TANZANIA SAFARI 2001

From Serengeti's Plains back to Mombasa (Part 2/2)

SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK - After troubles are over at last!

The stillness and birds chirping waked me up after 7h and a rainbow appeared at the East. Camp TAWISA close to NDUTU lodge a located between lakes Ndutu and Masek that not far away of Olduvai Gorge either. The camp tents were placed in a row at the foot of a large KOPJE (an igneous rock outcrop, mostly basalt) viewing onto a wide plain and meadow. On top of each tent there was a thatched roof of woven leaves at a gap of some 15 cm thus giving a perfect isolation effect by free moving air in between. Tent wings in front and rears had zips that closed it properly against any kind of inquisitive "dudus" but one had to zip the canvas floor to the wings too. Behind the tent was one canvassed compartment for a dry WC with a bucket of water standing by and the other contained a shower - both were open towards the sky. There wasn't warm water in shower's barrel that one had to pull up so one could "enjoy" a shower under open sky.

At the covered verandah in tent front I found an antique wash dish and jug, soap and towel allowing a minimum of morning toilette but I skipped the shaving. Most of camp's staffs were from the Masai tribe living in this area. Suddenly a Masai appeared from nowhere bringing good news about breakfast being served and we should pack our belongings leaving the luggage at verandah. The dinning room was an open area with wooden board floor and thatched roof from that one had a perfect view on Serengeti's plains. The sun came out and the morning haze disappeared gradually and grazing herds came in view soon. French managers were to leave with a few of their guests so wishing us the best safari afterwards. They offered us to use the camp's facilities until SIMBA cars would come to pick us up at time still unknown. After a breakfast the stranded fellow passengers choose to stay in the dining room's shadow enjoying light breeze exchanging experiences of the previous day.
 


The eldest fellow participants of the safari standing in front of their tent-for-a-night on a foggy morning

A Masai camp's attendant arrived to call us for breakfast and to collect our luggage 

I went inspecting the rocky outcrop from the other side where a massive one built the kitchen with stores and attached to staff quarters was the garage and workshops. A high trunk's stockade wall surrounded these facilities that gapes were filled with thorn bush branches to prevent any animal's entry. I sat relaxing on a low round rock and a passing by Masai woman with her child greeted me in her language. Her girl approached me talking something I couldn't understand and by touching my lower arm she stroked it up and down for a while. [Later the headwaiter explained me that my hairy arms obviously impressed the girl because the hairiness is not common to Masais at all.] I got up saying "kwaherini" (meaning "good bye") and went on around the rock to settle into an armchair putting legs up on a wall of tent verandah. It was so very quiet and peaceful, some zebras and gnus grazing or running up and down the meadow at foot of a much longer kopje several hundreds meters far of. I dozed of for an hour or so and on awakening I noticed that zebras and gnus had moved away. Masai boys moved onto the meadow with their herd of goats and donkeys in front of which dogs were running to and from chasing away wild animals.
 

A cutout from the map of Serengeti National Park during dry season. At gray spot lower right are the Lakes Ndtu and Masek with the TAWISA camp nearby. MAin roads are shown in red and at right the dark spot is the place of Naabi Hill Park Gate into Serengeti Plains. 
At the cross section of two straight lines lies Seronera Lodge with a airstrip where Seronera River flows nearby. More to the left up is the best of Serena Lodge near the fork of main roads. The left one leads towards Ndabaka Plain and on to the Lake Victoria with townships of Mwanza or Musoma. Sopa Lodge built on Niabora Hills is situated about halfway on the darker straight line and below of the Mbalageti River bed starting from below center flowing northwestwards at upper left .

Later I returned to our group waiting at the dinning room and heard about Matthew's arrival who told "stories" about how he had spent the night in his car besieged by howling hyenas etc. Certainly, it could not be a pleasant night for him being restricted to car's limited space as he had a rather bulky body. The helpful headwaiter called by radio his office in Arusha to find out from SIMBA operator when other cars would arrive at camp TAWISA at last. The answer came soon after with the instruction that we should have a lunch in the camp and that cars would pick up us at 14h latest. So the kitchen was busy again and an improvised lunch was served within an hour. We had little time to finish eating when two more vehicles drove in so everybody got busy, luggage was quickly loaded and 15 passengers boarded the cars that were released from the muddy grip after all. It was 14h already when the convoy left camp TAWISA or exactly 24 hours after we were caught in the Serengeti's cotton soil muddy trap.

