Hike for Life An Incredible journey to Africa – Part I The Safari

Earlier this year, I have created Simbaa project, called Hike for Life, with the aim of raising funds for Breast Cancer so that it bring hopes to people affected by the terrible disease and by raising awareness to help prevent Breat Cancer for the 1 out of 8 women that are at risk to develop it in their lifetime. Even though I had started thinking about this years ago, the project officially started off in November last year. Then in March the web site www.hikeforlife.org was finalised, the team was confirmed, the partnership with the 2 Cancer Foundations was created and we started off the global fund raising campaign.

The project has took us to an incredible journey, through our networks and virtually in the social medias where we have met and surpassed our fund raising objective and then physically to the top of Africa through the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at 5895m of altitude. It is with this objective in mind that we have planned our trip to Tanzania. Since we were already in the country for the challenge of climbing the Kilimanjaro, might has well enjoy the place and visit the other highlights of the country have to offer. One that has fascinated me more than once and that figured on my bucket list was about participating in a Safari and observing the Big Five of Africa. The Safari, which means in a “Journey” in Swahili – the main language in Tanzania,  was the first part of the adventure.

Safari –  Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengenti, Ngorongoro Crater

We took off on our 30+ hours journey to Africa on July 27th through Brisbane, Singapore, Doha, Dar Es Salaam to finally arrive at the Oasis Lodge in Arusha near Kilimanjaro International Airport on the the 28th in the morning local time. The first day was pretty relax and the only thing on the agenda was to unwind from the long travel, await the rest of the crew, prepare our stuff for the 6 days of safari camping ahead and meet the owner of the tour company for for a welcome and preparation meeting.

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Day 1 – Tarangire National Park

After an excellent breakfast, we met our guide Mindi and our cook Renatos that would take us to the 6 days trip in Safari. The first destination on the list was Tarangire National Park couple of hours away from Arusha.

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Tarangire park covers an area of approximately 2,850 square kilometers and is is famous for its huge number of elephants, baobab trees, tree climbing lions, zebra, giraffe and wildebeest in addition to the less common animals like cheetah. Other common animals include waterbuck, giraffe, and olive baboons. The concentration of animal in the park was surprising, every corner there is a big pack of elephants (with baboons eating stuff from their poo!), zebra or gazelles.

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Our camp site for the night was just at the exit of the park making it easy to rest.

Day 2 – Lake Manyara

Next day we visited Lake Manyara National Park at the bottom of the western wall of the spectacular Great Rift Valley. While most known for baboons, the lake and its environs is also home to herbivores such as hippos, impalas, elephants, wildebeests, buffalo, warthogs and giraffes. The number of birds there was fascinating, including tons of flamingo, Long-crested Eagle, Grey crowned crane, and Grey-headed Kingfisher. We game drive (that’s how they call driving around in a open air 4wd for observing animals and wildlife) for couple of hours before leaving to our next camp site closer to the Serengeti.

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Lake Manyara was also our first time we got exposure to the famous tsetse fly. Ferocious and annoying fly, that can infiltrate and bite you even under your pants!, and that can cause the sleeping sickness, although the risk of infection is minor (estimated at less than 0.1%).

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At night we camp and slept at Kuducamp. Camp site was quite good with hot showers available.

Day 3 & 4 – Serengeti National Park

We left in the morning to one of the biggest national park in Tanzania (my preferred) and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Serengeti where we were to spend the next 2 nights. The road was quite long and very bumpy, especially at the end of the tarmac road. However, the comfort was second to the beauty of the landscape we passed through.

We stopped for lunch at Olduvai George to visit the ‘Cradle Of Mankind’. The one of the most important Paleoanthropology sites in the world as this site was occupied by hominids such as the Homo habilis approximately 1.9 million years ago. Researchers discovered fossilized foot prints and tools of these early human type inhabitants. They are also studying the links with Homo Erectus (our ancestors). Supposedly, our ancestors would have traveled a very long journey from Patagonia in Southern Chile to East Africa covering thousands and thousands of kilometers by passing through North America and Alaska. To get an idea, one Japanese researcher actually made the same travel using a bike over ten years.

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Continuing our travel, we arrived mid afternoon at the Serengeti entrance. The Maasai people use to live there and had been grazing their livestock in the open plains of eastern Mara Region, which they named siringet, which means “the place where the land runs on forever. Indeed, the park covers an incredible area of 14,750 square kilometres and 3 distinguish truly amazing landscape:

  • Plains – the endless, almost treeless grassland of the south is the most emblematic scenery of the park.
  • Western corridor that is the swampy savannah of this region
  • Northern Serengeti which is dominated by open woodlands

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Beside the beautiful, the park is home of the world famous animal migration of over 1.5 million white bearded (or brindled) wildebeest and 250,000 zebra. Unfortunately, this year most of the migration happened the month  prior to our visit due mostly to natural factor such as weather.

