7. Travel Escapade – An African Safari in Search of the Big Five

Chapter 7

River of Mosquitoes

We woke up thrilled on the second day of our trip which was to the most anticipated location, Serengeti! As the drive to Serengeti from Tarangire takes around 6 hrs through rough terrain, we had to start around 8 am from our lodge to reach the gates of Serengeti in time for lunch. My husband woke up by 6, packed our bags and woke me up. I chose my dress wisely today as I was badly assaulted by tsetse flies at Tarangire due to my black shirt. After breakfast, we bid farewell to Titus and to the rest of the staff, and met James who was waiting for us near the vehicle. 

We joined the main highway after a short ride and took the deviation towards Ngorongoro and Serengiti. During the drive we passed various villages where we could see markets, bike taxis, auto rickshaws and dala-dalas. Asking about the rickshaws, James seemed unfamiliar with the name and said that they are called Bajaji in Tanzania. The dala-dalas that we saw were dangerously speeding through the roads overloaded with people and  goods. I was not adventurous enough to try a bike taxi ride or even a dala-dala although the dala-dalas reminded me of my morning trip to school. Just add a few bawling motion-sick kids to complete the picture. We passed by an interesting Masai village on the way where the richest Masai in the area resided along with his 33 wives!! Yes, 33 so far. There was a primary school in the area just to educate his kids and grand kids! I scrutinized the area to get a glimpse of this handsome hunk but could only see livestock being herded by young children.

Amongst the many places that we drove through was a small town with a curious name. Named Mto wa Mbu meaning ‘River of Mosquitoes’, this was the most fertile land in the region having three rivers flowing through it, namely Kirurumu River, Mahamoud River and Magadini River and as the name suggests, abounding in mosquitoes. This area exports bananas and seeing a plantain tree with bananas we were astonished at its size. Many tourists get down at this village or the nearby Karatu village to get a small tour of the village and also to experience the Tanzanian way of life, namely the market places, meeting the tribes and even taking a bike ride or dala dala. This is not part of any safari package but can be easily arranged by asking your tour guide.

Throughout the drive we could see the Rift Valley at the horizon. The rift valley was formed millions of years ago due to the movement in the earth’s crust causing volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. These activities gave rise to unique mountains, lakes and landscapes including the Serengeti plains and the Ngorongoro Crater. It extends from Syria in the Middle East, right down to Mozambique in south-eastern Africa. Later, I also found out that The Great Rift is visible from outer space and looks like two parallel lines running down Africa. Wow! I thanked my stars in being able to see such a majestic and fascinating structure. We passed by the entrance of Lake Manyara National Park  which is a shallow alkaline lake which hosts migratory birds like flamingos, kingfishers and eagles in abundance. We had not opted for Lake Manyara as this was not the best time for wildlife sighting. So, Good Earth suggested us to remove it from our itinerary and focus on Serengeti. Hence, we proceeded  directly to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

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Ngorongoro Crater

Reaching Nogorongoro conservation area, James paid the entry fees and completed the formalities. While waiting for James, we entered the office where they had displayed the history of the crater, the volcanic regions and the kind of animals found there. After reading all the information, we waited at the lobby for James to arrive. Suddenly, we heard someone shout “Jumbo” behind us. I turned back to see an officer from the national park smiling at us. Seeing my perplexed face he pleasantly greeted me with hello. My husband, forever on the lookout for opportunities to annoy me, stated that he was commenting on my stature when he called Jumbo. As my husband stands nearly 6 ft tall with a prominent paunch, I retorted that it suits him better. Later, to our embarrassment, James clarified that Jumbo is a Swahili greeting that meant hello.

The most important attraction of the Ngorngoro Conservation Area (NCA) consists of the Ngorongoro crater which is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. A caldera is formed when volcanic activity displaces the entire magma of a volcano leaving the inside hollow. NCA conserves wildlife while also protecting the natural lifestyle of Masai pastoralists. The regions around the crater have plenty of Masai villages with facilities like hospitals and schools for their need. Entering the NCA, the wide asphalt highways gave way to unpaved muddy roads with sharp turns as we were ascending mountains to reach the other side of the Rift Valley. Soon we came upon the view point which is 2500 meters above sea level and provided a good panoramic view of the crater from above. James showed us the trails made by Masai tribes while climbing down the crater for collecting water.

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 Serengeti Entrance Gate

The drive to Serengeti was rough through the unpaved and dusty roads giving us a firsthand experience of the famous “African massage” as we were thrown around in our seats while navigating the bumpy roads. I was left wondering how the ride would have been like if seat belts were not yet invented!  The view on both sides were breathtaking – undulating green plains rolling towards the mountains and interspersed with Masai villages on both sides. We could also see hundreds of Thomson gazelles grazing on the plains all wagging their tiny tails in unison reminding us of a pendulum. The splash of black on their sides and tails enhanced their beauty many folds. In between them we could also see few grant gazelles grazing. After a few hours of drive through Ngorongoro absorbing the natural beauty around us, we came upon the entrance to Serengeti. This is the boundary that demarcates the entrance to Serengeti from Ngorongoro and prohibits any human settlement beyond this point. The actual entrance to Serengeti is Naabi Hills which is 18 km inside from this point. We reached Naabi Hills and had lunch from our packed boxes. The entrance to Serengeti was really crowded and it was even hard to get a seat to have our lunch. Plenty of Sterlings and Marabou storks gave us company through our lunch

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Thompson gazelles

James said that we will be starting only at 2 pm and asked us to explore the place while he got all the papers ready as it was a time-consuming process considering the number of vehicles around. There was a small path to climb Naabi Hill which was the highest point in southern Serengeti.  It was sweltering hot outside and I was in no mood to exert myself but my husband forced me to make the climb. There was a walkway taking us directly to the view point which took hardly 10 mins to climb, from where we could see the endless plains surrounding us. The name Serengeti is derived from the Masai word siringet which means “the place where the land runs on forever”. On all sides we could see the plains rolling around us in a magnificent golden colour. The vastness of the plain made us realise how tiny we are in front of this marvel of nature!
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 View from Naabi Hills

Continue reading here : Stepping into Serengeti
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One thought on “7. Travel Escapade – An African Safari in Search of the Big Five

  1. Pingback: 6. Travel Escapade – An African Safari in Search of the Big Five | Book Escapade

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