Numerous giraffes stood along the earthen road watching our convoy rushing by along a secondary earthen track of some 28 km to get onto the main gravel road some 4,5 km before on of the Park's entrance gate. At last we came into SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK through its southern NAABI HILL GATE where had to stop shortly. Endless plains stretched up to the horizon at road both sides where the tall grass of some 60-70 cm replaced the short one like drawn with a ruler. One couldn't see any zebras or gnus or even any of the antelopes as none of them would walk into such a tall grass that gives an excellent cover to the predators. Not long after we saw a group of vehicles in high grass at left of road so Matthew turned of to see what's going on there.

First he had to look for a reasonable place to cross over deep excavated gutters at roadsides. Driving through tall grass involves some danger too, as one cannot see holes or furrows in which an axle could crack easily. Soon we came close enough to a group of lions resting in deep grass with obviously full tummies. The only male relaxed few meters apart from the three females but none of the animals cared about the commotion around them at all. The lion or one of lioness lifted its head to view at disturbers who were talking pictures like in frenzy and the next moment lions were sleeping again. Matthew cautiously turned back to the main road driving fast as possible passing by large SIMBA KOPJE (lions' kopje) when dark clouds gathered again and it "smelled" after rain already. It got cooler and it was rather important to reach the lodge safely during daytime for sure.
 

The dominant lion and his two lionesses rest in the deep grass thus
not visible to their potential prey that grazes at a safe distance.

Some 3 km after Simba kopje the road branches of and we took the left one when a light drizzle started. That road wasn't as good as its base was of hard beaten earth so it became soft and slippery soon. The winding road ascended slowly as we bypassed Lake Magadi and crossed Mbalageti River several times. The drizzle intensified making the road more slimy particularly on steeper ascends so we "prayed" not to be caught by mud again. Road curved up with the Mbalageti riverbed at the foot of Oldoniyo Rongai hill and led up to the Niaroboro hills where SOPA SERENGETI LODGE stood at the edge of a basaltic rock. One could hardly see the outlines of its buildings due to the rainy mist in a fast coming down darkness after 6 PM. Everybody rushed to the assigned room that all had an anteroom, a large sleeping room and a bathroom inviting for an instant use. After 36+ hours staying in the same clothes and in wet shoes one happily took a warm shower and I could shave of my beard after all. Due to continuing rain and deep darkness there was no point to step out on the balcony - it was rather cool too. So we joined others at a long table in a wide dinning room that was heated from a huge open fireplace.

Every of the 15 stranded passengers agreed that we must undertake something to penalize SIMBA Tour Operator for its gross negligence and lack of safety equipment on its vehicles. We must get appropriately reimbursed for leaving stranded passengers in a rather uncomfortable situation for 9 hours and a full day lost on the safari. This totally occupied my mind so I could sleep peacefully until next morning. The morning on January 31 turned out as a most splendid one! The rising sun drew long shadows of any kopje or hillocks scattered on the wide Serengeti's plain as far up to the horizon where Ngorongoro and Lake Eyasi mountain ranges rose out of morning haze. Stepping out on the balcony I shivered of the chilly air where loud birds' chirping rose into a cloudless blue sky. What a moment of splendor! On the way to dinning room one could recognize the lodge perfect setup and its beautiful and decorative interior. From everywhere one views on a garden's narrow strip beyond that and below stretches the green Serengeti's wide-open plain.
 
Impalas keep to tree's shadow at midday. 
Look what's baboon "Pasha" is doing in public!

The Sopa Serengeti Lodge would be the best and the most comfortable one we stayed in on our 7 day Tanzania Safari. All Sopa Lodges solidly built using local rocky material and their exterior blends perfectly with the surrounding. The floors polished stone slabs come from local quarries also in large rooms that mostly have an anteroom and bathrooms are equipped to good standard too. The internal decorations consist of quality plaster "sgraffitis", cotton "batik" wall paintings and woodcarvings showing animals and Masai life scenes and people. Everywhere the gardens' ground was very well looked after and "Angel trumpet" bushes blossomed in white, yellow or pink color at many places. We were so sorry to leave this lodge after half-a-day instead staying here for two nights as envisaged by the safari program.
 

The giraffes came out of thick thorny woods and crossed the road taking care about the traffic.

