Monday, 20 September 2010

Part 6 - Tarangire NP

The beauty of Tarangire is that it is easily accessible from Arusha.  You drive about 90 km on a tarred road, and then turn off onto a gravel road, but it’s only about 7km from the gate.  For us coming from Manyara, we headed to Makunyuni and then turned and headed for about 25 km towards Dodoma before looking for the turnoff.  We’d thought we’d missed it (the kms on the signpost and in our book weren’t very accurate) but eventually found a big sign to the national park at a small village.

We arrived at Tarangire at about 1.30 pm, extremely surprised to find so many cars there (we thought it wasn’t a very popular place) – there were about a dozen game drive vehicles.  Dru went in to pay, only to be back a few minutes later, saying the TANAPA machine was broken and we’d have to pay in dollars.  I’d have been pretty pissed off if we hadn’t had any hard currency on us…
As expected, the landscape is pretty dry, with only scrubby bushes and a few trees to interrupt the sand.  Luckily we soon came across a waterhole and there we could see in the distance that a small herd of elephants were headed our way to drink.  We didn't have to wait long before they got right into the water for a drink, including a couple of youngsters that could hardly control their trunks yet. 

There were a couple of other waterholes as well, and we saw some of the antelope present in the park - mainly wildebeest and zebra.  Also a bird of prey that came to drink but was constantly harassed by a Blacksmith plover who didn't take too kindly to him being on his turf. 
We first headed east of the Tarangire River, but the whole drive was pretty much a waste of time :)  Basically the only thing we saw was a group of Marabou storks, but otherwise it was tsetse flies, tsetse flies and more tsetse flies!  Again, it got so bad that we had to stop, roll up the windows and try to beat every last one of them to death.  It just seemed too far away from the river to support any life, so except for one or 2 antelope, we didn't see anything until we started getting closer to the Tarangire River.  Once on the river's edge, we started seeing zebra, wildebeest and elephants all coming down to the river to drink.

Soon after getting to the river we spotted cars stopped in one place - there were enough there for us to know it was a predator :)  Sure enough, a lioness was seated about 30 meters away, but the sighting was so poor (just basically a head) that we didn't stay long - we've been way too spoiled by the Serengeti sightings!

So after leaving the lioness, we carried on further down the road, taking the side roads that lead to the river and checking out the scene.  We found a side road that actually went through the river and occupied ourselves by photographing the zebra and baboons that had come to drink. 

After crossing the river and having a quick stop at the picnic site, we headed for a place called "Little Serengeti"; considering our luck in the real Serengeti, we decided to take it :)  And it really is like a little Serengeti plain, with grass everywhere.  And we saw plenty of wildebeest on the plain, but unfortunately no predators... 

We carried on through it, but suddenly the road seemed to change - instead of normal (somewhat corrugated road), it changed to a bumpy and almost undriveable track.  From what it looks like, in the rainy season it's a big of a marsh, and the elephants pass through making big potholes in the road.  Now that it has dried, the potholes have remained and it has become so bumpy that we after a while we decided that it was time to turn back.  Unfortunately turning around wasn't really an option - the grass on either side of the track is very high, so you're risking getting stuck in a hidden pothole - instead we had to reverse all the way back until the road got better and the grass got shorter. 

We were heading back from Little Serengeti to the campsite for the evening, when we found a whole bunch of cars at a turnoff, which from the sign said to the Tarangire Lodge.  Of course, a cluster of cars is not to be taken lightly, and we were soon rewarded - leopard in a Baobab tree! Unfortunately (again) it was so far away that you could only make it out properly with binoculars - again, how the guide had managed to spot that was beyond us...  So after hanging around for a while, left it to set up camp for the evening.

It was up early, but our morning drive didn’t yield anything exciting, so we decided to head to the picnic site and have our coffee there.   You also have a nice view of the river from above, so spent some time scanning around.  We spotted a Jeep near the river when we arrived, and it hadn't moved in all the time we were there, but I couldn't see anything that they might be looking at. 

