There will only be one more blog post after this one and it will be nothing like any of its precursors as it will not have anything to do with animals or birds or fancy lodges or wilderness preserves. It will focus entirely on the non-safari world in Tanzania, the day-to-day images of Tanzania as reflected in information from online sources and photos taken by Cindy Bailey from our vehicle as we traveled through towns and cities on our way to our far different privileged lodges and reserves. This post closes out that privileged visit to a magical place – as we returned to Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge, where our visit first began now two and a half weeks ago – preparing for our flights home to the “Western World”, far removed from Tanzania.
After breakfast on March 3rd, we loaded onto the two safari vehicles for the last time and we headed back to Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge, where it had all began seemingly ages ago. Day rooms had been reserved for everyone to spend their time before being taken to the Kilimanjaro Airport for early evening flights to Amsterdam and then “home”. Everyone that is except Cindy, me and Kevin Zimmer, our leader from VENT. Our flights would not leave until the next day with us going back through Doha, Qatar and on to Seattle. Kevin would be returning to his home in California for a well-deserved rest.
On the way back to Ngare Sero we stopped at the Arusha Cultural Center, a privately owned collection of shops and galleries that showcases arts from renowned artists around the African continent. It is one of the largest in east Africa and is located along the Arusha – Babati highway on the outskirts of the city of Arusha – Tanzania. This was a last chance to acquire souvenirs or remembrances from this amazing country. There had been shops at several of the lodges, but the things we liked the most were from Ngare Sero. Cindy and I try to bring some local art from each trip and we looked forward to the Cultural Center collection. We found what we thought was a perfect carving only to find out that it was from Gabon. There is an art style in Tanzania known as “tinga tinga” – a tourist art first created by Edward Tingatinga who started copying local animal paintings of animals seen on safaris and then depicting them in a whimsical and colorful style. Perhaps not a “high” art form, but very fun and the elephant painting we purchased would be welcomed back home.
We also made a few birding stops on the way from the Sopa Lodge to the Park exit gate – 68 species in just under two hours. Then it was along the highway through Arusha. None of the species were new for the trip so the final total was 432 species. Since none were new, the ones I have included here are of some species seen earlier but not included in earlier blog posts but which should have a place in this compilation of my memories.
That afternoon we said our goodbyes and 10 of our group were off to the airport. I continued to look – without success – for the Peter’s Twinspot. Cindy and I joined Kevin for a last dinner and retired to our room – a huge suite atop the main lodge building. The next morning, I made a last sweep of the grounds at Ngare Sero and once again failed to find the Peter’s Twinspot, but as is often the case there was a consolation prize. When Cindy and I arrived at Ngare Sero way back on February 15th, the others had already gone on a morning bird walk and one of the birds found was an African Emerald Cuckoo. Another was not seen the next two days. This morning I was pretty sure I heard the Cuckoo’s distinctive call – described by some as “Hello, Geor-gie”. But where was it? It was across the creek high up in the canopy, barely visible through dense foliage, but unmistakable. I did not have a recording to try to lure it closer and after a few moments it flew off – silently. It was species #432 for my Tanzania list – oddly one more species than I have seen in 50 years of birding in my home state of Washington, where that number ranks high. But there are twice as many species in Tanzania as in Washington, so at best, just a good start. The Cuckoo is a gorgeous bird, even more so than the Klaas’s and Dideric Cuckoos which we saw often and photographed. It would have been nice to add that photo to my collection, but it was not to be. Judge for yourself which is the more striking.
Our trip back to Seattle was very long – again with a many hour stopover in Doha, Qatar and a complication on seat assignments as the airline changed my seat without notice and then I found someone else sitting in the new one anyhow. Fortunately, we persuaded one passenger to swap seats so at least Cindy and I sat together – in the center section as opposed to an aisle and window seat as we had selected originally. It took many hours after our return to go through the thousands of photos, trying to identify species, running them through processing programs and matching them to Ebird lists, complicated as mentioned in an earlier blog by Ebird reports coming in late and not always matching day lists. Those were very minor issues for a trip that essentially went off flawlessly – an excellent job by VENT, our drivers Moses and God Bless, local guide Anthony and especially our leader, Kevin Zimmer. I can recommend him to everyone and maybe someday will be able to join him in Brazil – his real area of birding expertise.
We had seen and photographed the “Big 5” and many more incredible mammals. We had seen even more bird species than expected and although some were missed, some were seen that were not really thought likely. I had seen 432 bird species in Tanzania, had photos of 340 of them, added 77 species to my world life list and more than 200 to my world photo list. We had seen some extraordinary places and met some extraordinary people. Weather had been great and with the exception of some intestinal discomfort early on, we had not health problems. Most importantly we had a great time and Cindy enjoyed it so much, she was ready to go back to Africa anytime. She was a trooper throughout the trip and was not at all hampered by the torn rotator cuff and corrective surgery that had us on pins and needles for the three months before we departed. We have been back almost 10 weeks now and she can hardly remember that injury but sure remembers Tanzania.
At the end of each trip, VENT asks the participants to name their top 5 birds and top animals seen. With so many extraordinary bird species, it really is impossible to choose. And how do you compare an elephant to a lion or rhinoceros or leopard or giraffe? For Cindy the animal choice was easy – she loved them all but really loved the giraffes the best. For me, it had to be the cheetahs, maybe in part because I had only poor interactions on earlier trips. As to the birds, well nothing will ever compare to a Secretarybird or a Lilac Breasted Roller, but I had seen and raved about them before, so for this trip I decided it would be something less striking, more obscure – a Double Banded Courser or a Straw Tailed Whydah – both lifers and both high on my want to see list. No better way to end this long line of blogs than with photos of those favorites.
Well maybe one better way – a last photo – Cindy and Blair at Lake Manyara – yes, very touristy – but that’s what we were – two extraordinarily fortunate guests in beautiful, life changing Tanzania!!