On Tuesday morning we left after breakfast after making a donation to the Lodge’s African Roots Foundation. With very little money they make a huge difference in the lives of the Maasai by supplying them with water containers and a filter. Where the Maasai used to rely on tick brown water from a nearby pond, from which all cattle also drink, they now scoop that water into the filters and out comes crystal clear drinking water. This simple tool has drastically reduced illness among the Maasai. ARF also runs other projects, always aimed at improving the lives of people while protecting the natural environment. This is a great cause for individuals and schools to support.
Check out: http://africanrootsfoundation.org
I knew that the Serengeti was a long way from home. We flew and drove for many days to visit this lifelong dream of ours. But no one told me it would involve hundreds of kilometers on the worst bumpy, dusty, rocky tracks… Bone jarring, teeth rattling miles of washboard tracks…. Everything in our car is covered in a layer of dust. The good pavement ends abruptly at the entrance gate to Ngorogoro Crater. The view of the crater is spectacular, with not much human influence in sight.
After that the track continues across hills and plains, up onto ever higher escarpments until we are at 2,400 meters. Once you reach Serengeti all you see if flat endless grasslands. Serengeti means ‘endless plain’ in Swahili, a very appropriate name. We were anxious to take a photo of us at an entrance gate of this world famous park. All we saw was a crooked little wooden sign. No fancy visitors centre, no impressive entrance to one of the most well known national parks in the world.
But here we were, finally, in the Serengeti! I did have goosebumps to finally see this place with my own eyes. Without the first half hour we saw four lions. And then the impala. Herds of them. More and more animals until, on the second day, we caught up to the migrating wildebeest and zebras. Thousands of them, sometimes grazing and drinking and running in different directions, yet always streaming toward the same unseen destination. Their ancient pattern follows calving, moving with the seasons to food and water. Thousands of dusty bodies moving in a river of animals across the plains.
Elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards, cheetahs… the plains are teeming with wildlife. The baboons are fun to watch as whole troops walk by. The young ones climb trees and pester the old ones. The tiny little ones ride cowboy style on their mothers’ backs or cling to their front. They stop, eat seeds, swing from bush to bush and walk along.
We have watched many prides of lions. Often a dominant male with several lionesses and young ones. We watch them stalk buffalo and wildebeest, hoping to separate one to hunt. My favorite pride was reclining on rocks that looked exactly like Pride Rock in the Lion King.
I woke at 4 AM to the grumbles of a lion and the call of hyena. At 5:15 we woke up and headed out to watch the savannah come to live with the first rays of sun. I asked, in camp, if they’ve had any animals nearby. “Yeah, last week a cheetah killed a wildebeest by tent #5,” was the response.
- The numbers in Serengeti: 14,500 square KM
- 300,000 zebras
- Over 2 million wildebeest!
Jambo – hello
Asanti – thank you
asanti sana – thank you very much
karibu – welcome, you’re welcome
For two days we managed these early morning game drives, getting up at 5:30 to leave at 6 AM. We watch lions on the prowl, closing in on buffalo and wildebeest but not managing to make a kill. We watch a croc grab a wildebeest and try to drown him. But, after a long while, the wildebeest wins and escapes back to the herd, leaving one cranky, hungry crocodile to look for a new breakfast.Another wildebeest was not so lucky and got stuck in the thick mud, dying a slow death but supplying food for many animals who were patiently waiting.We watch days-old zebras and wildebeest gallop alongside their mama’s and an old, lonely lion wander the plains. This is ‘The Lion King Live’ and a bit surreal.Many animas gathered at waterholes, ever weary for predators hiding in the tall grass. The lions, perhaps, seem to have the best camouflage of all – looking like heaps of hay in the waiving yellow grass. All animals are vastly different, yet they all blend in perfectly in the same environment: the sand colored cheetahs with their spots of shade are hard to see. The pattern on the giraffes is just like that of shadows cast by the branches of the acacia trees they browse. We are lucky to see three caravels, very rare cats with pointed, tufted ears.In the cool, morning hours no flies bother us. But by noon, especially near trees, I become an all-you-can-eat buffet for tetse flies. We drink gallons of water all day and night. But if you have to pee during a game drive, you have a problem. There are not many spots where you can safely get out of the car… a lion or leopard can literally be behind any little hill.
We stopped by the Maasai Kopjes, a rocky place almost exactly in the center of Serengeti. To me, it looks identical to Pride Rock in The Lion King. I can just picture Simba on top of the tallest, straight rock looking out over the plains. We’ve seen sly, old Mufasa stalking. We’ve also met Poomba and Timone in person! The circle of life continues here: the Serenget shall never die.
We enjoy learning from one of the young men in Kati Kati Camp (meaning ‘centre of Serengeti’). He is Maasai and told us in detail how he and 14 other young men from his village, set off into the bush for their coming of age initiation. Each brings a cow. They burn a stick into a spear and that is all they own. They may face lions, or elephants or any other dangers. And they live solely on blood, milk and meat. No water…! No alcohol, no women. These young men dress in black blankets, for this special period, and have faces painted black with white stripes. We see them, occasionally, on the side of the road as they wander the countryside. They have strict rules of conduct and serve almost as wildlife wardens when they see any poaching or illegal hunting. This young man, who was a waiter at the camp, told us he wants to be an animal doctor. He has vast knowledge of traditional medicine and wants to learn more about modern medicine for animals. He has a meeting at the college in Arusha soon to see if they will let him continue his studies. “But I may have to sell another cow to have enough money,” he says wistfully.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
After 3 weeks in international schools, it is now time to explore a part of Africa we have been dreaming off for more than 40 years!
