Driving Diesel, Dust, Donkeys - Daring Enduimet Wildlife Management Area
Enduimet Wildlife Management Area is a picturesque area stretching west of Kilimanjaro and a well-kept secret—a hidden gem bordering Amboseli National Park (Kenya) and Kilimanjaro National Park ecosystems. The area forms a vital corridor for large herds of elephant that migrate between the two parks.
Besides elephants, one will also find assemblies of giraffe, zebras, wildebeests, impalas, leopards and the occasional lion & cheetah! Tommy’s gazelle and the cute, dwarflike Dik-Dik are plentiful.
My most vivid recollection; was the flies. Besides the wildlife, there are areas with thousands of flies. Local people have become so accustomed to them that they don’t bother anyone or anything anymore. They’re just part of the furniture. We swatted them and sprayed Doom until we almost conked out. Eventually, Butch unpacked the spray can and soaked the whole truck in insecticide.
This area has endured millions of years of volcanic activity, which has enriched the soil with very high mineral content, creating perfect conditions for savannah grasses, numerous tree species and indigenous plant species that all thrive here.
Powdery dust and volcanic ash litter the open plains of the steppe and rich fertile pastures on the rolling hills, while the arid, salt-covered flatlands and plains of black cotton soil all contribute to the varied landscape and habitats. A few kilometres east, the slopes of Kilimanjaro boast cloud forests with a crown of stark, bare rocks shrouded in a blanket of hard ancient volcanic lava and snow.
It is fascinating to see how the eruption of Kilimanjaro all those hundreds of thousands of years ago has led to the different habitats, topography and soil formation. The climate is semi-arid. Prevailing easterly winds have also contributed to the habitat and soil by depositing ash on the flat open plains.
This area is home to the nomadic Maasai and their vast herds of cattle, sheep, goats and their draught animal, the donkey, who live side by side in harmony with the wildlife surrounding them— Sustainable tourism benefits wildlife and the local communities.
The different areas of the Park are Tingatinga (bulldozer), Sinya, Olmologu, Lerangwaa, Kitenden and Nereyani, where Maasai clans and chiefs preside over their villages. We were advised to keep to the Tanzanian side of the Park and not venture over to the northern Kenyan side. Fortunately, the border is well-demarcated with concrete markers.
We were thrilled to learn that no formal campsites exist in the Park. We could pick our camping spot. Just before sunset, we spotted a large acacia tree well off the road in the middle of a large open Ngasurai Plain with a view of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Meru and Mount Longido. That would do, we agreed.
Within an instant, we had our camp set up, and Butch had got his fire going when we were treated to a massive herd of cattle returning from the Sinya Pools for the night. The headman of the tribe came over to introduce himself, wish us a pleasant stay, and assure us we’d be safe. We thought he was charming.
The tangerine sunset was magnificent. Although I found it extremely difficult to photograph the red ball in the sky, we got a few beautiful shots of the different layers of colour in the atmosphere. Of course, the dust swept up by hundreds of hooves and the village campfires all added to the spectacle we enjoyed. The moon was full. The sky turned red, the moan of a lone jackal, the hoot of an owl and the bray of a zebra all added to the ambience we were privileged to enjoy alone on the vast plain.
While sipping our morning coffee, enjoying our view of Kilimanjaro in the distance, we heard the calong-calong-calong of cowbells, the cattle had set off in single file across the plains to graze and be watered at the brackish Sinya Pools.
The Sinya pools were formed in 1980 after a meerschaum mine was closed due to flooding. Meerschaum is a mineral, similar to clay, used to manufacture the inner bowl of a smoking pipe. The only two known mines were here in Tanzania and another in Turkey.
Today, hundreds of cattle, wildlife and birds come down to the water’s edge to drink. We were rewarded with sightings of zebra, a lone wildebeest and giraffe.
To find the Sinya pools was quite challenging. Road signs are few, yet visitors are advised to “go exploring” in the Park. Walking, cycling, or driving off the tracks is permissible to enhance one’s game-viewing experience.
We set off with our rudimentary paper map and got hopelessly lost until we finally spotted a settlement. The settlement is laid out in a labyrinth with thorny partitions.
No sooner had we stopped when we were surrounded by inquisitive Maasai, all eager to make our acquaintance. The children stared at us, calling us mzungu (white man). A friendly greeting from us soon broke the ice, and before long, everyone was smiling and asking a million questions. Money, of course, was also requested. No one had heard of Cape Town, and no one could give us directions to Sinya Pools. Official place and local traditional names often differ with each tribe’s sobriquets.
Behind us, choking on a billowing cloud of dust, was the familiar braap-braap of a dirtbike. Butch soon spotted a waving hand and realised we were being summoned to stop. He obliged but didn’t hold much hope we’d be understood.
In perfect English, the village chief, it turns out, said he could take us to the pools where the cattle drink.
Without further ado, he opened my door, ordered me out and nimbly hopped into the cab. As he landed on the seat, a black cloud of flies erupted from his shuka like a battalion of Tiger Moths. They made a swooping circular drive-by, and en-mass made a zooming exit straight into my face as I hauled myself back into my seat. Stunned, I looked at the chief, who was entirely unperturbed. On his lap, our cameras rested, and his dusty no 12 feet settled nicely ontop of my handbag.
Experience has taught us that no favour goes unrewarded, and the price must be negotiated immediately. Enunciating each word eloquently, Butch asked the chief how much he would charge us for this escapade.
