The camp is lively at dawn but it’s freaking cold. I can hear multiple languages from different tents. On the backs of the jeeps are the tour company names that I didn’t choose – Bob’s tours, Roy’s tours, Duma’s tours, and others that are new to me.
I hope I picked the right company. Yesterday was not a confidence building experience.
Maybe breakfast will cheer us up! Paul makes eggs and some kind of mystery sausage. At least I still have some good coffee left. I bring Starbucks Via instant packets on every trip since they were released, and they have made a huge difference in the quality of trip life. The instant coffee served around the world is ghastly.
Today Emma wants to try a little coffee too, so she loads it up with sugar and milk and tries a small amount. ‘It’s good except for the taste’ – a typical comment from Emma, who loves to be positive even if it makes no sense. Lily makes hot chocolate but doesn’t drink it as usual.
Our morning drive is into the Ngorongoro crater, which is the remnant of a volcano that blew itself to bits a few million years ago and left a crater 14 miles in diameter that gets good water and has a stabilized temperature.
As a result many animals have congregated in Ngorongoro and made it their permanent home. It’s something of an eden for them, they have everything they want but they can’t easily leave. Indeed, there are even signs of inbreeding over the years.
Obviously it makes for an incredible opportunity for safari because there are so many animals ‘trapped’ in a small area. It has the highest concentration of lions in the world. You are guaranteed to see them here. Cheetah and Leopards are pretty common too, as well as all the herding animals like zebra and gazelle that supply them with food.
We havn’t even left the Simba camp on the cold ridge of the crater when zebra show up to graze on the grass near our tents. What follows in the next few hours exceeds any of our expectations. Animal after animal appear as the morning mist rises from the crater floor.
The first is, incredibly, a momma tiger with her baby cubs. She stops, always sniffing the air upwind to see what’s ahead. The cubs play and follow. She looks menacing and nurturing at the same time. It’s an incredible sight. They are only about 100 feet away from us.
Jackal and Hyena roll around the area, trying to get a hint of a kill that they can scavange. Lions kill game and get most of the good meat plus the heart and liver. Hyenas are then usually strong enough to eat the rest before the Jackals and Vultures finish anything left over. It’s a pattern repeated hundreds of times a day in the African Savannah.
Emma is hopping in her seat looking at all the animals. She claps at each one and talking really fast. It’s not like her to be so exuberant. That’s typically Lily’s role to be a little nutty and excitable.
It dawns on me that this is Emma on a caffeine buzz. She’s wired from the coffee we drank! She keeps talking and gesticulating enthusiastically. Lily jokes that is she had caffeine, she would go atomic, and she’s right. So right that she makes up a hyper song about decaf.
The beauty of the Ngorongoro crater is not a secret. There are cars everywhere, and in fact many of the animals we see were discovered by someone else. At one spot, the lions are actually in the road, and there are so many vehicles they cause gridlock.
Unlike the private reserves in Kruger park, Ngorongogo and the Serengeti does not allow any off-road access so you can only see what is near the path. When something is close, the land rovers and Toyotas really jam up.
With the roof top up, we can stand on the seats and get a pretty good view unless there is another car blocking us. Saige pulls into the line of vehicles waiting for a glimpse of the four lions passed out on the side of the road after a kill. They will sleep for 12 hours after a kill and then not need to hunt for another 2 days.
“Oh, thats a bad man! We were here first!” I hear from the next vehicle behind us. An asian woman with a white man, presumably her husband, is getting fired up that we ‘cut’ in the car line. “Hey!” she yells ‘You not supposed to cut us in line! We were here first!” Surprisingly, she actually talks with the stereotypical asian-american voice like they would use on Saturday Night Live or Family Guy. She keeps yammering at us.
Oh boy this is going to get interesting, I think. My wife is a patient woman. In fact she has the patience of a saint. She has, after all, put up with my antics for 15 years. But there are two things that get her bonkers crazy, and one of them is when people cut her in line.
