In June I went on the trip of a lifetime to the second largest continent in the world, the elephant ear-shaped landmass that is Africa. More specifically, the immense game reserves of Tanzania.
Our first lodging was the Whistling Thorn Tented Camp on the edge of the Tarangire National Park (an unfenced edge I might add), the residence of 3,000 elephants. The canvas and mosquito net tents made for a blackout blind experience and a great night’s sleep.
The days started chilly, and at 6am. Our guide, January, was able to pinpoint horned dots on the horizon with his naked eye, that we couldn’t even see with binoculars, that turned into rhino as they came into focus. Not only this but he was skilfully in tune with how the animals were going to act or where they were going to go. Teaching us that when an elephant gingerly lifts its foot above the ground its picking up the rumbling vibrations of other jumbos, and that elephants are right or left-handed (you can tell by which tusk is shorter). It’s hard to pry yourself away from these giant creatures when they’re playing so gently and intelligently in front of you. January’s perceptiveness meant that many of the close up animal encounters we had – lounging cheetahs and leopards hauling gazelle carcasses up trees to their waiting cubs – were not escorted by a convoy of jeeps. Among the more unusual sightings were the sausage tree, and secretary bird, so called because of its crest of long quill-like feathers (not to mention it looks like it’s wearing a white shirt and black trousers).
Lake Manyara is worlds apart from the savannah, where baobab trees, which look like they’ve been turned upside down as their branches resemble roots, are the main vegetation. To start with, it’s forested, and hot springs and marbled algae feed into an alkaline lake. I wasn’t prepared for the variety of the Tanzanian landscape, like the weathered granite outcrops called kopjes on the Serengeti. The Ngorogoro crater was different again, the largest un-flooded crater in the world with some of the densest large animal populations found anywhere in Africa. Even driving between conservation areas there’s so much to see; coffee bean fields and coca-cola logos painted on the side of every other shop.
The only thing more spectacular than the Serengeti was The Great Migration that swept across it. The migrating herd passed through two months earlier than scheduled due to lower river levels making it easier for them to cross, unwittingly we were witness to what’s been commended as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth.’ The unexpectedness of seeing hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra in a stampede of dust and horns made it all the more incredible.
We had a traditional Tanzanian meal cooked by women who lived on the banana plantation, cooked in pots made from blackened clay, of bean and Irish potato soup, spinach, chapati, plantain, ugali, a stiff porridge made from maize which you eat with your hands, and red bananas. Tanzania grows five types of banana and they’re all used for different purposes; cooking, eating, beer…
The staff at every lodge we stayed in were caring and wanted to do everything for you. One of the watchman who took us on a walking tour one morning even transformed into the bartender that evening! The only awkward thing was tipping. You’re meant to tip for pretty much everything but guidebooks don’t really give you any guidelines – say how much you should give a Masai chief.
Tanzania is the most beautiful and diverse place I’ve ever been to. It’s a joy to know that there is still somewhere in the world where nature and wildlife are thriving.