Day 1: Welcome to the Jungle
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Thursday morning we were up at 5:30 followed by breakfast and the trip to the Arusha airport where we boarded a 12 seater puddle jumper and flew to a red clay tarmac in the middle of the Serengeti to pick up six others tourist. Next we flew to an orange dirt tarmac near the Tanzania/Kenya border. Thankfully, I have yet to get sick since I’ve eating Bonine like Tic Tacs. I mean, I get car sick riding to Boston and now I’ve volunteered to fly for 24 hours, then get on a very small plane, to which Greg at one point said, do you feel how thin the air is? Do you notice the lack of oxygen? I quickly glanced up to see there was no place for the oxygen mask to come down. But good news, I did not get sick! Our female, solo pilot, Niaoma, was awesome!!
We step out and meet Peter who is to be our tour guide and from now on known as our BFF for the next 10 days. One comment about luggage, ADS provided excellent advice about packing including the reminder that ‘fashion’ has no place on safari so it is hysterical when we get off the plane to see this huge, over-sized, must be checked suitcase. I look at Greg and we both thank ADS after we stopped laughing. We leave the airport straight for the bush and an exciting day of scouting.
Now, I’m going to try to be truthful in these reports, but as many of you know, I’m not above letting the truth get in the way of a good story as Greg is famous for saying. On that note, our first (Greg’s) official African Safari sighting was a plain, ordinary, everyday lizard. Luckily it gets better quickly. For future reference, the story will start with my first official spotting of the hippos in the water since this is much cooler! We’ve seen tons of hippos and I’ve come to love them!
Peter asks what we want to see and Greg leads with the rare Black Rhino. Peter expects something like this but refers to the idea as ‘no pressure’. A few minutes later I bring up the honey badger and Peter almost wrecks. Now he says’ he is feeling the pressure’. After driving for a couple hours in which we see Elephants, Crocodiles, huge numbers of Impala, and Giraffes, Peter makes a comment about ‘much less pressure’ and then we realize that there is a mama Black Rhino and her baby under the tree up ahead. Completely awesome!
Soon, five or six other vehicles show up but the rhinos are lounging in the shade so we move off in the distance and have our first ‘bush lunch.’ This is great—picnic lunch in the Serengeti, two days ago we were at work. When we finish, all the other vehicles have left so Peter gets us much, much closer to the rhinos. This is the first indication that Peter is very, very good at his job! The numbers of Black Rhino are tiny. Only 50 of these in the world according to the picture I posted on Facebook (or as Greg regularly corrects me, 50 in Tanzania) and we’ve seen 2.
From there, day 1 comes with more awesome animals: Guinea Fowls, Thomson Gazelle, Zebras, Wildebeests, Vultures, Waterbucks, Baboons, Warthog (from here forward known as Pumba [think Loin King]), Rock Hyrex (kind to elephants but we are calling gerbils, look up a picture), Hartebuck, Mongoose, Brown Eagle and of course, the ordinary Lizard.
Around 5pm, we arrive at camp to check out our “2 person tent” on reserve. Hopefully you’ve seen the pictures on Facebook. This place was awesome. We had an attendant the whole time, named Samwell. He escorted us back and forth so that the animals would not attack us. He prepared our hot showers, woke us up with a cheery voice and brought hot coffee to our tent. They did laundry for us and served us hot delicious meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When we were out touring, they prepared box breakfast and lunch for us. Evenings started with a camp fire so we could watch the sunset and the local animals followed by an all camp dinner (~12-18 people, 3 courses) then off to bed.
The coolest part was being awoken each night with Zebras and Wildebeest looking in the screen window. They ate right outside our tent both nights. Literally, they were three feet away. We woke up at midnight and two am. It was so quiet we could hear them biting and chewing the grass. Now, for those of you who may be wanting to have this experience in the future, I’ll share a word of advice. Pay particular attention to where you step the next morning after the Zebras and Wildebeests come to visit in the night. We awoke the next morning (day 2) at 5:30 for a 6:00am departure to be on Safari by sunrise. Flashlights were helpful and we both agreed that day 1 was quite a start.
Day 2: Cry Me a River
The Hunt for a Migration River Crossing
Friday, September 12, 2014
First, we want to wish Dave Cooke a very happy anniversary. We tried to send you a text but it would not go through. We were thinking of you all day and love you very much! Next, we want to acknowledge that today is Gentle “Spirit” Tew’s 3rd birthday. I updated Facebook with looking awesome in her pearls. Her Grandmother and Aunt Ruru who are so graciously staying at our home to spoil our two beloved babies while we are gone posted a FB video of them eating their birthday steaks. They are lucky babies.
Now Day 2 was a hard day in the bush. You know you can’t have an agenda or a schedule when it comes to the animals. We woke early for a sunrise scouting tour and it was beautiful. We are currently in the dry season which, since we are in the north, is when all the animals migrate south. All the talk around camp is to see a river crossing so that is primary purpose today. So here is what it looks like, you drive around looking for a large group of Wildebeests, Zebras, Elephants, etc who are standing on the edge of the river.
Once momentum comes, they all technically are supposed to cross. Simple, but not easy. Here is the problem. Apparently Wildebeest are not smart – at all. And they run in herds in the hundreds without a leader. So this is what our day looks like: We see more than 500 Wildebeests on a peninsula looking down at the river. Their friends who have already crossed are on the other side of the river cheering them on. More Wildebeests are marching in line behind them bringing the elephants. They just sit there. Finally about 25 Zebras are making their way up the shore of the river towards the peninsula. They too are looking at the river. I personally start cheering the Zebras to show some leadership and help out their Wildebeest friends. Well, one lone Zebra swims across the river. They came back and forth and run down to the edge of the water ALL DAY LONG. It was such a tease. The rest never crossed that day and we have spent the whole day sitting there watching. Spoiler Alert: All that time in the truck gave me plenty of opportunity to elaborate the story of our seeing a real “river crossing” based on that one Zebra’s effort. I have to admit, I was going to count it! But luckily, Nature smiled on us the next day and we have more to share on day 3.
On a different note, I want to share with you some of our new knowledge about going on safari. First, you know how they always say “If you don’t know how deep the water is, don’t cross?” They have not heard this in Tanzania. We are in a Land Cruiser and our driver just plows through rivers all the time. The first time he got out to check the tires and glanced at the river, but only once. And they have another philosophy that the dirt paths are merely suggestions. If cutting straight across the ditch, rocks, and aardvark holes will get you there faster, go for it.
Once we received a call that there was a crossing further down the river at another spot, so us, along with 6 other trucks fly to the other location as fast as possible. The problem was that we spooked the Wildebeest herd on this side of the river and they started to run as we were all racing to the crossing. I’d put money on our driver against any NYC taxi or NASCAR driver. He was awesome and I’m happy to report, no Wildebeests were harmed in our soon to be failed attempt to see a crossing.
Finally, since we are talking about the truck, I have to tell you about “checking the tire pressure”. This is what you say when you have to go to pee. Except for one station and the airport, there are no bathrooms in the bush. The bush is the bathroom. So, Greg and Peter are always going behind the truck to check the tire pressure throughout the day. I think it is a guy thing to mark your territory everywhere you go. Needless to say they are fitting in with all the animals.
Day 3: I Will Survive
Wildebeest River Crossing
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Hopefully by now you’ve noticed that my subject lines are song titles or parts of songs that I kinda know the words to. As you can imagine, not only is there limited cell service and wifi, there is also no radio in the truck when you are out on safari. There is only a CB radio that the drivers use to talk with each other. Never to let a radio, talent or not really knowing the correct words to a song stop me, I’ve taken to singing songs that go along with whatever is happening . . . hence the subject lines. Hopefully you’ll recognize them but I’m happy to provide live examples for those who may be unaware of any referenced lyrics.
I also might add that I am singing these songs solo since Greg, who is sitting right beside me and I know can hear me, just closes his eyes and puts his head down when I start. Joe Gray, we are missing you and Kaye on this trip. I’ve been thinking about our awesome duets of Sound of Music songs as we traveled across Switzerland a couple of years ago. We were the definition of joyful noise!!
Day 3 and we are up early to try our luck again with a river crossing and then travel to the next camp. We show up at the river just down from the camp site and sure enough there is a large herd of wildebeest and zebra on the other side. They are moving around and looking at the river so we think there might be a chance although we remember yesterday. Sure enough, they all begin to move down to the peninsula and down the bank toward the river. Yep, you guessed it—then they turned around and went back up the bank. Think Ground Hog Day, the movie, so we set back up and get ready to be patient when about 50 wildebeest from our side of the river decide they like their friends on the other side so they cross the river. We are ecstatic! Greg, our photo-journalist, is lighting up the digital camera and we hope capturing the moment to share with you. (FB photo of the day shows this).
