As we wake up, Trish bumps her head on the headboard. Again. She bumped it there before going to bed too. And she did it in Tydon. And in Shindzela.
How does one hurt themselves in bed so much? Only Trish knows. The girls chuckle at her from the adjacent room. She sounds like the Family Guy fffffffffft-ahhhhhhhhh routine.
Otherwise, Trish seems okay this morning. The fever is gone and she says she is confident that she can do the long drives today, which is really good. To lose a whole day would create a huge mess, especially here in Lobo where there is little else to see aside from tsetse flies.
She’s so physically tough, it’s amazing.
Escape from Lobo
“Let’s get out of here.’ Saige says after breakfast. It’s the longest sentence we’ve heard from him in a while. He really doesn’t like Lobo area, does he? I think. It’s not familiar to him. Maybe people give drivers a hard time when there are no animals? And he’s anxious that we will get frustrated.
Lobo was unimpressive, but it might not have been that way a different year. 2012 had long spring rains in the south Serengeti, which have kept the animals from migrating north longer than usual. Weather does not always accommodate your safari itinerary. When you plan safari, you need to book a few different spots. You never know when the animals will come or go.
Today we exit the Serengeti the way we came in, via Ngorongoro, and continue the drive farther south to the Park ‘Tarangires’ (Tar-an-JIR-re with a lightly rolled ‘r’ on the end.) It’s a really different park than the Serengeti with lots of elephants and baobabs. It’s a long ride, but a lot of it should be looking at animals.
Emma waves goodbye to the hyraxes that inhabit this strange, government-owned, Indian-run, Arabic-decorated lodge in the Serengeti. As we roll out the gate onto the dirt road, I hear a big CLANK and then ‘CLANKITY CLANK CLANK CLANK” Saige pulls to a stop and looks up at me.
One of the 2 inch thick metal bars holding up the pop-up roof has broken in half. I stare at it in disbelief. How much wear and tear does a 2 foot long, rod of steel that’s 2 inches thick have to take before it cracks in half? That’s a lot of road wear.
Saige says pop-up roof will have to remain closed while we drive south, which is dissapointing. It feels really strange and claustrophobic to be in the car with the roof down. If the roof were up, I would have stood the whole way in the open air.
Seronera for the last time
Saige drives pretty fast on the dirt road to the Seronera area, where we had been just yesterday. He stops and gets out a 10 foot x 2 inch piece of rubber band material that he must keep in his repair box. We raise the roof again. Wrapped tightly a hundred times around the broken metal shaft, the rubber keeps the bar intact. Ingenious.
There is a big pile up of cars ahead, it must be something big! But it’s only Lions. ‘Only lions’, I laugh to myself. In South Africa we would have killed for a better glimpse of lions. They are everywhere here, but mostly lying in the grass many times now.
While we take some photos, Saige gets a text message. He tells us that we have to go pick up some gear for another safari group and deliver it to Arusha. Sigh. It’s 40 minutes out of the way. I’m not thrilled about sacrificing our time to help another budget safari get their gear. But you can’t fight these things unless I’m willing to have a hissy fit and call the main office. And I’m not.
One of the guys loading stuff onto our vehicle says we won’t be at our next campsite until 9pm. Yikes. That’s 7 hours! We were supposed to do a game drive this morning and a night drive this evening. So far we’ve done nothing but see a sleeping lion for a few minutes and drive with the top down.
The road through the southern Serengeti is dusty and long. It’s the same road we took in, via the Serengeti plains and Ngorongoro. We see some elephant in the distance and Saige slows down to about 30 miles an hour. He looks back at me as if to say ‘Do you really need to see another elephant?’ We shrug and he accelerates again leaving a dusty trail on the road. He is nervous about the time.
There is no air conditioning in the car, so you leave the windows open, or it get’s stuffy during the day. Driving on the highway has it’s own danger: dust. Every time you pass another car, the seat behind the driver (mine) get’s covered in clay particles and grass dust. You have to either roll up your window or hold your breath and close your eyes. I prefer the latter.
A group of cars is up ahead. On the side of the road is a small tree, alone in the plains. It offers some shade to a few lions. They are unconcerned with the trucks and cameras.
Saige and I debate for a moment whether or not to raise the broken roof. I too am getting a little tired of the same animals. He feels obliged to open it up so we can see better, and indeed, they are really close to us. The hot breeze fills the car and I lazily snap a few shots of the sleepy lions.
Farther ahead, just 100 feet, there are a few more cars. Saige drives up to them and we see a lioness walking in the bright sunlight along the road. At least it’s a walking lion and worthy of our time. She’s a beauty. Her mouth is open as she walks, displaying the fangs. She is so close, we can see them from the jeep.
‘Saige, 3 meters back!’, I ask him to move the car. But he looks reluctant. Maybe he just want to get on with the drive. he lurches the car back a few feet. He really wantswaiting anxiously for me to finish the shot. He says ‘up ahead’ and points another 200 feet up the road where a few more cars are waiting.
