Manyara Journey

Manyara Journey

Lake Manyara National Park is small, often congested, yet still one of my favorite game drives. But she’s a fickle place; either very good or pretty forgettable.

We drove from Tarangire Treetops to Lake Manyara in about two hours, and it would have been shorter except for the requisite stop at the Mto-wa-Mbu market. If I’ve been criticized for anything throughout my career as a guide, it’s been that I don’t give people enough time for shopping.

But this stop was particularly productive. Ken Winge, the owner with his wife, Sandy, of one of Galena’s finest little stores (Galena Wine & Cheese) has adopted woodworking as his life’s avocation. Any visitor to his beautiful new workshop/barn can’t help but think he’s preparing his living space as a future museum.

Ken wanted not just some of the beautiful curios you can buy, but some of the raw wood so that he, too, could fashion something. That’s not the easiest assignment I’ve ever been given! A lot of the wood carvings found throughout the circuit come from woodworkers far away. And those that do have “workshops” nearby have difficulty themselves getting the wood.

I learned from Ken that the common names we’ve all been using aren’t really correct. I’m a particular fan of rosewood, or at least what everyone here calls rosewood. They make especially beautiful bowls and I admit that this safari I acquired a curio myself, a rosewood elephant!

Final analysis has to await something more scientific, but Ken’s first impression is that rosewood is actually bubinga, much lighter than true rosewood. He also believes that most of what we call ebony is African blackwood. The new nomenclature doesn’t diminish the beauty or rarity of the wood, by the way.

Well, Ken found his hunks of African blackwood since my lead driver, Tumaini Meisha, happened to bump into a cousin near the market who took Ken’s artistic motivations to heart, and guided him through both the miasma of curio stalls then the ultimate bargaining.

We entered Manyara shortly afterwards and how different it was from 12 days ago! The low lake level remained a final indication that the season has been very dry, but it had to have been raining hard for the last several days. The veld was beautifully green running from the lake shore to the woods, and the streams were all nearly full. Where we had seen only a handful of hippos at the famous entry of the largest stream to the lake 12 days ago, this day we counted more than 60!

On the plains were dozens and dozens of giraffe, zebra and wildebeest. In the forests were fabulous elephants, and the red and yellow bishops were back. Frankly, I don’t know where they want last time, and it makes me realize that game viewing might have a strong psychological component to it. The bishop birds never leave Manyara. They had to have been there my last visit, but perhaps we were just all so discouraged that we didn’t look carefully enough.

My son, Brad, was the first to spot the great silvery-cheeked hornbills, too. The park was in its full glory this day, and the one thing that never changes and was just as beautiful even during my last game poor visit, was the indescribable forests of towering podacoprus, mahogany, and tangles of intricate ironwood.

The feast for the eyes was more than sufficient. So it was sensory overload when less than a few hours later we stared down on Ngorongoro Crater from its first viewpoint!