Sunday, March 03, 2019

Gap Year – Safari – Day 2

After a night at Eileen’s Trees Inn in Karutu – where I am bored into an early night by a pedantic German – we set off for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. My Swahili lesson is going great guns so while Ally picks up our “permitys”, I chat to other tour guides. They are all very earnest and I decide I easily have the best guide.

We climb up through the thick, luscious woodland of the Ngorongoro Highlands and skirt the rim of the stunning caldera.  I haven’t been here since I was 10 but can still remember the breathtaking moment when you see Ngorongoro for the first time. 19.5km across, 8,000 km2 – an idyllic Shangri-La for wildlife. Through our binoculars. we watch some rhinos having sex. It goes on for ages; the couple’s baby rhino stands beside them and waits for them to finish.

We skirt the caldera and set off north-west towards the Serengeti. The Masai are the only people allowed to live in the Conservation Area and we pass drifts of goats and cattle, always with a Masai nearby, leaning on a long stick, checked red “shuka” slung over one shoulder. In one giant herd, I see cows and sheep grazing peacefully alongside wildebeest and zebra – an exquisite sight.

Scenery much like the Scottish Highlands – but with more giraffes – gives way to some Andalucia-style scrub. There are hundreds of zebra and wildebeest, slowly heading south on their 1,000 mile trek, munching as they go – the Great Migration.

We turn off the main track and suddenly we’re on a vast empty plain. Ally tells me this is exactly what the word “Serengeti” means – an endless plain. Gazelles scatter ahead of the jeep, ostriches eye us suspiciously. We see a hyena – Ally’s favourite animal – skulking along beside the road. The hills we’ve descended from slowly diminish and, in the far distance, a line of low bush gets slowly nearer. We reach the scrub and suddenly there are giraffes everywhere, zebras, some adorable dikdiks wobbling their noses at us, guineafowl scuttling out of our way.

We are spending the next two nights at Ndutu Tented Camp perched high above a beautiful lake where we watch hundreds of wildebeest stand at the shore grunting and deciding whether it’s time to cross. Actually, they could easily go round the lake but they are only programmed to cross water, not skirt it. I

I determine that the best sunset view is going to be right by the lake so at 6pm we head down. I neck the last of my Kenya Cane as we watch the sun sink below the low hill on the far side of the lake. Luckily Ally’s a Muslim so I don’t have to share. It’s probably the best sunset of my life.

Gap Year – Safari time – Day 1

After a cancelled flight and five hour delay (thanks KenyaAirways), I finally arrive at Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania at 2am. Ally is waiting, my guide for the next eight days. He’s also my Swahili teacher but I decide not to break this to him until the next day. This is officially a “rest day” as I desperately need a rest after being on holiday for the previous six weeks but Ally recommends a shopping expedition at a local market in Arusha.

The next day, Ally acclimatises me gently to Tanzania by taking me to Bee Eater’s office seven miles away where two girls struggle with a credit card reader that doesn’t work. I’m very hot and have a temper tantrum. Ally deals with it politely and calmly, the girls say sorry a lot. Later Ally confides that dealing with difficult clients like me is the first thing you have to learn on the “how to be a guide” course. He was also thinking to himself: “This Mamma’s going to kill me.”

After fun times at the office, we head to Kilombero market, where I resist the opportunity to buy fabrics designed by someone on an acid trip along with a cabbage, second-hand shoes and some goats. I buy some dates.

The safari gets underway at 7am the next day. We’re off to Lake Manyara where elephants, monkeys and leopards abound. As soon as I determine it’s now just a bit too far to turn back, I inform Ally that – in addition to his strenuous one-on-one, 24/7 guiding duties – he’s also going to be teaching me Swahili. Luckily, he’s right up for it and we kick off with verbs for “like”, “see” and “go.”

"Tembo" (elephant) and "simba" (lion) are already part of my vocabulary so by the time we actually see elephants – and a lion up a tree – I’m able to say I can see them, like them and let’s go.

We stop for a picnic lunch overlooking the lake, and a family of elephants munching thoughtfully beneath us. I start a long series of complaints about my packed lunch which has cold chips in it. Cold chips turns out to be a staple of the safari “lunch boxy” but Ally likes them so happy to pick up the slack. We see lots of “twigas” and “pundamilia”, “ndege” galore and some cute “nyani”. Wielding my Nikon, I find I'm a master at catching animals’ bottoms as they wander off away from us into the bush.

We drive as far along the lake as it’s possible to go and reach a boardwalk stretching out into the alkaline waters. Swimming not advised. Dozens of swallows perch along the boardwalk, taking flight as we make our way to the end.

We head out of the park and up the wall of the Great Rift Valley. The views are spectacular, inexpertly captured on my Nikon.