Tanzania Self Drive Safri I
Our flight from Nairobi had crossed the border into Tanzania & the peak of Kilimanjaro was clearly visible above the clouds. We had left Heathrow the night before & were now bound for Arusha where after an overnight stop we would collect our Landrover, tent & equipment for a self drive camping safari covering the northern Tanzania safari circuit.
Tarangere, Manyara, Ngorogoro Crater & the Serengeti, no guide, on our own, camping in the bush.
We had spent a number of sleepless nights after booking the trip, “Were we capable & safe to do this? After all we had only had 3 trips to Africa but although still novices we had learnt a lot.
We had studied a number of video’s showing animal attacks on tourist & had noted the wrong doings of the guides. Ok! I know the animals haven’t read the same books but stick to their rules & we felt we would be far safer than travelling with the idiots on the roads in the UK who have no rules!
Our overnight stop was at the Ngurdoto Lodge on the edge of Arusha NP nestled between Mt Muru & Kilimanjaro. Although not a lover of lodges Ngurdoto Lodge along with the Ndale Lodge, Uganda, must be the two best places to stay …Worldwide!
Ngurdotois a small lodge owned & run by Delores & Frank…… Just don’t argue with Delores!
Enough of luxury beds, exceptional food, sundowners & cool beers just like home….I wish!
The following morning we collected our Landrover, our equipment had been laid out for us to pack, which we did much to the amusement of the guides & cooks who normally look after the clients on a camping trip.
A briefing & we were off, well nearly, took a wrong turn or two but finally we were heading out of Arusha on the start of our adventure first stop Tarangere.
Tarangere NP is often missed from the tour itineraries as it is set alone from the other parks which with a number of sightings you will be the only vehicle & as it has quite rugged terrain other guides do not see you & home in on a stopped vehicle to find out what your watching. There are plenty of predators & large herds of elephants.
We pitched our tent as the sun was setting having had difficulty in finding our pre booked site in the south of the park, finally getting the tent erected in the dark.
Day 2 we were up & out early our drive was more exploratory to find the lay of the land something that we would not have had to do with a knowledgeable guide. Plenty of elephants & we found lions dozing after the nights hunt. We returned to the tent for our main meal of the day lunch? Brunch? Not sure because as we found a lot of our fresh provisions were already starting to turn!
That evening we staked out the Tarangere river where it appeared above ground, more of a water hole than a river in September. Our patience was rewarded when a small herd of elephants came out of the bush to drink.
As if by command, I expect the order was given in ultra sound by the matriarch, they stopped trunks raised sampling the air at the unexpected sight of our Landrover. We were a good distance from them but were ready to move off if we felt they were uneasy at our presence, luckily as one they continued to the water with no attention to us being there, the little ones soon splashing & stirring up the water.
After their thirst was quenched & mud baths taken they moved of in our direction It was as if we were forgotten about. Then! They stopped again sampling the air of our presence so we moved off leaving them to return to the bush with out hindrance.
The following day we got hopelessly lost! Totally & completely lost! 200K’s worth of Lost!
Our maps were drawings taken from a 30 year old aerial survey, a number of tracks didn’t exist any more & there were tracks where there were no tracks on the map! Thank goodness we had our GPS at least with a number of dead ends & turn-arounds we managed to find our tent!
We staked the water hole out the next morning & again were rewarded with a massive herd of buffalo arriving to drink, the herd were still arriving to quench their thirst after the front animals had continued on into the bush.
We called at the lodge for cold beers….Mmmm! & Ahhhh!
Watched a million elephants, OK! I lost count, they were in the distance in the centre of the swamp I assume for tender roots, herds came & went joining & leaving the throng. I would estimate they were a kilometre away in the centre of the swamp & there were elephants within about a 120 degree arc. Don’t know about a million but there were a good few!
