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The Romantic Serengeti

January 27, 2016

At mid-morning we said farewell to the Sopa Lodge and began another long trek to the Serengeti National Park, a drive of over two hours on the usual rutted dirt roads, sometimes crossing small streams. Along the way we passed a number of small Maasai villages in the area known as the Crater Highlands, each a grouping of thatched-roof bomas with cattle pens made from long sticks. From the sizable herds of cattle the young boys were herding, the Maasai in this area appear to be relatively prosperous.

Within about thirty minutes from entering the Serengeti, we spotted our first giraffes grazing on umbrella acacia trees. Before much longer zebra were grazing by the roadside, along with delicate Thompson gazelles. Plenty of opportunities for photos.

At first the wildebeests appeared in small herds leisurely grazing, but soon we began to see thousands of them — our first sight of the great migration. Then the herds stretched to the horizon as far as the eye could see in all directions.  It’s estimated that 1.5 million wildebeests, 200,000 zebras and countless gazelles take part in the migration, a round-trip journey of 500 miles.

Many Wildebeests.jpg

The Serengeti eclipses the Ngorogoro Conservation area in size, spanning some 5700 square miles just in Tanzania (an area the size of Northern Ireland). It continues into Kenya as the Maasai Mara. Soon it was lunchtime, and our lead guide, Victor, led us off-road into the middle of the migrating herd. Though the animals moved away as we circled our jeeps, it was still remarkable to see 360 degrees of wildebeests!

Lunch Among the Wildebeests.jpg

After lunch, as we were running a bit behind, we beat it for the Nasikia Migration Camp, our base for the next two nights. We had just twenty minutes to be escorted to our tents before we jumped back in the cars for an early evening game drive, starting around 4:30. At this time of day the harsh light changes to a lovely golden glow ideal for photography. As we went back into the bush, clouds were gathering on the southern horizon, and distant flashes of lightning slashed through the clouds. But we were able to get up close to a small tower of giraffes noshing by a lakeside while a spotted hyena (pregnant) scurried behind us looking for prey.

Hyenas aren’t the only threat to the migrating herds: lions, cheetahs and leopards also stalk, looking for the weakest members. We saw a couple of female lions, not hunting, just catnapping as a rain shower moved in, forcing us to roll the canvas roofs back on the Land Cruisers.

By now the sun was gilding the clouds with an apricot-purple glow that stood out in high contrast to the darkening clouds. Umbrella acacias, with their twisty trunks and branches, lent their iconic profile to the horizon, and as darkness deepened there were exquisite reflections in the streams and ponds.Sunset Reflections

At one such stream, a male and female lion were idling, and we spent a good 15-20 minutes capturing their every pose. They were a handsome, regal couple, and before we left they made signs as if to mate, but it didn’t happen — at least not while twenty people were gaping at them. This encounter was a perfect capstone to the day.

Back at camp we could get our bearings to appreciate the surroundings before dinner. I have my own tent, with double-zippered flaps, a wooden floor with rugs, a queen bed complete with mosquito netting, and a bathroom with a shower. My attendant, Brighton, heats twenty liters of water he puts in a tank for my shower, and there are no controls: it comes out icy at the outset and quickly turns steaming hot. The bathroom sink only dispenses cold water, but that’s not a problem.

They run a generator and use solar panels for electricity, and have a charging station in the dining tent for recharging phones, camera batteries, etc. Every night at 6:30 they offer Tanzania TV: a roaring campfire, cocktails, snacks and the sounds of wildlife in the surrounding bush. Lanterns mark the path to the tents, and someone is always there to escort you to and from the main tent. Dinner was excellent.

As I write this, I’m soothed by the sounds of night critters, and occasionally I can hear the rumble of a lion — not a roar, more like a snore. I’ve never experienced such magic. Those who know how much I loathe camping might be surprised to hear how much I love this!


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One Comment
  1. Marlo Quick permalink

    What an experience! I can only imagine it but your writing makes it seem real.

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