Unsurprisingly, the time we spent in the Masai villages and territory around the Ngorongoro Crater far exceeded our plan.
When we finally enter the large tree-covered area that borders the Lake Manyara Serena Safary Lodge, it's almost two in the afternoon. Its shadow saves us from the unbreathable ember that emanates from the only apparently barren depths of the Rift Valley.
Even exhausted, Moses Lote, the driver and guide we had been living with for a good few days, from the distant Kenyan border of Isebania-Sirari, is once again showing biblical courage. “Boys, if you still want to explore the park today, no lunch banquet.
By three, we have to be getting out of here!" he communicates with us with his air that is at once austere but paternal and always happy. We finished the meal as calmly as possible. We stroll among the traditional thatched-roof buildings that made up the lodge, followed by a flock of curious juvenile blue monkeys.
Finally, we investigated your small pool in the shape of a plump eight. The larger of the rounded ends opens up to a towering view of a void. A misty or vaporous nothingness that extends from the green of the nearest vegetation and is lost in an indefinite horizon.
We are still trying to find some daunting contours to the scene when Moses reappears from his short rest and tries to calm us down: “It seems inhospitable from here, doesn't it? Just wait until we get down.
Down there is something else entirely.”
The Ultimate Path to the Shores of Lake Manyara
The three of us got into the jeep, passed the gate of the lodge and entered the B144 road, which, to get there, skirted a large part of the giant crater of Ngorongoro. Just a few hundred meters later, we stopped at a viewpoint over the rift and the lake.
The same rift that crisscrossed all of East Africa, tore through it and dotted it with volcanoes and alkaline lakes dotted with flamingos from the Ethiopian coast of the Red Sea, and until it reached it, stretching across Sudan and Kenya.
The landscape was now just a little clearer, overflown by a pair of harpy eagles nesting on the rocks of that same cliff. Meanwhile, two artisan vendors emerged from the shade of acacias and vied for our attention.
We weren't in shopping mode because, just below the equator, the sun was falling over the horizon faster than we wanted. To his frustration, we apologized and headed back to the jeep, determined to complete the route to the park entrance.
The Serena Lodge was at 1240 meters of altitude. The steep and winding path along the cliff of the Rift took us down to about 950 meters where its authorities were located. Moses dodged the B144. He parked the jeep in the reception area. We left and went to two field tents installed under the canopy of large trees.
From the reception onwards, the unpaved road was subsumed into a forest with a dense slope dominated by mahogany and huge African fig trees.
At that late hour, the vehicles with which we shared it were rare.
The Path Barred by Manyara Primate Fauna
For that very reason, flocks of overlying baboons roamed it, unwilling to give way to the invading traffic.
“Here they are, the jungle hooligans!” snaps Moses, with his usual good cheer. “Let me see if we can get past this monkeyid procession…”.
A slight acceleration was enough to force the primates to swerve to the edges, visibly uncomfortable. We followed our path with brief interruptions to admire elephants grazing among young trees and bushes.
Then, without warning, from the forest, the dirt road opened onto a grassy plain that seemed to have no end.
Lake Manyara: The Lake Africa That Inspired Ernest Hemingway
We go a little deeper into its core and finally come across the first liquid and blue remnant of the lake that Ernest Hemingway called the “most enchanting setting I've ever seen in Africa”.
He fell in love with him, in 1933, during a month of big game safari shared with his second wife Pauline Marie Pfeiffer, with whom he shared part of life in the house of Key West, Florida Keys. This month of safari would give rise to “The Green Hills of Africa".
Hemingway divided his nonfiction work into four parts with hunting as the common denominator: in the first, “Hunt and Chat” discusses American writers with a European expatriate and addresses hunters' relationships with native trackers.
In "Hunt remembered” aptly describes the Rift Valley we were walking through and kills a smaller rhinoceros than the one his friend Karl would kill. In the literary field, several European writers are approached: French and Russian.
In "Hunt and Defeat”, among other adventures, the author describes his inability to chase a kudu.
And, finally, in “Hunting and Happiness”, Hemingway manages to shoot down a specimen of cuddly with huge horns.
On his way back to camp, he discovers that Karl had killed an even bigger one and that, unlike him, the trackers and native guides treated him like a brother.
Ernest Hemingway's Relational Dilemmas, Also at Lake Manyara
The book received mixed reviews that made Hemingway feel as if he had been annihilated. A short time later, he would blame his failure on the wealthy, domineering women in his life, including his wife Pauline and mistress Jane Mason.
He would later write two more African stories, “Francis Macomber's Short Happy Life"and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, both about husbands subjugated by women.
We were in the middle of the dry season. The volume of water supplied by the Simba and Makayuni rivers and by the rare rains did not make up for the losses of the increasingly meager flow that amphibians were beginning to dispute intensely.
In the distance, giraffes undulated their necks against the azure blue in a graceful ceremonial dance.
