Ditton Corner
Ditton Corner

East Africa 2018

Helen and Andrew head off to Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania in search of wildlife.

Serengeti, Tanzania

Game Drives

The savannah plains of the Serengeti are full of wildlife, much of it drawn to the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra.  Our game drives out to see them brought new sights and experiences each day.

Camps and Activities

Welcome to the jungle, baby

We had wonderful camps, lodges, and experiences in addition to the safari hunting. It's a hard life living but we weren't exactly slumming it.

The Great Migration

Crossing the Mara River

The Great Migration of herds of wildebeest and zebra is a spectacle in itself. When a hundred thousand animals have to cross the Mara River, it becomes unbelievable. We were lucky enought to witness it from the air as well as from the river bank.

Rwanda

Gorillas in the mist

We begin in the cloud forests of Rwanda, at the Sabyinyo Lodge, in the Volcanoes National Park, 8,000 feet above sea level, and one degree south of the equator.

Our first trek brings us into a close encounter with the Agashya troupe of 24 mountain gorillas, led by a silverback known as The Special One. We just called him Jose.

Back Home: Preparing for the off...

Helen's Holiday Journal Rwanda and Tanzania 2018

Tuesday 16 October

 

Up at 5.20 to preempt the 'wake up' visit of Fidele our butler with tea and coffee - can't let him see us en deshabille.  Truth is this is a military-style schedule.  The Organisation can't tolerate any laggards when there is the serious business of gorilla capture (on camera) to be done.  Besides, we are supporting a large sector of the local economy - Fidele, Thomas our waiter, Agosto our driver and an army of cooks, housekeepers, guards and footmen at the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.  And also many local community projects funded by a tourism levy that incentivises the human inhabitants to keep their gorilla friends happy, healthy and photogenic.  

 

Then there are the trackers and porters and park rangers who bring the two populations together: homo sapiens touristicus and gorilla beringei beringei, the mountain gorilla.  At 6.05 we are torn away from breakfast, issued with our snacks, velcroed into gaiters and driven off to Ranger Central for the vicinity - a holding tank for gorillaphyle foreigners.  At 7.13 we are breifed on gorilla etiquette (who knew?); at 7.37 divided into groups of eight on our estimated physical fitness and enthusiasm for forced marches; at 7.52 whisked away for our encounter.

 

All cynicism burns off like the morning mist as we bump along a farm track between fields of pyrethrum and purple-flowered potatoes. Tiny children wave at us; Agosto tuts as the naughtiest goat in the neighbourhood tries to bolt under the wheels of the jeep.  Then we meet the porters (Innocent for Andrew, Elisa for me - both male) who'll carry our snacks for us, and set off into the Park. Sunlight trickles through the groves of bamboo and monster nettles.

 

After half an hour or so, squishy yellow-green mounds start to appear on the path.  Gorilla poo!  The trackers have done an excellent job in locating the Agashya family for us - a troupe of 24 gorillas with a dominant male, several secondary silverbacks, females, teenagers, juveniles and babies. 

 

We smell them, we hear them ahead of us on the path.  We take out cameras, leave our backpacks and walking poles with the porters, then move ahead with the guides. 

 

The gorillas are there - black, furry and seemingly unconcerned at our presence.  We nudge one another and tiptoe towards them.  Out come the cameras, and we circle warily to get our best shots in.  The adults tolerate us, even at 3-4 metres away.  They eat, snooze, contemplate the universe.  The young ones gambol around, playing tag, shinning up bamboo culms and occasionally rushing past with a playful tap on the calf.  Three or four teenagers gather in the vegetation overhead, then descend rapidly around our group - showering me with pee.   Great new shampoo!

 

There's a show of aggression between a couple of the junior males - chest beating, hollering and rushing one another - to get rights to the tastiest food.  At this time of year, we're told, the young bamboo shoots are full of mildly alcoholic sap, which fuels these pseudo playful fights between young males. Yes, after all, they do share 98% of our DNA.

 

We're only allowed one hour of contact time with the gorilla family. It flies by.  Then, the bumpy journey in reverse, and a swapping or war stories over lunch with other lodge guests who've spent the morning with other troupes.  Just marvellous.

Wednesday 17 October

 

Up again at the same un relaxing hour for Gorilla Tour #2.  Same drill - but having completed basic training yesterday, we are allocated to the medium challenge category, and sent to attack (sorry, have a love-in with) the Kwitonda family.  This "Humble" troop is the most numerous in the reserve, with 34 members.  We only get to see around 2/3 of them, but that's still a whole bunch of gorillas.

