[Aforementioned safari post -- part 1 of 2. Enjoy!]
It's Saturday evening at Seronera Wildlife Lodge in the middle of Serengeti National Park. I just finished an incredible first day on safari.
I started the trip today at 8 am. To keep things affordable, I joined up with a family of three from Gujurat who just moved to a region near here. Traveling with them has been a mixed blessing. The dad could be a bit annoying at times (e.g., chucking garbage out the window and yelling at passengers in other vehicles, which made the animals ran away.) They were very nice people, though, and the mom made up for it by giving me a lot of Gujurati food that I'd never tried before. I ate this snack mix called chouro, fenugreek parathas, cucumbers with piripri, and some dessert thing. Better than the boxed lunch of hard-boiled eggs and fried chicken I packed the night before.
The animals have been pretty incredible. When we got into the park we saw what I think of as warmup animals: guinea fowl, warthogs and serengeti foxes. The warthogs (pumba) didn't come very close to the car, and the car is not allowed to drive off the road to chase down the animals. Something about disturbing their habitat. Pics:
As we drove further into the park, I saw a lot of the big grazing animals. Wildebeest were thin on the ground because the famous migration had already started, but we caught some small groups anyways. Wildebeest are not the most attractive animals: they look like underfed cows that grunt and leap around.
The water buffaloes are like fatter, rarer versions of the wildebeest. They are also less grunty and travel in smaller groups. This one was solo:
Zebras are just plain awesome. I don't why no one ever tried to domesticate them, because it would look incredible to ride around on one of those. They're skittish, so I had to take most of my pictures at a distance. The zebras tended to mix in with the other animals; I saw small groups of them mixed in with deer and wildebeest herds.
We also saw tons of deer-like things: regular deer, impala, Hartebeest (sp?), a herds of mini-deer (not babies, just smaller ones). I couldn't really tell the species apart, but these ones are definitely impalas:
I saw the Grumeti River, one of the most famous sites in the park. This is the place where millions of wildebeest cross every year on their northward migration to Masai Mara in Kenya. They've made a few movies about how dangerous the journey is. Although the missed the main crossing at this point, there were still plenty of crocs and fat hippos. I hoped the hippos would come out of the water, but they just sat in the river and blew water out their noses. Here, one hippo is coming out of the water, but it looks like a rock:
We stopped for lunch at Seronera, a sort of safari staging ground smack in the middle of the park. Take a small outdoor lodge, fill the parking lot with a dozen giant SUVs, add fourty tourists with boxed lunches, and you have the Serengeti Visitors Center. I was in the small minority of guests who wasn't wearing a safari hat, khaki suit, and/or fanny pack. (Side note: I noticed on my hotel dry-cleaning form that there is a separate, more expensive entry for safari suits... hilarious!) The lunch area at the center had some mongooses (mongeese?) -- the grown up one was fat, happy and tourist-fed, and the babies looked like they were well on their way to tubbiness. I was surprised to see them eating grass, though; I thought they ate eggs and snakes.
In the afternoon, we looked for the hard-to-spot creatures like lions, leopards and elephants. I saw a small family of elelphants (middle-aged females and one baby). Definitely my favorite of the day:
A few times, we came across groups of giraffes. Here's a family with a baby:
Leopards and cheetahs are the hardest animals to see in the park, because there are fewer of them and they're good at hiding. We got cheated out of seeing a cheetah, but our guide managed to track down a solo leopard sitting up in a tree. Amazing spots!
We drove around for a while trying to track down the lions (simba). The pride areas are in a different part of the park, with no prey animals around. There is a higher-elevation section of the serengeti with ten or so rock clusters that give a good lookout of the surrounding area. It seemed fitting that the king of the beasts gets the best vista around. One rocky outcropping seemed like it might have been the inspiration for Pride Rock in the Lion King. Each of the rock clusters had a family of lions sleeping on it. Most of them were hidden from view, but I saw a bunch of them sleeping on the rocks. A lioness:
We also saw a family of six lions sleeping in a big tree outside of the main lion area. I wouldn't even have noticed them if our guide hadn't pointed them out. We waited for a while, but they were sleeping and didn't seem like they were going anywhere fast. They were scratching their heads lazily on the tree branch. You can just make them out if you look carefully on the right branch.
Right before we went back to the lodge, we came across a rare lion trifecta: mom, dad, and 2 cubs. I guess it wasn't actually a trifecta since there were four of them, but hey... good enough. They were crossing the road when we came across them. The dad watched us without moving, like he was just waiting for someone to get out of their SUV so he could have a quick snack. The mom stayed very close to the cubs, both less than a year old. The pictures here don't show the cubs very well because of the grass (they're left of center):
By later this afternoon, I had almost become used to seeing big animals everywhere I looked. I never stopped being amazed by the landscape, though. The terrain is stunning, and it's actually quite varied across different parts of the park. Some sections have Lion King-style serengeti trees and long grass, and some parts just go on for tens of miles without any tall vegetation at all. Most of the edge of the park is ringed by low-rising wooded mountains, which act as natural barriers to keep the predators away from settlements. This photo gives a sense of the vastness of the serengeti:
That's all, folks. I'm going to wrap up today's safari with a cold bottle of Safari.