Trip Start Jul 19, 2007
Trip End Aug 03, 2007

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Friday, July 27, 2007

The road got drier and dustier as we proceeded from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Serengeti.  They used to be part of a single National Park, but the area is enormous.  We stopped for lunch at the park entrance.  Nathan took a short hiking trail to the top of a hill that overlooked the area.  The view was great, but the horizon was obscured by the dust and haze.

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.  She was relaxing in the shade 20 yards or so from the road.  She didn't do much in the midday heat, but we got to see her stretch out and roll over a couple of times, which was fun.

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.  We enjoyed a wonderful sunset from our deck and got to see a baboon and some go-away birds frolicking in the trees around us.

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.  The driver asked where the closest place to get food was, and Ndaskoi told him that would be the lodge, where we were headed.  As with all the lodges, the last bit of road was very rough, and we weren't sure they would make it.  We saw the people in the lodge later, but we never did see their car again.  The next morning there was a shattered car window and some trash along the side of the road to the lodge.  Some red bits of plastic made us think it must have come from that car, but we didn't really know what had happened.  Nathan got to set foot on the plains of the Serengeti as part of an impromptu Adopt-a-Highway exercise.

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.  They went off to spend one last afternoon lounging at the Moivaro Coffee Plantation Lodge to await their various flights home, while we and three of our tour-mates (who had all signed up for an optional "extension" to the base tour) explored the vast shopping complex at Arushan International Airport.  Fifteen minutes later, having seen the same t-shirts and small wooden items in each of the three shops, we settled in to wait for our flight to the exotic island of Zanzibar!

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.

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