August 30, 2010
Monday morning we meet our 3 drivers – Darimo, Mohamed, and Loukindo (James). They are driving two 6-man safari jeeps and one 4-man safari jeep. We load-up and begin our adventure with a drive to Lake Manyara. The landscape is covered with agriculture, particularly coffee crops shaded by evenly spaced shade trees. Everywhere, the fertile land is farmed and along the roads are burlap spreads with millet (red porridge seeds) drying on them. These same seeds are often wet and forced to sprout, and then fermented to provide much of the local region’s alcohol. We leave Moshi, pass JRO airport and the city of Arusha, and drive to the ~300sqkm Manyara Lake which is surrounded by a game preserve. Here we see velvet monkeys, baboons, grey hornbill and a family of resting giraffes. At the hippo pool, pelicans and storks, (Maribou storks, yellow-bellied storks & red-bellied storks), cover every inch of available space. We spot impala, zebras, water buffalos and mongoose before we take a drive along the former lake’s edge (the water level is now down). We follow a giraffe who leads us to a family of elephants crossing the road right on top of us, including a youngster who demonstrates annoyance at the difficulty of pulling grass from the packed ground. When the elephant’s wander past us, we proceed up out of the park stopping to look at the huge, surreal Bilboa trees along the way, and spotting our first sign of a lion – a clear paw print in the mud – a sign of things to come. We get to the Highlands Hotel at about dark where we are greeted by cool drinks at the end of a dusty day. That night after dinner, local entertainers put on an impressive show of native music, singing, dancing and gymnastics. Many of the group join in the festivities and fun is had by all. However, we talked with two groups of people who had just returned from Kilimanjaro, and we were given ominous news that neither group made it to the top of the mountain!
Tuesday we rose, had breakfast and headed to the Serengeti. Along the way, we crept our jeeps along through the dense fog on the Ngorongoro crater’s rim road until we reached the overlook. Here, it was cold and very windy without much visability. We headed down into the beginnings of the Serengeti, and we stopped at a local Masai Village where we were honored by the warriors’ dancing and the women’s singing. We entered their huts and learned some of their values and customs, bought a few trinkets and continued our journey. Along the way, we spotted jackals and ostriches, stopping to have lunch at Olduvai Gorge, where Dr. Leeke found hominid footprints and the research into the cradle of human-kind and civilization began. That afternoon, we learned to identify a Thompson’s gazelle from a Grant ’s gazelle, before we came upon 2 cheetahs classically poised upon a termite mound, surveying the landscape around them. The afternoon continued to bring surprises as we encountered 2 female lions, hartebeest, hyenas, eagles, water buffaloes and another herd of elephants led by a bull male. Our first real treat, however, was finding a leopard in a tree near the road, with a recently killed Thompson’s gazelle hanging from a branch nearby. We spent some time here trying to get the best view, but as dusk closed in, we moved on to our camp for the night. We pulled into the Serengeti Wild Tented-Camp, had a refreshing drink, took hot showers to wash the dust off and met for dinner at the dining tent. In addition to the 16 of us, there was a group of Germans in the camp, some of which we befriended. After dinner, we joined them in the center of camp for a warming campfire and we relaxed, told stories and recounted the day.
On Wednesday, we were to spend the whole day on game drives on the Serengeti. After breakfast, we left in our three vehicles and soon came upon a pride of lions consisting of 2 mature females with 8 youngsters of only ~1-2 years old. We observed them for awhile, but then moved to the other side of the creek they were near where we came upon another lioness, but this one with 4 very young cubs, likely only ~1-month old. They cried like little kittens as their mother moved them along next to our jeep, stopping to mouth/pick one up when it refused to budge any further. A little ways off, we could see two male lions keeping a wary and protective eye on the pride. We finally left this heart-tugging scene, traveled back past the leopard in the tree, (yes, he was still there), and to the local airport to renew our park permit. Along the way, we came across a large number of hippos in a local pond behind a weir, accompanied by a single large crocodile, and then came upon a lone, young male lion laying in a ditch on the side of the road, looking lonely and on his own. While Dorimo renewed our permits at the airport (a dirt flat spot with 1 small shack) we watched the local weaver birds enter and exit their encapsulated nests in the tree. We then left and headed back to camp for lunch and a lively card game of “hearts” while we waited for the heat of the day to pass, and for the animals to again become active. The afternoon started slowly with only the spotting of hyrax sunning themselves on the rocks, a Butler eagle and various vultures, until we came upon a large family of elephants. We took up a position on the road ahead of them, knowing that they would cross nearby. One of the large female elephants was obviously “in heat”, and the large bull male was obviously aroused by it. At the back was a young baby elephant with a birth deformity the made us wonder whether or not it would survive in the wild – its trunk was seriously short – less than half the length it should have been. It was so short, that the baby would kneel down every time it wanted to eat grass in order to reach it. It was a sad sight, indeed. After the elephants passed, we continued our drive and came upon another lioness, but this one was hunting a gazelle. We watched as she stalked and slinked in the local lows of the terrain, and in the tall grass. But at the end of the day, the gazelles were alerted, and we lost her in the camouflage. Without a kill to observe, we moved on again and were treated with another leopard in the tress with a gazelle kill, but this one providing a much better view. After shooting dozens of pictures, we started to head for the camp, but came upon another hippo pool where two hippos appeared to be engaged in a bit of romance! We reached camp just as elephants and giraffes were wandering by, and then at dinner we surprised Julie (Mike’s wife) with birthday napkins and cards – today she turned 30 years-old! After dinner, the camp staff also surprised her with a watermelon and pineapple fruit “cake” – truly original, healthy and delicious! Again, we sat around the campfire and reminisced upon the day before calling it a night. “Lala Salama” and sleep well – a good night in Swahili.