Safari Day One – The Real Lion King

Lioness, Serengeti

We were meant to be ready to meet Fitael at reception and leave at 8 a.m. That didn’t happen.

I didn’t wake up until 7 a.m. and then spent far too long in the glorious warm shower. We then had to rearrange our bags as we had everything we needed for the full three weeks however, we only needed to take stuff for the four day safari and everything else could be left behind at the Lodge (As a side point, it’s worth mentioning that packing for a trip this big is really, really difficult and I’ve written a list which I will post separately about what we took with us)

We eventually left our room at 7.59 to find the Canadian guys sat outside reception still waiting to be picked up, having been told to be ready for 7.30. This put my mind at ease and I assumed that Tanzania runs on the same AMT (African Maybe Time) as Ghana. I was wrong. So very wrong. Fitael was already there waiting for us and found it hilarious that we weren’t ready yet. He said he didn’t mind waiting for us so we ran to the breakfast room, grabbed some toast and bananas to take with us (Sean managed to grab sausage, beans, toast, pancakes and a banana which, to this day, I still have no idea how he managed) and returned to reception. Fitael had packed our bags into the big Land Rover he had collected us in yesterday and introduced us to our cook for the next few days, Juma.

We are really lucky as both Fitael and Juma are very friendly and knowledgeable. Throughout the whole drive today, they have been really chatty and very informative. As there’s only me and Sean on the safari we have loads of room in the Land Rover which is made to seat nine passengers plus the driver. It’s surprisingly comfortable and I’d be more than happy to sleep in here if camping doesn’t work out.

View into the Ngorogoro Crater from the ridge

We drove through Arusha town and then seemed to stay on one straight road for the rest of the day. The highlights of this long, long road can be summarised as “the town that sold red bananas” (which is also the same town that we picked up some binoculars from Fitael’s friend) and “the great rift wall”. The views from the top were stunning but before we knew it, we were back down the other side again. The wildlife along the long, long road can be divided into two categories – the goats, sheep and cows that the Masai people herd along the side of the road and the hundreds of dead dogs in the middle of the road! Fitael “explained” that, for some unknown reason, the dogs mate in the middle of the road at night which results in them getting run over (possibly one of the most bizarre things I have ever heard, hence the word “explained” being in inverted commas).

We soon reached the gate for the Ngorongoro National Park and, after a short stop to sort out the relevant paperwork and permits, we made our way up the side of the crater to the top of the ridge where we stopped for a few photos. We didn’t stay long as we will be stopping there again in a couple of days’ time – given how breath-taking the views were, I’m really looking forward to going back there. We came down from the crater ridge and continued along the same long, long road again.

Oldupai Gorge

The next place that we stopped at was Oldupai Gorge which, rather excitingly, was down another road that forked off the long, long road. We had what I would describe as the biggest packed lunches ever. We has one lunch box each which contained two cheese sandwiches, two hard boiled eggs, a piece of grilled chicken, a bag of crisps, a bag of groundnuts, a muffin, a chocolate bar and a carton of juice. Now, those of you who know me will know that whilst I eat a lot, I eat small amounts throughout the day and often get over-faced by large portions (or, if you believe my work colleagues, half a baguette). Needless to say, Sean has been well fed today. We ate lunch looking out over the gorge and then listened to a talk about the history of the area – it was super interesting learning about the various excavation sites, camps and finds which were initially made famous by Louis Leaky and his wife Mary (having Googled the gorge since being home, Wikipedia informs me that Oldupai Gorge is one of the most important Paleonanthropological sites in the world – impressive heh?)

Zebra in the Serengeti

We returned back to the same long, long road we had been on since Arusha (I’m starting to wonder why I called yesterday’s entry “Travelling, Travelling and More Travelling” and not today’s) and continued until we reached the gate for the Serengeti National Park. Once again we stopped so that Fitael could sort out the paperwork and permits etc. Just before we reached the gate I realised that I hadn’t packed the notepad that we had been using as our diary so, at the gate, we went to the visitor’s centre and Sean bought us a posh $15 notebook which we are now sharing for the next few days. Whilst we were at the gate, it started to rain and the views from the vantage points were somewhat limited by the cloud and rain. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little disappointed at that moment in time. I had come on safari with a picturesque vision of clear blue skies, sun and lots of animals – so far we’d had Masi goats and cows, dead dogs and rain.