Then a couple of cars on the other side of the river also stopped, but again I couldn't see anything, even through the binoculars.   Luckily there was a guide there with his tourists, and even he was curious as to why the Jeep was stopped.  It was him who figured out why - there were a couple of lions down there!  It took me a while of him explaining to me, but I eventually saw it - as he said - now he had to explain it to his guests who didn't speak English :)

Of course we headed down there straight away - it took us a bit of time but we finally made our way to the Jeep and found 2 women sitting in there.  Dru asked them if they could see the lions - their reply was "What lions?"  What is this?  They hadn't seen them, and you couldn't actually see them from where they were parked.  It was just luck that we thought they had seen something and concentrated on the area.  What's more is that they didn't actually believe us that there were lions there! 

Pretty soon after they left, not having seen anything...  We figured that it wasn't really possible to see the lions from this side, so we had to trek back up the bank and across to the other side, crossing the bridge that has been built for the high season.  And there we found them - 3 lionesses lying on the side of the river, with stomachs swollen from eating.  They looked like they could hardly move, they were so full :) And indeed they hardly moved when a herd of elephants walked straight past them! 

It was back to the picnic site for lunch, which was extremely busy - again, all the tourist vehicles stop there for their packed lunches.  There were a bunch of buses there as well, with stacks of school kids in.  It's good to see that the guys are bringing in the kids from the surrounding areas and showing them the animals.  After all, it's their country and these are the people that will be protecting their game reserves in the future - give them a love of the bush early on!  And of course, since you could see the lions lying at the riverbed, it made for a worthwhile stop. 

After lunch, we came across a massive herd of wildebeest that were crossing the road to get to the river to drink.  Suddenly one of them panicked and started running, which set off a chain reaction - there was suddenly just dust as dozens of wildebeest just ran - you can only imagine the spectacular scene it would be to see the migration doing this - thousands and thousands of them all running at once!
After the wildebeest, we caught up with a whole bunch of cars… it could only be a predator!  Sure enough – far, far away on a baobab tree, blending in beautifully was a leopard sleeping on one of the branches.  For the 3rd time we marvelled at the eyesight of the guides.  It was really far away and difficult to see, yet these guys could spot it as they were driving up.  For 5 minutes we heard a guide trying to show it to his tourists; him with the naked eye and them with binoculars - and it took a while for them to eventually see it.

We actually found that the leopard had dragged a fully grown impala up the tree as well.  He'd stashed it right against the main trunk, so we could only see the head of the impala if we moved position, the strength in those jaws is absolutely amazing to have dragged it all the way up.  Unfortunately; not the greatest photo opportunity, but a great sighting for us.
Back to the lions again and see if they were doing anything more than just sleeping.  We got to the river, but they were still just lying around.  However, we could see some wildebeest and zebra wanting to come and drink.  They were further up the bank of the river and the lions were hidden from view.  We could see that the antelope were nervous, as if they knew something was wrong, but not quite sure what.  Eventually though, with the wildebeest leading (I don't think they're the brightest of the antelope...) they headed off to drink, probably about 30 or 40 meters from where the lions were sleeping.

Not to miss an opportunity, 2 of the lions immediately went into stalk mode - not taking their eyes off the wildebeest.  One hugged the side of the riverbank, while the other one climbed on top of the bank and both attempted to get closer.  This went on for about 10 minutes, slowly inching their way forward while the wildebeest moved towards the water.  But in the end it was in vain - one of the lions was too eager and showed herself up, setting the antelope off and in a flash they were gone. 

