Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From green to gray, the stark beauty of Lake Natron

Lake Natron and surroundings was our second non-wildlife activity. Panorama Campsite overlooking Lake Manyara was our pit-stop between Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, including a lovely evening sampling local BBQ, aka Nyama Choma, in the little village of Mta Wa Mbu. The drive from Panorama to Lake Natron River Camp was about three hours, including a 30-minute stop in the village to refuel and buy water. Amos used m-Pesa all the time! 

The first one-third of the drive was on fairly good roads, with the mountains of the Rift Valley escorting us along. 

The second third of the drive was rough, somewhat like the dirt tracks of Serengeti, slightly rougher and far more dustier. 

We passed a few villages and gates on the way. Entry fees had to be paid. The villages were dry and dusty.

The final part of the drive was almost brutal. Rocky, dusty, going up and down extremely rough roads. 

The roads had taken on a definite grey shade, first light, then darker. The region would have seen serious volcanic activity many, many years ago. 

Some parts of the road were just soft volcanic ash on a bed of rocks and pebbles. We were probably driving on ancient volcanic rivers. 

We soon got a good understanding of what "Pig Pen" would have felt and looked like.

Having reached Lake Natron River Camp at 11:30 AM, we pitched our tents. It was very warm, more than 30 C, and very bright and dusty, quite a change from the chill in Empakai and Ngorongoro. Lunch consisted of Ugali and Greens. We then made our way out after a bit of reading in the shade, and headed for the Lake Natron Tourism office, an extremely humble wooden building. The Maasai gentleman spoke very good English.

We paid the fee of USD 20 per person. A Maasai guide would escort us along the gorge up to the Engare Sero Waterfall, around Lake Natron the next day and then to the early human fossil footprints near the Lake. 

El Doinyo Lengai seemed to rise straight up from the plains outside the little office.

Our hike started as soon as we parked by the twisting river. 

Oops! Some confusion. To remove footwear or not to remove? Our shoes were not designed for wading through water!

The first steps were a little scary. It takes a little testing the gushing waters and getting used to.

Some of the initial part of the hike was in the water.

The latter part was clambering up and down rocks, trying to secure a foothold.

Meanwhile, the shoes presented a very wet sight. Will the thick material ever dry up? Amazingly, the heat and dryness of Natron ensured they did. It only took a few hours.

Junior sets up the tripod and captures a few long exposure shots at the Waterfall.

Hmmm... which way do we step now?

Two other visitors gingerly made their way along the rocks. So, the Natron Tourist Office would have earned USD 80 by way of fees that afternoon! Enough to take care of all the attractions in the area?

We're in no hurry. Take it easy. Though it gets dark earlier in the gorge, the areas outside are, thankfully, much brighter.

It does get brighter as we head out of the gorge towards the parked vehicle. 

From rocks and water, the area turns grey and dusty again.

Water from Ngorongoro flows via the Engare Saro Waterfall into Lake Natron.

Wow, a rare spot of greenery amidst all the rocks and dust! 

Our dinner was under cloudy skies that evening. The night in the tent was uneventful. No wild animals, no freezing cold! The dust had settled, as well. 

Sunrise hike at Lake Natron

Our Maasai guide showed up at 06:00 AM in the morning, and we set off for Lake Natron. Ol Doniyo Lengai soon caught the first rays of the rising sun.

The montains of the Rift Valley were gradually lit up by the streaks of orange.

Sunrise by Lake Natron was surreal, almost eerie. Not a sound except for our footsteps. The views were so amazing that all of us were lost in our own thoughts. Junior was having an extremely busy time, adding to his Cloud and Sunrise collection! 

We wandered around the lake, dutifully following our guide.

Our feet sank into the sand in the areas closer to the Lake. As if indicating to us that there is a place for us.

Sights like we had not seen anywhere else. You could just stand and stare at the drama unfolding, the major characters being the sun, clouds and the surface of the lake. We were like mere flies on the wall.

Oops... easy does it, make sure you don't slip!

Our guide led us around the lake, the path depending on the state of the ground. It was safer walking on parts that felt like the top of a hard baked cake, reminded me of the land around Empakai Crater lake, another soda lake.

We had to 1... 2... 3... jummmpppp at many spots, and hope that our landing was on solid ground.

About three-quarters of the world's Lesser Flamingos live in East Africa. Lake Natron is the most important breeding site. 


A few attempts at photographing beautiful flying Flamingos, with Sacred Ibis busy in the grass below.

We trekked up a hill, and were rewarded with wonderful views stretching a long way. 

This was an 'Oops' moment. One needs to be careful, since the firmness of the ground can be quite unpredictable. We stopped to say hello to a herd of Wildebeest.

A closer look at one of the Sacred Ibis foraging for food.

As the sun rose, Empakai mountain became visible beyond the range in the foreground. That is where we were not too long ago, almost frozen cold! 

A few last glimpses of Lake Natron after which we headed out. It was getting warmer, even though it was only 08:30 AM.

Our final stop was at the site where the ancient (pre) human footprints were discovered. 

Exposed and unprotected, there is a fence with an unlocked gate.

Several trails of adult and juvenile footprints are visible.

Anyone can literally walk over the ancient fossilized footprints.

How long will the treasure last, I wondered? 

At USD 20 per person and a handful of people per day, it does not add up to too much revenues. There is a dire need for external aid.

Back at Natron, Moses treated us to a huge brunch, after which we were ready to hit the road to Arusha.

Rocky roads, laced with grey volcanic dust.

There are a few basic gates along the way. Just like Lake Natron, unsung and simple. 

Fees are paid on the way in, and papers are checked on the way out. Nothing like the Visitor Centres at Nabbi Hill and Ngorongoro, right?

We stopped by a giant crater on the way, probably formed as a result of a meteorite hit many moons ago. 

The drive to Arusha, including a bit of a traffic jam in the city took us about five hours.

The roads gradually transitioned from grey dust to rocky to tarred surfaces as we reached Mta Wa Mbu. 

Our trip was coming to a close. We went to the office of our Operator, Safari Multiways, near the Arusha Clock Tower. Romeo was happy to see us and hear about our adventures. 

Our second non-wildlife activity was preceded by months of debating and apprehension, similar to the Empakai Crater hike. We reflected on our trip to Lake Natron, from the green of Ngorongoro to the gray dust of Natron, desolate and stark in its surreal beauty, breeding ground of Flamingos, destination of water flowing in from Ngorongoro via the Engare Saro Waterfall, near the almost forgotten site of the poorly protected early human fossilized footprints. It was in fact a highly unique couple of days. It was certainly worth every moment.  

One night in Arusha remained, followed by the Namanga border crossing. See you soon! 

Please click below for posts in this series:

Namanga Border Crossing

The Gentle Giants of Tarangire

Tarangire revisited

Endless Serengeti Plains

Migrating herds, Crocodiles and Vultures at Kirawira

Big Cats of Central Serengeti

Camping under African skies

Flamingos at Empakai Crater Lake

Ngorongoro Crater - Wildlife, Maasais and Flowers

Campsite food and Nyama Choma in Mto Wa Mbu

From green to gray, the stark beauty of Lake Natron

Videos - Tarangire, Central Serengeti

Videos - Central Serengeti, Western Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Natron

Two nights in Arusha


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