photo link (with amateur videography)
I wake early. I hear the insects of the night and when I start to hear the birds of the morning, I get up, shower and dress. I open the door to the cabin and startle a dik dik. For a time, I sit on the seat on the verandah watching the black of the night change to pewter with the soft tint of pink that foretells the rising sun. I walk my way toward the main building as the gravel area around the firepit affords good sky viewing. By the smell, I can tell there is early morning coffee. One wish is that there were seats in the area but instead I stand, camera in hand and coffee cup at my feet. Out of the corner of my eye I see shadows moving in the distance. A giraffe moves silently and purposefully through the trees. Another pair of dik diks are near the gravel circle and I watch them nibble on plants while regularly checking me out for dangerous activities. I see dark shapes on the “lawn” east of the circle. When one moves, I realize these are not rocks, but cape buffalo. The manager had mentioned that they had been coming close in as they have developed a taste for the aloe plants in the gardens by the cabins. I gauge the distance between they and I. I move ju-u-u-ust a little bit closer to the main lodge entrance and go back to watching their movements. They clearly see me, but not as a threat. I can only hope they are well sated on aloe and not interested in challenging me for my gravel spot.
There are umbrella acacias on the close horizon and the pink orange rays of the sun rise behind them. I remember art class in primary school. We would paint the paper with water colours, let them dry then rub black wax crayon over the paint. Then we would scratch the crayon into a design so that the vibrant paint colours would show through. This is what the sky reminded me of – that and a Victorian shadow silhouette cutting. The forefront dark, with vibrant colours behind.
We have planned an 8am start, so breakfast is consumed and I am happy to see ugi on the buffet. Ugi is a combination of various grains as porridge. I valued it in Moshi as it staved off the hunger pangs where there was 7 or 8 hours between breakfast and lunch. Mix in some Blue Bonnet (margarine), sugar and powdered milk and you are set for the morning. I fill up today not knowing when lunch would be. I get my first serving of Tanzanian bacon too. I have been looking forward to this for a month – meaty bacon and always well cooked. I try not to seem piggish by having extra helpings. I have learned the value of a big breakfast in Africa. I sign the guest book, settle my tab and say my farewells.
The day has mixed clouds but no look of rain. We move off east, south and then west to Naabi gate. We see no one in the first five hours of the day.
There are vultures in the sky and on closer inspection we find hyena. They are finishing off something – all that is left is what appears to ribs that two of them are scrapping over. There is one lapping up the last remnants of blood but no other indicators of what or where they killed. I had heard the night before that the cats were not seen that day. There are many cubs for both the cheetah and lion. There is concern that the cubs born late will not survive the following in of the migration. They just aren’t big enough to keep up. We see no cats this day either – in fact on the whole trip there are less cats than expected. But there are secretary birds, various bustards and - eland. These are the first I have seen but I will see them in various places this day. They are the largest antelope and very skittish. S says it is because they have travelled here from the hunting grounds so they keep well away from vehicles. Indeed, they are always running away from the vehicle (as you will notice in the photos). At times, some have crossed in front of us, but usually they get out of shooting range as fast as they can – kicking up a lot of dust, with dewlaps swaying from side to side; the alpha male stopping to check us out every once in a while.
We cross the open plains – no trees in sight. This is fertile land, but the soil depth is shallow and then you hit lava beds. No place for tree roots to take hold. There is a movement out of the corner of my eye and I catch a wild cat skittering into its burrow. The wind carries the scent of the flowers that bloom in the area. The blooms tend to be small but fragrant. I see my first dung beetle – thanks to S’s eagle eyes. We circle Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek. There are wildebeest, hartebeest, buffalo and giraffe; many water fowl and…flamingos. When the wind blows the “right” way, you can smell them; and then there is the incessant honk and gabble as they carry on the gossip of the day. I laugh as I watch one group of about 20. They are obvious since instead of having their heads in the silt, they all stand with necks straight, first looking one way, then the other – all moving almost in unison. Gabble, gabble, left turn; gabble, gabble, right turn. They are the perfect candidates for the Queen of Heart’s crochet game. I smile while I watch and try to explain Alice in Wonderland to S. He shakes his head and must wonder if I have been smoking on Caterpillar’s water pipe.