Waving his long, bony, leathery hand about dismissively, he assured us we were like family, and it was a great pleasure as he settled himself into his seat more comfortably. Butch also asked how would he get home afterwards. “Tssk-Tssk” was his answer: “No need to worry about that.” He flapped his hand in our direction.
Red flag. Fortunately, Butch insisted he name his price before we set off. After much humming and hawing, he sighed deeply and, with shoulders raised, looked at Butch with mournful eyes and in a voice that said, “If you insist” only 5000 Tanzanian Shillings. Butch agreed, and off we sped.
Finally, after a lengthy debate, our guide, shaking his head in disbelief, agreed the farmer had tried to con us, but we could trust him to take us to the correct pools.
Our conversation dwindled as the road got longer and slower until, finally, we were silent. The desolate landscape made up for our misgivings with our guide. At last, our guide perked up, smiled, pointed at a clump of bushes, and declared we’d reached our destination.
The sight was impressive. Hundreds of cattle, Maasai herders, goats, and sheep were filing down to drink or heading back home.
Butch and the Ranger Kitwenga had struck up a good rapport the previous day, and he immediately sent a WhatsApp with the “chief’s” name and accompanying photograph and reported the incident. The disappointment we felt was like a sucker punch.
We spent four nights in the Eduimet Wildlife Management Area, camping in different areas to experience the full extent of the wilderness, the animals and the Maasai. We watched how Maasai women carried heavy loads harnessed to their backs and balanced on their heads.
We were struck by women’s colourful shuka, the intricate filigree jewellery they wore, and the heavy silver earrings that adorned their enlarged pierced ears.
While men, and often boys, herded cattle to water and grazing or sat under trees holding court, women drove pack-mule trains carrying heavy yellow plastic drums filled with water.
Babies are carried on women’s backs until the toddler can walk. Grandmothers are the primary caregivers to children while their mothers do most of the work providing for the family. It is a hard life with little reward in an ancient polygamous patriarchal society where the number of cattle the chief owns determines his wealth.
Each campsite was special and delivered unique surprises. On our first night, we enjoyed the quiet and a spectacular sunset. Butch braaied while we enjoyed the evening sounds of cicadas, owls and antelope.
On our second evening, we sat down to dinner, ready to enjoy the same ambience that night, when suddenly, I detected a subtle shift in the atmosphere. Soundless but eery, the crunch of a blade of dry grass or a dry twig snapping, I do not recall. My hackles rose, and I asked into the silent night, “Who’s there?” Butch, quite unaware, asked what’s happened. I knew someone was out there, standing stock still, watching us.
Switching on my headlamp, I turned around in my chair and caught a tall young man in my yellow light. After a few seconds, he stepped forward and, in a nervous whisper, said an elephant had chased him.
We realised he was frightened. On his back, he carried a heavy backpack. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and wore an old shirt fit for the beach with green palm trees and a pink hibiscus flower.
He accepted our offer of water, which he thirstily gulped. We chatted, hoping to calm him down. How much he understood, we’ll never know. Butch built up the fire again, and while the flames licked up and sent sparks shooting into the night, the boy relaxed and sat at the fire. There’s nothing like a full belly to calm the nerves; I hoped as he accepted the plate of food I offered him.
The Honey Badger is a carriage made for two; we explained later when we’d finished our chores and readied for bed. We could only offer him a yoga mat, a fire with plenty of wood, outdoor lights and the truck’s protection. He nodded his agreement and indicated that he understood. Hesitant to leave him, we promised we’d listen out for any danger from hyenas, etc.
At six o’clock the following day, just as the sun peeked its first golden rays over a pinkish snow-capped Kilimanjaro, we dashed out to check on him. He’d moved the mat under the truck where he’d slept. Alas, there was no sign of him, not even a footprint.
Knowing he slept safely comforts me, and I often wonder what happened to him. We will never know where he came from or where he was heading. Butch believes he was a refugee who’d travelled through Kenya, crossing the border only one or two kilometres north of us into Tanzania.
We know he was miles from anywhere and not Maasai —we’ll never know.
On our daily game drives, we covered most of the Park. We rarely saw other vehicles besides the Maasai herders and ladies with their mule trains. In our solitude, it felt like the Park belonged to us, and we enjoyed being the only explorers.
We spent our last two nights in the Oltepesi Woodland area, just a short distance from the Kenyan border. We set up our camp under a forest of acacias and fever trees. Every afternoon, we would await the arrival of herds of zebra, elephant and giraffe while Grants Gazelle and the Kudu wandered past us quite unperturbed by the big white elephant parked in their backyard.
Not bothered by mosquitoes, flies or bugs, we would wait until they all went off while we enjoyed spectacular sunsets with a giraffe silhouette in the foreground.
Parks in Tanzania are incredibly costly, and for long-term travellers on a budget, like us, it meant our stays would be limited to short but sweet.
It was back to Arusha for us to have our bikes serviced. Never a dull moment.
While I waited for Butch at the gate, an elderly Maasai gentleman stopped at my window to chat. He’s also a chief in his village and showed me his ID document to prove it. I told him his birthday was a day before mine. Yes, he said, he’s my brother and seeing my camera, asked for a picture. I obliged. He was adamant that I should also be in the photograph—my brother from a different mother.
A few days later, I received this quote from a friend and thought it very apt. He did make me happy.
“As we age, beauty travels from the face to the heart, appeal turns to charm, hurt to wisdom and remarkable moments to shared memories.
The true beauty of life is not how happy you are now, but how happy others are because of you.” Anon.