When we were first dating, all that time ago, Kees pinned a map of Africa on the wall and we dreamed of working as park ranger somewhere in that mysterious land. We read many books of African travels, animals and parks. Books by Jane Goodall – when I raised baby chimpanzees in a primate center; books by elephant expert Iain Douglas-Hamilton whom we once met; books by the Dr. Louis and Mary Leakey and Joy Adamson’s Born Free.
We chose to move to Canada to embark on a park career, and Africa went to the back burner. We never were able to go. Until now.
It is a dream come true to now travel through Tanzania together.
We flew from Dar Es Salaam, where it was incredible hot and humid, in a tiny airplane to Zanzibar. There we changed to a larger 12 seater which flew us back to the mainland, across the plains and to the hills of northern Tanzania to the town of Arusha.
Thanks to Mambulu Safaris (http://www.mambulu.com), a small, personal travel agency in The Netherlands, we have been able to compose an itinerary that allows us to explore the specific places we want to see, and to experience the parks and wildlife of Africa.
We stayed in a wooden cabin clinging to the green hillside outside Arusha in the shadow of Mt Meru, Tanzania’s second highest mountain. All day we drove and walked through Arusha National Park. We saw large herds of buffalo, strolled (almost) among giraffes with a park ranger and spotted pink flamingo’s, colobus monkeys, gorgeously elegant crowned cranes and a large troop of baboons. We also managed to snap photos of other exotic birds and stately trees.
This area of Tanzania is very green and lush. We walked, together with a park ranger with a large rifle, to a 30 meter high waterfall.
We picnicked overlooking Mammelo Lakes and visited a crater, like a small Ngorogoro, thick with green grass and herds of buffalo.
It was great to come back, after all the heat and dust, to a pool and a cold drink. The lodge has a large log and canvas restaurant overlooking the green gorge, and good food, too.
On Sunday March 8, our driver Charles picked us up at 8. He is a nice, quiet young man and a cautious driver. He will be with us for the next 8 days or so. The best part is that our entire safari is just for the two of us – no group of other people along!
It was a long drive but over beautiful, new pavement from Arusha to Tarangira National Park. The dusty, rusty entrance did not instill in us a sense of expectation. However, no sooner were we inside the safe boundaries of the park or we saw elephants. We took many photos of the first three young bulls we saw, very close by. But soon we came upon a herd of 20 or 30. Followed by yet another and another herd. Most with tiny new babies and elephants of all sizes. By the end of the afternoon we must have seen hundreds of elephants! Amazing. And so heartening to know that there are still such safeholds for them. We also saw giraffes, zebras, a lion and two leopards! And of course the by now common bushbucks, waterbucks, and impala.
At lunch, a monkey stole one lady’s sandwich. She watched it climb a tree, carefully peel off the plastic wrap and then pick out the tomato and lettuce, and throw those out before eating the rest.
We drove, for much of today, through Masaai land. A black paved road and a parallel running power line are two ugly scars across their traditional pastures. We spotted boma’s: a small round hut, one for each family member. So you can tell if a man has two or three wives. Once, we passed a huge group of huts. Our guide laughed and told us “This man has married 22 wives. They now have many children and grandchildren, and even their own school.”
Our tent camp for the night was a surprise: an open air shower, large private tents, even with a flush toilet, and a real safari mess tent, with a fire in front. I am now writing this by the last light of the setting sun, round and red over Lake Manyara, sitting in the mess tent and feeling like I am in an Out of Africa movie.… The music is that of birds and of clanging bells on many goats coming home for the night with their Masaai herder.
Meeting the Maasai
Turns out there is no internet, no phone connection deep inside the savannah of Zambia… We did not even have TV and, several times, no electricity for a day. It was kind of nice but also meant no contact with the rest of the world. So here is, finally, a new update.
Radiating out from the main lodge, are raised wooden walkways that lead to a small number of cottages. They are raised to separate us from the lions… Our chalet is the far one, the honeymoon suite. Never will I forget the moment that we opened the door. We looked across the kingsize bed, covered in a white mosquito net, and out of the two large screened walls. A wooden porch surrounded our room but the view was of the river bank: absolutely teeming with animals: a large herd of zebras, snorting hippos, a few giraffes and, to top it off, a small herd of elephants lumbered by – right outside our windows. It truly was a jaw dropping view.
We had ten minutes to wash hands, put on more sunscreen, have a cup of tea and we were off again. This time on our first official safari drive. Our guide was Hendrix, a very nice and knowledgable wildlife guide. To our amazement our safari drives have been almost always for just the two of us. I had imagined, before we came here, that we would be with a car load of other tourists. But it is just the two of us and sometimes one other person.
During the next few days we see a leopard: the first one has just killed an impala and hauled it into a tree. Then we spot one with two cubs. The fields are dotted with bush bucks, impala, waterbucks, kudu’s and more. I love the wart hogs who run with their tails straight up like a little flag pole. In the spot light at night we see mongoose, porcupine and curvets.
The guide also has to be a car mechanic.. When we were surrounded by lions I wondered if the truck would start again. It did. But once it did not… Just before, we had stopped next to a leopard and would not have been able to get out. When the truck died, there were no animals and the two of us pushed it downhill to start!
We took a taxi to a beautiful lodge along the Zambezi River to watch the sunset. We sat in lazy chairs on a wooden patio, right at the water’s edge.