We arrived back to Dar in the late afternoon with enough daylight left for Chris and I to get a quick swim in before dinner. We had dinner and then headed to the bar to celebrate Joy’s birthday. Earlier in the trip Michael had told her about a century (a shot of beer every minute for 100 minutes) and her birthday wish then became we complete a century. It was our earliest start the next day, with breakfast at 3:20 am and departure at 4:00. It was also to be our longest driving day yet [we didn’t know this part pre-century].This dissuaded people from participating but a few of us rallied for the occasion. Michael bowed out at shot 20, more than a little embarrassing considering the whole thing was his idea (Sorry Michael, the truth hurts). We completed the century and hung out for a while (enough time for a birthday ‘ice’) before deciding to turn in to get a bit of sleep before our giant day ahead. We headed towards the tents and Joy thought our tent was hers and started climbing in. We pointed this fact out to her and when she went to move to her tent she found it was no longer there. She was very distraught but within a few minutes she located her tent very neatly placed atop an adjacent picnic table. She still doesn’t know who was behind the birthday prank and I am not about to reveal the culprits via this blog, it will forever remain a mystery!
No sooner had we laid our heads down did we hear our alarms to wake up. Suddenly the century didn’t seem like the brightest idea considering a good percentage of us were still a little tipsy. We all made it aboard the bus on time and we set off for our destination, Arusha, in the darkness of the night. Sleep is a feat on board the trucks as the suspension is all but nonexistent and the roads in varying stages of disrepair. The seats are comfortable enough but do not recline. Most of our day oscillated between attempting to sleep and looking at the world pass by out the window. We had a pit stop for lunch which was a welcomed stretch for the legs. Back on the bus we tried our best to keep each other entertained as the hours dragged on. Our day ended as it began; in the darkness of the night. It was a gruesome 16.5 hour drive that left a group of shattered individuals. We ate supper quickly and headed to bed to forget the day that we had just endured.
The next day we headed into Arusha for a last minute shopping trip before starting our safari that afternoon. We made an additional stop at the Cultural Heritage Shopping Centre which specializes in Tanzanite. My interest was more than peaked to browse for a potential accompanying piece for my ring. Browsing the loose stones I inquired the price on a set of small princess cut stones to make into earrings and was shocked with the answer, $520 USD! The price of Tanzanite in the last 4 years has more than doubled, owing to the declining amounts of it left. They project in the next 4-7 years there will be no Tanzanite left to mine. Even now, all the large, perfect stones are done. It is a good stone to invest in but out of our (dwindling) budget. I am happy I invested 4 years ago and am more than happy with my ring.
We headed back to the campsite where we had free time to wander the local Masai markets or visit the snake enclosure located within the campsite. I had already visited lots of markets and the snakes didn’t interest me so I spent my time trying to charge our devices before the safari. We were picked up in our landrovers at 2:30 pm and headed to the town of Karatu which lies 20 kms from the Ngorongoro crater. We had a nice supper before preparing as a group a ‘flash mob dance’ for another member of group, Nat, who had a birthday the next day and said her wish was for a flash dance. We headed to bed to prepare for our early start the next morning.
We made it to the main gate of the Crater by 6:00 am and waited an hour for the necessary paper work to be processed. With the paperwork completed we started our drive into the crater, stopping at the top of the rim for photos. The last time I visited the crater there was no infrastructure at this point, now they have built a lookoff point and toilets. It was interesting to see the changes. We started our descent into the crater and I was filled with the same excitement that I had 4 years ago on my first visit. We found 2 male lions a 3 lioness very quickly and we stopped and watched them for a long time. They of course were sleeping and nonplussed with our presence. The lionesses did eventually get up and walk away, affording fantastic pictures. Eventually, the males managed to raise their heads for a few moments, look around, and promptly go back to sleep. A disclaimer is required at this point: all of the pictures found within this blog are from the lovely Tiana and her incredible zoom camera. She happily shared her photos with us which I will be eternally grateful for. It is the first time on the trip I regret not having invested in a nice camera. Her camera is a point and shoot and very small, but with the incredible technology of today it is as good (if not better) as DSLR’s. I will know for next time!
