Serengeti; Tuesday Nov 13th – Saturday 17th , 2012
It is about 26 km from Oldupai to the Naabi Gate of Serengeti NP. The land is flat with rock outcrops, kopies, widely scattered. Few trees grow on the plain where there are no water sources. No more Maasai with their cattle; none are allowed in the park. Now we see wildebeest and zebras grazing together. The road is gravel and bumpy. “Real African massage, especially if you in the back seat over the rear wheels.”
The vans turn off the main road onto a dirt track that heads towards a collection of kopies. “Simba.” Sure enough a dozen lion and some cubs lounged in the shade of the rocks. Cubs bounded through the high grass, tumbling into one of the reclined females. Somewhat separate were two males also lounging in rock shade and high grass.
Back on the main track, we drove toward the Rongai Hills where our tent camp was located. The camp is known as Prince Charles Camp since he did stay there during a safari some time ago. On the way along the single rutted dirt track, we came upon a group of three of jackals trying to get a baby warthog away from a grown pair. Dodge, dart, chase, nip, run, turn, feint charge, run; the baby stayed between the two adults. We left with the confrontation unfinished. We had to get to the tent camp in the daylight so we could move in. It is not allowed to walk about in the dark un-escorted.
The camp had ten tents, a large mess tent, cook tents, and service staff tents. They were set back toward the hill and facing the plain; five traveler tents, spaced at 20 yard intervals for privacy, to the right of the mess tent and five to the left. The service tents were in a cluster 50 meters behind the mess tent back toward the hill. When it was dark, each tent had an outside kerosene lantern in front beside the wash basin. Inside the screen windowed front room there were twin beds. A back half had rooms for changing, “navy” shower, and toilet. Small spiral fluorescent bulbs were powered by the small solar panel/battery pack at the back of the tent.
A water-boy would bring a five gallon pail of hot water, hoist it, and fill the gravity feed navy shower reservoir. We were successful with getting two quick showers from the single five gallon fill. In the afternoon and morning he could also bring warm water to wash up in. He brought the refilled kerosene lantern before dark. The flame gave minimal light but was intended to keep the animals away at night. During the darktime, we could hear animals, hyenas and lions, in the bush not far from the tents. Our last morning we were awakened around 4 by triumphal lion roaring; a morning kill, probably a gazelle.
Meals were served in the three sided mess tent. Breakfast and lunch was buffet, and dinner was plate served. The food was very well done and wine, beer, and liquor was available after 4 PM. Good food and beverage; it would not be good to have unhappy tourists. It was interesting to see that all service had to be walked 50 yards from the kitchen area to the mess tent.
We were in Serengeti for four days; most tours are there only two. After seeing the major “must see” animals, we had the luxury of hunting for specific animals in specific situations. The typical day schedule for our four days at Prince Charles.
We wake at night when animals “holler”. About 5 or so the sky begins to be pre-dawn with indigo and pinks changing to red and orange and yellow. Birds sing and fly about. Up at 6 and wash at the outdoor basin now filled with warm water. Usually I would set up to try to shoot a sunrise which looked different each morning. Breakfast buffet by 7. We tried to leave camp early to get some good animal viewing in as they are active early and late in the daylight. Midday, they are hard to find. Drive and search for animals in the AM. I was amazed at the skill that the driver/guides possessed; driving rutted tracks and searching the horizon for the signs of animals. They were well schooled with information about the animals, birds, and locale. One very early morning drive, we found a pride of a dozen or more lions on the road just as the sun was rising. There were five cubs wrestling and playing and scampering about on the dusty road. We had to park and watch since they occupied the road. Eventually they played off into the bush and we moved on. Another time while driving along the main gravel road, a rock was kicked up by a passing van. It flew into the closed window beside Meg, crashing and sending showers of window glass all over her. She turned slightly as it flew and wasn’t cut…shaken but not cut. If the window had been open…? Apparently broken windows are not uncommon as we saw another van with a broken out side window the next day.
Buffet lunch and “discover pillow” time until a 3 PM afternoon drive to a different location to search for more animals and scenes. Recharging batteries could be done between noon and 3 PM and from 9PM until breakfast. They were left at the mess tent and gang charged at the kitchen tent by staff. Those who did not have alternate charged batteries regretted that choice. Meg and I each had two batteries for each camera.
Afternoon drive for more animal views; zebra and wildebeest, giraffes, rhino, lions, warthogs, and hyenas, and gazelles, and jackals, and all kinds of birds. Oh yeah, cape buffalos and crocodiles and hippos and elephants and …? On the last full day we were rewarded with a cheetah with cub near the road, and later a leopard with fresh killed gazelle in a tree. This time the leopard had the gazelle in its mouth, climbing about in the tree, moving it to a convenient branch.
In the late afternoon, rain clouds with virga began to appear. Sometimes the virga actually reached the ground and it rained locally. The light play with the sky and clouds was amazing. But it seems that I was the only one in the vans to ask the guide to stop to shoot a landscape. Back to camp before dark at 6 PM. Sunrise and sunset are clockwork here near the equator. Twilight is short; typically less than a half hour. Then it is DARK with only starlight, a camp fire, kerosene lanterns and flashlights. After 10 PM, there are only the stars and lanterns.