From England to Ecuador and beyond

From England to Ecuador and beyond

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Game on (part II): The Serengeti

I've finally arrived in Africa. Parched, dusty plains dotted with iconic acacia trees; wildlife galore; and to top it all off, a beautiful African sunset transforming the clear skies into a fusion of rusty oranges, deep reds and soft pinks. We are well and truly in Lion King territory - we even saw 'Zazu birds' (hornbills) - and I am in my element.*

It is a world away from the lush green Masai Mara in terms of landscape. In terms of the wildlife we've had fewer sightings and close-ups, probably owing to the fact that the Serengeti is a hell of a lot bigger than its Kenyan counterpart (8 times bigger, to be precise, at 14,700 km squared - the name actually means 'endless plains'), plus it's currently drier so game is migrating across to the Masai Mara to find water. Having said that, the Serengeti is rich with wildlife; the stomping ground of ostrich, baboons, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, Pumbas, topi, gazelle, zebras, jackals, hippo (we saw tracks, a big group of them half immersed in the water & a loner chowing down on some grass), elephants (saw a family spraying themselves with mud right by the track and had a HUGE one cross the path right in-between several safari trucks including ours), lions (2 lionesses and 7 cubs between them) and plenty more we haven't seen I'm sure**. 

And here's the best bit: we saw a LEOPARD (!!) which ticks off the last of the Big Five. We've been so incredibly lucky with wildlife - someone pointed out that we hadn't seen a hyena yet and honestly, less than 60 seconds later we spotted one sprawled in a lazy heap across an earthy mound. The leopard was the best sighting, of course: at first it lay concealed by the tall, straw-like grass but a few minutes later it sprang up without warning, ran behind the truck and up a nearby tree with a very dead and very raggedy looking gazelle/impala hanging from its mouth. Since we were facing almost right into the sun it was tough to get good photos but I've thrown one of the okay-ish ones in below - will play around with it at home (mid-September) to make it sharper.

The lovely thing is, almost all of our Big Five sightings have been special beyond the fact they're part of this prized group of game: the black rhino charged right at us, the lioness had 4 gorgeous cubs and (call us perverts but...) the pair of lions or 'honeymooners' were having a romp, the leopard ran up a tree with a kill in its mouth and we've had elephants lumber right past the truck as if we weren't there. The only thing we haven't seen is a kill: we've seen the before (the cheetah's failed attempt in the Masai Mara) and the after (the leopard with its kill). We have 2 game drives left so there's still time!

Great day, although the same can't be said of the campsite unfortunately - firstly it's slap bang in the middle of the Serengeti and not fenced off, which is quite cool as I can hear elephants trumpeting as I write, but also kind of nerve-racking (apparently hyenas and all sorts roam around freely at night)! Also the showers are SHITE - I expect cold water, that's fine, but there aren't even lights in the dirty cubicles which isn't terribly helpful when you arrive after sunset! And there's only one toilet and it's a smelly 'squatty potty'. Sigh. The campsite yesterday made up for it though: we stayed right on Victoria Lake - the largest lake in Africa - and it was beautiful. An abundance of wildlife (birds and lizards mainly), little beaches dotted around the site and swings looking out onto the lake - so tranquil and so perfect, and it didn't rain (we camped in insane thunderstorms for 2 nights on the trot a couple of days ago). Early morning game drive here tomorrow then heading to Ngorongoro Crater territory! 

P.S. The morning after the night before: just got on the bus to leave the campsite and we've already seen a pride of lions running around in the distance and an epic sunrise. Other people saw a herd of elephants earlier & a group on the other side apparently had a giraffe in their spot during the night - and a lion with its eye on the giraffe! 

*Speaking of The Lion King, 'Simba' is Swahili for lion! Never knew...

**Worth mentioning perhaps that we were multitasking by this point, simultaneously watching for game and thwacking any suspicious looking flies that buzzed into the truck with flip flops & anything else that looked like it might make a good squishing device. The northern part of the Serengeti is home to tsetse flies, which swarmed around the truck when it was rumbling along slowly or had come to a complete halt. Their bite causes a nasty sleeping sickness and they can also lay eggs under your skin - totally rank.