October 31, 2014

October 31, 2014  (3 lions + 3 lions = 6 lions)  Stayed at Sopa Lodge at Ngorongoro Crater

We got up, packed and went for breakfast.  As usual, it was very good.  We said our goodbyes and headed out on the bumpy road.  We see eland with ostrich, olive baboons, impala, zebra, giraffes, black faced vervet monkeys, cape buffalo, elephant.  We also saw a flower cluster called a fire barellie (it’s red-orange in color).  We left the Serengeti National Park through the Tabora Gate and drove west and then south through a Kurya village.  The houses are round like yurts.  They are constructed with sisal plant (which looks like a yucca).  They use the stalk, vertically, and pack mud and dung around it, and have a thatched roof.  The sisal plant is also used for rope, carpet, etc.  They grow it on farms.  We drove past a prison and Michael said we couldn’t take photos — too bad. The prisoners help raise vegetables and livestock for the local camps.  As we drove we talked to Michael about holidays, as it was Halloween.  He wasn’t familiar with it.  They do celebrate Christmas, Easter, Mother and Fathers’ Days, and Valentine’s Day.  Michael thinks that Valentine’s Day is a bad day as the young people make bad decisions.  We drove through Mugumu, a busy little village, where we turned south and drove to Fort Ikoma, where we turned right (south-east) and drove through another village called Robanda.  We re-entered Serengeti National Park at Ikoma Gate.  Michael signed us in and we stopped for lunch.  Michael shared with us that he is going to be a grandfather for the first time.  His 22 year old daughter, Irene, is expecting a baby any time and Michael will be known as Babu, the Swahili word for grandfather.  The Swahili word for grandmother is Bibi (This grandchild, Darius, was born 11/21).  We also found out that they are Pentecostal Christians and have some strange notions.  He shared that his wife Grace had an abortion when their son, William, was very young, as she was going through a rough time.  Many years later, his daughter Irene had a miscarriage.  He believes that they were being punished by God for the abortion and sought advice from a religious person from the US.  Finally, they were absolved and now were being blessed with the new grandbaby.

We started seeing zebras, wildebeests, warthogs, impalas, giraffes, and a float of stinky hippos in a river.  We saw two groups of lions, lying near each other.  There were three in each group.  One of the females was collared.  We checked out of the Serengeti National Park at the Naabi Hill gate.  We took the long road back to Ngorongoro Crater.  It was hot, dusty, and bumpy.  We could see a mirage of water in the distance.  Naturally, it was just the atmosphere creating an illusion.  We passed many Maasai children tending to their goats and cows.  It seems like a lonely job for a small child to be out all day by themselves.  They would smile and wave to us.  Maybe, they hoped we would stop to give them a gift?  Maybe, their parents ask them to wave to create interest in visiting their village.  Maybe, they’re just lonely and friendly.   We continued up the long steep road to the Ngorongoro Crater.  We arrived at Sopa Lodge at Ngorongoro Crater and were met with warm washcloths and a glass of fruit juice.   We bid Michael farewell till morning and were escorted to our room.  The two that greeted us and took us to our room each had 3” slanted scars on each cheek below their eyes.  We think it’s a traditional tribal scar.  Our room was big with a glass enclosed sun room with rocking chairs and a table overlooking the crater.  It’s a beautiful view.  This lodge has 90+ rooms and was built in the 70’s.  It’s kind of dated with its furnishings, but we didn’t mind.  While walking to our room, we saw a black cat!  How neat to see that on Halloween.  When we asked, we were told that it was a resident cat named Midnight.

