With its 330km², Lake Manyara National Park is one of the smaller Tanzanian parks. It’s often skipped and replaced by a visit to Tarangire National Park, but I think it’s definitely worth a visit. About 200km² of the total area are taken by the lake itself in rainy season, but it disappears almost completely during dry season.
Ever-changing landscapes define the rest of the scenery. More than ten different ecosystems are present in the park, and there are animals literally everywhere. Depending on the season, you’ll get to see more or less of certain species. During the rainy season, for example, the shores of the lake are crowded with thousands of flamingos. During the dry season they’re a lot more difficult to spot.
As we enter Lake Manyara National Park ,I’m not really sure what to expect. As our journey started and I hung my arm out the window, the folds of Kilimanjaro’s foothills rolling past, the sun glinting off clouds of fluff, all seemed utterly right with the world. Myself and several gorgeous women driving around for four days around the most fabulous national parks in Tanzania, while sipping on plastic sachets of cheap gin.
We’d started early that morning from the group house in the sleepy Kilimanjaro-side city of Moshi and were four hours into the drive when the first twinge of something strange came over me. It was a sudden dizzy feeling; a shudder that ran through my entire body as if lightning had jumped up from the Arusha highway and slapped me.
With all the wisdom of youth I ignored it entirely. This was a safari into the East African bush after all, was it not? Tough it out and dive into strange adventure, I told myself as a sudden dull soreness in my elbow nearly made me grind my teeth.
We dropped off all our luggage at the campsite grounds and continued on to the gate of Lake Manyara National Park, some 30 kilometers away. The sudden onset twinges continued and seemed to be growing more frequent. There was a nausea now; rising and falling with the crests of the road.
This was a time for grit, I assured myself, what would the girls ever think and how could I live this down?
For an hour or so, I held out as we ventured steadily deeper into the wilds of the park, ostriches running by through the long grass, their silhouettes against endless stretches of sparse acacia trees and massive rising baobab. It was a sight to behold, and I was doing my damndest to do just that.
Then everything seemed to go south like a dam breaking. We passed a gigantic blue-tinged baboon on the side of road and he seemed to shoot a sly smile at me; a cruel grin that insinuated he knew I was in over my head.
The roof of illness caved in, the twinges of this awkwardly timed malady becoming a continuous bout of being utterly incapacitated. A constant wave of chills, nausea and pain took over my body, causing something that must have appeared like paralysis. Words stumbled and slid around my tongue like I’d burnt it, then jammed my mouth full of peanut butter.
Soon, the ever lovely ladies that I was journeying with noticed my strangeness (and my subsequent vigorous shaking of the head when asked if I was ok). It became apparent to them that my predicament was a serious one and they soon began urgently whispering to each other and the driver as giraffes passed unnoticed outside the window, framed by the vastness of Lake Manyara and the incredible height of the escarpment that runs alongside of it.
The time for me to get out of the park had long since rolled around, coming down with a sudden illness is not the ideal prescription for lion country 300 kilometres from the nearest hospital. We began driving around the desolate and bump ridden back roads of the reserve, swerving to avoid giant extended land rovers chock full of tourists taking hundreds of photographs of a single gecko and ploughing through over-reaching thorn covered branches of acacia.
The world blurred by, the desperate taking of curves and bumps of the track making my illness take form as a monstrosity. I was no longer myself, my thoughts raced rapidly into the strange and hallucinogenic (such was the cause of the illness and dehydration, apoplectic nurses later told me) the sky shifting colours and the blades of tall grass forming knots and patterns as they whizzed past.
At one point, although I can’t be sure of its validity, a male lion’s face sat framed facing the road, making brief eye contact with me as our bizarre caravan continued on.
My fellow travellers had a notion during this desperate search for an exit that I was suffering from heat stroke caused by the scorching equatorial sun.
To solve such an ailment, one is supposed to be covered in wet cloth to lower one’sbody temperature; however, since all the luggage was an hour away, the girls began taking off their clothes, soaking them in lukewarm bottled water and throwing them over me. It must have been a hell of a sight: a man with black tights clinging to his head and several half naked women flying around like banshees in a dust coated safari SUV.
In our search for exit, we drifted around a corner and lurched unexpectedly into the middle of a herd of elephants that happened to be crossing.
The engine was killed for silence and we sat, confronted by tusks and great gray shapes. Never to miss an opportunity for a snapshot of the wildlife, the girls poked themselves through the sunroof of the car and began snapping away, one facing front and one back. The girl facing behind lost her footing and fell back into the car, knocking into the girl in the front who in turn bumped the lip of the Land Rover’s sunroof. In his caution, the driver had left the car in neutral: which caused the vehicle to be shifted about two inches as the sunroof was bumped.
The timing was horribly unfortunate as a gigantic bull elephant with two-metre long tusks was directly in the car’s path as it shifted ever so slightly into his space.
It bumped him and he spun 90 degrees in a flash; the entire windshield now showing his massive face, the sun blotted out entirely behind his anger and presence. With a deft motion, he swung his trunk up and around downwards like a cricket bat, hitting the car under the front bumper and lifting the front half of the car (and us the terrified) nearly a metre off the ground.
In a maneuver of driving that can only be described as genius, the driver threw the car into reverse and turned the keys. As we hit the ground, the car went flying backwards before he cranked the wheel like a stunt driver, turning us away from being a news tragedy and leaving a cloud of red dust in our wake. Now it seemed like there was a timer on this endeavour, and it was rapidly approaching zero. We cut across a stream, dodged a crop of swaying baobab trees and arrived back at the gate, where we’d commenced our ill fated trip.
I remember passing through the gate, the beams of the sun blinding me…
Then I woke up with a sudden jolt into consciousness, like the jolt you get after a deeply strange night out in Cape Town. I was face down and wet, a pervasive dampness that seemed to be everywhere. I was next to a tent; I knew that much. The flaps were blowing into my face with a breeze that carried with it the chattering of small blue-balled monkeys in the near distance.
I couldn’t lift my head and I became aware of hushed voices in strained tones conversing nearby. I turned my head and my confusion deepened as I saw what was keeping my shoulder moist: a glossy silver bra.
“We’re getting you out of here,” I heard before being lifted up and thrown unceremoniously into the back of the same fateful Land Rover. This unfortunate driver then was given the unenviable assignment of driving me all the way back to Moshi, some five hours away, while the girls joined up another safari car laden with elderly Swedish people to continue enjoying the money they had spent on this trip.
I was taken to a back road hospital in the Soweto suburb of Moshi, the cap of Kilimanjaro peeking in through the window from between heavy gray clouds as the sunset illuminated her. A quick blood test later and the ill-tempered nurse returned with a single pointed question, “Are you just an idiot or something?”
“That depends,” I responded, “why do you ask?”
“You’ve had a bad strain of malaria and it’s been in your system gestating for at least two weeks, there’s no way you should’ve gone out on that trip.” That certainly explained a great deal.
For my idiocy, she prescribed incredible doses of Malarone and told me not to leave the house for a week.
She left me with a sly warning, “These could make you hallucinate quite a lot.” I cracked my first smile in hours: nothing could trump the psychedelics of what I’d just seen.
This article was written by Alex Roberts