Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Born to be Wildebeest

[Safari post -- part 2 of 2.]

Where we left off, I was heading to the bar at the Seronera lodge.

The lodge was way more luxurious than I was expecting (esp. for the price, which included dinner, breakfast and a boxed lunch). Definitely not the usual Al-roughing-it accomodations, which have included: an illegal guesthouse in Uzbekistan that was shut down by the police during my stay, a sixteen-to-a-room hostel with one toilet, and a rent-by-the-hour Costa Rican dive. No, this place was filled with honeymooners and rich people, and had an amazing restaurant and a pool terrace. Oh, and a bar carved out of a boulder. This is the courtyard of the hotel (inside that big boulder is the bar):

I was there by myself, so I settled down next to the predictable Masai spear display and did a little reading and Safari-sipping. I started a jumbo collection of short stories by Eudora Welty, a Southern author I really like. She reminds me of Flannery O'Conner, my favorite author (and also Southern).

We left early the next morning to pack in as much as possible. The serengeti was pretty low on animals for the first couple of hours, except for a bunch of ostriches and a clan (squad?) of baboons. The baboon unit had a lot of young, who were jumping around and trying to climb up a tree. A few were clinging to their mothers' backs. The baboons seem totally fine with people being close -- some of them came right up to the car.

After that, not much to see for a while. There was some back and forth between one of the other passengers and our guide. Such as: why couldn't we see any lions; where are the rhinos, and can't our guide make them come to us? In reply: this isn't a zoo, it's a park, you can't just have lions on call; plus, we saw lions yesterday; also, there are no rhinos in this park. As this was going on, we came across the Mega-Jackpot of animal sights: one of the last wildebeest herds of the season beginning their migration to Kenya. Our guide said that this was a small group, but there were still tens of thousands at least. This was one of the more awesome and powerful natural phenomena I've ever seen. Even these pictures don't really do it justice:

The migration unit didn't move as a group, but had a bunch of different herds that would start to run in spurts and then stop. The older, gruntier wildebeest would make a honking sound and gallop along the outside of the pack, trying to get the rest to pick up the pace. They might also have been trying to protect the edges of the throng from potential predators. The combined sound of honking and grunting was incredible. At some points, half the wildebeest would just start galloping for ten seconds, which was incredible to watch. I think the wildebeest leaders were suspicious of us -- look at them stare.

I think the herd would have been running much faster if they knew about the two lions sleeping close by. The lions were a young couple (probably college age). They were lying in the shade after a morning hunt. With that many wildebeest migrating right now, it was probably dining a la carte for those two. The male lion stared at us for five minute without moving, and then, looking bored, rolled over and started scratching his back on the ground.

The female was a bit livelier:

Our guide started driving back to the park gate after that. It was much, much further than I thought to get there -- we were actually very deep in the park by late morning. On the way, I saw an impala which had been slaughtered by a leopard and dropped in the branches of a tree. Apparently leopards always drag their kills -- whole -- onto a branch before they eat it. The idea is to put it where other predators (esp. hyenas) can't get it. It's like getting takeout.

On the way back, I saw a few assorted animals. There was a group of female ostriches fighting each other over a male ostrich (the lucky guy is the black-and-white one on the left):

Here is a croc by the Grumeti:

And here is a human by the Grumeti:

Next, a giraffe crossing the road (pedestrians have right of way in the park):

And another pachyderm shot. This one is a middle-aged female, maybe around 30 years:

When we got back to the park gate, I saw some very proper-looking school children about to visit the park. They were ridiculously well behaved. To get kids to behave that way in North America you'd need to drug them.

Our last exotic animal of the trip: the Small White Monkey (monus smalliensis). Then we were done. The only animals I saw driving home were cows and goats -- boring!

All in all, the safari was an amazing experience -- probably gets a spot on my top ten travel list. I should give a quick shoutout to Exotic Expeditions, who put together the trip. If anyone reading this is looking for a Mwanza-based tour operator to take them to Sukuma areas or Serengeti/Ngorongoro NP, you should book them and try to get Henry as a guide. The happy customers:

Thus ended the safari. More adventures coming soon!

1 comment:

  1. So cute!!

    Oh, and the animal pictures are nice, too.