One of the most attractive aspects of the School for Field Studies Wildlife Management Program are its expeditions. Each semester two separate weeks are spent on a camping expedition to three national parks in Northern Tanzania. Last week was our first expedition and it was beyond words. So instead of explaining the trip in a post I’m going to start publishing snippets of the trip and moments that inspired me. To sum it up though, here is a brief overlook of the two places where we stayed.
TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK
The first park we visited was exactly how I imagined an African savanna to be. It was hot. It was dry. It went on… forever. In fact, my little travel guide describes it so beautifully I don’t think I have to:
“Day after day of cloudless skies. The fierce sun sucks moisture from the landscape, baking the earth a dusty red, the withered grass as brittle as straw. The Tarangire River has shriveled to a shadow of its wet season self. But it is choked with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parched kilometers knowing that here, always, there is water.”
Elephants, elephants, elephants. I’ve never seen so many in my life. And my god. The tsetse flies were SO BAD (think African black fly). During exercises we would stop the car just long enough to write down GPS coordinates, swatting in every direction to protect ourselves from the vicious monsters. Here I encountered cheetahs, lions and ostriches as well as many other herbivorous mammals. We camped just outside the park at a small campground surrounded by Maasai bomas while we were there.
ARUSHA NATIONAL PARK
We left Tarangire after two nights and took the three hour trek to Arusha National Park. Tarangire was amazing and very “african” but upon arrival at ANP I quickly discovered one of my new favorite places on earth. The park is situated around the Ngurdoto Crater and extends to surround Mt. Meru, the fifth highest mountain in Africa. These two features give the park an extreme altitude gradient and therefore spanse of vegetation types. The cool montane forests were a relief after the heat of Tarangire and we enjoyed an amazing hiking safari up part of the mountain during our stay.
While the park is mostly empty of large carnivores and elephants we saw plenty of giraffes, zebras and baboons and my new favorite animal – colobus monkeys. But it was the scenery more than the wildlife that caused me to fall in love with ANP. The sunset over Mt. Meru looks like the door to heaven opening and from higher in the park you can see the looming silhouqette of kilimanjaro in the distance. During our stay we camped IN the park, protected by our staff askaris (guards) and heard creepy colobus calls through all hours of the night.