Serengeti - February 27th to 29th by Susan
Finally it was time to explore the legendary Serengeti National Park, it wouldn't be cheap but being in Northern Tanzania we couldn't not go and check it out for ourselves.Coming from the west it was easier to drive Kal in rather than take a safari and we decided that 2 nights should be enough.They charge in 24 hr blocks in both the Serengeti and Ngorongoro so we turned up at the park gates just before 11am which meant we'd miss doing an early morning game drive but should give us enough time to get out of the park after our second night of camping.So with a lot of anticipation we handed over $400 (thankfully they treated Kal as a car rather than as a vehicle weighing more than 3,000kg therefore charging $40 a day for him rather than $150).
We were heading through the western corridor of the park towards the park headquarters at Seronera where we'd been told we could camp at Nyati Camp, we were in no rush but did want to get there before dusk as we didn't have very good maps of the area.As we moved further into the park we began to see herds of wildebeest and antelope, big groups compared to what we'd seen in other parks to date but nothing on the scale that you see in the BBC docs about the migration!!It wasn't really clear where you were allowed to drive, there were a lot of side roads that were just faint tracks through the grass but unlike in Kruger and other South African parks there were not road signs or do not enter signs so as we moved closer to the Grumeti River we decided to take one of the side routes to see if we could find anything interesting near the river.The river was very quite but we could see evidence all around of the killing zone it would become as the herds moved across towards the Masai Mara in the months to come, there were countless skeletons strewn in the grasses!!There were some amazing buffalo skulls and almost a full giraffe skeleton scattered across the grass, its huge vertebrae lying inches from it's skull which still had tufts of hair on its horns showing the poor animal had been a female.The river was very low so with no sign of any crocs or hippo's we moved on.As we moved back towards the main road we were treated to the sight of a Bataleur and some comical warthogs.
On the open savannah we could see what looked like a small marsh and there were some vultures hanging around it so we thought we'd stop and check it out.In the tall green grasses we spotted our first big predator a hyena just peaking out!!As we sat and watched he decided it was time to move and as he headed out of the marshy patch we spotted a second one, we assumed they were hiding some part of a kill in the mud within the marsh and hence the attention of the vultures but for now both were happy to trot off into the distance leaving whatever quarry behind for another day!As we moved through the west we saw giraffe, elephants in the distance, zebra, all of the usual suspects!We reached Seronera at about 4.30pm just as the visitor centre was closing so after a quick stretch of the legs we headed out to find our camp spot.
As we headed towards camp we were treated to some close up Ellie action about 2km from where we would camp.It was a big family group of about 20-30 animals and they had some very young calves.They started off to our right hand side but decided it was time to cross the road right in front of us which gave us some fleeting glances of the very young ones as they crossed on over, we got one mock charge from a youngster who then decided he was rather too small to take on Kal - but I was glad his mum with the big tusks had decided we weren't worth bothering about!!As they moved away we headed towards camp and about a 1km out we stopped behind another safari vehicle.We couldn't work out what it was they were looking at so moved up beside them and were told there was a lion cub in the grasses about 20m from the roadside.It was a hard spot, I couldn't believe they'd noticed him and eventually with some expert help we were able to pin point him.He was very small and well camouflaged in the grass so we didn't managed a picture but it was great to see and made us very excited about getting up and out on the road early the next morning, maybe we'd see mum and daddy lion!!
We'd heard that the camp spots were very basic and at times could become very overcrowded not really what you are looking for at $30 a head for the night but it offered the chance to camp unfenced in the wilderness which apart from the other campers is exactly how it felt.Nyati was just a circle of mown grass about 100 square metres with one squat toilet for the girls and two for the boys.There was a room that looked like it could be a shower room but it had no water, thankfully we'd enjoyed hot showers at the Serengeti Stop Over that morning as it didn't look like we'd be getting one here!! There were three structures, one for cooking and two for hanging out in and all messed with wire so that animals couldn't get in.The cooking one was very busy with all of the safari chefs at work getting fires started etc so after talking to one of the guys we decided to set up camp close to a big tree at the edge of the camp and would cook using our own stuff next to the car - the guy we'd been talking too seemed to think that would be fine particularly if we got most things done before it got dark!After having dinner we decided to head to bed and set our alarms early for the following morning so that we could catch the sunrise and hopefully the lion cub's family.That night we slept intermittently being awoken by the sound of hyena's calling out to each other in the bush around us and the odd roar from a lion, it's a hard one to describe but definitely makes your heart beat a bit faster particularly when it seems that the call is very close - I was very nervous about getting up to go to the bathroom that night!!
