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Published: September 4th 2014
This guy was hiding in plain view two feet from our safari jeep enjoying his peaceful morning.
Animal overload. Is there such a thing? Because I think I've got it.
Having spent the last few weeks getting soaked between rain showers in Rwanda and Uganda, it was nice to dry out on the vast plains of the Serengeti.
The park entrance sign hangs oddly eschew as tumbleweeds bounce by, much to my delight. Droves of impala attempt to become safari jeep hood ornaments as we Mario Andretti (drive it like we stole it) down the dusty road.
At the helm, Samson, our local guide hired to drive us around and track animals. I am also amongst my beloved Australians, and the Canadian, but we have now taken on a Pakistani, and a Portuguese...or is that Portugoose - singular?
I cannot believe I am actually here.
It’s exactly as I imagined thanks to my years of watching Mutual of Omaha’s wild kingdom when I was a kid.
The Serengeti reserve (one of the seven natural wonders of the world) is a mind blowing 1.5 million hectares. Prospectively, that is the size of Northern Ireland. The savannahs are drop off the end of the earth beautiful with rocky outcrops (called kopjes) dotted here and
The striking plains of the Serengeti
there. The trees are kept neatly manicured by the giraffes, while millions of herbivores drift back and forth mowing the endless grass.
Our campsite is completely open to the elements. There are no fences or barriers, so we are inundated by wild animals. Warthogs snort and forage nearby, a confused Topi gets spooked by my flapping laundry...and I’m not sure which is weirder...looking up in awe to see a giraffe glide casually by my tent, or having a baboon, sporting a boner, eyeball me while he peels back the wrap of my stolen cheese sandwich with his tiny fingers.
We spend the next week exploring this vast park. Samson is a keen tracker and effortlessly finds all of the big five for the photogenic hunters of our group. We trip over elephants, wade through herds of zebras, Grant’s gazelles, impalas and towers of giraffe, spot elusive rhinos from afar, and even find a leopard having a siesta in a tree.
This entire African trip of mine has been a whirlwind blur.
I’m beginning to feel like I’m missing it and urgently need to sit quietly for a minute to observe what is unfolding in front of
Death by Campsite
Warding off the bad omens at the campsite
me. Samson offers me a seat up front while a frenzy of mad paparazzi jockey in the back. Samson is not sure what to make of me, but he’s intrigued. We bond. What is clear is he loves his job. What is clearer, is he missed his calling to be a demolition derby driver. We 4x4 all over the Serengeti on the bouncy dirt tracks while the Australians shriek with glee.
Oh, and because I don’t read up on places before I visit them, I missed the warnings not to wear blue or black. It seems that Tsetse flies are attracted to these particular colours, and my coordinated safari wardrobe consists only of these two. All day long the flies bite chunks of flesh from my arms and legs. I knock one off thinking I’ve killed it, only to have it come back and take another bite. I literally yelp in pain.
One of the Australians informs me I have surely contracted the sleeping sickness now, some sort of form of narcolepsy, I’m guessing. Let me get this straight, I will get more
sleep now? I deduct that this may not really be a problem but look to
Welcome to the Serengeti
The entranceway to the vast plains.
Samson for reassurance. He just smirks and gives me a I detect Australian bullshit look.
I’m kind of disappointed.
One of the Australians who knows everything, forces Samson to stop the jeep periodically to confirm he is righter. While flipping through his field book, Samson looks at me with a wide grin and points over my shoulder sheepishly. There, two feet from the road is a beautiful male lion. He sniffs into the air, but other than that, is absolutely still. His coat effortlessly blends with the dry grass making him virtually invisible. Everyone in the jeep goes bananas for that perfect shot. The lion doesn’t flinch. Samson then taps me and points to the other side of the vehicle. There, is another male lion but this one is not pleased we are there, at all. He stares up at us, snarling and hissing, trying to work out how to gain access to us through the open roof. All the tiny hairs stand up on my neck. We move along quickly.
It is late May now, and the day temperature goes way over 40c. When not out on jeep safari, we take shelter under the picnic umbrellas
Can't wipe the grin off my face
Super stoked to be in the Serengeti finally!
and laze about. With this kind of heat, you can hang your laundry on a line and its bone dry before you’ve walked away. Now that is hot.
At the Serengeti information centre, there are benches of clean cut young men waiting anxiously for the opportunity to be picked to be our guide for the afternoon. Our tiny gratuities could potentially feed their entire family for weeks. The Australians leave it to me to pick one. I select Stephen for no reason other than his entire aura shines. He turns out to be the most enthusiastic, professional, and informative guide we have ever seen. He does his entire speech without losing a single Aussie, a feat in itself.
We decide that we cannot part with him, so we kidnap Stephen and take him back to our camp for the night. He is in heaven and not entirely sure what is happening, but committed. Captain Orange is also impressed by this kid’s raw talents and writes him a reference letter. Our trainees Q and Nash start to get nervous and step up their own game.