We headed back to the terrace (with pool) overlooking the crater and set up our tripods with and cameras to take time lapse photos of the sunset.  It was very chilly outside as we are at 8,000 feet on the crater’s rim, so we were bundled up, but relaxed on chaise lounge chairs, drinking a glass of red wine, while watching the sunset.  When we were through watching the sunset, we went to dinner in the main hall.  It’s a beautiful round room with thatched roof and views of the crater.  After dinner, there was a Maasai choir that sang several songs for us.  I recorded most of the performance.  It was quite beautiful.  We were escorted back to our room.  Once again, hot water bottles in our bed, to keep us warm.  Sweet dreams.  ~ Mary & Mark

 

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October 30, 2014

 

October 30, 2014 (3 lions + 1 leopard)   Stayed at Lemala Mara North Serengeti Camp

Calisti brought coffee and cookies to us at 4:30 AM and our ride arrived.  We stopped and picked up Captain Mike.  He’s from Alaska and has flown hot air balloons for 30 years and has even flown a balloon from Boulder to Frederick in Colorado.  He seems like he keeps up on American news and was inquiring about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.  I don’t know if that’s a bad sign or not.  I guess I don’t want to think that our pilot is interested in pot, but since it isn’t legal here and we have had no mention or smell of it since we got here, it’s probably not an issue.  We arrived at the launch site at 6:05 AM, where we met the two other passengers, Dess and Taylor from Nashville, TN.  They are on their honeymoon.  The staff fills the balloon and since this is a 16 passenger balloon basket, Captain Mike has six men join us, for weight.  We attach the Gopro camera and assume the take-off position which means no cameras on our necks or backpacks on shoulders.  We sit on cushions and hold the rope in front of us and lean our heads back.  Captain Mike starts blasting the propane fire into the balloon.  We lifted off at 6:20 AM, but stay close to the ground, so that we can see animals…maybe 100 yards up.  He told us we could stand and it is truly amazing.  It is so gentle and peaceful.  Every now and then, Mike gives a couple of blasts to raise the elevation of the balloon.  We are at the mercy of the wind as to where we travel.  At first, he thought we were going to have bad luck and drift away from the river, but then the wind current shifted and we headed across the Mara River.  We saw many animals:  marabou stork, impalas, waterbuck, giraffes, zebras, elephants, hyenas, topi, eland, Ruppell’s vultures, olive baboons, and hippos.  After we made it across the river, Captain Mike saw a good landing sight and made the decision to land.  Our flight had been about an hour and we landed gently and upright.  The area we landed in had giraffes and cape buffalo close by.  They drove us to a champagne breakfast that they had set up along the Mara River.  It was very nice.  Michael Mlolo showed up and took us back to camp, so that we could get the rest of our gear.  We headed out on safari.  We saw hippos and crocodiles on the Mara River.  Next, we saw topi (mama and baby), another big crocodile, nursing zebras, a business of banded mongoose, a colony of cape rock hyrax (they remind me of our prairie dogs as they live in burrows and will stand up on their hind legs, keeping watch), a black-backed jackal, impalas, and zebras.  Zebras often hang out with impalas and wildebeests.  They must get along well as we frequently see them together.  We saw a pair of klipspringers standing on the rocks.  The word klipspringer means rock jumper and, to me, they look like dik diks, only larger.  Klipspringers are 22” at the shoulder. Then we headed to the lion rocks.  We saw a young female lion with a gash on her face under her eye.  The mama lion and her brother were lying on a rock in the shade.  We took a lot of photos of them.  Michael would move positions to get better angles of them for us.  As we drove around the rocks we saw another klipspringer.  We drove around to another set of rocks and saw anot0her vehicle stopped there.  We joined them and saw a leopard snoozing.  We took some photos and realized that the leopard was going to continue sleeping.  Michael got out and yelled and threw a small rock in the direction of the cat so that we could get better photos of him sitting up.  This is not allowed, but we were appreciative.  It was truly beautiful and we were very close.  We went back to LeMala Mara for a late lunch about 2 PM and decided that since we had spent so much time out, we would relax at camp the rest of the day.  It also gave us a chance to download videos and photos for safe-keeping.  We set up our Gopro for the 360 degree video and enjoyed hanging out.  We had another evening of bush TV using the large metal fire pit that dropped ashes through a grate in the bottom, and snacked on popcorn with Benson until it was time for another wonderful meal in the dining tent.  There was a large gray bat that found its way into the tent.  It didn’t bother us, but our server wasn’t happy about it.  After dinner, we were escorted back to our tent.  We fell asleep while listening to lions socializing in the distance.  What sweet dreams we will have.  Our hopes had been to see the wildebeest crossing the Mara River with crocodiles in pursuit, but it wasn’t meant to be. Since, we were planning our trip based on when we could get affordable permits to see the gorillas, we knew we would be there at the tail end of the migration of the wildebeest. We still had hope, as it’s difficult to predict when the last of the crossing will happen.   Oh well, we did see the wildebeest crossing the road in the Serengeti!