After the lions we headed to a watering hole where we found hundreds of wildebeest and zebras. We also spotted a hyena and got incredibly close to it as it ran alongside the road. A bit further down the road we found more lionesses napping in the shade of the tree.
We stopped for lunch at the hippo pool where we were able to eat our food on the shores of their water. The hippos were very close but within the water so posed no danger to us. As we ate I looked around at all the other trucks stopped for lunch with their passengers decked head to toe in safari gear. I stopped to ponder when safari gear became travelers dress of choice. The gear was made for African Safaris, but is still so impractical even in its intended setting. You sit in a landrover all day protected from the sun with lots of air circulation; the full-on safari gear is redundant. I couldn’t help chuckle at the sight of hundreds of tourists all in these clothes.
After lunch we continued our drive seeing more or less the same things we saw in the morning. Seeing all the vehicle’s driving around this beautiful area I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling we are a disruption to the environment. Yes, the money we spend to enter the park goes to conserving the animals area and protecting them, but it is a double edged sword as we are the reason they need to be confined and protected. It reminded me of the program manager at Antelope Park who said,
“Humans are the cancer of the world. We consume, overtake and disrupt things until there is going to be nothing left.”
A bit apocalyptic, but it echoed in my mind as we made our way out of the crater. It may seem as if I am taking a negative approach to our experiences, but I think I am taking a broader look at what we are experiencing. Our first trip I took everything at face value and was amazed with it all. I am still amazed with what we are doing on this trip, but I am looking beyond the surface of our experiences and questioning more and more the impact we are leaving. I feel a much deeper sense of appreciation of things because of this intense introspective process. As I have mentioned before I have drawn many more questions than conclusions, but I think it is a necessary process.
Leaving the crater one vehicle headed to Olduvai Gorge, another to the Masai village, and ours to the gate of the Serengeti to process the payment. I had already done both activities, Chris, Michael, Tiana along with 2 other members of the group were not interested in either activities. We hung around the gate waiting for the papers to be approved with the hope of starting our drive early if the papers were done early. At least, that was what we were told. In reality, we had to wait for the other two trucks anyway.
Once they finally arrived we set off into the Serengti. Serengeti is a Masai word which means “endless plains.” One side of the road had been burned in a controlled burn, making game very easy to spot. They burn to regenerate the growth the grass, and to rid ticks and other pests. We found more lionesses very quickly and they looked like they were stalking a group of gazelle, but to our disappointment they were just changing location.
Further into the park we saw tons of thompson gazelles but went a long stretch without seeing much else. Suddenly our driver put the peddle to the metal and we were tearing through the vast plains in search of whatever came over the radio to our driver. We pulled up amongst a group of other landrovers (a sign of something good) and our driver told us there was a leopard in the tree. We spotted the leopard quickly, and with the expert set of eyes of our driver he pointed us to the kill jammed in the junction of the trunk and branches close to where the leopard was laying. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the leopard had a cub in the adjacent tree that we witnessed scurry down its tree, walk along the ground, climb moms tree, and begin to feed on the kill. It was a remarkable spotting and we were content observing for quite some time.
After the excitement of the leopard we began making our way to our campsite for the evening, watching one of the most magnificent African Sunsets we have experienced along the way. The game viewing may have not been the best, but the sunset more than made up for it. Pictures do not do it any justice, but I will share a few with you. Almost to the campsite I spotted a serval cat, a medium sized cat that looked like a mix between a domestic cat and a cheetah. It was a great way to cap the day!
