Lake Manyara: Mto wa Mbu and a boring game drive

Day 4 – Lake Manyara

As a first time visitor of Tanzania, I was glad that our travel agencies, Matoke Tours and Easy Travel, incorporated cultural activities in our itinerary. And because it was a Dutch group, I think they thought we would appreciate a mountain biking trip to Lake Manyara and the villages in Mto wa Mbu.

After a failed search for that elusive leopard in Tarangire, we drove to Mto wa Mbu or roughly translated as mosquito river in Ki-Swahili. No kidding, there were lots of mosquitoes and one the way back to the village, you could see a swarm of mosquito forming a halo on everyone’s head.

We were met by three local guides whose names escaped me except for Eleanora, the girl from the Changa tribe. After a quick briefing, we chose our bikes. I opted for the red one of course. Our first stop was the village where Changa tribe members were making beer from bananas. The guide explained the process briefly and told us afterwards “You can have your photos taken and then we can proceed.” There couldn’t be a more touristy line than that. I didn’t want any photos so I walked straight back to my bike.

So mountain biking. I thought that when you learn how to bike in a remote Filipino village where roads are not asphalted and your cousins let you bike down a river bank – you could consider that as mountain biking. But boy, how wrong I was!

In addition to rough roads (which is how most roads in Tanzania are except, for highways) a part of this road going to Lake Manyara was under construction so it was basically a gravel path. Under no circumstances would I drive a bike of any sort in a gravel road. But didn’t I come here for adventure?

I was cursing the poor road for being extremely difficult. I almost fell several times and was riding as if I’ve only learned how to bike that very morning. But the irritation went away when we reached the lake.

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The water was so flat. You could see the reflection of everything floating on it. The dark silhouette of the Great Rift Valley looms in the background surrounded by dark clouds promising rain. There were flamingoes and storks gathering their early meals on the grassland while from a distance, you could see some fishermen coming back with the limited amount of catch they were allowed to fish from the lake. It looked like they were walking on water. Old, rusty bicycles peppered the lake bank while small groups of fishermen were grilling the day’s early catch, their small, wooden canoes parked just a few feet away. A cool, gentle breeze brings relief to your sore muscles, carrying the purity of the lake to your nostrils. Nothing could be more serene.

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We biked back to the village just around lunch time. We stopped at a banana plantation where Eleanora lectured us about bananas – the different types, how to plant them and how important these are to the Tanzanian food sustenance, second only to corn.  I couldn’t be excited about this because I came from a tropical country where banana is a part of our diet as much as rice is. Not to mention that it was already 12:30pm and we haven’t lunch yet. To make matters worse, we had to take the same gravel road on the way back.

After the banana plantation tour we still couldn’t eat. We need to visit the wood carving centre of the Makondi, a tribe which is originally from Mozambique and was driven away by 1970 civil war. Many of them decided to stay in Tanzania and continued with their wood carving craft here. It has been their primary source of income ever since.

We were told that those wood carvings of thin, African people were a reminder for the Makondi tribe of the time when they were starving during the long journey (by foot) to escape the war.

Finally at 2pm we could eat. We were welcomed in a small commune where the local folks prepared a typical Swahili spread consisting mostly of vegetables and beef. Again I am reminded of the meals we eat in the Philippines. There’s just so many similarities between my country and theirs that you can almost forget the differences. The money spent on this lunch will be used for either education or water system in the village and by cooking food for tourists, the locals are doing their part in improving their community. Talk about socialism.

I was spent after the bike tour. After lunch, all I wanted to do was lie down, scratch my belly and sleep like a pig. But our itinerary was packed until sundown. First we were toured to an art centre selling paintings made by local men. Then we went to another game drive to Lake Manyara. There was a promise of tree climbing lions. I should have been excited about that.

But I wasn’t and we didn’t see any lions at all. Probably they were also lying down somewhere under a shade, as tired as I was, from the morning hunt. We did see a lot of baboons, gazelles and birds. After a disappointing search, we drove to our next lodge.

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Lake Manyara Wildlife Camp was such a respite in the middle of the rolling grassland of Mto wa Mbu. It was the first semi-luxury camp that we’ve been booked. Our tent was bigger than our first accommodations in Arusha and Tarangire and we have a view of Rift Valley escarpment.

We spent the afternoon watching the amazing African sunset from the camp’s terrace with a bottle of Chardonnay, enjoying this unique landscape that Africa affords to travelers who has money to pay for it. There was an electricity cut during dinner so we had a candle light dinner for at least 15 minutes, a regular part of an African experience.

We went to bed lulled by the sound of the hyenas out on their evening hunt.

Honestly, we could have skipped this whole day and drive straight to Serengeti. At least we were guaranteed a much better game drive. But all was rewarded by the serenity of the Lake Manyara, the sun setting behind the Rift Valley forming silhouttes of a Maasai herder and his cattles walking back home and finally a chilly morning the day after, sitting on our terrace. watching the sun slowly enveloping the Lake Manyara region with its soft, golden glow.

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