Monday, September 5, 2016

Serengetti to Rhyno Lodge

It's dark when I rise. We head out to try and catch some of the migration across the Mara River. The landscape is dotted with horned sculls ,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.

I ask " why are there so many uneaten carcasses here when the ones in central Serengetti are mostly picked clean?" Chicho replies "because there are always more bodies where the migration is taking place. More animals die from old age, injury and weakness as well as predators during migration and freshest carcasses are always eaten first."

At some carcasses a group of smaller vultures watch as the white headed vultures eat first. Chicho says that the white headed ones are the king of the vultures because they are strong and big. They use their strength to rip the carcass open to get to the meat. The other vultures wait until they're done. Maribou Storks often hang around and try to steal the vultures feast.

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...and only after Chicho has checked that there are no preditors in the vicinity). During one such occasion there are no bushes nearby so Shawn holds up Chicho's  Masai blanket for me. No one is around but I take the precaution because with my luck a convoy of jeeps are sure to materialize the second my pants are down.

This area has a lot less traffic than other parts of the park. Much of the time it is only us and the animals with no other jeeps around. When we stop and the motor is off, it's so silent that I feel I need to whisper.

Wildebeast and zebra mingle everywhere we look. 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 watch a herd of a few hundred on the other side who are thinking about crossing....we stop and wait along 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 then they think.

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

Suddenly one wildebeest enters the river and the others follow. We stand up with cameras poised...and then 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'm not sure if he will make it or not.

At last, one brave soul 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 successfully clamber up the bank on the other side. The newly crossed wildebeest expectantly watch the remainder of their herd who still need to cross.

The hesitant wildebeests gather tightly as if having a conference....and they think.....and they think.

Twenty minutes later they are still pacing and thinking, loudly lowing their concerns. The part of the herd that already crossed lose patience and run to catch up to the larger herd who crossed in the morning.

We give up as well and follow the river to check out what else we can see.

Crocodiles, hippos and water birds are plentiful. We return about an hour later to where the Wildebeest had been trying to cross. The crocodile is gone and we find the rest of the herd grazing on our side of the river, probably relieved to have finally crossed over.

Many of them stand in smaller groups of five or six, facing the same direction as if posed for a family portrait.

We continue our game drive away from the river. Chicho spots another jeep stopped by a lion and lioness sitting under a tree. Both jeeps drive in a bit closer and the lions move a few meters into the grasses. We click pictures and wait. The other jeep leaves and we are alone with the lions. We wait and I say, "we've taken all our pictures. Can we move now."

"Let's just stay here awhile longer. Something big is about to happen." Chicho says. The lions continue to lie there. I'm not convinced about this big event.

Slowly, the female gets up, stretches and moves towards the tree. Her tail brushes his face in a come hither fashion as the male follows behind. Chicho says " get your cameras ready".

As they reach the tree, the male mounts her and completes the deed in under a minute. We manage to get National Geographic worthy video and pictures before they lie back down under the tree as if nothing happened. According to Chicho, lions will pair off and mate on and off for a week.

Our campsite is a few hours away, so we slowly start to head back. The whole area is really dusty. The dust cakes on my lips and I need to keep reapplying lip moisturizer.

We see kale spring antelopes, the stalky eland antelopes, Topi, bush buck ,water buck, ground hornbills and all the other usual animals. We pass a few zebras on their backs, rolling back and forth with their legs in the air. "Scratching, scratching, scratching." Chicho says.

It's late afternoon when we arrive to our campsite. We are the only campers there tonight.  Zebras and Impala graze by the washroom. They barely blink an eye as I run in to use the facilities. I dodge large piles of evidence attesting to the fact that the Buffaloes had also been eating near the bathroom.

The herd of buffalo are now grazing a number of meters in front of our tent.

Peter is cooking our supper in the kitchen enclosure. He's been there by himself all day and says that baboons and a lion also visited our site today.

The temperature drops quickly when the sun disappears. I wear my winter jacket at night.

We eat by lamp electricity here. Chicho tells us about one time when they accidentally locked a baboon in the kitchen area. When they came back it was crying, crying, crying and had deposited diarrhea poops all over the place. That baboon really thought it was all over for him. He took off like a flash when they opened the door.

I wear a pair of long johns and undershirt along with polar fleece pants and top and wooly socks to bed. Inside the sleeping bag I am perfectly comfortable. The wind howls outside and the tent walls move to its song. I'm loving this.

In the morning I zip open the front door of the tent. The Buffaloes are lined up in a row with all eyes fixated directly on me. I'm glad it's the buffalo and not a lion.

I am not graceful as I stumble out of the tent; definately not a model for Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

Graham wants to climb the huge rock hill behind us for pith and pipe shots but Chicho says " no way. It's too dangerous". Too many poisonous snakes, scorpions and predators live there.

