I wish I could tell you I slept like a rock last night. I should have, given how little sleep I’d had on the plane the night before. But evidently I wasn’t tired enough to overcome my habit of sleeping like crap the first night in an unfamiliar place. On top of that, I woke up around 3:30 a.m. with a splitting headache and had to stumble around with a flashlight (there’s no electricity in the lodge cottages between midnight & 5 a.m.) trying to figure out where the ibuprofen was packed, a task that would have been challenging enough in daylight while pain-free.
Unfortunately, the meds didn’t do much good, but I was hopeful that some coffee would help … so I had multiple cups at breakfast. Our guide was picking us up at 8:00 for the trek to Lake Manyara National Park, and I wanted to take advantage of the free wifi to post a couple of pre-written blog entries before we left. I was on schedule too, until another American staying in the lodge noticed my flat -midwestern accent and wanted to know where I was from. This lead to a 10 minute conversation and zero blog posting, so we were little late getting on the road.
After gassing up the jeep (a full-service station staffed entirely by women), bumping up the air pressure in the tires and picking up our box lunches, we were off. Once outside of Arusha the landscape turns desolate pretty quickly. We saw lots of Masai youngsters tending goats and cattle, as well as a few clusters of distinctly clad Masai warriors, though I did not have enough nerve to ask Benja what role these “warriors” play in modern Masai society. Maybe I’ll ask him tomorrow now that we know each other a little better.
The roads were rough and a Toyota Landcruiser outfitted for jeep safaris is not exactly a smooth ride to begin with … and since the coffee plus additional ibuprofen around 8:30 had barely put dent in my headache .. I was feeling every bounce and jiggle even more than I normally would. Dr. Darling very kindly rubbed my head and shoulders as the terrain allowed, but even that didn’t make much of a difference.
The wildlife in this area is amazing, and the Swede, at least, was spotting it before we were even inside the park. I had taken the left-side passenger seat since that’s the only side I see from and we hadn’t been on the road that long before Dr. Darling was shouting “zebra!” from the right-side passenger seat. I missed it completely, and because we were on the highway and not yet in the park, our guide could not pull-over. I looked over on my side of the car and saw a herd of goats. A few minutes later the Swede yells “Giraffe!” (my favorite of all the species native to this part of Africa), and once again … I cannot spot it from fast-moving vehicle. On my side of the road there’s a donkey.
Fortunately this pattern did not continue once we got inside the park, and before long I had not only seen multiple zebras and giraffes, but also elephants, impala, wildebeest, blue monkeys, baboons and a pool of hippos, and too many types of birds to remember. Benja had brought box lunches from Keratu, and we had a picnic over-looking Lake Manyara, which is famous for it’s huge population of pink flamingos.
The box lunch is a staple of safari tourism … ours included cold roasted chicken (which I had to pull off the bone for the eagle-eyed Swede) a hard-boiled egg, a veggie-filled samosa, a shredded carrot sandwich (I skipped that), a banana, a small package of nuts, a box of Mango juice and a muffin that was very tasty but so dry it disintegrated into dust the moment you took a bite out of it. This was problematic because there are strict rules against feeding the birds in the park, but these muffins made it pretty much unavoidable.
Sadly my headache never fully went away, so I was actually quite happy when the tour ended for the day around 3 p.m. and Benja dropped us at the Bougainvillea Lodge for the rest of the afternoon and evening. This lodge was considerably more upmarket than the first one, and we lounged around by the pool for bit and then enjoyed fika on the porch of our cottage before showering. We then had a short rest before heading to the main lodge for dinner.
Dr. Darling, who at this point was ready for anything non-African, tore into the avocado appetizer like a woman possessed. And this is a person who does not eat avocados when we’re at home. It was followed by zucchini soup, then roasted pork, which unfortunately for the Swede, was served with bones, so she had extra roasted potatoes and vegetables intend. There was also a fresh green salad and a dessert of apple tart with cinnamon sauce. Dr. Darling went to bed full for the first time in several nights.
Reflecting on the day, the Swede thought that Lake Manyara national park felt somewhat “zoo-like”, with people driving in to have a look at the animals, Though in this case we humans are going to the animals’ in their natural habitat rather than importing them into ours. With my headache finally abated and a couple of Tylenol PM for insurance, I hit the sack around 10 after writing a few notes on the day. Tomorrow we venture into the Serengeti, an environment that promises to be very un-zoo-like.