Serengeti National Park

July 5, 2019

‘Serengeti’ – A Look into BBC’s New Documentary

©Copyright of Shutterstock. A male lion with the red glow of a sunset behind him in the heart of the Serengeti.

For those who tuned into BBC1 at 8pm last Thursday, you will have witnessed the start of a series that transports you from your armchair to the rolling plains of the Serengeti. There you will witness the battle that the Serengeti’s best known animals face. Each day is a struggle between life and death and although it is great to watch these events unfold on television, there is nothing better than seeing these spectacles first hand. Whether it is the lions, the elephants or the wild dogs that spark an interest for you to go on safari or a love of wildlife, it doesn’t matter. After organising luxury safaris for over twenty years, we know the best places for you visit! Read below for our honest advice about where the best places are to see these magnificent animals.  

The Wildebeest Migration

The world-renowned Great Migration is a year-round event that occurs within the Serengeti National Park. Each year millions of wildebeest and zebra follow the rains in a clock-wise motion clocking up about two-hundred and fifty kilometres each. From crossing the Mara River in the North to giving birth on the Ndutu plains in the South, drama is never far away when watching these ungulates. If you’re particularly interested in keeping up with the migration, then we would whole-heartedly recommend a mobile camp. These are tented camps that follow the migration all year, moving from site to site meaning that they have the best spots for the action. Do not fear though, luxury isn’t compromised. All your amenities (and more) are certainly apparent.

©Copyright of Shutterstock. One of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth – The Great Wildebeest Migration

Lions

The majestic King of the Jungle is probably the most sought after animal people want to see when they go on safari. Luckily, lions are everywhere in the Serengeti and unlike the wildebeest, they stick to their territories. Whilst the migration may pass through areas at different times of the year, no matter where you stay there will be plenty of resident game in the lion territories to keep them fed whilst the wildebeest are away. If you are after a great value safari, it is worth seeking the ‘off season’ camps as they will still have great opportunities to see lions and great prices!

A beautiful lionness in the morning light. Picture taken by Africa specialist Sam whilst in the Serengeti.

Cheetahs

Small, lithe and the only cat that can’t roar, you are often left feeling sorry for the cheetah. Often bullied by hyenas and the other cats, being a cheetah mother is probably one of the toughest jobs in the Serengeti. Even with the honey-badger disguise, cheetah cubs unfortunately have a very high mortality rate. But for all their bad luck, there is one place in the Serengeti that we hold close to our hearts. Recently reopened and what used to be a cheetah research area, Namiri Plains in the Eastern section of the Serengeti is a place like no other. As well as being home to numerous caracals, servals and other big cats, the cheetah population has thrived here for years and sightings are daily and wonderful. For the best cheetah sightings and photographic opportunities we couldn’t recommend Asilia’s Namiri Plains Camp high enough. If you don’t believe it yet, check out our Instagram to see our first-hand sightings from our trips there!

Two cheetah brothers photographed by Managing Director Marc on his stay at Namiri Plains.

Elephants

The most intelligent of all savannah animals, with communication systems that humans haven’t been able to apprehend and emotions that no other animals seem to have, the elephant is a magnificent creature. The biggest member of the Big 5, yet also the most gentle, one would be mistaken that they are big fumbling, bumbling balls of grey, yet an insight into their behaviour shows just how gentle and nimble they can be. That’s not to say they aren’t destructive because they certainly can be when the mood strikes. With the Serengeti being such an open and vast landscape, elephants are not normally found in such open areas, that’s why it is important to be in a camp that is placed perfectly for both habitats. A great area for elephant sightings is in the often-forgotten Serengeti forests. Here the vegetation is denser and riverine thickets are the perfect habitat for elephant families who need plenty of food, water and shelter to provide safety for the herd.  We absolutely love Nomad’s Serengeti Safari Camp, a mobile camp which moves throughout the year depending on where the migration is, yet their location also takes into consideration the movement of the mega fauna like the elephants. Their new position by the Moru kopjes in central Serengeti provides the perfect setting for great sightings.

The often forgotten forests of the Serengeti photographed by Africa specialist Sam whilst staying in the Moru region.

Whilst I hope you will enjoy the rest of the series, I know I plan to, if you want to experience the Serengeti with your own eyes then there is only one thing for you to do: contact us! We would love help you book the trip of a lifetime.

April 30, 2018

Why do a Serengeti Safari?

Filed under: Serengeti National Park — Tags: , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 1:02 pm

Serengeti, derived from the Masai word ‘Seregenget’ or ‘Siringitu’, means ‘the place where the land moves on forever’ – a fitting description for the area’s rolling grassy plains that are the epitome of most people’s vision of wildest Africa…

Wild, open, and inviting, the Serengeti’s landscape never fails to entice travellers to explore its endless wonders. While some might overlook this classics safari destination as being too mainstream, we urge you not to make this mistake. After all, the Serengeti became Africa’s most renowned national park for good reason.

4 Reasons to do a Serengeti Safari:

1. Key-Destination in the Wildebeest Migration

Wildebeest Migration Serengeti

The Serengeti is a key-destination is the wildebeest migration and perhaps the most popular reason that people travel there. A 1,800-mile odyssey, the wildebeest migration sees 1,5 million wildebeest and 200,00 zebras chasing the rains in a race for life. The herds are constantly moving so their location depends entirely on the time of year that you visit.

2. Seronera, Big Cat Capital of Africa

Lioness at Seronera, Serengeti

Situated in the heart of the Serengeti, Seronera Valley has been dubbed ‘The Big Cat Capital of Africa’ due to its extremely high concentration of predators. The area is a network of several perennial rivers that enable resident animals to thrive all year round, making it a fantastic destination for wildlife viewing.

3. Walking Safaris, Game Drives, and Hot Air Balloon Rides

Hot air balloon safari Serengeti

Whether you prefer to explore on foot, in a vehicle, or from the sky, the Serengeti offers it all. While not all, some camps offer walking safaris which are an excellent way to immerse yourself in the environment. Game drives, on the other hand, are a great way of covering larger distances in search of wildlife. And for totally different and whimsical activity, a hot air balloon safari is a spectacular way to get a bird’s-eye view of the Serengeti, allowing you to truly appreciate the immensity of the Serengeti.

4. Variety of Accommodation Options

Lamai Serengeti Bedroom

From rustic and remote, to fancy and luxurious, the accommodation options in the Serengeti are about as vast as its grassy plains. There are even mobile camps that follow the wildebeest migration, such as Olakira Camp. Essentially, there is something to meet the needs and budgets of every traveler. Some of our favourite permanent tented camps include Sasakwa Lodge, Sayari Camp, and Dunia Camp, to name just a few.

To start planning your safari to the Serengeti, get in touch with us!

January 31, 2018

Tanzania Horseback Safaris

World-renowned for its wildlife and natural beauty, and boasting highlights such as the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Crater and the tropical spice islands of Zanzibar; a Tanzania makes for an unforgettable horseback safari destination.

Tanzania Horseback Safari

Benefits of a Horseback Safari:
• They are more eco-friendly than safari vehicles
• You can explore areas that are inaccessible by vehicle
• Horse riding allows you to get closer to wildlife without disturbing it
• You will naturally notice more of your surroundings than you would in a vehicle, as you are moving at a slower pace and are more immersed in the environment
• Most places that offer horseback riding safaris cater to all ages and riding abilities
• It’s a completely different way to experience the wilderness

Here are a few unforgettable horseback safari experiences in Tanzania:

Serengeti:
What better way to experience the Great Wildebeest Migration than from horseback? Horse riding over the vast plains of the Serengeti, next to massive herds of wildebeest, zebra and other wildlife, is a truly exhilarating experience.

Serengeti Horseback Safari

Photo © Singita Sasakwa Lodge

Zanzibar:
If galloping along a pristine white sand beach, next to the gentle and warm waters of the Indian Ocean, sounds like your kind of safari experience, then a horseback ride in Zanzibar is a must do! From full moon beach rides to swimming with the horses, horse riding in Zanzibar is a magical experience.