Life is like that here in Africa, dog eat dog, with the chance
Stole my cheese sandwich and then dared me to come and get it back
of something good coming your way impossibly narrow, yet, somehow, someway it does - if you believe. The African spirit is commendable and I am humbled by their genuine go with the flow, no place to be, no schedule to meet, open for anything, glad to be alive
Our campsite has become a main social hub. Samson and his buddies are kind of crowd shy but quickly come alive when we pepper them with questions about tourists doing stupid dangerous things while on the Serengeti. For some reason, Americans win top scores in this category, we hear about them falling into mud holes, and being chased by water buffalo. Our Pakistani vainly interrupts and asks if all Africans call white people Mzungu then what would they call her? Without missing a beat, Captain Orange replies with a shrug, Mzupaki.
And with that her nickname was officially born.
Because we have been politely inviting new friends back to our camp at night, we run out of spirits after night two. Captain Orange makes a quick phone call in Swahili, and almost instantly dim headlights meander down the dusty trail towards our camp. It’s a mobile bar car! Apparently,
Campfire stories and songs
Having a wonderful night hanging out as the hyenas circle around us
even in the middle of the Serengeti you can get ice cold beer, spirits, and assorted crisps delivered to you in the dead of night. The Aussies have died and gone to heaven.
Animal, our camp cook, creates buffet masterpieces in the screened camp kitchen while we safari. He smiles craftily as we try to identify the spices in his delicious chilled tomato soup and piles of grilled mystery meats. We also get an assortment of curried salads, rice with condiments which we all eagerly attack nightly with gigantic serving spoons. Dining under the stars, the universe seems to go for infinity and beyond. Even as the campfire licks at my legs I can’t help but feel like I’m a wee drop of water in this massive ocean.
Several Maasi Mara have been hired to protect us here at camp, after we have retired to our tents for the night. We are their hypothetical livestock. Dressed up in a uniform of plaid red and blue robes with sparkly necklaces and dangerous looking spears they materialize from the bushes. One is wearing Nike runners, the other has an Armani watch and a puffy ski jacket. Ok, so not as
The only Leopard in the Serengeti
This poor girl was just trying to catch a siesta when she was surrounded by 50 safari jeeps.
traditional as I expected. Captain Orange has much respect for this culture and has been telling us all about their beliefs. I too think it is so fascinating, I had read the White Maasi a few years back and knew their young men are beyond fearless, it is an honour for them to be killed by a lion.
That’s oddly comforting.
This entire land actually belongs to the Maasai Mara peoples, but they were kicked out of the park by the British back in the 50’s. They linger along the boundaries while grazing their herds, constantly breaking park protocol until challenged. I can’t help but feel tourism has literally slaughtered this group’s way of life, but I give them credit for managing to hang onto their traditional beliefs and practicing their cultural uniqueness in an ever increasingly crazy world. Unfortunately, we Mzungus have become nothing more than walking ATM’s to them.
Rumour has it that the great wildebeest migration is about to start, with millions of them moving across the plains followed by a posse of zebra, impalas, and gazelles. However, we only come across the odd confused looking one. I suggest that perhaps this migration thing
Waiting for dinner
Some of the pride hang back and watch the matriarc sneak up on a warthog.
was made up to attract tourists. Samson rolls his eyes and suggests we take a ride out to his favourite kopje viewpoint for a sundowner. As we sit in silence, several animals come in to the lone watering hole for a last drink before the sun disappears. "No Wildebeest Smilderbeest though"
I mutter to myself. Samson glasses the horizon. Suddenly, the ground starts to vibrate and with a thundering cloud, a dark stream of wildebeest as far as the eye comes into focus. I feel my jaw hit the floorboards. Samson is smug.
Back at camp, we have our nightly impromptu talent show, all involved must do one of the following; interpretive dance, recite a scary ghost story, or sing. We are treated to some kind of jump dancing by our Maasi guards, then a few Kenyan rap songs by Samson and Captain Orange. My turn comes around and I strum-sing a campfire Floyd classic, “wish you were here” as everyone joins in. But another Maasai glides soundlessly out from the brush and tells me my voice is attracting the hyenas.
That’s probably not a compliment.
Sure enough, hyenas circle making a distinctive wooooo-uuppp noise,
Serengeti is so pictureque and cameras do not do it justice.
this is their hunting call. Great. I hope they are hunting for marshmallows…because we have plenty of those.
Our last day on the Serengeti, we pack up for an early start. As we are leaving the park, we stop to watch herds of zebra skittishly try to get a drink from a crocodile infested waterhole. From the jeep we cheer as they winny and flee from an approaching log with teeth. Natural selection, you ain’t gonna win today.
We are headed for the rim of the Ngorogoro crater. Samson kicks it into overdrive. We've got some more animals to see.
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