Another in our OBT series.
Venturing out on the rolling savanna of the Serengeti was even better than I imagined. The sweeping vistas with herds of many iconic animals never ceased to surprise and amaze. All of the Big Five were visible in time, even the elusive black rhino.
It took us 2 flights and a long, uncomfortable layover in Dar Es Salaam before we arrived in Nairobi from Zanzibar. We had a spare day before our tour started and we spent much of it online, catching up on things. The next morning, we set out from our hotel for the 6-hour drive to the Maasai Mara National Park in the Serengeti, where we would spend the next 4 nights roaming the savanna. Arriving at our posh camp early afternoon, we had lunch and set out for a couple of hours of game drive. Everything was immediately fascinating. We stopped for gazelle, zebra, buffalo, etc. Although quite tired, we returned to our tent cabin excited for longer drives the next day.
Glamping Doesn’t Suck
As tent cabins go, ours was very posh. The furnishings were all beautiful, functional and well maintained. We had a large private bathroom and were well away from the noise of the common area. The only things remotely rustic were the canvas walls on three sides and lack of AC, phone or TV.
The food was included and was decent. There was even a roaming guitar player at night who seemed especially enamored with Hotel California. This was definitely glamping and it really didn’t suck.
We were lucky to have a few cheetah encounters during our drives. The first was a mother with 7 cubs, which is quite rare, given they usually have a litter of 5 or less. Of course, more mouths need more food, which concerned Diana. Happily (for them), we found them with a kill the next day, as may be discernible in these pictures.
Another encounter was with what I call the Bad Boys of the Savanna. Five cheetah brothers lazing under a tree by the road. When they finally arose to start tracking some prey, they certainly were intimidating. I know I wouldn’t want to stare them down.
Similar to the Bad Boys, most of the lions we saw were passing time. Especially cool were the cubs we found. As Mel Brooks said, it’s good to be the king.
We did manage to see leopards (perhaps the same one) twice. The first time was in the shade by a creek, which made it very hard to see. Apparently, they prefer to be there or in a tree by the water, waiting to pounce from above on prey coming to drink. After a kill, they pull the prey into a tree to ward off other contenders for the carcass. The second encounter was much more public, where the leopard was unsuccessfully tracking a herd of Thompson’s Gazelle. Although across a wash from us, it was still fairly close and quite a treat to watch the chase and aftermath.
Most days, it didn’t take long to find elephants. Their size and profile made them easy to spot. The herds often numbered about a dozen animals, usually with a couple of young ones scampering about.
They were always fun to watch.
A Rhino and some Hippos
Near dusk on the final night, we found a black rhino at a distance on the edge of some brush. They can be very hard to spot, as their diet of trees and brush often keeps them concealed. Earlier, we spotted some hippos in the Mara River, which crosses through the park on its way to Tanzania. Again, even at a distance, they could be entertaining.
Along the savanna and washes, we saw many of the usual suspects: various antelope (Thompson’s Gazelle, Hartebeest, Eland, Impala, Topi, Dik Dik, Grant’s Gazelle, Waterbuck, Bush Buck) and birds (Egyptian Goose, Ostrich, Crowned Crane, Guinea Fowl, Vulture, Stork, Hammercock, Ground Hornbill, Plover, Secretary, Hoopoe, Eagle, Long-tail Starling), Cape Buffalo, Crocodile, Spotted Hyena, Zebra, Giraffe, WartHog, Jackal, Wildebeest, Vervet Monkeys, Baboons and Banded Mongoose. Here is a selection:
The Paparazzi and Our Vehicle
Being high season, many safari vehicles were out and about. On particularly rare sightings, there could be upwards of 20 vehicles vying for a prized photo op. That leopard hunt I referred to earlier might have gone better, for the leopard, if it wasn’t for the massive trove of folks looking on and chasing the prey away, us included.
Our vehicle was quite old and a bit broken-down, making all of the drives less pleasant. Our driver frequently had to find alternate wash crossing when he encountered one that was doable in a better vehicle. The piece de resistance came when we nearly missed our departure flight because our bags were stuck in the back hatch and he wasn’t able to open it for 10 minutes. The Air Kenya baggage guy came over and kicked the door open while Diana held the plane. I don’t really know how to prevent getting a bum truck in the future, we shall see.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience I wish everyone could share in (over-tourism notwithstanding). Nothing compares to seeing these creatures in their native habitats against the sweeping vistas of the savanna.
Which animals do you want to see most?