It’s surprisingly cool in camping out in the Serengeti, we had a clear night with a beautifully bright moon and that definitely kept the temperatures cooler than I expected. I used my sleeping bag last night, something I didn’t think I’d need out here. By the way, that’s not a complaint at all. It was just about the perfect weather for camping and both Jordana and I had great sleeps. I crawled out of our tent in the darkness of the early morning with my headlamp on and walked over to the stinky pit toilet and then brushed my teeth next to the tent. I pulled over a sweater and grabbed my camera, it was time for a sunrise drive in the park.
We began the drive just as the light of the day was breaking, what a tremendous place to watch the first sunrise of 2009, something I will never forget. The fiery orange sun rose behind an acacia tree providing just about the most idyllic image of Africa you can get. We drove for about 20 minutes and didn’t see anything, not a single animal. It’s so strange how you can not see a thing at times and others it’s just non-stop. Well it quickly changed as we came across more large groups of wildebeest and zebras. Just pased them we saw a few hyenas in the bush on the left. We stopped to watch the scene when one of the hyenas started out after a baby wildebeest. Hyenas usually only feast on the leftovers of animals but this one was chasing after a young wildebeest and it seemed the other wildebeest couldn’t care. We watched them zig and zag and circle around, the wildebeest is pretty quick. I couldn’t decide if I wanted the hyena to catch the wildebeest, I mean how cool would that be? Then again do I want to see this animal get ripped apart? It didn’t matter since the chase went on far in the distance, behind the large herd of animals and we could no longer see what was happening. I wondered if the little guy got away? Further along we saw a few more hyenas, who look pretty much like mangy dogs. A few were so close to the truck we could really observe them. Their mannerisms are so similar to a domestic dog it almost makes you want to jump down and pet one. I wonder what would happen if I did that? I nominated Vorn the Aussie to give it a go, but he was having none of it. Just on from the hyenas was a small creek where the trees were covered by strange and ugly looking storks. Huge black birds with nasty orange and black beaks.
Over an hour in and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t getting a bit bored of zebras and wildebeests. Maybe that makes me a safari snob but so be it. Where were the lions? They have a huge all you can eat buffet here! Maybe Tanzania should sell some of these guys to zoo’s around the world to aid conservation efforts here? Hey, that could be another NGO. Anyone in for financing my efforts? Joking, of course…I’m a vegetarian, I think it goes against our code to talk about animals negatively. The zebras finally made some room for a few young giraffe to wander through, we watched 3 of them feed on trees. Did I mention I love giraffes? Never really thought about them before but seeing them in the wild, I could just watch them walk around feeding all day. They are definitely the underdogs of the safari circuit but once I’ll bet you once you do a safari they’ll be right up there as one of your favourites. As graceful and elegant as the giraffes are they couldn’t top what we saw next.
A few trucks were stopped ahead, looking at something on the roadside. Anytime you see other trucks stopped you know it’s going to be good. As we neared we saw what the commotion was all about, 2 full grown female lions and 3 very small cubs feeding on a downed zebra. Call me insensitive but I didn’t feel sorry for the zebra. All we could see what the rib cage and some zebra skin on the ground, the lions were ripping off chunks of meat. One of the cubs had blood on his face. We have said it many times so far but this was easily the most amazing thing I’ve seen on safari so far. We sat and watched, a European tourist from another truck asked us to tell our driver to turn off the truck. We all embarrassingly replied, “Sorry sir, can’t do it, it won’t start again unless you want to get out and push.” Even the rumble of the diesel engine couldn’t ruin this moment.
We moved on and that’s when the real highlights started coming, fast and furious I swear it almost feels like someone places the animals for you to view sometimes. 5 minutes on from the lions we saw another lion hanging out of a tree. The tree was about 2 meters off the roadside and the lion was maybe 3 meters high with her leg just dangling off. We stopped beside the tree and I have to admit the thought of “Would this lion jump onto us?!” crossed my mind a few times. She didn’t and we got some great photos before moving onto the next amazing sight. A leopard, again in a tree. Just hanging out, although we couldn’t get a good picture since it was far off in the distance. We could only see the outline of it’s sleek body hanging in the tree. This capped off an incredible morning as we headed back to the camp for breakfast.
