Day 3-5 of Safari
8/15/09 - 8/18/09
"There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you drunk half a bottle of champagne--bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive!"
--Out of Africa, Karen Blixen
Our gracious host from Hatari Lodge hand wrote this on one of their personalized notes.
August 15, 2009
We are at the bottom of the hill at Kigongoni Lodge...103 steps. The property is beautiful but the service is not up to par with the other places. It's a huge bungalow with a super funky bathroom. Back to mosquito nets at this lower elevation. It was nice to just climb into bed at Hatari without worrying about bugs for two nights.
Two representatives from Africa Dream Safaris came to meet us at Kigongoni. Just a confirmation on the itinerary and to tell us about tomorrow. We will leave at 6am for the airport. They have Internet here but the frequent power outages were killing me! Oh no, the burglars took Paul's ipod. After dinner, we repacked for the airport (they still have all those same liquid rules in these tiny "airports"--what terrorist would ambush a 12-seater? that's like no statement at all) and went to bed.
August 16, 2009
Our safari will focus on the Northern parks of Tanzania: Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara and Tarangire.
Bright and early and Kili is still socked in. We are never going to see that mountain! We get picked up at 6am from the lodge. Even this early in the morning, we see everyone dressed in their Sunday best heading for church. Wow, these people are committed (most Tanzanians on the mainland are Christian). We are headed to Kogatende in North Serengeti. We learn that it will only take one hour. Our representatives checked us in and phoned our driver that we'd be early. What service. The key to not having your luggage weighed is to have your driver check in for you! So the pilot collects tickets, passes out candy and goes over safety instructions on top of flying. No attendants required for planes with less than 20 passenger seats. This Regional Air plane is older than the Zan Air fleet but it's slightly bigger at 14 seats. I will ignore the cracked windshield and the strange seatbelt shoulder strap that comes loose if you move. Still overcast. We see sinkholes everywhere in the land below. As we get closer to our destination, we begin to see large animals littered all over the ground (we soon learn that they are wildebeest). Here comes the clearing for our landing.
It was a perfectly smooth flight and no animals running across the airstrip (the "runway" does have animal poop on it). We (the four passengers) clap. Matt and I picked out our luggage from the plane as more people joined the continuing flight. The "terminal" is just an outhouse and there's a place for cars to wait for the planes. There's no one for the pilot to communicate with as there is no traffic control. Instead, the airlines call the lodges nearby ahead of time to see what the weather is like. Our vehicle is that big, dark green Land Cruiser.
Wow, I really feel like I'm in Africa now.
We have a driver/guide. We have three rows of seats to move about in the vehicle and the top is completely open. We feel a little guilty for having such a large truck for just the two of us. But it is really nice. After we check in to Serengeti National Park, we are officially ready to start our safari!
It is towards the end of the dry season and the migratory animals have moved from the south to the north. Due to the drought this year, we hear that many of the animals moved a little more north than usual so there are tons of animals in Kenya's Masai Mara. But the wildebeest here are still migrating back and forth across the rivers. It rained last night and we expect more rain which may confuse the animals. Here is how we cross:
But the wildebeest, who are scared by their own sneezing, refuse to use the bridge and cross right next to it where they are prey to crocodiles and injury.
That's how smart they are. Baboons, on the other hand, would use the bridge. The only way wildebeest survive is because they procreate like crazy. That keeps their numbers stable each year. While they have great sense of smell, their eye sight sucks so they actually travel with zebras who have excellent eyes. You'll notice that they always stare back at us when we watch them.
Giraffes are one of the only animals that can see color and they also stare back at us with an intense look.
Our guide thinks this baby is only 2 weeks old (ouch). They stand up immediately and walk within an hour of birth.
There are thousands and thousands of wildebeest in this area (1MM make the migration). They look exactly like they do in Lion King--evil and fierce.
And when they all run, it is an awesome sight.
But they are so weak that I'm pretty sure I can knock one down easily. In fact, there are wildebeest carcasses and skulls all across the land. Some lions follow the migration since wildebeest are relatively easy prey. The vultures, along with the ugliest looking storks, are the last to pick at a kill.