What we see in the next few minutes rivals everything else we saw on safari – a hyena frenzy. (Watch it in 720p HD)
A huge roar come out of the grass and a dozen hyenas, cackling and laughing retreat falling over each other to get out of the way. The lioness keeps her attack pose for a few seconds after her primal outburst to emphasize the point. She appears to be the last lion finishing her kill. The others, the ones we saw down the road, have eaten their fill already and are resting.
The hyenas, scavangers mostly, have arrived from all over the plains. Several still approach from the distance. At least a dozen are right at the edge of the wildebeest carcas, hoping to get an early jump at the bones. But not till the last lion is gone. A hyena is tough, but not tough enough to beat a lion without a lot of coordination.
But they can pester the lion, and as they inch forward another time, daring the lion to react, she decides she’s had enough and walks away slowly, unafraid.
The hyena go nuts. Bloody ribs, hip bones, skeletal legs, and wildebeest lungs are carried off or torn away from the carcass. Some hyena fight over the ‘better’ pieces spinning around and around like a kids game of keep-away.
And the sounds, the sounds they make are frightening and funny at the same time. Shrieks, yelps, cackles and of course the hyena laugh which you only hear in a situation like this. Lily mumbles, eyes transfixed on the scene, ‘This is awesome, but I’m going to have nightmares.’
Last hours in the Serengeti
The vultures and jackals arrive to pick from what ever is left. As we put the top back downand leave the park for good, I remark to Trish how amazing that was as a last sighting in the Serengeti. Saige points out, correctly (but wth self-interest), that if we had done our game drives this morning we would have missed this great sighting. Timing and luck are everything on safari.
Our path winds back the same way we came in, via Ngorongoro. Last time we were at the Ngorongoro gate, there was no one here and it was late in the evening, and we had a flat tire. Today there are dozens of people eating lunch. The place hums with activity.
Lily and I go up to the top of the Kopje that the ‘rest area’ is located. You can get pretty nice views of the Serengeti desert, which on a clear day visibly extends for hundreds of miles.
Saige’s phone goes off and he tells me the office wants to talk to me. “Hello, Mr. David. Have you made the payment yet?’ It’s the office manager from the tour operator. Paypal did not complete my payment to them the other day. It’s a stupid question. “No, of course not. When have I had any internet access?” I ask.
He wants us to find internet access and resubmit the payment. We’re in a tiny town. I can’t believe that he really expects me to do this now, but maybe it will just take a few minutes. ..
It doesn’t. Saige asks at least a dozen people, and they all point in different directsions. No one knows if there really is internet here. Finally, I do find a place selling 30 minutes for about $2. But the connection is so slow, that I can barely use paypal. It doesn’t matter. Paypal has completely locked my account. I can’t do anything with it until I get back home.
The office wants me to find some ATM’s and start to withdraw cash to pay them the final $1000 I owe them. Nope. We lost an hour carting other people’s gear, and an hour dealing with the internet. I’m not spending another hour finding an ATM. I’ll have to settle the payment another way. (They had assured me that paypal would work fine.)
The rest of the evening is terrible. Saige turns off the main road just as the sun is going down, and gets on a dirt road. As night gets darker, he slows down considerably because there are huge potholes. ’50 kilometers’ he tells me left to go. The speedometer hovers around 25km/hour and it’s already 7:30pm.
What follows is one of our worst experiences travelling. The rocking of the car, the boredom, and the uncertainty that Saige knows where he is going. (He doesn’t but at least he asks everyone he passes.) The girls spend most of their time creating a birthday party for Lily at the shopping mall doing a scavenger hunt. Emma will preside over the games. It’s elaborate and keeps them engaged in the dark for at least 90 minutes.
If I make it through this evening without blowing my brains out, I will give them a shopping mall scavenger hunt for them at the end of the summer. They are champion travellers to make it through today.
10 hours on the road in an old jeep with no shocks, bad springs in the seats, dust and foot-deep potholes is more than most adults can handle. Trish is in pretty bad shape herself, but she’s alive.
Upgraded from camping
Our jeep pulls up to a dimly lit lodge presumably to ask for directions again to our campsite. By this point I have completely lost confidence that Saige knows where we are and I’m beginning to plan how we will sleep in the vehicle overnight.
A guy nicely pulls open Trish’s door, and I tell her to keep in closed. There is a mistake. She pulls it shut. There is no point in getting out.
“No no, you were upgraded. this is your lodge’ Saige mumbles. Upgraded? What is he talking about? We’re in the middle of nowhere at some strange lodge. I remain skeptical, but if they show me a bed I’ll sleep on it.
But upgraded we are. I’m not sure how or why it happened, or why they didn’t tell me sooner so at least we had something to look forward to. But we won’t complain.
The Boundary Hill lodge has a candlelight dinner awaiting us. Yes, of course it’s still salty beef stew, but there are a few vegetables.
The rooms are amazing. It’s a small house, with a central area, two rooms and two bathrooms that are all nicely decorated. The lighting is dim, solar probably. My camera battery won’t charge on this current, but I’ll figure that out tomorrow.
We’ve made it to Tarangires, last stop in Tanzania.