Decide what you want to see
Basically, you can do a safari in Tanzania all year long. There are enough national parks and lots of animals to see, including the Big 5. But there is also the Great Migration, one of the top reasons to do a safari trip in Northern Tanzania. We did ours in the beginning of July in anticipation of the Great Migration. But this is also the high season so everything is relatively more expensive. You can find our 10-day itinerary in this link.
Day 5 – First game drive in the Serengeti (all photos by Robin Kuijs)
If you are following me, The Weekend Traveller and Robin Kuijs on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen the amazing photos of the wild animals. But let me start my Serengeti diaries with the sad, the bad and the ugly.
Life in the Serengeti is survival of the fittest, for the people living there but especially for the wild animals. The big cats are kings of course so are other large animals like elephants, rhinos and crocodiles. The cute and cuddly zebras, gazelles, wildebeest and even the buffalos (one of the Big 5) are all but meals for the big ones. Nature also has its own cleaning team, the scavengers , who clean up the carcasses after the big ones have had their meals. They include the hyenas, the vultures and the marabou storks. Here they are in their best moments, looking so ugly that they become beautiful.
After our Maasai village visit, we drove quickly to the Serengeti. Our group couldn’t keep our excitement anymore. We wanted to arrive already to the Serengit or the “endless plains” of Africa as the Maasai calls it. We wanted to see the National Geographic and Lonely Planet images of the savanna and the wild animals that thrive on it.
We reached the gate at about 3pm, enough time to do a late afternoon/early evening game drive. We were treated right away to a group of tree climbing lions. Five of them were occupying a lone tree, resting on th branches, cooling themselves down from the biting savanna heat. We could have stayed there the whole afternoon, dotting over the lions looking so adorable in their siesta. But it’s getting dark so we drove on. On the way to the camp, we saw a lone giraffe going for his afternoon acacia snack and a lone, old buffalo who is about to die.
When a buffalo becomes old and weak, he separates from the herd and wanders alone, awaiting death. In the old times, a Maasai dies in exactly the same way.
Just as we were nearing camp, we were treated to two other spectaculars – the amazing (yes, I will be using a lot of superlatives like amazing from now on) African sunset in the Serengeti savanna and then a parade of zebras, giraffes and wildebeest crossing the road. The zebras leading the way and the giraffes patrolling the surrounding areas for hunting lions. It was way better than any National Geographic episode on TV.
By about 7pm, we check in at Tortillis Camp, the best luxury safari camp we stayed in the Serengeti. After a delicious dinner of herbed chicken and a bottle of South African Merlot/Syrah, we were off to bed.
This time however, I didn’t sleep too deep. I was kept awake by the sound of the Serengeti, the heaving lions and the laughing hyenas resonating louder than the others.
Day 5 – The Maasai tribe
Known for their colourful clothes, jumping exercise and their way of life, living side by side with the wild life of northern Tanzania, the famed Maasai tribe is the biggest and strongest among the 127 tribes in the country.
On our way to the Serengeti, about one hour from the main gate, we stopped by one of the Maasai villages for a fee of $50 per couple (a total of $150 for our group). They said that the money raised in visits like these would be used by the village to transport water from 100 kilometers away.
At first we found the fee ridiculous. But then again, if you are an outsider who wants to poke around my house, take pictures of me and my family and examine my way of life and discuss it among yourselves and I even have to dance and sing to entertain, you might not even get an invitation. At the end I realized, it was just fair.
The Maasai has a long and complicated history. According to Rogarth, our guide, their traditions and culture have never been written because there are just too many crevices that haven’t been explored. So I wouldn’t try to despite the notes that I written down when Rogarth was explaining to us the ways of his tribe.
They performed for us, invited us inside their straw and mud houses and explained a bit about their lives. But we will always be outsiders who were just passing by to admire their unique culture. We might not be able to fully understand them especially their prejudices against women. To be able accept another’s culture, you have to prepared to accept the good and the bad without any biases.