 

The trek is much longer today, because:

1) the gorillas are a little deeper in the forest

2) it's uphill all the way

3) we are the youngest of the party by some margin, and guides Bernice and Edward are very considerate towards our brave companions of 70+

 

On the way up, we get to see something of the local farming practices.  There are beehives - barrel shaped assemblages of palm leaves and split bamboo.  We meet a fieldfull of women, a cooperative harvesting the 'Irish' potatoes planted by one of their members on her land.  Bernice has a happy chat with their leader, and someone donates a banana from her snack pack.  Then we clims a rickety stile into the national park, and proceed through the lower levels of hardwood forest and bamboo transition zone.

 

When our trackers make contact with the Kwitondas, the family seems perfectly happy to see us.  First a few blackbacks - young adult males - sneak past us.  Then the trackers lead us on to a contented family group who are enjoying a lazy Wednesday morning in the sunshine.  O blessed sunshine, and a clear view of the group!  Perfect for video.  And the gorillas seem very keen to play roles in all our home movies.

 

There's the scowling silverback, who doesn't us budge from his leafy armchair for a full hour - no doubt watching the golf on an invisible TV.  There are two mischievous juveniles who tease one another to their elders' distraction, they go play-fight up in the bush-tops behind us.  Every so often one of them is dislodged by the other, and comes tumbling down the thicket - almost pushing of of us humans off the muddy ledge where we're trying to film the rest of the family's behaviours.

 

There's a mother with a 5-week old baby - utterly exhausted and apparently injured, one eye almost swollen shut. One ranger explains that she's had a nasty beesting, but it's been checked by a vet who didn't think it needed any medical intervention. The baby is lively, and there is also a wriggling toddler in the group.  Luckily there's a older sibling to help give mum a bit of a break from time to time.

 

When our time's up, we reluctantly leave - but the family follows us down the slope, seemingly reluctant to let us go.  But then then the silverback decides that one of our group is in his way, and shoves him aside without ceremony.  Friends or temporary allies - who can tell?

 

We descend through the farmland, enjoying the most beautiful sunny views of the surrounding (dormant) volcanoes.  But when we get back to the lodge, we find what luck we've had. The streams there are swollen with muddy water, and we're told that great hailstones have fallen on the lawns of the lodge.  It's chilly - but then Fidele our butler makes up a fire in our suite, and all is well.

Thursday 18 October

 

We land at Kogstende airstrip, and all is well.  We are greeted by a driver bearing tea, coffee, biscuits and Amarullo - all set out on a camp table with a checked tablecloth.

 

It's approaching 5 o'clock when we load up and set out on our drive to the camp.  The light is fading, and the animals a coming out for their teatime activities.  Immediately we come upon impala, and topi - and giraffe (so Andrew's first safari wish is granted!). That's in addition to the wildebeest, ostrich and tortoise we'd seen at the last airstrip. 

 

We don't dare hope for more - after all, this isn't an official game drive.  But our driver takes us to a recent lion kill, a bloodied zebra hide with a few bones poking out.  A lioness lies guarding it from a rock above.  But then we see a mass of wriggling bodies beside the zebra carcass - four lion cubs are getting a first taste of meat.  They're not yet weaned, and it will be a while before their jaws are able to rip a corpse apart, but they are licking up the blood enthusiastically in the twilight.  Beats a cup of cocoa at bedtime.

 

Another half an hour or so, and we reach the Serengeti Under Canvas camp.  It moves seasonally to follow the migrating herds, but still is the ultimate in glamping.  We are serenaded on arrival by a massed choir of staff and escorted to our tent by butler Abraham, who enquiries when we would like our showers - and what temperature.  Luxury!

Friday 19 October

 

The night does not pass peacefully.  At 2am there's a rumbling noise - a truck arriving perhaps, or low flying aircraft?  Maybe a shower of rain?  It only lasts a coupl of minutes at most, but is followed by a chorus of barking, hooting and grunting noises.  Pretty difficult to get back to sleep after that.  Our imaginations are racing.  I comfort myself that those grunts are the croaks of bullfrogs, like the ones we heard at Lodolozi on our South African safari twelve years ago.  I still can't get back to sleep, perhaps just as well as we are due to be woken (by Abraham, bearing the now traditional coffee and biscuits) at 4.30.