We woke early, maybe a bit too early no one else was up and moving around yet so we decided to snuggle in for another 15mins or so before getting up so we could be on the road for 7am.As we left camp we checked out where the lion cub had been the day before but he wasn't hiding there any more so we headed on with the sun rising over our shoulders to the east.We passed a troop of baboons still resting in the branches of a large tree before heading on to where we could see the two vehicles in front of us had stopped.It was a lion pride, the biggest we'd ever seen with about 15 individuals in all, they were simply amazing, ambling along in the morning light.The pictures we got weren't the best because of the tall grasses but it was a delight just to sit and watch them as they moved off into the distance.There were about 8 adult females and 5 or 6 cubs with one rather large male following on behind - what a treat and we weren't yet 5kms from camp. After freshening up a little bit at the visitor centre we headed north, we'd decided we'd go up to Lobo Wildlife Lodge in the north.From reading we knew there would be less wildlife but we also knew there would be less traffic which would make things feel a bit wilder.We'd check out the savannah south of camp before going back to camp later.The drive up was quiet and at times it seemed like we'd see no animals but then we started to come across big herds of impala, with topi, zebra and often giraffe hanging out close by.We stopped and watched one of these mixed herds for about half an hour and as we looked on Paul spotted a hyena in the distance, as we sat and watched we were treated to the sight of a hyena cub along with about 5 other members of the pack, mostly spread out quite a bit but generally lazing around or wandering through the sparsely spread trees.At one point there was a bit of an altercation between what looked like the mother hyena and one of the others but she managed to case them off and the cub seemed fine.They must have eaten recently or the antelope and company knew it was too hot for them as they didn't seem a slight bit bothered by the presence of these predators!!We were the only car for the whole time we sat there which was a nice feeling.As we moved north we saw more antelope before again the wildlife seemed to disappear.As we neared the lodge it was still too early for lunch so decided to take a loop round to the east of the lodge which would hopefully find us some quarry and tide us over till lunch time!
As we headed along the little used track we spotted a lizard darting across the road in front of us followed swiftly by a large green snake but they were gone and out of sight into the tall grasses in the blink of an eye - I hope the poor lizard made it!!After a while we spotted one lone male elephant ambling across the savannah, our route kept us quite a distance from him but we could see him moving on in the distance then as we rounded a corner we could see a group of about 15 elephants at what seemed to be a mud whole, through the binoculars we could see them spraying themselves which was pretty cool.As we followed the track closer we could see more and more elephants in groups of 10 - 20, young and old emerging from the forest around.We sat and watched from a distance as more than 75 elephants greeted each other and all to soon it seemed that there were elephants all around us.As we sat and watched quietly another safari vehicle approached from the other direction pushing the animals towards us which was a bit disconcerting, it was a single track dirt road with tall grass on either side and a gulley just behind us, Paul started to slowly reverse as we got a mock charge from one of the smaller animals.We managed to get to a safe distance and let the other car pass by and then started to drive very slowly through this giant gathering.It was an amazing sight with lots of vocalising on the elephants parts, it seemed like a lot of family groups were meeting up, maybe old friends!We left them in peace and moved on towards the lodge and lunch.
One of the main reasons for coming to the lodge was to use their swimming pool and hopefully get a shower given the lacking facilities at our camp site but alas it was a bit too windy to use the pool but it was a beautiful location none the less. The lodge had been built on a large rocky outcrop looking out over the savannah, it would be an amazing place to be as the migrating herds pass by on there way to Kenya but for now we could see the odd buffalo in the grasses below us and while watching the water whole Paul spotted a small cat of some sort coming out of the bush for a quick drink.Lunch was very fancy, 4 courses, it was good but probably not really worth the $30 a head!After lunch I found the showers although it is probably a rather generous name, it was a drip of rather orange water but I somehow managed to get a quick wash under it and then it was time to head back south.