The Northern Serengeti is what I picture when I think of "African Safari."
It's a bit wild. We can drive off road to get right next to the animals, there aren't many visitors in this area so the wildlife treat people and vehicles cautiously (and the roads are also much smoother due to lack of people) and there's incredible diversity from plains to woodland. It is extremely hot when the sun beats down on us and the awful tsetse flies sting right through your clothes. For lunch, we stop under a shady tree and set up the table and chairs for a picnic. No, our guide does not carry a gun. You just crack the door open in case you need to get in the car real fast. Similarly, there are no bathrooms in this area (other than at the airstrip) so you just go to the back of the vehicle and pee next to the zebras and wildebeest. We find out that our guide doesn't feel too well today because yesterday he was talked into taking some "medicine" from a Masai for his ulcer. He said it tasted awful and he was paying for it today...so much for "holistic" medicine.
No need to look hard for wildlife here, we are constantly running into them due to the migration.
The eagle was actually our first wildlife sighting in the morning
I thought hippos would be cuter. They are actually disgusting.
Crocodiles range in size but I am glad to learn that they don't like to move much when out of the water (as I stand on the edge of the embankment).
Strange to just see wild ostrich all over. They are quite a sight.
Other birds we saw include the colorful Lilac-breasted Roller and the Secretary Bird which hunts for snakes.
The impala are pretty (way more than Chevy's version).
And we finally see the elephants. Here's one climbing over an embankment.
Funny how the big animals are the vegetarians.
And they are actually picky. Their trunks are very strong but they don't like to eat everything so they shake out the unwanted parts.
And at the end of the day, we see our first simba (lion). I have to admit, she alarmed me because we drove right up to it and she gave me the scariest look. I wasn't sure if I should snap the photo or back off since my window was wide open. We knew she was protecting cubs. I did hesitate and this is the shot I unfortunately got.
On our way to camp, we were lucky to see the elusive leopard. Even more unusual, we saw it hunting. It was waiting for a small wildebeest to cross. The one shown here was too big to attack. Usually, the wildebeest can smell its predators but the leopard must have been downwind.
No luck in this crossing so the leopard moves to another position.
This time, the wildebeest and zebra that are crossing come to a complete halt. The wildebeest must have smelled the cat. The zebra get into their defensive positions (each facing a different direction) and start looking for danger. We've lost sight of the leopard as it is moving in very tall grass. Finally, the herd moves in the opposite direction of the leopard. It is amazing to see that nature definitely has a system of checks and balances and you cannot deny that natural selection has ensured the survival of each species. Leopards can run fast but they can't run for much of a distance so they must sneak up on their prey and pounce. So if their prey spots them too soon, it will be outrun and no meal for the leopard. Hunting, even attacking dumb animals, is not as easy as it seems.
Well, what an exciting day. We've already seen four of the big five on our trip: buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard. Just the rhino remains which we will only be able to see at Ngorongoro several days later. We finally arrive at Lemala and we are floored at just how fancy a tent can be. These are semi-permanent tents so that they can relocate to the most optimum sites for game driving; and they are 100% canvas but we do have running water in the tents, including a flush toilet. It doesn't look like too much from the outside.
But we just couldn't believe the interior. They run on solar power so there are no outlets (we must charge our batteries and such in the reception area) but we do have more than kerosene lamps. We have an outdoor deck and then a living room area which has some cool, posh furniture.
The next zipped area is the bedroom. It's huge with a full king size bed and armoire (housing two plush robes). The tent floor is covered with wood flooring. But you can still feel the slope of the land...makes it feel more authentic.
The bathroom has a copper bowl sink and a dressing table. And the shower and toilet are in the adjacent rooms. When you are ready to take a shower, the staff brings hot water for you. At the twist of a knob, you have instant hot water coming out of the shower. One tank lasts about 4 minutes so you have to be good at taking military showers. Both Matt and I were able to get clean on just one tank of water.
We have sundowners in the living room/dining tent and meet the other guests.
