Simba ni wapi? (where is the lion?)

July 12, 2011

Disclaimer: This post is very long and more for my records than the usual life update. Also this is almost a month late and I have 3 more weeks to write about. I have had zero time with class and moving in, but I am working hard to finish up my journey for those who have been reading this.

Early Friday the Clement, our driver and the tech guy at the hospital, and the five of us hopped into the car and we began our journey to the Serengeti. Our first stop was Mbulu 2 hours later for a pit stop and then we stopped for a snack on top of a small hill at the cell tower. It was quite beautiful and in the distance we could see Ngorongoro Conservation Area so we knew we were getting close. A few hours later we were in Karatu where we had lunch and some of us visited the atm. Contrary to my preconceived notions of a car trip on less than ideal roads the trip so far had gone so fast because of all of the interesting conversations we were having in the car. The group I was with was absolutely amazing and we had no problems what so ever. In Karatu I saw signs of tourism I had yet seen since the airport. There were nice bungalow designed hotels and so many children trying to sell jewelry and things on the street. Here we picked up Freddie and our food and headed to safari area. To get to the Serengeti you must go through Ngorongoro as well. At the Ngorongoro gate there were tons of baboons running around and quite tame. We were informed to close all of the windows because they would climb into the car. After looking at the layout of the conservation area we headed back to the car but first I had to take pictures of monkeys (obviously!!). Clement rolled down his window while waiting for us and it only took moments until a young baboon was trying to crawl in. I almost cried from laughter because it was such a strange sight to see. Biological anthropology came in handy when we witnessed some interesting power dynamics between a female and a very young male baboon.

Baboons just chilling in the parking lot at the front gate

A baby baboon and its mother getting preened

Inside Ngorongoro was amazing; there was jungle to fields to plains. Ngorongoro is a conservation area instead of a national park because the Maasai are the only tribe allowed to live on the land as well. This tribe is how most people would typically think of local people in Africa with the beaded necklaces covering their entire neck, colorful clothing, and more jewelry adorning wrists, ankles and heads. Maasai men have many wives and he lives with them in a community. Each traditional community contains a man with his many wives and children. Seeing two elephants next to a herd of cattle was something I wasn’t ever expecting to see in my life. Ngorongoro is best known for the large crater there because it created a fish bowl type atmosphere with the animals living in it. Long ago there was a volcano there that was the tallest mountain in Africa but it erupted and collapsed to form this crater. It is 20km by 18km and has trapped the animals living in it because of its steep walls. This is a favorite for tourists because you’re guaranteed to see a lot because they have nowhere to go. It is also the only place you will see rhinos in Tanzania. We went to the rim of the crater and it was such an amazing view. We continued through Ngorongoro passing Maasai homes, gazelle, zebras, and hit the plains. At the rim we put the roof up so we could stand while driving. The force of the wind and the breath-taking scenery made it simple for me to get lost in my own head just looking out and admiring nature.

The Ngorongoro Crater. by Jaap and his wide-view camera

Before we knew it, we were at Serengeti gate and having a soda. Many animals and birds have set up shop here I’m guessing because of the amount of food tourists let dribble onto the ground. I joked earlier when we were looking at the animal checklist that we needed to find all of the animals under the rat, mice, and mongoose category. Ironically I think we managed to cover them all just at locations where lots of people gather. The US equivalent of rats and pigeons here are amazingly beautiful creatures. The starling is iridescent blue and orange and the hyrax are the size of small dogs and the closest relative of elephants.

The most stunning part of the trip

We started driving through the park and the first thing we saw was tons of deer type creatures; Thompson gazelles, Grant gazelles, Topi, impallas, etc. Jaap and Johanna were singing the Lion King soundtrack, setting the mood perfectly. The sun is starting to set when we get to these large rocks that are straight out of a scene from Lion King. Of course what do we find on them other than lions!! There were 7 on the first set of rocks with cubs about 20-30 feet from our car. Marion had a telephoto lens so her pictures were amazing and we had the gift of perfect light. I just gazed at them in total amazement and we all couldn’t believe how lucky this was. We went to turn around and came up to another set of rocks with 4 more lions sunning themselves there. We made our way to the hostel where we only had electricity from 7-10 pm each night but we arrived a little bit before sunset so we ran up the nearest hill and watched from the top. It was redder than anything I had seen before and we stupidly walked through a lot of tall grass to get to the top (that’s where spitting cobras and other deadly animals would be hiding). That was one of a couple times where Clement said we were going somewhere too dangerous. The cook made us amazing food and exhausted, I passed out nicely so as to be able to wake up at 5.

