Tanzania Safari

‘Big Phat Diary’ A Working Title. Or No Sleep till Ngorogoro’

The following article was typed up verbatim from the hand printed dialogue Norm & myself maintained throughout our amazing safari
in Tanzania.

The article may not be chronologically accurate to our actual itinerary as we penned our entries as and when the notion took us.

Each part can be followed with Norm in italics and Michael’s part in roman.

See if you can spot when we had a bit to drink.

24/11/05, 3:00am. Phone alarm goes. By 3:30 we are on our way to Glasgow Airport – bound for Africa!

Too early o’clock and the first flight on the trip is a short flight to Schipol – Amsterdam.

We have a sharp turnaround to get our flight onward to Kilimanjaro. There is enough time how ever to acquire hats and pants. Spent too much money on the pants. It was an emergency though.

10:ish – Local time Amsterdam (Huge airport!). We take off from Schipol in our MD-11 hoping the ridiculously early start would allow us some sleep on the flight, should have known better.

Meals are served and drinks are coming, and, they are coming from a rather hot Dutch hostess. Norm and myself start to hatch plans on how to lure this Nederland lovely. Of course, they would all fail and most probably end up with us having KLM coffee poured over us. The lip-gloss and eyes keep us captivated for a while – she eventually disappears – on an eight hour flight I suppose she needs a break.

First comment in poor taste comes from Norm obviously. While watching the in-flight edition of the BBC News the topic turns to the famine crisis in Niger, a country we will most likely fly over. Norm pipes up ‘Ah no, we won’t see any of that will we! It’s not one of those Bob Geldof trips is it?’ My laughs are muffled as I stuff my face with more airline food while we cruise 10,000m above those less fortunate than ourselves.

Several hours into the flight we get bored due to lack of attention from our personal attendant. The other passengers become the focus of our attention deficit minds. The guy in front of Norm is officially a prick; his greasy mop top bouncing back and forth like an extra from one flew over the cuckoo’s nest. This of course pisses Norm off no end.

The majority of our flight comprises of well to do 60 – 80 year olds spending their kid’s inheritance. The average age concerns me … are we on a Saga holiday? I reckon Norm and me are amongst the youngest on the flight. Mind you, the pilot is probably just a kid.

We suspect we have a sky Marshall onboard. Some jumped-up dick in a white linen outfit, checking out every row as he saunters past. Raising his eyebrow, smirking and generally looking disapproving. We will try to look as guilty of something as possible, see if we can get him to bust us or something, or we’ll just give him the finger – a completely adult gesture I think.

Laura (I have her name) has returned. We should try to get a photo but we are in danger of pissing her off. She’s serving our second meal. They’d be even hotter (the stewardess’) if they didn’t have to wear what looks like a tabard! Damn – camera stalled on me, missed the perfect opportunity – she’s too close, she knows what we’re up to. 19:48 – not flown over equator yet, there is still time before we land; maybe I should just ask her?

Question of the flight! – Are orange segments sweet or savoury? I go for sweet; Norm goes for the savoury option. Who is right?

YES! Finally joined the Mile high Club. Laura was very gentle. I think she reminds me of the blonde one out of ABBA – strange blue eye shadow just above her nose!

All sorts on this flight – most of them annoy me! The guy in front jumps around like a turkey on Christmas eve and when the women behind me has taken to grabbing the back of my chair at every opportunity – think she fancies me.

I’m crammed in so much I can hardly breath – I also think I’ve been sitting on my testicles for the last three hours.

I tried staring out the Sky Marshall – he punched me in the face.

Just passed over the equator 20:03!

Great quote from my travelling companion ‘That would be a great view out there if it wasn’t dark’ – classic.

20:06 my first time in the Southern Hemisphere! I can feel my Heineken swirling down my throat the opposite way from usual.

22:00 Arrival at Serena Mountain Village. Night time and they say its cool. As soon as we had stepped off the plane you new it was never cool here.

We witness the aftermath of a horrible crash just outside the airport. A 4×4 imbedded in the cab of an overloaded lorry. It may not be the lions that get us. Our lives are in the hands of our driver.

We arrive safely and the accommodation and reception are impeccable. Very friendly people. I hope our tips are enough!

It’s an early start tomorrow, 9:00am for a two hour walk around Lake Djuluti. Are we up for it? With not much sleep on the plane we’ll need to catch up and have loud alarms.

Only one mosquito seen so far. I killed it just to make sure.

Norm is eyeing up the massage service, I’ve warned him it will probably be some huge bloke that will pummel him.

1:01 Just got back from a couple of beers in the colonial looking bar. Very ‘Gentleman’s Club’ feel. Lots of jungle life in the bushes (not including the armed guards. Giant bats and an orchestra of crickets accompanied us home.

Captain Morgan sees us off to bed.

I too have enjoyed the warm comforting feeling of the Captain and a cigyjambo – ahh, feels good! Listening to Snoop Dogg and contemplating the future close encounters of WILD animals. Think I’ll bag me a tiger. Lack of sleep has a strange effect on the human body – absolutely knackered but wide awake and ready for the new day. Should sleep well, although the fan is really loud. Come on tomorrow! Have it.

The fan is nowhere near as loud as the sound of Norm emptying his bladder. I think he’d give a hippo a run for its money!

Looking forward to seeing this place in the daylight.

Norm is on about the Swedish massage again. Only thing is I’ve not seen too many Swedes around. That’s what 10k worth of drinks do to you. That’s not counting tips.

Water isn’t easy to come by so I’m thinking of decanting my own for tomorrow.

Made it safely to Lake Manyara and now listening to some traditional music. Captain Morgan is here too. Great view across the (mainly dry) lake. Saw some animals on the way here – zebra, giraffe and baboons – I’m reliably informed that I didn’t see an emu – ostrich apparently. A baboon mother showed me her arse – I think we are to be married in the morning.

We have two travelling companions with us now – the bloke has travel sickness but the girl seems pretty up-front!

We had to say goodbye to Ingrid and Aneka, they were lovely.

Let’s back things up a bit to this morning. Late to rise as you’d expect, missed breakfast in order to leave for our 9:00am walk around Lake Djuluti. Right outside the hotel the first animals we came across were hornbills. These are huge birds with impressively formed beaks.

Lake Djuluti
Lake Djuluti

Norm just can’t wait to see big animals and I don’t think he was impressed by the bird. I’ve always thought he was that way inclined! Then we passed a huge termite mound where some guinea fowl were pecking around. This was just the first case of me identifying creatures before the guide. Did I impress him with my knowledge or does he just think I’m a smart-arse?

The lake was mobbed with cormorants and ducks of various kinds. There were also pied king fishers and an egret (saw that first too). The guide said ‘oh they’re just ducks’. When we got closer I proved him wrong – God I am a smart arse.

Norm came a cropper on some rocks on the way round, the guide was very apologetic and seemed to blame himself, I just laughed at the sight of seeing Norm lying prostrate on the mulch path.

Later we came across a Nile lizard – a huge bugger sunning itself on a log. As we tried to get closer it splashed into the lake and disappeared.

Monkeys! Our first mammal. The guide said they were velvet monkeys, but I’m not sure, I think its vervet. We’ll see who’s right later.

A large eagle of some description was the last impressive creature on the lake-side walk. We saw it just as it launched off its perch to fly over the lake.

The walk should have taken 2 hours. We finished a half hour early; no doubt due to our athletic prowess or the guide just had something better to do.

No sooner had the walk ended and we returned to doing what we do best. “Two beers please, Asante!”

Then a miracle happened…

The previous night, during the prescribed night-cap we resorted to the world of fantasy and idealised on the prospect of a couple of girls making an appearance on our trip and how they would laugh and marvel at our extraordinary wit and conversation.

…Anyway, back to reality. After a photo call with a chameleon that stuck out like a sore thumb, in walked the latest party of safari goers. A family, German by the sound of things, with two twenty something daughters. The prophecy comes true, well not quite. We have to leave in a couple of hours.

We have lunch and continue the fantasy. The girls are very easy on the eye; we decide to dub them Ingrid & Aneka. I go for Ingrid Norm makes do with Aneka. We argue over lunch and Norm attempts to make a move on my fantasy girl. The only result is I end up with both. Isn’t fantasy brilliant!

Lunch over we head off to stay on the escarpment overlooking Lake Manyara on the African Rift Valley.

Nice meal and a good bottle of wine. The steak was as tender as a duck liver pâté.

BATS, BATS, BATS! Scary little fuckers – nearly took Michael’s eye out. The wilderness is crying out its favourite song – “we are all going to eat you…”

The drink here is very expensive – even though we have the Captain and his Cuban mate. We bought a couple of shorties at the bar (correction, I bought them!) 10.5k for 2 drinks! Small ones too, so we headed back to the ranch for house measures.

Really hard to write this while the flying bastards attack me all the time.

At this point Norm splats a greenfly into the pages of the diary. “Dead, Ha!

So another day gone – a good one with lots of large animals. Roll on tomorrow.

Tomorrow Rolled – it did more than that, IT ROCK N’ ROLLED. Went to Lake Manyara Park and saw elephants, wildebeest, zebra, impala, warthogs, and hippos…the list goes on. My first mistake of the day was leaving a perfectly good bottle of water in the hotel. They say you should drink 2 litres every day back home – I managed 1 litre in sweltering heat – OK, I did have a beer with lunch! Really dehydrated when we reached our lodge in the Serengeti – A couple of Bacardis soon took care of things though.

Second mistake of the day was not tightening the top on the Captain Morgan’s – approximately 3/4 litre leaked (poured) inside my bag – I wont be wearing my jumper again. The ‘Worst case scenario’ book also got drowned.

Richard, our driver and guide asked us what our favourite animal was – I said TIGER! Not sure he appreciated the irony. More driving on the poorest road I’ve seen (should have called ‘Ralph’) and saw some gazelles and ostrich – lots of giraffe and zebras – cool!

Still need to see a big cat though.

The lodge is great and we look over the Serengeti plains. We also have a giraffe for a neighbour – what a place. Shower then dinner – I could eat a lion on toast.

Our first full day on the Serengeti. This place is truly unbelievable. After a night in the outstanding accommodation we had an early start (7.30).

No sooner are we outside the hotel and the herds of wildebeest and zebra are all around us. It’s amazing to see how these very different animals depend on each other. With the zebra’s eyesight and the wildebeest’s sense of smell they watch each other’s backs. Interestingly zebra stand head to tail, this is so they can cover 360 degrees.

Wildebeest with Zebra, Serengeti.
Wildebeest with Zebra, Serengeti.

Oh! Forgot to mention, on our way here Norm spotted an emu! A fantastic observation considering they live in Australia. He’s still trying to spot his first caribou (Alaska).

Carrying on through the ‘Endless Plain’ we see thousands of Thomson gazelles all very clean and healthy looking.

It’s not long before our first lion sighting. The back of the cat undulates through the tall grass and is met by another who has been waiting in the shade of a low acacia tree. An amazing sight!

We pass topi, warthogs and even a hyena slinking passed in the distance. Our guide Richard has an amazing ability to spot things at a distance.

The Serengeti is by no means a dry and barren grassland. The density of animals is breathtaking. As well as savannah there is an abundance of water surrounded by dense vegetation where we see birdlife, hippos and elephant. At one bend in the river we witness the classic scene of wildebeest and zebra drinking. They are extremely nervous and as well they might be. We see the reason for their anxiety in the form of a large Nile crocodile. It already has a young wildebeest, which it is attempting to dismember.

Nile Crocodile feeding, Serengeti
Nile Crocodile feeding, Serengeti.

Later in one of the slightly forested areas Richard pulls another amazing sighting out the bag. As we are whizzing along in the Landcruiser he sees a bulge in the silhouette of a tree in the distance. “Leopard” he says as we dash for the binoculars. Sure enough this elusive cat is resisting among the branches just above an area where elephants are passing through. Although it was at a distance we had bagged our second big cat of the day. “Right, cheetah next” Norm said optimistically.

Leopard in tree, Serengeti.
Leopard in tree, Serengeti.

No sooner had we driven 400m when Richard told us to focus on the base of a tall acacia. At the foot of the tree was the elegant form of a cheetah keeping out of the hot sun. We drove right up to the tree, where to our amazement the cheetah continued to relax and prepare for a late afternoon hunt. We stayed with him for quite some time until he casually got up, passing next to us and continued across the grasses looking for a Tommy for dinner. This was a highlight for me. These cats have a grace about them and looking at them you see how perfectly developed for hunting at speed they are. 3 big cats on our first day on the plains. What a great start.

Cheetah, Serengeti.
Cheetah, Serengeti.

The evening was spent as usual with a few beers after dinner and trying not to get too agitated at the gobby Australian woman who was accosting a poor German couple hoping for a quiet night.

Back on the balcony of our room we attempt to photograph the millions of stars that can be seen. With no light pollution the quantity of stars visible is mind-boggling.

Our second day (Monday) on the Serengeti took us to a different type of landscape, passing large outcrops of rock called Kopjes. The rocks are covered in small trees and bushes and look somewhat unreal. One had a big male lion sunning himself on top.

We had our closest encounter with lions this morning. Sleeping in the shade, as they do, a small pride were only meters from us. With us in-between, nervous wildebeest and zebra waited for the chance they needed to access the water pool that the lions guarded. A popular ploy used by the cats in this region.

Lion Pride, Serengeti.
Lion Pride, Serengeti.

Later we saw the unfortunate survivor of an earlier encounter with the pride. A young zebra had a huge triangle of skin peeled from his hindquarters, revealing the sore red muscle underneath. He stood on his own as the rest of the herd moved back toward the watering hole and the lions. He obviously new better. Still he’ll need to drink some time soon.

After a great morning we spent the rest of the afternoon hading toward our new destination, the Sopa Lodge on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. We stopped briefly at the Olduvai Gorge where earliest hominid remains were found by Louise Leaky. This place is the birthplace of humanity.

4:00 we arrive at the Sopa Lodge (2445m alt.). As we have come to expect. The hotel and service is second to none. The view overlooks the caldera and the animals we shall see tomorrow. Here’s hoping for a Rhino!

Yes-Rhino! Singular and far away.

Back to the Gorge – got an interesting lecture about the discovery of early humans – Lucy was her name, after the song the guy was listening to at the time in 1963 or 67 – can’t remember which. We’re sure we heard an American voice ask if Ringo Starr discovered early man. She seemed pretty sure Paul McCartney was there.

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were here back in the eighties (nineties I think – M) – no sign of Bill – probably elsewhere getting frisky with Monica.

Some nice German girls were dancing for us back at the bar on the Crater – great arses! Lots of American folk here – really loud and annoying as always. Forgot to mention Michael christened the Rhino, Niel! No sign of Tatum!

Poor old Dave the zebra – I was just thinking about meeting the blokes down at the watering hole for a few jars – unfortunately Dave has a drinking problem – he’s always first to the bar but that means he’s first on the menu for the crocs – turns out his heavy drinking killed him in the end.

Back to the Gorge and the toilets – I could have gone at the entrance to the park but decided to wait – Bad News! It was a trough with a hole at the end and the cubicle was a hole in the ground with places for ones feet – I can just see Hillary squatting down! I can’t believe this was the place where man began and in all these years they couldn’t build a decent toilet – typical.

Yet another boo boo tonight when I talked about the Masai attacking with spears – I used the word ‘chuck’ and was quickly warned about jokes about ‘spear chuckers’ – Oops!

Today we followed a cheetah for while and watched it attempt to catch a warthog piglet (I think that’s what they’re called) the rather large mother saw it off but it was a close one. We followed it around and saw a half arsed attempt at an assassination of a gazelle – not sure it’s heart was in it.

Fucking huge elephants in the crater – massive with big pointy teeth (sorry tusks), saw a pair of lions too but we’ve seen loads of them now so we’re only interested in the big kill – hungry for blood!

The crater is amazing – 6500km2 with forests, open plains, dunes, lakes and swamps – all any animal could possibly need.

Nice meal back at the lodge as always, the service is great and everyone is really cool.

Mike is sleeping and snoring loudly – I think he’s paying me back for earlier.

The USA soccer team are here apparently – I couldn’t recognise any of them – no McBride, Keller etc so we’re not sure if it’s the real team. They lost to Tanzania 5-0 just proving how shit Scotland are. I’ll come back with the Tartan Army if we do a similar tour – fantastic!

Better get to sleep – early start again and our last game drive of the trip. Rhinos and leopards only please ‘cos we haven’t seen them enough yet.

Ngorogoro Crater
Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania.

The crater was grrreat! No tigers though. The landscape is so diverse. We saw a cheetah make no less than three attempts to kill. It failed at them all though. The poor thing must be starving. The last attempt on a gazelle was interrupted by a hyena, which just emerged out of the grass.

Just before lunch by the hippo pool we saw a solitary black rhino. It was at quite a distance surrounded by marshland so no chance of getting a close-up.

The crater rim wall is a huge natural enclosure where the animals come and go in complete safety. The Massai do however graze their cattle here with no apparent effect on the wildlife.

We also saw our first really big bull elephants marching in line out of the swamp with hippos wallowing in the background.

Crater Elephant
Four Brothers, Ngorongoro Crater.

