East Africa

Summer 2007

Part 7: Safari

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Wednesday August 29th (day 14): Serengeti day 1

We left Mwanza at 9am, sharing a jeep with Italian couple Roberta and Allessandro. I had been sick all night but was feeling fine now. Still the Italians and the driver kept asking if I was sick because I looked terrible and was drowsing all the time, but I was just seriously short on sleep: I hadn't slept at all that night, the night before we'd only slept from 1am to 5am (between two bus rides) and the night before that we had woken up at 4am to catch our first bus.

So I drowsed a lot, looking up when the others said there was something to see. Even so it was a very enjoyable day during which we got to see many more animals than we'd expected. It took about two hours to get to the Serengeti from Mwanza, after that we saw wildlife all the time.

Me drowsing in the jeep Danny with our jeep at the entrance to the Serengeti Zebras, the first animals we saw and the ones we saw the most.

Here's a list of all the animals we saw and recognised on this first day: zebras, a topi, baboons, ostriches, kori bustards (tandawala), crocodiles, hippos, warthogs, wildebeests, vultures, a storc, Thomson gazelles, lions, buffalos, giraffes and hyenas.

On the second day we'd also see: velvet monkeys, Grant gazelles, flamingos, a cheetah, a rhino, a jackal, a jaguar and an elephant. We also saw a dozen or so bird species that I can't identify.

In the end both me and Danny enjoyed the sight of the beautiful acacia trees the most though, especially when the sun was setting or rising and casting beautiful shadows in the branches (not yet the case in this picture).

Gazelles under a tree in the morning

I'll show the pictures in chronological order. Early on we went to a puddle where a group of baboons hang out. I've also uploaded this clip of them.

Baboons Baboons

Out on the plain we came across various animals all the time; here are an ostrich, a pair of wildebeest and a bunch of buffalos.

An ostrich Wildebeests Buffalos

The pools and rivers had little water in them because it was dry season, but the hippos and crocodiles seemed to manage just fine.

This pool had a hippo and several crocodiles in it. Notice the birds on the trees. River bed River bed

This spot is a favourite bathing place of hippos...

Hippos Hippos Hippos

One of my favourite sights were the vultures, which I loved following through my binoculars. They're ugly but impressive birds. I uploaded a clip of these vultures taking off if you're interested.

Vultures

It was well into the afternoon now and the sun was casting a beautiful glow over the Serengeti. The acacia trees became our favourite sight.

Acacia trees Acacia trees

Perhaps the most beautiful creature in the Serengeti is the Thomson gazelle, of which I have more pictures later.

A Thomson gazelle Hyena

We came across lions on two occasions. The first time our driver threw a stone at some half-grown lions who were sleeping in some bushes near the road. It was a funny sight to see them all suddenly lift their heads and look at us, but a sign at the park entrance expressly forbids disturbing the animals and requests that you protest if your driver does this, so I did. He just gave me an incredulous look and I was too sleepy to insist.

The second time we saw another jeep drive backwards towards within a meter or two of a sleeping lion and step on the gas to scare it. The animal just walked off slowly. From these and other close encounters with different animals later on, it became clear that all the signs and regulations don't help and the wildlife is just considered entertainment by all the drivers and most of the tourists.

This lion was sleeping, but this jeep drove backwards and stepped on the gast until it got up and moved.

In the later afternoon we drove to a camp site.

Acacia tree This tree is called the 'Fever tree' or the yellow-barked acacia Acacia tree

At the camp site we set up our tent, and right after dinner I got into my sleeping bag and fell into a comatose sleep. The next morning Danny would have stories of strange animal sounds coming from the Serengeti around us all night, but I didn't hear a thing.

The Serengeti near sunset as seen from our camp site.

Thursday August 30th (day 15): Serengeti & Ngorongoro

I woke up completely refreshed and ready for an active day. Today we first drove around the Serengeti some more and then headed for the Ngorongoro crater, which is a separate nature park.

Me before the tent in the morning. On the left are Roberta and Allessandro.

Serengeti day 2

In just an hour or two of driving around we saw lots of animals again; they're really easy to find in the Serengeti. Spending just over a day here was plenty of time to see everything.

Trees... trees... ... and more beautiful trees
An almost bald acacia tree Danny photographing a velvet monkey Velvet monkey

This morning we had the best of our five or so lion sightings. Sadly it once again showed how the animals are being disturbed by us visitors. A sign at the park entrance had shown a picture of a cheetah cub that had been separated from its mother because of jeeps getting too close, and now we saw exactly that almost happening to a lion cub right in front of us.

