We always look forward to our Africa trips. So far, Deb and I have been to South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and up the eastern coast of Africa.
Whenever we arrive by plane, it is in a city, since that is where the airports are. Of course, as anywhere, the cities are cities. And we are not city people. Too busy, too loud, too pushy and obnoxious, and too much too’s to describe. Most cities aren’t that much different.
There are nice parts and there are not so nice part. Unfortunately, they have developed parts where nice homes and businesses have tall fences, and then there is the underdeveloped part where people are barely scraping by, and you can see the poverty that exists. Arusha was no exception, and we were so glad to get out of Arusha and into the we got back to see the real Africa that we know and love.
We took the paved road out of Arusha and left Tarangire behind as we headed north through Mosquito City, where they have a lot of water….enough to grow rice and a bounty of bananas. The streets were bustling with the usual day to day goings on, but lots or safari trucks on their way back from the game reserves to buy some curios along the way. Women were out collecting wood (they don’t cut down trees here, they just forage for what the elephants knock down and then use that)
We were incredibly fortunate to be travelling with our driver Nico from Warrior Trails Safari Adventures. He was was simply amazing. He was a soft spoken, but fun, man who he himself has two kids (5 and 10) at his home in Arusha. He quickly became a part of our family, as did our incredible friend from Ireland, Karen. Nico treated the kids as part of the team rather than just kids, which he could have easily done. He knew everything about every animal, every plant, every tree, every bird … everything.
Right down to the latin name. This added a significant amount of depth to our trip, and a continual source of education for the kids as he continually engaged them in the conversation topics, and tested their memories as the days went on.
Eventually, as soon as we hit the city limits, the road quickly turned into the rough dirt and stone covered roads that made going anything faster than 60 challenging. A good chunk of the road was that corrugated surface that we get in the winter at home that rattled you through to the bone.
There is something about how rugged, how raw and how untouched, and how primal this place is. I don’t mean like it is wear a rawhide loincloth and carry a stick kind of primal, but more like the land, ecosystems, and environment are like it has been for a long time.
We finally reached the top of the hill/mountain we were climbing and the red dust settled. We stopped at the viewpoint to look at the Ngorogoro Crater from the crater rim. It was so amazing to see again. It was quite a bit drier than what we saw last time we were there, but we were headed into a rainy season, so it will lush up…unfortunately after we leave.
After some photos, we piled back into the truck and stopped at a picnic spot which, ironically, was the same spot that we stopped at 15 years ago. We camped out there overnight, last time, and we remembered a big tree that was there. However, it was toppled over and on the ground in pieces which provided a nice picnic spot for all of us.
Nico had just informed us all to keep a watchful eye, and an extra hand, on our food as the brown kites (they are like falcons) fly silently above you and will swoop down and take the food literally right out of your hand. Moments later, a brown kite came down and took the sandwich right out of Nico’s hand. Poor Nico! Oh well, we opened our lunch kits to him to fill him back up. He needed the energy to keep a firm grip on the wheel of the truck as it bounced around everywhere.
We hopped back in the truck, and headed down from the lush mountain top to the bone dry plains that awaited for us on the other side. We passed by a Maasi village that we stopped at last time, and took in the sights of the young boys tending to their herds all over the place and in the middle of nowhere. It was like, “Hey Wilson, can you go take the herd of goats out into the middle of Algonquin Park so that they can find something to eat? Thanks. And don’t forget to have you and all of the goats back here for supper at 5:30.” It was crazy. Some of these kids were faaaar out from where the village was.
During our drive toward the Serengeti, we saw the hills where some evidence of early humanity was found. This is the place where they found the the footprints that were found encased in volcanic mud dating from over 5 million years ago. It kind of puts it into perspective of how long we have been evolving to where we are today. And it makes you wonder where we will be, or if we will even exist, in another 5 million years.
Finally made it to the southern gate of the Serengeti where we hopped out for a quick snap shot, and a road side bathroom break with no bushes to hide behind. No shame here. And then we were off to the park.
First hiccup of the day was when we got to the ranger office and they didn’t have our reservation. Nico had said that there was a new online registration system that didn’t work very well, and that this might happen. No worries, as we were able to pay again with our credit card, and they were going to refund us when we got back.
We hopped back in the truck and started hunting for animals, which isn’t super hard on a very flat plain, but you can easily get mistaken for “Is it a lion lying in the tall grass, or is it a termite mound or a log?”. Often it was a termite mound or a log.
Wilson really wanted to see Cheetah’s on his trip to the Serengeti. And it was the first animal that we saw. And the learning began. Did you know that Cheetahs, on average, have 2000 spots? Unlike leopards, they can’t climb trees, but they can reach speeds of up to 112kph while running all out, reaching that speed within 3 seconds. However, they can only hunt for about a 200-300m stretch before they get tired and have to stop…so they have to stalk to get pretty close to their prey. They are scentless which helps as well…
Unlike other cats, cheetahs tend to hunt during the day when their prey are less suspecting to get attacked, and there is less competition from the other cats. That, and they have poor night vision. There are only about 500 cheetahs living off of game reserves in Africa, so there is a big preservation and education project going on here
There it was, in all of its glory prancing across the plain and then posed very nicely for us at the side of the road. It then crossed over the road behind our truck and watched the afternoon sun going down. Wilson’t jaw was on the floor of the truck, and to him, the safari could have ended right then and there.
