Ultimate Safari! - Serengeti Plain, Tanzania

Trip Start Jan 27, 2012
Trip End Feb 27, 2012

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Since we humans have the
better brain, isn't it our responsibility to protect our fellow
creatures from, oddly enough, ourselves?" -- Joy Adamson, Author "Born Free"

It's 3AM, and I'm sleeping soundly in my tent. Suddenly, my bodies' urge to find a bathroom awakens me. I glance out my tent window…. silence. My visibility is pitch blackness. The air is chill but not cold. I start to unzip my sleeping bag when all of a sudden the deafening silence is broken by the loud yelping sound of a hyena… then two hyenas. The sounds are not far from my tent. Silence resumes until a low-pitched, steady, gurgling roar of a lion emanates from the same darkness not far from my tent. There is no fenced perimeter between me and those sounds. Potential dilemma I thought. I decided I could convince my bodies' urge to wait a while longer before venturing outside my tent.
I sat in my sleeping bag, smiled, and whispered to myself "this is cool! " THIS was the Serengeti !!!

This after midnight safari adrenalin rush would happen again, same time (3am) different campsite. Perched on the edge of the famous Ngorongoro Crater, the 3am calling arrived. After three nights straight wearing my contact lenses, I decided I needed to give my eyes a break on the fourth night of our safari. So, when I unzipped my tent to sprint across the campground grass toward the direction of the bathroom, my vision was slightly blurred. However, when I came within 10 yards of the bathroom, I could still identify the slow moving large black object ahead of me as a Cape buffalo. Squinting, I pointed my small flashlight in the direction of the black object to confirm my hunch. He, or she, was munching on the grass. Friend or foe, I did not know, and with capricious Cape buffalo, you never do know. This one was heading right in front of my path too, blocking my entrance and/ or exit to the bathroom. Bugger, I said, and wisely retreated, finding a blurred but safer piece of shrubbery. Now, would I have had near as much fun with animal encounters if I stayed at the Sheraton Inn?!

These were just two great wildlife encounters I had during my Serengeti Plains safari in Tanzania. To get here, one week earlier, I had taken the public shuttle bus from Nairobi to Arusha, Tanzania. Arusha is the launching point for safaris into the Serengeti.

The border crossing at the Kenya/Tanzania border was no small feat. Bad enough, the incredibly squeezed condition in the sardine-packed shuttle bus, the passport process was a well-scrutinized prolonged event. By scrutinized I mean each individual crossing into Tanzania had their fingerprints checked. Heavens knows, I understood the Tanzanian governments' caution. The risk of some North American / European tourist being an international criminal, spy or counterterrorist must be considerable! Oh yeah, and there was the $100 visa requirement ($50 if you're not an American) for Tanzania entry as well.

Hey, but this was East Africa, so "hakuna matata"…no worries man, and I just smiled and joked with the other travelers.

"Hakuna matata" is a Swahili phrase meaning "no worries" in English, which I felt proud of knowing having studied my Swahili phrase book. However, to my chagrin I discovered my due diligent study habit was an unnecessary way to learn Swahili. After talking to anyone younger than 35 years of age all I really needed to do to learn Swahili was watch the Disney animation movie Lion King!

Quite a few people on board the bus were bound for Moshi, the launching point for treks up Mount Kilimanjaro. These enthusiastic mountain trekkers will have to climb over 19,000 ft. to get to the summit. My sights were set on Mount Kenya for my mountain trek later on this trip. Mount Kenya, a mere 17,000 ft. was not as high as Mount Kilimanjaro but still a challenge for me. My goal here in Tanzania was to arrange a safari to the Serengeti from Arusha, Tanzania, my next stop.

I liked the feel of Arusha. Arusha was more relaxed, more colorful than cosmopolitan Nairobi. Mount Meru, a classic conical-shaped dormant volcano, rises prominently on the horizon beyond Arusha's city limits.

The Tanzanian women in the city wear colorful kangas; brightly colored light dresses that add a lovely ambiance to the passing scene. A religious mix is noticeable here, with African Christians and Muslims together roaming the streets. Not too many miles further east is Dar Salaam, Tanzania's largest city which has a predominantly Muslim population.

