I’ve lost track of what day it is, but about three days ago we took a small propeller plane from Arusha to the heart of the Serengeti for an African safari. We made stops in four tiny dirt airstrips with no airport; the jeeps just pull right up to the airstrip and you get in and out. The flight was spectacular, with views of the great migration – thousands of zebra and wildebeest running through the vast open plains. We went straight into our safari as soon as we got off the plane – comfortable in our huge Land Cruiser with an open roof so we can stand. Driving through the Serengeti, we saw a myriad of different birds, some tiny and bright as jewels, glittering in the scorching sun; others huge and ominous, lurking in the tall grass. We reach a small lake with about 20 hippos frolicking in the murky water, wriggling their ears and snorting. A wide variety of antelope are grazing nearby – the impala are my favorite; sleek, beautiful animals with long, straight horns. As we drive on, we find a pride of lions lounging in the shade. The male is upside down on his back like a lazy dog wanting his neck scratched. Next, there is a leopard high in the treetops, giraffes grazing on acacia, herds of elephants playing in the water, and monkeys everywhere. The buffalo and ostriches were a lot bigger than I imagined, and all the animals went along with their business like we weren’t there. The names of the animals from The Lion King are actual Swahili words, and I can’t help but laugh when my guide says, “Look to your right, there is a pumba.”
Dusk approaches quickly, and the sky is lit with deep hues of orange and red. There is a storm approaching in the distance and thunder cracks as we race back toward the lodge over bumpy dirt roads. All of a sudden we are in the violence of the storm and gigantic raindrops pelt the windshield in the darkness. A herd of gazelle dart wildly in front of the headlights and the driver slams on the brakes, barely missing them. Hail crashes down, the size of marbles, cracking the windshield, as flashes of lightning illuminate the savannah. The driver can’t see, so we inch along slowly, and finally make it to my lodge for the night, which is flooded because of the storm.
The lodge is gorgeous, made entirely of wood, and I have a fabulous buffet dinner and collapse into bed. In the morning I get up early and make my way to breakfast, but monkeys are blocking the balconies, trying all the doors to get into the rooms. I am afraid to pass, but they completely ignore me as I walk by. The lodge is also crawling with hyraxes, which look like rats that are bigger than rabbits. After breakfast we set out for Ngorongoro Crater. On the way we race past more of the great migration. Zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, gazelles everywhere, right on the road to as far as the eye can see. We have to stop a few times as zebra cross the road, snorting and kicking up dust at us. Within the crater we see the elusive black rhino, a cheetah, more lazy lions, all the animals we saw yesterday, plus an astounding number of baboons. My lodge for the night overlooks the crater but this time there are no monkeys.
We also got to stop at Olduvai Gorge, the famous site where early hominid fossils were discovered. There is a small museum and we listen to a short talk by an archaeologist about findings from the site. Next we stop at a traditional Masai village. They come out to greet us with a guttural song, men dressed in red on one side and women in purple on the other. Their village is a circle of thorny bush with mud houses inside and a goat pen in the center. We are able to sit inside one of the houses, which is tiny and stifling hot, and one of the warriors tells us about their way of life.
Today we drove to Lake Manyara, where I am at the fanciest lodge yet. Instead of turndown service, we have mosquito net service, where a woman came to secure the net for me while I was in bed. I declined of course and did a pretty good job of it myself. The place is crawling with baboons and I am told to lock all the doors and windows or they will come in my room and wreak havoc. I almost want to leave a window open to see what will happen. Almost.
africa, safari, serengeti, travel