Adventures in Africa 2012 – Part 3
Day 1 (September 20, 2012)
This morning after breakfast (during which we had a great visit with “Dr. Canada” again) we met our safari driver/guide, Saleh. His last name is Seif (pronounced “Safe”). We greeted him with the Swahili “Nimefurahi kukutana nawe” which impressed him and he seems very pleased at our efforts to learn the language.
We first drove to Arusha and spent a little time looking for the reservation office of one of our lodges. Next we made a pit stop at one of the gift shops along the road. Inside there were many large and intricate carvings for sale–very expensive artwork.
Awhile later we reached the entrance to Tarangire National Park and had lunch in the picnic area there. We saw many vervet monkeys there, one of which stole some food from another group of picnickers. We had to shoo them away a couple of times to keep them from stealing our food. There we also many superb starlings and other birds in the picnic area.
After lunch our first game drive began. Within minutes we encountered antelope, wildebeests, and zebras, some warthogs, and several birds, including the white buffalo weaver. Later on we found many elephants, buffalo, and giraffes. At one point we stopped above the riverbank and watched the scene below for awhile: many elephants, including a baby playing on the riverbank, zebras, wildebeests, and birds galore. Beautiful!
In the evening we went to our lodge for the night: Tarangire Safari Lodge. We’re staying in one of the luxury tents–a large canvas tent under a thatch roof with a shower and flushing toilet in back. Because the wild animals can wander freely through camp we are not allowed to walk outside after dark without an escort. The central part of the lodge area has the reservations desk, a lounge, a dining area, and a large balcony overlooking the Tarangire River valley. There is also a swimming pool but it is too late in the day for swimming. We served ourselves some of the complimentary tea and “savories” (chips & salsa) and sat out on the balcony to watch the sunset. Dinner was a delicious soup, vegetable masala, cucumber and tomato salad, and choice of desserts including fresh fruit, ginger cake, guava tart, and lemon pie. Tomorrow we leave early for the Serengeti!
Day 2 (September 21, 2012)
We had a delicious breakfast at the Tarangire Safari Lodge, then Saleh met us and we were on our way to the Serengeti. To get there, one must pass through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We stopped at the NCA office to pick up our permit and check out the gift shop and informational displays. From the entrance gate onwards, it is a fairly rough gravel road. We stopped at the crater rim to see the view and then Saleh sped along the dusty road toward the Serengeti.
Here and there we saw herds of antelope, zebras, giraffes, etc., and the occasional Kori Bustard. We arrived at the entrance to Serengeti at lunch time. After eating in the picnic area, we took a short walk up the hill, saw an agama lizard, and enjoyed the view of the vast Serengeti plains. Then the afternoon game drive began.
A short way into the park we met a herd of elephants. Later we found a leopard sleeping in a tree. At one point we found a lioness stalking a group of gazelles, but they saw her before she got close enough to make her move.
On the drive Saleh told us a little about his family. His brother was tragically killed by a hippo about 3 years ago and so Saleh and his wife are raising his two nephews, and they also have a baby of their own.
After a successful afternoon of seeing many animals, we drove to Kati Kati Tented Camp – a collection of luxury tents in the middle of the Serengeti wilderness. We were greeted with glasses of mango juice by the camp staff and given comfortable chairs to sit in while the staff gave us the orientation speech.
This camp runs on solar and generator power, has flushing toilets in each tent, comfortable king sized beds, and hot showers by means of hot water being carried over and hoisted up a pole with a pulley system – all done by camp staff. So even though the camp is in the African wilderness, all the modern amenities are there.
Saleh joined us for dinner in the large dining tent, after we had relaxed around a fire first and gotten to know a couple of other travelers. Dinner was excellent. Tomorrow: an all-day game drive in the Serengeti.
Day 3 (September 22)
We ate a delicious buffet-style breakfast this morning and then enjoyed our hot showers. We got dressed and headed out for our next game drive. Within the first few minutes we found a mother cheetah under a tree with a cub. She was very vigilant, always looking around–whether for food or for danger I couldn’t be sure.
The wildlife out here is amazing. Last night there were lions and hyenas right near our tented camp! We saw a lot on today’s drive. You can always tell if people see a big cat because usually there are many Land Rovers around it. At one point we knew there was something interesting because we could see a large group of Land Rovers in a tight circle around a small tree. We drove close up and found a leopard there, laying in the shade. Soon after, he got up and walked between the Land Rovers to go find some peace and quiet beneath a more distant tree.
Other animals didn’t seem to mind the people so much. One time we were driving along and saw a group of vervet monkeys. We stopped, and one of them began walking toward us. Without missing a beat he climbed up the side of our vehicle and sat on the roof, almost ready to jump inside! Keith shooed it away.
Later in the day we found another cheetah–this one with two cubs! We saw individual cheetahs a couple more times during the day, too. Saleh says it is unusual to see this many cheetahs in one trip. At lunch time we found a small group of lions resting near a pond. We parked across the water from them and watched them and the birds and other animals while we ate our lunch.
