Monday, March 10, 2014

Mto wa Mbu and Lake Manyara National Park

After our good night of sleep just outside of Tarangire National Park, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast cooked by James (usually that meant eggs, sausage, and toast along with porridge and some sort of delicious fruit drink - generally mango or pineapple) and then we were on our way to the town of Mto wa Mbu. We had a fantastic campsite there within walking distance of town complete with a very refreshing swimming pool! Included in our safari package was a cultural village tour, which we were a bit leery of because we aren't usually fans of organized tours. Also, in Africa many tours are geared to encourage you to buy things, and we do not like feeling pressured to buy things that we do not want or need. However, our guide (whose name I unfortunately cannot remember) was totally laid back and the experience of seeing town felt very "real" as we walked through the village, so ultimately we were glad we had the chance to tour Mtw wa Mbu.
Bikes are the main method of transport over much of Tanzania and you would be amazed at how much "stuff" locals can fit on their bikes. Water is also hauled using bikes with big tanks on the back of the bike. Also, it would not be uncommon to see women in town carrying about half of the bananas seen here on their heads! It is also worth noting that most local roads are not as nice as the one pictured in this photo.
Pickup soccer (football) games were seen all over our travels. This soccer field actually had goal posts and a marker for the sideline, which is a step up from what most other towns have available.
Mto wa Mbu is known for its rice fields and banana plantations, and the town sits just beneath the Great Rift Valley, creating a very picturesque setting. It is a very rich village compared to many in Tanzania because of the lush vegetation that can be grown in town. We toured the village on foot, starting with watching wood carvers create amazing souvenirs, where we were encouraged to look and purchase but fortunately not pressured to buy!

Next, we visited the rice fields. Mto wa Mbu is also known as "mosquito creek" due to the number of mosquitoes in town. After seeing the rice fields, it is easy to see how mosquitoes are prevalent, due to all of the standing water needed to grow the rice!

Next, our guide took us through the banana plantations and taught us some interesting facts about how bananas grow.
Erik and our guide 
Check out the flower on that banana tree!
We followed our guide through town and past a church in service that was PACKED with people. Everyone was dressed up for church, old and young, and we listened to the singing as we walked by. Homes in Africa are made from all different kinds of material. Clay and mud seem to be used often, and we learned that a brick or concrete house might take 20 years to build in Africa. Most villages do not have running water and some do not have electricity. While walking through the village we made friends with some of the young locals who were not in church. They were adorable!
A few of the children in the village. I love the expression of the girl to my left!
The last part of our village tour included banana beer tasting. They brought out a massive cup (that I'm assuming every person who takes this tour uses!) filled to the top with banana beer. We each had a few sips and were not impressed with the taste! Our guide then preceded to chug the rest of the the beer, ha! Must be a perk of the job. :)

After the tour we headed down the road to Lake Manyara National Park. Of all of the parks we visited, this was probably our least favorite, though there was still plenty to see and we enjoyed our visit there. Unfortunately, it had been extremely dry before our visit to Lake Manyara, so there was not much of a lake to see. Even without the water, the view of the "lake" from lunch was quite impressive. At lunch we also met a father and son who were from Minnesota, and we enjoyed a chat with them over our boxed lunch, which typically consisted of a piece of grilled chicken, a hard boiled egg, potato chips, a stale muffin of some sort, mango or pineapple juice (I could not get enough of that stuff!) and something sweet for dessert.
Erik and Lawrence enjoying one of the viewpoints from our lunch spot.
View from lunch. Can you spot the giraffes?
Erik imagining life as a giraffe.
Leaving the lunch spot with other safari trucks.
Simply gorgeous! What animals can you see in the distance? There are a few!
Other highlights from Manyara included more elephants, very close to the road and to our truck, giraffe, zebra, ostriches, buffaloes and wildebeest. We saw MANY baboons inside this park with lots of young, and they were awesome to watch. There were a few groups of very active monkeys here too. This was the first park where we saw flamingos, though they were really far away due to the dryness of the lake. Manyara is a popular spot for bird-watching, but we were more interested in the bigger animals, so Lawrence only pointed out a few birds to us as we drove through the park.
Zebra and wildebeest grazing with flamingos in the background on what is left of the lake.
A reminder that these parks are not zoos. This is a hippo carcass.
Those little dots out there are a HUGE group of baboons!
Baboons can be very aggressive and you are not supposed to look them in the eye.
A little afternoon grooming.
Along for the ride.
Just chillin' in the shade.
A monkey hanging out in the tree.
A young monkey literally hanging out in a tree!
After our game drive, we headed back to the campsite for a swim. We met a couple from Chicago who were also with Base Camp for their safari and they had the exact same itinerary as us. Unfortunately, they had lost their luggage just before the start of their safari due to a delayed flight from their previous destination, so they only had one outfit and could not swim! To Base Camp's credit, they ended up driving their bags out once they arrived, so they got their luggage at our next highly anticipated stop, the Serengeti!
The perfect way to end a hot day of game watching!

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