Friday, May 9, 2008

Serengeti National Park

Although the two areas share a border, the landscape of the Serengeti is totally different from the lush green hill in Ngorongoro. Entering the Serengeti was like driving into a barren wasteland. Dry grasslands that extend for miles and miles; there isn’t an elevated piece of land to be seen. It was hard to believe there could be any wildlife on the flat empty plains. In fact, our first impressions, or rather my first impression since Chris was taken a short nap, turned out to be totally inaccurate. Almost immediately we started to see wildlife. The grasslands are home to thousands of gazelle. We saw Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle everywhere for the first hour of our drive.

The gazelle are specially adapted to the dry plains; they do not drink, instead they get all their water from dew and grass. We also saw lots of different bird species, some chameleons, and a few jackals and hyenas. As we drove on we could see small hills in the distance, which our driver informed us was our destination for the night. As we got closer he stopped to look at the distant landscape through his binoculars. “See those dark patches in the distance?” We were thinking cloud shadows or maybe patches of trees. “Those are herd of wildebeest.” Shit. There are literally a million wildebeest roaming the plains. They migrate down from Kenya in possible the biggest migration in the world. One million wildebeest. It’s almost impossible to comprehend what it would look like.

One the way to our lodge we stopped at one of the spot known for lion sightings - small collection of grassy knolls surrounding a small water hole. Prime lion territory. They just chill in the tall grasses waiting for unsuspecting prey to come to drink. Sure enough as we entered the small circles of hills we saw two huge male lions and half a dozen females and cubs, not to mention four other safari groups. It was a sight to behold. Male lions are way bigger than I thought they were. Their golden manes and huge jaws weren’t more than twenty feet from our vehicle. I sure wasn’t making any sudden movements or sounds.

We sat watching the pride in silence for a while. Another Land Cruiser pulled up to take the place of one just leaving and promptly got a flat tire. Yikes! There is no way you could have gotten me out of the car to change that flat in the middle of a pride of lions. They ended up driving around behind one of the hills and making a speedy job of it.

We arrived at out lodge exhausted only to find out we were scheduled for a pre breakfast game drive. The early morning hours are better for seeing some of the nocturnal animals. We figured this was a once in a lifetime experience so we might as well drag our asses out of bed a 5:30 a.m.

We barely made it up, and kept thinking, ‘How are we supposed to spot wildlife in this light?’ We could barely pick out movement in the full sunlight. Both Chris and I were forever thinking termite hill and logs were hyenas or leopards. Sure enough the first thing Chris spotted….”Hey, are those cranes?” Huh, machinery in the middle of the Serengeti? Actually they were giraffes.

It finally got a little lighter as we made our way out of the forested hills and onto the open plains. Smack dab in the middle of a giant herd of wildebeest. They stretched as far as we could see in all directions. Driving through them was like parting a sea. In some cases they walk or run along the plains in single file on some endless journey in search of new food and water. We just stared. I have never seen so many animals in one place.

At one point we came upon a group of hyenas tearing into the carcass of a young wildebeest. Yummy breakfast. Many of the herds are intermixed with zebras. Then we drove into an odd empty, perfect circle in the middle of the herd. We soon found out the cause – a couple lions sunning themselves on the rocks. They were just hanging out in the middle of their 24 hour self-service buffet.

Like Ngorongoro, the Serengeti was filled with wildlife. We saw: wildebeest, zebras, topi, gazelle, impala, waterbucks, giraffes, elephants, hyenas, jackals, ostrich, buffalo, warthogs, lots of vultures, buzzards, storks and birds of prey, lions, and a crazy looking Secretary bird.

On our last day we had to get up bright and early to make the drive from the Serengeti to Lake Manyara. We arrived at another beautiful lodge on the hills overlooking the huge lake in time for a great lunch buffet and a quick nap before heading out again “fishing for wildlife” as our driver called it.


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