 

Our first adventure will be a hot air balloon flight - something neither of us have done before.  And a balloon flight over the massed herds of the Great Migration!

 

The sun rises as our drive (Safari by name, no less) speeds us towards the launch site.  Spring hares pop up all around us, and baby antelope leap aside. We join a convoy of vehicles heading towards a mysterious blob on the shadowing plain.  Our jeep drives right up to it, and the crew tie a steel rope to the front bumper.  Safari will be our anchor for the take-off.

 

Excited passengers arrive in small groups from the surrounding lodges and camps. Audrey and David are from Singapore, another couple from Saudi Arabia, a whole family from the Netherlands.  Here comes our pilot, Serkan.  He sports a bushy ginger beard and and hails from Cappadocia, where he learnt the trade.  He orders us into the ballon basket - alledgedly designed for 16, but a tight fit even for 12 - and then gives the word to his ground crew to inflate the balloon.  Then follows a safety procedure which mainly consists of careful briefing on smiling into the outboard video camera when instructed (so Serkan can boost his income with personalised flight videos), and a reminder to hold on tight during landing.

 

Then Serkan opens the gas canister lever - the only flight control - the burners send a jet of flame up into the balloon, and off we go.  Sailing at treetop height over the hares and antelope, then over the Mara river.  We have an eagle's eye view of the hippos taking an early dip, and crocs basking in the low rays of the sun to gain energy for the hunt ahead.  Then we catch sight of their prey - lines of wildebeest and zebra approaching the crossing points over the river on their way to greener pastures to the south.  This is what we came for - the Great Migration, featured in the every nature documentary on the wonders of Africa. And this will be the crisis point of every migrating animal's journey: crossing the deadly river Mara.

 

However, Serkan has no control over the balloon's flight path, only its altitude.  We drift silently away from the river before the herds begin to attempt a crossing.  We obey all instructions on landing procedure (i.e. sit tight, pray), and gently bump back down to earth.  We're picked up by the crew and our ordeal assuaged with a hearty champagne breakfast.  Then we're sold the video.

 

We meet Winston, who will be our driver and game ranger for the rest of our stay. Our vehicle is shared, confusingly, with another Winston and his wife Christina - honeymooners from Austin, Texas.  Masai Winston tells us that the noise we heard in the night was a herd of wildebeest and zebra charging through the camp, perhaps chased by a leopard or lion.  As extra consolation, we later learnt that this had happened again at 5am, just after we left the camp.  That certainly rubbed in the strong warning not to wander around the camp without one's butler, after dark.

 

Then off to Crossing no. 7 (place, not event).  American Winston + Christina seem mildly bored at this announcement - they've been at the camp for a couple of days, and it's their third crossing.   We arrive mid-crossing (event, not place), and the crocs are already tucking into their wildebeest elevenses. It's a mixed herd, including zebra - but the zebra are a bit too canny to cross until the crocs are fully engaged in trapping and drowning mini-wildebeests for later consumption.  The whole thing is quite surreal - we've seen it many times on TV, but the drama doesn't really hit home until you hear the bereaved parents bellowing helplessly for their lost calves, and orphaned youngsters seeking lost parents up and down the riverbank.  Hope they somehow manage to adopt one another.

Saturday 20 October

 

I sleep for 9 solid hours.  Now we know what the wierd night noises are, they've lost their fear factor.  Apparently gnu - the old word for wildebeest - came from the noise they make.  That's entirely appropriate, as it's somewhere between a grunt, a neigh and a moo.  It will be gnuing to me from now on.  I try to record it as the sun comes up, as the perfect lullaby track.  Somewhat spoiled by Andrew's noisy shower.

 

Wilson (US) and Christina have invited us to link up with them on a visit to a traditional village just outside the National Park.  Maasai Wilson is delighted, as it's close to his home territory and he'll get a chance to catch up on local gossip.  We're keen to have his insider knowledge on this, so go along for the ride.

 

The drive north-eastwards takes us into a number of different habitats from the area around the camp - forested hills, then dry plains stuffed with warthogs.  A passing jeep load of tourists plaintiffly ask if there are wildebeest up ahead, by any chance. Wilson has promised cheetahs, and now one appears.  She's lying still, waiting for the Thompsons gazelles to approach a little closer before making her dash.  We wait to, cameras at the ready.  Every so often she looks around - but the gazelles move steadily further away and a bumptious family of warthogs disturb them even more.  She sinks to the ground in despair, and we continue our journey.

