Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

Lemala Camp

The little single engine plane stops three times, picking up or dropping off a few people, on the way to the Lake Manyara airstrip in Tanzania.  The runway is a very bumpy dirt strip right on the edge of the “escarpment”  - aka “steep cliff”.  We overhear a pilot telling a passenger waiting for another flight “if the plane doesn’t take off by the end of the runway, it will be airborne - at least for a little bit... “.  We will be taking off from here in a few days. 

Lake Manyara National Park is in the midst of the East African Rift.  The park is home to lovely and varied trees and shrubbery.  While worth a one-day drive through, this will be our home for two nights.   Our camp tonight is deep in the park.  Actually it is a one-hour drive into the park.  We are in the bush again in “luxury” tents.   And even though billed as lakeside, we cannot see any water or lake from our campsite.

The people at this camp are all incredibly nice and helpful and want so much to make our stay enjoyable.  All of the personnel are either Masai or natives from local villages.  Everyone in Tanzania is so darned pleasant and friendly.  I feel so horrible even thinking these thoughts about the rustic nature of these camps.   I must say the safari showers do work well.   You just let them know about what time you want to take a shower and they bring the 20 liters or so of hot water, pour it in the water bag, hoist it up above the shower head and you have at least 2 to 3 minutes of hot water. 

We see lots of monkeys, baboons, elephants, giraffes, impalas, flamingos, Acacia trees, and sisal trees.   Dinner tonight is superb.  There are 13 in camp tonight and we dine of course al fresco by candle and lantern light.   And the chef prepares it all in a bush oven or on a gas grill in a little tent.  We start with a delicious vegetable soup, followed by a perfectly done beef filet with rice, which is beautifully presented, and end with an apple crisp with cream for dessert.   The bread, which is freshly baked each morning and evening, is amazing. 

I must mention again how friendly and personable and lovely are the people here in our camp.  

Conundrum #3:  The Masai are an interesting people.  Their traditional diet is chiefly meat, milk and cow’s blood.  They will bleed the cow for the blood and then staunch the wound with cow dung.  Cattle herds are most important to the Masai.  Lions, leopards and other big game are a threat to these herds and so they are often at cross hairs with animal conservationists.  But the cow herds are the Masai’s livelihood.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Masai Mara - continued

Kenya is on the equator but it has been chilly and rainy so far.  Very strange.  We head out for our game drive early this morning and the rain stops but the roads are quite muddy.   We see a leopard whose meal is stolen by hyenas, many elephants and baby ones too (so cute), crocodiles feeding on a baby hippo (too sad), and lots of rainbows.  Our guide is quite a good driver but on the way back to camp we get stuck!  The nearby heard of elephants don’t seem to mind us in their space and a nearby hippo continues going the other way to the river.  Our guide takes off his boots and wades in the knee-high mud to try to free us but to no avail.   Another truck comes and we transfer and return to camp where the resident warthog family joins us for a superb breakfast. 

Conundrum #2:  Driving off  “road” in the Masai Mara has allowed us to see so many animals up close in their natural habitat but with the proliferation of camps and tourists and jeeps, is this negatively affecting the habitat and therefore the well-being of the animals?  Or does the resulting increased tourism and income provide improved animal conservation efforts?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Kenya - Masai Mara

The variety and numbers of animals in this, the Kenyan portion of the northern Serengeti, is truly astounding.  And unlike the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, which we will visit later in our trip, the Land Rovers can drive off road to get up front and personal with all the animals.  

Little Governor’s Camp is our home for these three nights.  Wart hogs, hippos and buffalo populate the watering hole right in front of our tent and at night, we can hear elephants and hippos close by - they roam through the camp at night.  Armed guards patrol during the day and the night, making sure not to disturb the animals but making sure they know where they are so they can detour guests.  We are not allowed to wander freely after dark and during the day must stay within a very limited area.

We find this “luxury” tent camp a bit too rustic for us.  We are staying essentially in a tent, albeit with a bed and a connected en suite bathroom with flush toilets and a regular shower.  The food is marginal.  I believe we have had the same soup four times, always named something different on the menu (celery and apple puree, cream of cucumber, cream of zucchini, vegetable), but I am pretty sure it's the same soup each time.  Appetizers in the lodge tent before dinner are similar to what kids might fix as their first cooking attempt. 

This review sounds a bit tough.   But prices for all of our accommodations on this trip are way up there.  And we have had the experience, three years ago, of staying in three camps/lodges in Botswana and South Africa that put Little Governor’s Camp to shame.  I will mention them now as I am longing for them...  Duma Tau Camp in the Linyanti Reserve in Botswana, the even more impressive Vumbura Plains Camp in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, and the highlight of our last trip: Singita Boulders Lodge in the Sabi-Sands Game Reserve in South Africa. 

And so this presents the first of many conundrums of our trip.  How can we complain about the quality of the food and the level of luxury in this, one of the poorest countries in the world?