Safari Day 1: Moshi to Lake Manyara National Park

We left from the front gate at International School Moshi at 8 a.m. after hearing and watching early-morning police training drills on Lema road — recruits jogging past in olive drab, singing in Swahili. The Land Rover arrived on time, and we threw our stuff in the back with help from Gabrieli, the driver and guide, and Amisi, the camp chef. When you buy a safari package in Tanzania, as Madalena and I did, everything is included: food, park fees, gear if you need it.

The drive took us through Chagga and Meru country between Moshi and Arusha, and then through Maasai land for about an hour — a sparse landscape of small trees, dry grass, cows, goats, dogs, and Maasai men striding across the countryside with a shawl, a stick, and a pair of sandals made from tires.

Gabrieli told us a lot about Maasai culture and other cultures along the way. Gabrieli is from the Meru tribe, which lives around Mt. Meru and Arusha. Amisi is Chagga, the tribe that lives on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and around Moshi. Gabrieli’s respect for the cultures was clear in the way he talked about their land and history.

We stopped at a private campground in a town called Mtu Wambu, Mosquito River. While Amisi and Gabrieli offloaded the truck, Madalena and I talked to a craftsman selling carvings. He spoke good Portuguese because he lived in Mozambique when he was a child. Forty years ago, but he still remembers the language!

During the afternoon, we headed into Lake Manyara National Park for our first game drive, and it was spectacular. We saw lots of baboons, vervet monkeys, and black monkeys as we drove through the rainforest, as well as a bush buck and a dik dik, the smallest antelope in Africa.

From there we passed into open country, watching zebras, wildebeest, impala, and warthogs on the way to the hippo pool, where I was able to shoot some nice photos of a hippo wandering around outside the pool. We also saw buffalo, a fish eagle, a leopard tortoise, some marabou storks, guinea fowl, a beautiful kingfisher, a colorful roller, and quite a few other birds we didn’t stop to identify.

We continued on through the acacia forest where I lost my breath at the first sighting of a pair of elephants right by the road. We stayed there for a long time watching the big mama, a small baby, and several juveniles eating and crossing the road.

I was in awe of the variety of species, and how close they came to the truck as we stood watching through the open roof. Gabrieli answered every question with the authority of a 16-year veteran guide, who also has a degree in wildlife science. His love for the animals was clear, as well as his desire to watch them without intruding on their natural behaviors.

Back at the campground, we met our traveling companions for the rest of the trip, Truls and Tina from Bergen, Norway. They spoke almost perfect English with barely an accent, and seemed like a good pair to travel with.

Amisi prepared us a fantastic meal of vegetables in sauce and a meat dish, with fried banana fritters for dessert. I bought some small carvings from our friend and went to bed. Tomorrow, Ngorongoro Crater.

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