 

The Maasai aren't allowed to graze their cattle within the national park, so the village - Ololosokwani - lies in the wildlife reservation area just outside. We are greeted at the entrance by the chief (considerably younger than us, I reckon), his brother, a friend, and multiple children.  The men are all dressed in Maasai red and pink, with red/black tartan a particular favourite.  The chief has the distended earlobes and multiple earrings of Maasai tradition.

 

They lead us into the boma, a corral for cattle, with houses for the chief's two wives on either side - first wife to the left and second to the right.  A procession of warriors (males from 16-25) and young women jogs in, chanting songs of greeting.  Then we have to join in the competitive jumping (men) and shoulder-wiggling (women) that will distinguish us as fitting spouses.  Then more chanting.

 

We're taken to the inner stockade of thickly-planted thorns, that protect the young kids and lambs from lions.  Then we see a typical house, newly built by the women. Inside it's almost pitch dark - besides the door, there are only a couple of round smokeholes to let in light. We sit on the built-in bed, covered by a leather mattress and wonder at the marvellous division of the approx. 5x4m space into sections for humans, kids, lambs, cooking, sleeping, storage etc etc.

 

Before we go, of course, we're invited to view a range of village handicrafts and haggle (with the chief) over  the prices suggested by each craftswoman. He's a good negotiator and embarrasses us into paying much more that  even an airport concession would probably charge.  At least there's a chance it will contribute to the well-being of at least some members of the community.

Sunday 21 October

 

We meet Wilson dead on time at dawn.  He already has the engine running - he's seen a pair of rhinos on his drive to the camp, and is keen to show us. We leap in and the jeep zooms away.  Five minutes later, we make contact.  Wilson breaks a rule for this area of the reserve, and shoots off across open country.  There they are, a courting couple - 2 of the last few hundred northern black rhinos.  Understandably, they don't relish the intrusion on this private moment, and gallop away.  We lose them in the gulley of a creek, but it's still a pretty special moment.

 

Then we pay another call on the lion family - the mother this time is lying sprawled in the middle of the road, surrounded by her 4 somnolent cubs and half a dozen jeeps.  Nothing bothers a top predator, and I guess they must have eaten well last night.

 

We check out the leopard too - she's disappeared, and Wilson drives over the stinky remains of her latest couple of kills in the hunt for her (more of this later).

 

Then back to crossing no.7B.  A few wildebeest and zebra have gathered on the north bank and look keen to cross, but 3 zebra are in front and they are holding the wildebeest back.  They are naturally cautious - a bit smarter than their bovine friends - and can see a couple of crocs in the water.  The zebra wander away, but the wildebeest don't have confidence to cross alone.  Wilson feels nothing will happen until the herd is compelled to cross - either by hyena snapping at their heels, or the arrival of greater numbers of migrants in the meadow behind.  We see many beasts trickling through the forest, but don't seem in a hurry to get to the river bank.

 

After a 30 minutes or so, a file of wildebeest begin galloping in from the east.  Wilson perks up - this might be it!  But then a large herd on our side of the river decides that something exciting must be happening, and charges to the crossing point as well.  Stalemate.

 

In all the excitement, the 3 zebras have sneaked off to Crossing 7A, just down river, and have got across safely.  A score or so of the braver wildebeest follow them, but lose their nerve when they realise they must plunge into a deep channel to complete the journey.  They hesitate, turn half back, and spend the next 5 minutes milling around on a small island in the middle of the river before returning to the north bank.  The wait will continue. 

 

We decide to have a bush breakfast.

 

Another half a hour later, the massing wildebeest seem to have found a leader, and a plan.  Perhaps they've decided the zebra had the best idea after all.  Perhaps they can see, or sense, that the crocs' guard is down: one has fallen asleep on a rock upstream of 7B.  In single file, they troop down to 7A.  In they go, no turning back this time.  More follow, and more and more.  They need to submerge themselves for a few yards - a challenge as they're poor swimmers.  But they all make it, even the young ones.  The numbers grow, and a parallel route is established.  Still the crocs haven't realised what's happening.  Go wildebeest! 

 

Yes - this time there are no fatalities.   My opinion of gnu nous has grown...ever so slightly.