There are South Africans and Italians. Tonight, they have invited the driver/guides to dinner as well. After polishing off some tasty appetizers, we sit down to dinner. Soup is always the starter and tonight it is cream of radish. Guess what? It is now Matt's most favorite soup. While it sounds unappetizing, it is delicious and most of us have seconds. The staff is impeccable here as well and we can't believe you can turn out gourmet meals in a temporary kitchen.
It is raining slightly as we are escorted back to our tents. It's been a fantastic day and we are soon fast asleep in our comfy beds without the worry of mosquitos. I told Matt that I'd like to camp like this from now on.
August 17, 2009
Depart:............Lemala Luxury Camp, Mara Triangel/North Serengeti
Arrive:.............Migration Tented Camp, North Serengeti
Animals Seen:..Hyena, Cape Buffalo, Baboons, Waterbuck, Vervet Monkeys, Male Lion, Love Birds, Rock Agama Lizard, Hyrax, everything from yesterday except Hippos, Elephants, Crocs and Leopards
“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
[*]Sitting in our living room at Lemala for 10 minutes and watching wildebeest in the distance
[*]Seeing just how big an elephant skull is
[*]Bumping into Haika and Petra (from Hatari) on the Lobo route. What a small world!
[*]Seeing lion cubs for the first time as they play after a satisfying meal of buffalo..how could they be dangerous? Just 2-months old.
[*]Watching lions mate. Apparently, it's a rare sighting (as the male and female aren't usually found together during the day...unless they are mating) and I disappointed our guide when I told him that I wasn't going to take a photo of it. (It was too late anyway because it's over within a blink.) Even with an encroaching buffalo, Mr. Lion was in the mood but quickly roared at Mr. Buffalo when it got too close (mind you, he was still in the act). But 15 minutes later, they were at it again. They are not as loud as house cats, though.
[*]Watching baby baboons play
[*]Seeing new animals
WaterbuckRock Agama LizardLove Birds
[*]New photos of animals seen before
The gazelles remind me of reindeers from Rudolph the Red Nosed ReindeerImpala
A Lion with a Full Stomach!
Zebra are so photogenic!
Birds getting a free ride from the giraffe
[*]Our first sunset. Blocked by clouds at the bottom but at least we saw something today!
[*]Migration Tented Camp is awesome! This is a permanent tent site.
So, there's actually a wood entry door and french doors aligned on the opposite wall, real walls around the bathroom, full plumbing, electricity and hot water (hard to call it a tent)! It's huge with lodgy, African furniture and I am in love with the shower. It has THE most beautiful teak floor with drain holes carved into the wood in a big pattern. We have TWO sinks within the granite counter and of course a real flush toilet.
[*]Unlimited free laundry at Migration Camp! We have loads!
[*]Taking a refreshing swim after a sweaty day
[*]Watching the hyrax on the property. They have amazing balance on the tree twigs. We thought it was a large rodent but guess what they are related to? Nope (whatever you said, I guarantee you were wrong). They are related to the elephant. Huh? Their feet are the same as elephants. Huh?
[*]Yummy barbecued appetizers with cocktails during sundowners at the outdoor bar, which has the best view for watching the animals from above
[*]3 Cape Buffalo looming near our tent on our return from dinner--frightening but exciting. The guards just throw rocks at it and then they tell us to run to the room
[*]Hippos trumpeting all through the night as they come out of the water to graze. All kinds of animals parading through camp--we're convinced they were on our deck
[*]Lemala tipping guide suggests $15 pp per night minimum as the staff they hire are locals and don't make much money. I don't mind tipping but why don't the resorts pay the staff more? Believe me, these places are not cheap to stay in so someone has to be making a ton of money. On top of the $40-$50 per day for our driver, you have to have a lot of cash for just tips alone!
[*]Darn big spiders are flat and can squeeze through anything!
[*]Pesty tsetse flies sting right through clothes...but even more painful on bare skin!