Horse Riding in Zanzibar

Photo © Seacliff Resort

Kilimanjaro:
Mount Kilimanjaro is surrounded by stunning savannahs and wilderness areas, and horse riding in the shadow of this famous mountain is a quintessential safari experience. With no fences, buildings or roads in sight, the opportunities for spotting wildlife are endless. In addition to the brilliant game viewing, the area has some of the most spectacular scenery in Africa. As you ride, there are also numerous opportunities for interactions with the local people and herdsmen, ensuring a wonderfully enchanting cultural experience.

Horse riding near Mount Kilimanjaro

Photo © Kaskazi Horse Safaris

Are you chomping at the bit to go on a horseback safari in Tanzania? Get in touch with us and we’ll help you plan your perfect trip.

August 17, 2016

Touring Tanzania on Foot

5080482219_b868ab1f22_b

“In a country crowned by the tallest free-standing volcano in the world and almost bisected by chains of ancient mountain ranges, hiking takes on a high profile. Stunning scenery and rugged terrain combine with a fascinating cultural backdrop to create several challenging and adventurous routes.” – Lonely Planet

The hustle and bustle of travelling can be exhausting at times. Whisking off from one place to another means that sometimes there is barely enough time to enjoy every experience to the full and that’s a downright shame! The whole point of travelling is to encounter new things and immerse yourself in different experiences. In doing so, you learn about the country’s unique culture and traditions, as well as visiting places completely unique to your own homeland.

_CGC2311

Tanzania has so many exquisite things on offer and we believe that one of the best ways to explore some of this country’s highlights is on foot. Walking allows travellers the time to develop a deeper connection and understanding of their surroundings. It forces you to be completely involved and aware and travellers will often discover and learn about things that they never would have even noticed before.

Here are a few of our favourite places for taking a walk in Tanzania:

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

_CGC2720PANORMIC

Famous for being one of Tanzania’s premier wildlife destinations and home to the famous volcanic Ngorongoro Crater, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers rugged and scenic guided walking opportunities. There are no set routes, which makes for many possibilities, and guests are often treated to thrilling up-close wildlife encounters. Walking is less invasive than driving in game vehicles and therefore provides a more eco-friendly and authentic safari experience.

Stone Town

© Helen Suk

© Helen Suk

Stone Town is the oldest part of Zanzibar and also the cultural heart of the city. As the world’s oldest functioning Swahili city, many of the landmarks in Stone Town have been restored to their former glory. Walking down the narrow streets of the city, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back in time as you take in the grand old Arabian homes lining the winding alleys.

Lake Victoria

lake-victoria-354533_1920

Bordered by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest freshwater lake and yet is one of the least visited regions of Tanzania. This remote and scenic area is a birdwatcher’s paradise and perfect for nature walks. There are also a few villages in the area which can be visited, including Musoma and Bukoba, which have a quiet waterside charm.

Gombe Stream National Park

chimpanzee-718273_1920

Gombe Stream National Park is the smallest national park in Tanzania. The park is home to many species of primates and mammals but is most famous for its chimpanzee population. Guided walks take visitors into the forest to observe chimps in the wild – a true bucket list activity!

In other words, if you’re planning a trip to Tanzania, make sure to pack a comfy pair of walking shoes. You’ll be needing them a lot!

February 28, 2013

The Northern Circuit – Mount Meru

Filed under: Mount Meru — Tags: , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:01 pm

The third major attraction of Arusha National Park is the crater of Mount Meru, Africa’s fifth highest peak. The rugged ash cone of this dormant volcano has not seen any lava action for a century, and is not predicted to do so in the near future, so those wishing to climb its 4,566m height can eliminate at least one concern. A hike up and down Mount Meru is usually a three- or four-day round trip, if you take it at a relaxed pace and explore the plains, forests, moorlands and volcanic lava desert that make up its landscape. If time, funds and stamina permit, it is a good ides to climb Meru as a means of acclimatising before attempting the summit of Kilimanjaro. Mount Meru also has the advantage of being far less visited than its grand neighbour, so the lower slopes are more densely populated with wildlife and there is a good chance of encountering larger animals such as giraffe and various antelope. Although smaller than Kilimanjaro, with no snow-covered peaks, the climb up Meru can be extremely cold and requires proper mountain gear for overnight camping. Mount Meru is also very steep in parts, and climbers will need stout walking shoes.

Many of the tour operators listed in this section can arrange for you to climb Meru, and will ensure that you have appropriate porters, food and equipment. A fully equipped climb generally costs upwards of $200 per day, including the park requirements for an armed ranger ($20/day), hut fees ($20), park fees ($25), and overall rescue insurance ($20), plus the cost of a guide, porters, food and transport to the park. The price is considerably lower if you climb in a larger group. Factor in tips at around $10 per day for your guide.

Most climbs follow an itinerary similar to the following :

(this itinerary was devised with assistance from Tropical Trekking; see Tour Operators listings for further information)

Hikes generally begin and end at Momela Gate. A path leads up from here to dense mountain rainforest where huge moss-covered cedar trees grow, and there is always a chance of encounters with buffalo, giraffe and colobus. Many climbers stop for a picnic along the way, perhaps at Mayo Falls (1,900m), to rest and breathe the fresh forest air and maybe bathe in the cold, clear mountain stream. The walk continues in the afternoon through the beautiful upper rainforest to Meru Crater and then Miriakamba Hut at 2,700m for supper and the first night on the mountain.

After breakfast, hikers traverse the lower alpine regions on the northern crater rim in order to reach the Saddle Hut at 3,500m. This walk is quite steep and requires a major effort from all climbers. Close to the Saddle Hut the vegetation is reduced to only low moss-covered bushes and shrubs that can survive such high altitude. You will usually reach the hut by mid-afternoon, and can rest or summon more energy to explore the rocky summit of ‘small Meru’, from where the views are superb in all directions, and the sharp Crater Rim leading to the Meru Summit is revealed. You spend the night at Saddle Hut, with breathtaking views of the night sky, often above the cloud line. Climbers can start the ascent to the summit in the early morning, as early as 2am, with the aim to reach the summit at sunrise. It’s best to do this climb at full moon, but take torches in case it is not bright enough. Between the Saddle Hut and the summit the reduced oxygen of high altitudes cuts climbers’ breath short and the pace is slow. When you reach the summit you can enjoy the first morning light while recovering from the night’s exertions. The views are spectacular, as the orange-red sky fades behind Kilimanjaro and the morning sun rises across the African plains. The descent continues back along the Crater Rim to the Saddle Hut for a picnic stop, and on in the afternoon to reach Miriakamba Hut, for the final night. The next day brings climbers back down to Momella Gate along a trail that wends through open glades where buffalo and bushbuck can be observed in the morning light and there are often fabulous views of the Momela Lakes and Kilimanjaro.

Shorter walks on Mount Meru

For those less energetic or adventurous, or just pushed for time, there is an hour-long walk from the open plain of Kitoto through the forest to Jekukumia river and a short distance on up the mountain to either Meru Crater or Njeku. The forest ends abruptly on the rim of Meru Crater, with views of the sheer cliff face rising 1500m to the ash cone summit.

The walk to Njeku is longer, and leads to an ancient sacrificial site once used by the people of Meru in times of drought. Njeku literally means an old woman who commands great respect, but in its context here it refers to the site of an old juniper tree, which is connected to a spiritual legend about an old woman who had the power to make rain. Continuing further on from Njeku brings you to a viewpoint overlooking a waterfall gushing through a gorge of the Ngare River.

All walks through the park must be arranged with park officials at the gate, and you must take an armed ranger for protection in case of encounters with irritable buffalo.

