A good park for beginners

That’s what Mr Nixon said about Lake Manyara National Park.

Our relationship with Mr Nixon was only a few hours old, so we were not yet sure what to think. By the end of the week we would trust him with our lives.

An “island” of pink flamingos on the bed of Lake Manyara. The lake is broad and shallow, growing in the rainy season and shrinking in the dry season.

An “island” of pink flamingos on the bed of Lake Manyara. The lake is broad and shallow, growing in the rainy season and shrinking in the dry season.

The sign at the entrance read “Home of Tree Climbing Lions.”

“They say that,” he commented, “but it is more likely that we’ll see them climbing in the Serengeti.”

I still thought it best to keep one eye skyward at all times. Having 400 pounds of tooth and claw fall on your head would be terrible surprise. It also would make an end to a lovely safari that Vicki and I and Mr Nixon had planned in the East African country of Tanzania.

The early Tarzan movies were filmed at Lake Manyara.

Ernest Hemingway came here as well. He called this region of alkali water and fig and mahogany forests, "the loveliest I have seen in Africa.”

The dirt road into Lake Manyara National Park. Lake Manyara sits in the Great Rift Valley and is one of Africa’s largest lakes. Like Israel’s Dead Sea, it has no outlet. Unlike Israel’s Dead Sea it is shallow and alkaline.

The dirt road into Lake Manyara National Park. Lake Manyara sits in the Great Rift Valley and is one of Africa’s largest lakes. Like Israel’s Dead Sea, it has no outlet. Unlike Israel’s Dead Sea it is shallow and alkaline.

Mr Nixon parked our Land Cruiser just outside the ranger station and pulled the brake. “Let me get the papers.”

A few minutes later he returned. “Come look at this.”

In the grass behind our vehicle were piles of poop. “Elephant droppins,’” he said. “About a day old.” He took a stick and stirred the gooey mass. “Look at the seeds. The elephants eat the fruit and spread the seeds. The birds come down and eat them from the droppins.’”

“That’s a pretty good strategy for the plant,” I said.

“Ugh,” said Vicki.

“Exactly.” said a grinning Nixon.

Lessons in wildlife from Mr Nixon.

Lessons in wildlife from Mr Nixon.

The elephant who had left the droppins’ was nowhere to be seen, but we hadn’t traveled far until monkeys appeared on both sides of the road. A bit later, Mr Nixon pulled the brake and a troop of no less than 200 baboons passed by our Cruiser.

It was impressive, but we drew back just a little. Their sheer number, weeping sores, and toothy dog-muzzles were intimidating.

A troop of baboons passed by. They are a little frightening.

A troop of baboons passed by. They are a little frightening.

Most of the afternoon we rode with the Cruiser’s top popped up. Vicki and I could stand between the seats for a 360-degree view. Mr Nixon navigated the car-swallowing potholes and taught us about the buffalo, impala, gnu, zebra, and warthog.

“But I really love the birds,” he said on many occasions.

Our Toyota Land Cruiser had a pop-up lid that allowed us to view the surroundings in the shade. It is a good thing there are no seat-belt laws in Tanzania.

Our Toyota Land Cruiser had a pop-up lid that allowed us to view the surroundings in the shade. It is a good thing there are no seat-belt laws in Tanzania.

As we discovered, Lake Manyara was not the place to witness tree-climbing lions or even herds of elephants (although we did see some, maybe even our pooper!), but instead it is the place for bird lovers. More than 400 species can be found in the park. Some migrate through on their way from distant corners of the earth. Others make this region their permanent home.

We took turns peering through Mt Nixon’s binoculars from our 4-wheeled canopy. We saw orange bellies, yellow beaks, purple wings, and bills and crests of every size and angle. Mr Nixon’s stories of their habits and eccentricities and legends was throughly entertaining.

Most memorable for me were the flamingos that gathered like an island of pink in the shallow waters of the lake. Bee-eaters, herons, ibises, storks, and, of course, the pelicans also caught our eye. Lake Manyara is a bird-watchers paradise, a perfect place to begin an African safari.

A yellow-billed stork comes in for a landing. His gear is slightly askew.

A yellow-billed stork comes in for a landing. His gear is slightly askew.


If you would like to read more about the area of Lake Manyara, check out our observations from a previous visit here.


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I love Africa but my regular summer work is in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

See here for a list of future trips.