Sunday, September 4, 2016

Lake Manyara to the Serengetti



After breakfast we pile into the jeep and head for Lake Manyara National Park.

The first thing we see are blue monkeys hanging around the front gate.

Throughout the day we see the usual elephants, giraffes, zebras,dikdik, Impala, Buffaloes,waterbuck, baboons and both velvet and blue monkeys. We also see a female brown Agama Lizard, and striped mongoose

Lake Manyara is also known for its birds. We see hornbills, king fisher, pelicans, flamingos, maribou storks, terns, ostriches, Hamacope, spoonbills and more.

One highlight is the butterflies...many different kinds of beautifully colored butterflies sitting on and fluttering around a big hunk of elephant poop. I don't know what the attraction is but I have never seen so many butterflies in one place....and it only seems to be the elephant poop in that area that the butterflies are attracted to. That elephant must have been eating something really special.

We see lots of Impala. They are either in a herd of all females with one male or a herd of all males. This is because in a breeding herd, there is only one male ( the strongest) and only he breeds with all the females. All the other males have their own herds and from time to time one of these will challenge the male with all the girls.

This is different from the dikdik who mate for life, however if one of them dies, the other finds another single partner and starts again.

Another funny thing happens when we are watching this one particular elephant tear a tree apart. Suddenly he lets out the loudest fart I have ever heard. Graham says " That is one really big fart" and I reply " Well if elephant poop doesn't stink then the farts should be fine"....then a breeze blows it in our direction. Holy cow, what a stench!

The monkeys and baboons are hilarious. Out of all the animals, they are the ones that fight with each other the most. At one point they seem to be having a turf war between groups of monkeys in different parts of the trees....lots of screaming ensues to the point that the baboons down below stop what they are doing to see what is going on.

We stop near the lake at one point. No one is supposed to get out of their jeep except in the picnic trail areas of the park but there are no animals around and nature is calling ( actually she is screaming hysterically). I go behind a bush by the road, praying that a Japanese tour group doesn't choose that particular moment to drive by.

Chochi drives us to the hot springs at the side of the lake. Expecting the stream to be warm as bath water, I put my finger in and it feels close to boiling. Some local guys are actually boiling eggs in there..I don't stay long enough to see if it works.

After eating the boxed lunch that our chef Peter prepared, we do the boardwalk trail to see the flamingos, storks, buffalo and other water birds at closer viewpoints.

Our day of game driving through Lake Manyara passes too quickly. As the shadows lengthen we stop at the main gate on the way out and I am able to grab a couple minutes of wifi before Chochi drives into town to get some water.

I receive an email from the coach of the Amagagasi, hoping that we had a safe trip home. I let him know that we are still in Africa and thank him and his team for making our trip to Victoria Falls so special.

In town, as we wait in the jeep for Chochi to pick up the water, a number of men selling stuff come to our slightly opened windows and try to get us to buy their wares. They are not frightening or mean but I do find myself feeling slightly hassled.

On our way back to the Haven Nature camp, Chochi stops off at a few places for me to buy a blue Masai blanket. None of them have blue so we will try again tomorrow.

When back at the camp, I go to the kitchen where all the chefs are preparing their safari group suppers. I ask Peter where Chochi is and he says he is out. I ask him what time supper is and he says to ask my chef Georgie. "But my chef is You, Peter", I reply. He starts laughing, gives me a hug and admits he didn't recognize me and didn't recognize the name Chochi because our guides name is Chicho.

At supper we apologize to Chicho for calling him by the wrong name and he says Chochi is close enough. Going forward we will call him Chicho.

I am feeling a bit sad because our trip is coming to an end and then the boys will both be heading off to university. I'm not very good at separations and endings.

******

Chicho normally has long hair in tight individual curls. Today he's piled it under a very tall knit cap. I am directly behind him in the jeep. It's like sitting behind Marg Simpson at the movie theatre.  Its ok though, because I can see easily out of the side windows and the room.

We meet a few fellow Canadians who are also going to Serengeti National Park today.

Peter, our cook comes with us. Peter and Chicho speak Swahili throughout the drive.

As per my request, we stop at a place that sells handicrafts and I buy a blue and yellow Masai Blanket. I probably paid more than I should have cause the guy is really happy after the sale.

Continuing on our way we pass a bad accident between a truck and a van. The van is mangled and the truck is on its side. They are both on the edge of a cliff. Lots of people stand by and watch. I don't even want to think about it.

Along our route there are many Masai people herding their cows. They stand so upright and are in perfect control of the animals.