February 27, 2013

The Northern Circuit – Arusha

Filed under: Arusha — Tags: , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 4:59 pm

Surrounded by some of the most fascinating and varied national parks in Africa, Arusha sits snugly on the foothills of Mount Meru in a wide expanse of high and fertile volcanic land. To the northeast the impressive silhouette of Kilimanjaro looms against the sky, while just a short distance northwest lie the plains of Maasailand, the mountains, rivers and lakes of Ngorongoro, Manyara, Tarangire and the plains of the Serengeti. Arusha even has its own National Park, tucked behind the wide coffee plantations that flank the Moshi Road, which spans a curious landscape of lakes and craters, including a large portion of Mount Meru, and provides a scenic and quiet haven just a few minutes’ drive from the town centre.

Skirted by a rapid haphazard growth of shanty stalls and housing, this old German garrison town in the middle of Maasailand is vibrant, colourful and thriving in its role as the northern centre for commerce and safari operations. Most international tour operators liaise with specialised operators based here for all explorations of the surrounding National Parks. Arusha was once the centre for the East African Community, an alliance between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda; its Conference Centre is now the base for the War Crimes Tribunals being negotiated between Rwanda and Burundi, and remains an important centre for business and commerce in northern Tanzania. The Arusha National Conference Centre houses most major offices, and many tour companies.

As you arrive, whether by air or by road, panoramic views of the surrounding countryside reveal a fertile and well-cultivated land lush with plantations of coffee, maize, beans, and wheat, alongside greenhouses and fields growing fresh flowers for export. This productivity is reflected in Arusha’s markets and on most street corners, where astoundingly large avocados, tomatoes and maize cobs are among the crops offered for sale.

As a result of its prosperity, Arusha is very attractive to settlers, and its population has grown rapidly: from an estimated 5,300 in 1948 and 100,000 in the 1970s – today the population is probably closer to 400,000. There is a group of people still known as the ‘WaArusha’, a term which refers to a small group of people who originated from an area known as Arusha Chini, originally thought to have been a combination of Meru and Chagga tribes. In the trammels of time these people were conquered by the Maasai, and subsequently assimilated many aspects of Maasai dress, language and social structures, but it is said that their accents and physical appearance remain distinct to discerning locals. Today, Arusha inhabitants are a diverse mix of nationalities and backgrounds: Asian, European and African professionals, tour operators, street traders and shanty dwellers are all arrayed in distinct urban sectors radiating from the centre of town.

The town centres around the old German boma and clocktower, close to the AICC and numerous offices of safari operators. Businessmen and loud-mouthed salesmen thread through lines of Maasai women sitting shoulder to shoulder in shop doorways, making traditional coloured bead jewellery. Just a few metres away the small but motley population of homeless people and beggars joins the swirling crowd, and everywhere tourists are assailed by a constant stream of requests to buy batiks or another Swahili–English dictionary. The overall atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, and Arusha offers a cosmopolitan range of restaurants, good shopping and a number of day trips to the singularly impressive and varied landscapes that surround the town.

Arusha – History

The people of Arusha were established as a distinct tribe of pastoralists and farmers long before the colonial powers arrived. Influenced by their Maasai background, they kept a similar social structure, with status related to age, and a central warrior class. They were occasionally called upon to support Rindi, the great Chagga warrior chief, in his battles with other chiefs around Kilimanjaro, and when the first German settlers began involving themselves in these altercations the Arusha were no strangers to fighting.

On 19 October 1896, the German Captain Kurt Johannes approached the Arusha in an attempt to secure diplomatic relations with local chiefs, but the Arusha warriors, unable to forget a German raid of the previous year, attacked and killed two missionaries. Captain Johannes returned to his base in Moshi, and persuaded Rindi to side with the colonials and mobilise Chagga troops to retaliate. The Arusha were easily defeated by the punishing onslaught: their weapons and food reserves were confiscated and their houses were destroyed. They were finally forced to bow to German control.

In 1899 the Germans began construction of a strong fortification, a boma, and the Arusha were forced to build it. Maasai in Arusha today still remember the humiliation of this task: the new colonialists had a penchant for travelling around on the backs of the Arusha and Maasai men, egging them on with whips. One Maasai recorded in his memoirs how an unsurprising resentment at this form of transport grew; he was particularly upset to have an unusually heavy cargo. One day, passing the river with his charge set heavily across his back, his patience snapped and he tossed his ‘master’ into the water. The Maasai realised that the consequences would be severe, and a large number of them ran away into the bush. After a couple of days a Maasai chief was sent to find the mutinous group. He explained that he was acting as a mediator, and that if the group would return to work all would be forgiven. The runaways marched back into the new Arusha town in a column of about 400 men and, and as they strode down Boma Road, the entire troop was gunned down in the street. It is said that the mediator was promptly promoted. The fort was completed in 1900 and became a barracks for 150 Nubian soldiers, later it became the regional Government offices until 1934, when it became the Arusha Museum of Natural History.

A steady influx of traders and farmers into Arusha, notably Indian traders, private German farmers and immigrant Africans, created economic growth. Meanwhile the German administration had conceived an idealistic vision of a vast white settlement of their own construction, and attempted several schemes to import large numbers of settlers from bizarre backgrounds. The first of these plans backfired when the Boer farmers of German origin who had taken up the offers of farmland proved too uncouth for the ideal community; they were mainly squeezed out into Kenya. The grand scheme was revised: now they would import 10,000 German peasants from settlements around the Volga Basin and Caucasus in Southern Russia. The four families who arrived as a test project were painfully disappointed to discover that Arusha did not have four harvests, as they had been led to believe, and soon made their way to Tanga begging to be sent back to Russia.

The first school was constructed 1914, and called Boma School. It is now the site of Arusha Lutheran Church. The railway to Moshi was completed in the 1920s, and this boosted Arusha’s position at the centre of trade and development in Northern Tanzania, at the heart of the coffee growing regions. The population of Arusha continued to grow, and eventually the town earned enough status to earn its place in history as the site of the first president, Julius Nyerere’s most influential political dictates. His 1967 Arusha Declaration delineated his most influential policies for a ‘Model of African Socialism’, a confluence of rules and ideals that would influence the livelihood and outlook of the nation for the next 20 years.

Aruaha – Shopping

Arusha is an excellent town for shopping for art and curios from all over Tanzania. As the central town of the Maasai villages, Arusha is the best place to shop for traditional Maasai beadwork and jewellery. Buy directly from the Maasai women sitting along the pavement, or from numerous curio shops around the town centre. Robin’s Nest and The Deco Shop on Haile Selassie Road both stock a range of gifts and furniture. Craft shops between India Road and the clock tower stock a wide range of Makonde carvings, either imported from the Makonde Plateau in the south, or more frequently made by ambitious Makonde carvers who have moved northwards.

Styles have evolved to match Western demands, so look out for some interesting new pieces as well as traditional abstract and figurative styles. The most varied selection of all of these, in all shapes and sizes, is at the Cultural Heritage Centre a few kilometres west of the town centre, opposite Mserani Snake Park on the Dodoma Road. Their stock is slightly more expensive but the variety and quality makes it worth a visit, and they take credit cards. Batiks are also commonly offered in the streets, but you can usually get a better price from the curio shops, where you will also find a range of curios made from semi-precious stones, such as malachite, tanzanite and green tourmaline and rhodolite. Amethysts and garnets are also found in the curio shops, but not necessarily from the Arusha region.

The four main supermarkets are Kibo and Modern on Sokoine Road, Kijenge on the Moshi Road and Makwani on Swahili Street. The local markets are Soko Kuu at the crossroads of Market Street and Azimio Street, and the new Kilombero on Sokoine Road. For books, try Kase on Boma Road, who have a good selection of local ethnic and educational literature on their well-stocked shelves. New books tend to be expensive throughout Tanzania, but the range and choice, especially of non-fiction, is definitely the best here. Almost directly opposite the bookshop on the other side of the road is a second-hand stall with a good selection of well-thumbed novels.

