Part 8 – Safari
Today we head to The Manyara National Park. The first safari day brings baboons, silver monkeys, blue monkeys, hippos, impalas, and elephants- elephants everywhere, right by our safari vehicle. Amazing. The elephants are so quiet- their gait is so gentle. Tonight we stay at Renata’s lodge- Plantation Lodge. It is a five star oasis. No, a six star oasis. We dine outside under hanging lanterns, and sit at Renata’s head table to enjoy an evening of friendship. Renata is a friend of Annette’s and came to our concert in Arusha a few nights ago. She is a remarkable woman. She tells us of the early years in Tanzania and how she built the lodge from nothing. She too has a funny dog. Her dog likes raw eggs. When Renata gives me a tour of the wine cellar her dog waits by a bowl of raw eggs on the floor. She reaches down, picks one up and smashes it on the floor. Her dog happily laps it up.
We head to the Ngorogoro Crater for our second day of safari, descending into this sunken wildlife ecosystem. Most animals stay inside the giant crater their whole lives, but the lions, elephants, and rhino’s come and go. On our way we see many Maasai people, the tribe local to this area. They live a simple, beautiful, and brutal life. Today we see zebras, Thompson impalas, grand impalas, antelope, buffalo, warthogs, wildebeests, rhinos, lions, elephants, and many with their babies, all living together on the plains and forests. This is the time of year when the young are born. They are so cute. Our guide, PJ, can usually tell us how old they are, and most of the babies are between one and three weeks old. We stay at the Serena Lodge for the night. There is a Maasai dancing demonstration at night. The men try to jump high in the dance to prove their strength to the women. There is singing and chanting. It’s exhilarating to watch, and a bit scary.
Today we head to Ndutu National Park, part of Serengeti National Park. On our way we come across at least a dozen giraffes munching on the acacia trees alongside the road. So peaceful, so graceful. We see many Maasai out with their goats and cattle. Whenever they block the road, our guide, PJ smiles and says, “Mmm, barbecue.” Within the hour we visit Olduvie Gorge, the site where some of the first upright footprints were discovered. Amazing. Archeologists from all over the world still come here for three months out of the year hoping for new discoveries.
We pick up a local guide at this site who is from the same region as PJ. He takes us on a trek to visit a magnetic mound of sand, called Shifting Sands. We have picked the worst day ever to visit the sand. The wind is howling, sand is pouring in our safari vehicle. We have our shirts pulled up over our faces but still our teeth are crunching with sand within minutes. This magnetic sand is from the volcano, Mt. Oldonyo Lengai. The wind blows the sand, yet the magnetic properties always keep this mini mountain in a crescent shape. It travels about 17 meters a year. They mark its movements with stone pilings, each one dated. The sand has already traveled 65 kilometers from the mountain over years and years and years.
The Maasai people believe Mt. Oldonyo Lengai is the mountain where their Gods came from, so this traveling mound of sand is sacred to them. They come on pilgrimages to pray here; for health, a baby, good fortune. After praying, they sacrifice an animal then celebrate.
When we arrive the wind is still whipping and howling. We climb the mound, about 25 feet high, black, and see the magnetic sand dance along the surface as the wind works its magic. There are animal bones in a few places by the edge of the mound and we see Maasai approaching in the distance. We back our way down the mound to keep the wind at our backs and are relieved to be back in the car, at least partially protected.
We travel on and begin to see signs of the great migration- huge herds of wildebeests grazing in strips reaching the full length of the horizon on either side. Vultures eat a fallen wildebeest. Later we move into a wooded region and see many more giraffes and we see the smallest of the antelope, the dik dik. Through the vegetation we can see more intense herds of wildebeest moving, thicker, and moving steadily. We happen upon a lake with pink flamingoes along the shore, and perhaps the highlight of the day, some dung beetles rolling wildebeest dung along the road. By 5:00 pm we are animal-ed out. We arrive at our Lodge, Ndutu Lodge, tucked right in the Serengeti Park. After cold showers we all feel much better, but we are still right in the park. I’m sitting on my bed right now looking out my window and there are zebras grazing 30 feet away and wildebeests running in the distance. Amazing. After our dinner the guards escort us back to our rooms, just in case. I ask PJ if there has ever been a problem with the wild animals at the Lodge. He laughs and says, “Maybe.” “Oh,” I say, “When was the last maybe?” PJ just laughs and smiles, the changes the subject.
Our working Swahili Vocabulary:
Jambo – Hello
Kwaheri – Goodbye
Asante – Thank you
Sana – very much
Karibu – You’re welcome
Lala Salama – Sleep well
Ndyio – Yes
Sawa – Okay
Safi – (clean) Cool, man, cool
Habari – How are you?
Nzuri – Good
Tutaonana – See you later
Hacuna Matata- No worries
We are at the Ndutu Lodge for two nights. We are out the door by 6:00 am in hopes of seeing lions. The moon has just started waning and in the opposite skyline we see the sunrise. We drive around the bush for at least an hour, all of us scanning the brush, and finally we hit the jackpot. Two enormous female lions. One is awake and lounging right in front of us, the other a bit more shy and keeps her distance. On our way back to the lodge for breakfast we also see a honey badger. PJ gets excited by this as it is a rare siting. Ken, Jon, and Kate take a hike for an hour and a half with a walking guide armed with a gun. They don’t see much- just as well if you ask me. In the afternoon we find another lion, then happen upon a rare event. We come across a recent kill, a grand impala, with four cheetahs panting about 30 feet away. PJ parks near the kill and says, “This is good. We wait.” Sure enough, about 20 minutes later when the cheetahs have recovered, they come over and rip into the impala for dinner. It is gruesome. The smells, the sounds. We are all awestruck and consider the vegetarian option for dinner. On our way back to the Lodge we also find a family of foxes- much smaller than the kind we have back in the states.
Safari life is fun. It usually starts with a drive of at least an hour before you find anything, but all are involved in the search. You can sit and look out he windows or stand up through the open roof and scan from above. Sunscreen and bug spray are a must. If you need to go to the bathroom just tell PJ you have to “check the tire” and he’ll find a safe spot for you. Being on safari with teens is entertaining. There are plenty of ze-bra and dik-dik jokes flying around.
Last day. We are up and on the road early. We drive out of the Serengeti straight through the great migration. Kate sees a gazelle nearly born, I see a baby wildebeest minutes old, still wet with its spindle legs quivering. We also see our first hyena. We drive home the same way we came. It’s a fun re-cap of our trip. In Arusha we stop at the International School to pick up luggage and say our goodbyes. We take the boys to the Maasai market for a few minutes of shopping, then it’s off to a day lodge at the airport to shower and pack.
This has been a grand adventure. We are all changed, and I’m sure we are changed in ways we don’t even know about yet. We have enjoyed each other, we have shared time, experiences, and excitement. Jon and Ken summited Kili together. There is so much to think about, my head is racing. But for now, home is calling.