Tanzania - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 67

Hati Lodge, Serengeti

Sunday 18th May

An extremely eventful day will make this log entry quite a long one. We started off early with a dawn game drive and we soon ran into some interesting things. First up was a small herd of eleven Buffalo crossing the road in front of us. This was the highest number of Buffalo that we’ve seen together anywhere in Africa. It was no sooner than we were a kilometre or two outside the lodge before we ran into quite another spectacle – a pride of Lions with cubs. As if this wasn’t enough, they were finishing off eating the carcass of a dead Buffalo which was now down to pretty much just some rib bones and the skull with horns. There were four females, one male, seven young cubs and two older cubs. Our vehicle was the second to arrive on the scene that was immediately next to the dirt road. We stayed there for the better part of an hour altogether, happily snapping away. The cubs were gorgeous and made you just want to pick them up and cuddle them. This was never a possibility, of course, since the adult Lions would waste no time in eating us too if we’d gotten out of the truck. At one point, one of the Lionesses started to climb up into a nearby tree. Apparently, they do this, this far north, to try to get away from the myriad of flies that swarm all over the place. There must have been twenty or more Vultures that were also on the scene, some of which were in nearby trees and others on the ground ready to grab a quick bite from the carcass before being chased away again by one of the Lionesses. They would swoop down every now and then just when they thought the Lions had strayed sufficiently far enough from the kill to risk moving in closer. Even one of the cubs charged a small group of Vultures in an apparent mimic action of its mother. None of the Lions seemed too bothered by the trucks that had parked themselves very close to the group. They were walking around the Jeeps and even lying right next to them at times. The cubs were suckling their respective mothers from time to time (there were apparently three separate families of cubs according to our guide) and their pathetic attempts at growling were quite amusing.

We eventually moved on from the pride and went in search of whatever else we could find. We soon came across a beautiful pair of Crowned Cranes (apparently the national bird of Uganda). Shortly thereafter, we caught our first glimpse of the rare Dik Dik. Being the smallest species of Antelope, these little creatures stand only about eighteen inches tall and are exceedingly cute.

The flies started to get active and annoying after a couple of hours of early morning driving so we headed back to the lodge for breakfast. By the time we were back at the lodge, we had already offloaded some of the photos onto the laptop. We had amassed three hundred and thirty five photos already and it wasn’t yet nine o’clock in the morning.

The lodge itself is a very nice one with comfortable rooms and a nice layout. The meals have been buffet style and very satisfying. Our driver and guide doesn’t sleep or eat in the lodge with us. He and all the other drivers apparently sleep in another lodge a couple of kilometres up the road.

The Land Cruiser that we have been driven around in is quite a large vehicle and very well suited to the task of game driving. It’s about the size of a minivan yet it only seats six people (although you could probably squeeze a couple more in if you tried). The nice thing about it is the three large, hinged hatches on the roof which, when open, allow you to stand up so that you can look out and straight ahead. We’ve spent most of our time standing up and emerged from the vehicle from about the tummy up.

Every now and then we pass another safari vehicle coming from the opposite direction and we stop to chat with its occupants. The drivers chat in Swahili to each other from their driving seats whilst we tourists chat with each other through the roof to discuss what we have respectfully seen thus far.

Breakfast this morning was very nice. There always seems to be chips with breakfast here in Africa and this suits me fine.

After breakfast, we continued on with another game drive and saw quite a few things but the real excitement started once we left the area of the Serengeti that we were in to go into another area. This other area was a vast open expanse of slightly rolling countryside with almost no trees and very low-lying grasses. It was the low grass that prompted our guide to take us there, as this was the preferred terrain of the Cheetah that has been proving so elusive for us. After an hour or more, we were starting to wonder whether or not we would get to see the Cheetah when our guide suddenly stopped the Jeep and took out his binoculars. About six hundred yards ahead of us, there was another vehicle that was stationary. Our guide thought that they might be looking at something interesting but he couldn’t tell from this distance what it was. Since he thought it might be a cat of some kind, we proceeded a little further. His instincts were right as it was not only one but three Cheetahs that the other vehicle was watching. They were apparently lying stealthily in a stalking position as if ready to pounce on something. There were a couple of Thompson Gazelle within view of the three predators and they were obviously stalking them in hope of their next meal. We managed to get quite close and sat patiently, waiting to observe the chase but ultimately, the Gazelle must have sensed something was afoot and suddenly ran off in the opposite direction to the Cheetahs. Soon after the Gazelle had run off, the Cheetahs slowly stood up and started to look around. Clearly, they would have to wait until another time to catch their prey.

One of the trucks that were following the Cheetahs had several Japanese people inside and one of them was operating a huge video camera. They looked very much like they were a film crew and had obviously been following the three predators for a while already. We managed to get quite a few nice close-ups of the three Cheetahs. We had essentially got what we came here for and were extremely pleased to see three of the beautiful felines together in one place. We moved on after a while to see what else we could find.

At first glance, this area of the Serengeti looks devoid of any life yet there are actually thousands of animals all around. It’s just that the area is such a huge expanse, all the animals look very small on the horizon until you drive a little closer to them. There was a very wide range of animals there and we saw a wider range that we had ever hoped to. Altogether we saw Zebra, Thomson Gazelle, Ground Gazelle, Hartebeest, Eland (the largest of the Antelope species), Impala, Ostrich, Wildebeest, a couple of Bat Eared Foxes, a family of Mongoose, Hyena, a Hare and a Jackal.