Arusha – Cultural Tourism Programmes

An excellent new incentive executed with advice from SNV, the Netherlands Development Organization, has been developed to give tourists a chance to look a little deeper into the country that they are visiting, and bring the tourist dollar within reach of local people. These local projects remain mainly low-key, although each has developed at its own pace and all are different. The programmes introduce interested tourists to local people who have been trained as a guide, interpreter and source of information about their area. The programmes aim to fund major local requirements, such as irrigation, education or ecological work, and tourists pay a prearranged fee to these funds. The arrangement gives people the chance to meet, to explore cultural differences and interests, and the tourist experience is often immeasurably enhanced by local introductions and explanations.

Cultural Tourism Programmes near Arusha include those at Mkuru, Longido and Mto wa Mbu. Mkuru and Longido are projects organized with local Maasai tribes, and each requires at least a couple of hours driving from the town centre.

Mkuru is north of Mount Meru, not far beyond the Momela Gate of Arusha National Park. The people are Maasai, but this community shows its individuality in the development of a camel camp, assisted by Heifer Project International. Camels are ideally suited to survival on the semi-arid plains between Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Natron, and there are now about 100 of these long-legged dehydration-resilient beasts in Mkuru. You can arrange a camel-riding safari guided by Maasai warriors, either for just a couple of hours or a number of days, travelling all the way to Lake Natron or Ol Doinyo Lengai. Any trek through this landscape will encounter plenty of wildlife and birds along the way, and the views of Kilimanjaro, Meru and the Longido Mountains provide a stunning backdrop. The Mkuru Maasai will also take you on bird walks, or on a rather more strenuous climb up the pyramid cone of Ol Doinyo Landaree. This last takes about two hours; from the top there are superb views of Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro and the plains between the two.

There are three ‘luxury’ cottages at the camel camp, each with beds for two. There is a tap inside each,

but the toilet is outdoors (and has an excellent view of Kilimanjaro). No food or drink is available at the camp, other than tea or coffee with camel milk, and tour operators (or well-prepared individuals) are encouraged use the kitchen with its energy-saving stoves to prepare food brought in on their own initiative. The project at Mkuru aims to build and run a kindergarten in the village, and will greatly improve local education.

Longido, 100 km north of Arusha on the Nairobi, has an interesting local project in a rural area with still apparent signs of its unusual colonial history. Heavy fighting broke out in this region between the Germans and the British during the First World War. The local stories tell how a single German soldier hid behind a rock, sniping at the English soldiers, until a Maasai warrior was bribed to creep up behind the attacker and spear him. The remains of an ancient graveyard, now mainly sunk into the depths of the bush, once proudly commemorated the German and British who died here. A nearby tree covered with ‘European drawings’ is not as exciting as it sounds: it has been crudely graffitied with the odd initial and some discernible dates, but the walk leads past bush huts used by boys awaiting their cleansing ceremonies, and through a changing and dramatic landscape.

The number of walks around Longido merit a full day trip, but the village can also be visited as a half-day or two-day tour. The cattle market takes place on Wednesdays, attracting colourfully arrayed Maasai from every direction of the landscape. One of the most fascinating people to look out for in Longido is the co-ordinator of the tourism programme Mzee Mollel, a local Maasai who studied sociology in Zambia and Australia. He is a font of information, and a delight to engage in conversation.

Longido provides a fascinating landscape to explore with the insight and knowledge of a local Maasai guide alongside. Unusual wildlife not commonly seen in the National Parks, such as gerenuk, lesser kudu and klipspringer antelopes, are common in the bush and mountains around Longido, as are other animals such as giraffe, zebra and gazelles. Your guide can point out birds, such as masked weavers, barbets and secretary birds, demonstrate the food and medicines the Maasai traditionally take from the bush, and take you to a boma to experience their tribal way of life and eat food prepared by the women’s group. Proceeds from the project are being put towards a new cattle dip to protect the herds against the numerous ailments that kill around 1,000 of their cows each year.

The Maasai guides at Mkuru and Longido are experienced at leading and organizing camel safaris, but their English is limited – although they are proficient in hand signals – so if you plan to stay for any length of time it is advisable to take a translator with you. Most tour operators will be happy to provide a guide to accompany you and arrange all the camping equipment and food that you might need. Before visiting either of these villages ensure that you are adequately prepared, with enough drinking water (three litres a day is recommended if walking in the sun) and food, sun protection, a hat, good walking shoes and thorn-resistant clothes.

At the town of Mto wa Mbu, on the road into Lake Manyara National Park, the local population is made up of an extraordinary spectrum of Tanzanian tribes. This unusual group has been attracted by the fertility of the land here, transformed from an arid and unattractive land for habitation by an extensive irrigation system implemented in the 1950s. As news of this ‘new’ land spread, so people came from all areas and settled here to farm and work the land according to their own experience. Fruits and vegetable seeds have been brought from all over the country, and people of different tribal backgrounds produce food according to their traditional methods. A visit to the tourism project at Mto wa Mbu can introduce you to local Chagga farmers who brew their own banana beer, and a farmer from Kigoma, Mzee Filipo, who makes palm oil from palm trees. Alternatively you might head to a waterfall 5km north of town, and see the papyrus lake where local Rangi people collect papyrus for mats and baskets, and the Sandawe families make their bows and arrows for hunting. There are a number of places to buy provisions in Mto wa Mbu, and a couple of basic guest houses for accommodation.

Further afield, programmes have been organized in the North and Southern Pare Mountains, and in the Usambara mountains. These are referred to in relevant chapters. More information about all of these, and perhaps more, is available from the TTB Information Centre, Boma Road, Arusha, Tel: 057 50 3302/ 3842/3.

The Northern Circuit

Filed under: The Northern Circuit — Tags: , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 4:56 pm

Tanzania’s Northern Circuit is renowned for offering some of the finest game viewing in all Africa. Its natural abundance of wildlife, along with the annual migration of millions of animals across these northern reaches, make up a flourishing eco-system that is now benefiting from hard-fought conservation measures. Many hundreds of hectares of these superb rolling landscapes have been preserved in their natural state due to the inward-looking politics of an impoverished country that never had the funds for development or impetus to increase tourism. As little as twenty years ago, wide tracts of land were inhabited only by rural nomadic tribes.

Most safaris and many mountain-climbing expeditions in Northern Tanzania begin and end in Arusha. Tour operators generally assemble all equipment here before departure, and many people spend at least one night in the richly foliaged and fertile hillsides around the town or in more upbeat Arusha itself before taking to the road.

The safari experience starts here…The westward road from Arusha towards Manyara, Tarangire, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti runs across the wide, open plains of Maasailand. It is straight and clear, with views across the plains to an arc of craggy mountains that make up a part of the Great Rift Valley escarpment on the horizon. This is the land of the Maasai tribe, a wild and mainly uncultivated stretch across which they roam and graze their cattle. Often the unaccustomed eye can make out nothing but wilderness in each direction, a greenish sea under the shimmering sun. Then, in the distance a dart of red picks out a lone Maasai walking from one far region to another, often on a journey of a day or more. The Maasai people have generally aspired to remain true to the traditions of their tribal lifestyle, and fought to resist the encroaching changes from the modern world. But on this route to the Northern Parks it is common to see Maasai who have made one proud concession to modernity and who now make the journey along the tarmac way on a shiny Chinese frame bicycle. Yet they wear their traditional dress of red shuka robes, and pedal armed with a well-honed stick to ward off snakes.

All driving safaris from Arusha require a minimum two-hour drive to the nearest park gate. This always takes a route through the centre of Arusha, past the Cultural Heritage Centre and Snake Park on the outskirts of town and on into the magnificent spread of countryside beyond.

The Northern Tanzania Circuit – When to go

The long rains in April and May provide the perfect excuse for the smaller tented camps and lodges to pack up and close for two months, but the Serena, Sopa and Wildlife Lodges stay open year-round, and provide a rare opportunity for safaris during the ‘green season’. June is a wonderful month to visit, and not yet peak season so it’s sometimes possible to still get the lower green-season rates. By travelling so early in the season you risk encountering the odd shower, the roads are invariably in a pretty dire condition and the lodges tend to struggle to get going again as they deal with the inevitable repairs, especially the permanent tented camps. But the land is rejuvenated after the rains, and the greenery and abundance bring widespread contentment. The land around the fertile reaches of the Rift Valley is especially beautiful. June is a good time for bird watching and offers a profusion of butterflies, but it is a little harder to spot animals, as the abundance of standing water means they disperse, and disappear into the high grasses of the plains.