So I leave you with the beautiful pictures that Robin and I took. The Maasai people have admirable traits. They respect the land, the animals and their elders. They follow strict rules and those who don’t obey are punished or disowned. They are not allowed to kill lions anymore to prove their manhood but they will still run towards a lion if ever they come face to face with one. I hope their tribe would not disappear into this modern world of ours.
Day 3 – The baobab trees of Tarangire (photos by Robin Kuijs)
Baobab trees. In the age without Internet on an island with only six towns, as a child, the only thing I knew about baobab trees was from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s well-loved book The Little Prince. During my early months in the Netherlands, when I would spend almost the entire day watching television, I saw how it actually looked like in one of the shows about meerkats in Madagascar. It is in Tanzia that I finally saw the legendary tree.
Upon entering the Tarangire National Park, one would be welcomed by a billboard that says “Tarangire: Home of the Baobab Trees”.
When I saw the baobab, I became emotional. This was my childhood story unfolding before my eyes in the slowly waking dawn of Tarangire. For the Maasai however, the baobab tree symbolizes the wrath of the Gods, who planted the trees upside down, with the roots of top that’s why no leaves are growing on it.
On our first day at the park, we had a late game drive so we were driving through the sunset on the way to our next lodge. I couldn’t put into words how beautiful it was – a fiery ball of red sinking behind the baobab trees.
I watched a movie once about a couple who decided to chase the sunset all over the world. Would that be a selfish journey for me to take?
When one sees a herd of elephants, flapping their ears, stamping the ground, trumpeting a deafening sound and heading towards your vehicle, one would panic, no matter how much one is told that escaping animals would choose the path of less resistance.
My heartbeat was racing fast but my eyes couldn’t tear themselves away from an action that I’ve only seen on tv – a herd of elephants running away from the mighty Lion King to protect their calves. Even after they have safely crossed to the other side of the road, my heart was still palpitating. What an amazing gift after only a couple of hours game drive.
We saw a lot of zebras, Thomson gazelles, baboons and buffalos in Tarangire but the national park is home to a large number of elephants. It has in fact the most concentration of wild life outside the Serengeti because there is a constant supply of water from the Tarangire River.
Finding Ibong Adarna
Ibong Adarna is a Filipino epic about a prince who had to find a colourful bird to save his father and their kingdom. Honestly, I don’t remember much of the story but I remember how beautiful the bird was. And I found it at Tarangire (well Robin did), resting on a branch in all its beauty. It is called the Lilac-breasted roller and can usually be found in woodlands and savannas. It is not as regal as the one mentioned in the story but have you ever seen a bird more fitting?
I don’t know why but somehow this trip has taken me back to the times of my life when I was happiest, to the places I’ve left a long time ago – my childhood and nature.
Just as we were leaving Tarangire, a few kilometers from the gate, a pack of lions decided to show themselves to us, the lions that we have been looking for all morning. There were about 12 of them, the lionesses leading the pack to cross the road while the cubs are still playing farther behind them. But we were not alone in basking in that scene. In fact, there were at least 10 cars lined up on the road photographing the lions. Some have tele lens longer than me, others have selfie stick. Either way, seeing too many people gathered around a small pack of lions somehow lessen the excitement. So we moved on.
Our search for the wild life in Tarangire was short. I wish we had stayed at least a day more, spend more time finding that elusive leopard. But there was a paradise waiting for us farther in the north of the country. And that’s what we came here for.
Day 1-2 Arusha (photos by Robin Kuijs)
If you remove the cows and the black people with colorful clothing from the picture, the roadside scenery in Arusha looks exactly like the Philippines – car repair shops, eateries, furniture stores, grocery stores selling gas tanks, low stone and wooden houses, cellphone repair shops and sari-sari stores.
As you go deeper into the villages, the landscape can fool you into believing that you’re visiting just another Filipino barrio. The same plants grow in abundance everywhere – bananas, guavas, mangoes, acacia tress, bougainvillea even the same grasses and weeds. Only the miles of cornfields replace our rice paddies. But you’ll see chickens, goats and cows freely walking around and people dragging their animals or carrying heavy things on their heads. Along the dirt roads, you can find small tables selling the garden’s produce.
