(Part 1 Lake Natron and Ol Tukai)
Well we have finally got back from our holiday which has seemed like months!
As mentioned previously, this was going to be our fourth trip to Tanzania since we first traveled there with our two young children in 1993. Having seen how much Tanzania has changed, especially the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in those years when there was hardly any other visitors, then how much it has changed since our last visit in 2009, we wanted to visit places where we could recreate some of that experience we had in the 90s, something not as slick as what we saw in our last visit.
Also this was part of a much longer trip, we also visited Qatar, Paris and the last day of the Tour de France, London, Greenland and Iceland, so we were very cost conscious. I'm going to write up a report on the Iceland part of our trip, because that was amazing too.
Since our first visit with EASTCO, we had seen how Simon had changed the type of safari he was offering and were keen to get off the beaten path and visit some remote places in Tanzania and also return to an old favorite, Tarangire. Being July this was probably one of the better times to visit Tarangire again. I'm still fascinated by the elephants at Tarangire and could go back time and time again and just look at them.
We arrived in Kilimanjaro and was met by Lazaro and taken to Ilboru Safari Lodge for overnight. This was our second visit here and the large grounds and peaceful setting was one of the reasons we came back again.
First day on safari, heading off to Lake Natron, a place where I had heard so much but somehow was never able to include on any of our earlier trips. My mother had been there over 30 years ago and raved about it! The road was being built between Arusha and Makuyuni and a 1.5 hour trip turned into a 3 hour trip, dust everywhere, vehicles coming at you from all directions, buses and trucks appearing in front of the land rover with no warning. Bernard had warned us when we spoke in Arusha that morning (Simon being away) and we were ready for the long day. Lazaro was a very safe driver and took extra care on this part of the trip, he did have a few choice words for the other safaris vehicles that seem to appear out of the dust and to pass us, still amazed at this feat of x-ray vision they must have to see what was on the road ahead, as we could not see what was coming most of the time.
Stopping in Mto Wa Mbu to buy some bananas, we head north following the escarpment to the mountains we could see in the distance, the “Mountain of God” Ol Doinyo Lengai at the end of the rift valley wall, and Gelai, standing solitarily on the plains. The last couple of hours into Natron was interesting to say the least, driving over lava plains, uneven torturous roads and then crossing these black/ grey sandy plains as we headed towards the camp site at Ngare Sero.
We spent two nights here and it was everything I expected and more, the area had this bleak desolate landscape, dominated by the rift valley escarpment, the volcanic mountains and the colorful Lake Natron. Lazaro did mention that an overseas company was looking at mining the area for soda ash. I hope this doesn't happen!
We did not climb Lengai, those days are past (as we are getting older!), and it looked incredibly steep and rugged. We did meet another couple from the UK who were going to climb it on our last night, but they had still not returned by the time we had left after breakfast. We visited the waterfalls, Ol Karien Gorge and got as close as we could to the lake.
On our third day the plan was to head to the eastern shores of Lake Manyara and EASTCO’s new lodge at Ol Tukai. We stopped en route at Esilei Masai Woman’s project, which was just ok and then headed across the black stoney plains through Masai villages and bomas. This was the “back route” and the short cut to Ol Tukai, apparently a dry season road only and the clouds of grey dust that followed us paid testament to this. This is also the main road between Esilei and Minjingu and was apparently graded recently to allow access to the Minjingu market. We had one interesting river crossing, although completely dry, it was that steep on each side which was handled well by Lazaro. Hate to have seen it when it was raining. We did pass a few battered utes overloaded with people, hanging off the sides and loaded with goats and scrawny chickens headed for the market.
As we got closer to Ol Tukai the scenery changes, we could see the lake in the distance with the rift valley wall, doum palms scattered everywhere, apparently the Masai name for these trees is Ol Tukai. As we got closer to the lake shore there was also clumps of acacia trees, and what looked like shallow waterholes which apparently after the rains are full of water.