Arusha Backpackers, where I stayed, offered one key highlight: the third floor open air dining lounge. From this vantage point, I could watch this passing street scene unfold, always in amazement at the amount of goods a woman could carry on her head. The women always kept perfect posture too, walking straight as an arrow.

I quickly discovered the "Tanzanian way" can be quite humorous. Trying to get into my room, I found my key would not open the door's padlock. The tumbler must have broken inside. I thought, ok, no problem. To me, the easy solution simply required a good pair of bolt cutters and a new lock. Oh… how wrong I was!

I got a hold of a staff worker, who, instead of getting a bolt cutter, and after much scrutiny, tried to cut the thinner bolt clasp which held the lock with a barely sharpened knife. The hallway light wasn't working (to save electricity past 9am apparently), so his co-worker shined his cell phone pen light on my door. I had to give them credit for effort and tenacity. A half hour later, success, I could get into my room. We cheered this near insurmountable task and I shook the young man’s hand. Since my room’s door could not be secured anymore I inadvertently received the upgraded room next door which had a fan!

An interesting footnote, there was a fully modern hardware store (with bolt cutters and new locks) two blocks down the road. Also, when I returned to the backpacker after my safari one week later, that same room was still missing a lock….

During my search in town for a safari to join, I talked with several young men who worked in the tour industry, and they informed me that the owners of the large tour guide companies based in Arusha made tremendous profits while their employees were poorly paid. This was evident by the enormous mansion I saw where one of the major tour companies’ owners lived.

Eventually, I made the right safari company connection, and myself, a young Australian couple, a young Dutch couple, Roger, a cook from the island of Jersey, and our guide and driver Mohammed drove westward toward the Serengeti Plain. By the third day we all unanimously agreed to call our laid back yet very informative guide Mohammed, Morgan, due to his uncanny resemblance to Morgan Freeman.  We all laughed, he rolled his eyes, and agreed. I couldn’t ask for a better group of folks to go on a safari. We were all wonderfully crazy! and became a great extended family.

Seasonally, early February was an excellent time of year for wildlife viewing. The wildebeest calving season was upon us, as well as a host of other animals that were having their babies.  These events spark the interests of the big hungry cats and so, with Nature’s circle of life patterns at play, there was much activity afoot.

The Serengeti Plain was teeming with wildlife: tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebras slowly migrating westward, roaming lions and cheetahs, leopards up an acacia tree with a recent kill, numerous elephants and giraffes, gazelles, monkeys, buzzards and storks, Cape buffalo, and the occasional waddling giant hippo cruising the wetlands.

There can be no greater pleasure in life than to set your day’s only goal:  to observe the activities of these incredibly beautiful animals in their natural surroundings.  The Serengeti safari experience is nourishment for the soul. Our group kept pinching each other in sheer excitement, recognizing how blessed and lucky we were in our wildlife sightings for those few short days.

The Ngorongoro Crater was also a bastion for wildlife activity. The crater is a cordera long ago left by a former volcano, now filled in with varied topographies and vegetation that supplies sustainable nourishment for the indigenous wildlife community. 

Again, the interplay between the animals is fascinating to watch, some scenes comical, others informative such as the handling of territorial disputes. We watched a large male lion in hot pursuit, an action rarely witnessed since they’re usually pretty lazy, lounging around while letting the women do the work. This fellow was hot on the trail of a young male lion that was muscling in on his ladies. "Them’s my ladies dude!" he growled. The neighboring zebras and wildebeest said, “oh, oh…we’re getting out of his way!” and scattered for the hills.

Finally, here in the Ngorongoro crater, our group could check off our last “Big Five” animal to be seen, spotting two white rhinos doing their usual grazing activities. 

Satisfied with this last sighting, we moved up and out of the crater, and headed in the direction of Lake Eyasi where nearby we would join the amazing Hadzabe tribe the next day for an early morning hunt!

To see more of Michael McGuerty's photography, please visit: www.michaelmcguerty.com

To read more of Michael McGuerty's writings, please visit: www.pecoskid.com

To view my Africa video, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7Sb2ncvmzw 

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Joel on

Hey Mike,
Did you know these same animals can be seen about 20 minutes from my place? :) The San Diego Wild Animal park. hehe
I'm sure it's quite a different experience being in Africa though.

Gayl Weaver on

Wow, the pictures, the story....."almost" like being there! Thanks-

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