And then, right on cue, Trish goes berserk.
“What are hell are you talking about?” Trish opens and stands up taller on her seat, directing her glare back at the woman, whom we now know is named ‘Bunny’ (you can’t make this shit up). They exchange a few more words arguing about who is supposed to be in line. “Shutup, bitch” Trish says dismissively with a snarl and Bunny launches into a tirade that includes calling us ‘terrible parents.’
The kids and I are cracking up. Why would anyone get so upset about a place in a safari line? Everyone gets their turn even if someone slips in (which we didn’t.) But it’s also hilarious to see Trish blow her cool because it doesn’t happen very often. But when she does, you don’t want to be on the other side of that throat-cutting gaze.
Everyone calms down. We get our fill of the lions and later on wave to Bunny each time we see her. The kids keep repeating ‘Shut-up Bunny!’ in the back seat and laugh.
The one thing we didn’t see in Kruger park was a Cheetah, and it’s the only animal we are really anxious to see. It’s far off in the distance when we find him, but we get good long looks. The Cheetah is so beautiful, I wish they weren’t endangered so badly. They need a lot of space and aren’t adapting to the parks that well.
Ostriches, Hippos and warthogs are all things we didn’t get to see up close in Kruger either. Warthogs are difficult to photograph – they are the most skittish of the big animals. You usually only see their behinds.
We saw wildebeest in South Africa but in handfuls. Wildebeest, or gnu as they are called in Swahili, appear in larger groups here in Tanzania. And of course there were Zebra everywhere. We actually didn’t see many elephant and giraffe, and there were no Rhino’s. But those are all things we saw a lot of in Kruger.
We saw all this in a few hours. Incredible. It’s as much as we saw the entire time at Shindzela (although that was fun for other reasons.)
Back at the camp we grab a quick lunch which is our first hot meal in a while. It’s a salty beef stew with rice. We waste a little time as they pack up the gear and Trish hurt herself again. She has been bumping her head and ankles and knees almot everywhere she goes. We tease her that she’s sounds like the family guy routine. At least her back is better than yesterday, she’s in pain but not in tears.
I want to stay longer, but we only get a half-day in Ngorongoro. Our plan is to head North West, past Oldupai George where Mary Leaky found the ancestor of humans ‘Lucy’, and get to the Seronera area of the Serengeti which is one of the main camp areas.
At the gate of the Serengeti, a few hours driving later, we are forced over with a flat tire. The jack is so covered in road dust that it won’t function, and we wasted some time. Lily and Emma do little skits.
Lily sings another song. We sing a lot while we travel. It’s easy to think adventure travel is one great thing after the next, but in reality there is a lot of downtime to waste. Trish isn’t always as amused as we are.
Again night is falling and we will get to camp too late for dinner. Saige and Paul get the tire fixed and travel quickly. Sunset is beautiful on the plains of the Serengeti.
When you cross the Serengeti plain for the first time, you’ll be amazed. There are miles and miles of completely flat grassland, yellow now in June but green by December. There are scattered animals out there from place to place but it seems vacant and huge. The sun looks small on the huge horizon.
It’s been a great day, but sadly it’s ending on another difficult note. Three more hours of driving and we still have not found our campsite. Saige is rolling down the window and asking everyone he passes where our campsite is. We pull in and he and Paul talk on mobile phones in Swahili. We get very little information except we are staying in ‘the camp nearby’.
Finally at the end of the road is a camp called ‘Kuro’ which is a semi-permanent camp with beds. We won’t be staying in sleeping bags, which is great for Trish’s back. They don’t have any hot water or electricity which is bad for my camera and smell, but we’ll have to sort that out tomorrow. It’s 10pm and we haven’t eaten yet. There are more pressing things to deal with.
The food comes, and it’s salty beef stew again. Lily curls up in my arms as we fall asleep. It’s so gratifying to be on an adventure with your kids.