Tales from Tanzania: Witnessing the resiliency of nature at Lake Manyara National Park

Our first game drive through the 285 square miles (460 km2) of Lake Manyara National Park did not disappoint. Covering 89 square miles (231 km2) of the park, Lake Manyara is a salt lake ranging from 20 to 50 feet deep. The lake’s high alkalinity comes from sodium bicarbonate, which leaches out of the volcanic rock in which it sits.

When we arrived, the surrounding area had recently flooded, causing serious changes to the landscape in several ways. The most drastic had come from landslides so powerful they had nearly covered the original ranger office.

When the area flooded, the level of the lake also rose, causing the surrounding area to have significant deposits of sodium bicarbonate. This sudden change killed all of the trees in the flood area.

However, by the time of our visit we were able to witness the incredible resiliency of nature, as the area had already started to heal itself. This is helped by the many underground springs which bring in fresh water, giving the animals clean drinking water and clearing out the salt deposits. The grass is already making a comeback and the rangers are confident that the trees will soon follow.

While the flooding was terrible in so many ways, it might have done the area good, as it gets very little rain. Each year 75 percent of the lake evaporates in the dry season, which concentrates the salts. Hopefully the floods diluted the salts, if only for a short period. And as you can see in the following pictures, the animals hardly seem to have minded the flooding.

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The baboons in Africa amazed me. As far as I can tell, they are the equivalent of a diurnal raccoon in the states. They are smart, quick on the uptake, like eating leftovers, and aren’t afraid to come take something that is shiny or smells good. We didn’t have any troubles with them, but we were warned not to feed them and were told tales of cameras and other treasures lost to the unsuspecting.

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The second coolest things we saw that day was a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl with a fresh kill in its talons. It was surprising to see a diurnal owl here as most of ours are nocturnal.

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Being part of the science dork crew from the Museum, the coolest thing I think we saw that day was a hippo carcass. I was in a truck with a large animal vet that day, Mary Sue, so we spent a good bit of time trying to CSI the hippo. A clear indication that large predators are in the area, the hippo carcass was picked clean — except for the skin, which was too thick for anyone to eat.

Tales from Tanzania: Blackouts, bumpy roads, and banana plantations

We arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport well after dark. There are no gates, so we deplaned onto the tarmac and walked in to get our visas. Everyone was in a chipper mood — we had arrived, we were up and moving around (which was awesome after two long flights), and we were ready to begin our adventure!

While waiting in line, however, the power went out and the terminal went pitch black. But this didn’t seem to faze the customs officials in the least. They all popped out their flashlights and went back to work (which led us to believe that this might be a fairly common occurrence).

After boarding small buses, we headed for the hotel. It was dark on the way, but with the help of the stars, we could just make out the silhouette of mountains. (To be fair, the driver said they were hills, but to a Houstonian like me, they were mountains.)

On the way to the hotel, we were all treated to an “African massage (which is what they call a long drive on a bumpy road)” before arriving at the hotel at around midnight local time.

In the morning, we met our drivers for the duration of our stay. Stephen, my driver that first day, told us that Arusha, the closest town, meant “cloudy” in Swahili. This proved an apt name as we could barely make out Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance through all the clouds as we hit the road.

We spent the day traveling, stopping periodically to investigate this or that as we made our way to a second hotel just outside Lake Manyara National Park. The journey taught me that road markers are just suggestions, really … no need to actually pay attention to them.

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Courtesy of Nicole & David Temple

We stopped to have a beautiful and delicious lunch at a banana plantation. Lunch felt like home because of all the butterflies. The butterflies, of course, didn’t recognize me, but I definitely recognized them from their relatives living in the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

Courtesy of Nicole & David Temple

Courtesy of Nicole & David Temple

 

After settling in at the hotel, we listened to a talk from our guide Robert (and we’ll talk more about him later, because he definitely needs his own post!), ate a delicious dinner, and then went for a nature walk with a select few, where we learned about the flora and fauna on the top of the crater.

No luck seeing a nyoka (snake) yet, but we were told that there are cobras around — so keep your fingers crossed.

Kwa heri (see you soon)!