It's market day at a town we drive through. The streets are packed with people and there is a large area of tented stalls. At the side of the road we see a cart selling African handicrafts with a sign over top saying " The Hilary Clinton Store".….. I still don't understand that one.

In the rural areas ( which most of it is), we often pass young Masai men with white painted faces. Chicho says they are the Warriors in training.

We stop at the entrance for Ngorongoro  Crater National Park. A family of baboons is in the parking lot. There is a really young baby ( who looks like Gollum from Lord of the Rings) who is full of beans and appears to continually get in trouble with the other baboons and then runs back to his mother for protection.

Chicho notices one regular car amongst all the jeeps in the parking lot and shares a joke with his fellow guides. He later tells us that you need a jeep to get around  the park on its unpaved, gutted and sometimes flooded in places roads. He jokingly told the guides that maybe he should cut a hole in the roof of his family car and go into business for himself.

Our route takes us around the edge of the crater, and we stop at a stunningly gorgeous lookout of the crater down below.

Our next stop is at the gates of Serengeti National Park for pictures before going through the main gates and having our lunch in the picnic area. Gorgeous iridescent blue Superb Starlings scavenge in and around the lunch crowd. One aggressive bird actually makes a grab for my sandwich as he flies through.

There are signs posted everywhere stating not to feed the birds or animals. I find it ironic that the starlings like to hang out on these signs. Fines are given out to anyone who feeds the birds or animals.

Very large mice, the size of gerbils are also prevalent in the picnic area.

There is a short trail that leads to the top of a rocky hill. From this vantage point, I can see for miles.  I spot the road we arrive on, there Is a long trail of dust following a jeep in the distance.

Some of the most colorful lizards the I've ever seen are lounging around at the top; magenta, purple and blue. Stunning. We had seen the female Agama lizard yesterday but she was all brown the vibrant ones are the males. They use their colors to attract the gals.

Next we head out for our first Serengeti game drive. The roads are unpaved; tracks really. Acacia trees dot the vast , golden plains. Rocks crop up every so often because millions of years ago volcanoes created mountains and then soil filled in the area between the mountains creating the plains and only leaving some eroded down mountain peaks.

Chicho says that thousands of both the grand and the Thompson gazelle live here. We also see kory bustards ( a bird), the secretary bird, ostrich, warthogs, elephants, giraffe, zebra, buffalo,  Heartbeest and more.

Chicho spots three lions so we drive in close. We are the only ones there. They re so close that if I reached out off the jeep I could touch them ( but that would be ill advised). We leave after we take a number of pictures. We notice that the lions are moving on so we stop and swatch. A young elephant is having a drink nearby. Then two gazelles notice the lionesses, one runs off and the other stands there like a dear in headlights just staring. Fortunately the lions had just eaten.

Moving on we spot a dikdik and his mate.He is pooping on top of one of his old poops. She waits. He continues to poop. She continues to wait. He's still pooping, ( maybe he should have brought a magazine). She patiently waits. I can't believe how long it takes him, he must have been saving it up. Finally he drops the last little ball and the couple nervously take off into the grasses.

Dikdiks are the smallest of the antelope and everyone wants to eat them. You can't blame them for being nervous. They poop in the same pile which is far away from where they actually live in order to fool their predictors.

Chicho gets a call and we take off fast, wildly bumping on the unpaved road. I call out"Chicho, I see a hippo!" He answers, " we'll go see the hippos later, I'm taking you to something exciting".

He is right. We pull in amongst a bunch of safari jeeps who are surrounding a pride of lions ( a total of eight), eating a buffalo. We are so close. A cub has his whole body inside the carcass and other lions are lying around in the shade of the jeeps, sleeping off their meal. Every now and then one of them gets up and moves around.

"Chochi, can we move the jeep a bit to the left? " I ask. "There seems to be a problem. The jeep won't start, I need a boost", he replies.

He calls to some of the other drivers and one of them pushes our jeep with his jeep. We move a bit away from the lions. Another jeep comes and they flank our jeep on both sides as Chochi and Peter grab their repair kit and leave the safety of the jeep. The other guides watch the lions. Within minutes, the jeep is fixed. The bumping of the roads had caused the terminal on the battery to come loose.

We go back and watch the lions until almost sunset.

Our campsite is very basic. There are a lot of people there including the Canadians we met in the morning. We are told that if we need to go to the bathroom in the night, we are to go in pairs and bring a flashlight. The showers are cold so I hold off. There are two normal toilets and the rest are squat toilets with some kind of hose

We watch the sunset, swig some brandy and listen to music before going to supper.