Between August and early November it gets progressively hotter and dryer, although the humidity is pleasantly low and temperatures tend to drop a few degrees in the evenings. As the dry season draws on, more and more wildlife congregates around the diminishing watering holes, conveniently for hungry lions and snap-happy tourists. The short rains should come in mid-November, generally bringing showers for an hour or two each day, or at night. Clouds do not gather for long, and the sun regains its position of supremacy soon after.

December is very hot, making Christmas holidays popular, and it remains pleasant through the New Year. Between January and March it gets progressively more humid, gradually building up to the long rains in April and May. Visitors to the Serengeti between December and July should have a chance to catch up with the migrating herds of wildebeest in certain areas of the Serengeti, listed below in the Serengeti chapter

The Northern Tanzania Circuit – History

The land covered by all the conservation areas in northern Tanzania is characterised by geographical extremes. Here are Africa’s highest mountains, alkaline lakes and hot mineral springs, all shaped by volcanic action, and making up an extraordinary landscape. This is the result of its precarious position, poised over the meeting point of huge tectonic plates beneath the earth’s crust, in the realm of the Great Rift Valley.

The Great Rift, approximately 6,400m long, 50km wide, and varying between a hundred and a thousand metres deep, has created a vast and tempestuous fertile spread, without which this large expanse of East Africa might be as arid as the wide Sahara. Now the landscape is dramatically undulating, thrown upwards in rifts, faults and craters of dramatic volcanoes that have covered the land in rich minerals, making it green and prolific and creating lakes, rivers and clouds. The most famous of these wild northern plains is the Serengeti, formed of layers of ash blown out by volcanic eruptions from Ngorongoro and the three cones that make up Kilimanjaro. Its name comes from the Maa phrase ‘Siringet’, meaning ‘endless plains’, as the Maasai people who once made their lives on its wide expanse called this region when they emigrated here 200 years ago.

The first European to glimpse these plains was probably the German Explorer Beaumann in 1892, but the Serengeti first captured the imagination of the world in the 1920s, when reports of the unusually large number of lion here began to circulate among the interested echelons of society, especially those with a gun and a taste for the hunt. It was soon deemed necessary to make the endless plains a game reserve in 1950, and then a fully protected National Park in 1951. Later, in the 1960s, the work of Professor Bernhard Grzimek, then president of the Frankfurt Zoological Society and author of the book Serengeti Shall Not Die, (published in 1959), highlighted the importance of protecting the land required by millions of wildebeest, zebra and antelope in their annual migration across hundreds of miles of seasonal fertile plains. Professor Grzimek and his son Michael believed in preserving the region as close to a ‘primordial wilderness’ as possible, and that no men, not even native tribes, should live inside the nature reserves. As a result of their efforts and subsequent studies into the annual path of the migration in Northern Tanzania, the boundaries of the Serengeti were extended and altered and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area emerged as a separate entity. Many resident Maasai on the plains were moved to other regions, and debate continues as to the fairest future for those who were effectively displaced from the land. Today the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is made up of a vast mosaic of adjoining Game Reserves and National Parks crossing the border between Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya and covering over 9,600 square miles of grassland and forest.

The immense size of the Serengeti National Park alone, which at 5,600 square miles exceeds the size of Belgium, Ohio or Wales, ensures each vehicle at least one blissful moment of apparent absolute isolation in a wilderness that seems to be made up of the very stuff of original creation.

The neighbouring Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a markedly different environment, visibly shaped by volcanoes and the tectonic plate action of the Great Rift. The land is pockmarked with giant craters, the most famous of which, the Ngorongoro Crater, has attracted an unusually rich variety of resident and migratory East African wildlife. Nowadays these highlands are also home to a large population of the Maasai tribe, many of whom have been displaced from the surrounding National Parks. The NCA aims to help preserve their traditional tribal lifestyle while also conserving the environment for wildlife and serving the growing tourist market.

A large tract of land at Tarangire, and subsequently a swathe between the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Manyara, became National Parks during the 1970s. These smaller National Parks in the north are also worth exploring. Lake Manyara National Park is an easy and enjoyable two-hour drive from Ngorongoro, and a completely contrasting environment. Lush green forests, palm trees and clouds of butterflies surround visitors at the gate, and tempt you into the magical maze of driving routes through the woodlands and glades that lie between the sheer escarpment of the Great Rift Valley and the shining soda lake waters of Lake Manyara. Manyara National Park is a haven for birdwatchers, like its neighbour on the southern side of the plains of Maasailand, Tarangire National Park. Tarangire has a more open, hilly landscape studded with ancient baobab trees, and stretches along either side of the Tarangire River, with superb views along the length of the valley. This is the central water source for all resident and passing wildlife, and during the dry season the park holds a high concentration of wildlife, at this time second only to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.

These northern parks support a vast ecosystem as herds of wildlife travel according to the season across the boundaries of each park and between the borders of Kenya and Tanzania. The Northern Circuit has evolved into a sequence of conservation and game-controlled areas directly related to the natural distribution of wildlife in these areas, which specifically include the land required by migrating animals in the course of the year. Each of these parks and conservation areas that protect and conserve local wildlife relies on the mutual preservation and protection of the outlying areas. Thus the Northern Circuit is far more than simply a pleasure park devised for tourists.

Widespread international interest in the unusual balance of such a wide-ranging ecosystem has meant that the Northern Circuit has benefited from extensive research and foreign investment, its infrastructure and experience with tourism and conservation far ahead of the rest of the country. It is said that since 1966 the Serengeti ecosystem has been one of the most studied areas in the world.

The northern parks are way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to conservation issues, and set precedents for other parks to follow or avoid. Poaching continues to be a real problem for all conservation areas, especially given the serious and widespread rural poverty. Villages on the outskirts of parks and game reserves tend to rely on wild animals for food, and kill without remorse when crops or livestock are threatened or destroyed by ranging wild creatures. Animals such as antelope, buffalo and zebra are sold from the hunting reserves at far lower prices than farmed meat, but free will always prevail over cheap when life is so hard won. Tanzania National Parks Association (TANAPA) and a number of foreign investors – see details in Conservation, p xxx – have worked to combat this situation by means of education and improving living standards in outlying villages, but have been defeated and demoralised by an unforeseen but predictable response to their attempts. Once they have built schools and encouraged new business in outlying villages, the news spreads quickly, and the local population fast increases as outsiders move in to share the benefits. Problems of demand outstripping supply arise once more, and this most hard to manage small-time poaching begins again.

The Northern Tanzania Circuit – Around Lake Manyara

Before reaching the National Park you pass through a colourful and rapidly growing small town called Mto Wa Mbo, which translates enticingly as ‘River of the Mosquito’. Here is the Milton Keynes of the Northern Circuit; a new town that has developed since the irrigation of this previously dry and barren stretch of land during the 1950s. The project has successfully transformed hundreds of acres of land into profitable ground for farming, and attracted newcomers from all over the country. Nowhere else in Tanzania have so many different tribes gathered together in such a small area, and with each practising traditional methods of production there is a fascinating spread of activity. Chagga people from Kilimanjaro make banana beer, a farmer from Kigoma produces palm oil, the Rangi people make baskets and mats from papyrus, while those of the Sandawe make bows and arrows to hunt and the Maasai herd their cattle across the surrounding plains. There are a number of low budget hostels and campsites here, and several bars and dukas for last minute provisions. an evening meal and picnic lunch [(find out what they are called!)]