As well as the migration of ungulates, the park is well known for its healthy stock of other resident wildlife, particularly the “big five”. This refer to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot, which are:

  • Lion: the Serengeti is believed to hold the largest population of lions in Africa (3,000) due in part to the abundance of prey species.
  • African Leopard: Quite shy predators that can be seen in the woodlands area of the Serengeti mostly with a population at around 1,000.
  • African Elephant: the herds are recovering from population lows in the 1980s caused by poaching.
  • Black Rhinoceros: very few individuals remain due to rampant poaching.
  • African Buffalo: still abundant and present in healthy numbers.

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Other animal species include cheetah, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, topi, eland, waterbuck, hyena, baboon, impala, African wild dog, and giraffe. The park also boasts about 500 bird species, including ostrich, secretary bird, Kori bustard, crowned crane, marabou stork, martial eagle, lovebirds, and many species of vultures.

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10698692_10152241203850940_9116456111749469391_nWe had the chance to witness and observe all these animals over two days. Most notorious and incredible ones to observe were the lions and the cheetah while they were hunting.

We had a terrific sunset back to the camp site. The camp site was open in the middle of the Serengeti, although it was quite busy so we didn’t feel in any sort of danger. Although, at night we could hear animals such as baboons or buffalo closely.

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Day 5 & 6 – Ngorongoro Crater

We did a last game drive in the morning on the fifth day to explore a different area in the Serengeti before we left the beautiful park for another world heritage site we passed quickly by earlier, the Ngorongoro Crater, which is the world largest Caldera (collapsed volcano and home of circa 30,000 resident animals.

On the way to the Crater, we stopped at a Maasai Village to check their culture and traditions. Although for a short moment it was interesting, it was not long before the whole thing became quite obvious to be a tourist trap. I think there is always a way you can support local economy and local tradition but I wouldn’t recommend this place, overly expensive for the  experience you get and their tactics to get more money from you are simply too much (the word donation or contribution dominate the dialog for the hour the “tour” last). At least we got few good pictures but honestly just avoid it!

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After few minutes of shock by this unnerving experience, we resumed our bumpy drive to our next destination. We arrived just before dawn to the beautiful camp site on the rim of the crater at around 2300m. The night was chilly (around 0-5 degres) and a good preparation for the Kilimanjaro. Showers were available but the water was simply freezing. Komivi took the challenge of taking a 5min shower there (no this doesn’t count for the Ice Bucket Challenge). Otherwise, interestingly, the camp site was filled with zebras that were just eating the grass near our tents. We had dinner and slept early.

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On the last day of the Safari, we went exploring the magnificent 260 square kilometers and
610m deep crater. The landscape was beautiful once more and we could observe a large variety of wildlife once more. From distance, we saw our first black rhino. There was also a smaller scale migration occurring within the crater itself. Animals where moving from on side of the crater to the other. Wildebeests and Zebras were walking alongside each other. zebras amazed me when we observed them lining almost perfectly in line awaiting to scratch there neck and there back on rocks, 2 zebras at the time on each side of the rock while the other are waiting on their turn patiently.

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We ended the safari trip by a Cultural Tour at the village Mto wa Mbu near Lake Manyara. To the contrary of the Maasai tour were we had the feeling of being scammed, this one was surprisingly very interesting. We learned and tasted the banana beer, met and discussed with some local artists (carving, painting), visited rice fields and walked by the small streets of the village.

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Let’s put it that way, the Safari experience was simply extraordinary for the outdoorsy people we became. 6 days were perfect for us. Landscape were great, wildlife was fantastic and of course of taste of a very different culture. A new check on the bucket list. It is an experience of a life time, plus doing it with great people was also fun!

  • First experience in Africa
  • Mesmerising Landscapes
  • Fabulous wildlife, concentration of animal is impressive
  • Saw all the Big Fives!
  • Service offered was great, we were very well taken care of
  • Food was good
  • More touristic that I initially though, quite a lot of people
  • Camping areas were not as rustic than what I believed and camp site were generally comfortable and safe
  • Roads are generally quite bad and dusty

Part II on the Kilimanjaro coming soon….

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Thanks for reading,

Best pictures of Tanzania available here.

Pascal & Gabriela

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