a slightly more expensive bungalow.

The place was undeniably great, relaxed and friendly, relaxed staff. To find something like this on the exploited Zanzibar must be difficult. At midday it was quite warm but plenty of shade under the palm trees. Evenings were pleasantly cool but still warm enough to make us leave the door open, protected by the masai watchman.
Mornings offered colorful sunrises so alarm call was set to 5:30 for long beach walks before breakfast.

We could easily have stayed one more day but decided to drive down to Saadani National Park. Also there one can swim in the Indian Ocean but also go on game drives and watch the animals. As usual, we used TANAPA's newly built and very nice bungalows for only 40 dollars per person per day, 100 meters from the beach.

The actual camp is part of the National Park so morning and afternoon so we could just get in the car and drive out on the game drive. Despite some attempts to rain the previous week, the park was very warm and dry. We saw elephants, buffaloes, Kongoni (Hartebeest), but only one duiker antelope of which you tend to see quite many here.

We contented ourselves with a night and after a short morning game drive followed by brunch (merged breakfast and lunch) we drove out of the park westwards to reach the A14 again and then south toward Chalinze. At this junction, we took Tanzam Highway (A7) west towards Morogoro for an overnight stay at Mama Pierina's hotel followed by catering supplies ahead of the visit to Mikumi National Park.
Straight through this park runs the A7 and despite speed bumps many, especially buses, are driving too fast. A few days before our arrival, a bus driver run over and killed nine buffaloes near the main entrance to the park, a news we saw on TV in Ushongo and angered many Tanzanians. When we paid the admission tickets, we saw pictures on a female ranger's smartphone. Not nice pictures. We wondered, why are these men in such a hurry when they're behind the wheel when everything else they do is carried out at a leisurely pace?
Mikumi offered great entertainment. Leopard (very unusual to see here!), lions, elephants galore, great buffalo herds, we almost regretted that we only set aside one night here.

Next stop was Iringa 400 km to the east and an ever-spectacular driving on serpentine roads through the Udzungwa's mountain passes. Here, one can be left standing for hours when a truck has tipped over the road. We were lucky, only two trucks had overturned and we came by after only a few minutes of waiting at the respective accident. Towards the end of the climb we drove behind a truck that partly drove slowly, and spread a terrible odor of diesel, or was he driving on crude oil? A chance to make an overtaking appeared at the speed bumps in a village, but just when Per drove across the solid line to the opposite lane, a female police officer got out in the street 100 meters ahead and showed the stop sign. For me, Per wondered? Yes, after a proper scolding, Per was allowed to continue without fines but with the tail between the legs. "You are the driver and the responsibility!" No use to argue, especially when the fault was yours.
Iringa was reached in time for a late lunch and we spent the night in Ruaha International Lodge, a name that hardly was matched by the place but it was clean and hot water available in the shower.
After breakfast and provisioning at Iringas stuffed vegetable market, we took on the task of driving the 110 km to Ruaha National Park on an occasionally unmarked dirt road. After three hours of shaking on the washboard road we reached the entrance and looked forward to three nights camping at the edge of the Great Ruaha River.

The water level was much lower than at our visit a year earlier as hippos and crocodiles was not visible from the campsite. But we heard hippos, and the first night the lions was heard not very far away. We did not see them until the second day. Three lionesses fanned themselves in a puddle on the otherwise fairly dry riverbed about a hundred meters from the camp.

They called us as intensely as we watched them. We were told by a ranger that they had hit a buffalo on the other side of the river a few days earlier and therefore did not have to chase, neither us or antelopes. The second night they were pretty loud and woke us several times. Something we did certainly not complain about.
Despite the low water level in the river there were loads of animals to see. Not at least birds were abundant along the river and especially a few kilometers north of the camp in a wooded area with predominantly acacia trees and a large puddle.

Mammals were in abundance, from large to small: elephants, giraffes, hippos, greater kudu, zebras, water bucks, impala, dik-dik, baboons, monkeys and several groups of banded mongoose (East Africa's counterpart to southern Africa's meerkats).

As one of the few national parks, Ruaha introduced night safaris. With the guide, lamp holders and park ranger we set out into the darkness the third evening. In a dedicated car, of course. Night safari is particularly exciting because it is the only chance to see the nocturnal animals. This time it was real bingo as we saw African wild cat, on two occasions! One totally black, a rash of melanism (opposite of albinism), since a feral domestic cat this far from civilization can hardly have been the case. New species for us were also civet and dwarf galago. Despite a turbulent end when we were asked to supply an additional 150 dollars to the 220 we already paid, which resulted in a meeting under the African night sky with an account manager, the problem was dissolved
we returned very happy to camp. Images were hard to take as the light was insufficient. The Galago stuck in any case fairly.

