I’m starting this blog post at a serious disadvantage. Although I’ve backdated the post so it says June 26, which really was our 4th day of safari, I’m actually writing this post on August 8—roughly 40 days after the experience. And here’s what I have to go on. My notes read a little bit like a Donald Rumsfeld press conference:
Sun grouse doesn’t like the white man
Vo houses mating pair
Ruppels long tailed starling
White crowned shrike
5 elephants grumbling 1 under 1 year old
Boys and photograph
Leopard in tree
So, let me try to piece this one together. We had breakfast in the dining room and then headed towards the trucks. I wasn’t super enthused to get back in that thing because the day before had been such a long one. But in we went, and soon we were out on the road headed towards some of the main Serengeti viewing areas.
The morning light was leaning through the trees and we saw some great packs of zebras with wildebeests, and lots and lots of birds. Kapanya is a talented ornithologist and it was wonderful having him name the birds and tell us about their behaviors. As you can see by my notes, an ornithologist I am not, and though I took a lot of pics, I gave up trying to remember which bird was which.
Soon we happened upon a group of 5 elephants with the cutest little baby you’ve ever seen. I can’t remember what their grumbling sounded like, but I do remember Kapanya telling us that it’s part of how solve conflicts over food.
Next we stopped in the middle of a huge pack of Thomson’s Gazelles. Their coats looked so pretty and shiny in the morning sunlight. Kapanya explained there was one male for about 50 females in the pack we were watching. He said the male rules for about 2 weeks before another male takes over.
We drove through some remote areas until we came to the hippo pool. I have never smelled anything so horrible. Don’t be fooled by the board games. Those hippos stink! And the way they manage conflict is to lift their tails, poo, and spread it throughout the pool. I was tired and ready for lunch.
We ate a box lunch in the shade and as we were preparing to leave, a bus full of school children pulled up. I was sitting next to the truck when a group of boys ran towards me. I could not understand what they were saying. They started speaking in Swahili to our driver Godfrey, who is a stern and serious man. He seemed to shout at them and I thought he was scaring them away, but then Godfrey brought me to the front of the truck and asked me to pose for pictures with each of the boys. I am not sure why we did this, but I am pretty certain the boys thought I was freakier than the hippos.
Right. So next we did another rushing towards something that our guides seemed to understand but we didn’t. The rest of us shrugged at each other, looking out the window as it started to rain. Finally we saw what the fuss was about. A momma cheetah and her 4 cubs were eating a gazelle under a tree. We watched them devour what was left of it, then they started cleaning each other.
After about 15-20 minutes of that, momma spotted another lone gazelle and started the process of stalking it. This might have been one of the most exciting parts of the trip—watching the 5 big cats slinking through the grass towards the lone gazelle. Soon mom took off in a sprint, but the attempt was a little half-hearted since her belly was already full. Still, what a thing to see!
Again, at this point I was tired of being in the truck and thought we might be headed back to the hotel. It was raining again and I was afraid of getting stuck. But we had another jolt of excitement as the radio went nutty. Someone wanted us to see something STAT. We rushed toward something at first along empty roads, but soon we saw about 20-30 trucks and knew it must be good.
And it was. Our second big cat in a tree, this time a leopard. We could not get as close because there were so many trucks around, but we did get a few good pics.
And then we headed back to the hotel, ate a late dinner and crashed into bed.
We woke to the same gorgeous view of the crater on Day 3 of the safari, and we went about eating our breakfast without any clue about what a crazy day it would be. Would I have done anything differently had I known?
We packed up our gear and loaded the trucks. As we came out of the crater we saw lots of elephants, zebras, and giraffes on either side of the road. It was getting to the point where we were so accustomed to seeing these animals that Godfrey, our driver, wasn’t sure when to stop. That’s when Kapanya told us, “If you want Godfrey to stop just say Shimauma.”
I asked Kapanya why and he said “Our last safari was full of Japanese tourists and one day they yelled ‘Shimauma’ so Godfrey slammed on the brakes becasue he thought it meant stop. But it means zebra.” We all had a good chuckle and enjoyed showing off our new Japanese vocabulary.
Just out of the crater we were treated with a view that summed up my notion of what Africa would look like: green hills, beige grasses, Acacia trees, Maasai huts in the distance. And that’s when we got the treat of seeing a big group of giraffes. Our truck startled a group of 4: a momma and her babies. The babies fled to one side of the road while the momma was stuck beyond the truck on the other side. That’s when Kapanya explained to us that the babies were only about 3 weeks old. I apologize that I was talking baby talk during this whole video. It’s hard to control one’s self in front of giraffes.
