Sure enough, the wildebeasts were there, which Abraham followed for a distance off the dirt road and across the vast plains: just far enough, it seems, for him to get lost (in that part of the wilderness reserve there is only one dirt road, consisting of a pair of parallel tire tracks). For the next 10 hours he drove our decrepit jeep across hundreds of square miles of vast open plains, fever tree forests and not-so dry swamps, as storm clouds gathered and covered the sky (making it harder to gage direction), night time approached, and it became a race to see which would happen first: run out of petrol (the jeep's gas gauge didn't work!), the car breaks down (due to hours of traversing through bush, dry and wet stream beds and ditches) or gets stuck in the mud, or we come across the elusive dirt road. But on the way, we passed through enormous herds of wildebeast and zebra, a great number of whom had newborn calves with them, since early February is the annual birthing season. As night fell and the rain began to fall, the kids were laying wager that we would have to spend the night in the jeep (they actually were looking forward to it!), although we had no flash light, food (other than a pack of cookies), spare clothes or blankets. Just as we became convinced the kids were right, Abraham crossed a road, which he took the wrong way since he was convinced we were 150 kilometers east of where we actually exited an acacia forest. Did I mention our giude had no maps or compass with him? Finally reversing direction, we ended up reaching the lodge at about 9pm
. Wet, muddy and ragged, but at least we got a full day's tour of places no tourists see (unless Abraham is their driver!). The next morning, we loaded up our gear and headed to Seronera in the center of Serengeti Park, where we saw hippos and lions among lots of other animals. The last (but certainly not the least) leg of the safari was a journey down to the bottom of beautiful Ngorongoro Crater, where an entire self-contained ecosystem of plains, forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife resides and the animals can be seen at relatively close range. Black rhinos and more lions were among the cool critters we saw there; hyenas and jackals feasting on young gazelles and wildebeasts rounded out the not-so-nice aspects of the circle of life we witnessed first hand. All in all, on the safari we observed and captured photos of scores of different wild animals and exotic birds, including four of the "big five" animals: lions, rhinos, elephants and water buffalo. The fifth - leopards - we briefly saw but not long enough to photograph. But not to worry -- we have more safari adventures - and more opportunities to photograph a leopard - ahead of us in Kenya in a few weeks time. For now, on to Mt. Kilimanjaro, where Cristina and Chiara will attempt to ascend Uhuru peak.
From DarEs Salaam we took a grueling 11 hour bus ride to Arusha, the town in northern Tanzania that is the jumping off point for the game parks in that region. There we organized a week-long trek aboard a 1960's vintage Jeep land rover to visit Tarangire, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater game parks. Our intrepid guide and driver was Abraham, and our overnight accomodations were a combination of lodges and tent camping within the parks to get the most variety of experiences. Tarangere National Park, our first (2 day) safari tour, was full of elephants, giraffes and beautiful Baobob trees. Then to Serengeti National Park, where our first night was at the Ndutu Safari Lodge just below the south end of the park (in the Ngorongoro Conservation Reserve) where we heard the annual wildebeast migration was currently located. Early the next morning we set out on a 3 hour tour (a la Gilligan's Island) to the corner of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Maswa reserve areas -- where the park ranger told our driver the wildebeast herds were currently located en masse.