After breakfast we began our drive out of the Serengeti and onto the Ngorongoro crater. Along the we saw some large and interesting impala like animals, not sure what they are called. They were reddish and powerful looking with some pretty cool looking twisted horns. Of course we saw zebras and wildebeest, thousands more just making their way across the plains. Amongst them were several ostriches just hanging out, looking dopey the way only an ostrich can. As we drove across the plains I was enjoying the drive standing on the seat with my head popped out of roof. Every so often I’d just look around and smile to myself and think how great this was. It’s pretty tough to get bored of doing this, although I’d like another truck, preferably more comfy and fitted with a bar if I was going to do this daily.
We exited the Serengeti Park and entered a “buffer” zone that lies between the Serengeti park and the Ngorongoro crater. In the zone the Masai are allowed to live their traditional lifestyle, in the park they no longer live. That isn’t to say animals aren’t out here, Tanzania really is a wild country. Just before we climbed into the highlands to the crater rim we stopped so our driver could rest of weary vehicle and check the fluid levels. As we were stopped two young Masai boys walked over from a nearby village. We couldn’t figure out what they were saying and thought they were begging. They may have been but what they wanted was our empty plastic water bottles. I wasn’t sure why they wanted them, maybe they ran a recycling program? Not likely. I remember reading an article about solar disinfection of water, although I’m not sure if that’s what they were doing. If you fill a plastic bottle with contaminated water and leave it in the sun the solar radiation will reduce bacteria, an important thing in a place where something as simple as diarrhea is a killer. Soon we were on our way again and as we climbed to the top of the rim the air turned cool and fresh. The landscape changed to lush green, such a contrast from the parched plains below. The campsite for tonight sits at just over 2000 meters.
We arrived at our camp on the edge of the craters rim, they saved the best camp for the last night. We had a beautiful view of the crater below as we setup our tents on a grassy area. Just as we finished setting up we heard a commotion behind us where a few trucks were parked. An elephant was right beside the trucks! Apparently she has been coming to the camp to drink from water tank. We approached slowly and watched the elephant, I couldn’t beleive we were this close to a wild elephant and we were on foot. Jordana and I stood there snaping photos when the elephant truppeted and charged foward. We leaped beside the truck, I pushed Jordana and we jumped into the truck. The elephant was just making sure nobody got close but still I was shaking. For the record that’s the second elephant to charge us on this trip and 3rd in my life to come at me. I was sort of wishing for those fences from Kruger since our tent was no more than 20 meters away from this elephant. L:ater on I thought she was gone and I rounded the corner of the washroom block when I saw her just standing there. She actually turned on the water tap and began to drink from it for 20 minutes or so before disappearing into the woods as the sunset. What a welcome to our last night of camping.
After dinner we played cards with our group and shared travel stories about Africa. The temperature up at this altitude was pretty chilly at night. This was our latest night, we turned in at 10:30pm and the rest of the camp was asleep. I wasn’t asleep for long though. I’m not sure what time it was, around 1am I’d guess. I heard some walking outside, first I thought someone from the camp but then it sounded like several people. I now figured it was cattle, the Masai bring their cattle to graze all over this area and this was nice and grassy. I couldn’t sleep now and my mind was running all over the place. Yep, sounds like cattle. I really have to pee, can I hold it? What time is it anyway? I hate peeing at night. I can hold it. I laid down and tried to sleep but the steps grew louder and the sounds of grass being ripped out of the ground grew very loud, when the grunting started I think I almost pissed myself. OH man! That’s not cattle, that’s buffalo! Jordana…wake up, buffalo are outside our tent! She told me to stop being a baby and go backto bed. Jordana can sleep through anything. Me on the other hand had to pee really bad and in case you didn’t know buffalo are one of the most aggresive animals in Africa, feared by hunters. They aren’t nicknamed “Black Death” for nothing. When I began to hear their heads brushing against the sides of the tent I was pretty damn scared, I was thinking of what to do. Really what do you do? Call me a pussy but I’ll tell you what I did. I curled up in my sleeping bag and held it against my ear so I couldn’t hear anything and tried to not think of how bad I had to pee.
I think I slept for an hour when I woke up and knew if I didn’t go to the toilet then I’d go in the tent, I thought about just peeing outside in the vestibule. I didn’t hear anything outside for a few minutes so I popped on my head lamp, unzipped the tent and crawled outside. I looked right and there was a huge buffalo lying down about 5 meters away, I quietly turned toward the toilets and walked quickly there. I used the womans as it was closer. On my return I tripped over the tent zipper crawling in and hit the ground, just then the heard of buffalo stampeded off. Funny eh, as scared as I was of them it was ME who scared THEM away.