Tanzania

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 steered and taught us about the buffalo, impala, gnu, zebra, and warthog.

“But I 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. His stories of their habits and eccentricities 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. It was 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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Our usual haunts are in Israel-Palestine, but our current experiences in East Africa excite the senses. Might other Bible Land Explorers be interested in a safari-style excursion? If so, let me hear from you. I may try to work this into the schedule on a regular basis. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if you are serious.

For our more standard packages in the Middle East, see a list of future trips here.

Stork swarm

Stork swarm

Swarms of giant storks were suddenly everywhere. They were beyond counting. In the hundreds? For sure. Thousands? Maybe. Some circled slowly overhead, great wings outstretched. Many more rested, nested, and clattered their bills from poo-spangled trees. 

Noah's ark (sortof)

Noah's ark (sortof)

In the story of Noah's Ark, a portion of the living world finds sanctuary in a pinch. I thought about that as our rig bounced down the steep track into Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Tarangire

Tarangire

Zebras and wildebeests drank the muddy water, flicked their tails, rolled in the dust, and fussed with each other. It may have just been in my head, but somewhere I could hear the soundtrack of "The Lion King" playing.

Taking a safari

Taking a safari

We pitched our duffels and then ourselves into Saidi's knobby-wheeled truck. Saidi found the gear and we lurched forward. Our aim was to encounter the wildness of East Africa, God-willing, in a bloodless way.

Fingerprints on a frosty pane

Fingerprints on a frosty pane

Great sheets of ice flanked our walk on Kibo's rim. Aside from the fact that we were tripping along a corridor that was 19,000 feet in the sky, it could have been someone's gravel driveway. Or one of Jupiter's moons.

Then I let myself believe it

Then I let myself believe it

I caught her in my headlamp. She might have pretty in another place but she was beyond defeat here, maybe even beyond consciousness. She was draped between the wings of two laboring guides. Her head was lolling. Her toes were dragging. That little Piper had stalled.

The big push

The big push

Three other members of the team had walked out of camp an hour earlier. We assumed they were already pressing the envelope on the ridge above us. It was now our turn.

The most interesting man in the world

The most interesting man in the world

Ernest Hemingway dangled a riddle of death at the front end of his short story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." But what kind of epigraph is this? A freeze-dried window decoration? A chewy historical tidbit? The most interesting man in the world may have solved the riddle.

It has an odd ring

It has an odd ring

The old king climbed into the icy womb of Kilimanjaro. On his finger was the ring of Solomon. His porters carried a vast treasure. None of it has ever been found, of course.

15K+

15K+

It was one of those nice mattresses with a heat-reflective layer that is supposed to keep you snuggly warm even if you choose to bed down on an iceberg or glacier or such. It also shared many qualities with a Wham-O Slip-'n-slide.

Starry night

Starry night

The icy peak was silhouetted against the night sky. But the longer I looked, the more I saw. And the more I saw, the less I noticed the mountain of our obsession. It was stars--sweet Jesus!--the stars that dominated this glorious night. They were everywhere, from horizon to horizon.

Mush balls

Mush balls

West African fufu has a an unusual odor and taste. And that's just the upper end of the experience. This is why I shuddered when they brought in the East African ugali.

Come and see, the moon is dancing

Come and see, the moon is dancing

Jason turned on a small speaker clipped to his packstrap. The speaker pulled tunes from a phone. It  bounced as he walked. So did we. And we sang. And it was magic.

Breakfast scramble

Breakfast scramble

The icy stream clawed at the bottom of the ravine. This contest of strength was initiated more than a century of millennia ago. Water versus rock. Fluid versus solid. Speed versus size. It is difficult to imagine a struggle more sublime . . . or primal.

Valley of the giants

Valley of the giants

We knew that were no longer alone. Giants began to arise. Initially, they appeared as isolated figures with bad haircuts. Then they rallied and arrayed themselves on both sides of the trail.

Shark fin and teeth

Shark fin and teeth

Jason offered a weather report at breakfast. "It's two degrees above zero" (it sounds more sinister in celsius). 

He meant no evil, nor did I return it, but his words did prompt a flashback to my days of fieldwork in the deserts of Jordan.

And we ate it too, twice

And we ate it too, twice

In Paul's hands was the most beautiful birthday cake I had ever seen. We secretly thanked Tommy's mother for bringing him into the world on a day when his future friends would appreciate a special dessert.