Elephant, Rhino, Hippo, Buffalo, Zebra, Giraffe, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Serval, Warthog, Hyena, Jackal, Eland Antelope, Waterbuck, Hartebeest, Wildebeest, Topi, Thompsons’s Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle, Impala, Reedbuck, Bushbuck, Oribi Antelope, Dik-Dik, Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Blue Monkey, Rock Hyrax, Tree Hyrax, Banded Mongoose, Grey Hare, Dormouse, Nile Crocodile, Python, Spitting Cobra, Leopard Tortoise, Water Monitor, Chameleon, Rock Agama, Gecko, Flat Lizard, Ostrich, Pelicans, Storks, Herons, Egrets, Orioles, Egrets, Ibis, Geese, Lapwings, cranes, Secretary Birds, Eagles, Vultures, Goshawks, Kestrels, Guineafowl, Bustards, Owls, Kingfishers, Rollers, Hornbills, Sparrows.
Note: Use the flickr link on the right to see more photos (Yes there are a few…my Mom looks at them :)). Best to click on the “Tanzania 2009″ set and view slideshow.
African Safari. On many peoples “to do before I die” list and in our case, one of the best things we’ve ever done! So why not do it in one of the best game parks in Africa - the Serengeti. Big 5 here we come!
The great thing about the Serengeti is that you don’t even have to be in it to see awesome animals. On the way there we found a bunch of Giraffes and a herd of Zebra and a large family of baboons. But once you actually get into the park you become overwhelmed. Many people don’t realize this but the Serengeti is actually a cool climate plateau situated about 1000 meters above sea level. To get there you have to climb up and over a ridge formed by ancient volcanoes providing a stunning view back to lake Manayara. You think you have seen one of the most beautiful sights ever until and hour later you reach the famed Ngorogoro crater. This 19 km wide hole IS the lost world! You peer over the rim and see small forests, open pastures and a large mirror like lake and to your right is a guy with a sub machine gun?!?!?
So you ask, “dude, why the heavy artillery?”
“protect you from lions”, he calmly remarks
You slowly walk backwards from the rim and get back into your 4WD Land Cruiser. I asked our super knowledgeable driver Habib what actually lives down in the crater. His answer - “everything!” I looked back into the crater half expecting to see a pterodactyl! Habib would take us down there but not until after the Serengeti as Ngorogor’s over abundance of wildlife in such a small area could spoil the rest of trip and is therefore best done last. It was a great thing we had Habib to do the planning, his 14 years of experience in the Serengeti let him know where to go and when to get there to have the best experience. Another great thing about Habib was that he seemed to have had a surgery which had implanted permanent binoculars where his eyes once were. He could spot animals that were miles away and tell you what sex they were. Often even with binoculars we would just be able to make out a dark smudge that would then morph into the animal Habib had mentioned as we drove closer.
Story 1 - The Hunt
We pulled up to a rather uninteresting and lazy looking group of Wildebeest. About two seconds after stopping Habib calls out “Lion in the grass” The Lion had been crouched down watching the wildebeest and had made a decision to use our vehicle as cove to get closer to the heard. We watched the lion break into a trot along side the vehicle and the explode in a burst of speed at the end of our front bumper. The wildebeest herd freaked out and split in two main groups heading in opposite directions. A few unlucky wildebeest didn’t know which way to go and the lion quickly locked onto to one of these. 10 seconds and a hundred meters later the lion swiped out the rear leg of the beast. As it hit the ground the lion automatically clamped it jaws around the throat. We rolled up along side and watched the flailing kicks of the wildebeest as it struggled for it life. It’s lips peeled back from it’s teeth as it gasped for air. After five minutes the wildebeest had stopped moving and the lion was exhausted. The lion just lay there panting for another ten minutes before summoning the strength to drag the carcass a few feet into the tall grass. What an amazing thing to witness. It was like watching discovery channel but in real life. We couldn’t help feel bad for the wildebeest but, hey, a lion’s got to do what a lion’s got to do.
Story 2 - The Grumpy Elephant
We had spent an entire day in the northern Serengeti searching for a large heard of elephants that we had heard about. While we saw a lot of other things, elephants remained elusive. How hard could it be to find a bunch of 2 tonne animals?!?!? So it was with our heads hung low that we headed back to Migration Camp at about 6 pm. of course what did we find less than a kilometre away from our luxury tent? Fifty Elephants walking beside the road. We got great pics of mothers herding newborns, a large 20 year old mail feeding and then our way was blocked. A 70 year old male with huge tusks was in the road right in front of us. We challenged him a few times by pulling up within about 10 meters. Each time he would turn towards us and trumpet to give us a bit of a warning. No matter what we tried he would not get out of the road though. So after about thirty minutes of slowly following this grumpy old guy we finally found a suitable break in the dense vegetation to off road around him. Once he saw that we got in front of him he let out one last great call as if to say that we cheated!. It’s a truly amazing experience to get to spend time with an old timer like this guy as there are very few elephants lucky enough to reach this age now in Africa.
Story 3 - Whats better than seeing a cheetah cub?
Two of the harder things to find in the Serengeti are leopards and cheetahs. Right up until the end of our week long Safari we had been tied with 3 leopards and 3 cheetahs. Just before getting to the gate on the way out the tie was broken by a sleepy leopard high up in a tree. We were sure leopards were the winner but then on the other side of the gate along came a cheetah. Most cheetah have small litters of two or three but this one had six cubs in tow! They were super fuzzy, with big round heads and still free of spots.
When we told an experienced guide about it he said “No way!! 6 cubs! That’s unheard of”. Partially because the mother cheetah typically eats the runt of the litter to regain the energy she’s lost from pushing out 6 cubs and not hunting for a few weeks. I guess this mother cheetah had a soft heart!
For us, Africa is one of our last frontiers. We both had no idea what to expect. I for one was filled with anxiety about it. Would it be safe, clean, friendly? As usual, my anxieties were completely wrong and with little merit. Tanzania is incredible. It is very clean, especially compared to northern India. Tanzania has a very high education/literacy rate. There are very few (if any) starving people as circa 1980’s pbs television. The people are super friendly very relaxed. Hakuna Matata is a lifestyle. Everywhere you go people are welcoming you with calls of “Jambo jambo“. Anyone in a rush has “pole pole” (slowly slowly) called out to them. We could get used to this.
Our fist big adventure was a trip to the island Zanzibar, an island famous for trading in spices and notorious for being the last trading market for slaves. As your ferry boat nears Zanzibar the waters become a beautiful azure blue and seem to highlight the old buildings of Stonetown. Stonetown is a maze of narrow passages filled with tourist shops, coffee houses, churches, hostels and restaurants. You could get lost for hours wandering the alleyways. We were immediately taken by the artwork, sculptures an fabrics of Africa which seemed to speak to us much more clearly than those of India. There were so many things we wanted to purchase that it was one of those times we regretted the limitations imposed by long term travel.We easily passed 5 days in Zanzibar visiting small villages, swimming in crystal clear waters and just enjoying the laid back life in Stone Town.
“Karibu” - Welcome to Africa!