Finishing up on Kilimanjaro didn’t bring an end to my African adventure. In fact, I still had another week to go before I returned home, and hadn’t gotten my fill of Tanzania by a long shot. Coming down off the mountain, Colm and I were ready for a hot shower and a comfortable bed, which we had for one day at least. But the next day, it was time to depart on the second stage of our journey – The Safari!
After spending six days on the mountain together, Colm and I were very well acquainted and getting along like two people that had known each other for years. But we had word that we were going to be joined by another person on safari and we weren’t sure what he would be like and how the three of us would get along. We also met a woman on Kilimanjaro who was looking to do a safari has well, and we encouraged her to join us, and as luck would have it, Duma Explorer, our safari guides, were very flexible and were happy to have another person on the trip.
So, Colm and I were joined by Mike, a good natured Canadian living and working in South Africa, and Ressie, an American who had quit her job last Fall and was traveling around the world. (Check out her awesome travel blog!) The four of us made quite the group for safari. Everyone had done some extensive traveling, and were able to swap stories about adventures from every corner of the globe, we all were very laid back, got along great, and shared a wicked sense of humor. It wasn’t long before we became fast friends, and it made the next five days all that much more enjoyable.
The first stop for our safari was Lake Manyara, a national park in Tanzania about two hours drive from Arusha. We arrived at the part about mid-day, and after dropping off our tents and other supplies at a near by resort, we made our way into the park. The safari was finally getting underway!
We were no more than five minutes into the park when we spotted our first lions. Two large females were walking slowly across the road. We thought we must have stumbled into Lion Central, and we were looking for them around every corner at that point, but it turned out that they would be the only lions we would see at Lake Manyara. Instead, we saw lots of gazelles, zebras, elephants, and baboons.
Since it was our first day, we were excited to see any animals. We took lots of pictures of everything we came across, including giraffes and buffalo that were only visible from a distance. We didn’t care though, as we were just happy to be seeing these amazing animals in their natural habitats. Little did we know that Lake Manyara would do nothing to prepare us for the wonders of the Serengeti that lay ahead.
We spent about four or five hours in the part that afternoon, covering some large areas. Everyone was happy with our first, day, although I think there was a bit of a disappointment that we hadn’t seen any lions beyond the pair we saw at the very beginning. Still, we did get some great shots of a baby elephant, probably the highlight of the first day, and plenty of other animals as well.
After we left Lake Manyara, we returned to the Jambo Lodge Campsite. Seeing as this was a camping safari, we were going to be sleeping in tents, even though we were pitching those tents surrounded by a local lodge. We even had a swimming pool that night, which we all happily jumped into, so it wasn’t like we were roughing it exactly. With Kilimanjaro still fresh in our minds, we didn’t mind too much, as it was nice to float in the pool and look up at the millions of stars visible in the Southern Hemisphere. After a good meal, we all retured to our tents and crashed for the day, happy and excited about our first safari experience, and looking forward to what was yet to come.
Looking back on Lake Manyara now, after having experienced the whole trip, it’s hard to see it as anything but a tourist destination for those who want a safari experience, but don’t have as much time or money to go to the real safari destinations. Don’t get me wrong, it was very enjoyable, and we had a blast on our first day, but it doesn’t hold a candle to being out on the Serengeti, which is where we went for the next three days. At this point, we had nothing to compare Manyara to, but had we stopped here on the return trip, rather than on our way out, we would have been disappointed. Still, it was a nice way to kick things off and get us into the safari experience.