Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sunday, 16 September 2007 -- Ngornogoro to Serengeti

Our knock came promptly at 6 AM. Once again we kept the screen closed and door open, so we were quite comfortable. We chose to have breakfast this morning, so we strolled down at about 7:15. The porters picked up our bags as always.

This time I climbed in the back of the jeep, and E sat in front of me in the middle row. Driving out we saw two amazing sights. First, there was universal evidence that elephants use the rim road during the night, as fallen branches littered the path. We clearly had to drive around them. Then a little bit later on we backed up so Steven could show us the remains of a porcupine fight - it clearly lost, quills everywhere. Although no doubt the cat wasn't exactly feeling great.

We continued along the rim road to the NCA main office, for the first of three rest stops this morning. Something strange about seeing a dish on top of the facilities. But it looks like the whole area is getting serious upgrades. This main building is getting a huge expansion and all the roads are being resurfaced. When that's done, Micato may extend stays in the Crater area to visit what will then be more accessible parts.

Now the extremely bumpy part began. The road leaving the Crater heading down is horrible. It's just barely a road, really. Actually we all laughed about it in our cruiser. But we imagine the Winnabego family might not be having a great time. Then again, given that we woke up to a tremor, perhaps we should have expected it. Every now and then we had to work around the zebras in the road.

We eventually made it to Oldupai Gorge, where we visited the exhibits showing the discoveries of homo habilis and homo erectus, and Australopithecus. The Maasai speaker gave a great talk while we sat overlooking the site. There was something odd at first about seeing him with a cell phone, but as we've learned there are those within the tribe that have accepted a bit more in the way of modern life than others.

Around lunch time we finally made it to Serengeti National Park - at last, I'm here! The name means "endless plains." This is not an exaggeration. It looks like the whole world turned into savannah grass, acacias, and inhabitants. I knew it would be impressive, but not like this.

We ate box lunches at the visitor's center, made up of yesterday's awesome lunch at hippo pool (the lunch, not the visitor's center). I ate every last bite, down to both chocolate bars, then immediately regretted it. I probably ate too fast - understandable though, given how excited I was.

But I quickly forgot about it. Renny gave a very brief talk about the Park (he really is a ranger) then led us up the path to the overlook, which was the inspiration for Price Rock in The Lion King. From here you can see to the ends of the Earth, truly. I think I have to rank this view up there with the view on the road to Denali National Park, Alaska, and from the top of the mountain in Salzburg, Austria.

We drove out to our lodge, doing some game spotting on the way. Our first big sight was a gorgeous male lion sitting in the grass. The wind was blowing through his mane - it looked so soft! And with our cameras we can get extreme close-ups. A bit further we found two golden jackals. It looked like they were hunting, but there wasn't much in the way of prey to be found where we were.

Steven stopped to show us how the Grant's establish themselves. They circle around in small loops over and over. This establishes position within the herd. I don't quite understand it.

A kopjes is a rock cropping, formed as much as 4.5 billion years ago. The pressure of hot magma forces pieces of earth up to the surface and beyond. Much like an iceberg, the majority of the rock is below the surface.

It was on a kopjes that we had our first of two magnificent lion sightings. On this rock were a male with a large mane, a juvenile male, there lionesses, and one cub. Fantastic. Again, the wind blows through their manes, making them look soft and fluffy. We were the second cruiser to arrive, so we got some great shots. The cub chewed on the momma's ear, rolled over a bit, walked a little. Everyone adored it. Eventually two vehicles moved off-road to get a better view, which is a big no-no. Steven let the other driver have it, politely. We took a few more shots and moved on.

Later, during drinks, I would ask Renny about this. He and I agreed that there is a problem when the very act of observing the animals changes their behavior you are there to observe. (I believe there is a scientific principle similar to this concept, something about studying particle behavior.) Anyway, he said all they can really do is stick to the fifteen minute observation limit. I think there's a big philosophical question here, but that's for another time.

A bit later on we came to a little area where two vehicles were parked, looking down into a gully. We couldn't see them at first, but as we crested the hill we saw them - a pair of mating lions. they mate very regularly for about five to seven days. We hung out and watched them for about 15 minutes, until the sardine can showed up. This is a huge truck designed for viewing, filled with real campers that sleep inside. Usually these guys spend 12 weeks, rolling from Cape Town to Cairo. I find them annoying, as they are loud and really clutter up the view. Meanwhile, there was a second mating pair not too far in the distance. This set was part of the same pride. If there is enough land, then you can find two dominant males together.

Our final excursion was a leopard 'hunt.' We got word of a cat in some trees not too far, so we hightailed it (no pun intended) over there. When we arrived we discovered that he had his kill at the base of the tree. We decided to wait. It really is neat, sitting out in the middle of the Serengeti, binocs around the neck, with a bunch of other 'hunters,' waiting for that elusive show. You could tell others were enjoying it the same way. One group was just sitting there, eating cookies! It sort of felt like kindred spirits all around.

The leopard never showed, so we headed to the Sopa lodge. Renny says this is his favorite, and I see why. The entire facility overlooks the Park. Each room has a balcony facing out over the plains. There is a ton of open sitting area outside. This is where we had our sundowners. They set up a fire, with chairs encircled, serving drinks and snacks. Tonight the wine was flowing. I think everyone was thrilled to be here and wished to celebrate. I myself probably had more than I should, but I couldn't resist. The meal was fantastic. Two hours later, I was asleep.


Karin said...

What a great adventure. Thanks for sharing it. How come there's no profile in your profile?

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