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October 29, 2014

October 29, 2014  –  Stayed at Lemala Mara North Serengeti Camp

After breakfast we packed and said our goodbyes and were on our way.  We saw Eland antelope, giraffes, ostriches, cape buffalos, Thomson’s gazelles, zebras, wildebeest, impalas, Topi, Coke’s hartebeest, Bohor reedbuck, warthogs, and bateleur eagle.  We stopped at the Mara River for lunch.  The box lunch from Buffalo Luxury Lodge was the best yet.  We could see hippos (the word hippopotomus means River Horse) and crocodiles in the river.  It started to rain a little, but it stopped and we got photos of a pair of grey crowned cranes (the national bird of Uganda) and a brown snake eagle, grey heron, impalas, zebra, cape buffalo, sacred Ibis, baby giraffe, and a lilac-breasted roller.  We drove to Adventure’s Aloft to sign the release for the hot air balloon ride.  We met the captain, Mike Carnevale (age 59) and his wife, Jackie, and their little girl, Fiona, who is about four.  They will be picking us up at 4:30 AM.   We will need to go to bed early!  Then we drove to Lemala Mara North Serengeti Camp.  We discovered, that once again, we are the only guests.  So the entire staff is here taking care of us.  Part of it is strange, as would be nice to have other guests to share stories with, but it also makes us feel special; that everyone here is catering to us.  This camp has eleven tents, but they have already dismantled three of them as they will be moving the camp after we leave.  The tent is very nice:  King bed, night stands, desk, and an area to hang clothes and cubbies to place our things.  The bathroom is equipped with a vanity with a copper sink, rack to dry clothes, shower that is heated with wood over a fire, and a flush toilet.  Even though the walls are canvas tent, the floor is wood plank and a beautiful overhead chandelier made with paper rectangles hanging down.  Each strand has five pieces and there must be 50 strands hanging in a rectangle.  There are four pillows and a down comforter.  We have a beautiful view out our door and, and of course, there is a veranda with chairs and table.  We also took a 360 degree time-lapse video to document our place here too and we set up our night camera again.  Our room steward, Calisti, heated water for us over a wood fire so that we could shower and waited outside, just in case we ran out of hot water.  The way that these showers work is by gravity.  The water has a smokiness to it but is a perfect temperature.  We have a chain to pull to start the water flowing and another chain to stop it.  It’s a little strange to have a man standing outside, waiting for us to say whether that we need more water, or that we are finished, and thank you.  These showers are referred to as talking showers.  After we were cleaned up, we headed back to the main dining tent.  Outside, they had built a fire for us to sit around and we snacked on peanuts.  It’s called bush tv.  We chatted with Benson, the camp manager and then moved inside where we had a wonderful three course meal, and got our escort back to our tent for an early bedtime.  Once again, hot water bottles to keep us warm.  What a treat.  ~ Mary & Mark

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October 28, 2014

October 28, 2014  (2 lions + 1 leopard + 2 lions + 1 serval) Stayed at Buffalo Luxury Camp