Sunrise as we head towards the migration

We were on the road in darkness where I enjoyed the darkness of the Acacia trees against the pastel background of the sunrise. We left early to make it to the migration of Wildebeest in the Northwest corridor before lunch. On the way we had Clement stop the car so many times for various wildlife; jackals, dick-dicks, ibis, storks, zebras, giraffes, and VERVET MONKEYS (they have pastel blue balls its hilarious). Sad to say the baboons didn’t take to my monkey call and the vervet monkeys just looked in my direction with little reaction. I’m guessing I must be a monkey from a different region. Wildebeest, buffalo, and zebra were spotted along the open fields signaling to us that we were getting closer to the migration. Clement informed us that zebras were there to help lead the migration because the Wildebeest had such terrible eye sight. We stopped at a dried up portion of the Grumeti river where we hopped out of the car to take photos, have coffee, and look for crocodiles. We drove a bit more seeing Ibis, large lizards, and more crocodiles. There was a place that we again unloaded and Clement led us to a suspension bridge of part of the river. The boys and I ran across this quickly to the other side where we proceeded to play around and swing around on vines. It didn’t take long for Clement to yell across to us that poisonous snakes, crocodiles, and lions roamed this area. We got back onto the bridge quickly, took a few photos, and were off for the migration again.

Shennanigans at its finest

Wildebeest unkowingly getting a drink of water 2 feet from the jaws of a crocodile that appears to be a rock

As we drove towards the parts of the river that had yet to be dried up the spots turned in to lines of Wildebeest along the horizon and suddenly the vast openness was cluttered with hundreds of animals. The amount of Wildebeest against this iconic Africa background was breath taking. We stopped at a watering hole in hopes to see some action of crocodiles eating Wildebeest. It was slow and we thought nothing was going to happen until splashing commenced and all we could see was a victorious crocodile as the other Wildebeest hurried to get out of the water. As we looked above the car at this crocodile with beast in mouth, Clement was getting news of lions mating close by. This was something very interesting to see and we learned it involved a lot of dedication. A pair goes off from the group and for one week they mate every 45 minutes (15 seconds of action and then a lot of sleeping).

Zebras hang out resting on each other's backs to help swat flies off a friend's face

We stopped at the airstrip for lunch, which was delicious (or so I thought). The journey continued as we saw more giraffes, birds, and finally elephants. They were so graceful as they snapped trees in half and the youngest was running between everyone’s legs. Next to these elephants was a hippo pool where each bulge above the water was another hippo sleeping. Needless to say we didn’t stay too long at this location because of the smell (they live in their own filth and it gets bad enough that there is no longer any oxygen left in the water). We headed towards the hostel stopping on the way to see a family of hyenas and allow me to get ill. I got food poisoning from the lunch and eventually we found out the Clement had gotten it as well. It is something that’s very understandable when we eat meat after a day of not having any fridge to store it in. There was no time for me to feel sick and when we saw animals I was just as excited to see them. All was worth it when we neared the visitor’s center and saw a million cars all together. We sped over there and 60 feet away from the road was a cheetah sleeping in the grass. It felt very zoo like as every car that was in the park today was there at that cheetah it seemed like, but nonetheless I enjoyed every second of watching it sleep. We headed to the visitor’s center because Clement was finally getting hit with the food poisoning. It was fun in its own right because there were hyrax, who are the closest relative to the elephant yet is the size of bunny, and mongoose, a squirrel type looking creature. They quite tamely sat on the brick wall as I got 2 feet away from them like a college campus squirrel. I was getting worse and it was getting too hard to enjoy the sights and it was 5 so we headed home after a long eventful day.

On top of shifting sands (Johanna, Marion, Eljakim, me, Freddie, Clement, and Jaap)

I spent most of night vomiting and sleeping but in the morning I was feeling much better. I made the mistake of being too brave and tried to eat breakfast. We loaded up the car and headed towards the gate. On the way we stopped to see a Serval cat, which is the size of a medium-sized dog. It was so cute and very rare to see in daylight because all cats except the cheetah are nocturnal. We left Serengeti and headed back into Ngorongoro where we stopped at Olduvai (where many hominid and Australopithecine fossils have been found) for lunch. We saw shifting sands, which is a dune that moves slowly across the plains each year. We then headed back to Karatu, dropped off Freddie, and continued on home after stopping in Mbulu for chips and skewers of meat. I was home and excited to see Betsy, Crystal, Christian, and Norbert in the living room, but it wasn’t long before I was sleeping soundly in my bed.

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