Lake Manyara, Tanzania:
The forest canopy is a lazy tangle of green. Bright splashes of sunlight play against the leaves and branches of African olives, fig trees, wild mangoes, giant junipers. The roof on our vehicle has been raised and everyone is standing, listening to the rustle of branches coming from somewhere in the jumbled underbrush. Our Rover creeps forward, its wheels almost noiseless on the forest track while the scurrying sounds become louder, more emphatic. My eyes search the ground for the animal—perhaps a mongoose or a wild boar. Then, as we round a corner, the animal’s feet appear. Looking up, I find myself face to face with a colossal African elephant, not more than two metres away. He’s sluggishly munching the leaves of a tree that he’s pulled over and doesn’t look particularly surprised to see us. I, on the other hand, am shaking so thoroughly that I can hardly raise my camera to take a picture.
We’ve come to Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park as part of a five day safari that will take us to several of the country’s wild places, including the Ngorongoro-Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Tarangire—three of the best game viewing parks in Tanzania. This is not, perhaps, what most people would consider a budget holiday (over $1500 US per person), but the Tanzanian government has made a concerted effort to protect its wilds by keeping prices high and, consequently, traffic low. The result is a less crowded, higher quality experience for visitors. And I reckon the animals appreciate it too.
Our Rover crawls through the Ground Water Forest, so named because of the underground springs and plentiful streams that create this oasis in an otherwise arid landscape. The greenery is so dense it seems vengeful, as if the flowering ginger and hibiscus, the towering Quinine and Antiaris trees were making a point: with enough water this area could explode into elaborate jungle. As it is, the forest ends abruptly at the roadside on our left. To the right is a broad expanse, peopled with bushes, Baobab trees, and a sea of waving grasses. We are five people in one large 4×4, whose raised roof allows us to stand and watch the scenery without leaving the vehicle. During our first 15 minutes skirting the Ground Water Forest, we spot elephant, black colobus monkeys, mongoose, a monitor lizard, dik dik, baboons and numerous species of bird, including the fantastically colourful lilac-breasted roller.