One of the more exciting moments for me came in the afternoon. On the radio, Saleh heard a report of a serval cat sighting. Since they are mostly nocturnal, it is rare to see a serval cat, so I was thrilled when we got an up-close look at one! This is one of the last big African animals that I had not yet seen in the wild. We followed the serval cat for a little while and watched him pounce around at the small animals in the grass.
We ended the day’s game drive a little earlier today so we could get showers before dinner, write some post cards, and get an earlier start tomorrow. Like last night, we got some tea and sat around the campfire for awhile before dinner, but the campfire experience was cut short when it began to rain. Supper was very good, as usual.
Day 4 (September 23)
According to the non-deaf people, the hyenas could be heard again, though not as close as the previous night when they had been interacting with the lions.
We left on our next game drive right after breakfast. This morning we found another leopard with the usual crowd around it. The cat was laying under some large rocks and only his tail could be seen. Since we had gotten some much better leopard views the day before, we decided to leave the crowd and see what else we could find.
Our reward: At first we saw a large collection of vultures sitting in a tree. What could they be waiting for? Then we saw them–a pair of pot-bellied cheetahs with their recently caught and half-eaten warthog.
As we drove back toward the gate we found many other birds and animals. At 1:00 we were back at the entrance and had lunch in the picnic area. We spent some time birdwatching and looking at souvenirs in the gift shop, then got hour 24-hour Ngorongoro permit around 2:30 and continued on.
Our next stop was Oldupai Gorge, a fascinating site where hominid footprints and many animal fossils have been discovered. There is a whole wall of fossilized skulls of extinct animals, and a replica of the hominid footprints. (The original footprints have been reburied for preservation.) There are also several hominid skull replicas on display. Very interesting place.
Our next stop was at a Maasai village. One of the young men came and introduced himself as Moses, and said he would be our guide for the Maasai tour. A group of men and women sang a traditional welcome song and danced for us, then led us into their village. Each little village belongs to just one family, headed by the father who has many wives and children. This particular family had 126 people in it. The little huts are arranged in a large circle inside a fenced area.
Once in the fenced area, they did another song and dance for us in which we were invited to participate. Keith was lent a stick and tried to jump higher than the Maasai men. I was lent a necklace and danced with the women.
After this, Moses showed us into one of the small huts, which is made of sticks, cow dung and ash. The huts have a couple of beds made of cow hides, a few simple dishes, a small fire pit, and a small enclosed area to put a calf in.
Maasai life pretty much revolves around their cattle. They are the only tribe left in this part of Africa that has managed to keep their culture largely intact. They are very strict. Some Maasai choose to leave tribal life and adopt modern ways of living, but in doing so they are pretty much rejected by the tribe. Things are changing, though. Saleh thinks that in another 20 years or so many of them will be living like everyone else here.
After showing us the hut, Moses led us around the “marketplace,” a fence in the center area with jewelry and other crafts made by the village women. Some of the profits go to support the village kindergarten (all the older kids go to school in a nearby town), which he showed us next. We selected a few small items and Moses quoted us some outrageous price. We haggled down to less than half, which was still too much but we hope it at least went to a good cause. They really wanted to trade for Keith’s watch but he wasn’t willing to part with it.
After our tour of the Maasai village we drove to Rhino Lodge–our final safari accommodation. We liked the tented camps better–especially Kati Kati–but this was still nice. We had a little wood stove in our room–it gets pretty cool here on the crater rim. We had them build a fire in it, so they came in with a shovel-full of live coals, put it in the stove, and put a piece of wood on top. Quick and easy!
Before dinner we went into the dining area and sat on the sofas around the fireplace, drinking tea. Soon two couples from the UK joined us; both couples were named Ann and Peter! We had dinner (buffet style) with Saleh. Tomorrow we leave early for our final game drive!
Day 5 (September 24)
We ate breakfast at 6:30 the next morning and left right afterward. After a short drive we arrived at the gate down into the crater. Wildlife is rich down there. Huge herds of wildebeest, zebras, antelope, etc. The only major animal not in the crater is the giraffe. By now we had seen 4 of the “Big 5” (lion, leopard, buffalo, and elephant) with only the rhino to go, so we were really hoping to see one down there.
We found a cheetah in the distance, several lions–including one mating pair–and many other amazing animals.
Awhile later we made our way through a small forest off to one side of the crater. Soon we came across a long line of cars, and reports of a rhino sighting! After some searching with the binoculars, we found them off in the distance! They were too far away for a good picture, but at least now we had seen our Big 5.
After some more driving we stopped for lunch at a hippo pool.
Off to one side of the pool, there was a lioness resting. Two Land Rovers drove over to get a closer look at her, but apparently one of their passengers had gotten out earlier to use the nearby restrooms. As he walked back to the vehicle, the lioness seemed very interested in him. At one point she stood up and we wondered if she would try to chase him, but she took a few steps away instead, and sat back down.
All too soon, it was time to leave the crater and drive back to Moshi. We stopped at a souvenir shop along the way and picked up a few gifts. We had some great views of Mt. Kilimanjaro on the way back!
Back at Sal Salinero, Gladys dropped in at dinnertime to set the plans for the next day. They would pick us up at 10:00! For the first time since we landed in Africa, we would get to sleep in.
To be continued….