Today began with breakfast – a delicious mix of “pancakes”, eggs, toast and hot chocolate/tea/coffee. It was a great way to start the day. After breakfast I took another stroll through the art shop located on the campsite property and talked Ryan into letting me buy a Tinga Tinga painting – it is a painting of animals that essentially look like cartoon characters, super cool but huge and now I have to carry it around for a month. The guy wrapped it up in newspaper and said he could get a tube for it but we would have to come back on our way back to Arusha in 4 more days…ok! So then we were off, on our way past Lake Manyara, through the hills of the Great Rift Valley, through Ngorongoro Crater and to the Serengeti. It was a long trip. Our driver, Peter, stopped at various points, showing us a lookout over Lake Manyara, stopping at the entrance of Ngorongoro to pee and take photos, another lookout over the caldera, and stops on the way to Serengeti to enjoy western toilets in the bush.
The road from our campsite to the entrance of Ngorongoro is beautifully paved. No one told us about the next bit. The tour owner said “it will be like a massage!” It wasn’t. It is a terribly bumpy road, passing through winding hills and trees – meanwhile the views back over the hills of the rift valley were stunning. As we left the Nogorongoro area and were headed for Serengeti, we asked whether the roads would improve – our guide laughed and said “no, bigger massage now” – oh, great. Not only are the roads bumpy, but it is so dry and dusty here that everything gets covered in a layer of dirt. I literally blew my nose once we arrived and it was bright red – the colour of the soil leading to Serengeti National Park. Lovely.
The drive took a long time – however my concept of time is a bit off as Ryan has the only watch on the trip. Once we made it to the Serengeti entrance, we stopped for photos and a break to stretch our legs. While we were stopped we were joined by a couple of Massai boys – dressed in traditional black and painted with white faces symbolizing their recent circumcision and coming of age. They spoke to the Safari owner and asked if we would like a picture with them – of course we said yes. As we stepped next to them we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by about 15 of them and as soon as the photo was taken they all began demanding money. Oh, yeah – we kind of forgot that would be expected. Luckily our guide saved the day and offered them water bottles – a commodity in the desert land where they live. This seemed to only somewhat pacify them however, so we quickly hopped back and the truck and made our way onward. We reached the actual gate for Serengeti a little while later where we stopped for lunch while the admission fee was paid. Lunch was another boxed affair with a juice box, some peanuts, very very salty chips, and a sandwich.
Serengeti National Park has been built up in Ryan’s mind as a haven for herd of millions of animals – he has watched so many Animal Planet and Discovery Channel specials and I think kind of expected to be surrounded by wildebeest and impala from the moment we drove in. Based on this expectation, Serengeti was a tiny bit disappointing. We hit the time when most of the big herds have already migrated up to the Massai Mara in Kenya and are on their way back down to Serengeti in Tanzania. Bad timing. Meanwhile, we did still see many gazelle, some ostritch, hardebeest, a black bearded bastard (it’s a kind of bird), secretary birds (they are funny looking), a lioness sleeping in the grass far away, and a mama cheetah with 3 cubs in the distance. On top of that, the savannah is an amazing sight – miles and miles of flat and grass and spots of trees randomly strewn across the landscape. All of this was on a short game drive on our way to our campsite, called “Pimbi” (named after the rock hyrax that live here, in Swahili). Meanwhile, the greatest wildlife encounter was still to come that night.
We made it to the campsite – this one quite different from the last. We approached only to see 2 large building made of concrete on the bottom and caged in all around on the sides. A cage, not FOR animals, but FROM animals. The one building is the cooks kitchen, with about 20+ cooks working over single burner propane stoves concocting amazing dishes. The other building was the dining area. We had arrived fairly late, due in part to some car trouble we had on the way that held us up. We helped set up tents while Peter, the driver and guide went to find out about ordering a part to fix the truck. Meanwhile, Maulid (the cook) was creating another backcountry masterpiece and once the tents we set up and everything was thrown in, we went to eat. This time, cream lentil soup and spagetti for dinner – delicious! What was not so great was our seating. One of the very few complaints I have is that our table was about 4″ shorter than everyone else and rather than the sweet camping chairs we had those tripod stools to sit on which are very uncomfortable for more than a few minutes at a time. But we were tired and dusty and it was too late to care too much. A quick shower was required and then it was off to bed.
I should mention at this point that the campsite is based around a tree in the center. On the tree is a sign that says it is not safe to leave the campground due to animals. Meanwhile, the bathroom is at the edge of the campground…this makes having to pee in the middle of the night a bit interesting. Of course, at about 4 am I have to pee – so I wake Ryan up and make him come with me to the bathroom, determined that if something should attack I would attempt to look less yummy than him. We made it to and from the bathroom unscathed. While on our way back from the bathroom to the tent, with headlamps flashing to and fro to see if anything is creeping nearby I am telling Ryan that I have been hearing this one noise all night and I wasn’t sure what animal it was – in a whisper I say, “it makes this noise, like oo-oooo, oo-oooo,” Ryan says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I say, “but it goes oo-ooo, oo-ooo,” again in a whispered hush, having difficulty demonstrating the change in pitch of the second ooo. Ryan still insists he has no idea what I’m talking about, so I wait a moment to hear it again and say “did you hear that??” Of course he says, “no, you’re crazy.” So I’m trying to get him to shut up and listen. Suddenly, from right beside Ryan’s side of the tent, just outside we hear and loud “gruh!”. Ryan says, “I heard that though!” We waited and listened – literally every other noise stopped. We knew what it was – it was a lion. It was RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR TENT. It likely saw us coming from the bathroom – which is a really creepy thought. After a minute or so the other animals in the night began to chime back in and we relaxed a bit – so cool, but SO SCARY!
The next morning we meet in the dining area for breakfast, now having greater appreciation for the caged walls. We look at our guide and say, “Peter, there was a lion right next to our tent last night!” He says, “No, you were hearing lions roaring far away, they were probably 8km away but it echoes.” We insisted it didn’t sound like an echo, nor did it sound like roaring, but he wouldn’t budge. About 10 minutes later, Kelvin (the safari owner) comes over and says, “Guys! There was a lion RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR TENT last night!” Finally! We said “we know – how did you know??” to which he replied that he had not been able to sleep and so he hung out in the cooks area for the night and watched as the lion descended from the rocks onto the camp and wandered right through the middle, past the tree that advises against wandering outside of the campsite, and then moved off into the savannah. Crazy. Just crazy.