But it was just the beginning!!! We drove up towards our tented lodge for the night, Osopuko Tented Lodge, and saw a number of animals along the way. Giraffe, elephant, impala, dik dik, Thompson gazelle, grand gazelles, and wildebeest to name a few.
The roads have no real signage to say “This way to Osopuko”, or anything of the like. So, with Nico behind the wheel, we were completely trusting him that he wasn’t driving us somewhere to drop us off in the middle of nowhere. He had 16 years of experience driving in the Serengeti, and this was his favourite park, so I guess we could trust him.
We had to pick up the pace as the sun was setting, and I got picky asking him to find an umbrella tree with some giraffes around it that I could take a picture of the big orange African sun with. He just laughed and said he would try his best. From the picture above, I think he did the best he could…
Just after the sun dropped below the horizon, the truck screeched to a halt and Nico said “Cat!”. I was in the passenger seat and had my phone out taking pictures of the sunset out of the window. I got so excited that I physically jumped and started twisting around to see where the cat was. I knocked my phone out of my hand and it landed on the ground behind our truck. Ok. There is a cat outside the truck. I am inside the truck. My phone is outside the truck. I don’t want to get eaten by a cat. How am I going to get it. Meanwhile, the rest of the Craigholms, including Nico, were all laughing at me after a moment of “Oops. Damn”.
Thanks goodness the “cat” was not a lion on the hunt for a hungry mammal. It was a serval, which is a small pouncing cat that feeds off of birds. I must have looked like Big Bird to him. Too big to tackle, but then again, I could have looked like the Mandarin buffet to it. So, I slinked out of the truck and got my phone quickly to return in one piece. Phew. No Big Bird shish kabobs for him!
We let the serval continue to stalk its dinner, and we headed onwards, only to be stopped by a gaggle of giraffe enjoying a sunset snack by the road and then they all disappeared in a line across the road. It was pretty close to an ideal photo for us, so the picture taking continued. Eventually you stop taking pictures and just imprint it on the mind. On a safari like this, it is so easy to stick your face behind the lens and take photos, waiting for the perfect shot, and I quickly learned to find that shot, take it and then let my mind take the rest of the perfect pictures so that when I am old and grey that I can close my eyes and be right back there.
We made it to Osopuko Tented Lodge in the dark, and we were welcomed with open arms by a group of very happy men who took us to our luxurious tents in the middle of the Serengeti and then off to have a feast at the main tent. It was amazing what they were able to cook up in a small kitchen tent for the group of 15 guests and guides that were there that night.
Off to bed and the boys had one tent, and the girls had the other. The girls tent had a “panty raid” of sorts by an elephant, but I will leave the hilarious, and maybe a bit scary, story up to Deb (read her post here). Wilson and I heard a bit of a ruckus outside, but thought the girls were just getting a bit crazy over in their tent. Then snoresville for the boys…
The next morning we got up for our first full day of game driving. We headed off to the mess tent and had a hearty breakfast to get us through the day. Of course, there was the usual drama of Nutella and Malarone with Lulu.
The Serena is the central region of the Serengeti, and has a high density of animals of all sorts. We were hoping to see cats of all sorts as a lot of them were here. We packed up a boxed lunch as we expected to be gone for the day, and we would eat where the wild things eat.
At the time that we were there, they were doing controlled burns of the grasslands there so that there would be fresh green grass growing for when the wildebeest arrived after their long migration from the northern part of the Serengeti. It provided a neat contrast for photography where there was scorched earth on one side of the road and dry yellow grasslands on the other.
The game drive provided us with incredible opportunities to see all kinds of animals, up close and personal. When I say up close and personal, I mean they literally were within meters of us. However, you tend to duck inside the safety of the tin can on wheels when an elephant is closing in, or a cat is passing by (well, sometimes …. as you will read later).
My role on this trip was the official photographer of the safari, and for this adventure of ours. So much so, that Karen didn’t bring a camera. So, I gave her some lessons along the way of how to take decent photos with just your iPhone (and she did a great job too!). Deb takes more of the crazy whacky, in the moment, capture things as they are happening, kinds of photos, and I tend to take the artsy fartsy ones. However, to Deb’s credit, she is getting very good at spotting a good photo, the lighting, and the layout. Must be rubbing off on her after years of her being very patient watching me set up photos, and doing crazy camera timer runs…
I told Karen Craigholm that you see the world differently when you are looking around with photography in mind. You appreciate the changes in hues of the sky, the shapes of the clouds, the shadows that animals and vegetation cast, and the shapes of things and how those things interact with each other. In essence, you see the world differently. It was so nice to slow down and see the beauty of our world for what it is. Beautiful.
With that in mind, I am just going to let you look at some of the photos 1500 photos that I took over 2 days (pared down to a few hundred now) as I saw the the Serena region through my lens, and eventually onto the photobook of my mind.