Rich's Travel Blog 2006

Here is my travel blog for 2006. My 2005 travels can be found using the link below on the right.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Arusha National Park, Tanzania

Sunday, November 5

When Curtis, Jenn, Priya and I returned to the Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge after our time on Kilimanjaro, we were exhausted and needed some time to chill. The girls would soon be heading off to Dar es Salaam and my brother and I found ourselves with all day Sunday to kill before the rest of the family arrived that evening. Even though we’d be embarking on a major safari, for some reason it occurred to me that Curtis and I could zip off to Arusha National Park just for a few hours. He had yet to see any animals and though he’d be getting his fill soon enough, we couldn’t resist the chance.

I knew the Arusha National Park entrance wasn’t very far away from the lodge. In fact it turned out to be even closer than what I’d thought – 10 minutes. The perfect afternoon activity.

We’d made an acquaintance with a taxi driver in the area and Curtis put the idea to him while I checked with the hotel. Walter was clearly cheaper and we decided that what he was offering was worth it.

When he returned from taking Priya to the airport, Walter came by and off we went in his old white sedan. We’d had rain and the roads were not that great but my experience has been that these people know what their cars and do and what they can’t. Overall, the cars here are very tough. They have to be.

Walter is from the Meru tribe and grew up in the area. He had plenty of interesting things to comment on as we drove and really turned out to be a pseudo tour guide. He’d also done this sort of thing many times before so he knew the park well.

We paid our entrance fee and within 20 minutes of getting in his car we were in the presence of a group of colobus monkeys. I’d seen them before a few times but never this close. They are one of the coolest creatures. Their long hair, crazy faces and graceful nature make this a big highlight. This is a national park and we were only allowed to get out of the vehicle in certain areas. Fortunately for us, the monkeys were in one of those areas.

After a few photos we loaded back into the car and off we went. Very soon we were surrounded by a troop of baboons. I was already thinking that, bang for your buck, Arusha is a pretty decent place.

Baboons are also a favorite of mine. They are very expressive and the longer you watch them the more you can get a feel for their moods. I’m just guessing but I doubt you can get the same sense from an impala.

We cruised around seeing bushbucks, zebras, giraffes, buffalos and other animals. This is by far one of the lesser frequented national parks in Tanzania. We saw very few other safari vehicles considering how close it is to populated areas. Arusha town is the key starting point for the Northern Circuit crowd (Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, etc.) and most pass on this park.

I’d been here once before. The park includes Tanzania’s second highest mountain, Mt. Meru. At well over 14,000 ft., all of the park is more or less in its shadow. I climbed it last year (we were turned around by weather before getting to the summit) and the entire climb as well as our lodge is located in the park. One cool thing about the Meru climb is that it’s like a walking safari and hike all in one since you see animals throughout the entire first day of the hike. The guide is even required to carry a gun to ward off dangerous animals until summit day.

Another highlight for this hike is the birds. We saw all different kinds. I don’t know my birds well but for some reason they stood out on this afternoon. There are a few small lakes in the park and a couple of them contain large flocks of pink flamingos.

The lighting of the day was constantly changing. It the season of the “short rains” so we’d get intermittent rain and sun. Sometimes added to photography; other times it took away from it.

The buffalo in Africa are some of the meanest looking creatures in existence. The just look bad ass. I think they can be fairly aggressive so you have to keep an eye on them. Because we stayed in the car we were fine, of course, but on our hike last year headed through stretch where they were not far from us. Without the protection of a vehicle you don’t want to get them excited.

Before leaving the park we drove to the Ngurdoto Crater. We had some muddy road to get up to the rim but I was really hoping to get to see it. It turned out to be a bit less fascinating than I’d hoped but then again we didn’t see much of it. We’d about had our fill for the afternoon and it was time to head back to the lodge. Besides, I think we’d gotten more than our money’s worth out of Walter.

Once back at the lodge we had a bit of time before heading to the airport to pick up the family who was arriving from Kenya. Our Northern Circuit safari would beging the next morning...


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