 

On our way back to camp for lunch, Wilson takes us through a rocky outcrop on the lookout for lion and leopard. He gets word that another leopard has been spotted. Heaven knows how, as the young male is loafing in the depths if a bush.  He's beautifully marked, and has the cruellest pale blue eyes imaginable.

 

Our dusk drive is also leopardful.  A line of jeeps indicate where the female is crouching, downwind of a buffalo herd.  As we drive up, the jeeps take off - she's picked a victim, but quickly abandons the chase.  Perhaps our jeeps spooked the herd at just the wrong moment. 

 

She holes up in a gulley, and the jeeps take turns to drive by so photos can be taken.  It comes to our turn, and she gets up and passes close to the vehicle.  She poses on a termite mound, then slips behind our jeep - brushing the spare wheel - before she settles again on a bank.  Does she smell the blood of her previous kill on the undercarriage?

 

We drive off to see pygmy mongoose and other small creatures, then return.  The leopard is still on the bank, but has started to stretch and yawn.  Is she going to sleep?  No, says Wilson - it's the signal she'll soon be up and off.

 

True.  In the halflight, we see her begin to slink along parallel to a few isolated wildebeest.  One is hobbling.  Is this the one?  Will we finally see a kill?

 

Again, she's too impatient.  The lame wildebeest escapes, and so later does a hare.  But with this abundance of game, the leopard is not short of prey items.  Soon her luck will change - perhaps when she's left alone.

Monday 22 October

 

Sadly, it's our last day in the Serengeti.  There's some confusion over our departure flight time - one of our schedules says 11.45, another 10.15.  We're assured it will be at 11.00.  Are they just splitting the difference?  Apparently not - the flight schedules are just agreed day to day between the airline and the camp managers, who know which guests are heading in and out on any given day.

 

So we have time for a short drive on our way to the airstrip.  We check out Crossing no. 7 - nothing doing today.  We're just surveying the lines of wildebeest filing southwards when I notice a lone hyena, passing close to the car.  Then there are 3, then half a dozen, then a score.  Wilson counts 26 in all, heading at panicked speed along the river.  What's spooked the spookers?

 

Wilson reckons it's a civil war between adjacent hyena clans.  We drive onward and see several more hyenas - apparently better nourished.  Looks like they had to defend last night's kill against the raiders

 

We cross the Mara river bridge and ask why the wildebeest haven't discovered it.  Wilson assures us they have, at least once - but panicked when they got half way across and jumped straight into the river.  Not that bright after all.

 

Wilson is still on the hunt for cheetah pursuits.  But the only ones we find - two brothers resting in the shade beneath a tree - ain't going nowhere fast.

 

We turn back towards the airstrip with only 45 mins to go before our flight.  Then we come across a female lion at a kill.  The male is snoozing a little way off, already sated.

 

Of course we make the flight, with a quarter of an hour to spare as poised. It's a direct hop to Manyara Lake airport, flying over the parched Plains of the southern Serengeti and then the Ngorongoro crater itself.

 

We're picked up by Henry, along with fellow passengers Marisol and Enrique, and taken along on his errands in Wakatu, the nearby town. Mr. Cheaper hustles us in 8 languages - an enterprising sort who confesses to Mariso in Spanish that his real name is Alberto.  Andrew wants to hire him as sales manager.

 

Extraordinary - the only word for the architecture of the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.  Bruce Goff style cottages nestle among massive trees on the lip of the caldera.  Joaquim, our new camp manager, proudly explains that the architect (an Italian based in Cape Town) was inspired by a fusion of building traditions in East and West Africa.  Perhaps that explains the bobbly entrance posts, stilts, hobbit-like chimneys and round palm-thatched roofs.  It doesn't explain the internal decor, devised by a couple based in Nairobi, which is a weird amalgam of Maasai and Versailles.

Monday 22 October

 

Sadly, it's our last day in the Serengeti.  There's some confusion over our departure flight time - one of our schedules says 11.45, another 10.15.  We're assured it will be at 11.00.  Are they just splitting the difference?  Apparently not - the flight schedules are just agreed day to day between the airline and the camp managers, who know which guests are heading in and out on any given day.

 

So we have time for a short drive on our way to the airstrip.  We check out Crossing no. 7 - nothing doing today.  We're just surveying the lines of wildebeest filing southwards when I notice a lone hyena, passing close to the car.  Then there are 3, then half a dozen, then a score.  Wilson counts 26 in all, heading at panicked speed along the river.  What's spooked the spookers?

