Incredible Serengeti

January 26, 2008 - Serengeti, Tanzania

our first full day in the Serengeti, which proved to be one of the highlights of the safari, started with a very early morning game drive. Getting up before dawn reminded me of when I was a kid and my dad would take my brother and I fishing before sunrise. Although on this day we weren't in search of Lake Huron Perch but rather The African Big Five - Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino - in the world famous Serengeti. It didn't disappoint.

Driving slowly on the rough dirt roads in the darkness of the Serengeti with our heads sticking out of the top of the truck was in itself quite the experience. Very shortly into our drive a female lion crossed the road ahead of us. At first we weren't sure what it was as we scanned the dark bush for the animal but she came back onto the road, walking ahead of the truck. She was making deep grunting sounds, evidently calling for her cub. The lion then cut into the bush where we saw her reunite with her cub and then they went deeper beyond our sight. Not too long after that encounter with a lion we came very close to a whole pride made up of three females and a number of cubs of different ages and sizes, a couple of them were very young.

Bariki then took us to a known water hole that was completely full of hippos. We were actually allowed to get out of the truck to get close to the water's edge. He warned us to not get too close due to the potential dangers of the hippos and crocodiles. There was one hippo on land, fortunately on the opposite side of the water than us. He was slowly walking towards the water but then began to charge as he got close creating a huge splash as he landed among all the other hippos.

After a leisurely breakfast back at the lodge we headed out again for another game drive. It was then when we experienced a close encounter with group of elephants. As we approached the area we noticed five elephants, including one baby, getting out of a water hole. For the most part they weren't bothered by our presence and they carried on with their grass eating (elephants eat 6% of their body weight a day, that's 360kg for a full grown male that ways 6000kg) until a mid-size elephant started getting agitated and was making a lot of noise while facing the truck. He approached the truck at an aggresive pace but stopped short by about 10 - 15 feet. We were a little startled by his actions. They went back to their business until later one of the very large elephants approached the truck from behind. It was getting extremely close to the truck when Bariki asked us to please be very quiet. Bariki is a very shy and timid person so we knew that he really meant it. At this point we were all sticking out of the truck but Namita decided to drop down to the safety of the truck walls and windows. We continued to take photos and whispered in excitement as the elephant got even closer while passing the side of the truck. Bariki repeated his earlier request but this time with a increased assertiveness. I stopped taking photographs (my camera's shutter makes a clicking noise) and remained perfectly still as this massive animal lumbered within two feet of me. At this point, even though I wanted to, it was too late for me to slide back into my seat as I was afraid the quick movement could startle the elephant into charging the vehicle. I felt like I was in that Jurassic park scene where the T-Rex is outside the truck looking in for a sign of life, although I wasn't behind glass. For some reason as the elephant passed me I had this sudden urge to break out in laughter but fortunately I was able to contain myself. The elephant actually touched the hood of the car as he walked away.

It's common practice for guides to stop and talk to each other as their trucks pass on the singe lane dirt roads. They speak in the native language, Swahili, so their passengers don't understand what is being said. They ask each other if they have come across anything of interest. Regardless of the answer they never share the information with their clients. However we could tell if it was something real big by the speed at which the guide started driving after one of these brief encounters. On one particular occasion, Bariki stopped and spoke to a guide heading in the other direction, after a quick exchange of words Bariki took off in the direction we were facing. There were two other trucks in front of us obviously in the possession of the same information that Bariki had. All three trucks were driving at an unusually fast past along the rough dirt roads and sharp corners. We figured this had to be something good but Bariki wouldn't let on what it was, concerned that we might not get to see it. Guides and Tour companies don't promise anything so you won't be disappointed. As we approached the site we could see at least ten trucks all jockeying for a good position on the road (it's against park regulation to leave the roads) so the passengers would have a good view of a nearby Acacia tree. As we neared we could see what everyone was looking at - the ever elusive and shy leopard - a male leopard defends 100 square kilometers of territory and females defend smaller territories within the males. The leopard was laying on long branch of the Acacia tree, essentially oblivious to the crowd it had attracted (at one point there must have been 20 trucks. All the trucks were camped out, waiting to see if the cat (considered the hardest of the African Big Five game to see) would change positions or ideally climb down the tree and walk closer to the road for a better view. We over heard that one of the guys had been there 3.5 hours.  We hadn't yet eaten our boxed lunch (provided by the lodge) so we were all up for getting comfortable and waiting to see what if anything the Leopard would do. There was only one problem. Namita had to go to the washroom. As I'm sure you can imagine there are very few washrooms in the Serengeti. They are only at lunch spots and there wasn't anything nearby. So the three of us spent the next ten minutes trying to convince Namita to 'go' behind the truck. Bariki could pull up the road so no other trucks were around. Namita wasn't actually bothered about having to do the deed outside - it was common practice on the Overland camping trip (washroom breaks on the side of the highway - boys in front of the truck, girls behind the truck) it was that she was afraid of being eaten by a lion or something. Finally she agreed to do it if Terry went with her. We ended up hanging out for a couple of hours, eating and reading and watching. The leopard got up once, stretched and moved down the branch so we got some shots of couple different positions. It was a real treat to see a leopard relatively close, supposedly a rare occurence.

Now that we had seen the leopard we were able to cross off four of the Big Five. We asked Bariki if there was a chance we would see Rhinos in the park. He answered no. The only Rhinos left in the Serengeti were in a fenced off area protected by guards with automatic weapons.

We headed back to the lodge after a very successful day of safari.


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