A Cultural Tourism Programme has been developed at Mto wa Mbu, with advice from the Netherlands Development Organisation SNV

Manyara National Park is approximately three hours’ drive from Arusha through Maasailand, following the direction of Tarangire for most of the way until the crossroads. This final right-hand stretch of the road to Manyara has had a troubled life as a result of harsh rains and potholes, and can be a long and bumpy ride. At the time of writing there is a concerted effort to fix the road.

The children along this route have grown accustomed to the passing tourist trade. Many are trying to raise money for their schooling, and often ask for pens. The problem with giving money to children who run into the road is that it encourages them to do so, and can be the cause of accidents – especially as the road improves and the traffic speed increases.

The Maasai people throughout this region are impressive looking, and their photogenic harmony with their surroundings can be very inspiring to aspiring photographers. But after decades of white-faced tourists rudely sticking cameras at these strangers and snatching their image with no word of thanks, many Maasai – especially those living close to the parks – will be reluctant to let you photograph them without paying them a small fee for the privilege.

February 26, 2013

The Northern Circuit – Ngorongoro Conservation Area

On the western edge of the Great Rift Valley, halfway between the grand expanse of Lake Victoria and the reaches of Mount Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Conservation Area covers 8,300 square kilometres of geologically bizarre landscape. It is largely made up of a range of volcanic peaks called the Crater Highlands which encompass a variety of different habitats, from Olduvai Gorge, where Professor Leakey excavated evidence of human existence that pre-dates all other (see p.xxx), to Ngorongoro Crater, famous for its ‘microcosm of East African wildlife’ (see below). The Ngorongoro Highland Conservation Area provides the Maasai tribe with an area where they can maintain their pastoral lifestyle in a semblance of traditional style if they wish; it is unique for its concentration of natural wildlife, and its geological and archaeological phenomena.

The route into the highlands climbs steeply through a rich growth of spectral moss-draped trees, rising out of the mists that often hang around them. The land is high and green at the topmost altitude, and summons a daily blanket of cloud to smother its wide expanse on most mornings. These rolling highlands sweep towards the sky, their furthest reaches revealing a richness of life that forms a hazy pattern through the distances. The hillsides are speckled with zebra, the grass marked with dark circles of spots which are the round Maasai ‘bomas’ or family homesteads. Here and there the distinctive red of the Maasai shuka cloths might catch your eye beside a herd of tawny cattle. It is always a place of unusual beauty, especially after the long rains when the two-tone green grasses ripple in the wind and the cattle are fat.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area – History

The strange landscape of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has a history that extends beyond the reaches of knowledge into prehistoric time. It begins over three and a half million years ago, when Ngorongoro was a vast volcano, probably greater than Kilimanjaro. Its intensely violent eruptions over the years blew the top inwards and filled the cone with ash, leaving the formation standing today as the largest unbroken volcanic caldera in the world. The ash preserved an extraordinary catalogue of prehistoric human life in distinct layers at nearby Olduvai Gorge, where Professor Leakey was to discover the earliest known traces of hominoid man, a sequence of perfectly preserved footprints.

The southwest boundary of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area borders Lake Eyasi, near Olduvai Gorge, in the area where the Hadzabe people live. The Hadzabe are thought to be the last remaining enclave of the most ancient Tanzanian cultures – their language is similar to the click-language used by southern African bushmen, and they continue to follow a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle across the savannah around Lake Eyasi. Yet it is becoming increasingly hard for these people to cling to the traditions and instincts of their ancestral traditions, as the increasing population of neighbouring tribes and the extended boundaries of the National Parks have decreased their hunting grounds and depleted their water sources.

Ancient remains of cattle bones, hammered stone bowls and tools found on the crater floor suggest that a later culture of pastoralists lived in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater up to 10,000 years ago. They may have been responsible for digging wells and channels into the water courses on the highland plains, and left large circles of stones on the leeward side of plains, which were probably used to pen their cattle. It is thought that the Iraqw people also settled in Ngorongoro when they discovered the area around 2,000 years ago. Their Cushitic language indicates distant origins in Ethiopia, and their lifestyle originally combined pastoralism and cultivation. Their traditional use of advanced irrigation methods suggests that they may have originally been responsible for the unusual remains of very early irrigation at Engakura. The Iraqw have since moved up onto the high Rift Valley plateau to farm the fertile reaches between Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Highlands, where their skill in cultivation is plainly evident over wonderfully fertile hillsides richly patterned with crops.

The Iraqw were followed in to Ngorongoro in around 1700 by the Datoga people, including the most warrior-like group known as the Barbaig, all Nilo-hamitic speaking pastoralists with similar traditional structures to their successors, the Maasai, who arrived in Ngorongoro in the early 1800s. At this time the Maasai were organised almost exclusively but war, and their fierceness was well known to the 19th-century explorers and caravan trains who were frequently thwarted by the hostile Maasai tribes in the southern reaches of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. The Barbaig had taken control of the craters and Highlands by the sheer force of their warrior class, but when the Maasai invaded them in turn, the battle between the two tribes was closely matched and hard fought. Although the Maasai emerged the victors and forced their fellow cattle herders back into the regions around Lake Eyasi and mountains west of Tarangire, both tribes remember the wars here with reverence and respect. The Maasai refer to the Barbaig as ‘Mang’ati’, meaning ‘respected enemy’, and Barbaig elders still make pilgrimages to honour the graves of their ancestors in Lerai forest on the crater floor.

The first Europeans settled in the crater a century ago under the rule of Deutsch Ost-Afrika, at the time of German colonisation. Some settled on the cool highland slopes, but two brothers divided the crater floor between them and each built a farm, cultivated crops and attempted to keep a herd of cows, despite the Maasai continually reclaiming them. Legend tells how the brothers were so distraught at losing their cattle to warriors and lions that they turned to a colonial hunter, appropriately blessed with the surname Hunter, and paid him to rid their crater home of pesky predators. Hunter did a masterful job of depleting the lion prides, so much so that when one of the brothers died in unfortunate circumstances, the other offered Hunter his brother’s half of the crater for a guinea. Hunter was taken with the offer, but was soon called away to Mombassa, and never returned. The remains of both farms can still be seen—one is a set of ruins to the north of the Munge stream, and a part of the other is now used as the Ranger post beneath the wildlife lodge.

The NCA was the base for the research carried out by Professor Bernard Grzimek and his son Michael that highlighted the need for immediate action to preserve the wildlife here. Michael died in an aeroplane crash in this area, and he and the work he did to safeguard this place of natural beauty are remembered on a memorial plaque on the Ngorongoro Crater rim, inscribed with the words, ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.’

Today the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority manages the Crater and a vast swathe of the surrounding highlands. This is a fascinating model for native community and conservation projects and an important experiment in multiple land use. It aims to strike a balance between protecting the wildlife, safeguarding the interests of the resident Maasai tribe and providing for the needs of tourists, in order to create an environment in which all can enjoy as natural an experience as possible.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area – The Maasai

Of the 129 recognised tribes in Tanzania, the distinctive features and reputation of the Maasai tribe are perhaps the most familiar to tourists, especially those visiting the Northern Parks and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and surrounding regions such as the Maasai Steppe. The Maasai people have lived and grazed their cattle on this land and the present Serengeti, Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks for over 200 years. Now they continue to uphold the principles of their tribal lifestyle and dress in the face of the modern world, although it impinges ever more on their pastureland and on the traditional beliefs and practices that are the essence of their existence, and increasingly restricts their freedom on the land. With the combined force of the colonial and post-independence governments, they have become considerably more peaceable over the last century, and no longer inspire the overwhelming terror, raiding for cattle and wives, of which their ancestors were once so proud.

The Maasai are pastoral nomads, thought to have emigrated to north Tanzania by following the course of the Nile southwards from southern Sudan. History tells that the tribe originally aimed for South Africa, but were thwarted by sickness and combat with the WaHehe at Dodoma. Now the most southerly Maasai families are settled across northern Tanzania and extend back north into Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Their nomadic path has been curtailed, and their original dream realised in a very different land.

