Africa Log: Day 7

Steph and I awoke having had less than perfect sleep. We were both anxious about the transfer to Serengeti, as well as what to expect given what other people had said about it. As we packed most of our things the night before, we were showered and ready to go well before the 6:00 escort to breakfast. We said in front of the now extinguished fireplace and thought about our experiences and what was to come. As the appointed time approached, we were perturbed that our escort had not yet arrived. Steph called the front desk, and the receptionist seemed surprised that we wanted an escort, even though it was still dark out. We waited a few minutes and I called again. The receptionist stated directly that someone was on the way.

He arrived a few minutes later and we went to the lodge. The morning was cold and foggy again, but there was no sign of the zebras. The porter who later brought our bags said that he thought there were lions around that had scared the zebras away. Rewengi was waiting with a buffet breakfast when we arrived at the lodge.

For all the luxury of Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, I expect a better breakfast. The buffet consisted of fruit, cheese, salami, muesli, and sticky buns, and Rewengi took the order for our eggs, but it seemed very perfunctory compared to the other meals we have had. While we were eating, I mentioned to Rewengi that our bags were all ready in the room and gave him the key, which seemed momentarily surprise him.

We went to the prescribed meeting place at 6:30 and found the vehicle and our luggage there, but no sign of a driver. The manager went to find Humphrey, which delayed our departure. While we were waiting, I realized that I only had $20s. When the manager returned with Humphrey, I asked him for change, and he mentioned that the store was closed, which was why we had checked out the night before. He took my $20 and ran off in search of change, which also delayed our departure, and returned unsuccessful a few minutes later. We resolved to buy something at the airport to make change.

The drive to the airport on that bumpy road was not so bad. Perhaps we were getting used to it, or perhaps Humphrey was driving slowly because it was so foggy. After several days of searching for animals near and far, our minds were playing tricks on us, and we were seeing ALTs (animal-like things the rangers call them) everywhere. At one point, Humphrey had wiped down the inside of the driver side window but the passenger side was fogged over. I imagined seeing a lioness cross the road in front of us in the blurry side, but it disappeared as soon as it would have appeared in the clear side. While we were waiting for Humphrey to complete some paperwork, we were amused by a troop of baboons that where on the roof of the building we were facing, and sliding down the drainpipe one after another! When we went through the gate and out of the park, the road was paved and smooth, but we still saw ALTs on the way to the airport, including a group of girls in school uniforms that I thought were penguins. We were tired.
When we arrived a Lake Manyara Airstrip, we checked in (a man with a clipboard literally checked off our names), and I asked Humphrey where I could make change. He pulled the man with the clipboard aside and spoke quietly with him, and then the man took my $20 and returned a few minutes later with a $10 and two $5s. We went through the metal detector and I bought a Coke Zero in the waiting area (for $3) and gave the man with the clipboard $1. He looked at it and tapped his finger on it, so I gave him $5. Steph thought that was exorbitant, and I did too, but I didn’t want to make a scene, so I let it go.

The flight to Kogatende Airstrip and Serengeti was not like the flight to Lake Manyara. This time there were already people on the 12 passenger aircraft, and ours was not the only stop. We had to negotiate past the people sitting in the last row and squeeze sideways down the narrow aisle to get to our seats. The flight was also quiet turbulent, though the views from the plane were amazing. As we passed over Ngorongoro Crater, we recognized places we had been to, and as we flew over the savannah we could see animals on the ground. The flight took about an hour altogether.
Upon landing at Kogatende Airstrip, we were met at the steps of the plane by Anthony, our guide in Serengeti. As with the other sites, he had a table of drinks and snacks waiting alongside his Toyota Landcruiser, this time with a popup top and the window flaps removed. After refreshing ourselves, we had some drinks and tried to identify the tracks in the dirt with those in the book we had bought while Anthony went to fill out the paperwork. There had just been a large influx of passengers, so it took about 15 minutes before he returned. When Anthony returned, he identified the tracks as antelope, and also some hyena tracks.
We set out for the Serengeti Under Canvas camp around 11:30, and immediately we came upon several raptor birds on different trees right outside the airstrip. The drive took about an hour, including stops to photograph oribi, topi, antelope, giraffes, eland, zebra including an infant one, and several birds.
On arrival at Serengeti Under Canvas Camp 1, we were greeted in front of the lounge tent by the staff singing a welcome song. We were then briefed by Mussa, the manager about the camp and some rules, and introduced to Mauran, who was our butler. There were only six guests staying at the camp, including us, with one couple leaving early because they were not feeling well. We were advised that they were unwell when they arrived and opted to end they trip early.
We were shown to our tent by Mauren, who explained everything. Tent #1 was the last tent in the row and furthest from the lounge and dining tents. Mauren mentioned that there had been a large quantity of wildebeest grazing outside that tent just last week. The tent was beautiful. We dropped off our gear and redistributed some things from our backpacks to our luggage as we would not need them here. Then we walked back toward the dining tent for lunch.
We noted that a table had been set out on the grass, but we felt a few drops, and it was carried back into the dining tent. While we were eating, it rained a little. Lunch consisted of a beef sausage dish, roasted beets, beans, and some mixed vegetables. The rain stopped before we had finished eating, and we decided to relax in the lounge tent until our 4:30 game drive.

The couple that was leaving early, who were from Denver came to the lounge tent and told us of the mall bombing in Nairobi. The woman seemed a little unnerved by it, possibly because they were flying out of Nairobi, also because they had mixed experiences. Their trip had consisted of three countries, they had become ill somewhere along the way, it took two days via multiple small planes to get from South Africa to Serengeti under canvas, with lots if visas and paperwork along the way.

Hearing their story, with our experiences, I was glad that we went through Maureen took care of all the details, and all of her recommendations panned out nicely. There had been no snags, all the facilities were nice and the people friendly, and we hadn’t even needed to produce our vouchers for anything.

The only thing that was slightly annoying is that we were waiting, on the Serengeti, by ourselves. There were no other guests, and the staff had disappeared. We took a walk around the camp. We didn’t know how far was safe to wander. We walked up toward the administrative area and spied several staff members playing soccer. We returned to the lounge tent and poured ourselves some drinks. While we were waiting, the sky turned gray and the wind kicked up. It looked as though more rain was coming.

When Anthony arrived with the vehicle, the sun was out once again. We did a short circuit in the vicinity of the camp and saw a wide variety of antelope. It dawned on me that where we live there is only one species of deer, and they are only seen infrequently. On Serengeti there a dozen species of antelope, which are essentially deer, and there are thousands of them. We also saw a young male lion basking on a rock, who posed nicely for us.
We stopped under a tree for some snacks and drinks, and watched our first spectacular African sunset. Then we returned to camp around 7:00 to rest before dinner at 8:00.
Mauren arrived and escorted us to a table in the cleared area by the lounge tent. Dinner included zucchini soup, roasted lamb, stiff porridge, and chickpea curry, with fresh strawberries for dessert.

The meal was delicious, but it got rather cold after the sun went down, and breezy. The sky was cloudy, so we couldn’t see the moon or any stars, and it was really dark.

After dinner we had some tea in the lounge tent. We thought we were going to share out pictures with Anthony, but he had already left camp. We finished our tea and Mauren escorted us back to our tent, where we changed and went to bed. The bed was nice and warm on account of hot water bottles under the thick blankets.

Author: joabstieglitz

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