The Serengeti is one of those places you have to go to. It is a huge area (12,000 sq mi.) that is not only in Tanzania but also in Kenya, where it's called the Masai Mara. It is all part of the same ecosystem. Serengeti is named for the Maasai word “siringet” (which translates roughly as the place where the land runs on forever. It does seem to be endless.) It is a National Park (NP) and also a number of game reserves and conservation areas. As the Conservation Areas and National Parks run together it was hard to tell when we left one and entered the other. The only indication, to me, was a building where the permits to be in the park were procured. The surrounding area that we had driven through didn't look much different than what we were going to drive into. Long vistas of plains with a pile of granite rocks (a kopje) dotted here and there. Sometimes woods or a gully with a creek or river.
Our permits allowed us to stay at a lodge in the NP so we were able to do sunrise and sunset game drives (our game drive was driving to the animals, not driving them like the old west cattle drives.)
As at this writing (Sept 2019) there is now a television program called Serengeti on the Discovery Channel. It's fun to know I was there. