Not sure what it is about Africa that gets under my skin, but I am sitting here at Rome airport with the last remaining red dust in my hair, saying goodbye to one heck of an experience!
A lifetime ago, but only a few weeks ago, Chris and I flew into Kilimanjaro airport, then took a small plane to the North Serengeti. There, we met our 32 year old Maasai game driver. He packed us into the 8-seater Toyota Land Cruiser, and boy, were we in for a wild ride! Or as locals say, an African massage – the 4 wheel drives through the wild, searching for the wilder life ahead.
All 10 days of the game drive were full of surprises- our vocabulary consisted of three words/expressions: OMG, WOW , and asante sana (thank you). Our driver, Emanuel, took us into the North Serengeti the first day, and we learned the basic three rules of life here: #1 Get Food, #2 Reproduce and #3 Try Not To Get Killed. The rest of the journey, we learned the patterns of behavior around these three rules- a harmony of nature that speaks to the simplicity and nasty brilliance of the order here. Nature teaches us such important lessons…
Within the first few hours of bouncing through the rough fields, Emanuel had spotted 3 of the Big 5, and i was not sure if I had been thrown into Lion King, or was living a National Geographic adventure. Graceful Maasai giraffes were all around us, and we passed lionesses with cubs under a nearby tree.
Emanuel was determined to get us to North Serengeti as the great wildebeest migration was taking place across the Mara river. Wildebeests have herd behavior in their annual migration, and they negotiate, so they will come close to crossing, then step back while we have our zoom lenses poised, and we will have to wait 2 hours for another decision.
The final decision is made by a female wildebeest, and of course is usually right. This is a wonderful opportunity for crocodiles, lions, hyena, vultures etc. to have their Thanksgiving dinner, as the weak wildebeest are such a nice treat. We saw two lions enjoying such a big meal, and here it was – the basic rule #1. There was a line-up with vultures overhead, and hyenas watching for their turn. Soon, there would be nothing left. Talk about a great recycling program!
The most fantastic lessons we learned were lessons of animal partnerships i.e. zebras travel with these wildebeests, because zebras have great eyesight, and eat different grasses, can’t smell a thing, and wildebeests are quite blind, can smell rain miles away, so they make one great team. As well, grazers (buffalo) work well with browsers (giraffe) because they eat different diets, as well. Elephants do both, and driving through elephant country is driving through mass destruction – trees ripped apart, stampeded undergrowth everywhere! But they are so cute!
Tanzania has more than 120 tribal groups in its hills and plains. There are ancient bushmen tribes that represent some of the most primitive of all. They are isolated from outer world, and survive on roots, snakes, baboons, and wild fruit. A prominent proud nomadic tribe called the Maasai are tall, graceful, dressed in stunning colors, and use their cows like we use ATM machines. They live with their cows, claim wealth according to # of cows, (therefore more wives) and drink cow milk mixed with cow blood as a main meal (sorry if I ruined your next meal). Emanuel took us to a non touristy Maasai village where he knew most of the people, and we went into their small dung-mud huts to see the interior designs. Lynn wouldn’t have approved…There people walked miles and miles each day to find food for their cattle, often with 2 or 3 youngsters helping herd the cattle.
One afternoon, we came across a lion and pregnant lioness, but our truck got stuck in a hole, and the lion roared really loudly. I was standing up in the truck at the time, and my new sunglasses flew out of the truck. Emanuel rocked the truck and called for help, but eventually got us out. Chris rolled up the windows quickly, and I sat down- asked Emanuel to forget the sunglasses, but he went back, and put the truck between lion and sunglasses, then swooped down and grabbed them. We motored out of there full throttle, hearts pounding!
Another day, we saw a leopard and two cheetahs on the hunt…so graceful and fluid as magnificent pussy cats you want to reach out and just hug! As well, we saw a huge pool of hippos all cuddle up together, waddling in the water, pink behind the ears with their gel-like SPF they secrete to protect them from the sun. A piece of trivia- what do zebras sound like when they make noises? Answer: dogs!
After travelling from North to South Serengeti, we came to the Olduvai Gorge. Here is an example of shifting plate tectonics where millions of years of archaeology are presented in a shelf for the viewing. And here is where Dr. and Mrs. Leakey made one of the most important archaeologic discoveries of our time- the “first footprint” that linked present day man to our primate forefathers.
Onto the huge Ngorongoro Crater, a 22×18 km sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife. We stayed in a camp on the edge of the crater, then went early morning to see many lions, cubs, elephants, and finally our rhinos! We made the big 5!
Near the end of our trip, we had the good fortune to stay in Swala Tented Lodge before heading to Arusha. What a luxury retreat! Hot water 24 hours a day! On arrival, an elephant was drinking out of the infinity pool, and later, lions had come to have a nice drink before bed. This was a good stone’s throw from our dinner table, and I ate very quickly with one eye on the lion! Our staff knew the behavior of these wild game and had no fear. They simply understand and respect each other.
The company we travelled with was African Dream Safari. They support a modern medical hospital, where an American cardiologist, Dr. Frank, and wife have devoted the last 12 year of their life building. It cares for a full range of tribal and tourist patients, and delivers superb care. Dr. Frank told me that he had three European neurologists vist when an American tourist came in with chronic headaches. One of the neurologists saw papilloedema in her fundi, and diagnosed a blood clot. She was transferred urgently to a nearby hospital, and had appropriate care. Would this have been picked up if she were home? Not so sure. Physician staff is international and telemedicine is used regularly. How unbelievable to hear that tuberculosis and malaria are so common here. How good to hear that HIV is on the decline.
Chris F. and Gail P.
Safari Dates: October 8, 2014 to October 18, 2014