FOOTLOOSE WITH ANJALY
A sojourn at the African wilds mesmerised Anjaly Thomas
My driver-guide for the African safari was a character one tried to forget when thinking the sweet stuff – but on a game drive, as likely as not, Reuben was the man to be saddled with.
He drove me straight out of Arusha (Tanzania) in a green safari car, fitted out and equipped to deal with rain, mud, slush and the African wildlife, and out onto the open roads under heavy grey clouds. Not the best way to begin a safari, nevertheless, but in any case, everything about the safari was wrong – and I am only referring to the season here. After being told (right after setting off) that Serengeti was flooded and bridges washed away, one didn’t easily invest faith in a safari adventure.
As if on cue it started raining as we turned into Tarangire National Park.
Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara
Two road surprises later (Reuben brushed it away with a hakuna matata as he applied the brakes), we reached the park.
“Let’s play,” Reuben announced.
On a game drive, we play. On a rain-soaked road, we play cautiously. Reuben was doing both. He was a good one, really!
Tarangire National Park promised adventure. It was also here I first saw a baobab tree. March being the rainy season, the grass was tall which made game-sighting hard, but we drove around enthusiastically thrilled at spotting ostriches and giraffe and surprising hordes of gazelles. The elephants however did not show any signs of disturbance even when we drove past them with a roar. In the distance River Tarangire, muddy and swollen snaked through the silent green landscape.
It was exhilarating and suddenly out in the middle of nowhere, life took on a different meaning. I had been told that game drives were addictive. It was. We drove all day in the Park sometimes just happy to be in the great African outdoors.
Not a bad day after a lousy start really – I even spent the night battling mosquitoes at a campsite in Mosquito River town, on the edge of Lake Manyara. The town lived up to its name. It was mosquito town – but it redeemed itself with its offering of traditional food – fried cassava and (acidic) fish procured from Lake Manyara. I was saved the trouble of watching the cooking process as the town was experiencing one of its ‘complete, yet frequent’ power cuts.
The next day, Reuben drove to the Lake Manyara and into a herd of elephants. Interestingly, Lake Manyara was thick and not quite open as Tarangire, and hence the wildlife here was varied. In fact I saw more snakes on this drive than I did in my entire life and thanks to Reuben whose warning about keeping the roof closed under the trees saved us some frightening (or fatal) ordeal with a mamba that dropped on the vehicles when we stopped to let a giant tortoise pass!
Lake Manyara is full of warthogs and blue-scrotum monkeys which holds your attention – till you reach the Lake. It is here that the flamingoes of the world meet – turning an otherwise acidic lake into a giant pink fleece blanket. It is here you stop pulling out your camera and pay attention to the world around you.
Suddenly the Lake shores become the center of wild life. Giraffe, buffaloes, deer, wild pigs, monkeys and zebra walk alongside of each other, somewhere far away the tree tops rustle and the sounds of grunting hippos from the nearby pools breaks the suddenly silence. Lake Manyara, which made up most of the national park, is beautiful.
Masai Village, Ngrongoro Crater
Day three was taken up with the Masai tribe in a remote village made up of circular, mud and dung huts. Reuben had, thoughtfully warned me against shooting them without first seeking permission or giving them a little “extra” on the side for the purpose. That information really should be passed around among visitors – Masai people (and sometimes the locals in remote villages) will take offense at being photographed without permission. However, a few shillings help matters along quite easily. The village comprises of tall, skinny men in traditional Masai shawls who also showed a keen business sense – encouraged me to trade my RayBan for a beaded necklace!
We returned to the Crater. Time to greet the Big Five!
We passed through Ngrongoro Conservation Area (NCA). This marks the end of paved roads – from here long, winding dirt track takes you wherever you want to go. This is the road you often see in pictures of Africa with lions sunning themselves along its sides. We did see leopards leap across the road in front of us and even for that fascinating second, I was glad to be inside the car!
Into the Crater we descended to see the Big Five, namely the Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo and Leopard. Although after considerable time had elapsed and we had not seen the King, I was beginning to be disappointed when Reuben told me a simple truth – “In the jungles, you need patience,’ he said.
We drove around till we came upon cars parked close together. That could only mean one thing. The King had made an appearance.
The Crater fell silent. I saw why.
Few meters away, the royal couple was engaged in a private moment. The King, unmindful of watchers, let out satisfied roars. We must have stayed there for what seemed like an eternity, not breathing. It seemed vulgar to photograph them in their domain. Reuben broke into my thought.
‘It’s lucky to see a mating lion; you will get married soon.”
I suppose it would take another trip to Ngrongoro Crater to make his prophesy come true! Hakuna Matata.
Dress in light, comfortable cotton and opt for full-sleeves on a jungle safari to avoid getting bitten by flies
Look around before signing up for safaris, there have been cases where they leave the passengers stranded in the middle of nowhere
Never get off the car in the jungles, except in designated places
Carry plenty of water n the trip, even if you have to buy your own
All trips are inclusive of park fees, food, water and stay (camp of guest house). Raise hell if you are asked to fork out extra during the trip
Tipping in not compulsory
Keep regular checks on your belonging. While you can trust your driver and guide, incidents of theft have been reported
Do not try to get close to animals. Absolute no-no
All safaris in the northern circuit begin from either Arusha or Moshi in Tanzania. The national parks in this circuit include Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara, Ngrongoro Crater and Serengeti
Kilimanjaro Airport is the nearest airport though you can drive up from Nairobi or Mombassa in neighbouring Kenya.