I have to tell you a river crossing is apparently one of the biggest deals you will see during the migration period. We are beyond happy to be one of the lucky few to see one. On top of this, there were no crocodiles around and not one Wildebeest was lost in the crossing. This is gruesome business as we learned later that night at dinner. Apparently wildebeest stampede each other or drown in the river. Of course, they are fighting currents and crocodiles. One of the other camp guests saw two crocs at their crossing and described in detail the long struggle of the adult and baby wildebeest which the crocs eventually won. I was worried about having nightmares after just hearing about it. I’m happy to report that no wildebeest were injured in our river crossing!
Now it is time to search for lions. Peter isn’t worried and sure enough we find some displaying typical lion-like behavior (according to Peter) – this means lying around doing nothing but looking cute. Two lions and one cub. We are happy so we move on toward the next camp. Little did we know that this was a 3-hour race across the open plain. Along the way we did stop for a few sights including the angry hippo if you are on Facebook. Apparently he did not like Greg hanging out of truck snapping pictures.
On our journey across the plain, we notice all the carnage everyone. For example, we see a huge number of vultures having a party only to discover it is over a dead lion. Skeletons (fresh and old) litter the landscape!
We finally arrive at Migration Tented Lodge and, wow wee, is this place nice. 24-hr generator provides charging power to the room and this tent has double vanity and hot water on demand. A bit more like a hotel since dining is private but you find hippos grunting in the background, gerbils (known locally as rock or tree hyrax) running everywhere, and a Cape Buffalo (one of the big 5) grazing in the backyard at midnight. This is starting out great!
Day 4: I can see for mile and miles…
My bush name is Eagle Eye
Sunday, September 14, 2014
We thought we’d start this letter off with some insight we’ve learned from Peter, our guide.
– Animal life is tough. For example, if you are a male cape buffalo, at some point you are no longer needed in the herd so you are kicked-out by the young males and force to join a ‘bachelor group’. We have renamed them the Grumping Old Men group.
If you are an impala, then your goal in life is to acquire a harem. This is a large group of female (10-40) impalas with one male. So while the male is at the top of his game he spends the next three months chasing after females trying to run away from the harem and mating those he can catch which leaves no time to eat. Meanwhile, in the ‘boys club’ (a group of only young male impalas), days are spent eating and training to determine who is going to out maneuver the head of the harem because the head guys has lost his physical conditioning from lack of food. The day comes when a member of the boys club and the head of harem fight, the tired weak former head, is now left by himself to defend his territory alone and hopes a female or two come back. Very sad!
– Two rules of the jungle: (1) Run first, ask why later. Usually the answer is, I saw you running so I ran too. (2) See before being seen. This should be self-explanatory.
– When meeting a wild animal, don’t run – you’ll look like prey! Instead stand as tall as you can and look as big as you can. Unless you are meeting a cape buffalo in which case you want to lay on the ground so they can’t scoop you up with their pointy horns or head butt you!
– If you ever get lost in the bush, eat what baboons eat and you should survive. And all cactus are poisonous, including their red berries and some will blind you if their milk gets in your eyes. We’ll share more words of wisdom later.
Game drive today was in a new area of the North Serengeti with has much more water and more trees, i.e. a denser woodland area. The morning begins with me spotting hyenas, Peter spotting lions, and me spotting a serval. (This is a beautiful small cat that looks like a leopard). At this point Greg mumbles something about pressure since Peter and I seem to be on the top of our game and Greg hasn’t seen anything. Peter starts calling me “Eagle Eye” (my bush name now moving forward) and even states he doesn’t have to worry about missing an animal out of the left side of the truck because I’m looking.
Wait until you see the lion pictures. Peter took us right up to them!
More search leads to another lion spotting and then the last remaining member of the Big 5 – the leopard. He is perched in a tree but seems ready to move and sure enough climbs down and walks right at us. Hoping these pictures turn out great! The rest of the day was spent looking at and for animals. I should mention our awesome lunch. Three course picnic, camping chairs, and a spectacular view with gazelles, zebra, giraffe, and elephants all in sight!
Our tented camp tonight is like a resort. It has double vanity, leather club chairs and a hairdryer. It also has a pool and individual dinner times available. It is really nice and hard to believe we are in bush.
