Flight from Amsterdam to Kili was 9 hours. As a birthday surprise, the person who was supposed to be sitting next to me did not show up, so Camille got to sit next to me for the flight. This consisted of us lamenting the fact that we didn't have time for one last good European coffee before we got on the flight, drooling over our neighbour's delicious looking croissants that they seemed to eat throughout the entire flight, and wondering which combination of drink trifectas would finally make our flight attendant too exasperated with us to continue. We arrived in the dark and did not get to see the mountain out the window of the plane unfortunately.
Next day we were pretty tired due to late arrivals and all of us pretty much slept the 2.5 hour drive to our first safari park - Tarangire National Park. The park (like a lot of other parks in Tanzania) used to be a game reserve for rich European and Americans to come and hunt, that were later turned into national parks with no hunting allowed. Due to the earlier hunting, and ongoing poaching activities, there are no rhinos left in this park. Our guide, the fantastic Emanuel (more on him later), told us that we would be able to see most African animals in this park, but likely no cheetahs as they rely on speed for hunting and this park has too many trees, so they prefer parks with more open spaces where they can run and get up to speed. Tangarire also has a lot of boabab trees, which are important because they lose all their leaves in the dry season so that they can conserve water in their roots (it is currently the dry season) so elephants often gather around the trees to dig down to get the water. There are hundreds, if not thousands of elephants in Tangarire National Park.
Basically the routine for entering the parks is this: stop at the main gate, pee (cuz you won't get another pee stop until lunchtime unless your guide can arrange for you to go "in nature" (and the thought of this is quite frightening once you see animals around and also when you think of the lions that could be hiidng in the bushes), pop open the top of the land cruiser and then start looking for animals. We have heard a lot of stories from others who have gone on safari, as well as our guide, how sometimes you have to drive for hours before spotting animals. We were apparently very lucky in Tangarire. As we drove in, we played the 'spot the animal game' and awareded points to whoever spotted something first. This soom became redundant as we wondered if this was an animatronic park and they had strategically placed the animals just for us. First we saw 3 giraffes. Then a few meters later, 2 zebras. A few meters after that, a group of elephants clustered around a baobab tree. It progressed like this until we were seeing herds of impalas (kind of like pronghorns), wildebeest and zebras around every turn. There were also hundreds of elephants. We also saw other animals: warthogs, bush pigs, baboons, black faced fervet monkeys, dik diks, antelope, common water bucks, ostrich, vultures, secretary bird (scavenger bird that looks like an old man when it walks), jackals, some kind of scavenger stork that is creepy and we couldn't remember the name so we call it a reaper stork.
We were in the park for 2 days. In addition to the amount of animals we saw above, we also saw lions on FOUR separate occasions. This is apparently quite rare to see in this park. The first time we saw a couple of males sleeping under a tree by the river. Later that day we saw a female and a cub hanging out in a bush. There was a mobile camp (where people actually sleep!) just down the hill from where this lioness was hanging out. The thought of this freaked us out a lot. On day 2 in the morning we came across a group of 11 lions sleeping around a fairly fresh zebra kill. We hung out for awhile and watched them, and then were lucky enough to see them again when we left that night - a couple of them were finishing off the remains of the carcass while the rest of the pride hung out around them.
We were also able to see a kudu, which is a deer-like animal with kind of twisty type horns. Apparently it is not common to see them as they have been hunted out due to the demand for their horns - the horns are used in a traditional tribal dance for the unique sound that is made when you blow through them.
The animal highlight of day 2, and an example of how lucky we were: we spotted a bunch of jeeps in a spot and went to check it out. Emanuel thought it was a cheetah, but it was far back in the buhs lying on a red sand hill, so we all pulled out our binoculars to try and get a better look. I saw a cheetah butt disappear behind the hill. We sat around looking for where it went; Camille swore that she saw it again but Matt and I thought it was a clump of grass. I was about to be satisfied with a cheetah butt sighting, but Emanael thought we could do bettter so pulled offroad into the bush to try and flush it out. We drove around for a bit but no luck. We were heading back on the road, around the side of the area where we had seen them, when Manon and I started mumbling 'oh my god oh my god' and pointing at the front of the truck because there were 2 cheetahs crossing the road in front of us and we were so excited that we couldn't get the words out! We followed them into the bush again, thinking that they would take off and this was going to be the best thing ever, but THEN, they stopped on another rock and decided to pose for us (and a few more jeeps of people that Emanuel had called on the radio) for a few pictures. Sooo amazing. We all pretty much felt we had gotten our safari money's worth within the first 2 days!
We stayed 2 nights at the Kirumuru Under Canvas Lodge, which is basically a permanent tent lodge - the tents are canvas, but are on a concrete base, and there are bathrooms in the tents. The lodge is about 250 meters from the edge of the park, and there is no fence or anything, and so the animals can come freely into the lodge area. From the amount of scat in the area, we knew this was often the case. We were a little nervous going to sleep that night I think, but it was really cool going to sleep with all the animal sounds around us. We all heard elephant grunts really close to the tents in the night too, and the staff told us in the morning that there had been elephants in the camp overnight. When we checked in, they told us that during the daylight we could walk around but to be 'careful of our surroundings' and that at night we were to be escorted from our tents to the dining hall by Masai boys with spears. The first night, Manon and Camille had a jumping competition with our escorts, and then they put on a little demo for us complete with chanting and jumping. It was really awesome. During our first breakfast we saw four giraffes just wander past the dining hall while we were drinking our coffee, which was pretty fantastic. In the morning on day 2, we found our tent surrounded by at least 15 elephants. We decided that we were going to have to wait to go to breakfast until our trusty escorts arrived! We stood on our balcony watching them grazing until they were gently herded away by the Masai boys. Matt and I had the tent closest to the park, and all the elephants passed within about 5 feet of the tent! As we were eating breakfast they returned so that we could watch them from the dining hall. So cool!
Quick note on pictures:
Most of the safari pics are on my actual camera. I don't have an easy way to get pictures off of the camera and I to my iPhone, where they need to be in order to put them in the blog. So most pictures posted until I am back are from my iPhone, which means: a) that I had to be close enough to the animals to take a picture with my iPhone, and b) I actually had to remember to take a picture with my iPhone. Most things falling into this category are pictures taken at the lodges or (a newly fashionable thing to do on safari), animal selfies.