From there we headed off to Olduvai Gorge where we enjoyed seeing the museum that chronicled how researchers unearthed evidence of homo sapiens who lived there 17,000 years ago. It was humbling to see the stone tools and footprints, and I especially enjoyed the photographs of the researchers themselves. It’s hard to imagine being part of a discovery that gives such insight into human evolution.
After visiting the museum we got back onto the road and after what felt like many hours we finally came to the entrance to Serengeti National Park. We bought a few trinkets from some Maasai who were stationed at the entrance, and then we drove across the broad plains watching all the gazelles and wildebeest.
We stopped for lunch in a shady area. This was a tough time for me. I was feeling very car sick and I had to lie down in the truck for a while. I had a hard time eating my lunch, so we fed some of it to the dog who was helping the Maasai herd goats along the road.
After lunch we passed down towards a lake where we saw lots of pelicans, then we drove up a hill where we saw lots of elephants. I felt a bit anxious because it was getting late, but our day did not seem to be winding down as the two drivers were having a frantic conversation on the radio. That’s when Godfrey turned the truck around and started racing down the road. Then he drove off the road and started racing through the tall grass. We had no idea where we were going.
Soon we came to the base of two Acacia trees and Kapanya was scanning the horizon. “That’s a perfect example of a typical Tanzanian tree,” he said. And I was thinking, they rushed us out here for a tree? That’s when we saw the cheetah in it. Cheetahs do not have retractable claws. That makes it very hard for them to climb trees. We spent about 20 minutes taking pictures of said cheetah before a swarm of bees chased us off.
As we were driving away our driver said, “There are very few people in the world who see that. You have special pictures.” In fact, none of our guides had ever seen a Cheetah in a tree. They had picked up news of the sighting on the radio, and made the decision to get out there as soon as possible instead of heading to the resort. Good decision? I was getting ready to wonder about that.
That’s when our rushing changed. Instead of rushing to see the cheetah, we were rushing to get to our hotel. We could see dark clouds on the horizon, and we asked Kapanya several times where we were going but it was hard to believe the hill he pointed to was reachable tonight at all, much less by nightfall.
And soon the road turned into a river, and we started hydroplaning all over, and then we finally got completely stuck in the mud. I mean the whole back of the truck was buried in the mud. I can’t even describe to you how we got that truck out, but we finally did. And we kept on driving and driving until the sun went down and then we kept driving some more.
By the time we got to our last hotel of the safari I was toast. We had a half-hearted dinner and passed out. It was the longest day of the trip and by far the hardest. I’d rather climb a mountain than sit in a truck.
But then again, I don’t think I’d change it. Because how many people have a picture of a Cheetah in a tree?
When we awoke on Day 2 of our safari we were delighted to see the amazing views at our lodge. We had a big breakfast in the dining room and then loaded into the trucks for a day of wildlife viewing in Ngorogoro Crater.
We started at the top of the crater and drove down a long, steep dirt road. From the road we could see the lake, and we could already make out small dots that would prove to be zebras and wildebeests. Soon we stopped at the side of the road to let a large group of zebras past.
As we dipped into the flat area we saw warthogs, more zebras, more wildebeests, Thomson’s gazelles, ostriches, and Egyptian geese. No one in our truck had ever been on safari before, so the novelty of watching the animals in their natural habitat was still extremely thrilling. We would stop to watch one group and then move forward to watch another group.
Soon we came upon what would be our most interesting view of the day: a pair of mating lions. We watched them for quite some time. About every 15 minutes the male lion would stand up and try to mount the female lion. She was not interested at all and each time she showed her teeth until he moved away.
We had lunch near the lake and on the way back saw a lion in a culvert hunting some baby zebras and wildebeest. She did not make her move while we were there, but it was fun to watch her preparing to pounce.
On the way out of the crater we stopped to watch a huge group of baboons. They started climbing onto our jeep until Sylvester scared them away. I caught some video of them.
On the drive back to the lodge we saw a large bull elephant near the road. We parked to watch him, and he got so close to the truck that when he threw dirt in the air it hit us. That was quite a thrill. I have some video of it for you here.
When we got back to the hotel I was exhausted. There wasn’t a day on the Kilimanjaro climb that made me so tired. We ate dinner and went straight to sleep.