Families of secretaries probed and pecked the ground in search of absent-minded little reptiles, and, dispersed in a large herd, hundreds of wildebeests kept an eye out for furtive attacks by lions or cheetahs.
We continued to enter the vegetable bed of the lake.
Until we came to a wooden bridge and Moses stopped again. "Well, enjoy."
The Walkway Revealing Lake Manyara's Prolific Hippos
It's one of the rare wild places in Tanzania where you can get out of your jeeps safely.” A sign painted in yellow on a reddish plank welcomed us: “Welcome to Lake Manyara Hippo Pool. Magical Living Sponge"
We climbed the ramp and were above the huge grass and papyrus forest. From there, side by side with our counterparts from other urbanized parts of the world, we absorb the charm of that untamed and drenched Africa.
As the sign indicated, several hippos grazed, indolently, on the edge of the ponds and corgas.
And dozens of white herons circling around or riding on their rough backs, attentive to the gifts of parasites and insects that the pachyderms provided.
At dusk, almost all the visitors disbanded, something we didn't notice so we were entertained admiring and photographing the amphibious life of the lake.
Lake Manyara and its Flying Lions and Hats
When we returned to the dense jungle, we aimed to find lions or leopards resting on tree branches, “the flying lyons” as they are known in Africa, a sight that, even if not guaranteed, is always possible in Manyara.
We traveled the roads in the company of a single jeep in which a young Asian couple was following.
At one point, emerging from a hump where the almost setting sun had dazzled us, we were startled by a shrill female scream. "What the hell was that?" he immediately threw Moses, unwilling to be unpleasantly surprised at the close of the day.
It still occurred to us that the baboons or some feline had boarded the front jeep. With the sunlight obscured by vegetation, we realized how human and ridiculous the drama was after all: Moses' colleague had accelerated a little more.
As the young Asian had forgotten to tighten the strings, his safari hat had flown to the ground, much to the delight of the baboons who had staged the incident to feast.
Now, the young girlfriend – or bride or wife – did not forgive her partner for his carelessness. Following the scream, she continued to verbally abuse him with a few vehement slaps on the shoulders.
Return to Serena Safari Lodge's Cozy Shelter
Night was already setting in when we returned to Serena Safari Lodge. We were exhausted from most of the day spent aboard the jeep in the scorching heat of the Rift.
We had dinner outside on the lodge's porch, refreshed by Serengetis beers, which, in addition to the taste, we revered to the elegance of the label, with its leopard in a haughty pose against a black background, a rival brand of Kilimanjaro.
Afterwards, we investigated as much as we could of the journey ahead.
We were not long in giving in to tiredness and sleep.
From Manyara we were counting on reaching Tarangire, another no less rewarding secondary park in Tanzania. Early in the morning of the route, we would investigate Mto Wa Mbu, the road and riverside village that serves Lake Manyara.
The effort to understand it began when we were still on our way. Moses well tried to teach us the Swahili pronunciation of the name but we, who even got along well with the languages and dialects, in that case, needed more time.
The combination of sounds that Mto Wa Mbu required proved too raw and guttural. Quite different from the simplified and “westernized” version in which we choked until we pout for good.
It is a river of the same name that translates as “Mosquito River” which lends its name to the village that hosts Masai craft markets, street stalls selling fruit, clothing and other foodstuffs and trinkets.
Mto Wa Mbu: Discovering Manyara's Urban Side
For Moses, the key was fueling the jeep. So it was at the service station that we left him, willing to go as far as possible on Mto Wa Mbu.
As you might expect, in Tanzania or wherever in these parts of Africa, we didn't get far without getting into a hilarious discussion.
The theme was the usual one. Pay or not the intended fees for the photographs that we asked or we didn't ask for whoever was more photogenic we were finding.
We started by stopping by the fruit sellers, who we found wrapped in dresses and long gaudy scarves, with typical tribal patterns.
Every time we aimed the camera, we were immediately warned that the photo would have to involve a purchase of a good or payment. As some of the images included several sellers, by its logic, we would have to buy fruit from all of them. We saw their resistance as just another diplomatic mission that we carried out with patience and humor.
A few minutes later, we were already sharing laughs with most of the saleswomen who willingly allowed themselves to be photographed, watched by motorized tricycle drivers lined up on the opposite side of the road.
One of the ladies in particular, Alima, recognized the effort we were making to take pictures of her village and made a point of allowing herself to be portrayed. Which came in handy as she wore an iconic, conical velvet hat that set her apart from the rest.
At the same time, children passed by on their way to school in their uniforms of khaki shorts or blue skirts (they), white shirts and blue pullovers.
Farm workers arrived with large loads of bananas balanced on their bicycles and tricycle taxis got out of line for convenient travel.
We soon returned to the jeep and Moses' company to complete our journey to Tarangire.