Sunday, August 3, 2008

Africa #13: Tarangire National Park

Elephant Grazing, Tarangire national Park, Tanzania

Heading into the home straight now and Tarangire National Park is our last real stop on the tour. The terrain here is a mix of savannah, light forest and river plain; a bit of everything, in short. The day started out grey and chilly, with a stiff westerly breeze. That actually turned out to be a good thing as it meant that the hippos we found at this hippo pool, to differentiate it from the 4 other hippo pools we have seen, were out of the water and actually doing hippo-ish sorts of things above and beyond bobbing around in dirty water. Mostly, though, even these extended behaviours seem to involve a lot of standing around, bellowing challenges and having occasional fights. Think Brighton and Hove Albion supporters on a wet Saturday afternoon at an away game in Milwall, but with less drinking.

It was fun listening to the noises they were making and watching the young hippos undergoing training for adult hippohood. Basically, the modus operadi here was bite anything close to you, and if nothing was to hand then wander around until you bump into something you can bite and hope it was no bigger than you. Perfect grooming, therefore, for the young hippo eager to reach adulthood and to progress to, well, larger bouts of shouting and biting. The motto of the hippo SAS equivalent must be “he who bites best, wins” because it really was the only discernable core competency of the males with the most clout.

From there we headed off to see the flamingoes – enough were around to form a pink slash across Lake Tarangire – and watch storks and pelicans swooping around the shoreline. There were, as always, a few giraffes around, accompanied by zebra and impala. Throw into the mix various monkeys (baboons, vervet and blue), mongeese (is that the plural of mongoose?) and even a snake or two and you begin to get the African picture.

After lunch, which was a rather fine picnic hamper to make a change from the cardboard-box with sandwiches we’d experienced before, we found a lion that was busy lining up something for its lunch by stalking carefully through the undergrowth. Alas, we watched for a while but it decided to postpone anything too energetic, opting instead to fall asleep in the long grass. Lions really do spend much of the day time hours asleep or awake and contemplating falling asleep.

Time to head back to the hotel. Along the way we had several brief encounters with small herds of elephants, none of which were bothered or even swayed from eating the countryside by our presence. Sadly, we did however came across a large, dead male that was in the early signs of being eaten by the local scavengers, lions included. Little bush craft was involved in this discovery as the carcass was hard to miss given that there’s something about a couple of tons of rotting meat that really seems to grab the attention of one’s nostrils ….

Tarangire Treetops is indeed an interesting place to stay and strongly recommended. Remarkably, the food here was quite the best we’d found all trip and they do seem to work hard to harmonize with both the African environment and the local Maasai people, the aim being to have the hotel add, rather than subtract, from the pristine nature of the place. For example, although there was the inevitable evening show of Maasai dancing, it was actually done well and the guys involved did seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves as they tried to outdo each other on who could jump the highest, a measure, it seems, of Maasai manhood. Wonder what they’d think of the Olympic high-jump contenders?

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