Aug 18 2012

The Road to the Serengeti

After a pretty decent night’s sleep and waking up headache-free … it was time to head for the Serengeti. But first we had to navigate breakfast. I say “navigate” because while the dining room appeared to be set up buffet style, we clearly confused the wait-staff by helping ourselves to coffee, juice and cereal.

Someone at the buffet table asked me if I would like some eggs (which I answered int he affirmative) but did not present us with any other options. We then headed to the same table where we’d eaten dinner the night before because it happened to be free, and well, Dr. Darling is kind of reflexive that way.

A waiter delivered four slices of toasted home-made bread to our table without us having asked for it, but he also did not mention any other food available to order. A few minutes later we saw a different waiter taking bacon and sausage to another table and asked if we could have some, too. He looked totally perplexed as to why I was nearly finished with my eggs and the Swede had all but dusted the toast, and yet we were just now getting around to asking for breakfast meat. For all we know, pancakes, French Toast and frittatas may have been on the menu as well.

Also sitting at the same table from the night before (directly across from us) was an American family from Wisconsin. We knew this because the Dad, an obviously successful middle-aged white guy, made a point of telling their waiter. My guess would be that he was in sales because he just had that slick salesman manner about him. He talked loudly and authoritatively no matter what the topic, and the night before we had marveled at how neither his wife nor daughter could ever seem to get a word in edgewise.

Evidently he was a big morning talker, too, because  he completely dominated the family’s breakfast discussion as well. Or maybe they had just perfected the art of nodding at intervals that would allow them to tune him out completely. We dubbed him Annoying Wisconsin Guy and both remarked almost simultaneously how glad were not to be traveling with him.

We had to pass through the Ngorgoro Conservation Area on our way to Serengeti National Park and got our first view of the famous Ngorogoro Crater, which we would be visiting a few days later. Here’s a little FYI for future visitors to the Serengeti … the roads in the reserve are even worse than the ones in Lake Manyara. We certainly weren’t expecting pavement, but we didn’t expect to be thrown around the jeep as much as we were either.

safari jeep

Now we normally do self-contained bike touring on vacation so we are used to physically demanding travel. To be honest, we were both feeling a bit guilty for being driven around in a 4×4 for the better part of the week, but it was as challenging as anything else we’ve done. Just climbing in and out of it with camera gear was a regular test of strength. Plus you’re helping the driver put the roof up and down, as well as constantly jumping up and shifting around to get the best view and/or shot. I would not advise this kind of trip for anyone with back problems, that’s for damn sure.

You actually enter the park a couple of kilometers from the main gate where your permits are issued. The “official” entrance sits on top of a large “kopje”, which is a large outcropping of rocks that rises up out of the plain. As we approached it there was a small herd of giraffes very close to the road allowing us our first really close encounter with my favorite of all the animals native to the part of Africa. It was, in a word, AMAZING.

Photographing a giraffe

We stayed with the herd until it started to move off and then we continued up to the main gate, which included a picnic area and some scary restroom facilities. This was the first of multiple encounters with crouch toilets (probably not their actual name) which are embedded in the cement floor of the stall and flush to it. They operate exactly like regular toilets except there’s no water in them to start with and there’s nothing to sit on, hence the “crouch” part. But they did actually flush and were often less disgusting than the standard toilets, so I had no problem using them. Dr. Darling was not a fan.

As it was just after noon, our Benja suggested we go ahead and crack into the day’s box lunches in the picnic area. The Swede was not thrilled to find the contents nearly identical to the lunch box we’d had the say before, but at least she got a breast instead of a thigh this time. I was pulling the meat go the bone for her (again) when guess who turned up just two tables away? Annoying Wisconsin Guy with harangued family in tow. We both panicked that they would turn up at our camp that evening … which at only 16 tents meant that Annoying Wisconsin Guy would be completely unavoidable.

Looking over the Serengeti

Dr. Darling and I climbed up to the scenic viewpoint at the highest point of the kopje and the new from the top was indeed quite scenic, giving us a real feel for the vastness of the plains all around. And then we were back on the road and our on first official “game drive” in the Serengeti, which included an even closer encounter with a herd of elephants than we’d had with the giraffes just outside the main entrance to the reserve.

Elephants are normally reliably non-aggressive when not threatened, but this group had at least three babies with them so we were extra quiet and careful not to rattle them. But at one point they passed by us so closely that Benja told the Swede to pull her camera lens inside the jeep and close the window. Remarkable.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at the Serengeti Wilderness Camp, which is not lying when it says it’s out in the wilderness. This is a temporary, tented eco-camp which is relocated a couple of times a year to allow the area to completely recover from the impact of the facilities on the environment. This has got to be the best possible way to experience the Serengeti, and I loved it so much that it deserves an entry of its own. So I think I’ll tackle that next!

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Feed my ego!

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