Serengeti Day 1: Arusha to Lake Manyara

Sunday – August 29, 2010 –

This morning, we woke up refreshed and excited about our lifelong dream of going on an African safari. We are not hunters, so this was going to be strictly a sightseeing and photo safari.

Our driver, Joseph

Our driver, Joseph

I took my luggage up to the main building and left my travel luggage that was staying behind. We only had room in our Toyota Land Cruiser for a duffel bag containing the bare essentials. There I met our travel companions and guide over breakfast. They included John and his wife Jane, from Cardiff, Wales, and their son, Huw. John is a plumber and Jane is a judge, while Huw is an RAF officer serving in Northern Ireland. John, Huw and his daughter, Catherine, finished climbing Kiliminjaro on Wednesday. Catherine had to return to Britain to begin her new teaching job. We also met Elaine, a grandmother from Napier, New Zealand, whose husband died a few years ago. She is sharp and in good shape for her age.

After breakfast and our guide, Emil(ian) Matay’s introduction, our driver Joseph helped us with our bags before we drove to Arusha. Our Land Cruiser is awesome for safaris because it has a pop-up roof that is good for animal watching.



Arusha is known as Tanzania’s “safari capital,” and is the most important tourism center in northern Tanzania. With many protected national parks and reserves nearby, Arusha is a modern town with markets, banks, and services. The town owes its name to the local Wa-arusha people who resided here for hundreds of years. Arusha has always been a historically and politically important city in East Africa. In fact, in 1961, the UK signed official documents ceding independence to Tanzania in Arusha.

In town we first visited an ATM to get Tanzania Schillings. We were haggled on the way but I did not buy anything this time! The Britons gave me a hard time by being too nice in declining. Then we went to the grocery store where bought four boxes (12 1.5 liter bottles each) of Kilimanjaro brand water for 8-day Serengeti safari.

Afterwards we departed on our journey to the Ngorongoro crater. A few miles outside out of town the tarmac ended and we said goodbye to asphalt for a while. The roads were very bumpy, but Emil said we would get used to the “African Massage” in a few days! The views were amazing looking down into the crater from the rim. We would drive down to the crater floor on the return trip.

Our guide, Emil

Our guide, Emil

Our guide Emil by a termite mound

Our guide Emil by a termite mound

This particular part of Tanzania is so beautiful and diverse. The western wall of the Rift Valley escarpment creates a natural home for bird life, lions, elephants, giraffes, and hippos. Along the way we saw our first wildlife. We saw herds of elephants, enormous giraffes, Thomson gazelles, zebras, dik diks, and other gazelles.

Then it was on to Lake Manyara National Park, one of the most beautiful parks in East Africa. The name Manyara comes from the Masai word “Emanyara,” which is a species of plant found around a family homestead in the area. The lake itself is a shallow alkaline lake stretching 30 miles at the base of the sheer Rift Valley escarpment. This forms part of the national park that covers an area of roughly 205 square miles.

Lake Manyara National Park is home to giant fig trees, acacia woodlands, mahogany trees and grassy flood plains. The contrasts of this area are breathtaking, with the open plains, huge escarpment, central soda lake, dense woodlands, and distant volcanic peaks. When Ernest Hemingway saw this scenery, he described it as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa.

The park is also home to the legendary tree-climbing lions, and a small population of leopard. Manyara provides the perfect introduction to Tanzania’s bird life, with more than 400 species within the parks boundaries. We saw thousands of pink-hued flamingos on their migration as well as pelicans, cormorants and storks. We also saw quite a few hippos.

Then we stopped for lunch to enjoy our boxed lunches of sandwiches, chicken, egg and a dessert while eating at tables overlooking the lake. During the afternoon, we spent time game viewing along the main road that winds for several miles through cool, lush groundwater forest dominated by large fichus trees and tangle of green epiphytes. We saw elephants and their babies in a herd eating from the trees. The elephants waved their enormous ears back and forth. Emil explained that they moved them like radiators to keep their bodies cool.

Elephant herd near Lake Manyara

Elephant herd near Lake Manyara

Then we drove to the incredible Lake Manyara Lodge. The hotel rests on the very edge of the western escarpment of the Rift Valley, and we enjoyed magnificent views down across the entire tranquil lake. Part of this is due to its two-level ensemble of buildings. The lodge features authentic traditional African style decorations to create a unique atmosphere. Our room had mosquito nets over each of our twin beds. The supper was an amazing buffet at the restaurant of Nile perch, other meats, salads, vegetables and a dessert bar. We had hot showers and electricity but they were only for certain hours.

We had a dream first day on our African safari.

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