Tuesday, 27 December 2011

... Tanzania: Wim-o-weh Wim-o-weh!

It was a moderately late breakfast, by my recent standards, with the members of my new group before hitting the road in two 7 seater 4x4 safari vehicles with a roof that opened up. I could just imagine myself driving around Vancouver in one of those... With a pith helmet of course!

My new group consisted of our group leader Filberth (Fil for short), drivers Jacob & Cornel and then 13 intrepid travelers from Sweden, Japan, the US, Quebec, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and not forgetting myself, all with dreams and desires of what their safari experience would bring.

The village of Mto wa Mbu has over 18,000 residents from 120 tribes, despite its name meaning "mosquito river". I don't know about you but that would kind of put me off wanting to live there as the many bites on the areas I apparently missed with Deet can attest. Still I was perfectly happy to take a two hour tour from the local market through several different farms, including rice paddies & banana plantations, local huts and artisan shops. We also stopped off at a local bar and tried both banana beer and banana wine. Both were very interesting to taste and not particularly banana-tasting. Several hand crafted items took my eye during my tour and at the end of the week I shall now be frantically trying to work out how on earth to pack several giraffe carved items including a beautiful ebony bowl & a giraffe mask into what is left of my luggage. It was all a really neat way to experience northern Tanzanian culture. Lunch consisted of several Tanzanian dishes whilst sat in the sun, refueling for the afternoon. I was particularly fond of a watercress dish.

Lake Manyara is a shallow alkaline lake spanning the Rift Valley escarpment and the area, which is largely underrated, is absolutely stunning. Depending on the season, about 2/3 of the 330 sq km area is covered by the lake which attracts tens of thousands of flamingos as well as other birdlife. Yet, despite its size, the vegetation is extremely diverse being home to giants fig trees, mahogany trees, acacia woodlands and grassy flood planes. Ernest Hemmingway described the area as "the loveliest I had seen in Africa".

And then there were the animals. Oh my! It actually started on the way there with a giraffe that i fell in love with. It had the most comical facial expression and seemed to look right into my lens even though it was at quite a distance. Then we came across a couple of elephants who were very close but a little camera shy. This was all whilst driving down a main road, as though I had nipped out to go grocery shopping. They were simply there because they can be! I was already enchanted. What followed was a photographers dream. The roof was raised on the 4x4 and I basically stood on my seat for the entire game drive with camera in hand. Baboons (who are always good for entertainment), blue monkeys (they have a distinctive blue colour to a certain part of their anatomy *cough cough*), giraffes, buffalo, elephants, impala, a serval cat (such a pretty thing) and the warthog. Boy, warthogs certainly seem to have fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down yet there is this cuteness in ugliness especially when they start running with their tails raised like antennas. Disney got it spot on in The Lion King.

As we headed back to camp just before the sun began to set I had seen stuff beyond my wildest dreams. I couldn't begin to imagine what tomorrow would bring let alone the next 4!

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