Knud Henrik's diary 24 May 2006: Minjingo, Lake Manyara National Park, Lake Natron, Ol Donyio Lengai, Karatu and Gibb's Farm

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Last updated 2007.11.21

Saturday 20 May was spent at the Zion camp site at Minjingo (close to the even smaller village called Kwa Kuchinia shown on the map), just north of the Tarangire National Park. In the afternoon Japhet proposed that we went a little bit up north where we should be able to watch some animals migrating from Tarangire NP (= National Park) to Lake Manyara NP. Mai-Britt and Aske decided to stay at the camp site, as they were not feeling too well.

Together with a local guy we went on, crossed the main road and drove into the bush land. Soon we saw some Grant gazelles at some distance. In an attempt to get a bit closer we had to cross a muddy spot. And there we were stuck. It took our driver, the local guide and a local masai herdsman more than half an hour to get the car out of the mud hole, just in time to get back to the camp site before the arrival of the dark African night.

Back at the camp site Aske was in really bad shape, sour throat, upset stomach and some fever. We took him to a doctor in the nearby village Minjingo where he got some medicine.

Sunday morning Aske woke up in good shape. However, now Mai-Britt was feeling bad with a serious diarrhoea. We had decided to go to Lake Manyara NP and on the way we passed the doctor once again, this time to get some medicine for Mai-Britt's stomach.

Lake Manyara NP was a really nice experience. The first part of the park is quite densely forested, almost like a rain forest. All the bird living there made a fantastic polyphony. We had a few very close encounters with elephants, some times a bit too close, according to some of the participants of our company. A less agreeable experience was a dead water buffalo, that had been captured and tied with a string around one of the legs. The string had cut right through to the bone. Obviously  the poor creature had been captured and tied up as bait by poachers. Japhet had been told at the gate that lions had been seen there in the morning, but now there was just a lot of vultures and a few marabou storks. After having driven around and seen quite a number of different animals we went on towards the southern part of the park to see a hot spring. The water there was almost boiling hot, quite fascinating. We had all become a bit tired and returned towards the entrance gate. On the way we wanted to see a huge and very old baobab tree in which a hide had been cut for hunters/poachers. The baobab should should have a diameter of no less than 10 meters and the cavity should have a capacity of eight to twelve people. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the tree and somewhat disappointed we took on the way home. Suddenly we saw a cat-like animal sitting at the side of the road. "What is that, a lion?" No, it was a leopard. Unfortunately, we barely had a good view before it went into the bush.

Monday 21 May Lake Natron was on the programme. We packed all our stuff, paid the camp site fee and for cooking and laundry and set off. First stop was Mto wa Mbu ("Mosquito River" in Swahili), a local trading centre on the main tourist route where the road to Lake Natron sets off up north. We anticipated that there would be little foodstuff to buy up there so shopping at the local market at Mto wa Mbu was imperative. The road towards Lake Natron is following the Great Rift Valley, which runs from Jordan in North, through the Red See, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique/Malawi, Zimbabwe and ends somewhere down in South Africa. The second and third biggest lakes in Africa, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi are both parts of the rift. In northern Tanzania and southern Kenya the west side of the rift forms a marked escarpment with some fantastic sceneries. Along the rift a number of volcanoes is found, with Kilimanjaro as the best known. The road to Lake Natron goes around the still active volcano Ol Donyio Lengai ("Mountain of God" in the Masai language), the only active volcano in Tanzania.

We saw quite a number of impalas along the road and also some giraffes, zebras and wildebeests. I hadn't expected to see any "traditional" wild animal in this area so that was a positive surprise. The area around Lake Natron is the very heart of the Masai land. Occasional herds of cattle, goats and sheep is seen scattered all over as well as Masai settlements. The Masai people don't hunt these wild animals so on several occasions we saw herds of cattle and goats grazing just next to groups of impalas, zebras or wildebeests. That gave the concept of natural harmony another meaning. Not that the traditional Masai way of life looks attractive at all.

At Lake Natron we pitched our tent at a camp site. As the drive was a very dusty experience we were in desperate need of a bath. We soon decided to rush off to a waterfall not far away, where we should be able to bath and swim right under the waterfall. The track to the waterfall turned out to be some exercise. A combination of walking, climbing and crawling up through a canyon for at least a kilometre in a fairly hot and humid atmosphere made the need for at bath even more imperative. Unfortunately, it was so late in the afternoon that we had no time to go to the biggest waterfall but had to do with a minor one, which however was a refreshing experience.

Back at the camp site we had to cook a simple meal in the light of a little headlamp.

We had put up the tent right under an acacia tree just next to another one with some weaving bird nests. Next morning we woke up to a fantastic choir of weaving birds. We rushed off to the lake to see the flamingos before they took refuge further out in the lake for the day. We went as far as possible by car and then walked for over a kilometre on a more and more muddy surface until we came into a distance of less than 200 meters from the flamingos. Then back to the camp site to have a simple breakfast of fresh fruit, bread, jam and tea.

We packed our things and set off for the return to Mto wa Mbu. Suddenly Japhet diverted from the main track and turned up a gentle slope and all in a sudden a volcanic crater appear right in front of us, fairly large and deep but with almost no cone around. Fascinating.

The first hour we made just 16 kilometres. The whole drive back to Mto wa Mbu totalled 105 km and took 4h 20m, that is 23 km/h an average. True highway speed...

A refreshing lunch at Mto wa Mbu and then on to the small town of Karatu. Mto wa Mbu lies at the very bottom of the rift and from there it goes up and up the fairly steep slope of the escarpment. We had a quick stop at the top with a fabulous view over Lake Manyara and all the way to Minjingo on the other side of the lake, where we had camped for several days.

Karatu used to be a very depressive sight. When I lived here in Tanzania 12 years ago the area around Karatu suffered from severe soil erosion problems. The increasing population had cut all trees in need of firewood and with much too little vegetation to stabilise the soil the whole area looked like a dusty catastrophe. However, somehow the situation has turned around and Karatu is now a prosperous town in very green surroundings. On recommendation from an acquaintance to Japhet whom we met right on the main street we checked in at "Glory Guest House", local but clean and nice (and cheap).

We had several reasons for a stop over at Karatu. Primarily to withdraw some money as an ATM has been put up here and secondarily to get access to the internet. Goal one was achieved right away, the second turned out to be a little more problematic. After having checked in at the hotel we set off by foot to find the internet café. We easily found the place just to realise that the café had gone into flames four months ago. Bad luck, no internet access. But the hotel has electric power and we can charge all the electronic devices.

Today, Wednesday 24 May, we have had a relaxing programme. In the morning we had a stroll through the town centre and sent a birthday greeting card to my nephew Oliver who will be two years in a week. In the afternoon we went to a coffee plantation called Gibb's Farm. The farm was established in 1927 and has a distinct British look and feel. And really good colonial style lunch buffet (expensive - !). Beautiful flower and vegetable garden and interesting lecture on coffee processing.

A little shopping and we are prepared for the big safari to the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. Probably no more writing until we reach Mwanza on the southern shore of Lake Victoria.