Trip Start Jul 19, 2007
13Trip End Aug 03, 2007
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After going through three major parks, we'd seen much of the wildlife that there is to see in Tanzania, but we got a couple of rare treats as we proceeded deeper into the Serengeti: two close encounters with big cats.
First, we got within about ten feet of a lioness, our closest encounter with a big animal. Luckily, it was on our side of the Land Rover, and we got some great shots!
Here we also saw our first and only cheetah
Other than the cheetah, the major new sightings here were Thompson's and Grant's Gazelles, Coke's Hartebeest, Topi Antelopes, black-and-white colobus monkeys, and crocodiles. One major surprise was the abundance of hippos. We stopped at several big ponds with healthy hippopotamus populations.
Our final two nights on the mainland were spent at the Mbalageti Serengeti lodge:
We didn't know what to expect from the description of "tented chalet," but the reality far exceeded our imagination! As we approached our cabin, we saw a raised platform with a beautiful wooden deck. Our key opened a giant padlock tying together the pulls from three giant zippers. The flaps opened on the bedroom, which had two canvas walls with netted windows and two stone walls. A door in one of the stone walls opened to the enormous bathroom, walled entirely in stone, with a giant shower and a claw-foot tub
This was the first time we stayed at a lodge that was actually within the boundaries of one of the parks. Escorts were mandatory from dusk to dawn, and one couple in our tour group reported seeing a lion near one of the trails on their way back to dinner one night! Their escort heard a noise and told them to stop. When he pointed his flashlight into the dark, they could see cat eyes beaming back at them. All we heard was some toads that Ndaskoi tried to tell us were wildebeests.
We had already seen wildebeest in the crater, but the Serengeti is the place to see "The Great Migration." Unfortunately, we were a few months late for that, so we just got to see the stragglers enacting what Nathan described as "The Great Milling About." We saw many, many wildebeest, slowly working their way generally northward in no particular hurry, following the occasional rainshower this way and that.
Weird side-story: we saw a small red hatchback car, way out of place in the middle of the Serengeti. There were 5 people jammed into it, and Ndaskoi stopped and asked if they needed help
After our final breakfast on the mainland, we did a last zip through the Serengeti to make sure the hippos were still there before we headed to the "airport," which was just a strip of dirt lined with white rocks. The pilot made a low fly-by to make sure there were no animals in the way before swinging back around for the landing. We jammed ourselves into the plane, which just had seats for the 12 tourists plus the pilot. We waved good-bye for the last time to Ndaskoi and Hamisi, who would have to drive the Land Rovers all the way back to Arusha, through the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Tarangire.
After landing in Arusha, we parted ways with most of our tour group, including the two Judys
A few hours later, we found ourselves boarding the same puddle jumper that had brought us to Arusha here from the Serengeti. The pilot (one of the owners of the small airline) had already been somewhere else and back, and acknowledged us with a nod. All in a day's work, we're sure.