Tanzania Safari Journal, Part 3

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Blaze of color in the Serengeti

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Up until this point in the trip we had been traveling on mostly paved roads, except within the parks, and on our way from the paved road to each night’s lodging. From here, though, until we returned to Arusha eight days later, it was much rougher going.

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Herds of wildebeest and zebra alongside the road

When Steve and Terry planned our trip they looked at maps and checked distances between destinations. By US standards the distances looked short enough to cover fairly quickly. They hadn’t counted on unpaved, rutted roads, often less than two lanes wide. Nor had they realized how often we would all want to stop and gawk at (or photograph) yet another amazing sight. The road conditions were an issue, and not just for how long it took us to get from Point A and Point B.

For one thing, and the biggest reason we were in the Serengeti and other parks in the first place, there are millions of animals living there. The migration of the wildebeest and the zebra–what our guide called “lion and cheetah food”–is of vital importance to the health of the Rift Valley ecosystem. The prey animals migrate with the rainfall, and the predators in each region (which do not migrate, but rather tend to stay in their own territory) have dinner delivered. The grazing of each area is important, as is the availability of certain conditions and kinds of vegetation for the healthy propagation of each species.

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Warthog

We spent more than half of our time driving on gravel roads. When we questioned the parks’ decision to keep them that way, our guide asked us a question: Would we rather have good roads, or see animals in their natural habitat? Which is a serious question, and one now being debated in Tanzania. In fact, there was a piece the other day on the BBC News about this debate:  Roads in the Serengeti

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In the safari vehicle

The constant bouncing of the roads had sometimes hilarious and sometimes not so funny consequences. One of my first observations was that I should have brought a sports bra to wear, and Kim and I ended up holding travel pillows tightly to our chests to minimize the effects of the bouncing. Our safari vehicle had a useful wooden tray across the backs of the front seats where we could stow sunscreen, cameras, sunglasses, tissues, and other necessities. Except once we realized that the vibrations from the bouncing were having dire effects. My sunglasses were ruined by the scratches, and Kim’s camera, which she’d stowed screen-down, was very seriously damaged, as well, scuffed so badly that it was difficult to see through the viewfinder screen.

The other issue with the unpaved roads, because of the extreme dryness, was dust. Incredible amounts of dust. We were inside the vehicle nearly all day, except to make pit stops and for meals, but by the end of 10-12 hours of driving we were all completely covered in the stuff. At each new lodging we were greeted with wet washcloths and fresh juices. The first time I used the wet cloth I was astonished at how filthy my hands and face alone were. The safari guides/drivers mostly took care to pass slowly so as to minimize the dust they caused, but we soon learned to close windows at the approach of other vehicles. We also saw a lot of dust devils, and drove through several that were passing over us.

At first we all had reactions to the dust, but at one point I realized it wasn’t bothering me as much. I remarked to Kim that I thought we had come to a point of equalization: there was as much dust inside us as there was outside. And I’m not kidding about that. I’m absolutely sure I brought home at least a pound of African soil inside my body.

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Hippo tracks

Our next stop was Ang’Ata Camp, smack in the middle of the Serengeti. This is a temporary tent camp, meant to stay for a season or so, in order to minimize the impact on that fragile environment. Water is trucked in, and everything is very carefully used to avoid creating waste. We had the usual shower, toilet and washbasin at one end of our tent, with a privacy flap, but the water came from two forty-liter bags held aloft outside the tent. One was heated daily for our showers, which we desperately needed on this part of the trip because of the dust.

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Our tent at Ang’Ata Camp in the Serengeti

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Water bags outside our tent at Ang’Ata Camp. Rear of tent to the right.

On our first night at this camp I was awakened by the sound of snuffling right on the other side of the tent wall, and by something fairly large pushing against the tent. In the morning I asked about this, and was told there had been several hippos feeding on the green grass at the base of the rear of our tent, where the water from showers, etc. drained. Imagine, we were mere inches from these giant beasts. But since the tent flaps were closed we couldn’t see them, and they couldn’t see us. Amazing. This was also the first place we heard lions calling at night, very near our camp.

I have to say this, though. Despite our very close proximity to wild animals, I was never frightened, not once. We were told to stay inside the tents, and we did, and we were also told to signal for an escort when we needed to leave the tent in the dark. Since it’s dark there from six at night to six in the morning, being so close to the equator, darkness is part of the experience. The guides were often Maasai warriors, and they were always vigilant on our behalf, guarding us through the night as well as guiding us back and forth in the camps. Much more worrisome were the tsetse flies, which were a pain in the butt. They are attracted to the colors blue and black, unfortunately, since I’d brought shirts and a jacket in those colors. Luckily, I was able to change on the first day I realized this; ordinarily I would not have had extra clothing with me in the vehicle.

That clothing meant to repel insects, by the way? They don’t work on tsetse flies. And neither does any kind of insect repellant. However, the bites were not as bad as expected. Horseflies and deerflies we have here in the States are worse, I think.

Because they are attracted to blue and black we could tell where they were by the tsetse fly flags we saw. These are impregnated with a chemical that somehow attaches to flies that land on the flags, and it sterilizes the male tsetse fly. Sleeping sickness has gone way, way down with this technology. Thank goodness.

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Tsetse fly flag near Ang’Ata Camp

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Relaxing at Ang’Ata Camp

The staff at this camp were incredibly welcoming, fun, and just the best hosts of our entire trip. They provided tasty, hot meals seemingly out of nowhere, and made sure we had hot coffee and hot water when we needed it. There were some German tourists staying there who had been there for a couple of weeks. We all envied them their lengthy stay, smack dab in the middle of this wonderful place, teeming with wildlife.

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Serengeti

On this part of the trip we began seeing lots of larger herds of zebra, wildebeest, and hippos at a pool. The animals tend to flock around the water, or they are on their way to water. We began seeing lions here, the first of which was a stalking lioness. Our guide pointed out a barely visible leopard and her cub, and we watched as it leapt up the trunk of a tree, climbed up to a high branch, laid down on it, and virtually disappeared.

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On our last evening in the central Serengeti, when it was getting close to dark and we were on our way back to camp, we stopped to watch a pair of lionesses. Our guide was sure they were stalking the zebras nearby, and he maneuvered our vehicle so we could all get a good look, and so the men could photograph the action. We watched for ten minutes or so, and then one of the lionesses leapt onto the neck of a carelessly close zebra, lightning quick, breaking its back and rolling it into a ditch, out of sight. It took no more than a couple of seconds. High drama.

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A hippo pool

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Steve in the backseat of the safari vehicle

Next part: we travel to the Northern Serengeti.

January 18, 2014. Tanzania Safari 2013.

6 Comments

  1. Holly replied:

    Pretty cool, Mom!

  2. Donna Leugers replied:

    Karen, With your photos and stories, I feel like I am there, thank you so much for sharing your glorious trip…

  3. Anne Poole replied:

    Amazing experience. We traveled with Flash Safari in June of 2011. What a wonderful time we had.

  4. Teresa Michael replied:

    This is awesome. Being so close to the animals must have been an amazing experience.

    • Karen in Ohio replied:

      It really was. And I’m sure I’m not beginning to communicate how much so.

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