As is the normal routine at the camps we have stayed at, we had French press coffee and biscuits brought to our tent with the wake-up call.  We checked out the night camera chip and discover that all we got a photo of a waterbuck.  Too bad, I was hoping for a leopard!  We got ready for our nature hike with Marco.  He is Maasai, as is our two armed guards in case we run into wildlife.   There are elephants and a leopard in the area.  Marco taught us about Maasai life.  We went on a three hour hike up a mountain side to a pretty meadow at the top. The view was beautiful.  We could see a Maasai village protected by fences made from thorny acacia trees, across the valley.  The cows have bells and we can hear them in the distance. He showed us the dung of different animals and some fur of an animal that had been taken by the leopard.  We saw a giraffe and a springbok.  They made Maasai toothbrushes from…uh… a toothbrush tree.  I think he said that the name was a grewia tree.  One end was whittled for a toothpick and the other end is cut blunt and chewed until the fiber looks like bristles. ¼” x ¼”.  They also made a fire by first crumbling zebra dung.  They had a stick about 12” long and another piece of wood that was about 6”x1”x3” with 2-3 holes along the 3” side.  They started rubbing the stick between their palms, spinning the stick in one of the holes.  This stick was sitting on a machete and as embers formed, they would fall onto the machete.  They would move the embers to the dung and blow on them until smoldering and then add grass and twigs until the fire formed.  It was pretty amazing.  We walked back to the camp and took a photo of a waterbuck, grasshopper, and an agama lizard (it is so colorful), while listening to Marco tell a Maasai children story with a moral but he kept getting messed up.  It was kind of funny.  He also said that besides the big five, there are the little five:  ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, and elephant shrew.  We had a nice lunch and had decided to give Michael the afternoon off.  I took some photos of our tent and a photo of an agama lizard on a cape buffalo skull.  We also took a 360 degree time-lapse video to document our tent and vista.  We hung out until 4:30, when we went out with Marco and Sekato for a night drive, in an open jeep.  Because Buffalo Luxury Camp is outside the park, we are allowed to go off-road.  We saw a committee of Ruppell’s vultures and white backed vultures on an elephant carcass, a tree hyrax, numerous impalas, waterbucks, zebras, a couple of giraffes, a herd of topi, and some cape buffalo.  Then, we saw a couple of female lions.  They were starting to sleep, so we headed on.  We saw a little bee eater and a pair of black backed jackals.  When it was close to sunset, we stopped and they got out a table and cloth and were getting ready to open up a cooler, when Marco heard on his radio that a leopard had been found.  They asked us if we wanted to stay for the Sundowner or go see if we could find the leopard.  The decision was easy for us. We wanted to see a leopard!  They packed up quickly and off we went.  Marco was driving fast and we were bouncing all over so we hung on tightly.  He headed back to an area we had driven through earlier.  Then Marco saw his friend across the creek.  The leopard was there too!  We watched it for a while, and then Marco decided he had to get us across to the other side, so that we would have a better view.  He followed the edge of the creek until he could cross over.  We pulled up next to two other vehicles and saw the leopard again.  It was getting dark, but Marco kept following the leopard as it moved along and we got a lot of photos.  We finally decided it was time to head out.  On the way back to camp, as saw a baby bush baby and verreaux eagle owl.  Sekato moved onto a jump seat that was strapped to the hood.  They rigged a spot light for him to hold and watch for animals with.  We saw a mongoose and then a serval cat.  Then Sekato spotted a male and female lion lying down.  Sekato switched to a red flood light so as not to upset them.  We saw scrub hares, too.  We made it back to camp and had a delicious meal.  Tonight, was special because Michael joined us and we shared our story of our night drive with him.  He told us that he had waited for us to ask him to take us out on a game drive during the day.  Hind sight is 20/20.  We probably should have gone out, rather than relaxing; after all, we may never experience this again.  Off to sleep in our wonderful tent.  Our laundry has been washed for us and a hot water bottle warms our bed for us.  Sweet dreams.  ~ Mary & Mark

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October 27, 2014

October 27, 2014 (14 lions + cheetah and cub + 1 cheetah + 4 lions) Stayed at Buffalo Luxury Camp

