We’ve now crossed the border from Tanzania back into Kenya, so I’m writing this from the bus at the end of the trip. To give you a visual of the aftermath, I’m splattered head-to-toe in earth, in a fog of trace bug repellent, with a full head-o-windblown hair. It’s been such an experience coming here – understatement of the year.
I last left you at an internet cafe on the shores of Lake Victoria. From there, we crossed into Tanzania to make our way to the massive and majestic Serengeti National Park. On the way to the Serengeti, we had several hours in the bus to watch Tanzania fly by. In comparison to our journey through Kenya, Tanzania had many round huts made of what looks like a circle of spears and dried grasses.
Kenya was BRIGHT, with the most liberal, whimsical use of bold color combinations, whereas Tanzania immediately struck me as more earthen. It may simply be due to the heavier concentration of Maasai in the countryside we drove through. The Maasai aren’t confined to Tanzania (in fact, I think the majority of their settlements are in Kenya), and although they are indigenous pastoralists, some have moved to bigger cities. Most native Tanzanians are actually of Banto descent, but the Maasai get the lion’s share of attention to indigenous for their fame and easily identifiable appearance.
Tourist routes headed to the Serengeti cut across Maasailand, so they appear very prominently with their long robes and shawls all in tones of red, dark purple and blue accents. Many have hair cropped very short, gauged ears and decorative jewellery. Maasai men carry small machetes and some a tall spear, though it’s common to see them blow by in a furl of red on bikeback, too.
We arrived at the Serengeti for lunch, then had our first game drive. Absolutely incredible! First of all, the scene: the Serengeti is more than 14,700 square Kms (5,700 miles) of dry, flat scrubland, with acacia and apple orchard standing alone and the odd copse of some tropical tree or a bloom of hippo pool breaking up the landscape. The mountains in the far distance are the only indication of a limit and the expanse opens up the sky’s belly to all manner of weather, so in one direction you might see a lightning storm, another a rainbow, another a sunny day.
We had a day and a half of driving around the Serengeti and over the course saw: impala, zebra, serval cat, dik-dik, hippo, lion, leopard, giant elephant, buffalo, warthog, giraffe, ostrich, crocodile, baboon, wildebeest, gazelle, hyena, silver-backed jackal, and much more that I’m forgetting. The little dik-dik (tiny antelope-like, prancey guys have life partners they’re always seen with, unless one dies and they never re-couple) and the serval cat were my favorite. The serval cat was very well-hidden, but one of the eagle-eyed women on our trip spotted its little ears poking out of the tall grasses about 50 meters away. Even when we stopped and had binoculars on it, the ears looked more like a resting butterfly by the way they dovetail and fan out. After much patience it peeped its beautiful little face out.
Can you see the lioness? The leopards are amazing, and their postures are hilarious. The only way you can see them really is when they’re flopped on a treelimb, dangle of a tail a giveaway, arm tucked up in this air of unflappability. Only they’re so shy! I love a leopard. Since it’s still the rainy season, there’s a huge problem with vehicles getting stuck in this soft, red mud. We got stuck for about 2 hours midday and had to all pile out of the bus, help push and flag down a car to help pull as well. I’m not going to lie – standing out in the middle of the Serengeti as this vulnerable little animal when we’ve just been spotting dangerous, potentially violent animals was a little nerve-wracking.
We had a few lovely nights there staying in the park, waking up to chewed up shoes if left outside, and when Shane got up really early for a sunrise hot air balloon ride he saw both a hyena and a hippo on our campsite. One night during our campfire, we had our leader tell us some stories of things gone awry in past trips. Some things he just implied and couldn’t talk about, but here’s one story for you:
After lunch, one guy wasn’t feeling very well, so while everyone left for a late afternoon game drive, he decided to stay behind. He heard something near the tents, peeked out, saw a warthog and decided to take some close-up pictures. He took a few pictures, the warthog moved into the bushes, and he kept following for more pictures. A little wander into the woods, and he realized he was lost, so kept walking to look for camp. About dinnertime, everyone else got back to camp and he was nowhere to be found. They started searching the area, called the rangers, and then it got dark. They called in a helicopter to search and eventually, hours deep into the night he stumbled across another camp and has those people contact the rangers. He ended up walking 20 kilometers in the wilds of the Serengeti, and at night! With no flashlight. He is so, so lucky he didn’t run into any animals on the way. When the rangers got to him, he was fined and immediately deported; basically for a million reasons don’t let yourself get lost in the Serengeti!