Matthew wanted to make good the lost day so we started at 8h descending the same road we came in yesterday. Now the road was dry and the countryside look just fine driving between low forest's patches and shrubbery. Here and there we stopped to let pass groups of giraffes or antelopes crossed our path in long strides and jumps to fast to take any pictures. Giraffes behaved better by pausing and looked calmly at the intruders enabling them to make perfect photos. At a road junction Matthew turned left onto the main road leading northwards to the central part of Serengeti NP. After 21 km drive we reached Rivers Seronera and Wandamu where small dams create pools in which hippos find a perfect place to roam around verdant green meadows and thickets. Damming up the two rivers also provides watering places to various animals all year round. In deep shadow of a tree a "chui" (leopard) was resting settled between forked branches high above ground.
 

A hyena enjoys a muddy bath in a road trench whereas hippopotamuses have their way in large pool of dammed in Seronera River near the Park's airstrip.

There are several circuits along banks and basins one could investigate provided one has enough time to spare for animal watching. In hurry we bypassed the nicely renovated Seronera Lodge (we stayed here 36 years ago!) and the adjacent Housing estate of Frankfurt Wildlife Society. The guests arriving by air land on an airstrip from where some proceed to the most luxurious Serena Lodge built on top of a kopje some 5 km away. After a short stop at Seronera Resthouse but had to leave soon after 11h as the next night stay over was far away.
 

At left large herds of zebras rest in the open plain and close to a road at midday's heat. At right a rather attentive Kirk's Dik Dik keeps (the smallest of antelopes) to a more secluded place of a bush.

On the return journey we saw troupes of baboons and large groups of impalas or other antelopes but as the day heat increased animals gradually disappeared. Matthew kept driving at the maximum allowed speed of 50 km/h but slowed down short of Simba kopje as a large number of zebras stayed on the road or close to it because of too tall grass on the plain. Zebras stood in pairs or in-groups of three or more supporting their necks on neighbor's one. The explanation for their behavior was simple: they could watch in two or more directions to view an encroaching predator to be alarmed on time. Later back to Naabi Hill gate we stopped for a brief picnic out of lunch boxes. This was to be the last of our "out-of-box" lunch.
 

A typical KOPJE near the entrance to the Serengeti National Park and a single rock near Serenora Rest house.

We left the gate around 13h driving fast passing by the place where we turned into black cotton soil plains. At Olduvai River crossing two Masai men after bath smeared their naked body with ocher soil. Later Matthew stopped for a moment to distribute snacks and remnants from our lunch boxes to children waiting en route before driving up the Ngorongoro crater western road. At the T-junction he turned right descending the eastern road to arrive at Loduare gate without stopping around 16h. The descend was fast passing by Keratu village when a heat wave hit us full blast as we were approaching the Lake Manyara region. Fellow passengers decided to postpone the programmed visit to the Park for the next day that tired Matthew gladly accepted driving some 200 km this day. Matthew turned left onto an earthen road short of the steep descend to the lake itself and we arrive to LAKE MANYARA SERENA LODGE soon after 17h.
 

 
The attraction of Lake Manyara Park were before the Tree lions. Photo made during our visit in 1965. The happy passengers with Matthew as driver cum guide leaving the Serengeti National Park at the Naabi Hill Park Gate

LAKE MANYARA NATIONAL PARK - Last to visit on going back to the Coast

Once we got to our room at the ground floor of a round building ("round-a-well") we instantly appreciated the coolness experienced during the past days. There was another annoyance that had to be dealt with - the mosquitoes. We smeared on Autan repellent cream and put a tablet onto electric grill being well prepared for such eventualities on a safari. In this lodge the accommodation was simpler than in Sopa lodges previously but still of reasonable standard. Meals were just fine prepared and served in a nicely arranged dining room or on an adjoining balcony. During fine dinner our fellow travelers complained about beastly mosquitoes' bites for which they weren't ready to take.
 
View on the northern shore of Lake Manyara from Sopa Lodge's lookout. At the picture center is the wooded part of Lake Manyara National Park. 

The lodge overlooks the Lake Manyara and its adjacent swamps. It was constructed close to the edge of an almost vertical rock some 250m above the lake waters. The fresh water for lodge's supplies is propelled up from a spring at rock's foot. This rocky ridge is actually part of the eastern Rift Valley dividing wall. It was in 1965 when we visited the LAKE MANYARA NATIONAL PARK last time and stayed in Lake Manyara Lodge next to the lake itself that is closed for foreigners now. Again we had to get up early as usual on this safari and left Seronera Lodge at 8h for a tour of some 3 hours.
 

