A Tanzania African Safari - Up Close and Personal

My 10 day biking safari tour in Tanzania

Immediately after my climbs of Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro, I dove into another adventure. Go here for that story.

The plan was to bike for 5 days to get to the vehicular safari, be in the Toyota Land Cruiser for 3 days in the Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti, and then bike out the last two days.

The afternoon we returned from Mt. Kilimanjaro, I was met at the Mvuli Hotel by my cycling guide, Raymond Julius. Our first task was to get me outfitted for the tour, as I had brought nothing for this part of my adventure. At the cycling shop, I bought cycling shorts, arm warmers (for sun protection), cycling gloves, cycling socks, and a tube head warmer (again, for sun protection as well as sweat control). I was able to get quality stuff much cheaper than they would have cost in the USA. We also bought 50 SPF sun blocker at another store - very expensive. I would use my running shoes and borrowed a helmet from Raymond. 

On Wednesday, March 13, 2019 I was picked up by the driver, Cosain (the same cook from the mountain climbing) and Raymond. We stopped at his cycling parts store to pick up the mountain bikes. Then off we went SW of Arusha. After about an hour or so, Raymond and I got out and started biking - uphill. Without clip in cycling shoes, a different, heavier bike than I was used to, and (as I figured out later) a seat lower than it should have been for efficient cycling. Bottom line: there were stretches in the next 5-6 miles that I had to get off and push the bike along the dirt uphill stretch. We passed Massai homesteads where bananas and coffee were grown.

Then we began a long gradual descent along a very rough "road". My right hand kept cramping as we had to continuously brake to keep control. And it was again about 90 degrees. But we were where most tourists "on safari" never get a chance to see. 

At 54 kilometers (of the 40 - 60 planned for the day) we were picked up by the van following us. We had reached a ravine that the van could not get through, so we backtracked and made a long detour to a village where we drove a bit beyond to make camp along side the road. Several times we stopped to ask a passing motor cyclist for directions, as by this time we were on roads rarely driven by vehicles. All were very friendly, and usually carrying cell phones. 

We traveled through very dry country where the Maasai somehow managed to eke out a living. How much longer with more droughts due to climate change they could continue living here is a big question. We passed boys of all ages shepherding their families' goats, all with their stick (even a little stick by a 4-5 year old), with from 1 to about 15-20 goats. Obviously, this is very poor use of the boys' talents and obvious that the family with one goat could not be very wealthy! We did not see girls with the goats, as they were busy carrying water from distant water sources.

The next day's ride was to be 20-40 miles, but we rode 35. Along the way we saw a three giraffe, with one of the few young ones we say on the entire trip. Also, some ostrich. This was more of the same, over rough roads through hot, dry country. I began to sense a problem - I was developing a massive saddle sore that hurt with every (and frequent) bump in the road. We camped outside a Maasai village for the night.

Days 3 and 4 were more of the same. Although this may seem monotonous, it served to really impress upon me the resilience of the people who have adapted to these harsh living conditions. I adapted by raising my bike seat and trying to put less weight on my seat, standing up whenever I saw a bump in time to avoid the pain, and putting moleskin over the saddle sore, which by now was about the size of a silver dollar, an open bloody and oozing wound. That was one way for this not to be monotonous. 

At camp the night of the third day, we were visited by an elderly Maasai with a stick who offered to stand guard for us that night. Through a long (and insistent) discussion, Cosain calmly and smilingly continued to sat we did not need a guard, but he hung around. At dinner, he was offered something to eat, and then he wandered off. But, in the morning, he was there to see us off! We had camped in the school yard in the local village where we were also visited by the school principal and his boss.

That afternoon, we also went to a local watering hole (bar) in a local village and had a Coke! After not having anything cold (or cool) that tasted great!

But on the 4th day, reached we another Maasai village where we could get a shower. There we could also have cold drinks, so the Coke was again welcome. We then went to a camping spot outside of the village where we were visited by a mother and three boys. We gave them some cracker like sweet biscuits as a treat.

Later, the boys returned, and I took their picture with my cell phone, then showed them the photo.
The older buy was curious about the phone, so I showed him how to take a photo with it. That led to his learning how to take a selfie, many other photos, and even movies with the phone. 





Soon we had a group of 18 kids surrounding me as the boy photographer flipped from photo to photo, focusing on a kid's face and enlarging it, all to gales of laughter from all. It was the highlight of my entire time in Tanzania. And amazing how quickly the kid learned how to use the phone. Fun! I would have liked to take that boy home with me to give him the opportunities in life that his obvious intelligence deserves.

