Walk on the wild side

Trip Start Oct 06, 2005
Trip End Dec 24, 2005

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Sunday, December 18, 2005

Well over the course of a few months we have done our fair share of wildlife spotting and this is a funny and amazing experience. We have visited the following national parks - Masai Mara in Kenya, the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania, Chobe in Botswana, Etosha in Namibia, Otavnago in Botswana, and probably a few more I have forgotton!
Below is a few of the memories and experiences we have had whilst camping and game viewing.

Masai Mara

-This was our first experience of a game park, and one to remember. After a few hours (six!) of African massage (driving on potholed dirt tracks) we made it to the park. Why such a corrupt government can't get it into its head to pave the roads to its largest tourist attraction is beyond me (elsewhere the roads were much better), as the roads were a disgrace and it will not be long until people start going elsewhere. Rant over! Anywhere our first game drive in the evening was something that we stay in my memory, as we drove 100m to see my first wild elephant, this was quickly followed by my first, buffalo, wildebeest (that were everywhere), giraffe, warthog, lion etc etc. I wont bore you with all the names as I will be here all day, but basically if you can think of an African animal, it is more than likely we saw it!

The Masai Mara is the place where the wildebeest migrate to at this time of year. They basically walk around in a big circle all year, from the Serengeti in Tanzania to give birth, and then up to the Masai Mara for Summer where there is slightly more water. With the millions of wildebeest go the zebras (they always seemed to be together) and plenty of the different types of gazelles and impala. Hence as this is like your local supermarket moving constantly the lions and other cats and predators follow them. Lying on the ground like discarded litter, is therefore many carcasses of wildebeest that have been picked off (the shelf) by the lions.

In the Masai is the river, the one we have all seen on the documentaries with mud banks and murky water, where all the wildebeest have to cross as part of their migration. You know the one, the one in the footage where the huge croc comes suddenly out of the water and grabs a wildebeest as it is on the bank. Well being a bit of a wildlife documentary fan (thanks dad!) it was really pretty awesome to see this river for myself, and it was full of lazing hippos and very stuffed crocidiles as migration across the river had not been long before.

That afternoon we had what remains my highlight still, a hunting cheetah. This was truly an awesome experience as we were 100m downwind from the cheetah which was 100m downwind from some impala and gazelles. We followed it at a distance and watch it creep up and then sprint after them when it came close. Again watching this in the flesh was truly amazing, however the cheetah failed on this occasion, just being a little too slow. It then went under a tree and posed for us all, exhausted by its exertions, where it became apparent that it was pregnant - hence why it was a little slow.

Those first nights in the Masai were some of the most restless, as we slept in an unfenced campsite, and trying to get some sleep as elephants were trumpeting and lions are roaring around our campsite. For someone who has never heard a lion roar, it is a deep throated road that seems to go right through you, and echo all around the forest. Especially when you are sleeping in an unfenced campsite! We awoke the next morning to be told the elephants had walked very close to the camp and the lions closer still, with some nice fresh poo and footprints all of about 10m from out tent!

Serengeti and Ngorogoro crater

Moving from Kenya into Tanzania because the roads are so bad we went on a 1200km detour for 2 days to get to the Serengeti. This is a bit ridiculous when you think that the animals just walk across the border and into the Serengeti but we had to drive back to Nairobi to Arusha (capital of Tanzania) and then out to about 100km south of where we were two days previously!

The Serengeti is another documentary classic with huge, huge open plains of savannah that are spectacular. Highlights included seeing a leopard (that is the hardest of all animals to find). How the driver who is negotiating a pot holed dirt track through the park sees the tail of the animal 60m away in yellow grass I don't know, but they definitely earn there money!

Never being a bird watcher (and never likely to be) you hang out of the top all excited at spotting something with your own eyes and directing the jeep to it. Why this is a thrill I am not sure but I think it is just the excitement of the fact of where you are, and the fact that you have the opportunity to spot something, and you want to see it before anyone else does.

After hanging out the top of the 4x4's for two days in the Masai and doing the same thing in the Serengeti, I can only say to spotting a family of warthogs! Put simple - your brain and eyes play tricks on you. I have turned in my anticipation and excitement that many tree knots into leopards, tree stumps into baboons, buffalo into rhino, rocks into elephans, tufts of grass into lions that many times that after several days you give up! It is ridculously what you think you see at 100m away whilst moving, so my advice is to take a good book, sit back, relax and let your driver do all the spotting for you.

After the plains of the Serengeti we head to the Ngorogoro crater, which again is a wildlife spectacular as the animals dont migrate and there is water there all year round. Camping on the rim of the crater we were were visited by a wandering bull elephant that night. This was spotted by a girl that just wandered out of the firelight to go to the toilet, only to look up with her headtorch and see a great big elephant wandering past. Well once she had (finished her business presumably - probably a bit quicker than she would have normally!) informed the rest of the camp, this then saw all the tourist walk towards it with their cameras and all the guides walk away from it, thinking we were crazy! Elephants are very impressive animals, and seeing an elephant just plough through the trees like they are not even there, is quite a sight.

Several game parks and countries later we had seen all we wanted to see, and didnt even bother looking up from our books when we see zebras or giraffes. It is unbelievable how blaze you get, but after nearly 10 days in game driving we have had our fill, but I would still go and do it all again tommorow.

Later in Botswana we visited Chobe national park. Now this place has the highest concentration of elephants in the world. Let me say that again, the highest concentration of elephants in the WORLD! Why do I repeat myself, and capitilise? WE NEVER SAW ONE!!!! Didly squat, nothing, zilch, nout, zero! Can you believe it! 180,000 elephants in the park, thats right 180,000 of the suckers! This is so many they are actually having to cull 50,000 of them. So many elephants they have to kill 50,000 and we didnt see one, this is un-freaking-believable!!

We are told that it is a good park (I am sure it is) but on this day the weather was rainy so they dont bother coming down to the river (where all the road trails are) and so we saw none of them. We did see a few lions (lazing around as usual) and then get stuck in the sand so we had to push ourselves out just around the corner from the lions, but all in all it was a bit disapointing. But a boat trip in the evening saw us get our fill of hippos, as we must of seen a couple of hundred hanging around in the various family groups having their usual chit chat. Well thats what it looks like, as alot of the time when you see them, they are all lying in a circle with their heads together but their bums sticking out, like they are having an important meeting!

A canoe and walking safari in the Otavango Delta was a highlight that I can't recommend enough, as just seeing zebras and buffalo out of a vehicle and see them getting all twichy as you approach really was a great experience. Feeling the ground beneath your feet echo and vibrate with the sound of the buffalo hoofs as they run off was a sensation you just cant get in a vehicle.
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