Safari Njema… Good Safari
We are now in Nairobi, Kenya… and we have seen lots and done lots since my last post.
After my climb, Nicola had booked a safari for us with African Scenic Safaris based out of Moshi. It was us and a couple of girls from Sweden, Kajsa and Anna. For $750 USD, we got a four day, three night safari which included Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and Ngorogoro Crater. We camped inside the parks and we had a guide and cook for the full four days. We were picked up early on August 18th from the Kilimanjaro Backpackers Hotel.
The drive to Tarangire took quite a long time. We had to stop for groceries and gas along the way as well as a lunch break. The roads are not very good in this part of the world and even some of the highways make the gravel highway between Fort Smith and Hay River look seem like the 401. We arrived at Tarangire at around 4pm and pretty much went right to our campsite. We set up the tents and then headed out for a game drive before dinner.
I was quite amazed at the animals we saw so quickly. We made a long list of the animals that we saw. In the beginning, we were taking pictures of animals from far away. We soon realized that there was no need to take them from such a distance because before long they were almost beside the vehicle. As it started to get dark around 6:45pm it began to get harder to take pictures. This however was right around the time of seeing our first lions so some of the pictures that I took of lions make their eyes reflect the flash in the most amazing way. For the most part, the lions and other predators are quite still during the hottest part of the day and start to get more active as the sun starts to go down.
After the sunset game drive we returned to our camp for an amazing dinner. Shortly after dinner, I think we were pretty exhausted because we went to bed pretty early. When you are camping in the park like we were, there are lots of warnings about being very careful when you get up in the night. You never know when a lion or hyena could be close by. During the night, I could hear something outside of our tent. I looked outside and there were dozens of impalas grazing all around our tents. An impala kind of looks like an antelope, the males have quite big horns. How amazing! In the morning when we got up, we could see movement above through the trees in the distance. And then the head of a giraffe floated across the top of the trees. We soon realized that very close to our campsite there were giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and even elephants. What an awesome experience.
In the morning we packed up our campsite and after breakfast packed up the Toyota Land Cruiser. Our cook had put the garbage in a box and strapped the box on the front of the vehicle until we got to the gate where he could throw it out. We proceeded to have a morning game drive through Tarangire before we headed to Serengeti. Again, we saw some amazing wildlife. I realized that I probably did not have to take so many pictures of lions in bad light because again we saw several in the morning. Perhaps the highlight of the morning game drive was when a herd of elephants passed right by the truck. One very large one stopped to smell our box of garbage for quite a while. It was so close to us that you could see its eyelashes.
After we left Tarangire we had a very long drive to Serengeti… 7 hours. We would pass through the Ngorogoro Conservation Area on the way. I did not know that we would be driving such long distances however you cannot drive at the speeds that we do on Canadian highways. 7 hours could be 300-400 km. Ngorogoro used to be part of the Serengeti but it is now separate. The Masai can live in Ngorogoro and raise their hers of cattle and goats but they cannot in the Serengeti. If a lion should happen to kill one of their herd, the government pays them for it but they cannot kill the lion. The drive is quite slow again because you are climbing the crater to about 2400m and then descending again before you get to Serengeti.
Driving in Tanzania is quite an experience. I am not sure what the rules of the road are but people pass in places that I would never think of passing… like on curves and with vehicles coming at them. They expect other cars, motorcycles, etc. to move out of the way even if it means going onto the shoulder of the road. It can be quite hair-raising.
Our excitement for the day happened as we were getting close to the Serengeti. Our guide, Johnny, moved as far left on the road as he could as he passed a bus. The dust on the dirt roads made visibility very poor whenever we passed another vehicle. Just as we were about to pass the bus, I caught a glimpse of another vehicle behind the bus. Just as we passed the bus, we hit the other vehicle on the front driver’s side (they drive on the left side of the road here so the driver is on the right). The impact deflected us and we ended up in the ditch on the other side of the road.
We were all fine and no one was injured. We were maybe three or four inches though from going into a culvert that was 6 or 7 feet deep and if we had the vehicle absolutely would have rolled and likely we would have ended upside down. Our collision was with a police vehicle of all things. It had moved out to pass the bus not knowing we were there. Johnny asked us to take lots of pictures from all angles. Police here are quite corrupt and he was pretty concerned that this would be made out to be his fault.
We spent quite a bit of time on the side of the road. Our vehicle was too damaged for us to continue. We were wondering what that meant. There seems to be a code amongst the guides and companies though. Another guide took us to the Serengeti gate and then another one picked us up there. A Scottish girl Holly was on her own tour and so now she was sharing with four others. She seemed happy to have more people. By the next morning, after our morning game drive, another guide, Dennis, from African Scenic Safaris had arrived and took over the rest of our safari. For the rest of our safari I think we were all a little nervous about the driving because it did not get any better as we went on. In the end, we were safe and sound with no more accidents.
In the Serengeti, I was wondering what our game viewing would be like. It is very different terrain than Tarangire. The word Serengeti comes from a Masai word, serenget, which means endless plains. That is exactly what it looks like…. endless plains dotted with sporadic rock outcroppings and trees and periodic forested areas. It is nothing like I have ever seen. The grasses are golden brown and lions can approach through the tall grasses to get close to their prey. You can see herds of zebras and wildebeest from a far distance and gazelles spread out almost everywhere. In some of the water holes, hippos frolic and flip around. In one instance we saw a dead hippo and dozens of other hippos had surrounded it while a nearby croc waited for a chance to get at it. The other hippos were not having anything to do with it. I am not sure what exactly they were doing but it almost seemed as though they were waiting for their friend to come back to life.