Here we were joined by Manwell, our driver/guide for the safari portion of the tour, driving the Toyota Land Cruiser with the pop up top for better viewing than from the van we had come in so far. 

On day 5, we were to ride an easy 20 kilometers to a village on the main paved road near Lake Manyara. There we saw many vehicles carrying tourists on their safari tours. Also, we passed 6-7 Maasai women sitting on the side of the road peddling the same thing - bananas. What a waste of talent, with no hope of making any money beyond subsistence when they had to compete so openly with each other.

At the village, after a quick stop, Manwell decided that we should ride up the hill to the resort where we would spend the night. It was a 2+ mile long grind up the hill, made worse with my saddle sore really hurting now, despite the moleskin over the sore and double padded riding shorts. I had to walk a couple of times. We saw many baboons on the way up. Finally, after 32 kilometers for the day, we arrived at a quite nice resort where I chose to book a room rather than stay in the tent. I wanted to have a handy bathroom available in the night, as I had had loose bowels since early after my arrival in Tanzania, and getting out of a tent to a distant bathroom just was not convenient.

Lots of baboons uphill from Lake Manyara!
White Storks

In the afternoon, Raymond and I walked back down the hill to visit the markets in the village. In the trees the white storks well into the hundreds roosted and/or flew around. Very beautiful birds. Who knew? Manwell later drove down to pick us up in the village and returned to the resort.

The next morning, Manwell took me to the Lake Manyara National Park. There we were lucky and saw the famed "Tree Climbing Lions".


Also, African buffalo, giraffes, elephants, many impala, baboons and zebras.


Impalas





Baboons
Marabou Storks

After lunch, we drove to Karatu Kudu Lodge and Campsite for dinner and overnight.

The next three days we spent in the Toyota Land Cruiser, as Manwell drove and miraculously still spotted wildlife sometimes far off to the side. How he could do that amazed me. 

First we went to the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. The Ngorongoro is a unique place because it is not a National Park but a Conservation Area, meaning that the entire area is controlled for both animals and local Maasai persons that graze their livestock next to the local wildlife. In the Conservation area is the 100 square mile Ngorongoro Crater. "With its soda lake, fresh water springs, grassland and forest, Ngorongoro is home to 25,000 animals (including the black rhino) making it one of the best game viewing location in Tanzania."  Tanzania Traveler's Map. The crater's 2000' walls offers a natural haven for the wildlife, where we saw lions, elephants, and buffaloes. We saw pink flamingos in the alkaline lake in the distance. But we did not see any rhinos, except maybe 3 black butts in the distance Manwell though might be rhino (looking through the binoculars), but he could not be sure. Giraffes are actually the sole animal that you won’t see there because their long legs cannot cope with the high steep sides of the Ngororngoro Crater. That afternoon we drove back up the crater’s wall and camped at the Simba campsite.

The next day we drove to Oldupai Gorge, the place that the Leakey family unearthed the historical remains of a number of man’s very first ancestors and where there is a nice, new visitors' center and viewing area. 

"The Olduvai Gorge or Oldupai Gorge in Tanzania is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world; it has proven invaluable in furthering understanding of early human evolution. A steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley that stretches across East Africa, it is about 48 km (30 mi) long, and is located in the eastern Serengeti Plains in the Arusha Region about 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Laetoli, another important archaeological site of early human occupation. The British/Kenyan paleoanthropologist-archeologist team Mary and Louis Leakey established and developed the excavation and research programs at Olduvai Gorge which achieved great advances of human knowledge and world-renowned status.
Homo habilis, probably the first early human species, occupied Olduvai Gorge approximately 1.9 million years ago (mya); then came a contemporary australopithecineParanthropus boisei, 1.8 mya, followed by Homo erectus, 1.2 mya. Our species Homo sapiens, which is estimated to have emerged roughly 300,000 years ago, is dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olduvai_Gorge 

Then we drove on to Naabi Hill that symbolizes the boundary between the Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. The Maasai villages here were a bit more prosperous than the ones we had seen earlier due to a bit more rainfall. The Maasai are not allowed to live or graze their livestock in the Serengeti, however, in contrast to the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

Map of Serengeti migration area and surrounding reserves

The Serengeti National Park is huge - 5700 square miles. 
"The landscape provides a variety of habitats with wooded grasslands in the north, more extensive woodland in the western corridor, savannah and scattered acacias in the center and vast open grass plains to the south with isolated rock outcroppings called Kopies. 

