Emanuel picked us up at 8 and after spending an hour finding an ATM that would give me more Tanzanian shillings, we were off toward our first destination, Lake Manyara National Park. I was excited about this park because it reportedly has 2.5 million flamingoes (cue the theme to Out of Africa.) It has most of the other famous African animals too, but the wetland birds would be a strong contrast to the dry Serengeti plain we will visit next.
As we drove we got to know Emanuel and it didn’t take long to learn how good a naturalist he is, knowledgeable in every aspect of the parks with a deep understanding of the delicate balance of ecosystems. It was around the time we entered the park that he told us that unusually heavy rain in 2018 and 2020 had flooded Lake Manyara so much that it greatly reduced the salinity of the water and killed off the algae the flamingoes feed on. The flamingoes were gone.
I was profoundly disappointed from a personal standpoint, but even more saddened by the abrupt environmental changes.
“Global warming?” I asked. Emanuel nodded.
“Will they come back?” I was thinking about the flamingoes but it was clear the bird life wasn’t the only consequence of the floods.
“No,” he said. The damage has been done.
We saw our first African elephant in the wild just then and while I was happy to see it, I felt a cloud had moved overhead and the sparkle had dimmed on the day. As time went on I started to appreciate the scenery and especially the trees, so different from the tropics where we’d been for so long. We were looking at a completely different color palette of browns and greens, instead of the blues we’ve lived in for nearly ten years.
When Emanuel stopped the vehicle and we listened, the silence was so complete we felt our ears were cartoon hearing trumpets reaching out for any sound at all. I knew then that coming to Africa was the right decision after selling Escape Velocity. We needed this.
The park continued to deliver. Our first giraffe, our first lion, and a bonanza, two young lion cubs resting in a tree.
In between there was no shortage of baboons, reminding us, in behavior if not appearance, of the macaques we’d been living among for the past three years.
We made our way down to the lakeside and saw for the first time what the heavy rains did to the lake. I read that it’s only ever about 10 feet deep all the way across, but the rain flooded the shoreline so far that trees that once stood at the water’s edge are now well into the lake, dead or dying.
Emanuel drew our attention to the color of the water, now brown instead of clear. In a normal cycle, by this time in the dry season the rainwater would have evaporated, preserving the salinity and the shoreline. But, as Emanuel said, “there’s just too much water.”
Near the lake we found our first camp. We’d elected tent camps instead of lodges because we wanted the whole classic safari experience and it was the right decision. The camps rest lightly on the land. There are no permanent structures, no hardscape, no concrete pads. The whole operation could be pulled up and moved and within a short period of time, the savannah grasses would reclaim it, then the trees. The animals and birds are always there, and we were serenaded all night by the calls of the wild.