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Tuesday 24 Feb 2009
Serengeti, Tanzania

Serengeti ... Day 1

There was a bit of a delay heading off in the morning as it turned out Simon had had a flat tire on the way to picking up the Estonian couple, so I was sitting around in the campsite for about an hour after everyone else's jeeps had left, wondering if I'd been left stranded!

I hadn't been feeling particularly well over the past 2 days - I'd been feeling even more "bunged up" after the climb had completed, so was on laxatives. Not the best situation to be going on safari with.

Our first stop was the Olduvi Gorge which initially didn't look particularly spectacular (the gorge itself is only about 30m deep), but the museum there explains how this location contains some of the oldest hominid fossels found on the planet. There is a plaster cast replica of a slab that was dug up which showed the earliest recorded human footprints!

Masaii kid
Maasai kid (sneaky-photo)

We drove on another 3 hours and eventually arrived at the gate that marks the entrance to the Serengeti (the actual border of the Serengeti is little more than a ditch, but there is a gate on the road). The distinctive savannah flatlands dotted with umbrella trees that so typifies "Africa" laid out before us. The reason the Serengeti is so flat is because it was formed when volcanic activity tore apart the plates between which a flat land emerged. The volcanic activity also created solid granite outcroppings (known as "koppes") that appear sporadically and resemble mini-Uluru's.

On our way here we spotted the odd Maasai warrior and also many kids waved to us as we passed (or held their hands out asking for money, which seemed to be even more common Frown). The whole area (formerly called "Maasailand") which encompasses the other parks we were visiting on this safari (Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti) has always been used as a grazing area for the Maasai people for centuries. I had seen a few warriors in Moshi (dressed in their distinctive 'tartan' robes) acting as security guards in the hotel carparks etc (apparently the fierceness of the warriors is so renowned that nobody will try to test their mettle). Unfortunately (and this is something that I found quite common even among town-dwellers in Tanzania) they don't like their photo to be taken or, if you do, they often demand some outrageous payment (I'd heard stories about a guy taking a photo of a Maasai only to be asked after to pay $10 and then another $30 for 3 of his friends that appeared in the background of the shot!!). To refuse to pay gets you into some serious trouble (as we were to find out on the last day of the safari ....).

Aaaanyway, back to the Serengeti... The park is famous for it's annual migrations when hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, etc march away or back in search of water. I had met a couple in the Kindaroko hotel the day before my Kili climb who had incredible photos of the migrating wildebeest taken only a few days earlier but unfortunately when it came to our turn to get to Serengeti we were too late for the migrations Cry

Safari jeep
Bumpy safari jeep "fun"

What was left for us was many many hours of driving around the bumpy roads (me in the back of the jeep so I got the worst of the bumps!) admiring the occasional giraffe, elephant, wildebeest and zebra that would typically appear 1km off in the horizon. Nothing like the close-up action I got the day before at Lake Manyara. Still, though, the landscape was very pleasant (if rather barren at this particular time of year - just after the rainy season is apparently better with the lushness everywhere).

Finally though (and this would become a common occurance with these safaris) the park delivered the goods in one fell swoop. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the bloody scene of a cheetah engorging itself on a freshly-killed antelope. Had we arrived a few minutes earlier we could have seen the kill itself.. damn! There was one other jeep here ahead of us, but as we found would always happen, as soon as you found a goldmine like this, about 10 other jeeps would clamber around you in a matter of minutes (which wasn't always good as this affected the behaviour of the animal being observed)!

Getting stuck in!
Getting stuck in!

Yummy! Giblets anyone?
Yummy! Giblets anyone?

It was amazing to watch though. The cheetah literally got "stuck in" and would bury it's entire head inside the antelope's carcass, ripping out various purple and blue intestines and organs, only for the bloody-head to emerge momentarily to catch a breath and for the cheetah to lick it's lips.

We stayed here for about 30 minutes watching as the lucky thing had the leisure of eating it's fill and taking 5 minute breaks, then getting back in. No other hyenas around to bother it either, which is something we often saw later on.

Camouflaged lion
Camouflaged lion

Finally, feeling a little queasy after our anatomy lesson we drove on in search of more game, but nothing else really spectacular cropped up that day. To be honest the cheetah was amazing to see and really made the day for us, so we were satisfied. It was around this time that the laxatives unfortunately decided to do their thing. The bad thing was, we were in the middle of the Serengeti with high-grasses on either side of the road that could potentially be a hiding place for a hungry lion (check out the pic on the left to see what I mean)! You're not allowed to leave your jeep at all (even to take a whizz) while on safari but with some luck at this very moment we were in a remote area of the Serengeti with no other jeeps around. Simon begrudgingly agreed to let me out, and the other girl in the jeep (I forget her name at the mo) had toilet paper! Score!

Serengeti sunset
Serengeti sunset

After the rather embarrassing turn of events it was getting dark so we finally decided to head back to our camp in the Serengeti plains where we were treated to a yummy slap-up meal in a metal cage enclosure (which also serves as an emergency shelter should our camp come under attack from a pride of lions!).

As I fell asleep the sound of a pack of laughing hyenas broke the slumber for a period, but they eventually scarpered. Phew!

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Day 3  ... Lookin forward to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro

Day 3 ... Lookin forward to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro

With Toto's defining tune ringing in my head, I don khaki pants and venture full-throttle into Africa! Elephants, lions, huge mountains, men with spears intent on stabbing me (probably) and the "Cradle of Humanity" (tm)... 4 weeks ain't gonna be enough!

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