We See the Great Migration

Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
Trip End Feb 04, 2012

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24, 2012 – Day 4

We depart the Ngorongoro Serena at 8:30 A.M. and head for Olduvai Gorge and the Serengeti. The roads are very rough. Our vehicle has two flat tires. I learn flat tires are an occupational hazard for safaris. The record is 11 flats on one vehicle in 13 days.

We greatly enjoy our Tanzanian guides: Severin, Menase and Kombo. They have taught us much. I learned, for example, that the Red Thorn and the Whistling Thorn Acacia trees survive best in these semi-arid conditions because their roots run horizontally just under the surface. This root system enables them to gather the limited moisture they would miss with deep running tap roots.

Our first stop today is the Olduvai Gorge where Louis & Mary Leakey made very important hominid fossil discoveries. I followed the Leakeys' discoveries over the years. What I did not know was Olduvai Gorge was actually Oldupai Gorge (named for the Maasai word for wild sisal). Now, I’m looking through my binoculars at the exact spot where the Leakeys made some of their most important discoveries. It is a humbling feeling. We stand on a spot that has been home and/ or highway to millions of years of human evolution.  

Mary Leakey made the family’s first significant discovery in 1959. That was thirty years after they started. Mary found a hominid skull with huge teeth that looked more like an ape than a man. It was called Australopithecus boisei (Southern Ape). Carbon 14 dating showed the fossil was 1.75 million years old.

In the mid-1960s, the Leakeys, and their son Jonathan, unearthed fossils of homo habilis (handy man), the oldest known primate with human characteristics. Habilis walked upright. In 1978, Mary found footprints of three ancient hominids 3.5 million years old.

We visit the Oldupai museum and inspect the wares of some of the vendors. These vendors are reputed to overcharge…and they do. However, if you wait until the group is ready to leave, they become more reasonable. Three elephant hair bracelets that had been $35 quickly became $20.

We are back in our safari vehicles and heading toward the Serengeti. As we near the border between the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti, we see more and more zebras and wildebeest mixed in with Maasai cows and goats. This makes no sense. The Great Migration is reported to have ended weeks ago.

Obviously, no one told the animals. Soon we are surrounded by tens of thousands of animals on both sides of the road. We are in the middle of 25 square kilometers of migrating herbivores. The grasslands are black with them. We have stumbled upon the GREAT MIGRATION.

Everywhere we look, there are baby Zebra. They are being born on the move. The wildebeest, on the other hand, will delay giving birth until the rains arrive. That ensures their newborns have a better chance of survival.

We associate the Great Migration with the Maasai Mara but, in truth, the migration is a continuous loop of 1,500 miles that goes on year round. We just happen to be in the right place at the right time. And, for every animal, there are 10,000 swarming, biting flies. We see our first tsetse flies.

Our bug spray keeps them from biting but not from swarming. I hate bugs buzzing in my ears, nose and mouth so we deploy our "buffs" to keep them at bay. Bugs or no bugs I wouldn’t have missed this spectacle. .

As we move deeper into the Serengeti, we notice that animals are now miles apart instead of inches. Zebras and wildebeest give way to Thompson and Grant gazelles, impala, hartebeest, jackals and baboons.

It is getting late so we head for the Bilila Lodge. We are dirty and tired. The Land Cruisers beat us up pretty good today. As we pull into the Bilila, we are greeted with cool moist towels and fruit juice. The hotel is stunningly beautiful.

From the main building, we walk down raised wood walkways to the out buildings where the sleeping rooms are located. At night, Maasai guards escort us to our rooms. The hotel borders a natural watering hole so wild animals are always present. We are told elephant and Cape buffalo come to the watering hole in the evening but none did during our stay. 

Our room is incredible. This is the first time I have ever stayed in a room where one could jump into a huge bathtub and soak while watching wildlife come and go to a watering hold.  
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shelley loeb on

we are going on this Tauck tour next week. I have been reluctant to go. However your pictures and narratives have been a big boost to my interest in going on this trip. Thank you so much for your posts.

leomcyr on

Shelley...I saw your request on the Taulk Forum and thought you might be interested in our blog. I am so pleased you enjoyed it. Beth & I will treasure our Tauck memories forever. I particularly hope you will take the hot air balloon ride. It was a hugely exciting ride / adventure. You will have a thoroughly wonderful time...Leo

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