Today we really started the field course and drove through our first national park, so everyone was really excited and looking forward to the adventure. We had spent a day with lectures at the College of African Wildlife Management and now felt ready to go out there into the wild.
But as this is Africa, plans are a nice but not necessarily accurate thing – and traditionally African time works quite different to Western punctuality. So it was only normal that “our” truck didn’t return on time from its last trip and we had to leave about two hours later than planned – in a closed bus instead of the truck with the open back. While this change saved us from the rain and cold, it was a bit of a struggle to fit everyone and agree on how open to have the windows, which also hindered us to easily take pictures.
Today’s highlight was our visit to Arusha National Park, which protects mostly montane forest around two craters and has some cleared-up areas for grazers as well. In accordance with the Tanzanian concept for conservation the park is unfenced – this is to allow movement and migration to the animals, but in this case it also means that there is no clear separation and no buffer zone to the adjacent settlement and livestock grazing.
We drove into the park from the Arusha side and soon saw the so-called little Serengeti, where herds of zebra and some warthogs created excitement in the mammal fans, while a range of bigger birds and especially an Augur buzzard captured the attention of our bird enthusiasts.
Driving through the forest with its tall, straight trees and little undergrowth showing only very little disturbance, we came across a range of monkeys: baboons, blue monkeys (picture) and colobus monkeys all made an appearance among the branches. But it was the three hidden and unexpected giraffes that caused overexcitement in the bus. None of us had ever seen any in the forest, so we wondered if they had gotten lost…
When we then saw buffalos, waterbucks and a bushbuck resting on the plains as well as some bee-eaters and oxpeckers, everyone agreed that it had been a successful day. The tiny Ngurdoto museum was good for a quick laugh afterwards, as it included two cupboards with bird specimens in plastic bags that you could take out and theoretically just take with you pretty easily. And with these being the main “attraction” in the small room, it just wasn’t quite what we were expecting from a museum.
The day wasn’t over yet, though, as we still had to make our way over to the Kwakachinja campsite through the rush hour traffic around Arusha. We only arrived in the dark and then resembled a busy, chaotic beehive until all our tents were put up. Considering that many of us are not exactly regular campers we did quite well and managed to have all tents standing way before dinner was ready – at 11 pm
This first day definitely made us used to “African time” already and it also raised the expectations for the days to come…