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On safari and out of touch

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Hi folks! Tim here reporting for the Jameses who are in so wild and remote an area that Internet access is spotty at best, so by way of a hurried phone call they asked me to write a quick post and let everyone know what they are up to.

As I write this shortly after noon on February 23, the Jameses are on safari in Lake Manyara National Park, which by its website looks like a very spectacular place. Here is how it is described:

Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”.

The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience.

From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like groundwater forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly along the roadside, blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees, dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and outsized forest hornbills honk cacophonously in the high canopy.

Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.

Now the phone call from Rick was rushed and the connection was poor, but he did say they saw pretty much every type of animal there is to see, with the exception of lions. He said they saw tons of hippos, giraffes, zebras and a fascinating little creature called the dik-dik.

After Lake Manyara, the Jameses are off to Ngorongoro Crater, the largest caldera in the world. Until they can give you a first hand account when they get back to someplace with a connection, you’ll have to be satisfied with this description from the website:

The Ngorongoro Crater is one of those sights you really have to see to believe; It’s the largest caldera in the world; the remains of a massive volcano preserved as a perfect bowl some 18 km across. The ground area is just over 260 square kilometres and within this relatively small space most of the major east African habitats and mammal species are represented. What’s more you have an incredibly good chance of seeing them here on your safari.

Game viewing can begin on the crater rim, where often you come round a corner to find a solitary bull elephant feeding absent mindedly and inadvertently blocking the road and even leopard are occasionally seen shooting across the track on the eastern rim into the dense woodland. From the rim and often from your lodge window you can sit with a pair of binoculars and watch the game far below you.

And it really is a long way down. The Crater is over a third of a mile deep and the scale and perfection of the thing is staggering. Once in the Crater floor, most of the animals at Ngorongoro, whilst totally wild, are very used to vehicles. This means that they all but ignore them (which at time must be very hard to do) and as a result they can be approached fairly easily. This makes the Ngorongoro Crater an ideal first place to visit on your safari and an excellent place to take children as intervals between animals are generally short and the game is often close enough that you won’t need to look with binoculars (don’t leave them behind though).

After that, they are off to the famous Serengeti Plains, where I am sure they see all the wildlife one could possibly hope for. Here is a quick desrciption of what awaits them:

A million wildebeest… each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40km (25 mile) long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km (600 mile) pilgrimage begins again.

Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, the Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.

After the Jameses are back online, they can let us know if the real thing lives up to the tourism literature! Anyway, that’s it from your snowbound Northern correspondent. I am sure we will be back to proper updates from our favourite world travellers soon enough. Suffice to say, all is well and they are having a great time!