  • We got up and saw a nice sunrise at 6:15 AM with coffee and biscuits brought to us with our wake-up call.  Mark took a photo of the sky as it was beautiful.  After breakfast, we headed out.  We were heading back to the place we had been last night, near the Maasai Kopjes.  We saw a black-bellied bustard and a pair of cinnamon chested bee-eater birds.  We saw herds of wildebeest and elephants.  Then, we went back to the drainage and saw a coalition of 14 lions.  They were probably the same pride we saw last night.  They were scratching the tree, grooming each other, and sleeping.  We moved on and saw Egyptian geese, and then we headed over to the tree where we saw the male cheetah last night.  He wasn’t there, but we saw a female and a cub running away.  The cub started playing on a tree stump.  We also saw a saddle-billed stork.  The wildebeest calf that the cheetah had been eating last night was now just ribs – only 17 hours later – truly amazing. (Check out the before and after photos in the album!) Two lappet-faced vultures were feasting on the leftovers.  We saw a red billed teal, blacksmith plover lapwings, a black-winged stilt, Egyptian geese, yellow-billed storks, grey heron, and common sandpipers.  We took photos of elephants, and a secretarybird crossing the road.  As we drove back, we stopped and took a couple of more photos of sleeping lions and elephants in the water.  There was a crocodile hiding in the grass.  Farther down the road, we saw a cheetah hiding in the grass.  There was a herd of wildebeest with a few zebras.  I took a short video and a few photos.  We also saw a couple of herds of wildebeest.  Then we came upon three young lions and a lioness by a tree.  Beautiful.  We saw guinefowl, wildebeest, Grant’s gazelles, and giraffes.  Back at Chaka, we had a nice lunch of Shepherd’s pie.  We could see a giraffe, not too far away.  We packed and said our good-byes and were on our way.  We head north on B144 out of Serengeti National Park to Klein’s Gate.  On the way, we saw Thomson’s gazelles, warthogs, vultures, Topi, giraffes, grey-breasted spurfowl francolin, marabou stork, and warthogs nursing piglets.  The piglets will nurse from different sows, as they share mothering responsibilities.  They are so cute.  There’s a neat tree called candelabra euphorbia.  We also saw a brown snake eagle sitting in a tree, olive baboons, and a crocodile on the Barage River.  We saw a red-bill hornbill, male black-faced vervet monkey, ground hornbill, giraffe, coqui francolin, an oxpecker on a cape buffalo, and kori bustard.  We stopped to take a photo of a bull elephant and he came at us.  Luckily, Michael, recognized the aggressive stance and drove away, fast.  Then, we came across a cheetah with two cubs, eating a wildebeest.   There were a lot of white-backed vultures and Ruppell’s vultures, and a couple of tawny eagles.  We spent quite a while taking photos, then realized that Michael was anxious to get on the way, as he hadn’t been to the place would be staying.  The animals jumped away from the road as we drove past.  They seem to have a better sense of self-preservation here than at home.  Then we saw common eland antelope; they are the largest of the antelope.  The word eland is the Dutch word for elk.  We also saw lots of banded mongoose, zebra, and black-backed jackals.  We drove by many Maasai bomas, some round, some square.  Some were made of bricks, but many were made of sticks and mud.  Some had herds of 50-75 cattle or goats tended by boys or men, all in their bright Maasai fabric.  Some of the cattle had bells.  The terrain had shifted from desert and dusty to lush, green shrubs and trees.  It is the short rainy season so there is a lot of green everywhere.  We made it to Buffalo Luxury Camp and the three of us were greeted by the staff with a cool wash cloth and glass of champagne.  It was Michael’s first time here too.   The manager is a white woman named Jana (Yana).   Her parents are German but she was raised in Botswana.  Janna discussed the camp rules, for our safety, and showed us to our tent.  Oh my.  It’s a bi-level tent with living room and a loft with a very nice bathroom with two sinks, tub, separate shower, and toilet.  This place is beautifully decorated.  Apparently, Michael has nice accommodations too, including TV and pool table.  This makes us happy knowing that he is well taken care of.  We are the only guests here!  I guess we should feel like celebrities that have rented out the entire place for ourselves.  The entire staff is there for us and us alone.  There are twenty tents here.  We set up our night camera, to see if we can see what walks by at night.  We had dinner on the terrace by a wood fire pit under a star lit sky with a waning moon.  It was delicious.   We set up our night camera and were walked to and from our tent by guards with big guns.  While we dining we heard an elephant trumpeting close by.  Once again, we had hot water bottles in our bed to keep us warm.  We’re at 6,000 ft. and it is breezy and chilly, but no rain.  We’re so happy.  Sweet dreams.  ~ Mary & Mark

