Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Safari Day Nine

Day Nine – The Serengeti Lions

This morning I was awoken around 3:45 by the sound of lions roaring way off in the distance. I was transfixed by this so managed to stay awake and listen to them approach from the front to around the side of our tent. By 4:15 they were as close as they would get and it sounded like they were pretty darn close. I thought that there were at least two roaring to each other, but when I talked to one of the guys who work here, he said it was a big pride. It’s funny how people who work here can tell the difference.

On the way to breakfast, I saw the very top edge of the sun peeking up over the horizon. It took all of two minutes before it was fully up, I couldn’t believe how quickly it happened, and I could just stand there and take it all in. Tomorrow, we’ll be seeing it from the hot air balloon.

Breakfast was good, scrambled eggs, sausage, a pancake that tasted really cinnamony and toast. I woke with a fairly good case of intestinal distress, but like hell was I going to let that stop me, so I dosed up on Cipro and Lomotil and was on my way.

We left at 7:00 and I think we all had leopard on our minds. Said says the taller grass here is more conducive to leopards and lions, but as we saw yesterday, that means we hardly ever see them unless they stand up. If they’re laying down, we see nothing. The other thing that is quite different here is that because the migration is still in Ndutu, it feels as though there are almost no animals here at all.

This morning we drove for quite some time before seeing much of anything. The vistas are beautiful though and the weather here is gorgeous so it made it easy to just watch the world go by. I also downloaded an album of traditional African music that I listened to while we were riding. That way, when I listen to it at home, I’ll think back to everything I saw here.

So, early on, we saw an elephant, some solo jackals, a jackal family, two warthog. Then we came upon some Topi, which is the first we’ve seen here. They look like antelope with socks on. While scanning some rocks for either lions or leopards, we saw some hyrax, which looked like guinea pigs. Oddly enough, they are the most anatomical similar mammal to elephants. Said said they share the same type of incisors that are like tusks and have internal testicles like elephants. Odd that the smallest thing we’ve seen is so like the largest thing we’ve seen.

After a while, it got really slow in terms of seeing much of anything, but Said seemed to conjure up a female lion dozing in the grass. By her more or less bolting away from us, I think we clearly disturbed her, which is the first time I’ve felt that all this time. We took some photos and moved on fairly quickly.

Just past the lioness, we came upon six giraffe that we’d seen wandering further along the horizon. These passed right in front of and along our vehicle, so we got fairly close. They are very tranquil and relaxing to watch so we spent some time there.

Circling yet another rock formation for the same cats we had yet to see, I spotted a lizard that was half red, half green. Said said it was a male Agama lizard. That was about all the reptiles I’m willing to tolerate this safari, thank you very much.

After a bit more driving, we came upon a gathering of vehicles along the side of the road. From the midst of that, a female lion ran out and crossed the road right in front of us. We watched her wander off into the distance and then headed back towards lunch.

Fairly close to camp, one of us spotted a head go up under a tree just off the road to our left. When we followed up on it, it looked as if there was definitely one and maybe even two lions under that tree. On closer inspection, there were 21 (YES! TWENTY ONE!) lions lying there under the tree. There seemed to be two adult females and a whole slew of cubs. I think since it was a bit off road we weren’t supposed to be there, so we left pretty quickly and continued on, which was a HUGE disappointment, but my wish to see a pride had come true, however short-lived. We continued down the road and saw a pod of elephants crossing the road, and as interesting as that was, I just could not get into it after what we’d left behind. I think Said noticed that another vehicle had made its way to our pride, so he took us back. Soon there were 5 or 6 vehicles there and the pride got antsy and started to move to other cover further from us. But I got more photos and got to watch them and it was just an amazing dream come true. I never, ever thought I’d get to see so many at one time. It was blissful and then some. Finally the lions decided it was time to move on before they were completely encircled, so we left as well. I teared up as we pulled away, just completely overcome by something so fabulous. Despite a very slow morning overall, this was more than enough to justify going out early and being so very patient.

Back at camp it had warmed up some and lunch was ready for us. The cool gazpacho soup was tasty and so refreshing. There was a warm chicken salad in a creamy tomato sauce with carrots and onions and homemade French fries, which were wonderful. I had Sprite and ginger ale and returned to the tent to write up the blog and rest before we headed out at 4 p.m. for the evening game drive.

After our siesta, Said told us that the pride we saw was only part of the larger pride. The area we are staying in is called Turner Spring and the pride is local to this area, so it is called the Turner Spring Pride. He said we saw only 21 of the 35 known pride members. Even still, I’m impressed.

We had to go first to register for our hot air balloon ride so we got that out of the way and then were off to find the still elusive leopard. This was sort of a race against the clock because extremely threatening storm clouds were building on the horizon in two different directions. Said was skillfully driving us over the dirt and potholed roads before it even started raining. Finally he came upon an area where a few other vehicles had already pulled over. While we were taking photos of the ominous skies overhead, Said spotted a female leopard coming down out of a tree as the rain started to fall. I managed to snap a few photos as she disappeared into the tall grass. Just when we started to baton down the hatches and heavier rain fell, Said spotted a small cub, one of two he is aware of in this area, in another tree. I got a few better shots of him with my zoom lens. Unless we can get closer to these beauties tomorrow, those will have to do for now. But we have managed to spot all of the Big Five and the Big Three Spotted Cats of Tanzania, so big score for us.

The storm that passed through was very intense. The cloud deck fell so low and was so dark that it had an Armageddon feel to it. The rain fell hard and fast. The whole storm passed in maybe 15 or 20 minutes. But what is incredible about it is how intense it was and how you can easily see the entire cell of weather as it heads towards you. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We managed to see another elephant mini-migration with a few babies. And Said gave us another lesson on the differences between Thompson gazelle, Grant’s gazelle and impala. I think maybe in the next 24 hours we’ll get it right at least once!

On the road back to camp we stopped a few times to see the most incredible sunset with the dark storm clouds intermingling with the oranges and pinks of the sun going down. So I saw the sun coming up and going down today, and both were just as spectacular.

Dinner tonight was that wonderful pumpkin soup we had at the other camp, beef stew on rice, a type of cabbage slaw and really good homemade rolls. One of the other guests had a birthday so the staff made him a cake which we all had a slice of.

So another really good day in the books. Who knows what tomorrow will bring! It’s our last day on safari….

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