We also spent time watching dwarf mongoose, at the approach of the Landrover they shot across the road into their disused termite mound, we sat & waited….A head appeared then disappeared, then two heads! Finally happy that we were not a threat they carried on with their lives grooming & searching for grubs paying no attention to us.
Yet another reward for waiting patiently to let Africa come to us.
That night we lay in the tent listening to the roar of the male lions as they marked the boundaries of their territory. We just had not realised how close they were!
We had by now got into the habit when getting up.
First lay & listen, all quiet!
Unzip a corner of the tent, just enough to peek out, all OK!
Unzip some more & poke your head out, check left & right, all OK!
Climb out & have a good look around….Enjoy the morning! No need to get dressed, nobody else for miles! Except Kath & her camera! No! I won’t be posting the photos!
As we packed up camp we realised how close the lions were to our camp a bush had just stood up! After a bit of a delay we decided to get out of the landrover & continued to pack up our camp. The lions, male & two females, paid no attention to us!
Next stop Lake Manyara.
As we drove into the park the track as blocked by a number of vehicles vying for positions to see a lion resting in the trees rather than join the thong we managed to get past & continue into the park to find our camp site which was secluded & against the escarpment wall, part of the great rift.
After pitching the tent & preparing our camp we took a late afternoon safari drive. Little chance of getting lost here as the lake dominates the park with the escarpment forming a natural boundary to the North. Boy but what a lake! Shallow with the most amazing bird life, flamingos as far as the eye can see & flights of pelicans reflected from the shimmering surface.
On our trips from the camp we were greeted by a number of giraffes & elephants but the birds were the attraction as well as the smaller mammals, we spent a couple of hours parked up watching the Rock Hyrax going about their lives. It was funny the amount of guides that pulled up to ask what we were watching only to speed of when told.
I feel sad for the number of tourist that must miss so much of Africa because of the “Click, Tick & Run” mentality “Gotta see the big five!....Gotta see the big five!” Lake Manyara of all places was for chilling out & to sit & watch the coming & goings of the birds. We could hear hippo from our tent & deduced there was a fresh water hole near to our tent. We sat enjoying the setting sun drinking coffee & nibbling cheese & biscuits when a herd of elephants strolled past paying no heed to us as they headed for the water hole we sat very still as they passed within thirty meters of us.
It was a different story the following night!
By now we were out of fresh food & because we had to conserve water we had been restricted to a wipe down sharing a small bowl of water between us! Our toilet was a spade, toilet paper & a box of matches. You would stamp of into the bush, stamping your feet to scare away snakes, never had a problem so it must have worked!!!! Dig a hole then burn the toilet paper when finished to prevent it ever blowing across the bush fill in the hole & then we would cover the spot with elephant dung. I know not why we used the elephant dung, it just seemed the right thing to do!
At the side of the lake a rest spot had been set up with a proper toilet block, with seated toilets as well as squat toilets…..The squat toilets had a small shower head for washing instead of wiping….If you squat low enough you can also have a lovely shower!! Pure heaven! We took it in turns, one to keep look out for visiting vehicles.
Later as it was drawing dark, eating our evening meal! Huh! Yup! Cheese & biscuits, we now were in the habit making lunch our main meal.
Very close elephants started trumpeting & rumbling a real commotion for safety we took to the Landrover with the engine running. A real ruckus was going on, we think lion was the cause for the elephants discomfort. The following morning there were lion prints close to our camp & when a guide pulled into our clearing he confirmed there were lion less than a hundred meters from us.
I should add at this point that by now we had befriended a number of guides who we had met on our travels & at the ranger posts. “Where is your tent? I will bring my guests to see you” We were asked.
After the great African greeting the guide then told of us of the lions near by, then to his clients “This is the mad Englishman & his wife I was telling you about, living with the lions!” My wife always accused me playing up to the mad Englishman title. My reasoning was that we would never meet them again & it would be just another tale to relate when they returned home.
Next stop Ngorogoro.