During the wet season the grass plains are home to literally millions of animals, mostly wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle and never far away are the attendant predators and scavengers.

After the wet season when the grass is exhausted, the animals move north in search of fresh grazing and so begins the annual migration for which Serengeti is famous." Tanzania Traveler's Map

The Great Migration when about one million wildebeest migrate, along with zebras and Thompson's gazelle.


To the west beyond the horizon is Lake Victoria, the largest lake in the world, but only the second largest fresh water lake (second to Lake Superior) because it is landlocked and salty.

We spent the rest of the day viewing wildlife in Serengeti. 

Lions, tigers and bears, oh, no!  Oops, wrong story. I discovered that Africa does not have tigers, despite what Disney's "Jungle Book" movie shows. But, we did see lots of lions, wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, wart hogs, spotted hyenas, jackals, wildebeest and zebras, Coke's hartebeests and a cheetah, in addition to great numbers of birds, (oh, and did I mention wildebeests and zebra? Lots and lots of them!) including the exquisite Secretary birds and the ostrich. The wildebeest are not the most beautiful looking animal, but wonderfully evolved to thrive in the Serengeti.

Then we spent this night within the plains at the Seronera campsite. That evening we had an elephant wander through our camp.
Thompson's Gazelle (with the black racing stripe)

Grant's (Greater) Gazelle. The Grant's gazelles are migratory animals, but travel in the opposite direction of most of the other ungulates, such as Thomson's gazelleszebras, and wildebeest, which are more water dependent.

Both Thomson's and Grant's gazelles,
zebras and willebeests aplenty
Zebras

Hippos

Spotted Hyena

Elephants

Topi

We spent the entire next day within the park, going north to see animals and enjoy the scenery. It was a long day’s drive though there was a lot to view along the way. We made camp at Lobo camp. Manwell and I went on a late afternoon - early evening ride along which we saw the most elephants that we had seen so far, about 20-25 elephants in all, in about 5 separate sightings. One bull elephant did not want to get out of the road, but finally wandered off.
A stand off!
Ferocious Lion

More zebras

The Hippo pool. With no new water and no place for the water to go, it is just black. It resembles the anaerobic manure lagoon at the cooperative pig farms I was President of. Yuck! 

Cheetah, a rare sighting.
Now a little slower than the 60 mph it is capable of.






Yes, we saw a lot of lions.

How many wildebeests can you get in the shade of one tree? 

We would see hundreds of them mostly walking single file, stringing out for a half mile or more, looking for water. Then another half mile another string of them. March - May is the rainy season, but by the time I left on March 23, it had not rained yet. With more droughts projected in the area with global warming, they may have difficulty surviving, despite trying to migrate with the seasons. With less rain projected in future years, there may need to be solar powered water wells dug into the area to provide water for the wildlife.

Lots of very dry country.

The last night in camp on the safari, I was warned not to get out of the tent during the night. Elephants, buffalo and lions could be wandering through the camp. And, worst yet, there was a huge rock towering over the entrances to the restrooms. I could imagine a lion lying in wait on top, just waiting to pounce. But, when the urge hit, I had little choice. Fortunately, we had a full moon so I could see well where I was going and if there were any dangers lurking.

On day nine, we were to begin riding the mountain bikes again. But, my saddle sore had developed a nice scab that I did not want to rip off. So, I suggested that we simply drive out the last two days of biking and get back to Arusha. We drove through the little Wasso town/Loliondo where we saw the beginning of a new road being constructed by the Chinese as part of their Belt and Road Initiative. There was a lot of dust in the are, with dust devils in many spots. Yes, the country is dry.

As fun as the tour was, it felt great to get to the hotel, and prepare to head home. Traveling and seeing other cultures are wonderful, but getting home is the best. I always feel so grateful and lucky to be living where I do.

Note:
I contracted with Tanzania Expeditions for this tour. https://www.tanzania-expeditions.com/ Justin Stephen Mtui is the owner and CEO, who currently lives in Colorado.  The cost of the 10 day biking safari was $2,408. The reason I contracted with this company is that they were able to arrange these tours to meet my schedule and packaged the Mt. Meru climb, the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb and the 10 day biking safari back to back, which was a great convenience for me. They did a great job, and I can't speak highly enough for the biking guide (Raymond Julius, a strong rider, great companion, and a free lance guide), the safari driver/guide (Manwell), and the cook (Cosain)! They were awesome!















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