At some ridiculous time in the morning we were bundled into two converted landrover discoveries and started the eight hour drive to Lake Manyara National Park. We drove through the scenery you would picture when you think of Africa, especially as a child: expansive dry plains and the occasional maasi warrior herding cattle and you expect Simba and Zazu to appear at any time. There is definitely a reason they have so many national parks here. Along the roadside young Maasi boys would walk in black robes and white face paint to represent the healing process after their transition from boys to warriors, also known as circumcision. The Maasi definitely rule these plains and was very refreshing to see such a prominent tribal lifestyle, something that is almost extinct in Europe.
Before going to the national park itself we drove to the nearby town called Mto wu Mbi which was where our hotel for the night, The Holiday Fig Resort, was located. We stopped to drop our things off, get our rooms and have a spot of lunch. The rooms we were staying in were made up a single long bungalow detached from the main hotel. There was a swimming pool in front of our rooms that actually looked quite enticing even if it was not chlorinated. The rooms themselves were quite simple with comfy beds, nets and a safe. The windows however were merely mosquito nets separating you from the outside world and the exposed electrical fixings above the shower reminded you you were still in Africa.
Our lunch was your standard African fare of carbs with a side of meat stew and soon afterwards we headed to our first national park, Lake Manyara. While Muskim signed us all in we wandered around in the surprisingly informative car park under the blistering midday sun. After registration Muskim clipped open the tops of the landrovers to give us the experience of standing 4x4 driving.
For the first few minutes we eagerly eyed up and down trees looking for any form of movement. Our driver Sebastian had been driving these safaris for years and had an eye for spotting camouflaged creatures. The park started with a jungle where we spotted water bok and baboons but moved on as we started to get concerned by how close they got to the car. The jungle soon opened up into plains and you could almost hear the circle of life playing in the back ground. Immediately there were animals everywhere; a zeal of zebras grazed underneath jackalberry trees and giraffes chased each other at a surprisingly fast pace. There were also countless wilderbeest, buffalo and even more baboons.
Even though you were surrounded by your childhood picture of the African wild you kept forgetting it was actually the wild. There were so many safari groups everywhere it felt like a safari park rather than a national park. The jeep full of Asians wearing protective masks and clothing protecting them from dust and any other potential hazard, except am impending stampede or attack, didn't help. The rotting carcasses made it feel a bit more wild though. Flamingoes stretched up into the horizon around the lake and the jeep zig-zagged back into the jungle. Eagle-eyed Sebastian managed to spot an elephant. The Swahilli word for elephant is 'tembo' and I think it is one of those words that just perfectly describes the elephant and it's docile plod. At some points we got so close we could have easily just reached out and touched them.