We were reminded today that we are in the jungle and anything goes. To date, three male elephants and two male zebras have exposed themselves to us and everyone else around. We also watched a gazelle mount another as they were walking across the plain with the herd. Back at the lodge after a long day of game driving, just before dinner 11 or 12 elephants strolled across our backyard. (Videos on FB) We can’t wait to see who visits tonight.
Fast forward to the end of the day and Peter and I have spotted all kinds of animals. As is customary in the bush, we often acknowledge the difficulty of the spot and the skill it takes by telling each other “Well Spotted”. Greg unfortunately has spotted an enormous and quite obvious elephant walking in the road ahead of our truck and a plethora of lizards on rocks. We throw him a bone of “Well Spotted” on the last rock. At least he takes excellent pictures.
Speaking of pictures, consider yourself forewarned . . . Greg is out of control. He has moved away from trying to capture the moment with one perfect picture to just holding down the button throughout the entire episode. It takes 2 pictures to capture a leopard taking one step. One day he came back to the tent with 1682 pictures. If you ask to see pictures, you should either plan to visit for a couple of hours or be very specific about what you’d like to see like “Your top 10 pictures from the trip” or your “best shot of the black rhino” etc. 🙂
Day 5: You’re going to hear me ROAR
Big Cat Diaries
Monday, September 15, 2014
We are up early as we are leaving the luxury accommodations (Migration Tented Lodge) in the Grumati Valley for a tented camp (Seronera Sametu Camp) in the Central Serengeti. This will be a long drive but before we leave the Valley, Peter has a special treat planned. Here is a good place to mention our interactions with Peter…I think he likes keeping us in suspense. He never tells us much about his plans for the day and we don’t quiz him like other people do their driver/guides. We have come to really trust Peter’s instincts and plans so basically each day is a big surprise.
After a bit of a drive, we stop to ‘check the tire pressure’ and Greg says “isn’t this the place we saw the Leopard,” like he knows where he is. The Tew map instinct has been a little confused on this new continent but he is starting to figure things out. Peter says no but over in that direction is the place and I am hoping he is back in the tree. After a short drive, we see the tree and sure enough the huge Leopard is there finishing breakfast (looks like a Reedback, another medium sized antelope).
Greg starts shooting pictures and after a bit the cat decides to get down and walk around…I swear it seems like it is showing off for us. We are the only ones in site, no one else around and this is great. So often cats just lay around and sleep—Peter refers to this as typical cat-like behavior. Sleep 22 hrs, hunt/eat 2 hrs per day. Sleeping involves looking up, rolling over, stretching, then back to sleep (there will be pictures of this behavior later). According to Peter, this Leopard’s behavior is a special treat and we feel blessed. Anything else the day offers will be bonus. On the way out, I spot another Leopard but he is shy and runs away quickly so we don’t see much of him.
We head for the Central Serengeti which, we believe, will offer lots of cat sighting possibilities. We believe this by collecting clues from Peter—he never comes right out and says this but drops lots of hints. The drive is long and bumpy. They call the bumpy roads an “African Massage” free of charge included with the safari package. I’m being massaged about 12 hours a day but the area is beautiful so it is fine.
Lots of animal sightings along the way including some very smelly Hippos, Greg gets an amazing shot of an African Fish Eagle in flight.
Lunch is at the picnic/Hippo pool area. We get a lesson about one of the Small 5, the Lion Ant. Peter’s range of knowledge is great and Greg loves all this talk. Just like the Big 7 and the Ugly 5, there is also the Small 5 (we may have to consider a Small 7, but based on measly response from my plea of a Big 7, this may need to wait until we get some momentum). The Small 5 include: Lion Ant, Buffalo Weaver (bird), Rhino Beetle, Leopard Tortoise and Elephant Shrew (mouse with a trunk).
On the way into the camp, we spot another Leopard on a set of Kopji’s (Swahili for head since this big rocks look like heads) displaying cat-like behavior. Three Leopards in one day. We met a couple at the end of their safari still looking for a Leopard, so we feeling quite lucky. Moments later, we see what appears to be a very hungry Lion. We track her for a while as she prepares to ambush a Zebra…after about 30 minutes she pounces but comes up empty. She quickly returns to the river valley and a small Zebra wonders into the same creek. We think for sure this will be dinner but she misses again. I personally think this is God doing for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. I wanted to see a hunt but did not want to see a kill. I wish I had a chicken or something to give to the hungry Lion but I’m glad she missed on tonight’s dinner. I’ll sleep better for sure, but I do wish I had a raw chicken or something to give the Lion.