The tribe is organized into a rigid age and class system that intends all boys to become warriors, developed a fearsome reputation as they pressed forward. Traditionally they survive on a strict diet of just the blood, milk and meat of their cattle and increase their numbers by encouraging polygamous marriages. They came into endless conflicts with neighbouring tribes, who they attacked to steal their women and cattle: the most problematic traditional belief held by the Maasai is that which tells, ‘First God created the Maasai, after which he created cattle to keep him alive, thereby making all the cattle of the world his by Divine Right.’ Their skills at rustling have caused generations of strife with their neighbours, and most of their neighbouring tribes in Tanzania, including the Datoga, Hadzabe, Chagga, Pare, Shambaa and Sandawe, have at some time in their history come into conflict with the Maasai. Many of these resorted to extreme measures such as digging caves and building fortresses to protect themselves, although these days the heavy hand of colonial and Tanzanian law has effectively curbed the Maasai’s more antisocial practices and a certain degree of peace has evolved between these neighbours.

The Maasai remain very distinctive, but have had to make concessions. The preservation of their livelihood is a topical issue, especially since they have been moved out of National Parks such as the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Tarangire and Arusha. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area has made special allowances for their cyclical nomadic lifestyle to which the fertile grazing pasture and permanent water at the Ngorongoro crater floor are crucial. These same regions are most attractive to wildlife, and only the Maasai may bring cattle here to graze. The Maasai have been allowed to remain in the Conservation Area because their lifestyle has traditionally been compatible with the wildlife and the land. They would never kill a wild animal for food, adhering to their cattle-based diet. A Maasai who kills a lion, however, is feted for his bravery, and will be given cattle and even wives. The Maasai claim that the Ngorongoro lions are afraid of them, and the traditional songs that boys sing to girls during dancing ceremonies include such boasts as ‘I am strong/I killed a lion/I stole a cow/and ate it all!’

The Maasai tribe, though allowed to live in most regions of the Ngorongoro Highlands, may not settle inside the Ngorongoro Crater, though they may venture there on foot to graze and water their cattle. The very cold highlands of the Ngorongoro are not entirely suited to the Maasai clothing and life, but there is water and pasture all year round, and the population has increased dramatically from around eight families during the 1970s to a number of extended villages and family ‘bomas’ today housing hundreds of people. Their distinctive red cloth, called shuka, is rubbed with natural dye to create its striking colour, and with fat to make it waterproof and warm, helping the Ngorongoro Maasai to withstand severe changes of temperature.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area – Traditional Tribal Structures

Maasai tribal life is strictly structured into age groups. Each is assigned responsibilities designed to ensure the well-being of the tribe, reflecting traditional concerns such as inter-tribe rivalry and increasing the cattle herd. All boys are expected to spend their early years looking after the cattle in open pasture. Between the ages of 7 and 16 they move gradually further afield in the search for water, often accompanied by warriors from the next age group who protect the band from other tribes and natural dangers and teach the younger boys the ways of war and bush survival. The early years are the time to practise with slingshots, spears and arrows, and to learn from the elders who occasionally accompany the group to teach them about natural medicines and tell stories. Boys must be circumcised before they become warriors; this is carried out as a major ceremony every seven years or so to include all boys in the age group, usually aged between 11 and 17.

Boys preparing for their cleansing ceremony that follows circumcision are called Sikoliyo. They are sent into the bush, usually for around three months before the ceremony, during which they paint their faces with white dyes, live in wood shelters and catch their own food. Often they decorate their heads and bodies with ostrich and guinea-fowl feathers from birds they have caught themselves. Their pre-ceremony preparations frequently include a session of eating extensive amounts of beef, blood and milk with the help of a concoction of boiled acacia bark and other ingredients called kiloriti, which enables the digestive system to assimilate inordinate amounts of meat. This is also used at times when men need to be strong, or to overcome illness; it is said that after a session of kiloriti one man is able to eat an entire cow.

It may take from three months to a year before the boys are officially proclaimed as Murran, part of the warrior class. They grow their hair longer, decorate their heads with ornaments and paint their faces with ochre, and take on a spear and the responsibilities of their new age group. Each remains a moran warrior for about 10 years, until ‘middle age’ brings the ceremony that takes them from warrior to mature and respected elder with the ceremony of ‘stick and tail’. At this time each man’s mother shaves her son’s head, and for the first time he is allowed to drink alcohol, specially prepared for the celebration from a mixture of fermented aloe roots and honey. From this time on he becomes part of the collective government of the camp, deciding issues from crime and punishment to interaction with the outside world, advising the children and telling history and stories.

Maasai women, distinguished by their layers of ornate beadwork necklaces, long earrings and head-dresses, do not have such a varied or exciting life plan. They tend to marry very young, and are often promised to a future husband before they are old enough to have any views on their future, sometimes before they are born. Their responsibilities are then so numerous as to leave little time for any activity beyond the call of duty. Maasai women must collect all the food, feed all the children, count the cattle in at night, be responsible for the well-being and milking of cows, collect firewood, build fires and cook. They even build the family huts, covering a shell of sticks with cowdung and patting it smooth. Unsurprisingly, their life span is less than half that expectated for western women.

The huts usually have a curving passage to get into the central chamber, where the fire is a central feature. One small hole acts as a chimney, and the house becomes a warm, dark, smoky warren, divided into two to allow young cows to live and sleep alongside the family for warmth and safety. Each family’s accommodation is arranged into a circle of huts, called the boma. The arrangement of these shows the number and order of wives in the family, with the first wife on the right hand of the man, the second on the left, the third on the other side of the first, the fourth to the left of the second, and so on. The husband tends to move in with the youngest wife and pay regular visits to the others. The tribe has historically held polygamous marriages as the ideal, and so kept the tribe populous when the warrior class frequently suffered heavy losses and the survival rate of children was low. But the speed of their population increase in conjunction with diminishing free land has forced the Maasai to re-evaluate their traditional lifestyle. Many Maasai families are beginning to imitate other tribes, turning to cultivation, keeping fewer cows and expanding their diet. Yet very often Maasai remain fiercely true to their cultural roots, spending many years in successful higher education, then returning to the tribe and re-adopting their cultural ways. A number of those who have remained in society have had extremely bright and successful careers, with several rising to parliament. In particular, the Prime Minister Edward Sokoine, second to Nyerere and billed to take over after him, was of Maasai origin. He suffered a fatal car accident on the road between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro at the height of his career. He is remembered in almost every Tanzanian town and city, where there is invariably a street named in his honour, and the University at Morogoro is named after him.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area – Ngorongoro Crater

The famous Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest intact caldera, is in an exceptional geographical position, forming a spectacular bowl of about 265km2 with sides up to 600m deep. This is the stalking ground of around 20,000 to 30,000 wild animals at any one time, the most densely packed concentration of wildlife in Africa. The Crater floor’s environments include grassland, swamps, lerai forest (small patches of forest made up of yellow-barked acacia or ‘yellow fever tree’), and Lake Makat, a central soda lake filled by the Munge river. These habitats attract all kinds of wildlife to drink, wallow, graze or hide, and although the animals are free to move in and out of this contained environment, the rich volcanic soil, lush forests and spring-fed lakes on the crater floor incline both grazers and predators to remain. The crater thus holds an astonishing microcosm of East African wildlife within its boundaries. As such, it has achieved renown as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, and attracts a growing number of visitors: even if time is limited this natural but accessibly small caldera ensures a rewarding safari. Ngorongoro Crater is one of the areas in Tanzania where you are most likely to see the endangered Black Rhino: a small population is thriving in this idyllic and protected environment—one of the very few areas where they continue to breed in the wild.

However, the popularity of the Crater is creating problems that need to be addressed, as the number of vehicles allowed to cruise its overused paths at any one time continues to increase, and visitors are finding their experience marred by crowding during peak season. It is a shame, because the location has much more to offer: many tourists who come to enjoy a wildlife safari in the Crater overlook the possibilities for walking and exploring in the stunning highlands and smaller craters also included in the conservation area.