After a while, we decided to go back to see the Cheetahs again and stayed with them for just a short while before one of them popped his head up and pricked his ears forward. He had seen a couple of Ground Gazelle in the distance and must have somehow communicated this to the other two as they all suddenly stood up, looked in the direction of the Gazelle and assumed the stalking position. They then slowly started to stalk towards the gazelle. The middle Cheetah walked pretty much in a straight line towards the would-be prey whilst the other two started to move farther away on each side. It was fascinating to see their instinctive predatory behaviour first hand. In could scarce believe our luck as it was apparent that we were going to be witness to a chase just yards from our position. Unfortunately. The two Gazelle were soon aware of the situation and started to bolt. It was a near repeat of what we had earlier seen and the Cheetahs once again stopped, looked around and then lay down again as if nothing had happened. They must go through this routine frequently until they manage to get close enough to instigate a chase.

Once again, we decided to move on. We drove just over the next hill when our driver pointed out yet another Cheetah just a hundred yards or so from our Jeep. It was just sitting there large as life and in no particular hurry. We could barely believe it as this was the fourth Cheetah that we’d seen in less than an hour. We duly snapped another dozen or more photos before moving on again only to be hit by yet another shock. Another two Cheetahs lay directly ahead of us. This makes six Cheetahs altogether that we saw today and far more than we could ever have hoped to see. Even our guide was impressed with the luck that we were now experiencing.

After all the excitement of everything that we saw today, including the pride of Lions with cubs as well as no less than six Cheetahs, we were more than content to bring the day’s game drive to a close and so we headed out of the park and towards the Ngorongoro Crater rim where we would spend the night before another full day of game driving but this time inside the crater. Along the way, we once again passed through the area where the Wildebeest migration was taking place and were yet again in complete awe of the spectacle. We drove off the road at one point and into one of the fields to get a closer look at a herd of about ten thousand Wildebeest that were practically stampeding in a Northerly direction. Our cameras will surely not do justice to something such as this that takes place over such an enormous area. It will be difficult to comprehend the sheer numbers of animals from the photos we took.

Shortly after leaving the hundreds of herds of Wildebeest, Zebras and Antelope (mostly Thompson Gazelle and Ground Gazelle but also other species as well), we drove by what looked like a Giraffe sleeping with his head slumped over a tree. Sandy noticed it just barely and we stopped the car to back up to get a closer look. The animal was completely motionless so the driver drove off the road and over towards it to get a better look. It was clearly dead. This was the first time that we, and our experienced guide, had seen a dead Giraffe but we were all a bit bemused as to the cause of death. It was still completely intact, which meant that it must have died very recently and it seemed like its head was caught up in the tree that had half broken off and was lying on the ground. Since it might have died from some sort of disease, our driver was going to report the incident to the park ranger for further investigation.

Our final stop before reaching the crater rim was a small Maasai settlement where we were going to meet the Maasai people and even go into their village. It was quite a treat for us since we had not planned on visiting the Maasai until the other day when our guide told us about the possibility. We met their young chief and duly parted with a financial contribution of $20 for the privilege of the visit before going into the settlement. We saw Maasai craftwork, their huts from inside and out and also a group of them that were singing and dancing. Their dances are practiced by the men only and seem to revolve around jumping very high into the air where they stand. We also got to see their school and enjoyed interacting with a group of about twenty or so children ranging from four to seven years of age. We gave a small donation to their school appropriations fund and also handed them a handful of pens. Since the pens were given to the chief and it was clear that they were going to be used by the children in the school, this was one of those few situations where it was appropriate to make such an offering.

The young chief spoke very good English and seemed to be quite the shrewd businessman. It was only after we had parted with our $20 entrance fee that he then hit us up for another donation for the school and then asked us if we would like to make a crafts purchase from one of the several village women that were displaying their wares. One of the women wanted to exchange a $5 bill for some Tanzanian Shillings so we bought a Maasai necklace from her to help facilitate the change. When she approached me initially, stealthily, and subtly asked if I could change money, it brought the memories of the ‘money changing touts’ on the streets of Victoria Falls flooding back.

We chatted with the chief for a while and he answered many of our questions about Maasai life before he noticed Sandy’s watch. He soon made it clear that he wanted the watch and then took me to one side (out of earshot of Sandy) to try to bargain with me for it. Since Sandy wouldn’t budge, I had to let him down but we did agree to send him some watches and school exercise books once we got back to Europe.

We left the Maasai village with a feeling that we were much richer for the experience and headed up the hillside towards the crater rim. It gets quite a bit colder the farther up you go but the view of the inside of the crater from the rim is quite a sight to behold. We will spend two nights and one and a half days exploring the crater and our only real objective will be to catch a glimpse of the one remaining animal in Africa that we are now desperate to see – the Leopard. We remain very hopeful as we probably have a much better chance of seeing one in the crater versus anywhere else in Africa. The very nature of the physical limitations of the crater means that the animals don’t leave and we know that there are plenty of Leopards down there. It’s also a relatively small area and this should also increase our chances.

It was a very long day today and the two of us collectively took nine hundred and seventy eight photos altogether. I started another new photo library and had to delete one of the existing ones. I was reluctant to do so but since the disk was nearly completely full after today’s additions, it was a necessary evil. Since Jacqueline has already confirmed receipt of the DVD backups of the first four photo libraries, it should be OK. I will probably need to upgrade the hard disk to a much bigger one before we set off again in August/September.