There were scattered herds of zebras and jittery Thompson gazelles on the plains. The last part of the trip is across the grey sandy floodplains, riven by shallow dry stream beds. This was our first glimpse of Ol Tukai, two thatched buildings with very steep roofs overlooking the distant lake. There was a large herd of giraffe behind Ol Tukai, maybe 30 or so scattered amongst the palm and acacia trees.
We pulled up in an open space (bush reception) and were met by two stately Masai warriors who had glasses of cold juice and took us to our room set on short stilts above the ground. The room was a surprise, totally unexpected, very spacious and with incredible views. The two front doors are completely glass and over two meters tall, so when lying in bed we had this vista stretching away forever. Following the slope of the roof the front walls were shade cloth, enabling us to see out, but as we learnt to appreciate later, allowing cooling breezes to flow through the room. It was very hot during the middle of the day here and the rooms and dining area had obviously been designed with this in mind, high roofs and open walls of shade cloth to allow whatever breezes there are to cool the room.
The shower and toilet were built out of local stone with a glass brick wall in between and the hot shower was a chance to wash off the grey dust that seem to fill every pore. Warrior John bought us a cold beer and soda and we sat on the decking and watched the sun set behind the escarpment. We were impressed that the lighting was environmentally friendly, we had a number of LED lights, all in old fashioned modified style hurricane lights. These were hanging from the roof and beside the beds with individual switches. No noisy generators anywhere.
We wandered over to dinner where we met up with the other family staying at Ol Tukai, the two adult sons were in the tented part of Ol Tukai and the parents were in the room next to us. They were just finishing a 16 day safari with EASTCO and were very much in the end of safari relaxing mode.
Dinner was a communal affair, around a long bespoke fashioned timber table with flamingos in a Tinga Tinga style painted onto the bare timber surface. The meal was a home cooked affair, with the meat eaters tucking into a roast leg of pork. A special vegetarian meal was prepared for me, roasted egg plant lasagna, it was the most amazing vegetarian lasagna I have ever tasted and when I met the cook Isaiah, I could not believe how something so tasty and well presented could be prepared by someone who seemed to be still in his teens. Lazaro mentioned the next day that Isaiah was still at secondary school and was heading to a cooking class at a local trades college at the end of the school year. Also that he had been taught how to cook by Simon and usually is found cooking in his house in Arusha. Lazaro also mentioned that he had been with EASTCO for nearly eight years now and started as a waiter and guide at Naitolia Camp and had grown up near Simon’s house. I remember him from my last trip guiding us on the walking safaris from Boundary Hill Lodge, so it was nice to see some continuity.
We were only staying two nights at Ol Tukai. The first morning we went on a walk with John before the sun became too hot. We say a lot of interesting stuff, a nesting Pratincol, the two speckled black eggs just sitting in the open and I wondered how they survived with the zebras and gazelles everywhere. We also saw the small palm trees that had the heart cut out. Apparently the young Masai herdsman, with not much to do all day, cut down these young palm trees to eat the heart of the palm, whilst their cattle wander around.
We returned to Ol Tukai for another filling meal, far too much, and then relaxed through the heat of the day. Late afternoon we were headed off in the landrover and went to visit a small family Masai Boma, although this was not the first time we had visit with the Masai before, this time we had brought some much need school supplies! Although it was a Sunday with the school closed, being only a small community we did manage to speak to the teacher and some of the school children. It is often difficult to know what to bring when you want to help out and following Simon’s suggestion we brought about 500 school exercise books in Arusha from a local stationery shop before we left. These five boxes had travelled with us to Natron and back and it was good to unload them. I was reminded of our first visit to a Masai Boma when we travelled with our children on our first trip and our daughter played the clarinet for them.
This was our last night at Ol Tukai and since we were the only guests we had dinner out in the open. It was a very special evening, dinner by star light and left us with very fond memories of Ol Tukai.
Tomorrow morning it is very early breakfast as we head into Tarangire for my elephant fix and one of my favorite places, Boundary Hill Lodge.
I'll write more about that next time!