[*]The animals went too far north! The sightings aren't as prolific as last month
[*]Elephants destroy forests. They knock down trees to eat the leaves like the one in the background of this photo
[*]Our lunches get prepared before we leave in the early morning. And it just sits in the car, unrefrigerated, until we eat at around 1pm. It's often chicken and other perishable goods. I bet only Americans think about this
[*]When the sun does shine, it's really hot and you do get a little sweaty...gross. I'm going to have to do laundry every night!
[*]We think the tent needs a ceiling fan. If you saw how much I was paying for this place, you'd agree with us.
[*]Bummer, the drivers don't eat dinner with us
[*]Rain and clouds. We still haven't seen stars
August 18, 2009
Location:...........Migration Tented Camp, North Serengeti
Animals Seen:....Ostrich, Vervet Monkeys, Cheetah, Jackal, Hyena, Cape Buffalo, Lions, Eland, Zebra, Wildebeest, Elephants, Grant's Gazelle, Thomson's Gazelle, Impala, Harmerkop Bird, Vultures, Giraffe
[*]Leaving our tent at 6am in the pitch black and being eye to eye with a cape buffalo as I opened our door. I screamed. And then as we were walking down the path with our escort, I hear a grunt and ask what that was. He shines a flashlight next to me and it's a giraffe. I could touch it but didn't dare as they tend to kick. They are much taller from this view. All this before we even got to our car this morning!
[*]It's dark and the first animal on our 6am game drive are bushbabies. It's hard to see but they are nocturnal, small, live in the trees and look a little like gremlins. You'll hear more about them later.
[*]We see our first cheetah. There were two brothers hunting with a jackal in tow (they follow the cats during hunting hours so they can sweep up the leftovers) and stopped at a tree as we approached.
[*]Seeing a lot of animals out early in the morning, particularly the scavengers
jackalHyenaCape BuffaloVervet Monkey
[*]Having breakfast in the bush. Matt maybe would have listed non-refrigerated milk as a downer but it tasted fine. Our guide couldn't have any coffee due to his ulcer so he made a concoction of milk and hot water...ew. But we feasted on Scotch eggs, cereal, pastries and fruit...not your traditional African meal.
[*]A different group of lions and cubs feasting on the same buffalo kill from yesterday. These cubs were a little older. The stomach is the coveted meat
[*]Seeing just how lazy the male lions are. They take cover under a tree knocked down by an elephant
[*]We just love watching the monkeys
[*]Matt's favorites are the elephants
The animals hate the tsetse flies as much as us. Elephants throw dirt on themselves to try to get rid of them
A baby elephant is restless and entertains himself by trying to catch the tails of mommy and brother
Still can't get over how big these guys are...an impressive sight when they travel in large troops
[*]Like many guides, ours can spot animals from a mile away. And they know so much about them. I now know to look for a flock of vultures or watch a lone animal or that zebras in their defense position likely means a lion is around. But our guide is an expert on behavior and he can spot the strangest things, even without binoculars. He told us this zebra was injured by a lion during the night and once we got up close, sure enough we could see the gash
[*]Coming back to the tent after the AM drive to lunch and relax before the PM drive
fancy dessert of sauteed bananas in passion fruit sauce
Relaxing on the wrap-around porch Coming inside as the flies intensify in the afternoon
[*]Taking a slow, peaceful drive through the Grumeti River as we watch the baboons and get super close to the elephants
[*]Getting shoo'd away by a bull elephant. He is not happy we are in their territory and keeps following us. Not a good sign when they flare ears and trumpet. Yikes, they are TALL, and we are standing in a car. The African elephants are the largest and can grow to 5 meters in height!
[*]Watching baby baboons run up and down a tree
[*]Witnessing baboons, even the young ones, defending their territory. WOW, I didn't know baboons could run that fast! They are also super loud
[*]Having cocktails/pupus and dinner with Scott (a submarine commander) and Laurie (an airline pilot) who are another couple travelling with the same outfitter and swapping game drive stories
[*]The rain seems to lull the animals. We're actually disappointed that the cape buffalo didn't greet us after dinner and the hippos barely sang during the night
[*]Still haven't seen stars yet