My first safari! While waiting for my friend Kay to finish her descent from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, I went on a safari to Arusha National Park. The night before at the Nyange Adventures’ office I found out that I was the only person booked for the day safari. I asked who my guide would be and they asked me if I liked my airport driver. Yes, I did like Edward. I felt comfortable with him, he seemed very knowledgeable and, more importantly, he was a safe driver.
I cannot stress the importance of having a safe and competent driver while in Tanzania. The roads in and around Moshi and Arusha are filled with hazards that an inattentive, overly cautious, or overly aggressive driver would not be able to navigate safely. In most places there are no defined lanes and traffic can enter and exit the main roads from just about anywhere. On the road from the airport to Moshi I saw several young boys sitting on the side panel of a cart attached to a small motorcycle. Unfortunately, all of the boys were sitting on the same side of the cart. When the driver attempted to turn onto the main road the cart started tipping violently, almost sending it and its human contents sprawling across the road and directly in the path of an oncoming bus. Their driver corrected the tip and they all went on their way laughing at the close call. I would see similar events often during my stay. Thank goodness for Edward and our other drivers! All proved it is possible to navigate chaos.
The road to Arusha National Park from Moshi is long and dotted with millet, sunflowers, Masai cattle markets, and lots of locals making banana beer. According to Edward, banana beer takes a few weeks to make and involves air drying millet on large sheets on the side of the road. Apparently it is so strong and generally considered so unsafe that it is next to impossible to get any if you aren’t a local. Edward laughingly told me that while the Chaaga villagers that make it are used to drinking it, he would only be able to tolerate a small glass before he got sick and I would probably only be able to handle one or two sips! Another popular beer in the area is Serengeti (of course!).
What many people don’t tell you is that every safari starts with waiting. You arrive at the park after a very long drive and then hang out waiting for your guide to handle the permits. This can take a while. After making use of the toilet facilities, I decided to use my time exploring. There are a few signboards near the main parking area that provide interesting facts about the different tribes that live in the area. Further across the parking lot there is a small hut where you can buy snacks or hand-carved wooden animals. I bought this giraffe.
Finally it was time to start the safari! Arusha National Park is a truly beautiful place filled with rolling hills, forests, and sprawling lakes.
There were several other groups on safari at the same time and we were constantly passing each other for the first hour. After that Edward started driving down alternate paths taking me to locations that the other groups never went to. I saw lakes filled with flamingos.
We went so far off the “standard” route that I didn’t see another safari group until we reached the main gate. It was like we were the only people in the park!
After lunch I went on a walking safari with one of the park rangers.
I had the option to hike up the hill for about one hour for a nice view. But it was hot so I decided to skip the uphill trek. Along the way the ranger pointed out several medicinal plants. We trekked past water buffalo to a beautiful waterfall.
After the walking safari was finished, Edward asked me if I wanted to see a tree that could be driven through. Of course! He warned me that the road would be rough. No problem! He wasn’t kidding. The dirt road was muddy, incredibly uneven, and crossed multiple streams as it wound its way uphill through dense forest.
Finally we arrived. Now, I have seen trees that can be driven through before and even drove through one in Northern California. But what I saw when we came to a stop was not at all what I expected. After driving through it, Edward told me the story of the tree. This tree was actually two trees that had grown at an angle and eventually met. As time passed, the trees sent roots down toward the ground across the whole length of their trunks. They also continually try to send roots down from the middle but elephants eat the roots. That’s right, elephants made this drive-through tree possible!