Three nights went far too quickly and it was time to return to Iringa for an overnight stay before we headed for the capital Dodoma 250 km north. After a walk in the city, a visit to a local "mall" with hundreds of simple market stalls in the narrow alleys that never seemed to end and where basically everything was offered, we spent the night at a simple but clean lodge.
The next attraction was the Lake Manyara National Park. Because we chose to go the detour via Singida instead of straight through Kondoa we took an overnight in Babati on another simple but perfectly okay lodge.

Photo: Jan Olsson

This time we wanted to try the southern entrance to the park, used by very few. A few kilometers north of Babati on the A104 road we turned left onto route B141 and tortuous but decent gravel roads through the extensive plantations conducted around the lake. A first river crossing at Magara went great because the water was only a few inches deep. Next transitional looked considerably more uncertain. The river was about 50-60 meters wide and in the middle a bunch of guys were stuck with their mini-tractor with subsequent trailer filled with rise sacks they had started to carry over to our side. Time for use of the tow rope, but first we wanted to check how deep it was. Quite deep indeed, over the knees in some places, and the sand was unpleasantly loose under our feet. But we found one possible route and after pulling in the mini-tractor, Marita and Janne placed themselves in some dens Per definitely needed to avoid. Four-wheel drive on, in with the low gear, gas and pray to a higher power. Should we nevertheless stuck, we had the tow rope and a winch with 2 tons capacity. The jeep chewed over without problems. Our esteem for ZX grew further.
Relieved, we continued the journey and reached the entrance after an hour where we were informed that the rest of the journey through the park would not cause us any problems. We fully enjoyed in seeing this part of the park, the weather was beautiful, life was playing.

Photo: Jan Olsson

Just south of Hot Springs there is a game drive circle closer to the lake so we took off and saw another jeep 500 meters away, with people walking around the car. Maybe people from one of the luxuary lodges nearby, we thought, and turned the other way. There we got stuck, in the treacherous salty loam found around the soda lake. Despite various tricks we did not get loose. Not until we took out the rubber mats and put them behind the wheels we could back up to safe ground. Before we drove back to the main road, we looked again at the jeep far away and realized that they might actually be stalled. Once there, we saw the precarious situation they were in. A substantial mud hole, not a chance that they could take off without assistance.

An extended Landcruiser like this weighs nearly 3 tons, but after tying tow rope quadruple, we pulled it off. Nothing more to it, next time it could be our turn, and all have to help each other out on the savannas. The grateful guide informed us that a few kilometers to the south lay a lion herd and belched after having feasted on a buffalo. Sleeping lions are fairly uninteresting so we continued north. At Hot Springs TANAPA has built a really long footbridge where one can walk a good distance out into the lake.

We saw some large mammals in the water and assumed that it was hippos. It was buffaloes! Far out in the lake, and Manyara is a soda lake, that is, very alkaline  which is not very good for the skin of mammals. But these impressive animals have a skin that apparently can withstand most things and is incredibly hard to bite through, for example lions.

Even small animals are equally interesting. We saw two Klipspringers who generously exposed themselves on some big rocks right next to the road (check the hooves), and an extremely beautifully patterned leopard tortoise.

Besides these there were also elephants on the road, all kinds of birds in the trees and among them this beautiful creature, Silvery-cheeked hornbill.

Since the few bungalows that TANAPA offer were occupied we camped the one night we intended to spend here. After a morning's game drive we ate brunch and set on the two hours drive to Tarangire, the last large highlight during this trip.

Tarangire had received a lot of rain so some of the roads around the Tarangire River contained some places with large mud baths but also meant that the park was beautifully green. It is famous for its large elephant population and elephants we saw! Everywhere in fact. One evening on the way back to camp about half past seven (one must be back 19:00) we saw an elephant bull on the way down in the water hole near the camp. He looked like a whale when he floundered around for at least 10 minutes but this was only the beginning of a spectacular elephant show. When we turned around, we saw a whole herd of elephants on the way to the water and soon the evening reverberated of excited trumpet spirit of dozens of elephants, big and small, all of which enjoyed an evening bath. And enjoyed also we did, that close we have never experienced anything like it.

Also otherwise, as usual, Tarangire presented many experiences to carry home to the winter cold. Not at least birds, since Tarangire is home to around 550 species.

Another spectacular experience was a baboon flock who jumped into the river and swam across during a violent noise. Often you think  that they are killing each other, but this is how they sound during excited moments. The smaller baboons disappeared under water after the jump, the larger managed to keep their heads above water.

A third spectacular event we experienced the afternoon of day 3 when the camp was surrounded by full-grown elephant bulls that ate their way in the vegetation. They never came closer than 30 meters since they were not out to provoke. But glared at us they did, so we had the retreat routes clear if any of them would lose his temper. The area is actually theirs, not humans.

We could have stayed much longer, but flights were booked and nothing remained but to drive back to Arusha and pack for the trip home after three nights in this wonderful nature. Before that we had time to meet Simon and Emmanuel who were both amazed that nothing had happened to the car, not even a flat tire during so many kilometers at sometimes grueling roads.

We will return - Kwaheri kwa sasa!

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