A pretty half-hearted attempt in the end but entertaining to watch.  In all of this, the third lion however, hadn't moved: I don't think she even lifted her head in the animal's direction - I think she was still struggling to move after her meal :)
After that, the lions settled down again, but in the meantime a small herd of elephants had appeared on the other side.  But the matriarch didn't look happy - and her irritation was directed at another elephant - a big female as well by the looks of it.  Suddenly, the quietness was broken by trumpeting and the matriarch started chasing the other elephant down the river!  They were actually running - quite entertaining to watch J 

The poor lions - they were heading straight for them... Even the one who couldn't move during the stalking, was up like a shot and running for cover J  The lions jumped up the riverbank and looked on as the elephants ran past.  Satisfied that she had chased the other elephant off far enough away from her family, the matriarch headed back and a couple of smaller elephants joined the elephant that had been chased off.  We can only assume that it was 2 small herds and the one hadn't taken a liking to the other...
Eventually the elephants moved off and the lions fell asleep again, and we decided to move as well, this time further down the river as we had done the previous day.  We hadn't gone too far on the main road, when we came across a massive traffic jam...  The road is only wide enough to take 2 lanes of traffic and the banks on the sides of the road are too high to drive on, so we could only wait and see what the cause of this jam was. 

After waiting, we finally heard from one of the tour groups that it was supposed to be a cheetah!  Great - if only we could see it...  We were blocked by an enormous bush right next to us - we needed to move forward a bit to clear the bush - from there apparently we would be able to see it, but unfortunately for us, the car in front of us just wouldn't move...  Made worse by the fact that guys that had already seen it were now trying to do U-turns to see it again... this was worse than seeing something in the Serengeti! 
Of course, seeing predators here was alot rarer we had been told, so we could see why a cheetah was the cause of such a jam...  Eventually we were able to move to the correct spot and there he was - lying on a rock. And what's more, there was another cheetah with him, though we could really only see his head from behind the rock.  It was too far away to get any great shots, but was nice to see a couple of these graceful cats.  From what we had read, cheetahs were extremely unusual to see in Tarangire, and really only much further south than we were. 
We drove down to the river again and saw a couple of cars together - we were heading that way anyway, but soon got stuck as the cars were stuck in the road.  We couldn't see what they were seeing but it was pretty close to the car, because everyone was looking down.  Suddenly we found what it was when a big male lion stood up and started walking towards us - and then another lion, a female. We were lucky that they both walked straight next to our car and we managed to get one or 2 shots as they walked by, a little close for the big lens :) 

But in all the excitement the car in front of us started reversing.  I thought he was going to hit us and was desperately trying to find the car's hooter (probably not the wisest thing to do when you have a lion next to you) but luckily his tourists noticed that he was getting too close and shouted at him to stop :)  The lions moved between the cars and lay down again, but by this time there were so many cars around them, that it was going to be a mission to get anywhere near them for some photos, so we left them alone and carried on driving.

The rest of the afternoon drive was pretty quiet with us not seeing anymore predators but enjoying the drive along the river.  We did spot some vultures circling in the air and wondered if the 3 lions had finally made a kill, but by this time it was getting too late to go back - we wouldn't have time to get back to the campsite by dark.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that all the organised tours had gone and there were only 2 cars there - self campers of all things. 

So we made our first fire of the trip :)  We had 2 bags of firewood that we had carted all the way from Botswana, so decided since it was our last night camping in the parks that we would splash out and use one of them J Dru found a big log from one of the bonfires from the previous night, so after showers we sat around our fire and reflected on our trip - a pretty awesome one is an understatement...

We managed to get up and out before either of the other 2 cars got up.  We planned to go down to the river via the main road and couldn't understand why all the game drive vehicles were rushing in the opposite direction - did they know something we didn't?  We were hoping that they were making for Arusha or the Serengeti and that's why they weren't driving along slowly, but we were still wondering if we were missing something... 

Turns out we made the right decision in the end...
Still, we carried on... Just past the lodge Dru spotted some lion spoor on the road.  It was only there for a few metres before it disappeared again, but it was going in the opposite direction.  I felt it was going to be a wild goose chase, but Dru wanted to turn around and head into the Linyoni Circuit.  After a bit of discussion, we turned round and headed into there - "just to put our snout in" as Dru called it J  And it was worth it - a couple of lionesses - nice... 

