Woke for a lovely breakfast of toast, omelet and cheese and Kilimanjaro tea. Baraka’s friend wasn’t coming after all. Went to Easy Travel to buy a plane ticket to Rwanda when I’d finished my safari, for $400. Only later, during my safari, did I realize I couldn’t possibly afford it. It was going to have to be Tanzania and Kenya only. I was being financially irresponsible, and it had to stop. That thought only lasted a few days, however, then the old Neil, the spontaneous one, came back, and I did end up taking the plane to Rwanda, which is something I’m thankful I did.
Baraka met me outside the travel agency, and showed me the jeep that we would be doing the safari in. A proper safari jeep, cream and brown coloured, huge tires and bumpers, a large metal sunroof that came all the way off and was fastened back down to the roof, with enough room for 6 people to easily stand and look around at things. The back of the jeep had room for 8 bodies. For this safari, there would be only me in the back, with Baraka acting as my driver and guide, and Lawrence, a cheery chap who worked alternatively as a chef for the trekkers up Mount Kilimanjaro, and as a chef for the safari trippers. He had just come back from a week up Kilimanjaro, but was smiling and looked as fit as a fiddle. And so it would be the 3 of us…..my own private safari. Me, my cook and my driver. I was looking forward to it immensely. We loaded up with water and kilimanjaro beer before heading out down the dusty road full of safari jeeps and onto Lake Manyara.
Lake Manyara, set beneath the dramatic Western escarpment of the Rift Valley, was a spectacular first stop on the safari route. Before entering the park, we stopped at the campsite and lodge for a bite to eat. This is where I would be staying tonight, in a tent. We then set off into the park. It was hot, so I stood up in the back of the jeep with the roof hatch open, feeling the warm breeze on my face. We came across a troupe of olive baboons first, looking fierce, pink and red coloured bums sticking out in the air. We next saw 2 warthogs scurrying away into the undergrowth. We came across an elephant in all its wild, tusked glory. It was eating from a bush, then strode right in front of the jeep. We saw giraffes striding across the plains gracefully, seemingly in slow motion, as ostriches stood heads in the ground, taller than a man.
We came to a small pond where hippos basked lazily under the melting African sun. A fish eagle flew overhead. Stalks stood on the hippos. Wildebeest trooped by in a line behind the pond, blurred by a heatwave. Zebras, Thompson gazelle, and impala lazed around, occasionally bending to eat grass. It was funny to notice the zebras standing side by side, but nose to tail, so always able to look out for each other for predators. Here were classic Savannah plains, dry, almost barren, with lone acacia trees dotting the plains, mountains a smudged dark green in the background, all kinds of African wildlife running around. Just what I used to see on the Discovery Channel. This was paradise for a nature lover.
We were lucky enough to see Vivid monkeys, plain enough except for their bright blue genitals! We also saw Maribu stalks, and kingfishers, whose wings are electric blue when they fly. When we came to Lake Manyara proper,, it was pink – hundreds of thousands of flamingos were sitting in the water. We saw hornbills, and we even saw lions, lazing under a tree. On the way out we went over a small bridge, and in the water underneath, 10 elephants were playing and drinking – a sight to behold. They were so silent and plodding, all tusked, not a care in the world. A huge gang of baboons slowed down our exit, but it was a memorable first game drive for me.
Back at the camp, it was time for dinner. Lawrence the cook cooked up a treat – pasta, fish, sauce, salad, vegetable soup, tea, hot chocolate….perfect for the chilly evening air we were eating in. Lawrence didn’t eat with us. He ate later, with the other cooks. Baraka and I ate at a table, other safari people were sat with their guides at other tables, sharing safaris stories, swapping anecdotes. The meal was great, though Baraka was a little quiet and it was difficult to get him to say much. He’s not the most talkative bloke in the world, and I think at first he was finding my English difficult to understand, as he frequently misunderstood me. He can spot an iguana from 100 metres away though, the eagle-eyed chap! He told me he used to be a porter for the trekkers up Mount Kilimanjaro, and managed to get a job as a safari guide after that, a job he much preferred. I was thinking back to the day’s game drive. It was amazing how all the animals today were just there at the sides of the bumpy dirt tracks going through the park, as though waiting to have their picture taken. All seemed blissfully unaware of the jeep. We managed to get really close to some of them. It was the Discovery Channel come to life….stuff I watched as a boy and always dreamed of going and seeing in real life. I’ve seen it. Anther mission accomplished. Now I want to see more and more.
Ate dinner, then went to the main restaurant area, which was full of Germans for some reason. This is where those who stay in the more luxurious lodges can eat. The Germans were drinking beer, of course, so I ordered a can of Kilimanjaro to fit in, then went to bed, which tonight was a fold away bed in my own tent, the sound of insects and nature lulling me to sleep.