We end up back on the road to Serengeti Gate. Up ahead there is dust. We slow down and it is soon clear why. We have found the migration! First it is the zebra and why they want to lie on the road, I don’t know. As far as we can see, there are ‘beests and zebra. Partly grown babies, still with their thicker, fuzzier coat. They stay close to mom and the zebra still nurse, but they seem way too big for this. Others rest in the road with several adults hovering around – keeping them safe. We move forward down the road. The herds get to their feet, amble off the road, sometimes running, but not far. We stop and I turn around to watch them close up behind us. We are surrounded by thousands of these animals not really caring we are there; going about their business of following the rains. We poke along; watching, listening; smelling the teaming mass around us. We finally make the main road and in the distance on the other side you can see the dark seas of animals. Yesterday all we could see here was the grass. I am so caught up with trying to remember these moments that photos are few and the video doesn’t capture the numbers and vast spread of the animals.
Eventually we end up at Naabi Hill Gate. While S does the paperwork, I climb the kopje and watch the moving herds and the moving play of cloud shadows on the plains to the north and the plains to the south. Again, lunch out of a box. Neither of us is much hungry. S is nursing a tooth infection that bothers him all week. I am suspicious of the eggs that are green. We share most of the box with a man who is collecting. He is clearly a regular as S stops to chat with him. Too late I realize the lack of hunger is partly due to dehydration. I am not used to the hotter sun and the drier climate than Moshi. I start to drink and eventually the headache fades and my equilibrium returns.
We watch a cheetah lope along the side of the road. Further on there are 2 lion in the rocks. With patience, we realize there are more – 6 more – on the rocks behind and further up. One lioness has on a collar. They must be a pride that is part of the “Lion Project”. They laze in the sun occasionally looking our way, yawning and some changing position. They are clearly not doing anything any time soon. We drive on. I spot two more to the North. They are on a dry incline and luck would have it, near a track. We follow another vehicle which has also spotted them. I am glowing with having spotted them first - but soon we realize I was wrong – they are hartebeest, oops – but they fooled all of us. Still, they are nice specimens of the species, however, I just keep thinking they look like an unintelligent group of animals. Can’t warm up to them. We drive along the road known to have leopards and sure enough, we spot one sleeping in a tree. I have learned how to spot them sooner than last visit. Nice to know one can develop and maintain new skills of observation. There is clearly more traffic in the Serengeti, but still not much to fuss about. Many stop, snap and leave while others are there for the duration. We do a quick circuit to the hippo pool, but there are many vehicles there and we decide to head on to camp. It is Kati Kati for the next 2 nights.
It’s a nicely situated camp on a bit of a rise with hills to the West. My request for a last tent has gone ignored, but I ask nicely again, so they quickly prep the last tent to the North – priming the toilet, setting up the shower and providing hot water. It is large with a large queen size bed – a luxury after a single narrow bunk bed for a month. I am several tents down from other guests and I have fields of grass around me. At a stretch, I can pretend to have my own little Robinson Crusoe moment – in luxury. The shower is twice as long as my last Serengeti experience so I linger, but not for long.
I have seen many Italian renaissance paintings of grey/white clouds of azure skies - touches of pink and yellow; but often wondered where they had gotten their inspiration. We don't have skies like that in Canada and I had never seen them any other country I had visited. But here, in the Serengeti are the original renaissance skies. They are beautiful and move me to tears. Look in any direction and you see the hand of God painting the sky. I was recently told, the only thing you can be sure of is that the sun rises and the sun sets and that eventually everyone dies. Well, forgetting the dying part, I watch the sun set and reflect that despite the state of the country; despite what man is doing to our globe, these sunsets and sunrises have happened for millennia. One feels very small and very humbled to be allowed to experience such beauty and such a miracle. The camera cannot truly capture the moment - one can only try to hold it on our heart and mind's eye for our lifetime. I try to get a grip on my emotions as I have people to interact with, but tonight was a moment of connectedness to God …and possibly, Michelangelo.
Then it is time for a sundowner at the fire. There are few of us at camp tonight. Myself, 3 Australians and 2 late arriving French. I am invited to join the Australians for dinner as our drivers know each other and can dine together and catch up. Dinner is excellent, though there seems to need to be a continual reminder about my wheat free dietary needs. Many seem to be young and using this time to learn their jobs – but they are eager to please.
Word has it that the elephants were wandering the camp last night. As one of the staff escorts me to my tent he asks if I am afraid, I answer “no, I hope they come by again”. They don’t seem used to intrepid solo travelling females.
The insects “sing” all night….ALL night. They are very loud in the Serengeti. I hope to hear elephants, but I know elephants are quiet except for their rumbling bellies and the insects will surely drown out many skulking animals. Eventually, the insects quiet and soon the birds sing for the dawn.