With no other animals in sight we leave for camp, a delicious dinner with the other safari teams and then bed.
Day 6: Up Up and Away in my Beautiful Balloon
Bucket list item checked, and still alive to tell about it!
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Today was a big day! I’ve always wanted to take a hot air balloon ride but have been too scared to actually do it. They aren’t safe and I’m scared of heights – not a good combination. But every Fall they launch in my area to watch the trees change colors and as they pass over my house, I think, “one day”. Well, no more! Greg saw fit to change all of this and we are both taking our first ride at sunrise over the Serengeti.
Now, I know this isn’t a good idea. First, he wouldn’t let me read the disclaimer you have to sign before taking this ‘high risk activity’. He told me don’t read it, just sign it. And I did. I appreciate the advice many of you gave me, including the best from my father-in-law, James, who said, sit at the bottom of the basket, tuck in the crash position, don’t stand up, don’t look out and whatever you do, don’t lean over the side! Now, my father is probably not at all surprised that I didn’t listen. I stood up, looked out, videotaped several scenes and even leaned – just a little. Then, I almost died in the crash landing!! I’m not being dramatic, it is true.
The flight was delayed because it was too windy. It has be less than 12 mph winds before they let you go. We waited about 15 minutes, the winds died and we race off. Normally a flight is 45-75 minutes depending on wind speed. Our flight was 42 minutes. The pilot said when we landed we were traveling 17 knots. He was so happy – it was one of his fastest landings ever. Ugh. You have to sit down and hold on the basket while you land. The pilot was excellent at telling us what to expect, telling us to keep our heads down, expect another bump, expect the drag, this is all normal he is saying. I’m not sure what is going on but apparently my crash position and scared to death look have Greg worried. He keeps telling me I’m fine and I just remember thinking this is what it feels like when your plane crashes and I keep saying (I’m not sure why) no, no, no, no, no. Then we stop, our pilot tells us to stay calm and keep in place to make sure the wind doesn’t pick up the deflated balloon and our basket for another drag. There is a tremendous cloud of dust (we are travelling in the dry season) and we are covered, I mean really covered from head to toe, in red dirt dust.
After we get out, and realize we are alive, we did make, I think, that was awesome!!!! I’m so glad we did that!!! This is why I love Greg. He continually pushes me out of my comfort zone, has me experience breath taking adventures and I’m still alive to talk about it. You can see a picture of another balloon landing and a few of our pictures on FB. My only recommendation is that if you have neck or back problems, you should skip this activity. I was sore for about a day but am recovering now.
Also, before I end I need to give Greg another kudo. Believe it or not, he was the lone person in a balloon of 17 people to spot the lion laying on the field by the river. He may be getting his mojo! All the other passengers in the after balloons can thank him as well because our pilot called them and they actually went over to get a closer look.
As if a hot air balloon ride and English breakfast out on the Serengeti isn’t enough to make this the best day ever. We also spot the thus far elusive Cheetah. She is sleek and beautiful and apparently hungry. We are lucky enough to take awesome pictures (warning to you again regarding Greg’s picture taking enthusiasm) of her scanning the horizon.
She starts walking and comes right up to our truck. She was so close that the picture we posted on Facebook is from my iPhone. Then we got to see a beautiful thing . . . her mosey on out to the herd of Thomson Gazelles (also known as Tommies or Cheetah food) and start walking around looking for a weakling. The Tommies are nervous and running in every direction. She keeps calm and keeps walking. Sure enough, she spots her prey. A baby Tommie laying in the field clueless as to what is going on. The Cheetah, need I remind you, the fastest creature on earth, takes off running with the herd. In no time she passes several adults Tommies at full-speed almost as if they were standing still. She sweeps the baby up and kills it instantly. She then walks back to a shaded area to enjoy dinner.
Later that afternoon, we get to see a pride of about 14 lions who also just enjoyed a kill of one of their favorite meals, our guess is Wildebeest based on the leftover hoofed leg. Thankfully we did not see the kill or the eating of the kill. We came across 14 fat and happy kitties laying under a tree. It was hilarious to see. Their stomachs were so big – they looked like beached whales next to the river. They were sleeping on their backs, stretching, fully content and displaying serious cat-like behavior. Peter says this is what overindulgence looks like. It was great!
