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Published: December 27th 2018
"Live as if you were going to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were going to live forever." Mahatma Ghandi
Africa. If I were to assign one word to describe this continent, it would be “dangerous”. Hostile deserts, rain forests, animals, and peoples are just a few things that come to mind. But to counterbalance that there is also incredible beauty and awe to be found in its diverse landscape, peoples, and animals. Our 9 day visit to the Masai Mara and Serengeti game reserves was a dream come true for this “learning junkie”, showing us just a scratch on the surface of the abundance of both the danger and the beauty to be found in Kenya and Tanzania. I’m pretty sure that Ghandi would have smiled on this use of our time on earth.
We employed Alex Walker’s Serian camps and guides to educate and pamper us. We stayed in both permanent and mobile fly camps, accessed only by flying in to remote gravel airstrips. Our camps contained no more than 8 tents and most evenings, as this was shoulder season, we were the only guests at the camp. Comfy beds, warmed nightly with
hot water bottles, early morning wake up with hot coffee, tea and cookies, daybreak and late afternoon/sunset game drives, fabulous and healthy cuisine both in the camp and out on the savannah. This was the rhythm of the days and nights out in the bush. In the Mara we were students of Judy, Masai guide and Bajila, driver. In the Serengeti, Michael and spotter Jololo, one of the few remaining Bushmen of southern Tanzania, guided us. Of course though, the best thing and the reason we came, the strange, incredible, perplexing, and never ending diversity of birds and animals. Our game drives were a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never knew exactly what you’d get. They would last between 4-8 hours, exploring with the sides and top of our 4x4 vehicle open allowing us to either sit or stand, head out the top, as we drove along or stopped for viewing. Sometimes there were thousands of wildebeests with a dotting of zebras, sometimes just open savannah, sometimes cool one off discoveries like the long march of relentless safari ants or the rarely sighted serval cat, and sometimes, the really fun and exciting times, there was a
pregnant quietness and emptiness of the landscape followed by the discovery of a big cat hanging out under a tree, behind a bush, or enjoying their kill. Hippos, hyenas, giraffes, elephants, and zippy little wart hogs – all were commonplace sightings. And anytime we found something of interest, we could drive over and just observe, listen and hang out. Somehow the animals regarded us as non-threatening voyeurs, allowing us to closely experience a bit of their life. What a way to explore and learn about our amazing world. I could almost hear David Attenborough commentating as we went along.
And as we explored, we questioned, considered and wondered. WHO KNEW? became part of our regular verbiage. And here’s just a few of those musings….
· 30% of Tanzania is set aside as a game reserve. What an investment and statement of priorities for a country that could use an economic boost in the arm.
· Jackals, the size of a small dog, can take down a newborn Topi (the size of a colt) through pack hunting tactics. They are aggressive and patient for the kill.
· Hippos, normally vegetarians, when pregnant sometimes
This 3 month old leopard won out over his 2 siblings in the race to grab this freshly caught hare from the jaws of his mother. He went straight up a tree with it.
feast on decaying wildebeest drug up in the river. Yuck!!
· When hippos return to the river in the middle of the night, after grazing, noisy raucous splashing and grunting ensues, loud enough to wake ME from sound sleep. Thankfully we were in a tree house AND hippos can’t climb trees. J
· Wild buffalo, one of the most dangerous animals on the savannah, might attack without any warning or provocation. “It all happens in seconds” was told to us by 4 different people who had been victims of their attack.
· When attacked by a buffalo, DROP to the ground and pray. That’s your only defense.
· Baby leopards knead their mother as they nurse, just like our cat on a soft blanket when he’s really content. And mom, the peace on her face reminds me of how I felt when nursing my own babies.
· A leopard, even as young as 3 months old, will instinctually carry his fresh caught prey up into a tree to eat.
· The fast cheetah, with his sharp teeth, is easily frightened away from his kill. Why doesn’t he stay and fight off predators?
This male lion peered into my camera with interest
Eating fresh caught wildebeest is a lot of work! Both the cheetah and the lion can be seen panting and taking breath to rest as they rip away to consume.
· To become a traditional warrior king, a young Masai must kill a lion using only a spear. Once that spear is thrown, either the lion or the warrior will die.
· Watching a warrior spring to action with their spear is like watching a Jedi – fast and sharp action. We were grateful for that expertise when we encountered a hippo while out on a walking safari.
· Tire shoes. The footwear of warriors. Comfortable, indestructible, affordable, and ultra protective. Great way to re-use tires.
· Zebras pair up and use each other’s tail to keep the flies away as they rest.
· There are less than 200 true Bushmen left, living minimalist lives, community minded, hunting with only bow and arrows.. Jololo’s keen instincts directed us to incredible sighting opportunities that most mere mortals would have missed.
· There are more than 120 tribes in Tanzania, each with it’s own culture and language. Our guide, Michael, was a tribesman from southern Tanzania.
· Big old crocs in the river can nab a passing zebra colt, flipping and holding it under till it drowns.
· Mother zebras will bray for their deceased baby for an entire day. Mother wildebeests don’t even flinch at the loss of their young.
· If a leopard breaks into a pen of animals, it will kill them all and consume one. If a lion breaks into that pen, it will kill just the one it will drag away and eat.
· Tender, nutritious grass will spring up within a few weeks after a “prescribed burn” of the savannah. This technique is controversially used in the Serengeti.
· Elephants communicating with one another produce a rumbling sound that permeates deep through your belly. Love that feeling!
And finally, one of my best memories:
· A warm bush bath for 2, out on the savannah in the dark of the eve, surrounded by grazing zebras and wildebeests (and a distant guard), followed by delicious campfire side lamb dinner, can be one of the biggest and most touching surprises offered on safari!
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