Paying homage to Mufasa

Trip Start Dec 28, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I've been incredibly lucky with all the traveling I've done. Excluding Antarctica, I've been on all but one continent, and Africa is the only one I've gone to that I haven't been to multiples times and for multiple months. What I don't necessarily have is luck while I'm traveling, especially when it pertains to personal items. Hanging on to cameras, in particular, has not exactly been my forte. I was doing my best to put the most recent missing camera behind me, but now that I was on safari -- the reason I'd gone out and gotten a new, more powerful camera -- it was a little more bothersome.

It's not that I'm  picture obsessed like the caravans of Japanese tourists who live behind their camera or video recorder for the entire length and breadth of their vacation not spent on a bus. I sometimes wish I took more pictures, but when I'm in the moment, I'd rather just be enjoying it. But here, I wanted my camera dammit. That said, while I was disappointed, I wasn't going to let it ruin my experience.

The elements were threatening to do that for me instead. The only way I managed to get non-damp sleep without worrying about the dryness of my stuff was to pull off a stunningly dexterous move to flip from head-to-toe in a packed tent. I managed to keep myself relatively dry, my stuff completely safe and as an added bonus, not wake up Rachel, who was probably equally miserable next to me. The only way to keep my pack dry, though, was to keep it in between my legs, which meant by the time I woke up my back was not one bit pleased with me. I stumbled to breakfast, secretly cursing John and Jolanda who'd had a perfectly pleasant night in their spacious, water-proof tent, before we hit the road for the Serengeti.

On our initial ascent through the mountains to get to the plains, Charles nearly rampaged through a pack of baboons. He had an interesting habit of absolutely tearing through rocky, unpaved 4WD track while calmly cruising along the paved road as the rest of the traffic blurred past us. But at the end of the day (or five days) he got us back safe and sound (more on that to come in a future post), so I can't speak ill of the man. Our drive took us along the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, giving us a preview of what our final day held in store. And man was I glad I spoke up and to Rachel pre-departure and asked that it be a part of our safari. The park had the most expensive of all the admission fees, but man is it stunning. We stopped at an overlook where the entire caldera laid below us. This was something straight out of that scene at the beginning of 'Lion King' where Mufasa and Simba are looking out at the land below them and Mufasa gives the 'one day this will all be yours' speech. The Ngorongoro Crater was created by a volcanic explosion thousands of years ago, and the resulting caldera has turned into a lush sanctuary for a diverse array of wildlife. In the middle of the crater is a giant lake, that on this clear day mirrored the sky. Clouds floated below eye level along the top of the crater, like a tiny roof. I was suddenly very excited for what laid in store for us in 48 hours.

We drove along the rim of the crater, past Masai villages and descended on the other side to a long, flat road that seemed unassuming. That long, flat, unassuming road turned out to be the highlight of the whole day. That's because it was the unexpected home to the wildebeest migration. We had changed our initial safari plan to add an extra half-day in the Serengeti for the express purpose of viewing the migration. I'd heard amazing things about the migration, but I honestly didn't know what to expect from it. I sort of imagined that you'd have to sort of luck into it, like any wildlife sighting, and then there'd just be thousands upon thousands of wildebeests stampeding along in a valley below, sort of like in the Lion King. Do I need to stop using Disney as a reference point? Probably. What it was, instead, was just a steady stream of probably tens of thousands of wildebeests on the plains. Many were just out grazing in the grass, but every so often a large group would all go running along and cross the road en masse in front of us.

There weren't just wildebeests though. There were zebras intermingled (Rachel pointed out that the lone zebra in the mass of wildebeests made them look like referees), as well as the odd ostrich, Thompson's gazelles and impalas. What we thought was just going to be a long Point A to Point B drive turned into one of the highlights of the trip. The wildebeests were bigger, and uglier, than I expected, but they were special for the sheer numbers.

We entered the Serengeti and stopped for lunch, where Joy was threatened with a $500 fine for feeding the birds. The Serengeti doesn't have the varied, dramatic landscape of Manyara or the lushness of Ngorongoro, but there was just something so ... Serengeti-ish about it. Webster's would probably describe 'Seregeti-ish' as 'that which pertains or consists of the Serengeti' but that isn't really helpful. What it meant for me is that there was beauty in the emptiness and the matching of expectations. When you dream of Africa, this is what you dream of -- the vast plains of the savanna, the solitary acacia tree with a lone lion perched underneath. The Serengeti wasn't as picturesque as the other parks in the Northern circuit we visited, but there was just something special about actually being there.

We had about three hours of game-driving in the Serengeti after lunch that was largely unspectacular. We saw a few giraffes and a few variety of gazelles and a couple more hippos, which, like at Manyara, weren't doing much of anything. We had two leopard spottings as well, but they were doing much of anything either. They were just chilling in trees to pass the midday heat and were too far to see without binoculars. After the uninspiring drive we headed to the campsite where we were treated to a nice sunset and an excellent dinner of pumpkin soup and African bolognese by Juma. Eating was next to impossible because there were so many bugs clamoring around our lamps. We tried to play some cards, but the insects were overwhelming and went to sleep early for lack of a better option. And to prepare for our sunrise game drive.
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