Fully fed and watered after a delicious picnic breakfast, we are soon on our way to “see what nature brings us this afternoon”.
Despite the rainy season being upon us, there doesn't seem to be much water in the Tarangire River at the moment.
A family of Lesser Striped Swallows dig in the dried riverbed for worms.
The normally shy impala stay by the side of the road looking at us as if transfixed. It makes a great change from them running away as soon as the car pulls up alongside them.
Like the elephants, they are so close I can almost touch them.
They are such elegant creatures.
Impala are affectionately known as “McDonalds”. Not because they make great burgers, but because of their rump markings resemble the “M” on the famous fast food chain's logo.
Another large herd – or memory – of elephants appears as if out of nowhere.
There are 16 family members in total, including a tiny infant, no more than 10 days old at the most. You can just about see him here (below), immediately behind the leading matriarch, being protected by his older sister with her trunk slung affectionately over his back.
The rest of the family follow behind.
It is fascinating to watch: when the matriarch at the front stops, everyone else stops, even those at the back. When she moves, the rest move.
We get really excited when we realise they are all going to cross the road. We might even get to see that baby properly.
Sixteen large animals crossing the road and the only sound we can hear is that of the grass rustling as they walk through. Elephants move in almost total silence, thanks to their spongy hooves that make for a soft step.
The elephants just keep coming and coming. One after another, all in a straight line. Just like Jungle Book.
One of them deviates from the line and walks right by our car.
This little guy seems to have lost his tail, poor thing.
The elephants continue on their journey through the park, and so do we.
At around eight feet tall, these large flowering plants make me think of a horror film for some reason, where ordinary small plants grow to enormous proportions and take over the world. Yes, I know, I have an over-active imagination.
At the other end of the scale, the Namaqua Dove is surprisingly small.
The elephants of Tarangire are known for their aggression and dislike of people, and one of these makes it quite clear what he thinks of humans as he feels the car is too close to his domain.
The male is energetically performing a courtship ritual by jumping from branch to branch like a lunatic. The female looks totally unimpressed.
It doesn't take us many minutes after getting out of the car before we decide that this is most definitely not the place to have lunch. The area is absolutely full of pesky tse tse flies.
The black and blue flag you can see on the picture, is supposed to help keep the population of these horrible little insects down, as the tse tse are particularly attracted to those two colours. The flags are impregnated with a substance which make them infertile, thus the number of flies should become reduced. Sorry guys, it doesn't seem to be working.
We quickly get back in the car again and head back to Matete where we had breakfast this morning, game viewing on the way.
Popularly referred to as 'feathered locusts', the Red Billed Quelea is Africa's most hated bird. For generations this small but voracious bird has gathered in huge numbers to decimate subsistence farmers' fields across the continent.
They look such cute little things, but with some colonies numbering into the millions, the quelea is the most abundant bird in the world, and sadly also the most destructive.
With an estimated adult breeding population of at least 1.5 billion, it is believed that the agricultural losses attributable to the quelea is in excess of US$50 million annually which would be totally devestating to those already barely getting by.
From our point of view, however, it is amazing to see and hear them take off en masse – the whoosh sound they make as they all fly from tree to tree is quite something.
Looking on the bright side, I suppose while they are here in the national park eating wild grasses, they are not causing destruction to farmers.
Some months ago I answered a question on Trip Advisor from someone who wanted suggestions for a safari company in Tanzania. Having recommended Calabash, the original poster and I continued to talk from time to time, right up until we left for Africa, and soon realising we'd be in Tanzania at the same time. We knew the only opportunity we had to be able to actually meet in person, would be today in Tarangire. I spot their car from quite a distance, thanks to the Calabash logo on the side.
It is great to finally be able to put a face to the name, and Agata is every bit as lovely in real life as she is on line. Her partner Dom is a really sweet guy too; and of course it is nice for Malisa that gets to chat with John, their guide, and catch up on news.
Today seems to be full of animals and bird that come really close to the car. Unlike most impala, who run away as soon as the vehicle pulls up next to them, these stay right by the side of the road as we stop to admire their graceful appearance.
We have a youngster with an itch that appears hard to scratch.
“I just can't quite reach...”
A family of mongooses who are milling around in a clearing stop and briefly look at us before carrying on with their lives.
