5 Years Ago: Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

The morning of November 10, we drove away from the Maramboi Camp on towards Lake Manyara National Park. The drive passed through a small town, and there was much activity along the road. People at work, moving produce for sale. A bicycle loaded with a hundred pounds of bananas. A gas station with a thousand bottles of propane stacked out front. An Airtel shop that also sold bikes, and had several dozen pairs of shoes hanging across the storefront, tied by strings to the roof. Signs for Coca Cola and Pepsi on every other building. American corporations’ penetration into every market of the world is incredible.

Google Maps tells me the town was called Mto wa Mbu, and Wikipedia says the name means ” The river of mosquitoes ” in Swahili, a town of around 11,500 people. I do not recall being bitten once.

We were held up briefly by a detour around an absolutely massive tree that had fallen across the road. A crew was working on chopping it up, but it was a long way from being cleared.

  • Driving to Lake Manyara
  • Custom Tuk Tuk
  • Bicycles and Shoes For Sale
  • Mto wa Mbu Street Scene
  • Banana Loaded Bicycle
  • Roadblock
  • Large Fallen Tree Roadblock

We passed through the gates of Manyara National Park into a new environment. Most of our travels up to this point had been across open plains, or through areas of trees that were dried up and without much greenery. Manyara had a thick green canopy, such that there were places where we were in the dark, even though the sun was high at mid-day.

It was wet, with numerous small creeks and streams that we drove across. The heavy greenery made it more difficult to spot and photograph the wildlife we came across, dozens of different bird species and a variety of primates. We encountered a family of baboons sitting near the road, with adult females grooming their babies, picking bugs out of their coats. A single big male stalked around ensuring sure nobody made trouble.

We came out of the forest onto the wide plain of lake Manyara, essentially across the lake from where we were the previous day. A single elephant was the points scoring sighting, while zebra and wildebeest were numerous. The wildebeest of lake Manyara were colored differently from all the others we saw in Africa. Mayara gnu were a light tawny tan color, really distinctly different from those in Botswana, South Africa, or later on the Serengeti. A dark brown shade towards blue-black was the more common coloration. There is so much to see and learn out there.

We also met for the first time, the rock hyrax. These small mammals immediately remind me of the marmot, familiar to anyone that has spent time in the high Rocky Mountains of America. The hyrax is much smaller though, more prairie dog in size, and as sociable, living in groups of up to 80 animals. The most remarkable data point though, is that their closest relative is the elephant, which is a connection they share with the manatee… the detailed taxonomy is beyond my comprehension.

Rock Hyrax
A family of rock hyrax watching us watch them.

Rick drove us out of Manyara as a huge storm was rolling across the horizon, and sheets of rain fell in the distance. November is the start of the rainy season, and though we had skirted some storms so far, this was the closest we came to getting wet.We rolled into the Ngorongoro Farm House in the early afternoon, so we had some time to relax and explore the extensive gardens. The next morning, November 11, we would depart early towards the caldera. It was a place that I don’t think had ever been on my radar, as far as potential destinations go. But it will always be near the top now, of places I’ve been lucky enough to encounter.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, next up in the 5 year look back…

(Click any image for larger versions and captions…)

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