When viewed from above the Crater looks vast, with herds of buffalo or elephant reduced to the size of ants. It is an amazing feeling to gaze down from any of the lookouts or strategically placed lodges and campsites on the crater rim and see the complex and numerous lives going on 2,400 ft below. The sensation is one of elemental elevation, a godly perspective that warps all sense of size. But a cunning reverse-Tardis effect takes place as you enter: the famous crater feels surprisingly small once inside, and one day is quite sufficient to drive around. Its size means that you are likely to encounter many other vehicles, and the strict opening hours of the descent road, 7am–4pm, can give the safari experience in the crater a somewhat constricted feel.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area – Around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Beautiful forests and a deep lake can be found at the less visited Empakaai Crater. Although at only 6km across it is much smaller than Ngorongoro, it is worth a visit for the scenery alone. To get there is a hard slog, perhaps 4–5 hours’ drive each way on a rough and rugged track. Accompanied by an armed ranger (to ward off potentially surprised and angry buffalo) you can take a couple of hours’ or half-day walk into the crater, which is densely forested and inhabited only by buffalo and the odd Masaai, although the latter tend to stay around the top. The rim offers excellent views of Oldonyo Lengai, the Great Rift Valley and Lake Natron from the northern and eastern side, and distant peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro on a clear day, though it can often be very misty and cloudy.

Just beyond the NCA boundaries, Oldonyo Lengai is an impressive volcanic crater cone, now the only remaining active volcano in this region. Its continuous grumblings, bubbling and steaming earned it its Masaai name; ‘mountain of the gods’, and the strange dark peak is held in great regard in all Maasai legends and traditions. Many Maasai have climbed its slopes accompanied by a village elder to make sacrifices or prayers – women seeking to be blessed with children, boys seeking to learn the wisdom of men. Dust and ash from its eruptions, blown north-west, created the fertile Serengeti Plains, with the help of its now dormant neighbours. It is possible for visitors to arrange to climb its steep and sulphurous sides to peer into the tumultuous crater, but many are content with a more distant view. Views of this legendary pyramid mountain are particularly good from the rim of Empakaai, and from the surrounding peaks of Makarot (also called Lemagrut), which are only accessible on a walking trip.

To the east side of Empakaai crater, just beyond the boundaries of the NCA, lies an important archaeological site, although its history is still shrouded in doubt and mystery. This is the ruined ‘city’ of Engakura, a highly advanced web of ancient stone dwellings based on a complex irrigation system. At close quarters it is hard for anyone but the most curious archaeologist to gain much from the stone rubble that remains, but aerial photographs reveal an intricate network of lines that show a distinct picture of a developed civilization. The question remains as to who was responsible for building Engakura, which dates from around 500 years ago. Elders of the Iraqw tribe claim that they inhabited that area before ‘marauding warriors’ forced them to move on. But although the Iraqw practised cultivation they have no history of irrigation or building in stone. Others believe that Engakura might have been the work of a Bantu people called the Sonjo who now inhabit an area further north and west of Lake Natron and have traditions of irrigation, though they do not build in stone either. Engakura is a long drive from the Ngorongoro Crater, and only worth including on an itinerary if you have a special interest in the area and are prepared to camp overnight in the northern reaches of the Conservation Area.

Another fine spot off the beaten track for walking and scenery is Olmoti Crater, west of the track between Empakaai and Ngorongoro craters, where the spring source of the Munge river breaks through a notch in the crater rim to create a fine waterfall. If you call at the ranger post at Nainokanoka and negotiate to take an armed ranger with you, you can walk through the forest up to top of the fall, although if you are with a responsible tour operator this may not be necessary.

To the western side of Ngorongoro crater is the site of Professor and Mary Leakey’s discoveries, hominoid footprints dated from around 3,600,000 years ago, which can be seen in their original form at the conservation area at Laetoli, or otherwise at the Olduvai Gorge Museum. Olduvai Gorge is named after Oldupai, the Masaai word for the wild sisal plant that grows ferociously in this area. IT is said that German interpreters misinterpreted the name, and it is now commonly pronounced and spelled Olduvai. Four different hominoids were discovered in the rock strata of the river canyon, showing gradual stages of development over 2,000 years. The Olduvai museum charts the findings and gives some background information. It can be visited as a detour while travelling between Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.

To the north of Olduvai Gorge is a curious black sand dune called the Shifting Sands, in reference to its steady progress across the plains. It moves about 17m a year, retaining its pure windblown form, a small black heap of volcanic ash. It is a slow and bumpy drive from Oldupai, followed by a long and slow drive back to the main road. The views are lovely, but it might mean sacrificing precious hours in the Serengeti.

The Northern Circuit – Lake Manyara National Park

Filed under: Lake Manyara National Park — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:03 pm

Lake Manyara National Park

Manyara is a small but scenic park, excellent for birdwatching, a good area to find elephant, which offers the chance to spot a legendary Lake Manyara tree-climbing lion. Manyara is often visited for half a day at the start or end of a safari, as it lies on route to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.

On reaching the National Park you first encounter a small museum, or rather a room packed with an ageing and dusty collection of badly stuffed birds and animals. It is probably a better idea to continue into the park and take a chance with whatever might come your way in its full bodied and living form. The park is often awash with butterflies, particularly just after the long rains, at the end of May and through June. Manyara is a good soft introduction to the safari experience, a pretty park through which a mainly forested driving route wends its way between the banks of the soda-water Lake Manyara and the impressive rise of the Great Rift escarpment. Elephant, giraffe, buffalo and wildebeest can be found grazing in unexpected clearings or heading towards the water to drink or wash, and the rivers and riverbeds provide scenic vistas for animal-spotting. Warthogs seem to thrive here, growing fat and tuskered, and it is a natural playground for baboons and monkeys. The legendary tree-climbing lion of Lake Manyara, although notoriously rarely seen, have inspired extensive theorising about the wonders of evolution. It has been suggested that they may have developed their scrambling skill to escape the tsetse flies that bite below, or to get a better view of prey amid the denser thicket. Lions have also reportedly been seen up trees in Tarangire Park and the Serengeti, although these are even more rarely spotted than those in Lake Manyara, where the low branches of the numerous spreading acacia provide a fine frame for apprentice climbers.

February 25, 2013

The Northern Circuit – The Lobo area

Filed under: The Lobo area — Tags: , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:20 pm

Northern Serengeti – Lobo

The landscape changes as you head north from Seronera. Beyond the Orangi River the land opens out into wide open Togoro plains, clear and sunbaked and seemingly perfect cheetah terrain, although they are rarely spotted here. The route continues like this for about three hours, until you reach the hills and huge worn-smooth rock kopjies of the Lobo area, haunt of at least two extended lion prides. Further north is the Mara River, which marks the border between the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Although a passable road leads across, the border crossing is closed to tourists.

This northern region of the Serengeti is bordered by the Loliondo Game Controlled Area, which extends southwards to meet the northern boundary of the Ngorongoro Conservation area. The landscape in this region is stunning, and barely visited by tourists. Those who do travel the distance are richly rewarded, whether they chose to fly in with Conservation Corporation to enjoy the finery of Kleins Camp, or whether their taste for adventure has led them on a walking and camping expedition with Hoopoe Adventure tours. Hoopoe have developed a Community Conservation Project at Loliondo that was ‘Highly Commended’ by the British Guild of Travel Writers for their ‘Silver Otter’ global award for eco-tourism in the year 2000. Here, in return for their extensive co-operational support of the Maasai village of Oloipiri, Hoopoe clients enjoy an exclusive camping concession and opportunities to meet and walk with local tribespeople. Being just beyond the park boundaries, guests are free to enjoy night drives and walking safaris of any duration, and combine their wildlife viewing with village and town visits. The village has developed clean water supplies, medical and educational facilities in return. This region is distinguished by the huge coloured granite rock formations that surround the camp, and the extended views across rolling grasslands and wooded hills and water courses are fantastic.

Older Posts »
Odyssey Travels Tanzania Odyssey Asia Odyssey South America Odyssey