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The view from Arusha National park: Mt. Meru and our Landcruiser
Arusha National Park is a (relatively) small wildlife preserve that sits in the shadow of Mt. Meru, which is itself a (relatively) small mountain that sits in the shadow of nearby Mt. Kilimanjaro. In addition to Mt. Meru, Arusha National Park contains the picturesque Ngurdoto Crater and Momella Lakes, and is one of two places where the rare colobus black and white monkey can be found.
Our visit to the park was a nice transition: this was our first wildlife safari, but we were not "on the road" yet and would return to our Arusha hotel at the end of the day. Tom met us with his 4WD Toyota Landcruiser at 10:00 AM, and we drove for an hour to reach the park. We had our first experience with local unpaved roads, and the boys were not amused.
(We were informed that the roads are unpaved because the tax money intended for road maintenance goes into the pockets of the maintenance officials instead. Fortunately, the parks take care of their own road maintenance; so once we arrived, the ride was much smoother.)
Within minutes, the terrain around Arusha can change from dry desert to lush forest, depending on how the water happens to flow down from Mt. Meru. Arusha National Park was mostly an area of lush forest, although by the end of the day everyone was looking a bit sunburned (the van had a removable roof, and we spent much of the day standing on the car seats with our heads sticking up out of the top).
We saw a colobus right away, sitting in a tree near the entrance gate (the guard pointed it out, so we weren't sure if it was planted there). We never saw another one all day, but we did see black face monkeys, black velvet monkeys, and baboons. At various times, groups of them literally ran across the road in front of us, jumped into the trees, and then stared at us while we stared at them.
Cameron meets a black face monkey
We took a long and ambling drive around the maze of roads that make up the park, stopping whenever we spotted an animal anywhere around. Some were hard to miss; we kept coming upon giraffes that were blocking the road (we saw both Maasai and reticulated giraffes -- their spots are different). Other animals were extremely skittish and would run into the brush as soon as our van approached. With observation, patience, and luck, we were able to see water buffalo, warthogs, water bucks, bush bucks, banded mongoose, and zebras. Gail was extremely proud to spot a single hippopotamus on the far side of Momella Lake, as well as the small and elusive dik dik (a small deerlike animal).
Joss meets a giraffe
We had a picnic lunch from Jambo's on a high vista point that overlooked Mt. Meru on one side and the Momella Lakes on the other. Mt. Kilimanjaro was also supposed to be out there somewhere, but it was completely hidden behind clouds. We have yet to actually see the thing (Gail is convinced that "Kilimanjaro" is Swahili for "always hidden behind clouds").
By mid-afternoon the boys were getting pretty beat, and they had to endure more than an hour more of extremely bumpy road to get from the park exit back to the paved highways again. Gail ended up with a fairly large migraine, serious enough that she was unable to join us for dinner. Sandi and Tom hosted the rest of us at a new restaurant (at the nearby Impala Hotel) that featured pasta, pizza, and Chinese food.
Tomorrow, we will leave Sandi (and much of our luggage) behind in Arusha, and we will set off with Tom (and the cook) to explore the larger safari parks of Tanzania. We are discovering that the boys can only take so much in one day before they lose interest, but Tom and Sandi have constructed our upcoming itinerary with lots of variety... and downtime.
Ready to go
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