 

Wilson reckons it's a civil war between adjacent hyena clans.  We drive onward and see several more hyenas - apparently better nourished.  Looks like they had to defend last night's kill against the raiders

 

We cross the Mara river bridge and ask why the wildebeest haven't discovered it.  Wilson assures us they have, at least once - but panicked when they got half way across and jumped straight into the river.  Not that bright after all.

 

Wilson is still on the hunt for cheetah pursuits.  But the only ones we find - two brothers resting in the shade beneath a tree - ain't going nowhere fast.

 

We turn back towards the airstrip with only 45 mins to go before our flight.  Then we come across a female lion at a kill.  The male is snoozing a little way off, already sated.

 

Of course we make the flight, with a quarter of an hour to spare as poised. It's a direct hop to Manyara Lake airport, flying over the parched Plains of the southern Serengeti and then the Ngorongoro crater itself.

 

We're picked up by Henry, along with fellow passengers Marisol and Enrique, and taken along on his errands in Wakatu, the nearby town. Mr. Cheaper hustles us in 8 languages - an enterprising sort who confesses to Mariso in Spanish that his real name is Alberto.  Andrew wants to hire him as sales manager.

 

Extraordinary - the only word for the architecture of the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.  Bruce Goff style cottages nestle among massive trees on the lip of the caldera.  Joaquim, our new camp manager, proudly explains that the architect (an Italian based in Cape Town) was inspired by a fusion of building traditions in East and West Africa.  Perhaps that explains the bobbly entrance posts, stilts, hobbit-like chimneys and round palm-thatched roofs.  It doesn't explain the internal decor, devised by a couple based in Nairobi, which is a weird amalgam of Maasai and Versailles.

Tuesday 23 October

 

Up at 6.00 for Ngorongoro crater (i.e. Caldera) tour.  We're up above the cloud base, so it's pretty foggy and cold as we leave the lodge.  But things will brighten up once we're down at the crater floor, for sure.

 

Except that they don't.  Sadly we're not permitted to swear inside the reservation area - or I'd say it was bloody perishing.  We're travelling with Mexicans Marisol (who's pregnant) and Enrique.  She's really feeling the cold, he isn't.  He's in shirt sleeves and an impressive gauchero hat.

 

The atmosphere's a bit like holidays of our youth on the Celtic fringe - soft, chilling, rain; animals looming out of the mist; boiled eggs and tea from a thermos flask in the car.  Except that the animals in this case are sometimes elephants and lion. 

 

A solitary rhino appears on the horizon.  Jeeps speed towards it, but here in the preserve they can't leave the road - park rangers are on the lookout from the crater rim.  At the zenith of rhino frenzy, I count a total of 40 vehicles parked up on the nearest stretch of road - that's around 200 pairs of human eyes (and binoculars) on the poor beast. It freezes.  We freeze.  Eventually, everyone loses interest and drives off.  Result for rhino.

 

One benefit of the chill: the carnivores stay frisky all day, rather than needing a lengthy nap in the noonday heat. Henry finds us a pride of 5 young lions, divided into male and female groups.  The males are teasing one another, apparently trading dares on who will cross the road first - they need to navigate the line of parked jeeps to get where they're going.  They cross, to a chorus of clicking camera lenses.  The females follow, looking as snooty as only lionesses can.

 

We see hippos, baboons, flamingoes, apparently all cuddling together for warmth. Then Enrique makes a spot, right by the roadside.  It looks like a pile of grey fur, with a couple of black points sticking out of it.  Three bat-eared foxes, snuggling up together.

 

Then to the forest of fever and quinine trees, one of the most interesting parts of the crater - if only because it's located at the foot of the exit road.  There are many birds along its stream: Egyptian geese, grey crowned cranes, yellow spoon billed storks, and a hammerkopf that entertains us by spearing and swallowing a small frog.

 

There's a batchelor herd of cape buffalo too.  I'd always thought their name came from Cape Province, but apparently not - they have a cape-shaped boss between their horns.  One elderly individual is lame  - perhaps tonight's dinner for the hyenas.

 

We return for lunch, picking up two American fellow-guests, who had booked a full day crater tour but had had enough by 11am.  There's an extra treat of a family of giraffes, who loom out of the mist as we rejoine the crater rim road - for some reason, they don't fancy conditions inside the caldera. Then back to the lodge for hot baths - run for us already by George and the team of obliging butlers - hot soup, and a cosy afternoon in our suite, where the stove has been stoked with logs.