Our campsite for the evening was basic and packed full with other safari goers. The line for the showers was impossible, I remember our campsites from my last safari as almost deserted, it was quite the contrast. We gave up the hope of a shower and traded it for a bottle of wine before dinner. Dinner was spaghetti bolognase; an unfortunate meal as we had been eating it every second meal for the past 20ish days. After dinner we chatted a while before revealing our flash dance for Nat, she was very pleased if not a bit embarrassed. Our grand finale was to throw rice in the air over her, it was perfect. A group of us stayed up drinking and chatting happily about the day and what we had been able to see, and what we were hopeful to see the next day. Michael stepped out of where we were hanging out for a minute and when he returned he told us he had a run in with a buffalo! We could hear it outside and began shining our torches and were surprised to see more than one set of eyes outside the building we were in. They slowly made their way around the front of the building until they were close to the door, blocking our only exit point between us and our tents. We were all petrified to leave as buffalo are one of the more dangerous animals when it comes to people. We decided to go as a group to our tents (which were no more than 200 meters from the buffalo) and we made it safely. Later in the night the camp was also visited by an elephant! No where else in the world would you be as concerned about getting out of your tent at night as you are in Africa!
We started our game drive as the sun rose the following morning and were optimistic about the day. Within 45 minutes we had already seen heaps (thanks for the word Michael) more animals than the day before. As had happened on numerous other game drives our driver got a message over the radio and upon setting the receiver down we took off at top speed towards an unknown animal. Whenever this happens you get a very excited feeling, almost like the ‘Christmas Morning’ feeling, with the anticipation of what you are going to see. This time we were lucky enough to see a cheetah walking down the middle of the road. After strolling along he moved to the side of the road and would walk for a bit before sitting down, then laying down, then repeating the process. Tiana was able to get some incredible shots of this, check them out below! Cheetahs are incredibly elegant animals and we were so lucky to be able to spend so much time with this one.
Just as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared into the long grass. Cheetahs are usually found in a pair, and sure enough a few hundres meters down the road way in the distance we spotted the mate. It was an excellent start to the day.
We took off racing again and this time a pride of lions was waiting for us, with the male lion sitting as close to the road as he could possibly be. This allowed vehicles to pull up directly adjacent to him. It was an absolutely spectacular viewing; we could see every nick and scratch on his body. He finally got fed up and let out a low growl at one vehicle before walking off to the other side of the road, further away from the vehicles.
We then spent some time observing the lionesses who had been in the background. At one point, a hippo came out of no where running full tilt close to the lionesses (they are surprisingly fast) and a few of the lionesses sat up out of curiosity to watch it. This allowed for some more great shots!
As we were driving to the Serengeti Visitors Centre our guide spotted 3 lions sleeping in a tree. I have never seen a lion in a tree (only leopards), and one of them was precious in how he was hanging (literally) out of the tree. Check out thr adorable pictures below!
We spent 45 minutes at the visitors centre with a guide who took us through a brief history of the Serengti. He talked about what currently threatens the animals and the land and how they are trying to combat these things. Of course poachers are a big problem that are difficult to fight. They set fires to distract the rangers so while the rangers are battling the fire they can poach an animal. The rangers have to think of the greater good for the collective group of animals so always must contain the fire. It is a huge challenge that every park faces. The demand for poached animals needs to be eliminated before the poachers can be, and unfortunately this is more of a political battle.
After the visitors centre we game drived our way out of the park. On the way we spotted two sleeping male lions and got some great shots in the afternoon light. We had lunch at the Serengti main gate before making the long journey back to Arusha.
As we drove I compared my two safari experiences. I must say we were incredibly lucky this second time round to see as much as we did in essentially two game drives. The last time i visited I did a 7 night 6 day safari and actually saw less than this visit as I did not see any male lions on my last visit. It reaffirms the analogy that game driving is much like fishing.
The next day we made our way Pole, Pole (slowly, slowly in Swahili) to Nairobi, Kenya. I will document our time in Kenya in our next post. Cheers!
** *We booked our tour through African Overland Safaris, the Adventure Travel Division of Tshokwane Safaris, on behalf of Africa Travel Co. We experienced incredible customer service and were fully satisfied with the price we paid and the information we were provided about the tour. Find more information at: http://www.african-overland-safaris.com OR http://www.tshokwanesafaris.com.