Treasure

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
1
58
92
Trip End Aug 27, 2010


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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day two of our safari was scheduled for lots of driving with the intent of making it to our hotel on the Serengeti. What we hadn't realized was that almost all of the driving was either in the Ngorngoro Conservation Area (NCA) or in Serengeti National Park. Leaving Lake Manyara in the rain, we were hopeful that it would be short-lived and that the visibility would improve. By the time we had reached the edges of Ngorongoro Crater, visibility was still pretty poor and we were looking over the rim onto more cloud…kind of an eery feeling of looking down into nothingness.

The NCA is an area inhabited by the Masai people, but whose traditional activities are being limited in favour of conservation of the natural resource. Not surprisingly, the Masai people have turned to the tourists to ease their existence and will allow visits to their villages for tourists to learn about their lifestyle in return for a fee. Unfortunately this attraction to the dollar is growing and they look to make money wherever possible to the extent that even the small children you pass on the roadside are holding out their hands for money from every safari vehicle that passes. Intrigued by these blanket-wearing people, we paid our fees and spent an hour in a Masai village. Our hosts welcomed us with some traditional dancing and singing/chanting before inviting us to join with them in jumping up and down (apparently helps the men attract more wives). Then we toured the small village (all one family as a husband has many wives and offspring), visiting a house and the school (where Lauren led some counting for the 37 children in class!) to learn a little more about the existence of these people. Inevitably, no visit like this is complete without a hard sell, and the Masai are keen to sell some of the traditional crafts they make. After much barguing (after China, these guys were easy to work with) we eventually returned to our jeep with a bracelet, ceremonial necklace and a club.

NCA also had its fair share of wildlife; besides the numerous cattle, goats and donkeys farmed by the Masai, we also saw baboons, wildebeest, zebras, giraffe and Thompson gazelles. Passing from the NCA into Serengeti, we stopped for our lunch at the official entry gate along with dozens of other safari tourists, all with their standard issue boxed picnic lunches. You know you’re on safari when a large bull elephant casually saunters through the picnic area and nobody really bats an eyelid other than to maybe fire off a few quick photos!

Joseph had opened the roof again by the time we had finished our lunch and we set off through the Serengeti on what turned out to be another game drive. Having seen a large number of ungulates (hoofed mammals) in the morning, there were more of the same after lunch along with Grants gazelles and a large number of ostrich spread across the open, almost treeless plains of the Serengeti. The vast flat expanse of land is broken occasionally by large rock clusters partially covered with lush vegetation rising like mini oasis in a desert; these formations are apparently called "lion rocks" as lions can often be found sleepy atop. Joseph soon veered off the main road and we crawled slowly around watering holes and lion rocks but alas no big cats there, in fact no wildlife at all to be found at the watering holes. Joseph seemed to be picking up speed and we were soon tearing along dirt tracks until we stopped alongside two other jeeps beneath a tree on a small river bank. It took a second or two to spot it, but crouched low in the grass on the far side of the river was a leopard and beyond that, a herd of zebra with plenty of young! With bated breath we watched as the leopard stalked along the river bank, hidden from the zebras by tall grass and shrubs, would our first cat sighting be an attack? Unfortunately not, perhaps the zebra were disturbed by the jeeps or sensed the presence of the leopard, but they moved away with their young well protected in their midst and the leopard seemed to be content just to watch before melting away into the long grasses.

Back on the track, it was only a short time before we came across a stationary jeep (usually a good sign) and Derek spotted something in the long grass – a lion head? On closer inspection (i.e. from about 10 feet away) we discovered five lionesses dozing in the long grass! Joseph moved us on pretty quickly, but it was quite astounding to be so close to such ferocious, yet beautiful creatures.

By the time we reached the Serengeti Wildlife Lodge we had amassed quite an impressive tally of animals for the day; 1 leopard, 9 lions, 28 elephants, baboons, wildebeest, zebras, giraffe, Thompsons gazelles, Grants gazelles, hartebeest, impala, topi, ostrich, saddle-billed stork, grey crowned crane, grey herons, fish eagle, vultures, Egyptian geese and the masai goats, cows and donkeys! Quite the treasure trove if you like animals.