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October 26, 2014

October 26, 2014 (1 lion, 1 cheetah with 3 cubs, + 2 leopards + 12 lions + 1 cheetah) Serengeti National Park

I had a tough night sleeping but at least I could hear lions and hyenas socializing.  They brought coffee and gingerbread biscuits at 6:30 AM and then we went to breakfast.  We headed out at 8 AM and saw a pair of lappet-faced vultures, a family of black backed jackals, Thomson’s gazelles, warthogs, Grant’s gazelles, spotted hyenas, wildebeest, ground hornbill, black bellied bustard, and cape buffalo.  We also saw a secretarybird with an African gray hornbill.  The secretarybird is very interesting and is the national bird of Sudan.  Then we saw six hyenas.  They were mating and laughing.  Wow.  It was very loud.  I did a little research on them. They have a very large brain, are intelligent, and can live in complex clans of 60-90.  It’s a matriarchal society where females are dominant.  The lowest ranking female has a higher status than any male.  They are efficient hunters and eat all parts of a kill.   A group can kill a 400-pound zebra and devour it entirely within a half-hour.  Some tribes believe that they are owned and ridden by witches.  We moved on and saw two more hyenas, a black-headed heron, and a parade of wildebeest.  Then we saw a bloat of about 20 hippos sitting in a muddy pool and a grey heron sitting on a branch.  Then we came upon a lioness sitting in a tree.  This is rare here in Serengeti.  She yawned and jumped down.  She had been planning to stalk a wildebeest when another tour company started their engine and startled her, so she stopped…lucky wildebeest!  Michael was irritated with him and said something to him in Swahili.   We saw a small herd of Coke’s hartebeest and then headed back and saw a grey heron and a slender mongoose.  We also saw a white-crowned coucal bird hiding in a bush.  No photo.  The road is so muddy today that we are sliding all over the place.  We’re on the southwest side of the area called Mukoma Hill.  Michael has to examine his route carefully, to decide how to get through it without getting stuck.  We saw a cheetah in the distance.  Mark, jokingly said, “We should drive over there.”  Michael said, “shhh.”  Michael got out and talked to some of the other drivers in Swahili.  Pretty soon he gets back in and we wait a few minutes.  All of a sudden, all of the vehicles start their engines and head off road…right up to the tree with the cheetah…she has three cubs.  We take a bunch of photos and then we all leave as quickly as we came, and got back to the road.  We asked Michael what had just happened.  He said that it was illegal to drive off-road in the park and that there was a $300 fine for a first offense and banishment from the park for three months for a second offense.  There had been one driver there that Michael didn’t trust, but he had thought quickly.  He had heard on the radio that a safari vehicle that we had seen earlier, was stuck in the mud.  When we had passed each other, the other vehicle was driving too fast and slip sliding and bouncing through the muck, now they were stuck.  We had seen the passengers laughing, but I bet they weren’t laughing anymore!  This untrusted guide was from the same company as the stuck truck, so Michael approached and suggested that she go help their colleague.  As soon as the vehicle was out of sight, a deal was struck with the five other guides asking each other, “Are you in, or out?”  One by one they all agreed.  All willing to take the risk.  Wow.  I think if Michael had been fined, we would have paid it for him as he’s only allowed to guide eight times per year.  We told Michael that we wouldn’t brag about our off-road adventure.  Farther down the road, we saw a couple of Coke’s hartebeest, a flock of ostriches, and a hyena in the ditch.  Then we saw a pair of leopards in a tree.  The female had her back to us, but the male was visible amongst the leaves.  What a great find.  On the way back to camp we saw a muddy hyena in the road.  It looked indignant as it had to move out of our way.  Back at camp, we were greeted with a cold wash cloth and a good lunch.  We went back out at 4 PM to the Maasai Kopjes.  On the way, we saw a lilac-breasted roller, warthogs, a colony of cape rock hyrax, wildebeest, zebra, elephant, saddle-billed storks,  sandgrouse, and a yellow-throated sandgrouse.  Michael got a tip about some lions and we headed out but couldn’t find them.  We saw a lot of wildebeest and elephants drinking from the creek.  Then we headed around a bend and Michael saw a couple of trucks parked ahead.  We hurried over there and we saw a cheetah feasting on a wildebeest calf.  We took a lot of photos.  The cheetah had a full belly and blood on his face.  It almost looked like lipstick.  It was getting late, so we headed back and much to our surprise, where we had looked for lions before, we saw a large male lying there in the grass.  We could see a couple of other lions across the creek but because they were farther away, we took photos of the male.  Then the other lions started crossing the creek coming right towards us.  They were jumping from rock to rock, not wanting to get their feet wet.  We saw a couple of lions wrestling and playing.  Then we realized there were more coming across.  We lost count, but it seemed like there were about a dozen.  What a large coalition!  It was getting dark and the park closes at 6 PM, so we headed back to Chaka.  We saw scrub hares and a Thomson’s gazelle with a tiny newborn crossing the road in front of us.  Michael said that it was probably only an hour old.  Back at camp, we showered and ate a traditional African meal of chicken stew, polenta, pilau rice, pinto beans, cooked with ham, lentils and a salad of green & red peppers, onion with dressing and a sweet bread for dessert.  It was really good.  Off to sleep.  Hot water bottles to keep us warm. ~ Mary & Mark

