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The Mighty Serengeti

June 15th, 2008 · No Comments

When I was a kid I wanted to do lots of things when I grew up, some things were not so realistic, I can see that now. How on earth can a little girl who is now a 5.7″ women become a jockey? Well other dreams are realistic and one of my dreams was to travel to the Serengeti.

I was so excited about spending 3 days in the Serengeti that I am sure my partner Julian was thinking about throwing me to a pack of lions.

Our driver Moshi picked us up in a squeaky clean four x four which by the end of the trip became so dirty that I could barely recognise it. On the way to the National Park I visualised all the Serengeti documentaries I had seen and then I started to become anxious. What if the reality didn’t fit with my dream? What if we didn’t see any animals? What if I didn’t see my cliche giraffe eating from an acacia tree? I decided not to set my expectations too high, I had heard that not everyone gets the chance to see the big five named so for their ferociousness- the Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, Lion and Rhino. Unfortunately my Golden Retriever Gypsy just missed out being one of the big five.

I saw two unexpected things- we passed a couple of Massi (nomadic tribe) and did a double take. Usually the Massi are walking along by the side of road, working in the fields you know the usual nomadic day to day stuff. These two Massi had decided to have a morning break and were ‘going for it’ by the side of the road. I guess Massi aren’t to worried about lions then.

I had expected to see a couple of live animals at least in the first instance, instead our driver slowed the vehicle, in an instant a pungent smell hit our nostrils. It was a dead giraffe with vultures pecking away at its neck and back. For some reason I wasn’t horrified, I realised this was nature, this was life and this was the food chain. I took in all the details … even the splattered white bird droppings on its fallen neck.

Giraffe being eaten by Buzzards

The Serengeti heat was intensifying and we poked our heads through the roof of the four x four, I could see miles and miles of Serengeti plains and that’s when I spotted my giraffe eating from an acacia tree. A cliche come true.  (OK its not exactly an acacia tree but close enough!)

As we drove deeper and deeper into the Serengeti my smile widened further than I thought possible. My heart skipped a beat when I heard Moshi say ‘Lions’. There she was perched lazily on her rock looking a little bored, not overly interested in us but at the same time watchful. She was marked with battle scars and flies swarmed around her mouth.  She was beautiful.

On the way to our first camp site a family of baboons were sprinting along (from what?), a large flock of beautiful birds were nesting in trees and then I saw my second cliche- the silhouette of a giraffe eating from an acacia tree at sunset. What magnificent orange hues the mighty Serengeti sunset surrenders to its visitors.

At our campsite we all pitched or tents very close to other tents as if somehow that would provide a sense of comfort in the unfenced campsite. There is nothing like falling asleep to the sound of cackling hyenas and the sound of roaring lions. I have heard that lions are more frightened of humans than we are of them. Still the sign saying ‘Please do not leave the campsite -animals may attack’ did not provide much comfort.

At the next campsite, Julian came into the tent one evening after going to the toilet, casually announcing that he saw an elephant peering at him from behind a bush! That night we heard un-human footsteps outside our tent along with some strange un-human like noises….. in the morning we found that our water bottles we had left outside during the night had been ‘explored’ by whatever unidentified beast was outside. We all took turns to guess what might have been out there and agreed that it would be much more exciting to say that it was a lion.

Another outstanding experience was our ‘interaction’ with an male elephant. A herd of elephants were crossing the ‘road’ so we stopped quite close to them, the baby elephant was the last to cross… all of a sudden we heard a loud trumpet noise coming from our side and we turned around to see big daddy staring us front on with ears flapping furiously… this is elephant for…..Right now, that’s enough move on before I loose my patience! During the plane trip to Africa I read a wonderful book called Whatever you do, Don’t run. There was a great tip about elephants charging. Apparently when an elephant mock charges his trunk is loose but if he serious about charging his trunk is tucked away safely. ‘Moshi’ I cried, ‘the trunk is tucked’, the tunk is trunked (say this over an over and see what comes our of you mouth then!) Moshi had no idea what the word ‘tucked’ or ‘trunked’ meant but he knew the Eli meant business so he put his foot down on the accelerator and off we went. Someone once asked me why I just don’t go to a zoo to see African animals. ‘Are you mad’, I responded ‘I would much rather prefer to be charged by an elephant thanks’.

There is another side to elephants than furious ear flapping and being ‘trunked’. We saw another herd of elephants munching on some tree bark. Moshi turned the jeep off, it was incredibly peaceful and all we could here was the sound of these wonderful ancient beasts munching on their tree bark.

The animals were most active in the the Ngorongoro Crater. Zebra’s were frolicking and rolling around on their backs, hundreds of flamingos lining the water and transforming it into a pink shimmering sheet, lions walking stealthy towards a drinking hole and two elephants twisting their trunks around each other in play. We spotted two black rhino (thank god for the binoculars) and witnessed a kill courtesy of Mr Jackal and Mrs Flamingo.

I noticed the Wilderbeest and Zebra were hanging around together at the water hole and thought it was odd. Moshi explained that this is for protection . A zebra will go for a drink and make a certain noise to advise his fellow Zebras that all is well on the predator front. The Wilderbeest recognise this noise and is reassures them its safe. What a team!

I was torn between feelings of sadness and amazement at our next encounter. Moshi spotted three lionesses in the distance by the time we reached them two vehicles were there. We could see in the distance that the lionesses were trying to make their way to a drinking hole. Unfortunately our vehicles were blocking their path. By the time the lionesses reached us there were 24 vehicles blocking their path. I could sense the lionesses were pretty calm about the whole blockade, they would walk, casually stop to check things out and maneuver there way until the were forced to weave in and out between the vehicles. The lionesses were so close to our vehicle, Moshi had been able to somehow precisely line up our vehicle at the point where they needed to cross before all the other 20 vehicles arrived. If I had stretched my arm out I would have been able to touch them. Was this normal for the lionesses? Where they used to weaving around vehicles? I couldn’t be sure.

Searching for water

We were very lucky to see a Leopard, unlike lazy lions, leopards are hard to ‘spot’ in the Serengeti (oh I do enjoy puns) and if spotted they usually don’t like to hang around for long. The first time we saw one I only got to see the tip of its tail while its was slinking away in the long grass, the next day though we were rewarded for an entire 10 seconds when our driver got wind that a leopard was nearby. He put his foot down on the accelerator, dust flying all around us until we reached the tree where the leopard was been dozing. As soon as we arrived the leopard bolted down the tree, I had my binoculars so I was able to see him whilst Julian took three quick snaps of the leopard descending from the tree before his spots disappeared into the long grass again.

I love taking photos however the more I travel the better I have learnt to appreciate the moment rather than capturing that moment on film.  Sometimes we get so carried away with taking that perfect shot that we forget to experience what is front of us.  Breathe the moment don’t freeze the moment.

For 3 days in the Serengeti I actually thought of nothing except for the thrill of animal spotting. It’s one of those rare moments in life when you feel totally free and there is not a problem in the world. Travelling in a jeep for hours and hours, is a bumpy and uncomfortable experience , not to mention you get really really dusty and internally bruised but you don’t care because you have the Serengeti wind in your hair and you feel privileged to have been allowed entry into this mighty animal kingdom.

Tags: serengeti · travel

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