I have been sharing my experiences in Africa with whomever will listen, and invariably the first question is: “What animals did you see?” Of course one of the main goals of a safari journey is witnessing the astounding diversity of fauna. However, I must also give a shout out to the spectacular vistas offered up by the physical beauty of the parks themselves as well as the daily light show provided by the African sky.
Let’s then take a look at the flora and celestial offerings. First a brief description of each park:
AMBOSELLI- Masai for “open plain.” The park is 151 sq. miles in size at the core of an 3,100 square mile ecosystem that spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border. It offers spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world. The mountain was hiding in the haze during our visit but is nonetheless spectacular:
Amboseli has an endless underground water supply filtered through thousands of feet of volcanic rock from Kilimanjaro’s ice cap. Despite this endless supply of water the climate swings from drought to flood; in the early 1990’s. for example relentless rain changed Amboseli into a swamp while a few years later the rains failed and the grass-covered plains turned to dust.
TARANGIRE – Named for the Tarangire River that crosses through the park which is the only source of water during dry seasons. Covering 1,096 sq miles Tarangire National Park has some of the highest population density of elephants as compared to anywhere in Tanzania, and it is also known for its iconic baobab and acacia trees. In addition, birding is particularly good here for 550 bird varieties; the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world.
The baobab, found in this park is a fascinating tree – it appears to be upside down, with the roots above:
The baobab can grow up to 25 meters tall and can live for several thousand years. The baobab is leafless for nine months of the year; in the wet months water is stored in its thick, corky, fire-resistant trunk for the nine dry months ahead. Elephant often tear strips of the bark off for eating, but although stripping the bark from the lower trunk of a tree usually leads to its death, the baobab simply regenerates new bark.
The baobab is sometimes referred to as the “tree of life” as its parts have many uses. The fruit, which grows up to a foot long, contains tartaric acid and vitamin C and can either be sucked, or soaked in water to make a refreshing drink. They can also be roasted and ground up to make a coffee-like drink. The leaves can be boiled and eaten like spinach and is also used to treat kidney, bladder disease, asthma and insect bites Glue can be made from the pollen. Fiber from the bark is used to make rope, baskets, cloth, musical instrument strings, and waterproof hats.
NGORONGORO – Masai for “big hole.” The Ngorongoro Crater is not actually a crater but rather a caldera which is caused by the collapse of the central part of a volcano. The dimensions are staggering: slopes 5400 ft above sea level surround the 100 mile crater floor. The thin air and the morning thick fog adds an element of mystery, silencing most sounds. It some areas, the fog looks much like an ocean wave getting ready to crash on the savannah:
On the crest of the crater the landscape changes dramatically as below you can see the giant, pastel-colored, flat bowl which forms the crater floor. This is the Ngorongoro crater, also known as “The Garden of Eden” or “The Cradle of Life”.
Those whitish areas are salt flats.
In the shallow crater lake there are huge flocks of flamingos. Although this post highlights the African earth and sky I just have to show you these beautiful birds:
At far end of the Crater is the Olduvai Gorge, the archaeological site which is regarded as the cradle of mankind. The area is named after “oldupaai, which is the Masai word for the sisal plant. It is at Olduvai where remains of Zinjanthropus, the world’s first humans, were discovered by Dr Louis and Mary Leakey over 50 years ago. Based on fossil evidence found at the Olduvai Gorge, it is believed that various hominid species have been occupying the crater continuously for the past three million years.
SERENGETI – The Serengeti is a vast ecosystem in east-central Africa. It spans 12,000 square miles giving rise to its name, which in Masai means “endless plains.” Indeed.
The grassy plains have a hardpan (a layer below the soil, usually clay, which impairs drainage and plant growth) and this hardpan makes it difficult for tree roots to penetrate,
There are also vast savannahs, rolling grasslands scattered with shrubs and isolated trees such as this candelabra tree:
And sausage trees, whose fruit elephants love to eat:
MASAI MARA – Named for the people and the river that runs through it. An interesting sidenote: the word “Masai” in Israeli means “god’s work,” and I certainly think that definition fits this stunning park. The largest game reserve in south-western Kenya, the Masai Mara covers 9653 square miles of grasslands and swamp, and was established in 1961 to protect the wildlife from hunters. The Mara River runs through the reserve, and we were fortunate to see some of the hundreds of thousands of zebra and wildebeest tossing the Mara as part of the annual Great Migration as well as herds of hippo grunting as they swam through the water:
While the national parks all have their unique offerings – there are some commonalities. One is the dust. It is everywhere, particularly during the dry season. Between the animals scampering over the plains, or the “vandebeest’ wheels churning, this dust constantly flew at us – and in an open jeep there is no where to hide. Every time we returned to base camp after a safari we were given wet white towels to refresh our faces and every one of them turned tan after use.
Sometimes the combination of the dust, the powerful sun and flat plains give rise to a phenomenon called a “dust devil.” It is a whirlwind, a relative to a tornado due to its vertically oriented rotating column of wind. In this case, however the wind is joined by dust:
Most of the time these are harmless, but on occasion they can be large enough to cause injury to the land – and people. I was happy that we were always a good distance away.
The other common entity, that provided unending eye candy, day or night, is the African sky. As my readers know I have a passion for taking pictures of skyscapes, cloudscapes, moonscapes, sunrises, and sunsets – and this passion was well served. Let me end this post with a series of pictures that I hope give you a sense of the great beauty: