Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Safari Day Eight

Day Eight – If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Lion Day

Last night right after lights out, one of the staff came to the tent to return cameras and batteries that we’d been charging in the main tent. Thank goodness he did, because he got me awake just in time to hear two lions roaring right behind our tent! It was spectacular, and try as I might, I couldn’t stay awake long enough to hear more. Yet another very restful sleep here in the great outdoors.

This morning we were up at 5:45 am to leave at 6:15. We skipped breakfast in lieu of a late morning brunch. We were actually on the road in the dark and went immediately to see if we could find the cheetah family right outside our camp. We weren’t successful, so we will never know how their stalking turned out for them last night. Said says that a mother cheetah with four cubs that size and age is very successful, because most cheetah litters don’t remain that size to adulthood. If they’ve made it to a year, they will most likely make it to independence. That made me feel good.

En route to the rest of our game drive, Said heard from another guide that two lions were feasting on a kill nearby. It turned out to be in the same area where we saw the two dozing lionesses last night, and indeed, it was them. They had hidden a wildebeest kill deep in a bush and were snacking on it. Said put the pieces of the puzzle together and reminded us of the circling vultures that we saw near them the evening before, and coupled with the fact that the cats themselves were uninterested in the parade of wildebeest and zebras that went by them, and add to that the utter stench of the kill which tells us it was not a fresh kill, he thinks that they’d killed the wildebeest last night and stashed it for a few days’ worth of meals. Interesting. We followed one lioness down to the bank along the riverbed where we took some photos and then left her to sleep.

I think Said had a mission to get us to see a wildebeest birth today. We rode around a whole bunch of wildebeests for a really long time, but the closest we got was to see one little guy just born on the ground, but we were in time to see his first very wobbly steps. That was a joy to see, honestly. That mom had him up and running within minutes of his birth, which is astounding, but it’s move or be eaten out here. Said later found us a placenta on the ground, which was interesting from a scientific point of view but not so much a photo opportunity. Yes, even I have limits on something like that.

With lesser luck seeing big game today, Kim and I resorted to bird watching, which is an Olympic sport here on safari. There are some hard core birders here, of which we are not two, but we give it a good shot. And sometimes we are right. I think Said is proud when we recognize a bird that he’d previously pointed out to us.

When I say “lesser luck” in terms of what we saw today, do not think we saw nothing. In terms of wildebeest and zebra count, we have to be close to a million by this point. They are everywhere, in astounding numbers. As much video or still photos I take, I don’t think any of them ever capture what we’re seeing here. At one point we stopped and there were wildebeest as far back along the horizon as I could see. It seemed to go on forever. It is a truly impressive sight. I also noticed today that some of the zebra and wildebeest would take an interest in us, stopping what they were doing to stare at us curiously. That provides for great photos, but also provides a laugh. I wonder what they think of us exactly.

We returned to the camp for brunch, which was fabulous as always. Meatballs (really like seasoned hamburgers), crepes, mixed vegetable salad that was like a salsa, pasta salad with hard boiled egg, zucchini salad, bread, fruit and a glass of wine. I could get used to eating like this. Kim and I asked to see the kitchen, and they gave us a tour before we left. It has a gas oven and two gas stove tops, two refrigerators and two prep counters. They only have room to serve about 20 people a night, so it’s a controlled environment, but I’m still amazed at how they manage to make such delicious food.

After brunch we packed the Land Cruiser and headed for the Serengeti. Said had expressed a bit of concern that with all the migratory animals near Ndutu (where we’d just been), that we might have a tough time in the Serengeti. Once we crossed over into the park, it was noticeable that the migration certainly was not here. Serengeti is derived from the Masaai words for “open space” and that is a vast understatement. Here more than anywhere we’ve been already, you can see for miles across vast flatness. This is the second biggest park in Tanzania and it shows. But it also appeared empty, so I was a bit hesitant about what we were going to see over the next three days. No sooner had I thought that than Said screeched to a halt and backed the vehicle up. Right next to the road in a bush was a female lion dozing in the tall grass. She obliged us with several photo opps before adjourning under a bush for the rest of her nap. Said pointed out that she had a large collar around her neck which researchers were using to track her. A bit further down the road we found a kill (wildebeest) in a bush that Said believed based on proximity was the work of this lioness.

We continued our drive through the Serengeti and I became completely transfixed by the clouds here. Against a gorgeous blue sky, they just seem to hang and not move. But even the dark storm clouds are interesting, because you can see the entire storm cell move because there is nothing else to block your view of it. I’ve taken more sky photos here than I ever have anywhere.

Said took a side road up and around a large rock formation and immediately pointed out two young male lions and an older female asleep on the top of the rock. The males barely had any mane grown in yet, and they had the all-pink nose of youngsters. The female may have been a mom or an auntie, Said explained. As they remain a family unit, that could have been any older female in the pride with them today. Around the other side of the same rock formation was a younger male and female sunning themselves.

Further on, and not that long after the rock pride, we came across another vehicle stopped alongside the road. Their guide said there was a sleeping lion in the taller grass. Said used his binoculars and said this was another “honeymooning couple” like we’d seen back in Ngorongoro, and that they’d be mating at regular intervals if we could wait it out. He knows by now that we’ll wait for just about anything, and we were rewarded with a lightning fast mating ritual that we only got to see from behind. But still, we got to see magic happen, so we moved on.

But not even 15 seconds down the road we saw yet another vehicle stopped looking the same way into the same sort of grass. We stopped too and within 2 minutes, the female rolled on to her back, paws up in the air, which is the lions’ way of saying “I’m ready” and the male sat up, yawned, stood up and made motions to get the business of the moment done. This guy knew what he was doing, and we were treated to a fairly expert display, complete with growling, neck biting and a swat on the head. It was an excellent show. For a lover of big cats, I’m just in heaven over all this. We were not even 30 feet away from all this.

Finally we headed for camp as a lot of strong thunderstorms looked as if they were moving in. On the way, Said pointed out a serval cat in the road, which disappeared so quickly none of could get much more than a quick glance at it. It is not much larger than a house cat and spotted. It was one of three spotted cats in Tanzania, after the cheetah and the leopard. We also got to see an animal new to us, the Coke’s hartebeest. This is a large antelope with horns that sort of twist upward like they could almost form a heart.

The Serengeti Wilderness Camp is pretty much like the one we left in Ndutu, and run by the same people. We’re looking forward to whatever we hear tonight!

A bit about the weather here. Initially it was pretty hot when we landed and the first couple days out. Since then it seems to have settled into a pretty comfortable 80-85 and dry. The only time it gets terribly hot is when I’m in the direct sun. I will say I have gotten great color here, and even while wearing SPF 30! The mosquitoes and Tse Tse flies seem to have become a non-issue since we left Manyara, it is just pesky regular old flies that bother us here, and they are more a nuisance than anything.

Before dinner Kim and I stopped for a drink. They had no Bailey’s but they did have Amerula, which was very similar, so I had that. Dinner was a starter of potato and leek soup, and the main course was the meat and vegetable lasagna we had at the last camp with mixed salad and a carrot pound cake. The soups here are just amazing. I have no idea how they are so damn good.

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