Ooooohhh...that felt good.
You could see an elephant think this as he rubbed his backside against a scratching post.
The scratching post was a simple tree trunk in the forest. It was obviously a favourite place of a small herd we encountered that included mother and baby. A young tusker was a big attraction and was throwing dust over his grey back. Elephants are so watchable – they are always interacting with each other. But all of Lake Manyara National Park has been good. I like the way it is a small corridor of land squeezed between the 300ft escarpment and the soda lake. Streams run down from the cliffs and hot springs burst from the ground and run all the way to the lake. There are volcanic forces at work in East Africa and nowhere is it more evident than in Lake Manyara.
It’s reachable through the Maasai tourist town of Mwo wa Mbu at the foot of the escarpment. The entrance is at the western end of town and you know you are there due to gigantic baobab trees covered in the guano of pelicans and storks. Entrance is high $35 per person plus 10,000 schillings per vehicle. The forest begins almost immediately and I thoroughly recommend the visitors centre which allows you to wander the forest on a number of cane walkways. The visitors centre explains how water is important to the park and has a few interesting exhibits. I didn’t know the John Wayne action film "Hatari" was filmed here in the fifties.
Then we drove along the forest trail. What makes Manyara different is that it is not like most game parks with wide open spaces as it is mostly forest. Underground springs mean abundant vegetation – sausage trees, acacia scrub, banana trees, open meadows and baobab trees looking "Gothic" against the sky. This same vegetation began to move next to us and a Sykes monkey was looking at us from the branches. You like monkeys? Manyara is bursting with them. It has the biggest population of baboons in the world. These began to emerge from the forest and looked like they were travelling in armies. Dozens at a time would cross the track. Babies clung to their mother’s undersides, teenagers would stop and watch you and older baboons – the big males –would take their time to show who was boss.
Then the park turned Elysian.
The park at this point opens up in green meadows and bubbling brooks. It was a favourite with elephants who appeared next to the track. Their huge grey bulks tearing up the green grass. We all gasped as we entered a glade babbled down surrounded by green vegetation. There with his back to us was a huge elephant with a leathery back. He saw us but continued sucking up water with his trunk and squirting it into his mouth. Our guide, George, got very excited at seeing a rare Bushbuck on the other bank. To see this tiny antelope with its small horns and delicate build wait patiently to drink was a real thrill.
The elephant itself took an interest in us – knowing that we were no threat he came up to 1ft of the van and watched us with his beady eye. Nothing beats the thrill of getting close to really big game.