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

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Sunrise Proposals and Moonlit Hickies

I was missing out, I was starting to get a little peeved that I was missing out, and I was letting our safari guide  know it. Poor Robert, I don't think he quite knew how to handle all the questions I was throwing at him as to why I didn't get to go on the "special" early early game drive.

"Why didn't you ask me? I said last night that I would be happy to get up earlier if it meant we could go game driving for longer".

"Julia, Dave and Jodie went, there was still plenty of room in the vehicle!"

"So, they're not actually on a game drive?"

"They've gone hot air ballooning? Awh, I wanted to go hot air ballooning. Why didn't I get the option of going hot air ballooning?"

"It's a surprise? Dave is surprising Jodie? Oh. Ohhhhhh!"

I started pestering Robert at breakfast around 5.30am, when I realised three of our number were missing. We were up and ready to get out game driving before sunrise, but it seemed that the three others had already upped and gone well before we had woken. Pestering soon turned to speculation over Dave's motives for surprising Jodie with a dawn hot air balloon safari - and the speculation continued all morning. 

The morning sky was on fire over the Serengeti plains
We were distracted from the speculation by the rush to get into the cruisers and find a good spot to watch the sunrise. It was promising to be a spectacular morning, and the sky was already on fire with the pre-dawn light. With Dave and Jodie off in the balloon, it was just the four of us in cruiser numero uno for the morning, and we set off racing against the dawn to find a suitably amazing spot to watch the sun rise. Robert, said he'd do his best to find us a flat-topped acacia, synonymous with Africa and the Serengeti. Unfortunately, we seemed to be in the only part of the Serengeti that didn't have a flat-topped acacia in sight. But what we ended up with was breath-taking and absolutely perfect: As the sun peaked over the horizon, we pulled up next to two giraffes having their breakfast munch on yellow acacia trees. With the engine switched off, all that could be heard was the rustle of the grass as the giraffes moved about in the absolute stillness. I don't know whether I'll see another dawn as beautiful as that one.

This is the sunrise view that we had to settle for. Did I say settle?
Sightings of a herd of buffalo, more giraffes, hippos, love birds, a terrapin, and jackals punctuated the morning game drive. There were long periods where we drove around without seeing any animals at all, but it didn't bother me one bit. We were surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery, and it was extremely peaceful driving around on the dirt tracks and taking it all in. It also gave us a chance to gossip about whether Dave would be proposing to Jodie. Jules and I both exclaimed at how romantic it all was. Ed, on the other hand, scolded us: "Can't a guy just do something nice for his girlfriend without everyone assuming he's going to propose?"

Who needs animals to look at when you're surrounded by this?
Driving along, we started making lists of the things we wanted to see that day on safari:

1. A leopard
2. A cheetah
3. Something kill something else
4. A striped hyena

So far the only thing left on our 'Big 5' list was the leopard, as we'd already seen the buffalo, elephant, rhino and lion that make up the rest of the five. We were all pretty keen on spotting one (get it?), and I commented that I didn't even care if I didn't get the chance to take a photo of it, I just wanted to see a leopard.

What felt like only minutes after I made this statement, Jules points at a tree.

"There's a leopard! Oh, wait, it's just a monkey...."

I hadn't even had a chance to turn around when Ed is near jumping out of the cruiser in excitement.

"No! It's a fucking leopard!"

He was right. Halfway up the trunk of a tree is a leopard, clinging to the bark. I only just had the chance to register this in my head, when the leopard changed it's mind about climbing the tree and dropped back into the long grass and disappeared. I'd seen a leopard, yes, but not managed to get a photo of it. Despite my earlier words, my stomach dropped a little and I was disappointed that I hadn't snapped a picture of it.

My disappointment didn't last long though, as we soon saw the leopards black and white-tipped tail making it's way through the long grass. As the tail passed other trees, we were all urging it "climb the tree! Climb the tree!" And eventually, it did just that. The leopard chose a comfortable looking tree, scaled it, then settled on a branch looking straight out at us.

Big 5 complete  - this leopard was the last of the five I needed to see. 

I can't convey how lucky we were to see this leopard, and kudos to Jules and Ed for spotting this beauty. Despite being the most common big cat in Africa, they are the least common to see out on safari. Robert said that he hadn't seen a leopard since 2011, and that on average he might see one every five times he went out on safari. Not only did we get to see this beautiful cat, but we had it all to ourselves for about half an hour before other safari vehicles cottoned on to what was going on and came over to see for themselves.