By now you know we love Peter. He is such an awesome guide. Here is an example. As we are watching another set of three lions and three cubs who are part of the same pride as the 14 lions above, Peter is scanning the horizon with his binoculars. He then says, “Hmm, I might see something out there under that tree”. So we wrap up and head towards the horizon and the tree. On the way Peter says he thought he saw something that might have been a foot. No kidding, we get to the tree and there are the 2 male lions in charge of this pride right under the tree, fat and happy haven also just eaten some of the Wildebeest dinner, and one is sleeping on his back with his foot in the air. Now we also have great pictures of male lions with full grown manes.
This by far is my favorite day of the safari. We leave to head back to camp, watch the sunset, eat dinner and then to bed for another adventure tomorrow.
Day 7: In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle, the Lion Sleeps Tonight
Love is in the air
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
This morning starts with the most awesome sunrise yet. Greg loves sunrises and sunsets so getting up early everyday has offered many opportunities. Sametu camp has a great location for sunrises so I find Greg outside in the chair with his camera prompt on a table to take still pictures in the limited light. Wait til you see these pictures, they are very good.
This is another travel day so we start rather early with breakfast at camp then an off-road route to look for Lions. We see our first group of Hyneas with cubs—we quickly remember that all pups are cute and this appears to also hold for one of the Ugly 5. One male and one female Lion are spotted (of course by Peter) so we go over to have a look. These are referred to as ‘honeymooners’ because when a female Lion is in heat the oldest/strongest male goes off from the pride to mate for several days. We don’t see any action as it appears they are tried and near the end of their time together. It is fascinating to watch this lion behavior.
Just off in the distance is another male lion; this pride seems to have three male leaders. This male is basically watch guard in case anyone shows up to cause trouble for the honeymooners. He is within sight of the honeymooners but at a good distance for privacy (if they care, which I don’t believe they do). Just around the corner is the third male with several females and cubs. The day is off to a fast start with 12 lions sighted before 7am.
Driving along leads us to another Cheetah on the hunt for food. She seems to be on a plain mostly by herself and a few Zebra (not Cheetah food). They are watching her to be sure she remembers she doesn’t eat Zebras and sure enough, she shows no interest in them. We watch her for a while; then check on the full, happy cats from yesterday, then return to the Cheetah. Her food is far away in the distance and since we have a long drive to the Crater left, we decide to move on. Along the way to the Crater, we encounter 3 more Cheetahs bringing the total to 6. After we spot the fourth one, Peter says something about ‘promises keep.’ It turns out that along the way he said he hoped to see 3 or 4 Cheetahs, again other groups had seen none and several guides asked Peter if he had seen any up North since they were leaving the central without seeing any Cheetahs. Peter is so funny! Within minutes we find the other two Cheetahs (5 and 6, likely mother and her cub) and before Peter points out the cats, he says ‘bonus time’ then shows us the two Cheetahs on the kopjis under a tree.
Lunch on the top of a kopjis where the Serengeti National Park ends and the Ngorongoro Conservation begins. The difference between the two is that no human live in the national park but Maasai (the local, indigenous people) live within the conservative area. This is a long, bumpy, and dusty trip to the Crater. After all the paperwork, we descend to the Crater floor in hopes of finding Flamingos for Greg’s Aunt Ruth and more Black Rhino for Greg. The Crater is the most likely place to see the Black Rhino since there are 23 in this confined region. We are in the crater for 10 minutes when Peter does it again. ‘Do you see that black spot in the distance.’ We both look and think, well maybe. Peter heads that way and sure enough, two more Black Rhino in the distance bringing our total to four. One big difference between the Crater and the North Serengeti is that we must stay on the roads here so we can’t get a close-up look at the rhino. We are all happy to have the pressure removed since sighting Black Rhino’s was the major objective for tomorrow morning. With this sighting down, we are free to see what the Crater offers tomorrow morning.
The camp (Lion’s Paw tented camp) is the only camp located inside the crater but it is on the rim at the other side from where we entered so we make our way across the floor of the Crater and up the other side. We are glad to be at our home for the night since this was a long but exciting day. It was cold on the rim (high elevation) and this is the first time we have a heater in our tent. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure.
Day 8: Wanted Dead or Alive
Hyenas are terrible predators!
