Yesterday, our group drove out to Lake Manyara National Park, about 45 minutes from our camp on Moyo Hill, and wow there are no words that could give it justice. When we first entered the park, while waiting to be let in a group of us went to use the bathrooms. Within feet of us, there was a family of baboons that crossed the road. From the trees near the entrance, we could hear scuffles and occasionally see a baboon pop out of the foliage. I thought I was amazed by how close the baboons were there, but that was nothing compared to entering the park itself.
The way the park works is that most visitors enter in bulky truck-like safari vehicles driven by a guide. I have never seen so many binoculars in my life. Once we entered the park, we started our assignment to do scans every 5 minutes for two hours of groups of baboons. Though this should have taken two hours, baboons like to move around sometimes, and almost as if sensing us watching, they often left soon after we began our observations. I’m not going to lie, we all got a little burnt out of the last group of baboons we watched. It was hot and sunny out, and we were very ready to move on.
On our way to our lunch spot, we encountered our first group of elephants. They acted as if we weren’t even there! One of the female elephants came within about 2 feet of our vehicle, so close that we could feel her steps shake the ground beneath us, and so close that when she dusted herself some of it flew into our faces. Being one of those children growing up who is in love with elephants (and one of those adults who still is), this experience was absolutely incredible. Once we got to the picnic spot—a lookout with a bunch of picnic tables where most tourists there went to eat—there was another elephant rustling in the branches behind us. At that point I wasn’t even that excited because in comparison it didn’t seem like that big a deal. I still can’t believe I’ve ever had that thought.
After lunch was when the real fun began. Though we did spend some time watching a group of hippos and we spotted some warthogs, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, and more, we spent most of the afternoon with even more elephants. The woman driving our car, Becky (also one of the Student Affairs Managers here), noticed the smallest of rustles coming from the bushes on the side, and within minutes, out emerged three elephants. We were happy to just see these three, but before we knew it, we were amongst a herd of at least 40 elephants. I heard an elephant’s trumpet in real life! Fun fact, the primary noise used to create the sound of tie fighters in Star Wars is an elephant’s trumpet. They mixed it with a bunch of other noises, but if you listen for it, you can hear the elephant come through.
It took us some time to realize that the elephants were trumpeting at us, and as we were leaving the area but pausing, we could see some rustling come from the bushes, and just as we were driving off, a very pissed-off looking elephant came running through the leaves. I didn’t believe that elephants could run as fast as people said they could, but boy they can book it.
Alright, I’m going to post this before the wifi goes out on our compound again, but hope that was exciting enough for all of you. I know it sounds like a ridiculous suggestion, but if you ever find yourself in Tanzania, Lake Manyara National Park is absolutely worth your time.
More pictures to come when I get a better internet signal 🙂