We saw an male ostrich, with his brilliant colours, do his mating dance to alert a nearby female that he was coming for some action. It might seem a little rude, but we took pictures through the whole dance and their subsequent mating. This is the ostrich mating season. One ostrich egg has the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs if you were to make scrambled eggs.
By the time we finished our evening game drive in Serengeti, our cook, Idono, had set up our tents and had dinner ready for us. He had gotten a ride with someone else after the accident and took all of our gear. We were relieved that we did not have to set anything up and that it was done for us. The campsite at Serengeti was nothing like that in Tarangire. In Tarangire there were maybe seven or eight tents in our area. In the Serengeti campground there were more like 100… maybe more. Dinner was good but again we were all quite exhausted after the long drive. We were to bed quite early because we had to get up at 5am for an early morning game drive.
The early morning game drive was with Paula and Holly from the other company again. It was amazing to take pictures of the sunrise on the savannah. The animals are quite active at this time of the morning and the predators are still active as they try to feed. I think the highlight of the morning game drive was seeing a family of leopards in a tree. We were not too close and there were probably 50 or more vehicles all trying to get better position to see what was happening. Nobody seemed to be moving though. The mother left her cubs to play around the tree and she took off. The vehicles further up the road from us must have had an amazing view because she seemed to pass right between their cars. She was on the other side of the road for a while and then eventually she worked her way back to the tree. We got our best view when she climbed back up the tree… with a gazelle!!! I got some amazing pics of the leopard in the tree with her gazelle. I wish we could have seen the her take it down but we didn’t.
When we returned to our camp after the morning game drive, Dennis our new guide had arrived. He had driven since 2am to pick us up. We ate and then packed up before another game drive on our way out of the Serengeti and on the way back to Ngorogoro. The owner of African Scenic Safaris had asked to talk to me on the phone and she wanted to know that everyone was okay and assure me that they were going to make sure that the rest of our safari was great. I think Dennis had some instructions to make sure we got more game viewing time. It was during this time that we got to finally see some male lions. They were sleeping on either side of the road. How majestic are these animal? Dennis actually went of the road at one point and almost drive right up beside them. I swear they were less than 10 feet from the vehicle. They seemed to care less except for raising their heads to see what we were doing. They do not seem to fear the cars at all.
Eventually we made our way out of the Serengeti and back into the Ngorogoro Conservation Area. We passed where the accident had happened and our vehicle was gone. Johnny and the owner had worked on it all night and got it so they could drive it back to Moshi. Interestingly, the police vehicle was still there despite the fact that it seemed less damaged than ours. It was still right in the middle of the road where it sat after our accident.
Our campground at Ngorogoro was on the top of the crater. Ngorogoro is again a Masai word for bowl of food. It was a volcano that collapsed on itself millions of years ago and is now an area that is filled with similar wildlife to the other parks. We did not have an evening game drive however. We set up camp again surrounded by hundreds of other tents. Zebras roam in the campground quite freely. I went for a shower before dinner and I passed three grazing zebras which stood their quite happily while people posed for pictures almost right beside them.
We woke up at 5am again for a morning game drive before our long drive back to Moshi. We descended into the middle of the crater where the majority of the game are. We finally got to see buffalo and flamingos which we had not seen so far. The highlight of this game drive was following a female lion as she strolled down the road stalking prey… gazelles on one side and buffalo in the distance. We were the only ones with her for quite a while and Dennis kept pulling the vehicle past her and then she would walk right beside the car. If we opened the windows and reached out I am sure we could have touched her… she was that close. It probably would have been the last thing we did but it seemed that she was that close.
Lions can run about 30-35kmph for about 30 seconds. Gazelles can run up to 90kmph. Unless she can totally sneak up on them it is tough to catch. In one instance we saw a lion coming up on a herd of wildebeest and zebras. It almost seemed that the wildebeest were forming a circle around her and then they all turned an ran. She was not focused on them. She seemed focused on the zebras however she then laid down. Again, we saw no action.
After all of the safaris and parks, the only animal that we did not see was a rhino. I mean I am sure there are others however, of the big five, it was the only one. The other four, lions, hippos, leopards, and cheetahs, we saw. We saw many giraffes, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, hyenas, impalas, gazelles, and more. We saw endless birds including ostriches, pelicans, flamingos, storks, cranes, herons, and more. What an amazing experience.
We returned to Moshi and then early the next morning we were on a bus to Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi does not have a great reputation. It is often called Nairobbery. That said, if you stay safe and do not go out after dark except by taxi you will be fine. Most of the petty crime happens in the poorer shantytown area. That said, a couple of days here is likely enough. Tomorrow we are going to go to Nakuru, Kenya. The Lake Nakuru National Park has a rhino reserve. We are on a rhino hunt! We will be back to Nairobi around the 27th as we fly to Dubai on the 29th. We still want to check out the Elephant Orphanage here in Nairobi and maybe the Rothschild Giraffe Centre. There are equally good safari options from here including the most famous, Masai Mara. The Mara is quite busy these days as many people go to see the wildebeest migration. We figure once you have seen a hundred thousand wildebeest why go see a million more.
That is all for now. Another check off the bucket list…. Safari in the Serengeti!!!
The elephants are so close