And then saw, not only them but they had just killed a wildebeest and were busy feeding on it!  And it was conveniently for once, pretty close to the side of the road! We reckon they must have hunted it down about 20 minutes or so before we arrived as the wildebeest was still pretty much intact, but they soon set about demolishing it.  In the meantime a couple of black-backed jackals had arrived and it was entertaining to see how these guys handled the feeding lions - trying to make off with a few scraps every time the lions weren't looking :) 
The lions spent about half an hour eating, before one of them got up with the carcass and dragged it a little way away.  This gave the jackals the jackpot - anything that hadn’t been dragged away was quickly claimed and the two of them disappeared with their prizes shortly afterwards.  Eventually there was almost nothing left and both had finished eating, so we left them relaxing, on a high from watching this scene - it was a great way to end our safari trip! 

Never getting enough of lions, we decided to head down to the river again and see if the lions from the previous day had moved.  Not only had they moved, but they had hunted and killed again and we found one of them feeding on a wildebeest kill - maybe that's why we had seen the vultures circling the day before.  Either way, there were plenty of vultures sitting on the trees above the carcass now, all waiting for the lions to be done. 

We could only spot 2 of the lions, one was feeding while the other lay in the grass.  Unlike the other kill, this one was on the other side of the river and not that close to get good shots, but still a pretty good sighting.   
After a while of watching the lions, we decided to see if we could find the cheetah again - it was a long shot, but we'd give it a go anyway for a while.  The plan was then to head back to the lions later, once they had moved off, and watch the vulture attack what was left of the carcass - they're always good for a laugh with their fighting for scraps.

No cheetah in sight, so we headed down a bit, but in the end decided to go back to the lions to catch the vultures. By then the tourists had all disappeared, but we were in for a shock - there was a car on the other side, driving off-road and right next to the carcass, having chased the lions off!  What was going on?  The vultures were still around, but they must have been as confused and pissed off as we were!  The car wasn't a ranger vehicle, in fact it had no branding on the side of the vehicle at all - just 2 people in the car.  And then the one got out... what? 

And started poking around the carcass... Huh?  The woman had surgical gloves on, so we can now only assume that they were some sort of research crew, because the next moment she picked up the spine of the wildebeest and put it in a body bag! You could just imagine what the vultures were thinking - all this waiting for nothing! 

Finally the vehicle disappeared and a few minutes later, the vultures that were still left waiting in hope descended on the trees and started feeding.  It was interesting to watch - it was mainly the white-backed vultures that dived straight in and started eating. 

There were a couple of Lappet-faced vultures - much bigger than the other vultures - but they just stood around as if they didn't know what to do.  Then the Ruppell's Griffon vultures arrived and proceeded to jump into the fray as well.  And on the edges were a couple of Hooded vultures, the smallest of the four species and would have been trampled had they tried to get in there :)
In the meantime, a small herd of zebra had decided to come down and drink.  They must of been about 30 metres away from the lion that was sheltering/hiding under the log, and it seemed that she may be interested in them (though they'd eaten for 2 days in a row - was she really gonna go for another?).  So we left the vultures (they were thinning out by this time anyway) and drove the 20 or so metres so that we were directly opposite the lioness. 

By now she looked alot more alert and interested in the zebra, which seem blissfully unaware of her presence.  (Amazing since these lions hadn't moved in 2 days - surely someone would have let them knowJ)  We had to point it out to a passing game drive vehicle as well; they hadn't seen the lion at the log either. 

They started getting closer and closer, and then a young zebra appeared on the other side of the log, so the lioness was completely hidden.  I was completely convinced that this youngster was gonna past the log and head straight to a lion's waiting mouth.  But in the end, it was another zebra - right in front of the lion - that got too close and bent down to drink. 