Thursday, September 18, 2014
The goal for the Crater is to be the first group onto the floor for sunrise and black rhino sightings. We make it down in time but the sunrise is only average; however, the lion cub sightings are spectacular. First we encounter a group of two lions and three small cubs. The cubs are quite rambunctious—running, playing in the mud, ‘attacking’ each other and their mother. This is awesome! After a time we move on and Peter stops the vehicle and asks ‘do you see this’ looking over the side at the dirt. The man is tracking lion footprints in the dirt road while driving. Really! Greg asks how old the footprints are and Peter guesses not more than 2 hrs. It turns out the answer is about 20 minutes since just up the road are two more lions and three more cubs. These cubs are a bit older but just as playful. This is great fun and the cats here are more accustomed to cars so they walk right up to the car. First the cub comes to investigate, then momma comes over to make sure everything is okay. She decides to taste the spare tire of the vehicle in front of us, amazing! That spare tire cover now has several holes.
After many great pictures and lots of heart-warming fun, we go to see something that Peter thinks everyone should see—that is a kill. There is a pack of Hyena tracking a Wildebeest. When we get there, they have him down in a creek and are finishing the job—this is very unpleasant. Greg points out flamingos in the lake on the other side. Of course this is life in the jungle and in reality the wildebeest and others serve as food for the predators but it is still unpleasant to witness firsthand. I try to sing Circle of Life but it just isn’t helping. The problem with Hyena is they don’t know how to kill their prey. They disable it enough to stop and then start eating. The wildebeest was crying out for help until eventually he died. I was looking at flamingos but I could still hear. Needless to say, I start crying. We have to leave and the mood is quite dark for the next hour. Hyenas are #1 on the Ugly 5 list and this is now my least favorite day on the safari.
Luckily we move on and see many adorable zebra, elephants, and hippos at the morning watering hole. More game drive and then a trip to the top of the hill inside the crater. The crater was formed many years ago when the volcano collapsed and this hill is the former top of the volcano. The sight of the whole crater and all the animals is magnificent. Peter says it looks like there will be no black rhino this morning but we don’t mind since we saw the two yesterday. Anyone who sees 4 black rhino on one safari should be very happy. On the way out, we stumble into two more black rhino—for us, they appear to come in pairs. Again they are in the distance a bit, but Greg is about tickled pink—6 black rhino sightings!
We leave the crater for the trip to Lake Manyara and Tarangire. This makes for a very long day. There are apparently ‘tree climbing lions in Manyara National Park’ but we don’t see them. We do see the blue monkey which is a new animal sighting and Greg gets a nice picture of flamingos for Ruth. Lots of other animals but the trip here is quick since we still have to get thru Tarangire to the lodge. On the way to the lodge, we see an elephant with its head inside this BoaBoa tree. These are huge trees which very high water contain in their wood so elephants, who eat all kinds of things, like to eat this tree during the dry season. Peter says this is the first time he has ever since the elephant while eating the tree. After a couple of minutes, a small baby elephant wonders over and the big adult scoops out the kindling for the adolescent to eat. Elephants are well known to provide outstanding care for their siblings and this is a demonstration for us!
We are glad to arrive at Kikoti Tented Lodge after a long day of animal sightings and driving. This lodge has a ton of wood accents including a spectacular bar with animals carved into the woodwork. A quick dinner and off to bed before another early day tomorrow.
Day 9: On the Road Again
Like a Rock
Friday, September 19, 2014
Today we wake-up call at 5:30 and have breakfast boxes to go so that we can get into the park early. As we start the drive along the swamp, we encounter countless elephants, I mean countless. They look like a herd of wildebeests in the distance but, no, they are elephants. Peter refers to this park at this time of year as ‘elephant city’ and now we know why.Moments later Peter spots a leopard lying on a termite mound.
Over the last couple of days, we have been basically traveling with another Africa Dream Safari group (four Canadians from Calgary) so Peter calls them on the radio and we wait for them to show up. Since we are out early and no one is around we do off-road to get a close look at the cat. The pictures are truly amazing! Like our previous leopard experience, this cat decides to get up and move around. We now appreciate how big that first male leopard was. Compared to this cat, the first one was huge. This cat is not shy and slowing walks toward the other SUV. Greg has a great picture of this. Then the cat does something that amazes even Peter, it walk right up to our vehicle and, instead of going around it, goes right under it. Apparently the Canadians have some awesome pictures that we hope to get when we return to the States. As it comes out the other side of the vehicle Peter is stunned but the cat has more to offer. She looks and seriously considers jumping on the vehicle. For my sake, thankfully, she decides not to do it. I probably would have tried to pet her – she was so beautiful. Of course both Greg and Peter are disappointed! She continues her meandering so we go off to have breakfast.