Today really is a day full of close encounters! Crossing the road right in front of us makes this my closest sighting ever of these small furry mammals.
Eggs are one of their favourite foods, and this guy has got a large one. (Excuse the very bad photo, it's the only one I managed to get)
Another one of Tarangire's claims to fame is the number, size and age of its baobab trees. Popular with elephants for the ability to store water in their trunks, baobabs are often left with battle scars from the encounters.
Malisa explains that providing this tree does not receive any further assaults from elephants, it should be able to re-grow and continue to live. Any more battering will surely be the end of it though as it will collapse and die.
As we are talking about baobabs, a lion appears 'out of nowhere', leisurely walking along the road in front of us, before taking a rest.
After a short break, he continues on his way, slipping into the long grass beside the road. It is all over in a few minutes, and we are the only people who saw him. Right time, right place I guess.
Lions are said to be hard to spot in Tarangire, but we have had some luck over the years with a sighting on all but one of our visits (and on the one visit we did miss, we saw a lioness and two cubs outside the park boundaries)
Unlike earlier when we stopped here for breakfast, now the picnic site is full of tourists enjoying a break and having lunch.
The presence of lots of people also attracts these scavengers to the picnic site.
They may look cute, but they are scheming little thieves, who hang around the picnic tables, waiting for an opportunity to nab any unprotected food.
If the opportunities are slow at materialising, these intelligent creatures create their own opportunities. The have learned that if they make a lot of loud noise, imitating their warning calls, down at the railings overlooking the valley, curios tourists will flock to see what is making the monkeys so agitated. This then gives their mates a chance to snatch any food left behind on the picnic tables. We see several people falling for this trick today.
It's not just the picnic tables that get the once over from these cheeky guys, here you can see one of them checking out our car for the slightest chance of some food. Fortunately we made doubly sure we closed and locked all windows, doors and roof.
Fed up with the opportunist thieves, a group of French tourists shout “allez, allez” at the monkeys. The would-be robbers take absolutely no notice of course, continuing to approach the table from every angle. Laughter ensues when an Englishman on the next table informs them that the monkeys "only speak English you know”.
One of the most remarkable things about the Black Faced Vervet Monkey, is its bright blue testicles. When I say “bright blue”, I mean iridescent, almost glow-in-the-dark blue.
Even a Superb Starling tries to muscle in on the action, looking for crumbs dropped by tourists.
We have to leave the picnic area, and in fact Tarangire National park, to make our way back to Arusha and later our flight home. We will of course “see what nature has to offer us” on the way to the park gate.
This enormous bird (it stands at 130cm / 4'3”) is the largest of all the hornbill species, and as the name suggests is usually found on the ground.
This female is doing what girls all over the world do every day: preening herself.
It looks like this year's elephant fashion includes pierced ears.
Another mongoose family. These, however, take fright as soon as they see us.
Stopping occasionally to check if we are still following them.
And so this ends our 2017 safari in Tanzania. Despite being awfully poorly, I have enjoyed myself very much, thanks to being so extremely well looked after by David, Malisa and all the lodge staff along the way. Not to mention Tillya of Calabash Adventures of course, who made sure I was still OK and coping every day.
Being able to carry on as 'normal' as possible on the trip has been mostly down to adrenalin and as soon as we leave the last park and start the long journey home, I relax and it hits me big time. Everything from then on is a blur: the visit to Tillya's beautiful new office; trying to find a toilet in a leisure centre when I suddenly have a bout of diarrhoea; the emotional moment we have to say goodbye to Malisa; the check in to Kia Lodge in Arusha for a shower, change and dinner; the moving to a different room because the A/C is not working and there is no drinking water in the room; the transfer bus to Kilimanjaro Airport; the panic upon being asked for my UK visa at the check-in desk and having to explain that as an EEA national I don't need one despite the Brexit; the flights from Kilimanjaro – Istanbul – Birmingham; being transported from the plane in a wheelchair; and the drive home where I can finally collapse in bed.
Writing this blog and editing the photos back home has been great for me, as there is so much of the trip that I don't remember. So many of the notes I made at the time (thank goodness I did) where I have had to ask David: “what did I mean by this?”. This time, instead of re-living the trip as I usually do when I publish my blog after our return home; I have really just 'lived it' as I missed so much the first time round.
Here's to the next safari (this time hopefully in perfect health!) with Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far!