Tarangire - Manyara - Serengeti - Ngorongoro 2014/15
December - January
November / December is the time for the "small rains" which means that it rains sometimes, but usually short-lived. For two nights in Tarangire, we experienced no rain at all. But the rain that had fallen earlier had transformed the park into a green paradise.
Although the poaching of elephants is ongoing here too, the park is home to several thousands of these magnificent animals you can never see enough of.
The next target was the Ngorongoro but first the complicated procedure to settle the payment for the NCA (Ngorongoro Conservation Area) had to be implemented. Step one was to pay at a bank in Karatu, then show your receipt at the NCA's office in Karatu to obtain a plastic card, and then present the plastic card at the NCA's entrance at Lodoare Gate. Once there, we were crowded by 40-50 guides from the plethora of safari operators who drive their clients in northern Tanzania. It was important not to be shy and yet not try to gain advantage because of the white color of the skin.
After about an hour of messing around we got our entrance paper and began the climb up to the Ngorongoro Crater. Our goal today was Seronera in the Serengeti so we passed the crater and the entire Highlands to reach Naabi Gate before 4 pm to safely be let in. From there it is 60 kilometers to Seronera, the speed limit is 50 km/h, and after 6 pm, the traffic is prohibited in the park (except for personnel). Is there much to stop and look at along the way you must have proper safety margin.
Once down on the Serengeti plateau we saw the migration at close range. First, zebras and only zebras along the way and as far as the eye could see in all directions.
A moment later it was the wildebeest's turn. We must have passed several tens of thousands of wildebeest before we even reached Naabi Hill and the entrance to the Serengeti. We knew that they all were heading south, toward Ndutu, where we booked the lodge on January 1st. But first a few nights in Seronera and some night in Lobo in northern Serengeti
Just before the entrance we were fortunate to get up close and see a cheetah who was out hunting
Once in Seronera we experienced a downpour that lasted half an hour, but an hour later it was dry again. Then we discovered that the cover over the spare tire had blown away and that the deck was crappy, which was not so good. To travel the 70 kilometers to Lobo and back without a spare tire seemed foolhardy
We called our friend Simon Mutire in Arusha who acted with lightning speed for the next morning a new tire arrived with Regional Air to the runway in Seronera. 100 USD for a Chinese Goodride 175/70 R16 including airfreight out to Seronera is darn's not expensive! These tires are not only cheaper but also more durable and relieves suspension and shock absorbers better than expensive branded tires. "The Chinese are making life easy for us", as Simon later jokingly commented
New tire meant that we could go to Lobo. With the rolling grass hills and kopjes (Granite Hills) Lobo is probably Serengeti's most beautiful area. The view from the campsite is not too bad, with the buffalo, impala, topi and Kongoni grazing in the slopes below.
The afternoon offered a downward sun that turned the the entire valley below us into a golden natural backdrop. We cooked dinner, but just in time for us to eat began a rainstorm that drove us under the roof of the dining room at the camp. Where we savored a Tall Horse Merlot as part of a series of red and white wines from South Africa. Very tasty wines.
The day after we made an early but short game drive before we packed up and drove south toward Seronera again.
Last night in Seronera was New Years Eve that we usually do not celebrate when we are at home (so strange we are!) and we were not going to celebrate here either. But the many Englishmen who were at the camp sure did. Between their screams and yells from the dining room, we could hear hyenas and lions not too far away and we wondered why people chose to live just like home when you have allowed yourself to visit Africa and its amazing animals in a spectacular wilderness.
The first day of 2015 we set course for Ndutu. We left the Serengeti for this time, drove again into the NCA and the south. A few hours later we arrived Ndutu Safari Lodge and huge amounts of wildebeests. At the lodge we also met Emmanuel Nyatto, a guide we have used many times during earlier trips with the safari operator we have had cooperated with since 2009. Since public campsites are missing in Ndutu we spent two nights at this expensive but very nice lodge.
Wildebeests were everywhere, in every bush, wherever one looked.
A cheetah with three cubs suckling became the first highlight of the day in an almost surreal natural beauty filled with all sorts of fantastic creatures.
Second day we drove out on the game drive as soon as permitted and almost missed breakfast at the lodge when we on the way home had to stop to let a wildebeest caravan pass that never seemed to end. Most jogged, some galloped the way only wildebeests do. How many that passed through during the 20 minutes we were standing still is hard to say, but probably a few thousands.
Last morning we ordered picnic breakfast and drove up to the slopes above Lake Ndutu. The sun was flooding, the wildebeests made their noise, and life was as it should be.
A few hours later we left Ndutu and drove across the savannah towards Ngorongoro. The goal for the day was Rhino Lodge where we booked two nights. At first, however, we reserved an armed guard at the tourist center for a short hike in the Highlands the day after. We wanted to go down into the crater the next morning on our own, but the official forced on us a guide. It did not help that we have been down there many times and had both excellent maps and GPS. Probably we were not determined enough, or should we not have raised the issue, but gambled to still get through the entrance down to the crater in the morning.
The problem with guides is that they rarely understand that we have long since ceased to first like to see the lion. We want the total experience: nature, birds, turtles, the big picture. Now he sat in the back seat and directed us now here, now there. "Go there", "go faster", rather annoying. We know that this behaviour to most tourists means higher gratuity for the guide so we do not blame him. Therefore, we tried to find a reasonable compromise between his and our way of experiencing the crater.
We saw an amazing sunrise with the soft edges of the crater embedded in the mists. Rhinos, lions, martial eagle (Africa's largest Eagle), buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, Thomson gazelles, and a warthog family with some hyenas around. But warthog parents cannot be attacked without taking a great risk. In addition to being terribly fast their tusks are razor sharp and can cause severe damage to predators. They were left alone.
After the crater we picked up ranger Morris at headquarters and went a few kilometers to do a short hike in the highlands with wonderful views over the soda lake Lake Eyasi down at the bottom of the African Rift Valley.
Our journey was nearing the end of this time. In Arusha, we would meet Simon, Emmanuel and even Gamba, our chef at the trip in southern Tanzania in 2010. He participates in the construction of a lodge in the slopes above Lake Manyara. The name is Pumziko which means "relaxation" and can be found here. We will try it sometime.
We said goodbye to Gamba, Emmanuel, Simon, Elias and all the others and comforted us with the fact that we would be back soon. We just had to suffer through a Swedish winter first.