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October 25, 2014

 

October 25, 2014 (3 lions + 13 lions + 15 lions = 31 lions) Serengeti National Park

We woke up to African Mourning Doves.  We took a photo of a beautiful sunrise and some of our tent and surroundings. We packed and ate a nice breakfast.  We said goodbye to Tarangire Safari Lodge and to the spider that was half dead behind the toilet.  We really liked this place… I could even deal with a spider, now and then, for this place.  We headed north out of Tarangire National Park on Tarangire Road to Highway A104 at Kibaoni (Kwa Kuchinja).  We turned west onto Highway B144 at Makuyuni.  Mark took some photos of people out the window.  We passed through the town of Mto wa Mbu and drove past Lake Manyara, but didn’t stop.  The next town was the agricultural town of Koratu.  On our way to the crater, we saw Marabou Storks and olive baboons.  We stopped and looked at a couple of souvenir shops.  We priced a three-legged stool called a kigoda.  In Maasai culture, only the elder gets to sit on it and it is passed on as an inheritance.  Other tribes have three-legged milking stools that are similar.  The couple that we looked at were decorated with painted dots.   They were asking $150, but we imagine that they might have been willing to take $75.   For fun, we also looked at tanzanite gems.  One was 3 carats and $875.  It was lavender in color which is a lower quality, but I like the lavender color better than the higher quality deep purple that was 2.1 carats for $1500.  We weren’t planning on buying one as it doesn’t make sense to spend that kind of money, but it’s always fun to look.  We walked around the store, but were a little overwhelmed with all the things there and really wanted to get back on the road.  We knew we would be back in a week and take another walk through the store to see if there was anything we really wanted to buy.  Then we headed to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area  (NCA).  Michael registered at the southeast ranger station at Naabi Hill for our transit through the park as we’re only passing through on our way to Chaka Camp.  We were on a twisted winding road going up, up, up.  It was dirt and very bumpy.  There were a lot of olive baboons.  We stopped for lunch at the crater picnic area.  There were people feeding the yellow-billed kites.  The same birds, twice attacked the people.  There was also a marabou stork that was begging.  I got a couple of cool photos of it.  A young Maasai warrior was tending his cattle.  His village was at the edge of the picnic area.  I took a photo of him holding a spear when he wasn’t watching.  It turned out really good.  We ate in the Land Cruiser to avoid the diving birds.  Driving down from the crater, we saw a couple of Maasai villages from the road.  About 200 years ago the Maasai arrived and have since colonized the Area and carry on their traditional way of life, living in harmony with the wildlife and the environment. Today there are some 42,200 Maasai pastoralists living in the NCA with their cattle, donkeys, goats and sheep.  During the rains they move out on to the open plains; in the dry season they move into the adjacent woodlands and mountain slopes. The Maasai are allowed to take their animals into the Crater for water and grazing, but not to live or cultivate there.  Elsewhere in the NCA they have the right to roam freely.  Click on this link to learn about the history of the Maasai people.  It’s very interesting!

