Have you ever heard of a Dik-Dik.?
They are antelopes that are tiny – I mean barely a foot high. It looked like a toy or a mouse. Everything about this deer was miniscule – its body, legs, horns and even brown eyes which looked up at us before vanishing into the bush.
As we progressed further into Lake Manyara it was the small animals which became a pleasure. We ticked them off – jackals, bush pigs, porcupines, songbirds and a klipspringer – a deer nearly as small as the Dik-Dik. Not to mention the endless Impala that were spread throughout the park in small herds sharing their space with baboons. The two seemed to have a reciprocal relationship – both watching out for predators. The most famous predators of this national park are tree-climbing lions but we didn’t see any. I didn’t mind as I’d seen enough lions on the Serengeti and in Kenya.
As we headed westwards I craned my head up to the huge escarpment cliffs towering above the park. The cliffs were sheer granite but were covered up to the rim with vegetation. Cape buffalo grazed in their shadow. They were a bachelor herd – two tonnes of muscle giving us dirty looks as we drove past. We were coming to the end of the forest and across the floodplain the lapping water of Lake Manyara could be seen. There were some strange birdlife around here – top of these were the red-billed hornbill. A gigantic flightless bird with black feathers and red face. There five of them in the road hopping along – when we appeared they bounced into the undergrowth.
Then the vista opened up to a large view of the lake. Below us streams erupted from the cliff face and wriggled their way across the plain to the marshy lake. Where the streams emptied out into Lake Manyara was one of the most stunning sights of this trip – the horizon was a moving wall of pink flamingos.
Wow! How do you take that in?
We got out of the safari vehicle. As far as the eye could see was a pink mass of moving birds. Through binoculars we could see the birds individually – each bird hissing, squawking and beating its wings. They were feeding by swishing their heads through the water sifting for algae. The bad side was the sheer stench of their guano travelling through the hot air. Hot springs were coming from underground. Our guide said it was quite safe so we reached down and touched it – scalding hot water heated from far underground.
We went to the top of the lake and while we were crossing the floodplain we encountered a herd of twelve giraffes. We pulled over and watched them stride in front of us. It was like a great ship floating by covering the ground with great strides.
At the edge of the lake it looked like the ground had been chewed up by the footprints of hippos. But these were lost in what occupied the lake – thousands and thousands of pelicans. Too many for the eye to comprehend – a squawking flapping amorphorous crush.
We could see the great pink/grey bulk of hippos somewhere in their midst. And the noise! Each one seemed to be letting his lungs have some exercise. The ones in the water looked like little sailboats – head and beak out front with little legs paddling underneath.