Safari II (The Rains Are Here)

Eight AM on a Saturday morning in our new casa and I thought I’d finally write about our safari and put up a selection on those 800+ pictures I took. Honestly, I feel like we both had to recover from five days of brutally early mornings (5.30AM wake-ups every day and neither of us are morning people), catch up on sleep, and spend an evening or two working on those said pictures. And voila, here we are.

Our second safari kicked off last Thursday when our guide-cook team (the gregarious Tom and a gentleman we dubbed “Dr. Delicious”) came to pick us up in an early morning drizzle. As we’d feared, the supposedly short rainy season had extended itself well into January (it’s supposed to be done in December but with no weather predictions to speak of, I suppose it’s mostly conjecture mixed with a healthy dose of old-wives tales), so the entire nine hour journey from Moshi to Serengeti, through the Ngorongoro crater, was wet, foggy and soggy to the point where most roads were becoming nearly unpassable. In their heavy wetness the savannah plains looked eerily beautiful, even through fogged up windows, and in parts so green that I thought we must be in Ireland (!).

Despite only one quick pit stop at a Masaai market where we could have snagged ourselves a sweet little goat for less than 20 bucks (why didn’t we?), we barely made it to our Serengeti campsite before dusk and before those pesky rains intensified again. Tents up, Campari-oranges in hand and a three-course dinner brewing in the cook’s quarters (if you do a camping safari you always get a cook too – it sounds decadent but it’s actually the cheapest way to do a safari), we were happy to be in the wilderness again, if not for the slightly nerve-wracking experience of sleeping in tents, smack middle of the national park, with nothing but some nylon canvas between you and a bunch of hungry hyenas.

We woke up before dawn the next morning, hopped into a safari car and headed towards the much-anticipated-slightly-feared-and-possibly-canceled hot air balloon ride. Given that the rains had barely stopped since we’d headed out of Moshi, the nagging pessimist in me suspected that there was a slim chance we’d get off the ground (they can’t fly in windy conditions or rain). But just as the sun started giving signs of life beyond the horizon and we arrived at the launch site, the drizzle stopped and the vast, majestic plains started transforming from their now ubiquitous gray-green color to a mesmerizing mix of lilac and pale orange. And we – dad, myself and Boogie, plus the 12 other people on the balloon – got the green light to go from our captain. We hopped in, strapped ourselves into this giant basket, lay down in a seated position, ready for take-off…

The ride was achingly beautiful as the vast plains stretched out in front of us in the early morning light and the balloon bopped up and down with a grace so befitting to one of the most effortlessly beautiful places on earth. The whole experience was so calm and relaxing, to the point of being one of the most meditative experiences of my life, with just enough excitement thrown in as we dipped in to see the hippo pools up close and then lifted off in the nick of time. Gliding over the plains we saw vultures, hippos, impalas, hyenas and elephants… but it was less about spotting animals and much more about just getting a real sense for how immense and utterly breathtaking the Serengeti is.

After an Out-of-Africa style bush breakfast (complete with some bubbly) we returned to the camp, ready for our first full set of game drives around the park. Unlike Tarangire (our first safari), Serengeti’s vastness makes animal-spotting a more time-consuming affair. At the same time, the game drives are as much about appreciating the varied landscape of the plains, from flat plains to hills, forests and rocky outcrops straight out of Lion King. In between amazingly close-up sightings of lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and hippos (we got particularly close to a 15-lion strong pride on the morning of the 3rd day, and the great migration of wildebeest and zebras in southern Serengeti as we drove out), the silent and ancient beauty of these immense green plains struck us as deeply humbling.

After two days in the Serengeti we headed back to the Ngorongoro crater, camped on the rim of it (the campsite was full but a cheeky elephant still made it to the broken water tank to drink – this one had high standards for its drinking water, apparently, and I woke up in the middle of the nigh to a buffalo grazing around our tent) and spent the last day in what can only described as the ‘promised land’. The crater, a remnant of a massive volcano that exploded three million years ago, is 19 km wide and home to about 25,000 animals, including the famed big five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo). The drive down to the crater at 7AM was an unabashed feast for the senses, with the morning dew enveloping our open top car in that fresh early morning smell, oddly reminiscent of summers past in faraway Finland. We spent the morning driving around, spotting all the remaining big five, including the elusive and highly endangered black rhino, and soaking up the beauty of this uncharacteristically lush (and frankly pretty damn magical) landscape.

Our trip concluded with a visit and morning hunt with the last full-time hunter-gatherer tribe in Africa, called the Hadzabe, living just outside the Ngorongoro crater, on the shores of Lake Eyasi. Although there may very well have been an element of ‘staging’ in the whole thing (a decapitated baboon head was perched on a tree as we entered the camp with our local guide), our three-hour hunting expedition in the bush lands surrounding the lake was authentic, complete with a pre-hunt weed smoking session among the six men that took us on the hunt (an odd opener for an early morning hunt, one might think), an impressive guinea fowl kill and a bush baby roasted on an impromptu barbecue before returning to camp (they roast the entire creature without slaughtering it). This tribe (numbering only 1,000) have lived like this for thousands, if not tens of thousands of years, and little else than well worn shorts distinguish them from their ancestors. We ended the trip with a quick visit to a Datooga family that does metal works: they taught me how to grind maize flower with two stones, and we bought a couple of lovely brass bracelets and trinkets (arrowheads as cocktail sticks, anyone?) to take home. And just like that, Safari Nr. II was over, done and dusted.

I’m so glad we did another one (the post about Tarangire is here) and that we got to show it to my dad. Nothing like the real lion king experience to make us fall in love with Africa all over again…

Thanks for reading through another mammoth post. A sweltering hot Moshi bids you farewell and wishes you a wonderful weekend.

– K&B

PS. This safari proved once and for all how incredibly lazy lions are. This majestic beast sure likes its rest…

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