After lunch, we drove the highway between the crater and the Serengeti.  As we drove down the highway we would pass Maasai people of all ages.  Children were waving and smiling.  Boys and men were tending their cattle or goats.  There were round, mud homes (bomas) and people walking in the fields and also by the highway.  Some of the women were highly decorated with beads and jewelry and we passed a couple of teenaged boys, dressed in black with white face paint.  Michael said it was part of rite of passage that includes a circumcision ceremony, where they will elevate their status to junior warrior.   We saw a couple of young boys, who could not be more than five, completely alone, in the middle of nowhere, by the highway, tending to small herds of goats.  Boys that were a few years older were tending small herds of cattle.  We saw young girls too, running, waving, and smiling at us as we drove by.  When we got to the gateway to the Serengeti National Park we stopped and got out and Michael explained how the boundary has changed when the Ngorongoro Conservation Area  was created.  There were a couple of young girls there were wearing beaded jewelry.  They had a dog with them. They seemed out-of-place, but maybe this is a good place to meet tourists that aren’t whizzing by.  While Michael was explaining the history, the girls were motioning to me that they liked my pink watch.  I wish I could have given it to them, but I needed it for the rest of the trip.  We headed into the park and while Michael registered at the ranger station at Naabi Hill.   Mark and I walked up around the gift shop and up on the rocks.  We took photos of an agama lizard and an African grass rat.  As we started to drive through the park, we saw a journey of giraffes, herds of wildebeest, dazzles of zebras, and herds of Thomson’s gazelles and Grant’s gazelles, and a sounder of warthogs.  It’s interesting what the collective nouns are for groups of animals!  Michael took us to the simba rocks.  We saw two incredible lions and a lioness.  It started to rain and cats don’t like to get wet so they started moving off of the rocks.  We drove around to the other side of the rocks and saw 13 more lions.  Some were lionesses and some were cubs of varying ages.  They were playing and cuddling and we couldn’t believe what we were seeing.  They were in the grass, and we kept seeing more become visible in the grass.  Wow.  It was raining more, so we moved around back to the first set of rocks and got some more photos of the big lions.  The road was now slick, but Michael was careful as we headed out.  The rain stopped, and we saw some Cokes’s Hartebeests and more gazelles too.  And then we saw a crossing of wildebeest.  There must have been 10,000 or more.  One term for a herd of wildebeest is an implausibilityI now understand why they’re called that…wow.  They kept coming and coming and coming.  Some were so playful.   I saw one chasing his tail like a dog for about six revolutions.  They frolic just like the baby bison we saw in Yellowstone.  We start to drive again, and saw another pride of lions next to the road.  We watched three wrestling and grooming each other, licking the rain off of each other’s coats.  All of a sudden, more lions cross the road to join the others and eventually started walking right by our vehicle.  They stopped in the middle of the road and played some more before they headed off.  By our count we saw 15 lions.  We started heading towards Chaka Camp and saw a spotted hyena and more wildebeest.   As the sun started setting, it kept getting more and more beautiful.  We really should have stopped to take a photo, but we were trying to get there before dark.

We made it to Chaka Camp and were greeted by Hubert the camp manager and Lorenza and the others.  We were given a moist cloth for our faces and a glass of sweet iced tea.  We got settled into our tent.  They only have nine tents here, so there’s a lot of care given to everyone.  Our tent is very nice with a king bed and a bathroom with a flush toilet.  We set out the night camera again and our Gopro camera on the kitchen timer for our 360 degree video.  We headed to dinner (a fantastic pumpkin soup, pork stew, rice, vegetables, etc.)  We celebrated with a glass of red wine and chatted with the other guests – a couple from Austria and a group of eight from the UK.  After dinner, we were escorted back to our tent, for our safety, and listened to hyenas, while drifting off to sleep.  Hot water bottles to keep us warm.  What a great day.  ~~~~~ Mary & Mark 

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