After breakfast the guys start packing up while Peter cleans up after breakfast. I play Cold Plays "Adventure of a Lifetime" and start to dance....after all, who is going to see me in the middle of the Serengetti.

Suddenly one big baboon runs over the cleft of the rock, down towards the kitchen structure. He's soon followed by more and more. It's like a small invasion. There end up being a troupe of over thirty; large males, teenagers, mothers and lots of babies. Peter and Graham take turns chasing the more daring baboons away from the garbage and I watch the babies play, still to the soundtrack of Cold Play.

Romance is in the air for one couple. They copulate more like the lions instead of the hippos and its over in under a minute.

I notice a lot of large Guinea pig type creatures with disgruntled looking faces sitting on the rock behind us. They don't do much, just sit there. Similar to the ones we saw in Spitzkoppe. Chicho tells me they are Rock Hyrax.

We head back towards central Serengetti on our way to Ngronogrono Crater.

At the side of the road a pride of ten lions feast on a zebra that was probably killed last night. The eye has already been consumed but the rest of the striped face is still recognizable. Vultures hover on the sidelines. We are the only human witnesses.

The roads are crazy, rocky and bumpy. Sometimes the jeep needs to traverse in and out of deep gullies, often filled with water. Passengers receive an African Massage during the game drives. This terrane is really hard on the jeeps.

Lots of the trees are broken, split and torn. The work of elephants who eat for twenty hours and sleep on and off for four.

We pass many warthogs, ( pumba in Swahili ). These big pig like creature's tails go straight up in the air like an antenna when they're startled or running. I think they are one of my favourite animals...Chicho says they are one of his.

We stop at a park information office that has fabulous bathrooms and the first mirror I've seen in three days....not pretty. There is a really good walking trail that explains the migration. They also offer balloon rides from here. We don't go because it is really expensive and with my fear of heights, it's only slightly less scary than bungee jumping.

There are rock hyrax everywhere here. They barely move when you walk by. Despite knowing better, Graham pokes a rock hyrax which doesn't react. Cameron shows more restraint and keeps his hands to himself.

Jeep traffic increases as we get into central Serengetti. A jeep is stuck in a rut not too far from a pair of lions. Guides collect rocks to put under the tires and then all the guides surround the jeep with their vehicles, get out and push it free. Chicho says they always help each other because you never know when it's your turn to get in trouble.

Just before we get to the picnic area at the park gates our jeep breaks down. There is a crack in one of the fluid lines. Peter and Chicho get out to fix it. Within minutes another jeep and driver arrives to take us to the picnic area.

Chicho and Peter show up at the picnic site within an hour. The jeep is temporarily fixed but they aren't confident it will last so we transfer all our stuff to the other jeep, which is driven by Chicho's friend" ( Chicho's a friendly guy and seems to have lots of friends).

We are driven to the Rhyno Lodge which is at the top edge of the Ngorongoro Crater.

This lodge is our big splurge because if camping in this area we would  experience the coldest nights with the worst washrooms ( according to trip advisor). There are less than a handful of hotels or lodges in the national park so they are all very pricey. We have two rooms beside each other.

Internet is available only in the restaurant/bar area which has large windows and is wrapped in a huge deck and surrounded by wilderness. We are told not to leave the deck or lodge area. The Internet is spotty at best.

Chicho and Peter show up partway through our buffet supper. They advise us that the company is sending us a new jeep for the morning. Graham has a slight allergic reaction at supper because he didn't check on ingredients. He takes a benedryl and things improve but it makes him tired and he goes to bed early.

We stay up chatting with Chicho and Peter since it is our last night together. They tell us how much they enjoy working for "It Started in Africa" because the company is honest with their customers, they have no mileage limits, they trust their judgement and they always send replacement jeeps if Chicho says he has concerns about one. Some companies tell their drivers to tell people they are at the Mara River when really they are at a closer, smaller river that has wildebeest nearby. Also many companies have mile restrictions so if a guide wants to drive further to have a good animal sighting, they are unable to or fined for taking the extra miles.

We find out that Chicho and Peter are brothers- in-law since Peter is married to Chicho's sister. We have a few laughs before we head off to bed.

Our room is nice with our own spacious bathroom. We have a deck surrounded by forest. You can only charge your electronic devices until 9pm because then the electricity is turned off until 5am. The lights run on the generator at night so you can still turn them on when you want them. There is no heating and it is cold so the staff put hot coals into the cast iron wood heater and then add logs to make a fire.

I wear my long johns to bed and am perfectly comfortable. I also fill the hot water bottles that the hotel supplies. Mmmmm. I forgot how good a hot water bottle feels on a cool night.The wind blows wildly outside. I wake up from time to time, look at the fireplace and go back to sleep. Shawn adds a few more logs at some point.

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