Africa Stories and Tips

Safari Day 20: Another Spin around the Serengeti

Fever Tree Photo,

There is hot, dry, dusty, and flat endless grassland, kopje, yellow acacia, umbrella acacia, and sausage tree. Small rivers, dry ponds, dry stream beds. Herds of tiny thomson gazelle. Bumpy roads. Bird watching, mammal spotting, big cat tracking. Tse tse flies, mosquitoes. Constantly hot, I am often thirsty, dirty, sticky from sunscreen and DEET, and tired from sleepless nights, changing environments and waking early. Vigilance for safety, clean rooms, safe water and food, self-assessment for signs and symptoms of exotic disease, wild-animal penetration into lodge compound. Stress absorbing it all, seeing it all, doing it all and recording it all on tape, memory cards, postcards, and journals. We see typically the same animals each day. I am looking for new animals, new surroundings, new action. We eat three meals a day (sometimes large meals) but rarely exercise. Starting to feel like we are on a cruise, we sit or stand all day. Hiking is not permitted, except in a few designated places and only with an armed escort. No TV, newspapers, no outside world. Contact with locals is minimal. Dates and days of the week are irrelevant. The sun is our clock. We could be on another planet. Silence at night broken by exotic sounds so alien-sounding. The sky is filled with more stars than I could imagine. But always the dust, heat, herds of animals as we press on, on safari.

Slept reasonably well, waking at about 5am and laying motionless in the quit morning. Room was warm despite pleasant cool temperatures outside. We went to breakfast: breads, cereals, cheeses, cakes, and coffee, all the same each morning. I spend my breakfasts quietly observing the colorful birds and hornbills and monkeys on the veranda. We were underway by about 8:45am. We passed the same group of elephants still digging for water and destroying the forest trees. The morning air was reasonably pleasant. Today’s game drive lasted all day and took us about 30 miles southeast of the Serena Lodge (which is approximately in the center of the park). We were thoroughly coated with DEET and wearing permethrin-treated clothing. For the most part, the tse tse flies left us alone and we did not get bitten today. We saw all the familiar animals. Thomson gazelle were out in numbers and constantly flitting alongside and in front of our car. We saw lots of colorful birds and many more lions (both male and female). I cannot believe how many carnivores there are in this park. How much fresh kills are needed to support so many? At one point a female lion walked onto the road and we followed alongside her. I could have reached out and touched her (and I really did contemplate doing this several times during the trip but was unsure how fast lions react). She was in good shape, with muscle on her powerful shoulders pumping up and down as she strut her large paws indifferently along the road. She moved off the road and casually into a small brushy ravine (probably a small stream). A moment later, an impala exploded nearly straight up and out from the small ravine at high speed, as if fired from a canon. The cat slowly emerged from the other side to find a less vigilant potential meal.

We traveled along dried river beds, seeing a crocodiles occasionally and small herds of hippo often. Large birds sat glued next to the rivers endlessly, motionlessly watching the water. We drove out onto the savanna. There were waves of gold but absolutely no mountains, hills, or trees as far as the eye could see, just very flat savanna. Hot and dusty, it went on forever. Then here and there was a large umbrella or yellow acacia, sometimes lions, sometimes elephants, sometimes giraffe lounging beneath the tree’s shade. Then the Maasai kopje looking like distant islands. Large boulders clumped together with cactus or acacia growing in between the large black-gray rocks. Sometimes predators including cobras lounge here, but not today.

At noon, the apex of our drive, we pulled into the Serengeti Visitor’s Center. Serengeti is a Maasai word for an ocean of grass. The center was built with funds from the EU and is considered a World Heritage Site. We had a picnic lunch under a thatched umbrella table at the center. All around us came begging mongoose. Also appearing was a hyrax. After lunch we walked a small marked trail on a kopje next to the center. Along the hike was an assortment of native plants and explanations of the ecosystems of the savanna.

We drove an indirect route back to the lodge. Here a hippo, there an elephant, everywhere a lion. We saw a leopard in a tree and two cheetahs on the ground. All were relaxing, no action. We saw a newly born giraffe next to its mother; we saw a baby elephant suckling from its mother. We saw dik diks, lounging buffalo, and Coke’s hartebeest. Grasslands, thin acacia forests, small swamps, reeking, stagnant ponds, and dusty roads. Richard was a real talker. Sometimes it was difficult to understand his accent. But he had a deep knowledge and passion of everything we would like to learn about and provided the information continuously without our asking. We always end our days dirty, tired, and drained. No regrets, though!!! Problem is that with long trips like this we do not loose our energy, but the exhilaration and enthusiasm of seeing new things. But we also know we will probably not come this way again, and that it is a privilege that many dream and few experience. And so we press on also knowing that we have 5 more nights before rejoining our tribes in the Western world via London.

We had dinner, showered, and went to bed anticipating a departure at about 6:30am (good thing we are on a private safari, as being late is not a true problem).

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