Thursday, February 14, 2013

Safari Day Three

Day Three – Big Cats and Elephants as far as the eye can see

This morning we were up early so that we’d be on the road by 6:30. Breakfast was good, an omelet and pancake and some fresh fruit. Again, the coffee here is incredible. We all wished we had a travel mug to take a cup on the road.

Said expertly navigated our way back to Tarangire for the parts of the park we hadn’t seen yesterday. Right outside the gates to our camp, there were about 2 dozen zebras and a dozen wildebeest. I mean, right outside our camp, as in close enough to have in for a drink last night. I have neglected to mention to this point that at night, the Masaai will walk us back to our cabin. We are in the middle of wildlife and a team of about 6 Masaai will meet and relay us from one to the next as they escort us back to our cabins. That they are carrying bow and arrow, spear or dart gun will give you a gentle reminder why that may be. Slightly unsettling but pretty cool at the same time.

Anyway, back to our ride to Tarangire. Not so secretly, the hope was to see big cats, finally. I know it is only day two, but I won’t kid you, that’s why I’m here. I love the other animals, but please, throw me a bone here. Find me a cat.

We were at the park just after the sun came up and Said started cutting a path to parts unknown. Right off the bat, the visit here started off differently, with over 100 Cape buffalo. These are one of the “big five”animals that safari-goers strive to see while they’re here. They’re pretty angry looking and one of the few things that will give lions a run for their money. We hadn’t seen one yesterday and here they were, well over 100 of them just off the roadside. Said stopped the car and let us photograph to our hearts’ content until he said “Ok, ready?” which meant he was starting the car again and we’d be moving on.

Next up we came upon six ostriches, just pecking away at the low grass. We also saw six banded (striped) mongoose. So far, so good. All animals new to us. But would the elusive cats continue to elude us? We’d joked with Said yesterday that he was texting the animals just ahead of our passing by and we hoped he’d texted the cats this morning. You know, just to let them know we were coming. He shrugged and said he had, but got no reply from them. No pressure, Said. But how about those cats?

It seemed we never drove more than 5-7 minutes without seeing something for the first hour, and then we hit a dead spot and started chatting amongst ourselves because we weren’t seeing anything. Enough time went by that I contemplated pulling out the Kindle (ok, not really, it wasn’t even 10 minutes) but suddenly Said screeched to a halt and pointed up the hill to our right saying “Cheetah”. We all saw nothing. I mean NOTHING. Then he told us where to look, and on a termite mound about 50 yards up from us were three cheetahs, lying there regally, surveying the area, sniffing and just lazing about. I was beyond excited. Said said they were either a sibling coalition or a mother and two older cubs. Whichever, we must have sat there for about 45 minutes, just the five of us humans and the three of them, before other vehicles pulled up to see what we were so intently watching. It was SO NICE to have them to ourselves, without hoards of others around making noise or otherwise distracting us or them. Finally after about 90 minutes we realized they were going no where fast so we moved on.

Just around the bend, believe it or not, was a lioness lying right out in the open in the sun on the bank of a shallow stream. Said pulled to a stop and said “and two cubs.” Again, we all saw nothing until we looked closer, and there were a pair of the cutest little cubs right behind their mom in some shallow grass. Patience paid off as they finally popped up heads, came out and climbed on mom, and then encouraged her to let them nurse. At this point, she moved to the shade of a large bush to indulge them out of the heat of the day. Said said this mother had probably introduced the cubs to the rest of her pride, but was keeping them separate for now for safe keeping. Just about the time he said this, a group of about 8 elephants approached from the left, piquing her curiosity. Elephants will crush things like baby lions if they think the lions are threats to their own young, so this lioness stood up and shuffled her cubs off and away to a distant bush. Once the elephants passed, mom came back but her babies remained hidden. I don’t think the elephants even really knew she was there, but she knew of them and took steps to protect her babies.

As if this wasn’t enough, we came upon a herd of about 10 elephants who were speeding their way toward a stream bed on the other side of our vehicle. We of course came to a halt to let them pass. Then we followed them down to the stream bed, where there were already dozens of elephants drinking, bathing, rolling in dirt and play fighting with each other. It seemed every 10 or 15 minutes, another herd of 10-20 would show up and do the same thing. At one point, there were more elephants than I could count right in front of me, and more coming from every direction. This watering hole was very popular. As they came and went, they would pass right by our vehicle, sometimes under 30 feet from us. Said warned us to stay quiet and not make fast movements as the elephants are easily disturbed. There were several very small babies and many youngsters as well as females and older males (which were gigantic!). We stayed here well over an hour taking it all in. It was a panorama I never could have imagined a week ago. Bumper to bumper elephants, endless elephants.  More elephants than I ever imagined I'd see in once place at one time.

At this point we’d been out for over 6 hours and the heat of the day was setting in. We also hadn’t had a stop for a toilet, so Said found one for us quickly. We’d decided to do the early half day of safari and spend the rest lounging at the lodge, so we returned here for lunch.

Lunch was buffet salad and dessert and family style main course. There was spaghetti with meatballs, a leek quiche, lentils, spinach and rice. It was all really good, and I think it helped that we were all pretty starving by the time we ate at 2. Dessert was rice pudding and a brownie and fresh local pineapple and mango, which was delectable. I’d been told by another A2T traveler I know to try the tangawizi soda, which I did. It’s like a more sugary ginger ale and really hit the spot after a long warm morning.

Here at Maramboi Tented Camps, all the tents are elevated and open but with a solid framework. As I sit here now on the communal deck in a large overstuffed chair, I’m looking out at the land we’re on and about 50 yards away are 25 zebra munching away. On the horizon I see three giraffes. On the other side is a herd of wildebeest. All of this is completely normal here. And it’s like this every day. This is so hard to believe.

We’re just hanging out this afternoon and having dinner at 7:30. I think an entire day in the land rover would be oppressive, both from a personal and physical standpoint. Its sort of nice to have this time to relax and have quiet time.

Technical notes…my binoculars are awesome, so props to Mom for picking out a winning pair. I’m able to get right up in the faces of everything I’ve seen and they are light and hardly noticeable in my bag. My camera rocks. The zoom is just enough to get me what I need and I am getting to be old hat at shooting totally manual. There is NO WAY my old point and shoot would keep me happy here. If I were to repack for this trip, I’d bring more shorts and none of the coats I brought. But it’s still early and I may be happier with what I have at some point.

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