A jeep following a lioness and her tree cubs. One of the cubs is going astray and could get lost, fortunately that didn't happen. All three cubs reunited with their mom. Look how cute those cubs are! Also notice that the mother is wearing a collar.

We got to see lots of giraffes this morning, lovely creatures.

Me and another giraffe Giraffe Giraffe under an umbrella

Final pictures from the Serengeti...

A hyena scouting a bunch of gazelles This is a Hildebrandt's Starling

So that was the Serengeti. It was wonderful and we saw many more animals than I'd expected, but on the other hand it felt more like a big open air zoo than like a wilderness. Many parts of it are managed to attract specific animals to spots near the roads (e.g. by burning down strips of land near the road so fresh grass will grow there) and the animals themselves seem rather tame.

Olduvai Gorge

We left the Serengeti and drove east towards the Ngorongoro crater. On our way we past some lovely dry landscapes, several Maasai villages and the Olduvai Gorge.

Dry land Maasai shepherds

Olduvai Gorge is a ravine that gets nick-named the Cradle of Mankind because the earliest known specimens of the human genus were discovered here. The famous opening scene of 2001: A space odyssey, called "The Dawn of Man", is set here for that reason. There's nothing much to see except a beautiful landscape though.

Olduvai Gorge Olduvai Gorge

Towards Ngorongoro

As we drove towards the Ngorongoro crater we came across several Maasai villages. Maasai tribes lived inside the crater until 1959 when they were evicted by park authorities. Nowadays many safari tourists visit their villages, and they're said to be very assertive souvenir-sellers. The driver asked if we wanted to visit such a village but none of us were interested, it would just be a completely fake encounter with local people.

Maasai village along the way. Maasai under a tree.

As we approached the edge of the crate the landscape got more mountainous.

Towards Ngorongoro Towards Ngorongoro Wild gazelles and Maasai cattle near the crater

Ngorongoro crater

The Ngorongoro crater is the world's largest volcanic caldera. It has a diameter of some 20km and is 600m deep. I would have visited it just to see this huge circle, but of course it is most famous for its wildlife.

Some 25000 large animals live in this natural enclosure, a cross-sample of almost all species that live in East Africa. Among the few absentees the most notable are crocodiles and giraffes. Some of the wildebeests and zebras migrate in and out with the seasons, but all other animals are permanently confined to the area, leading to severe inbreeding problems.

In the early 20th century, the whole 650km2 crater area was leased by two German brothers from colonial authorities. They used it for farming and as hunting grounds for themselves and their friends. Talk about living rich.

We arrived on top of the crater rim at around 1pm and made a stop to take in the glorious view. We were at the western entry point to the crater and could easily see the full circle all the way to the other side, some 20km distant. I stitched together the following panoramic shot. It is 2000 pixels wide so you may have to open it in a separate tab to see it in full detail (scroll it).

Panorama from the edge of the Ngorongoro crater, just as some Maasai are herding their cattle out of it. They're allowed to graze inside the crater but must always leave again the same day.

Some more pictures from the same spot...

Cattle leaving the the crater In the middle of the Ngorongoro crater lies lake Magadi, a seasonal salty lake (Magadi means salt) Two Maasai women sitting near the western entry point to the Ngorongoro crater

These pictures were made while descending into the crater...

Descending from the western side of the Ngorongoro crater The western side of the Ngorongoro crater Standing through the roof of the jeep during the descent.

It became immediately clear that the crater floor is teeming with wildlife...

Inside the Ngorongoro crater Wildebeests Buffalos

Just like in the Serengeti, zebras seem to be the most abundant large species.

Gazelles, zebras and on the right a very fancy bird called Crowned Crane Zebras walking by the shore of lake Magadi
Grazing zebras Me and the zebras

We spotted our only cheetah. Apparently a rare sight because more and more jeeps crowded around to watch. This time none of them tried to disturb the animal, which was quite distant.

A cheetah in the Ngorongoro crater Jeeps crowding around to see the cheetah

Perhaps the most impressive sight we got was that of a black rhinoceros, which came trodding towards the road from the right and crossed it, seemingly undisturbed by the bunch of jeeps lining up to let it pass. As I said before, all these animals seem very tame.

Black rhinoceros approaching in the Ngorongoro crater Why did the black rhinoceros cross the road?