It seems like Stuart (our travelling companion) has been cured of travel sickness by now. Word of warning: don’t do a safari if you can’t travel by car. The roads are rough all the way!

Another early night on the cards, the fresh air, heat and big meals certainly take it out of you!

Our last full day is a drive away from the crater to Tarangire. The morning is spent driving past more gazelle, giraffe and ostrich.

This is the smallest reserve on our visit but we find it crammed with elephant.

We arrive at our hotel for lunch and our first swim in the pool, that all but one hotel has had. This soon knackers us, after only a couple of strokes.

We head out for an afternoon safari. This reserve has a different geography yet again. Centred on a mostly dry river, it is a bit more hilly, covered in acacia and huge (and very old) baobab trees. The effect of the huge elephant population can be seen in the stripped bark on most if not all the baobabs.

Richard’s keenly trained eye spots a dik-dik, the smallest antelope. An extremely cute little critter, about thirty centimetres at the shoulder. The perfect snack for something with pointy teeth and claws.

New animals (to us) are now seen, ground hornbill, glossy ibis, close-ups of a large tawny eagle and African fish eagle.

We end the evening snapping shots of Cape buffalo then giraffe in the sun. The landscape here shall stay with us for a very long time.

Morning of departure and we spend a short time watching animals before the journey proper back to Arusha.

The wildlife gave us a performance right till the last. On leaving the hotel we managed to spot the tiniest owlet. No bigger than a starling, the fully grown bird was extremely well camouflaged. He waited patiently to drop from his perch amongst the thicket onto some unsuspecting prey in the undergrowth.

Tarangire Owlet
Owlet, Tarangire National Park

Probably the most lasting memory for me though would be revealed just before we left Tarangire. Two lionesses, sharing the shade provided by a broad acacia. This shaded spot was on a raised knoll giving the two cats a comfortable viewing platform. Out of the nearby scrub came a rather dark coloured giraffe. As it lazily strolled into the long grass on its way to a watering-hole, the lionesses spotted their quarry.

You could almost hear the pair discuss their plan of attack. They patiently swapped gazes between themselves and the giraffe, who by now had reached the water. Intermittently splaying its long fore-legs and lowering its head to drink. This of course is exactly what the lions were waiting for.

After several dips of the head the lions started to make their move. One sweeping down to the left, the other mirroring its partner to the right.

Hearts began to thump and my shutter finger started to twitch. I don’t know how long the stalking took, but time seemed to stand still. Every time the giraffe stooped to drink the big cats inched forward each time getting closer to a potential feast.

The tension grew and grew. We could just make out the markings on the back of the lions ears above the long grass that kept them out of the giraffe’s sight.

Viewing the scene through the long end of my 300mm lens I saw the tell-tale sign that any cat owner would recognise that an attack was immanent. The left flanker wiggled her hind quarters, and gained purchase in the dusty ground. At the very same moment out of the corner of my eye, the right side cat made an early pounce. I don’t know how, maybe I was rooting for the lions so much, but right away, I knew this cat had blown it! ‘Too early!’ I exasperated, in sympathy with the hunting team. Needless to say the giraffe legged it.

What an unforgettable last memory of the daily life in this incredible place!

Giraffe Hunt
Lionesses take on Giraffe, Tarangire National Park.

Having left the plains and reserves we spent the afternoon in Arusha, had a spot of lunch then had to say our goodbyes to Richard our guide. He did an incredible job, driving and educating us not just on the flora and fauna, but giving us an insight in to his life in Tanzania.

A long evening was had at the bar in Kilimanjaro airport. Sampling every beer we could and trying to get rid of what local currency we still had. The barman got a cracking tip!

The more beer we had, the faster the evening went and soon we were boarding our plane, back to Amsterdam via Dar e Salaam.

There was no sign of our lovely hostess on the return flight; she must have known we were coming. We did have an enormous amount of fun spotting the following celebrity look-a-likes, no doubt due the local brew!

  1. Lee Evans (at 60)
  2. Leonard Nimoy (Spock)
  3. Hatty Jakes
  4. Jim Rosenthal (the Count)
  5. Yoda (female)
  6. Murray Walker
  7. Pat Butcher
  8. Nigel Havers
  9. Arthur Smith
  10. The Flying Nun (also Blue)

My Tanzania Video

Below is a moving documentary (sic) of some of the great wildlife we encountered during the trip.

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