While the Dutch people in our group marveled at the contrast against their own country, I felt like I was travelling home. Seeing the village kids giggling and waving at the foreigners dotting on them, I remembered my childhood during Moriones festival when me and my friends would roam around town talking to foreign tourists. It all felt so familiar.
The biggest surprise?
People here were watching the same teleseryes I grew up with particularly Mara Clara and Pangako Sa’yo. I even saw a highway billboard of Glamorosa, a drama series from one of the Philippines’ biggest network. Apparently Filipino teleseryes are big here and that’s how Tanzanians like Josephet knew about our little country.
While I was chatting with him before dinner time at the Kiboko Lodge, our first accommodation in Tanzania, Josephet jokingly told me that Mara is his wife and Clara is his girlfriend. I wanted to show him a picture of Judy Ann Santos (Mara) and Gladys Reyes (Clara), the actors who played the main characters, together in Instagram but the Internet was not working at all. So I promised to send him that photo when I am back in the Netherlands.
Our plane landed at the Kilimanjaro Airport at half past nine. We were picked up from the airport by Rogarth, our driver-guide for the next ten days. Robin was ecstatic that someone will be waiting at the arrival area with a placard with our names on it. This was our very first all-inclusive trip.
We spent the first day lounging in the Kiboko lodge, Robin shooting birds nesting in the swamp while I finish reading The Old Man and the Sea. He drank copious amount of African powdered coffee while I familiarized my palate with the taste of Kilimanjaro, the country’s most popular lager. As someone whose beer loyalty belongs only to Brand’s Oud Bruin, I have been unfaithful while in Tanzania.
First game drive
Early in the morning the next day, we drove to our first game drive at the Arusha National Park. It was raining hard and surprisingly cold. I had to put on my rain jacket on top of my cashmere hoodie and refused to look out from the jeep’s open roof until the sun became a bit warmer.
The first animals that greeted us were a herd of cape buffalos (one of the Big 5) lazily lounging from a distance and a group of baboons noisily fighting over a tree.
Then came the giraffes – their long slender necks and graceful legs blocking the road that we had to stop. In the national parks, animals always have the right of way. They nervously crossed the road to the other side where grasses are abundant, grazing together with zebras, antelopes and the baboons.
It is of course forbidden to get out of the jeep but I had this strong desire to jump out of the roof and run to the plains to touch and play with the zebras and the giraffes. But these are not zoo animals. With that fuzzy feeling of seeing them so close in their own habitat comes the confrontation that there is and should be a respected distance between the wild life and humans. That’s the only way that each can live harmoniously in this planet.
The boys of Watoto Foundation
After lunch at the scenic Small Momella Lake, we drove back to Arusha late in the afternoon to visit the Watoto Foundation, an ambitious project undertaken by a selfless Dutch couple whose love for Tanzania is even greater than some of its residents. In a vast compound in Arusha, former street boys are provided food, shelter and training so that they can have a better life after two years. Kiboko Lodge is owned by Watoto Foundation and all the staff are boys-in-training and after a few years, they will move on to other lodges for a paid job.
The boys at Watoto tend their own garden, take care of the pigs, cows, goats, chickens and rabbits, which not only provide them food but also a part of the foundation’s income. There’s a school for basic education as well as for vocational skills such as carpentry, welding and electronics.
While the manager was touring us around the property, I felt a bit envious at the efforts poured into this foundation by Truus and Noud van Hout. I wish that more people would have the same love and would undertake such a Herculean endeavor for my beloved Philippines.
Back at the lodge, we had a short tour of Ngurdoto, the village where the lodge is located, played soccer with the local boys, drank corn beer with the local men and women at Mazao (the village pub which translate to crop in Ki-Swahili) and trotted through mud and rain back home.
It was a beautiful day.
We ended the evening with the unforgettable rosemary and cinnamon bread of Chef Edward, Kiboko’s young cook. His beef may not at all be impressive enough but his grilled chicken and bread are quit the bomb. Before we said goodbye, he gave me the recipe. I wish these boys will fulfill their dreams in the future as I have mine.