Not all those who wander are lost - but I'll be disappointed if I don't get lost frequently!

Monday, 15 October 2012

I'm in the Serengeti, B**ch!

Following the brown dirt track towards the horizon, marvelling at the endless lines of wildebeest and zebra on their annual migration across the Serengeti plains...... It's hard to get much more magical than that. Then a voice pipes up:

'So, when is this going to get interesting?'

...........Uhhh, Jules, I don't know what you were expecting, but how can anything get better than this? (I was wrong, by the way. It gets MUCH more exciting. But more on that later).

The morning started by breaking camp and hopping into the cruisers for a short drive towards the gates to Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, the second of the three game parks we were hitting up on this three day safari. As was becoming standard, we stopped at the entrance gates while the guides went off to fill in paperwork, and the rest of us took the chance to use the amenities, check out the small info centre with scale model of the crater and surrounding areas, and fight off those evil monkeys again. These ones were crafty, they waited at a small distance, lulling you into a false sense of security while you stood outside the cruiser and fiddled with your bags to get out what you needed for the short break. Then, as you took one or two steps away from the vehicle to talk to someone or take a photo, they made a mad dash towards the open door. There were a few close calls.

Once through the park gates, it was still a bit of a drive up the rim of the crater before we would be able to drive down and into it. Everyone was on a mission to spot a leopard, and we spent most of the drive scanning every tree in the thick misty forest for signs of spots. As we switched back and forth up the steep slope, my eyes started to get blurry and I doubt I would have been able to see a leopard if it was lounging in a tree right next to the road. As the road flattened out, we came upon some lions which made us completely forget about spotty leopards. 

The Lioness looks back at us through the morning mist.

Out for an early morning stroll, a lioness was making her way along the road ahead of us at a leisurely pace. We stopped, metres from her, and apart from a quick look to see what all the fuss was behind her, ignored us. Everyone was abuzz in the landcruiser, as this was our first lion sighting, in fact our first big cat sighting. We were all bursting, wanting to exclaim at the top of our voices, but trying to remain quiet and not frighten the lioness off. The result was lots of  'whispers', which turned to almost complete squeals when three cubs came out of the undergrowth and joined their mother walking along the road. I don't think we could have dreamed a better start to day two of the safari.

Marching elephants in Ngorongoro Crater
Eventually, we continued on and towards the lip of the crater. Here we stopped again, and the girls all filed through to the toilets, which were down a short track through the bush. After just having seen the lions walking around a few minutes back down the road, I was a little nervous about the walk to the toilet block.

Back into the cruisers, then over the rim and into the crater itself. What a view! The mist had cleared and we were looking down into a beautiful green bowl of lush grasslands and lakes, surrounded by the blue-greens of the crater rim. It was something else completely, a bowl of land filled up with all these amazing animals. Our guide explained that a lot of wildlife documentaries are filmed in the crater, because of the density of wildlife living in such a small area. And it is a photographer or film-maker's dream location - all that game out in the open with such gorgeous colours surrounding them.

We saw so much in the crater, from black-backed jackals, spotted hyenas loping through herds of zebra, lone wildebeest standing guard over their patch of grass, eland, elephants marching in lines, beefy buffaloes, hippos in the ponds, (take a breath) flamingos turning the lake edges pink, more lions, bustards (the heaviest flying bird around), scores of Grant's gazelles and their little cousins Thompson's gazelles (aka tommies).

It truly was an amazing morning, but as the morning wore on, there was one major drawback. Hunger set in. Meals were being provided for us by the safari company, but unfortunately that didn't include morning tea or afternoon tea. For us, this was a huge problem! After having breakfast before 6am, our tummies had started digesting themselves come 11am, and it got harder and harder to distract ourselves from the growing hunger pains. Any form of food was like gold, and the best we could scrounge up in our landcruiser was a small pack of sweets that didn't do much to fill the belly. An altercation broke out in one of the other cruisers, over the one and only biscuit being snatched out of the owners hand. So, here's my HOT TIP on safaris: take snacks! Stuff all the spare spaces in your day pack or camera bag with biscuits, bars, fruit and chocolate. You will need them!

As much as we were loving the crater, we were also quite happy when we started to make our way back up a steep track and out the other side of the crater, which meant it was almost lunchtime. We were all famished and got stuck into the food with pleasure. We had stopped on top of the crater rim again, so had lovely views of the crater for lunch. Somehow, Tom managed to kick his toe into one of the tree stumps we were sitting on, possibly breaking it. But there's not much you can do for a broken toe, so we carried on (I am surprised that Tom didn't put a massively oversized bandage on his own foot, as that is what he seemed to do every time one of us injured ourselves).

After lunch we said our goodbyes to those of us who weren't continuing on to the Serengeti, and the hopped into one vehicle for the drive back to Arusha. This meant that Dave and Diana left my vehicle, and Ed and Jules joined us in landcruiser numero uno for the remainder of the safari. Leaving the crater behind, we drove down into the flat, open grasslands of the Serengeti plains. It was beautiful, but with a (finally) full belly and a big morning behind me, I (and pretty much everyone else in the cruiser) took the chance to snatch a few z's with a lovely afternoon nap.

Beers on the only hill around. (Thanks Ed for the pic)
When we woke the grasslands spread from horizon to horizon, and endless herds of wildebeest and zebras made their way across them on their migration. It wasn't long until we pulled up at the park entrance next to the only peak of any description for miles. At the tiny little 'supermarket' we all stocked up on pringles, chocolate and biscuits, then grabbed a beer and headed up the path to the top of the peak to drink it. For some reason I kept singing over in my head an altered version of an old LMFAO song. The new lyrics became: I'm in the Serengeti, Bitch!

The afternoon was completely different from the morning, the contained crater contrasting with the seemingly unbounded Serengeti. I found it really hard to get any of my pictures to represent what it was actually like, the huge herds just wouldn't fit into the frame of the camera. The only thing anyone had that seemed to do the trick was Dave and Jodie's camera, which had an 'ultimate panorama' mode, whereby it would stitch together a heap of photos as you slowly turned on the spot.

This is when Jules asked when it was going to get interesting. What followed was what I would classify as pretty exciting: A huge herd of elephants, with two of the bulls fighting. A pride of lions, lolling in the sun right next to the road, acting just like my pet cat Lily would at home. A secretary bird flying right past us and into the tree we had pulled up next to. A hyena keeping cool in a mud puddle. Giraffes munching on bushes around a rock formation. Then, just as we were approaching our camp site, MORE lions soaking up the last of the sun on a rocky boulder (pride rock, maybe?).

The landcruiser I was in pulled up at the camp a few minutes before the other one, so I decided to play a little trick. The tents were already set up by the safari crew, so I jumped into one then sat in the dark while the other lot pulled up and got their sleeping gear out of the cruiser. When Calum came and opened his tent, I waited until he was halfway in before lurching out of the shadows with a big 'RARR'. The tent near exploded as Calum jumped up and back in that moment of surprise. Poor kid, I think I did a good job of scaring him.

The camp site was smack bang in the middle of the park. No fences to separate us from the beasts in the night. To highlight just how close the wildlife would be getting, we were advised to keep absolutely NO FOOD in our tents, and ate dinner inside what was effectively a cage with a roof on top. Trips to the loo in the dark were interesting, but apparently most things would be frightened off by torchlight. Most things. Then it was into bed to get some beauty sleep with the sound of snuffles, howls and growls on the other side of the canvas.

And you know what? Day three of the safari was even more exciting that day two!

No comments:

Post a Comment