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It is still dark when I get up. I watch the sun rise over the hills. I have somehow managed to catch a cold and my nose is stuffed up.

I heard that baboons got into the garbage in the night. There is a large group of striped mongoose also present at the site..,not to mention hornbills, starling, little yellow and little blue birds.

We start our game drive at 7am. We see all the usual animals but I know we are in for something special when Chicho takes off after hearing something on his radio. We park with a group of other jeeps and Chicho points to two shapes in the distance"cheetahs eating a gazelle"' he says. They get up and start walking towards us, they walk right in front of us and sit under a nearby tree. So elegant.

We later spy a lioness that has just killed a small animal. Blood covers her front legs and chest. The male takes her prize from her and drags it into the grass to eat. Without argument, she continues on her way.

In the Serengeti every day is an animal soap opera.

We drive over to where the lions were eating the buffalo yesterday" today 13 hyenas and a bunch of vultures are picking at the leftovers. Actually, only the dominant hyena is eating and everyone else is watching. From time to time a vulture sneaks in for a bite but he is quickly sent on his way.

Later' Chicho spots a serval cat. This is a really rare spotting. These cats are just a bit bigger than a house cat and have spots.

Chicho dashes off again. This time we find a leopard sleeping in a tree, legs hanging off the branch.

Moving on we see a group of hunting lionesses, another serval cat, a kory bustard, secretary birds, a beautiful lilac roller bird, crocodiles and all the usual animals. We also find another Cheetah having an apres feast sleep in a tree. He has his kill ( gazelle) lying on another branch high above the ground. Just in case he needs amid sleep snack I guess.

After stopping at our campsite for lunch we pack up and start heading to the northern part of the Serengetti, Lobo. On our way, as Chicho promised, we stop at the hippo pond, there are literally close to a Hundred hippos in this pool. A lonely crocodile sits on the shore. Love is in the air. I notice one hippo giving his lady a love bite, then one thing leads to another....now who can say that they've seen two hippos mating? He was still at it when we left.  I have the video.

There is a problem getting gas at the central Serengeti gas building. We have to wait while they call a big truck in to bring more gas to the pump. They use a generator for pumping gas and sometimes it gets stuck.

It takes a few hours to get to Lobo. There are a lot less people in this part of the Serengeti. When we arrive there is only one other family at the camp site but then a group of Italians arrive. The temperature has really dropped. I brave a cold shower and do my best to comb my hair with no mirror. I have to be careful where I step because there is all kinds of animal poop by the bathroom ( I think buffalo). The wind picks up and blows all night. It is cold out but we are warm in our sleeping bags.

*******
It is dark when I rise. We head out to try and catch some of the migration across the Mara River.. The landscape is dotted with sculls with horns, bones and some carcasses. Many of the bones have been picked clean and bleached bright white by the Tanzanian sun but other carcasses are only partially eaten and left to rot. Shawn says that every now and then he gets a brief whiff of rot.

Some of the carcasses have a group of vultures watching as the white headed vulture eats first. Chicho says he is the king of the vultures because he is strong and big. He has the strength to rip the carcass open to get to the meat. The other vultures wait until he's done. Maribou Storks often hang around and try to steal the vultures feast.

The Serengeti belongs to the animals. When game driving we are not to leave the jeep except in designated areas... ( or an emergency bathroom break behind the jeep).

This area has a lot less traffic. Most of the time we are the only jeep around. When we are stopped and the motor is off, it's so silent that I feel I need to whisper.

Wildebeast and zebra mingle everywhere we look. Chicho says there are over three million wildebeast in the park.

We get to the river. A large number of zebras and wildebeast have already crossed and are watching but a herd of a few hundred on the other side who are thinking about crossing....we stop and wait with a number of other jeeps. The wildebeests continue to think about it....and think....and think. Finally all start heading down the incline to the water's edge. And they stop to think.

A large crocodile sits in the sun a few meters down from the herd....and they continue to think.

Suddenly one wildebeest enters the river and the others follow. We stand up with cameras poised...and they turn around and go back. The herd splits in half, some following one leader towards the croc and the other half still thinking about crossing.

Finally one wildebeest dives in, gets halfway across and realizes no one is following so he turns around and struggles back. I wasn't sure if he would make it or not.

One goes in and the others follow. Hallelujah. We snap pictures, take video...but wait, half the herd holds back and just watches as the rest struggle through the water and clamber up the bank on the other side.

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