Wednesday 24 October

 

We have a later wake-up call and breakfast in the lodge.  We arrange to return for lunch, and also kit up with double layers of fleece just in case the weather is as inhospitable as yesterday.  Fortunately not. The Scots mist is warm today, and the clouds lift as we make the descent to the crater.

 

First it's the forest, just in case we manage to catch a leopard hauling its catch (of buffalo?)  up a tree. We don't of course, but we do catch sight of an elephant family deep in the forest.  They're munching happily on the hugely spikey yellow-thorned acacia, and rubbing itchy backs up against its bark.  No wonder the trees have developed vast burrs on their lower trucks, to prevent their bark being completely worn off by pachyderms.

 

We wait, and the elephants gradually move out of the forest - first a couple of tussling youngsters, then the young adult females.  Finally the matriarch emerges, with a month-old baby close by her side.

 

There are also wonderful birds in the forest: lesser crested eagle, weaver birds and lilac-breasted roller among them.

 

We move one to the savannah section, and locate another pride of lions.  A counting couple lie a little way away from the others.  Henry tells us they mate at 15 min intervals for a week or so.  Unfortunately we may have caught them on the sixth day of their honeymoon - she's keen, but the male seems exhausted.  After half an hour, we move on. The lions seem to have decided they really can't be shagged.

 

Next we proceed to the lake.  There's a large blackened area on the way - the grass is scorched in a controlled burn to encourage fresh sprouting.  Henry tells us the burn was only a week or so ago - but there are clear animal tracks criss-crossing it thickly already.  We're keen to snap the flock of shell-pink flamingoes, but they're a bit too far out in the centre of the lake. We're rewarded with the curious sight of a solitary hyena cooling off in the shallows.

 

Our Mexican friends have already left the lodge, but now there's a Dutch family; a quartet of Malaysians (we guess - their language is unknown to us); and a jolly, multigenerational gang of Uruguayans.  Thank heavens for the lingua franca of football.

Thursday 25 October

 

Wake up to cloud and rain - no regrets then on leaving the safari section of our holiday behind.  Andrew has another adventure when walking across to the lodge office to settle our bill - a cape buffalo is being shooed away from the cabins, straight towards him, by a housekeeper armed with a mop.

 

We leave on time, 10.00 sharp for an 11.55 flight from Manyara Lake.  There are 6 of us in the car, each couple bound for a different destination - apparently all on the same flight as us.  Looks like there will be numerous stops.  The others all need to make international connections - you may be able to see where this story is going....

 

The rain sluices down.  Along are road are tuck-tucks and trucks laden with vegetables, plus bedraggled villagers driving cows and calves along the road.  It's clearly market day in Wakatu.  Yes, Henry says, everyone wants to be there for the fortnightly fair, to sell their livestock, lay in supplies, and meet up with friends for a chat.  The market ground is a sea of mud, but everyone's in good spirits.  Mr. Cheaper must be in seventh heaven.

 

The cheerful mood evaporates when we get to the airport. Our flight is expected to leave "1ish".  This becomes a catchphrase amongst us.  It transpires that each couple is in fact booked on a different airline.  Due to the stormy weather, no-one seems to know when each plane is going to arrive, leave - indeed its onward route.  The others become anxious about their connections.  They start to work through the options - turns out they're all management consultants.  Should we all charter a car to Kilimanjaro?  Sue our travel agent? Start walking?

 

While we debate, a droning noise is heard overhead.  Incoming aircraft!  But of course it's another airline altogether.   At last, around 2.00 (that could just about be construed as 1ish), Rory and Melissa get off - with a decent chance of catching their onward flight to Addis Ababa. Half an hour later, it's the turn of Nick and Elle.  Perhaps they too will get back to London in time for work on Monday morning. Shortly after, our plane comes in - and we will have a direct flight to Zanzibar after all.

 

We've been dreaming of our idyllic beach destination, just to warm ourselves up after the freezing cold Ngorongoro crater experience.  But when we arrive in Zanzibar, it's still pouring with rain.  From the aircraft, we can see that many roads are semi-flooded, and the driver who meets us warns that the journey to our resort might take considerably longer than usual.

 

But when we get there, what bliss!  Palm fringed beach view, plunge pool, tennis court, snorkelling.  And sunshine.  Lovely lovely sunshine. Bliss.

 To be continued. (On our next holiday...)

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