Safari Travel Stories – 2

By Paul and Paula Rogers 

Arusha is the gateway for safaris and Kilimanjaro. On arrival in this tiny airport there is a rather large sign announcing “Welcoming to Arusha the Geneva of Africa”. Flying in on a rickety one prop Cessna we skimmed the cumulus clouds and had a view of the scantily clad snow peak of Kilimanjaro. Flight from Arusha to the middle of Serengeti was fifty minutes flying over the beautiful Ngorongoro crater into the Serengeti. We landed on desolated short dirt airstrip, skidding to a stop with the tail doing a wag. Our driver and guide, Dearson, was waiting for us. Articulate and knowledgeable with colgate white smile, we started off on our first game drive on way to our tented camp.

The savannah is just what I expected with long grass of about two foot with scattered Baobab trees, acacia bushes and numerous little hills, ”Kopjes”, which were bubbles of molten rock now crystalline granite forming statuesque shapes.  Lions frequently use these for their  breeding dens. The plains soil  were formed from the ash of the nearby volcanoes.   Within thirty minutes Dearson’s eagle eyes spotted a leopard high up a tree. He dangled there on a branch languidly flicking his tail. As we drove on, and not within ten minutes we came upon a lioness sitting low in a tree. Apparently the Serengeti lions climb into trees during the wet season to avoid bugs and stop their claws and pads rotting in the mud. Fortunately for us the rain had been heavy a few days before but now gorgeous sunny weather with soft dry heat and gentle breeze. We arrived at our unenclosed “luxury” tented camp not having great expectations, but it was perfect. Staff very attentive and every time you say something it is followed by a word sounding like “Caribou” meaning “your welcome”.  We bravely left our tent open, except for the mosquito net, and had the most spectacular red streaked sunrise with giraffe wandering nearby, followed by tea in bed – Very colonial.

Next day we had the good fortune to see the migration of wildebeest and zebra. Kilometers of hundreds and thousands mooching along keeping near a river. Factoid: I asked our guide why the zebras hung out with the wildebeests ? The answer: apparently the zebra are the leaders having better eye sight in the long savannah grass as well as carrying the corporate memory of where to go, the wildebeests are too stupid to know!!  However the wildebeests have a sense of smell that detects rain up to hundred Kms away and they set the daily direction. Animal symbiosis or am I gullible!

We were late getting back as wanted to see the sunset, driving in the dark all the wildebeests were on the road, scattering off as our lights shone on them, they went on for at least two kms, memorable event. Further down the road was a lost and lonely wildebeest foal, unlikely to survive the night.

That evening, by the huge open blazing fire we were joined by four others, two Austrian girls and an elderly couple,  we were drinking appropriately named “Safari” beer.

On to  Ngorongoro. We drove through the border of Serengeti National Park into the Ngorongoro conservation area. The difference being that the Maasai (yes that is the correct spelling)  can graze their livestock  and live in the Ngorongoro region but not in the Serengeti. One of my desires was to see the Olduvai gorge. The gorge is about twenty Kms long and they describe the four layers of excavation from which they discovered Homo Habilis, Erectus and Sapiens, as described by Mary & Louis Leakey. The little museum was a ramshackle building with mainly photographs of the various digs. Our guide in the museum said Olduvai is a corrupt spelling of the local cactus like plant “Oldupai” from which the Maasai use its fiber.

     Migration Serengeti  © Heritage Safaris

Driving up to the rim of the crater passing Maasai boys running after their livestock. Dressed in their traditional red check robes, some of the boys were taking a break and incongruously chatting on their smart phones. A documentary we watched predicts that their lifestyle will only last one more generation then the remnants of their culture being a tourist attraction.  Some of the surrounding hills were bright yellow from a daisy like flower. Very pretty but unfortunately not indigenous and they are replacing the natural grasses and not edible for livestock or wildlife. Conspiracy theory is they were brought in from Kenya as sabotage. Our arrival on the rim delivered the spectacular view of the crater. We were 2300 meters (7500ft) up on the rim, which is a twenty km perimeter of the crater, which is said to be the largest in the world. Down below was a lake fed by a fresh spring but undrinkable as it mixes with the volcanic ash. It is surrounded by open grazing meadows then fresh water holes and marsh areas on edges of the crater. The lodge was comfortable with great views. They put on a Maasai dance that evening. We felt uncomfortable watching as this proud people obviously were not enthralled by the environment and need to perform for likes of us tourists. The trip into the crater was down a treacherous road but was worthwhile getting up before dawn. The game is in such abundance that every hundred meters you saw more. It felt like a contrived game farm or open zoo there was so much. However, it is a natural phenomenon with about twenty percent of game migrating in and out, especially the elephants. As there are no trees in the center you had excellent long distance views using binoculars. On the central lake the south end shimmered pink due to all the flamingos. Interspersed among the numerous varieties of antelope were elephants, rhinoceros, water buffalo and various predators, including lion sleeping beside the road. Only game we did not see there are giraffe as the crater is too steep and they can break their legs. The periphery water holes had numerous bird life and frolicking hippos. Truly a Garden of Eden except no apple trees! However there was a downside, even though it was low season there were endless land cruisers doing the circuit, adding to the zoo feeling.

So Serengeti or Ngorongoro? Worthwhile to combine, as we did see the big five. Ngorongoro awesome but the feeling and vista of Serengeti is mesmerizing. Dependent on which list you believe, the Serengeti migration is named as one of the seven natural wonders of the world (along with Table Mountain). Serengeti has a true wild African ambience and soul. Tents over lodge:  As I believe Winston once said “Once the sand of Africa on your shoes you will never shake it off”