Kapanya told us we would have a long day. After almost two weeks of hanging with Kapanya, I knew that if he said it would be a busy day, I would pretty much be wrecked by the end of it. I loved how I was learning to re-think my life. I am known to complain of “busy” days at home. They usually include a morning workout, 10 hours at the computer, 2 hours reading, a short nap, and ample snacks. I’m physically fit, sure, but this trip was showing me that I really have no idea what busy is.
We set our alarms for 6 am. We woke up, packed, ate breakfast, and got all our gear up front to load into the truck. I was sad to say goodbye to Welli, who had shown me such kindness. We had a big last hug before our trucks pulled out of the drive.
We stopped in the town of Arusha so that Larry could buy maps. It was congested and it took us forever to get through. We stopped just outside of town to do the only shopping we would manage on our whirlwind trip. We went to the Arusha Cultural Heritage Center and tried to grab one of everything to take home as gifts. There was a large group of young Americans crowding the gem table, though, and no matter how long we waited I couldn’t get access to the area to buy a Tanzanite. I asked Kapanya if there was somewhere else we could get it. I explained that I wanted to set it in a ring my mother gave me before she died.
So we stopped at one more shop and I found the perfect stone. Back in the truck I thanked Kapanya, and he said to me, “Thank you, Trish, for telling me what was in your heart.” And I didn’t let Kapanya see this. He was sitting behind me in the back seat. My eyes just welled up with tears. His statement made me think about how often I fail to communicate my feelings. Somehow Kapanya’s sentence made so much sense to me: that allowing him to fulfill my wish fulfilled a wish of his. I sat quietly for a while with that lesson, so grateful to know Kapanya, this wonderful teacher.
So we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. Soon after we got out of town we started to see young Maasai boys dressed in all black wearing white face paint. Before I knew not to do it, I took a few pictures out the window. In the last picture I managed to take (before I realized it was super rude to take them), one of the young men was both spitting at me and giving me the finger. I started asking some questions of our driver, Sylvester. He told me that the boys were in black because they had recently been circumcised in a coming of age ceremony. No wonder they were grumpy!
Soon our 2 trucks pulled over to the side of the road and Sylvester looked at me. Did I mention yet that Sylvester was, um, really, really attractive? He was 28 years old, wearing dress khakis and a black dress shirt rolled casually at the sleeves. His skin was so smooth it looked like polished mahogany. He had these delicately curled eyelashes and clear brown eyes. He had a sly smile that started just at the edges of his full lips.
“We’re checking the tire pressure,” he said to me, flashing that smile. I sat still for a while until I saw him taking a leak in front of a bush. Hooray! Yet another euphemism for peeing! So we all filed out of the truck and peed.
When we were safe inside again an old, bald Maasai woman came to Sylvester’s window. She was wrapped in gorgeous blankets and covered in beaded jewelry—a traditional necklace, huge ear gauges, and bracelets covering her entire forearms. She and Sylvester had a heated conversation in Swahili that culminated in him giving her some ginger cookies. As we pulled away we asked Sylvester what she said. He smiled and reported this:
Old woman: That man in the other car took my picture. Give me money.
Sylvester: No. He was taking pictures of the landscape.
Old woman: You don’t love me like I love you.
Sylvester: Oh I love you.
Old woman: I want some money!
Sylvester: I’m not going to give you money. Take these ginger cookies.
Old woman: Come on! I want some money to buy a Pepsi.
Sylvester: Enjoy your cookies! See you later! Bye bye!
We all laughed as he translated their friendly argument.
Soon we arrived to Lake Manyara National Park. We enjoyed a picnic lunch of quiche, fruit and vegetables, cornbread, and chicken. Then we started our short drive into the park for wildlife viewing. We weren’t moving for 3 minutes when we saw a family of elephants. Since they were our first ones, we were pretty worked up! It was really exciting to see the whole family walking down the road, taking up dirt with their trunks and blowing it over their backs. We watched them for a good long while before we moved. I took some video of it for you.
We left and then we saw: olive baboons, monkeys, giraffes, zebras, dikdiks, impalas, wart hogs, and mongoose. But the most exciting spotting was a group of 3 lions in a tree. We took lots and lots of pictures. With wildlife, it takes about 50 bad pictures to get 1 good picture. So we shot our hearts out and laughed about how many hours it would take us to sort through the pics back at home.
After lots of viewing, we hit the road. We had a long way to drive to get to our next spot: the Hotel Serena in the Ngorogoro Crater. In fact, we got there quite late and didn’t eat dinner until 9 pm. We were in bed at 10 pm. Before I fell asleep I thought again about what a “busy day” represented back home. I smiled and thought, Not. Even. Close.