She appears to continue her straight line down the side of the swamp toward the breakfast location so when we finish we go back to look at her. She is sitting in the shade under a bush but when we get there, she decides to get up. By now, we think this is just for us. It is about two hours later and now 14 other vehicles are here so getting up early paid off. This cat is full of tricks. She decides it is time to climb a tree. As she moves from the bush, Peter says she is going to climb the tree and sure enough she does. This is a rather big tree so you can imagine she has several options but she decides to climb the side of the tree facing the road so we get to see the full experience! Our interactions with those two leopards has been a real treat and a true highlight! Later Peter mentions how rare it is to see a leopard climb a tree since most of the time they are originally spotted in a tree and might climb down if you are lucky.
Shortly down the road we see a young male lion trying to impersonate a leopard. It is lying in a tree scanning around for food. Nothing is in sight and it seems to be displaying typical cat-like behavior so we move on…this is crazy, who would think that lions are now slightly boring! We plan to have lunch back at the lodge and rest a bit (hence you got some updates via email).
Since my husband is one of those people that always wants more, he would like to see all three big cats in one day. Having seen the leopard and lion by 9am, there is hope that a cheetah will full-fill this request so we spend the rest of the day looking for cheetahs, African wild dogs, and two rare antelope. We don’t see any of these but we do see a tremendous number of elephants (and zebra, tommies, impalas, wilderbeest, cape buffalo, baboons, birds) and exceptional landscape. We also saw several baboons climbing up a huge kopji for the night. It was awesome. They were very fast. At one point a young baboon is on the ground screaming and her mother comes down to let her jump on her back and get carried up. While is she carrying one child on her back, she is encouraging and nudging with her head another little baboon who is halfway and has stopped. Noodle, we’ve decided that if you could carry Greg or I on your back, we’ll go rock climbing with you!
We then head home to have a lovely dinner at the lodge. For dessert, the whole staff joins in a song wishing us a farewell and safe travels since this is our last night on safari. This is lovely!
Off to bed for the last night sleeping in the jungle. It was been tremendous.
Day 10: Circle of Life
Back to Reality
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Today is a bitter sweet day. We are excited to wake up and see what the day has in store for us in the bush but also sad that this turns out to be our last day on safari. Unfortunately, response to my plea for support of the Big 7 did not produce any funds so Greg and I have to end our magical adventure. The only good news is that I hear several of you are saving money for your own safari – Greg and I are willing to go with you when you get this arranged. I also hope that the silence is more a reflection that you too are passionate about the Big 7 and you are talking about it every chance you get! I’m sure our grassroots effort will be viral by the time I return.
Peter lets us sleep in this morning and we have a 6:30 wake up call, breakfast and on the road by 8:00. We drive around in the tall grass looking for Cheetahs, two rare Antelopes, and the almost extinct African Wild Dogs. We don’t find any of them but are entertained by Dik Dik (small Antelopes), Elephants, with two more indecent exposures from the males, and Giraffes. We also saw a few Lions laying under trees but they were inactive and far away. After lunch, we leave for our 2.5 hour drive back to the hotel.
Peter drops us off at the hotel and we say our good-byes. Greg is going to miss Peter, I can tell. We are met by our Africa Dream Safari hostess, Faith, to make plans for dinner, getting to the airport, etc. We take showers, I take a 30 minute power nap, and then start to unpack the safari bags and get out the business suitcase. We have a delicious buffet dinner outside on the patio overlooking a golf course while listening to Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and John Denver music and then go to bed. Our wake-up call tomorrow morning is 2:45am so we can get picked up at 3:30am for our hour drive to the airport and catch our 6:00 am flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.
This letter’s theme song is from the Lion King, The Circle of Life, and I’ve sang this song multiple times, daily! It started when I had to ask Greg to kill the jumping spider in our tent the first night — it turned out to be a poor cricket. Singing continued every time I saw a carcass or predator on the hunt, lion cubs or male animals looking for love. And it ends now with our own journey – our vacation ending and heading back to reality and work – it is the Circle of Life. Again, I want you to know that you have all been with us on this journey. I thank God for giving me all that I have, I thank IBM and UMass for providing us the means to do what we do, and I thank my family and friends who show me by their example how to love unconditionally, walk with humility, be of service to those around you and live life to the fullest.
Dawn “Eagle Eye” and Greg T.
South Deerfield, Massachusetts
Safari Dates: September 10, 2014 to September 20, 2014