At left a lonely elephant bull grazing in the woods. Three young elephants enjoy themselves in a mud pool (right).

In recent years the park area has been considerably enlarged southwards beyond the forested area and where lake overflows its shoreline often. Matthew cruised slowly around park's narrow sandy tracks so luckily we have seen many animals at close range for taking perfect pictures. A large troupe of baboons roamed through wild mango trees, played and chased around until a large male ordered to proceed deeper into the forest. There were smaller herds of giraffes, gazelles, water bucks and elephants old and young ones to your choice to make best of pictures. However we haven't seen the famous Manyara "tree lions" that scared me profoundly on my last visit here to take photos and stuck out my head through the roof of ranger's car who drove us around.
 

At left a contemplative Siex monkey basks in midday's heat. Chandeliers made of woven palm leaves hang in the restaurant of Lake Manyara Serena Lodge (at right).

Returning to Serena lodge we had a fine lunch and departed at 14h onto the return journey stopping at Mto Wa Mbu where Matthew collected a bag of "posho" flour (of white maize). After 1,5 hour of gruesome shaking on a very rutted and rough road (BEWARE of 77 km on B144!) we reached the tarmac road at Makayuni at last. The 50 km drive on tarmac couldn't stop our body's "internal vibration" caused by that hideous 77 km road stretch of before. Matthew drove us straight into ARUSHA and we arrived at NOVOTEL MT. MERU at 17h for the last overnight stop. During the 7-day safari we were in good Matthew's hands who was our driver cum guide driving his vehicle some 1.050 km including Serengeti's "black cotton" mire.
 

NOVOTEL MT. MERU IN ARUSHA - An overnight stay only

The room reminded me of the former "socialistic" hotel designs all named "Novotel" during my professional years. Also I had some doubt about the management that was French as found out later. Furniture was simple but worn out and the bathroom would badly need some renovation too. When we got towels and the "running" WC was fixed a little bit we decided to shower and changing in fresh cloth went down for dinner. There a stern looking Maitre d' met us at the dinning room where the staff looked dull and somehow distant to their guest. There was no smiling or a respected look of welcome to the visitor that's so typical for Kenyan waiters. One told us that most of staff members are local Masais and they are too pride to serve anybody even the tourists. I would say that this is more the way of thinking learned during times of the "African Socialism" lasting some 30+ years.

The Republic of Tanganyika got independent in 1961 and its president Julius Nyerere "Mwulimu" (= "Teacher") choose for to remain a member of the Commonwealth. The revolution in Zanzibar dethroned the Sultan and the island declared its independence in 1963. The two countries united in the new state named REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA. At those times Marxism was en vogue and Nyerere introduced the "African socialism" as his political notion and nationalized foreign banks, insurance, import & export companies, commerce and industrial corporations early of 1967. Consequently commerce, trades and marketing collapsed thus ruining the national economy of the fledgling state. Mwulimu requested the peoples to abandon their traditional rural life and tribal or clan societies and move into new government settlements where they would benefit all the advantages of an African socialistic society. Recently the new government tends to attract foreign investors and funds trying to introduce the free market and the private property in the Republic of Tanzania. However changes and results may come rather slowly as starting a new economy and setting up a new infrastructure would take many years to accomplish. The same applies to the tourist trade for which good roads and proper accommodation facilities are essential particularly to the more requesting visitors now days.

The 15 "sufferers" met after a not exciting dinner and I explain that we should lodge a claim to our Travel agents. It should cover the loss of one safari day caused by SIMBA TOUR operator's gross negligence running the 7-day safari tour. My "obsession" subsided and I slept well despite bad feelings about "traces" of former socialism around. We received a most adequate reimbursement from our Travel agents a week later. On Friday February 2, 2001 we had to get up early (for the last time!) to arrive to Arusha local airport at 09:30. An hour later we boarded a smaller aircraft "COUCH" on the return flight that followed the same procedure as on arrival a week ago. Disembarking at Mombasa two hours later were back to our hotels around 14h. Luckily we found some lunch leftovers but no seas at all as it was low tide. Perspired and tired we moved to an another room starting to unpack having swimming trunks on only. By Jove, it was so hot and humid! Just don't worry! Your are back to the Coast and in a few hours you'd have a long swim in warm seas at last.

*** End of Part 2/2 ***


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Email Zvonko Springer at : zzspri@aon.at