On Thursday we embarked on a cycle tour of Lake Manyara National Park. We bid farewell to Sara, who wisely steered clear of the bicycles, and (after some initial difficulties) set off. Emerging into the National Park for the first time was very surreal; it was definitely a unique experience being so exposed to nature. Despite overheating in the intense African sunshine, and Eve experiencing serious bike malfunctions with a flat tyre, we all made it out alive and well.
We then visited a local wood carving workshop, where we learnt about the history of the wood carving tribe and bought some souvenirs for friends back home. After that, we were given the opportunity to taste ‘banana beer’, a local favourite which we discovered is often used as a gift to resolve arguments.
The safari began early on Friday morning; we said goodbye to Pip (who stayed to keep Jimmy company in our absence) and headed off, bound for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and from there into the Serengeti National Park. Within the space of about three hours we had seen a huge number of zebras, wildebeest and gazelles. Eve’s photography skills also came in hugely useful, as we were able to approach a group of five cheetahs sunning themselves about ten feet away from the car.
That night, we camped amidst wild lions and buffalo in the Serengeti, in a campsite where we were only half-jokingly advised not to venture too far from the tents during the night. We spent the evening star-gazing and (unfortunately) listening to a collection of Troy’s favourite jokes. The following day was spent racing through the Serengeti plains, and we were not disappointed: we witnessed lionesses attacking a buffalo, lions mating and leopard families lounging in trees.
Meanwhile, Sarah’s observation (that wild animals do indeed eat their meat raw) provided a source of entertainment for our tour guides, Benny and Omi. A tranquil evening at the Ngorongoro campsite on the second night was briefly interrupted by Troy and Valerio, who came running back into the campsite crying, ‘Simba!’. The lion they claimed to have heard turned out to be a herd of buffalo (arguably a more daunting prospect, as buffalo are considered the most dangerous of the Big Five, but we all felt undoubtedly relieved that death was not imminent.)
Listening to ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King could not have come at a more opportune moment. At one memorable point, we were torn between watching a group of elephants parade across the road, or observe a pride of five lions sunning themselves only a short distance away- a tribute to the diverse collection of wildlife in Tanzania.Charlie and I were particularly enthralled by the aptly named ‘Hippo Pond’.
The return to Arusha was bittersweet because we knew we’d shortly be saying goodbye to Gemma. Sara and I accompanied her to the airport in the early hours of Tuesday morning to say our final goodbyes. It was a sad goodbye for us all, but she promised to keep in touch (and to taunt us with pictures of all our favourite foods when she arrives home.)