Another favourite of mine were the warthogs. Apparently I have a thing for ugly animals (cfr. the vultures).

Warthogs in the Ngorongoro crater

On the opposite side of the beauty spectrum there are the Thomson gazelles...

Thomson gazelle Thomson gazelle

As you can see in various pictures, large parts of the grasslands are being subjected to ecological burning regularly. Here are some lions and buffalos spotted on burned grassland...

Mister and misses lion relaxing on some burned grassland in the Ngorongoro crater. I love the expression on their faces. They didn't move a whisker the whole time we watched them. Buffalo herd inside the Ngorongoro crater

Here's another beauty: the only jackal we spotted...

A jackal in the Ngorongoro crater

An endearing sight here is the mingling of zebras and wildebeests, who have a sort of symbiotic relationship based on the fact that one eats the top of the high grass while the other prefers the lower parts - or so we were told. I just love the faces on those wildebeests - that ugly animal thing again I guess.

Zebras and wildebeests mingling in the Ngorongoro crater Wildebeests in the Ngorongoro crater Just a beautiful view

We spotted more birds too. I didn't know the species but bird-expert Sofia found out the names for me.

Birds drinking from a creek Close-up of the birds. These are Sacred Ibisses. A lovely bird called Superb Starling. We spotted many of these during a stop, all as shiny as this one.

Ever seen a lion tanning on the beach?

Lion enjoying the afternoon sun on his belly.

We finished our round around the crater at a sort of thin forest. Here we had our one and only sighting of an elephant, but it was distant and not moving at all (I kind of suspected it was a fake :) ).

Zebras grazing under a lovely yellow-barked acacia Here's the elephant. It's only now that I'm making this report, 20 months later, that I see there was a second elephant (on the right)

We started leaving the crater around 4:30pm, driving up the eastern wall with regular stops to take in the final views.

The smaller lake in the Ngorongoro crater Higher up, looking down on lake Magadi Closer look at the crater floor

Normally we'd spend the night in a lodge on the crater rim, but the driver offered to take us to a hotel in a nearby town which seemed like a much better idea.

Posing before the crater. The landscape on our way to a town east of the Ngorongoro.

This had been a fantastic day, both in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater! We had seen pretty much all you could want to see on a safari now in just two days.

Friday August 31st (day 16): Safari day 3

Lake Manyara NP

On this final day we passed yet another national park: Lake Manyara National Park. By all accounts this park is far less spectacular than the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater, but then most safaris start in Arusha and visit this park first before the others. For us it would probably have been very unexciting.

We had a choice between visiting this park or Meserani Snake Park, and we unanumously preferred the latter. But first we got this great panoramic view on the Lake Manyara NP (once again stitched together and 2000 pixels wide)...

Lake Manyara National Park

Right next to the above viewing spot there stood a Baobab, an Adansonia Digitata to be precise.

Me and the Baobab

Some sights along the road towards Meserani Snake Park...

A Maasai on a bike Street vendors selling food to passengers on a bus. This is how we got our food during our bus rides as well.

Meserani Snake Park

To be honest we mainly preferred to go to the snake park because it was the shorter thing to do on this third day, when we were already fully satisfied with our safari and just wanted to get to Arusha. But Meserani Snake Park, which lies some 25km west of Arusha, turned out to be a great place to visit.

They have pretty much all the most dangerous African snakes in their collection, presented with a good deal of information and the occasional newspaper snippet describing how a snake of the species on display once devoured a whole man. I thought the snakes were a fascinating sight and had a good time photographing and filming them. Here are some of my favourites...

A Green Mamba A pair of Red Spitting Cobras The most beautiful snake I know: the Boomslang

This Red-Spotted Beak Snake was trying to reach for the ceiling and doing a damn good job...

Here are two clips of an Egyptian Cobra, the kind of snake which Cleopatra used to commit suicide. I love how in the second clip this one snake seems to be a whole traffic system.

This snake was positively flirty. I don't remember what species it is.

Danny did a guided tour and got a chance to hold a snake.

Snake man Kissing a huge python

The park also had some other kinds of animals, mostly crocodiles.

White-backed Vulture
Little crocodiles Crocodile
Crocodile Crocodile

Right next to the park is the Maasai Cultural Museum, which we ran through quickly but was rather silly. In the souvenir shop outside I bought some Maasai jewelry for Lotte though.

Me in a Maasai souvenir shop

We were in Arusha by 4pm. From Arusha we'd climb Mount Meru, the main topic of the next part.

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