I was wrong to be worried about the weather. Before long, we were sat a matter of metres away from two male lions who were hiding in the long grass and the rain had eased off. It was unbelievable to be so close to them. Fitael told us they were only small so must have been quite young. I’m beginning to doubt what “wise Fitael” is telling us because those lions looked huge to me!

On our way to the campsite we were also lucky enough to see lots of Thomson Gazelles and Zebra – we even had to stop the car at one point to let the Zebra cross the road, they really didn’t seem to care that we were there. It wasn’t long before the rain had stopped completely and we came across some more lions, this time they were much closer to the road. As the rain had stopped we were able to open the roof of the Land Rover so that we could stand up and get a better view of the animals. There was a mum, two adolescent males and a young female. The boys were play fighting right next to the road, it was so surreal to watch them playing so closely, seemingly unfazed by our presence only a few metres away from them.

Young lions playing, Serengeti

Young male lion, Serengeti

Young lions in the grass, Serengeti

As we moved on, still aiming for the campsite, we could see a large group of vehicles just like ours grouped together in the distance. Fitael turned off the road and headed towards the other cars to investigate what was going on. He explained that when rangers or tour guides find something unusual or interesting, they radio the others so that they can come and see too. There must have been about 15 vehicles all parked along the road looking at a sight, which according to Fitael, was very, very rare – there was a Cheetah sat right next to the road eating it’s prey, a Thomson Gazelle. It was amazing, if not a little gross, to see that so close up and it was certainly not something I had expected that we would be so lucky to see. What also amazed me was the number of vehicles and the number of people in those vehicles. One thing that isn’t shown in the brochures or in the films, is just how many other people are on safari at the same time as you.Cheetah eating its prey, Serengeti

When we had had enough of watching the Cheetah tear it’s dinner apart, we were ready to carry on for camp. This was much easier said than done. The volume of vehicles on this part of the road meant that the entire road was blocked. Vehicles were trying to manoeuvre around each other, inching forwards, not getting far and the reversing. One driver thought it would be a good idea to try to drive up the verge and go around everyone which backfired and he just got stuck, only being set free when another vehicle pushed him up the last bit of the verge using his bumpers.

Fitael told us we needed to get to camp before dark so we headed off and reached camp in plenty of time to get the tents set up. I’m pretty worried about the camp site as it’s in the middle of the Serengeti and there are no fences! Even more worryingly, Fitael has set up our tent right on the edge of camp and set his tent up in the middle! On one side of the camp is a block of toilets, which upon closer inspection consists of 2 showers, 2 toilets and 2 squat toilets (essentially just holes in the ground). On the other side of the camp are two separate “blocks” one is the kitchen and the other is the dining cage. I say dining cage because that’s exactly what it is – a cage. Apparently the fencing is needed to keep the animals out. In all honesty, I’d much rather they were able to get in there than in our tent.

Me in the tent

After setting up our tents, we went into the dining cage where various groups of people had set up their tables and chairs. Juma had laid out hot drinks and freshly made popcorn for us which was delicious. We were then joined by Fiteal for a three course dinner courtesy of Juma. We started with pumpkin soup which was following by spaghetti Bolognese and dessert of fresh fruit and another round of hot drinks. Whilst eating dinner the “mobile safari bar” arrived. This was a large refrigerated truck which drives between the different campsites in the evenings selling alcohol and other refreshments. Unfortunately we didn’t get any photos because it was pitch black and, under no circumstances was I going outside and drawing attention to myself with the flash on my camera – we all know lions are attracted to camera flashes.

Most other groups headed off to their tents but we used the opportunity to chat to Fitael more (we haven’t figured out why yet but Juma doesn’t seem to be eating with us). He insisted on scaring the living daylights out of me by “being honest” about the dangers of the campsite at night time. He said that sometimes lions come into the camp but it’s not common (although he said that finding a cheetah eating near the road was rare, but we saw that!). According to Fitael we can hear lions that are about 6-7 km away and we would definitely know if one was closer. I’ve actually heard a few lion roars whilst I’ve been writing this which is making me feel slightly uncomfortable. Other, more common visitors to the campsite include hyenas and buffalo – which is the animal that Fiteal is most afraid of because they charge and trample for no apparent reason.

So, after those lovely, reassuring thoughts we both ran across the campsite to the toilets whilst there were lots of people still awake and walking around the camp before retiring to our tent (where I feel no safer). Rather conveniently, we are as far away from the toilets as possible so I’m hoping that, as I’m really tired now I’ll fall asleep shortly and not wake up until the morning * Fingers crossed *

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