My most recent Safari adventure was life-changing, and I learned an incredible amount about Tanzania itself, the biggest of the Tanzanian national parks, and a way of life we have all forgotten.
Before I travelled, I did a little research about where I was going and learned some interesting facts that would give me something to look forward to and to get excited about my upcoming trip. After being on Safari for a few days and speaking to a number of guides, park rangers and local Maasai, I realised that much of what I had learned was either partially true, false rumours or completely made up.
So, today I have decided to write a little post about the most interesting, unknown facts about the Tanzanian Safari.
- Lake Natron is not red
- Lion’s sentence ‘human killers’ to death
- Hyenas are shoe thieves
- The crater highlands are cold!
- The Maasai King has 11 wives and over 100 children
Lake Natron is Not Red
Before heading out, one of the locations I researched intently was Lake Natron– and it quickly became the first thing wanted to see. The lake itself is famous for being a caustic soda lake (high alkaline PH) which was caused by the nearby volcanic ash. From the internet, I saw that it was so caustic that animals are mummified if they are unlucky enough to stay in there too long.
What I expected was the image below, something that looks like Mars. A red, barren landscape that looks like a set from a scifi film – I had to see it with my own eyes.
Sorry to burst the bubble, but these photos are said to be doctored, and edited to make the sand look much more dramatic than it really is.
A local Maasai guide told us that the lake is not red, and he had never seen the lake look like the images above, and that many tourists come expecting to see a red lake, that looks surprisingly like a normal lake.
What causes the red appearance is the sand which is laden with a type of red plankton. It gives the sand a coppery, red appearance that gives some of the lake a red/ pink tinge. It is, however, nowhere near as dramatic as the images above.
Lion’s sentence ‘human killers’ to death
What we have forgotten in the urbanised west is that all life on earth is that humans and animal have lived side by side until only recently, and we have rubbed off on each other.
For potentially thousands of years (before being forcibly moved in the 1960’s) the Maasai have lived and roamed across the Lands we now know as the Serengeti. They lived their nomadic lives alongside the elephants, lions and bucks.
While staying in a Serengeti camp, I learned that Lions do regularly attack and hunt humans (whether it is a tourist who has strayed too far from the camp at night, or a Maasai farmer caught outside their settlement). Once a human has been killed, it is customary for the Maasai to hunt down the Lion responsible. The reason is a little more than revenge – it is known that once a Lion gets a taste of human flesh, it will start to hunt humans. Therefore, a lion who has a taste for humans is killed to protect the villages.
Over thousands of years, the process of hunting down the offending Lion has become easy for a fascinating reason. The other Lions in the pride know that when a human is killed they will be hunted down. So, the pride separates itself from the offender who is left to face their fate alone.
Hyenas Are Shoe Thieves.
Hyenas get a bad reputation that they don’t always deserve – yes, they are pretty ugly, can be vicious and are meat eaters, but they are actually not as dangerous as you may think. When I travelled I was much more worried about the Hyena than I was about the Jaguar, Lion or Elephant (which is undoubtedly the most dangerous animal on Safari).
You may be surprised to know that a Hyena is so timid, that it is often scared of its own shadow, never mind a human that is much taller than it is. A hyena would rather run than get into a scuffle.
What is most unknown about the Hyena is they have a love for collecting shoes from travellers who unwittingly leave them outside of their tent. In the middle of the night, you can hear them sniffing around the tent, and when they see a nice pair of Nikes, it is not unknown for them to pick them up and wander off into the bush with them. It happened to me – I left my shoes outside and when I woke up in the morning, one was halfway across the camp.
The Crater is Cold!
When you think of Tanzania, It is easy to think of hot arid, dry landscapes scorched by the sun. But, an unknown fact is that the Ngorongoro crater highlands is actually pretty cold during the evening, night and mornings. We’re talking near 3-5 degrees C.
Due to the altitude of the highlands, while the day can easily reach 25-30 degrees C, the nights can be surprisingly cold. We heard countless stories of other travellers who spent the evening shivering in nothing more than a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. If you’re heading into the highlands, make sure to pack at least a long pair of comfy trousers, a warm jumper and a jacket (a hat and gloves may also be valuable).
This fact is common sense really, but it is something that many people do not realise until it is too late.
The Maasai King has over 100 children
This last one, I couldn’t verify using the internet but I was told by several guides and guards that the late Maasai king has over 100 children and up to 11 wives at any one time. It is said to be customary for the Maasai elders, and Royalty, to have as many wives as they wish and it seems as though the latest king had taken his duty seriously.
While there are elements of the stories about the Maasai king that seem to be embellished, or at least subject to rumours, is said that the most recent Maasai king has managed to father and bring 100 people into the world. At any one time, the King has multiple wives, and even into his old age was becoming a new father every few months.
The Maasai King lives in a compound close to a road on the way to Ol Doniyo Lengai, the spiritual heartland of the tribe. We saw the compound, but sadly not the army of children.