As we arrived back in the Seronera region it was about 4pm so we decided to check out a little south of our camp.As we headed south we spotted quite a lot of cars on one of the side roads so decided to go check it out stopping at a hippo pool on route to watch these giants snorting and wallowing in the murky water.Catching up with the other cars we caught site of what all of the fuss was about, there was a magnificent cheetah walking along in the tall grasses, she didn't walk far and sat down, we had a great view but all to quickly she decided to lie down and disappeared from view.We had gotten a good view so decided to move on as the cars just seemed to keep arriving.About 100m from where the cheetah was there were too very lazy male lions sleeping below a large tree in the shade, we stopped but couldn't get much of a view so headed on.As we rejoined the main road we stopped to talk to another vehicle telling them about the cheetah and they told us there were two female lions roaming the savannah just a bit further south so we decided to go check that out, surely it couldn't be as busy down there!!
We found the lioness's they were beautiful strolling along in the fading light but again they decided it was time to chill out and disappeared into the tall grasses as they lay down.It was time to head back to camp and get dinner on the go!As we headed back we caught sight of another large group of elephants, maybe 20 strong ambling along.
When we got back to camp it was BUSY, there were tents all over the area we'd camped on the night before but still some space right next to the entrance track so with little other choice we moved a couple of boulders (there to stop you driving across!!) and squeezed Kal in, we could see the worried look on the near by campers faces, I'm sure they were thinking not more tents but that seemed to disappear into curiosity when we popped open the roof tent!!That evening we met a couple, one South African and one English who now lived in Botswana and had been in Uganda for a couple of weeks.They'd taken the same route up western Tanzania that we'd used but sounds like the going was a lot worse when they hit it with the roads literally becoming rivers in places, again I was thankful that we'd always seemed to be able to keep ahead of the heavy rains!!They'd also come through Kenya to get to Tanzania and had seen a lot of evidence of the unrest, which made us glad we hadn't opted to go into Uganda and follow the same route as them!It was getting late and they hadn't eaten so we said our goodbyes for the evening, we might see them in Ngorongoro but they had a roof rack to fix first!
That night was amazing, as we fell asleep we were awoken by the cries of hyenas in the distance and the odd roar of a lion.Then later I was awoken to the sound ofwhat sounded like a plastic bottle being crunched it sounded like it was coming from the tall grasses to the left of the tent and as I looked on I saw a shadowy figure sniffing round the ground tent in front of us - I woke Paul up, my heart racing.We got the mag-lite out, it was a hyena sniffing right in front of this guys tent but I knew he was oblivious as I could hear his snores!!As we shone the torch on the hyena it scampered into the tall grasses but we could still here his friend crunching on a bottle, the guys camping in front of us had left a table and chairs out with some bottles underneath, they'd be one short in the morning.Later that night I awoke again and could see the shadow of a hyena sniffing around some washing these guys had hung up, there were definitely more than just one or two curious hyena's in the area, we could also see smaller jackals moving around more cautiously on the edge of the camp area, I was very thankful for our roof tent.Just as I was getting back to sleep I heard what sounded like either a lion kill or a couple of lion prides meeting, there were some almighty roars from more than one animal, it was very cool to here but a bit frustrating too not knowing how close they were and exactly what was going on!!
After not such a sleepful night we awoke early again and set out towards Ngorongoro across the savannah where we'd seen the lions and cheetah the night before.I had hoped to talk to the guys in the tents in front of us, had they been aware of the hyena but we were up and packed before they stirred from their tent!The drive towards the border with the Ngorongoro Conservation didn't yield any more predators but we did get some lovely morning shots of elephants and the typical African sun rise through an acacia tree.We took one rather long loop on the way which yielded yet another hippo pool that was simply teaming with the things, we sat and watched there antics for a while and then realized we had better move on or we'd miss our 48hr deadline and have to pay another $200!!As we left the hippo's we saw a huge buffalo heard, at least 100 strong but they were pretty far in the distance so didn't stop and all too soon we were at the border area.The Serengeti had been amazing, what would Ngorongoro be like?..............