As we started our drive back to where we started this spectacular safari of Northern Tanzania, I thought to myself that the only way I could possibly remember all the wonderful wildlife, sweeping vistas and uplifting experiences of this trip was to go through the alphabet and see what each letter would conjure up in my mind. So, here goes my A-Z of this amazing Tanzanian safari experience…
We started in Arusha and stayed in a lovely coffee lodge, where we had our first introduction to the language of this area – ‘asante’ or ‘thank you’. A is also for acacia trees, flat-topped ones that dot the landscape, and the antelopes which roamed the plains.
Herds of buffalo, the males boasting sharp, curved horns joined at the crowns of their bulbous heads, cheeky baboons hoping to steal a sandwich or two at our picnic site, centuries-old baobab trees, indigenous to this part of Africa, and beehives carved out of large logs hanging from these trees, away from hungry honey badgers.
Cheetahs lazing under trees and one with her cub nearby; hundreds of cattle being driven through barren or fertile fields, depending on our location, often by a solitary herder.
Danieli was our chief guide and what a knowledgeable, friendly, considerate and accommodating man he turned out to be, as was our driver Riziki. Riziki’s ability to remember the Maltese words we imparted to him will no doubt amuse those of our fellow countrymen and women who may one day be fortunate enough to travel through this stunning landscape, shepherded in the same good-humoured and intelligent way. Four donkeys pulling a cart, admittedly in different directions, was a novel sight.
Eagles dotted the sky, egrets and eland the land, and nowhere had we seen so many families of elephants – in the highlands, in the lowlands and on the savannah. “How do you tell a male from a female?” Riziki asked us. “By its tusks,” he said. “But, how?” we asked… he told us.
Flocks of flamingoes, agile gazelles and grey-blue guinea fowl. Graceful, elegant giraffes – first we saw one and breathed “aaah” in delight, then groups of two or three, until on our final day, an extended family of fourteen glided nearby, across the horizon. Memorable is an understatement.
Huge hippopotami in groups of twenty or more lazing in little lakes. Vegetarian mammals with a ferocious bite, we were told, providing a total contrast with hungry, carnivorous hyenas, looking for one of the many vulnerable impala that dot the land, hunted by another tormentor – the jackal. ‘Jumbo, Jumbo’ – ‘hello, hello’ – wherever we went, from the smiling faces of these welcoming people. ‘Karibu’, ‘welcome’ – another Swahili word always on their lips.
We landed at Kili airport and began our trip against the backdrop of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro which, at nearly 6,000 metres, is the highest peak in Africa. K is for king, and the undoubted king here is the lion. We saw these fabled big cats early on in our tour, but as we got deeper into our safari, they seemed to be more prevalent and to pop up more often. Their only predator is man and man is (supposedly) not allowed to hunt them. Here you see them up close – lions on sand dunes sleepily surveying their surroundings allow you to get so close that you have to remind yourself these are not just big pussy cats. We saw a male and his two female mates a few yards from us, a female stalking a giraffe (my best picture) and a pride overlooking a pond of wallowing hippos.
We only saw one leopard, lazing on a tree branch, but at least we saw one.
M is for ‘mambo’, ‘how are you’, and also for Maasai. Distinctive in their red or blue apparel, their mud hut villages are scattered throughout large parts of the countryside and their children play by the roadside waiting for a treat from visitors like us. The elder teenage boys, dark black and white markings on their faces, display to the world their recent coming of age. Mongooses – I’d never seen them before and had no idea what they looked like. I do now.
So many sights and experiences – I’m only half way through the alphabet!
Ngorongoro Crater is a caldera, we were told – a crater is lifeless, a caldera isn’t. The bird’s eye view that we had of the Ngorongoro before we descended was ethereal (imagine looking at the Garden of Eden from on high and you’ll understand what I mean). From that viewpoint, there was hardly an animal in sight but once we drove down into this paradise, most of the wildlife I described earlier was there in abundance, plus more – ostriches, single or in pairs, pelicans of the black and red variety, storks and starlings.
Spectacular sunrises from our tented camp greeted us most mornings as we eagerly anticipated the day ahead – a day spent sailing through the Serengeti’s stunning scenery hoping for a glimpse of the elusive rhino which, unfortunately, we didn’t get to see. But hey ho, that’s another reason to make sure we come here again.
V is for vultures perched on bare branches or flying high up above us, scouring the terrain below them, and V is for velvet monkeys whose natural habitat is here amongst the acacia trees of East Africa.
‘Twende, twende’, ‘Tlaqna, tlaqna’ – ‘let’s go, let’s go’ in Swahili and Maltese because there’s lots more to see. Waterbuck, funny-faced warthogs, and great herds of wildebeest with their friends and fellow travellers the zebras, moving in their hundreds, if not their thousands, across our paths and on either side of us as we swept through this wildlife paradise.
Walking, trotting, running from one blade of grass to the next, from one watering hole to the next (that’s the animals, by the way, not us) – the sheer abundance of all these mammals, and their proximity, brought home to me more than anything else that we were in a living, free and open space, 30,000 square kilometres of it, and not in a fenced compound.
I, for one, am certainly grateful to have seen and experienced it.
No Q – well, quail’s eggs – Thank you, Donald and Angie, for a delicious supper chez vous that bade us on our way the night before our flight. So generous of you as always and courageous also to host us lot of Sliemizi Puliti.
And no Y either because, as we explained to Riziki, there is no Y in the Maltese alphabet, as we don’t need to ask Y, because us Maltese have all the answers!
And no U, but daqshekk issa, han muru nbulu – “that’s enough now, let’s go for a pee!”– the last bit said a lot by us bunch of oldies!
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