The Serengeti wildlife lodge is a beautiful lodge built around one of the huge rock formations that rise out of the plains to the extent that the huge rocks are integrated into the hotel structures. Our late afternoon arrival meant that we were able to catch the sun setting over the plains from the swimming pool deck and it was a spectacular sunset made even more atmospheric by the grunting of the hippos from the nearby hippo pool! The grounds of the hotel are very natural and not lacking in wildlife, namely masses of rock hyrax and bush hyrax. So many of the critters that you almost had to be careful where you stepped and any sudden movements generally caused a great scurry of activity!

The kids were fast asleep soon after their heads hit the pillows, meaning that they missed out on cacophany provided by Mother Nature. Perhaps that was just as well, as some of the sounds may have ended up giving them more than vivid dreams. Still, Derek and Sarah enjoyed sitting at the French doors in the moonlight, gazing at the lone acacia tree behind our room and wondering about the possible sources of those noises?

With the sun still low in the sky we set off the following morning for a game drive and were not more than a hundred metres from the hotel when we “spotted” our first find of the day – a pack of spotted hyenas! No carcass in sight and no laughing to be heard but a cool sight anyway! Unaware of what Joseph had in mind (as was often the case) we hung on tight, speeding along the dirt tracks, eyes peeled for wildlife. Having spent years searching for little white balls lost in the long grass, Derek’s eagle eyes had no trouble spotting a large yellow cat in a small ravine….a young lioness was dozing in the early morning sun, but too far away for a good photo opportunity and so we were soon on our way again. After much searching, we discovered what Joseph had heard about on the CB radio (lifeline for the guides) and been racing to get to, a pair of young cheetahs. We watched for some time as the pair seemed to be on the prowl, moving from one mound to another and stopping at each one to survey the landscape. Lauren, being the cat expert in the family, had already predicted this behavior and was delighted to see some of her research in reality.

Cheetahs can apparently be hard to find and we were very happy to have seen a pair, so imagine our delight when driving in search of lions, we spotted another Cheetah, but not just any Cheetah. This one we discovered had four young with her, no tiny little cubs, but big enough to be learning to hunt and we watched as she led them through the grass stopping at each mound as we had watched the previous pair do.

Next on our agenda was apparently to find some lions and so we were back to driving from “lion rock” to “lion rock”, however this time we were successful and discovered two lionesses snoozing contentedly in the early morning sun. Clearly they’d had a good feed with one of them still having the blood stains on her cheek. Our lion hunting wasn’t done for the day and before we returned to the hotel for lunch we discovered a pride of five lions resting beneath the trees enjoying the midday sun. The long rains have only recently finished and the Serengeti has plenty of vegetation which means that although the wildebeest have already started their great migration north there are still lots of animals on the plains which makes for easy pickings for the predators, consequently they appear to be well fed and content to laze in the sun all day long. (Apparently it’s also mating season for lions which might go a long way to explaining why the males seem to be asleep whenever we see them….)

En route to the lodge for lunch Joseph received a call on the radio and we were soon speeding off in another direction. A leopard had been spotted in a tree and we were soon on the spot (pun intended) to take some classic pictures of the cat draped along a branch. It was a short detour and we were soon back at the lodge. Sitting or standing in a jeep for hours on end is surprisingly tiring and so after a large lunch we took a nap before heading out for another game drive. This was our least successful game drive and all we had to report by the end of the two hours of driving was a single crocodile and some hippos. Still, our days tally was impressive none the less; 9 Spotted Hyenas, 8 Lions, 1 Serval Cat, 7 Cheetahs, 1 Leopard, 1 Elephant, 1 Crocodile, Zebra, Wildebeest, Hartebeest, Ostrich, Warthogs, Thompsons Gazelles, Hippos and Baboons. It’s worth noting that when we mention zebras and wildebeest we’re not talking about the odd one or two, but maybe hundreds or thousands of the beasts at any one time. At one point we came across some herds that stretched across the horizon in either direction as far as the eye can see, and apparently, although we’ve missed the main event (The Great Migration of the Wildebeest), these herds are actually the tail end of it. Maybe we’ll just have to return another time to catch the full herd, but this has been quite enough for now!
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Comments

Karla Rockwell on

I laughed....I cried....I almost died!
I hope you and Alex didn't get any new wives as result of your dance.

Shirley on

Unbelievable. Your pictures and videos make me tear up. It's so beautifull. What a wonderfull world we live in. :)

Joe on

Great photos. Keep them coming

delsar
delsar on

Thanks for the great comments! Knowing that people are reading and actually enjoying the entries makes it easier to keep writing them....

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