It turned out that the leopard wasn't the only big cat in a tree around that morning. We found a pride of lions escaping from the heat in the boughs of a large acacia.

You aren't even safe in the trees from lions. 

Not far off were the cutest little lion cubs, making even cuter little mewling noises as they waited for their mum in the grass next to the road. We were all cooing with delight as we wondered how we could smuggle one home with us.

We passed a crocodile in a waterhole as we made our way to the Serengeti NP info centre to pick up Dave and Jodie from their balloon safari. As they walked over to us, we were all trying to be cool and incognito as we craned our necks to see any flash of sparkle on Jodie's ring finger. Then Jodie lifted her hand and held it up coyly in front of her and it was confirmed! There had been a proposal that morning in the Serengeti! It turns out that Dave had been planning it for months, and Oasis Overland had been helping him get all set for the big moment: a surprise dawn balloon safari to set the scene followed up by the proposal at the champagne breakfast afterwards. Can you get any more romantic than that? I think I've been ruined for proposals now... The bar has been set pretty darn high and I don't see how any future fianc√© of mine could top that. Maybe I'll have to point him in Dave's direction for ideas?

All this and it wasn't even midday.

It was back into the landcruisers for the final game drive out of the Serengeti. Again we passed the wildebeest and zebra migrations, as well as the buffalo migration. Thompson's and Grant's gazelles were everywhere, interspersed with the odd herd of impala or hartebeest. We stopped for lunch at the checkpoint hill, where elephants were grazing right next to the toilet block. I purchased a book on African wildlife so that I would be able to identify all the things in my photos later on, but the guys thought their money would be better spent on each of them getting matching Tanzania football shirts. I think this is what caused them to decide that they would make an excellent soccer team and that they needed to take on the locals everywhere we went after that!

Our very own Tanzania soccer team. 

Eventually we made it back across the plains to the park entrance arch, where we pulled up for a group photo. Of our list, we hadn't seen a cheetah, striped hyenas or something being killed. But we had seen the leopard, tree-dwelling lions, cute cub, and there had been an engagement!

We were busy getting pictures of each of us standing under the arch, when a small delivery van driven by locals pulled up for a chat with Robert. Next thing we knew, we were falling over each other to get back into the landcruiser, as Robert had been told that about five minutes drive back into the park there was a cheetah. Never had we moved so quickly! I was slamming the door shut as three people were on the floor of the cruiser trying to untangle their limbs. It must have been some kind of record.

Landcruiser numero uno group shot.

The cheetah was sitting on a tuft of grass not far from the road, eyeing off a gazelle. I was hoping like hell that I was going to get two birds with one stone and see a cheetah kill a gazelle. But, alas, it wasn't to be. The cheetah decided the gazelle was too far away and lay back down for a nap.

Then the game drive was truly over, and we started making our way back to Jozi. We passed the Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara again, then drove through the Maasai steppe to Arusha. Mount Kilimanjaro in her usual cloudy frock grew larger as we neared our destination. One day I'll go back and see her on a cloudless day - she was very impressive and imposing as it was, but must be magnificent without the cloud.

Malcolm and Grace had been in on the engagement preparation, and so when we pulled into Snake Park in the early evening, they galloped over to our landcruiser excitedly like two little kids to find out the result of the months of planning the proposal.

What followed was an evening full of drunken shenanigans in honour of Dave and Jodie. Even James and Amy came out from Arusha, where they were living while volunteering at a local school. There were a few beers before the dinner of ugali and meat stew, before we all headed up to Ma's Bar for springbok  shots, Ma's revenge shots (tobasco sauce tops off this abomination of a drink), Oasis shots, Dodie shots (created that evening in honour of the happy couple), beer snorkels and a rather rambunctious game of 'Oh, Fuck Me!' I decided that Jules and I would keep on drinking shots, which included amarulas and flaming black sambucas. Malcolm did a solo rendition of the Haka, before myself, Jules and Mel started going round giving everyone hickies that we could lay our hands on. I still maintain that it wasn't my idea, but I certainly did participate! But karma is a bitch, and she got me back well and good later on in the trip.

All in all, an amazing day, topped off by one helluva night.


  1. Tanzania is on mu bucket list. You made me wanna pack my bags and go right now :-). Beautiful photos Sammy. My favourite one is the sunrise view that you had to settle for with a giraffe! Stunning!

  2. Thanks! That pic is definitely one of the best of my African trip. I'd up and go back there in a heartbeat myself!