The lion was up in a shot and after the zebra, but again she had been too eager and the zebras were gone before she'd made 10 meters.  I think if she was really hungry, she could've hunted something down, but it was another half-hearted attempt that was immediately abandoned when it didn't fall into her lap.  Still, it was an action packed few seconds, especially with all the tension and anticipation building up.
We headed to where we'd seen the male and female the day before, but they had long disappeared.  We did however find a game drive vehicle, who said that they'd seen tree-climbing lions!  Oooh!  Where?  Unfortunately they were on the other side of the river and very far away - and we had to use binoculars to see them - 2 of them lying in a tree.  How the guide had spotted that sighting as well is beyond me... We decided to cross the river and see if we could get a bit closer.  We did eventually see one of them from the closer, but it was just too bad a sighting to get really excited about it.  Still, we had eventually seen our tree-climbing lions :)

From there we headed past the picnic site to where we had seen the leopard in the tree with the impala.  He seemed to be gone as did his carcass, but again it was just too far away too tell.  Quite a few other people arrived while we were there, also hoping to catch a glimpse of this elusive cat.  We both decided that we had now used up all our luck and it was time to head out... but one last goodbye present - the 2 lions that we had seen feeding this morning were now sleeping it off next to a couple of big baobab trees.  Of course surrounded by their entourage of about 5 cars - if only they knew what they missed this morning :)

It was quiet for the rest of the drive and we finally got to the gate around 1pm.  After filling out the ledger books to say we were going, we started our journey towards Dar.  We wouldn't make it all the way, so we had to stop for the night somewhere.  Knowing that there is almost no accommodation between Moshi and Chalinze (the turnoff to Dar) except for the dodgy Mombo Motel, we decided to stay over in a place called Marangu. 

It's actually the village at the base of the Kilimanjaro mountain, and alot of the climbs up the mountain start from there.  We had heard good things about the Marangu Hotel, a family run hotel that organises climbs so even though it's a bit out of our way, we decided to stay there for the night.
After relaxing a while on the grounds of the Marangu Hotel with Kilimanjaro (apparently) in the background, we had ourselves a 5 course meal at the restaurant. We were the only people that weren't involved with the climbing of the mountain - most were either going up soon or had just come down. Soon it was time for bed, since we had a long day ahead of us - the drive would apparently take over 6 hours from Marangu to Dar...

And yes, it was a long one - the road itself is fine, but the drivers are a bit mad and it takes all your concentration to stay on the road without knocking down any people or bicycles...
We turned off at Chalinze and from there it got alot busier.  The 110km into Dar took us about 3 hours on a pretty crappy road... Considering this is the main road out of Dar, it's pretty shocking.  No potholes, but the road just seems to twist and bump, although you can't see it - it's the strangest thing... And of course, everyone is trying to get in and out of Dar - it's a nightmare...
Still we managed to get there by about 4.30pm - and straight into traffic!  Welcome to Dar!!!
 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
A truly memorable trip - it took us 20 days and over 6800 km (in a car that already had over 340,000 km on the clock) to get from Gaborone, Botswana to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
We had a fair few dramas, but nothing that seriously threatened the trip.  The car held up beautifully - way better than expected... and is still going strong :)  All the parks were fantastic and we thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them, and are planning to get back there as soon as possible J
You'll have noticed we haven't actually added any photos of Dar into the journals - that's cos we haven't actually taken any yet... they will come in due course...

As it stands now, we've been in Dar for just over a month – after 4 different hotels, we've just moved into our own place and trying to adjust to the heat and humidity (the worst is yet to come apparently) and the traffic (which is worse than expected!). 

Otherwise, the city itself is very cool - a real mix of modern and African.  And of course a coastline to die for with nice warm water to match!  Life is getting back to normal and we’re settling into our new routines and getting to know people.  And of course, trying to plan our next trip J
So here’s to Dar es Salaam and Tanzania – our home for the next few years!!

No comments:

Post a Comment