Still with us? Thanks for the kind remarks.
So we arrived at Lake Chala and the eponymous Lodge. http://www.lakechalasafaricamp.com I had been there solo in 2012 but camped as the “Tents” were just empty platforms then. This time they were up and running and great tents they are too. They do not look out over the Lake, that view is reserved for the Restaurant, or those hardy enough to walk to the Crater edge or beyond. The “Tents” look down on a Waterhole and the surrounding bush. Now we had a change of scenery and environment. Having spent the trip so far at altitude in lush Montane Forest we were in Savannah with its different wildlife. There was elephant sign but none around as they migrate through at different times of the year. There are smaller mammals and no doubt Leopards too, so it was relatively safe to wander around in the bush. Rob does provide guided walks and other activities but that is not the Mission statement for Mfuwe Lite.
We walked one morning to the high point of the rim and happily ticked off a number of birds and some lovely butterflies too. I refuse to 'do' Butterflies as there are too many and I am too old to learn them all now. On other days we picked a target such as a large Baobab and struck out along paths to there and back. One track came across a large river bed, invisible from even close to. The sandy shore was pock marked with signs of large mammals using it but we never got to see them. However there was still plenty to interest us both in and around camp. As we returned one morning we saw a large patch of white in a tree which with binoculars morphed into a substantial Eagle. So we picked our way closer to find an African Hawk-Eagle. Slowly approaching and snapping away in case it flew, it didn't, we got very close and some great pictures. It had fed and its crop was very prominent. No doubt lethargy prompted it to remain for us but we did not wish to take liberties and went no nearer than 10 metres. Other birds for those still awake were Deiderik Cuckoo, Spotflanked Barbet and Cardinal Woodpecker. On another walk we found a gaggle of various birds scolding something in a small tree. Ho. “I bet there is an owl or something robbing a nest” . So we investigated. We got right in before we espied a large Cobra seeking lunch and it was coming our way. We made excuses and left. Lake Chala is lovely, the food good, the chef had lessons. His Beetroot and Orange Salad has to be tried. The Breakfast Sausage was the best I have tasted in Africa. All food grown on the plot or sourced in Moshi. As our four days ended, Mt Kilimanjaro came out as a farewell gift and made a great backdrop for Rob's tents which have to be some of the nicest I have slept in. The balcony and the Beer ticked the 3 boxes.
Our next driver, Amos, appeared on time and we left for Mto wa Mbu and our next 3 Bs via a short stop in Arusha to meet Romeo (S.R.Rwezaura) and fund the purchase of the necessary NCA Card for later. On a tip from a TA poster we had used Safarimultiways http://www.safarimultiways.com/ and they were very good to deal with. Thanks Oliver.
Then after the madness of Arusha Traffic we headed west in quick order to Ol Mesera Lodge, 11km up the road to Lake Natron from Mto wa Mbu. http://www.ol-mesera.com/ I had stayed before and was keen for Lady M to meet the equally lovely Barbara (Mama Lavrich-Winani). It was dry season last time but lovely and green now. The tents are not new but much work had been carried out and a lovely Baobab trail laid out in the 'grounds' for guests to explore. Food has always been excellent if simple but a new young chef, Lucas, has managed to improve on the already perfect. A bird bath outside the bar made the watching so easy for us. A real pleasure and so nice to celebrate Christmas Day Maasai style. Bob Geldoff sang “Do they know it's Christmas over there?” Well Sir Bob, they certainly did at Ol Mesera. We spent our time walking many tracks and seeing many birds including the magnificent Imperial Eagle, Rock Thrush, White-throated BeeEaters, Goshawks and even had flyovers by a flock of Skimmers and about 300 Great White Pelicans. On the Mammal front we met a tribe of Dwarf Mongoose, Grant's Gazelle, Impala and Zebra but the highlight for me was finding a Den of Bat-eared Foxes complete with cubs within quarter of a mile of camp and unknown to our hosts. The walking here is quite easy and relatively level but this is Mfuwe lite and we had a fair bit of Balcony time too in our five day stay. (How Lite is that?) Not being a total Scrooge we had booked Amos to return late on 26th, so he could have Christmas at home. So 27th was a choice of Lake Natron or Lake Manyara. Manyara won. Skipping breakfast we took a hamper with Lucas providing the picnic box. As we approached Mto wa Mbu we were delighted and surprised to see a Carmine BeeEater well at its furthest south. Entering the park by the new access road following the flood damage of last year we had a picnic breakfast by the Hippo Pool with Amos setting out the tablecloth in fine style. Several hungry/envious looks from other cars as they crept by. Lots of birds here with fine views of Bataleuer, Palm Nut Vulture, Turkestan Shrikes and both Temmincks and Double Banded Coursers. We had lots of happy Elephant moments with the friendly inhabitants of Manyara including a good sighting of a huge male Tusker. Photo Ops were restricted by the firm attention of his two 'minders' which were quite big in themselves. We then proceeded to the Maji Mkubwa Springs where we took lunch while watching masses of Flamingo feeding on the algae of the springs. Then as it got hotter the Tsetse decided it was their lunchtime too which induced us to head back north. Our bird score was enhanced by Buzzards and Broadbilled Rollers along with Usumbiro and White-headed Barbets. Lots of various Larks and Capped Wheatears by the track back to Ol Mesera ended our day and stay here.
With regret we left Ol Mesera but cheered up as Ndutu was our next call. This time we were to take the Endulen track 'shortcut' to the south of Mount Lemagrut. This track leaves the Crater rim by the Airstrip and heads over country reminiscent of the Yorkshire Moors. Different eco system, different birds. Among the Zebra and Jackals we managed to find Schalow's Wheatear and both Jackson's and Red-collared Widowbirds. Further on we also found the lovely Schalow's Turaco with his foppish crest. Amos professed to know this track so we left it too him until my sixth sense felt the sun was in the wrong direction and we should not be in sight of Lake Eyasi either. As we entered the small village of Kakesio I knew we were wrong. I switched on the Garmin and this indicated we were well south of where we should have been. After some really bad sections of road, but some lovely birding, we crossed into Maswa Controlled area and a junction with a road that seemed to heads where we needed to be. Garmin (Gladys to her friends) said Ndutu lay 24 miles due north which matched the direction of this track. So we took it with Amos shaking his head in denial. Good surface, many animals including the gathering Wildebeeste and the sun setting to our left. I felt we were on the right track, literally. And so it came to pass. Amos cheered up when we sighted Naibor Hill to the North East and Naabi Hill to the North West with trees on the horizon ahead. Shortly thereafter we rolled into Ndutu via the track from the airstrip.
Serengeti really is a featureless flat ocean of grass out there and there ain't no signposts. That Safari Baridi sana was really earned today.
Karibu Ndutu Safari Lodge. A place I have been visiting since 1993 and a firm favourite.