While much of the rest of East Africa is suffering in the midst of a serious drought, Tarangire though dry is still fabulous.
We entered the national park in the late afternoon at the northern gate, and we’d traveled hardly three minutes before we encountered the Watermelon Club.
The watermelon club is composed of 20 or so magnificent and giant elephant bulls that in a truly wild situation would not be hanging out, together. Now mind you, I think Tarangire is one of the wildest parks in Africa, but inevitably the park ends and civilization begins.
Tarangire’s civilization is composed of a lot of watermelon farms. We know from the elephant dung that a lot of these watermelons are ending up in the bellies of 6-ton tuskers. During the day the hang around the northern edge of the park and don’t seem to mind the thousands of photographs that ensue. They sleep, meander a bit, knock down a few trees, and wait for sunset.
Then, they raid the area’s watermelon farms. It may seem comical to us visitors, but it’s anything but funny to the farmers. It’s become a serious regional issue. Researchers like Anna Estes are trying to document the incidents and figure out what to do.
Everyone loved the encounter and we headed a bit more quickly than we intended to down to the river. Like all the freshwater rivers I’ve seen in East Africa this year, it’s flowing well. This one is born in the Silale Swamp, which the next day we would find appearing dry. Yet it’s flowing well. Similar to Mzima Springs and later, the streams that run into a now nearly completely dry lake in Ngorongoro Crater. Is this late rain? Or more ominously, the slow desertification of East Africa?
We continued along the river and encountered huge numbers of zebra, beautiful light, many giraffe, more ele and buffalo. The park was fabulous for both our days, here. It was also, VERY COLD. People don’t think of Africa as cold, no matter what our preparatory literature might tell them, and the truth is that it isn’t snowing. It’s more like the upper 50s. But without the air-conditioning and heating that we’re all accustomed to at home, the upper 50s feels like it’s snowing!
Pulled into Sopa at 7 p.m. Gathered at just before 8 p.m. and had a wonderful debriefing and then a pretty simple if awful dinner. Afterwards, Conor wanted to talk, so I did, including learning about his proposed bike trip across Mauritania. Didn’t get to bed until 10:30p and slept like a log.
Our second morning we were out at 6 a.m. in the BITTER COLD. But what a reward we had at the Silale swamp. Before we returned around 1 p.m. we’d seen about 200 elephant and as many buffalo. I was with Carl, Tim, Marley and Conor, and the others really empowered Carl and I to bird, so we found chinspot batis, red-faced crombec, crowned hornbill and all sorts of other things.
For “team mammal” we saw honey badger, not an easy find.
In the afternoon we were going to take it casually and end up on Tarangire Hill for the sunset, but as I was riding along in Tumaini’s car, we got word that a leopard was on display at Silale – exactly where we’d been that afternoon. We raced over the Boundary Hill Ridge and sure enough, a beautiful big female leopard was on display in classic pose on a lower branch of an acacia. It was stupendous. Charles raced back then again to the lodge to retrieve Hayley, who had stayed behind, so that everyone finally got a view of this most elusive of the cats.
We then completed our plan, perhaps faster than we should have, but there was time for everyone to stick their head into the hollow trunk of the Poacher’s Baobab, and to click quite a few pictures of a beautiful landscape and sunset from Tarangire Hill. That should have been it, but it wasn’t.
The road off the hill is tangled in high now leafless bush. It’s a narrow road, and we found that dusk was a time that the elephants used the road to climb the hill for the night. We waited in my car a long time before coasting silently down the road, but it didn’t work. One large female trumpeted and charged, stopping just meters from our car.
Tarangire’s wooded landscapes are beautiful. Its elephants are unbelievable and exciting, and the terrain including Silale Swamp one of the most magnificent on the circuit.