Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tent City and the Serengeti

We left our lovely lodge near the town of Karatu and drove for three hours on motion-sickness inducing windy roads around the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, to get to the Serengeti. Serengeti is Masai for "endless plain". It is a huge park, and also the first national park in Tanzania. The park is the start and end of the giant wildebeest migration (between here and the Masai Mara in Kenya). Typically we would have been able to see the migrating animals at this time of the year, however due to climate change, the animals were still in the southern parts of the Masai Mara. 

We had a total of 2.5 days in the Serengeti. We saw a LOT of animals. We also spent a lot of time driving around on dusty, bumpy, windy roads. The landscapes in the Serengeti are incredibly varied. We started out in a giant plain that pretty much looked like Southern Alberta, but there are also rock formations (called kopjes; think Pride Rock from The Lion King), rivers, streams, green meadows, scrub land, and little tropical oasis areas with Palm trees around little ponds and streams. As it is still the dry season here, many of the rivers and streams were small or dry. 

Highlights of our three days here included: 
- 8 separate lion sightings
- watching a young male lion attempt a run at some zebras (which I happened to catch on video)
- lion copulation. The male was huge and super sexy. We could see why the female chose him and his luscious ginger mane. 
- 3 separate leopard sightings (2 mating pairs, and one solitary leopard in a tree right before the park gates on our last day)
- many many hippo viewings 
- a group of vultures devouring an old dead hyena
- 5 hyenas 
- coming across a group of at least 20 giraffes one morning 
- 2 cheetah sightings (the first a pair of brothers eating a dik dikthat we first saw from afar and then later got to go in for a closer look, and then a mama and cub (kitten?) that we saw REALLY close up. As we were watching the second pair, a safari jeep with cheetah wheel coverings came up, and the mama, seeing the cheetahs on the car, G&T super defensive and crouched like she was going to pounce. I actually got down and shut my window this scared me so much!)
- many many elephants. Just when you think you've been there done that though, you stick around and watch and see new cool things, like a nursing calf, or elephants drinking and playing in the water. One day we saw Stumpy, an elephant that had a stunted trunk (genetic or damaged we were not sure but it looked like it had been chopped) that was about half the usual length. He had adapted by kneeling down to be able to teach grass, and then bracing the grass against his tusks before putting it into his mouth while feeding. 

By the end of our first day in the Serengeti we had seen all of the Big 5 (last was the leopard), but we still had 2 more full days after this. Luckily we still saw lots of amazing things to keep us entertained, including 2 more leopard sightings on the last day. 
The entire trip we have been wanting to see a lion kill, but this is extremely rare to actually witness. We thought that we were pretty lucky when we saw the one lion charge the herd of zebras on our first day in the Serengeti. We got really lucky on our last afternoon however and came across a group of lions that we swore had surrounded a lone Cape buffalo. We watched for quite some time with nothing really happening, and then thought we would drive around and come and watch for the other side of the plain, where more lions were lying under a tree. As we are coming around, we got stuck in a mud hole! While we were being pushed out of the hole by another jeep, we were just able to see the lions attack a zebra (apparently the buffalo was a decoy!) and take one down! We didn't see the actual kill, but arrive to see them eating, which was pretty incredible in itself. The sounds of lions eating is crazy! They are all growling and asserting their dominance for a position at the kill. I think we watched the pride for at least an hour, until they were mostly finished eating and went back to the shade to sleep off the kill. Pretty great end to our last day on safari! 

We had quite the experience with out lodge the last three nights. Out itinerary from the travel company said we were to stay at Robanda Safari Camp, but when we arrived, they had no reservation for us. No reservation in a safari camp means no food, water, preparations, anything. We then proceeded to go to three more camps in the area to see if they had our reservation. By the second, Camille and I decided that we better get some beers and embrace the hakuna matata mentality. She had even started chatting up and making dinner plans with a couple of Malaysian boys at the third camp that thought we were university graduates. This was also not our camp however, despite the fact that we had keys to tents, and someone ready to carry our bags for us! 
We ended up at Robanda Wildlands Camp. They had our reservation; however this was not the level of accommodation we had become accustomed to, or that we had paid for. We decided that we would have an adventure, and then deal with the travel company the next day and move to the place on our itinerary, which had had lovely permanent tents with a lookout tower where we were already planning on drinking some bia beredi (cold beers). We had even learned a new cheers for the occasion (myshamarif!). 
The Wildlands camp was a basic tented camp.  These were military style canvas tents with small, not very comfortable beds in them. A shower was a bucket of hot water heated by the kitchen (6L each), dumped into a bucket with a shower head in a separate canvas compartment of your tent (definitely no hair washing). There were spiders. Dinner was by candlelight in a mess tent. Local village men patrolled the grounds at night for hyenas, with their African bow and arrows, the tips treated with poison for the kill. Definitely a great addition to the safari experience. But we thought one night would be enough! 
Unfortunately we were extremely disappointed by the travel company's refusal that they had made a mistake (the name, and the picture of the camp in our itinerary, and in the guide's itinerary very clearly matched the first lodge, NOT the tented one). We were very frustrated for a part of the day, and then decided to let it go, embrace the adventure, be slightly grubby and hungry for the next couple days, and just deal with the company when we got home. So we tented for another couple nights! And no one got eaten by a hyena (although we did hear them often at night, very close to the tents)!

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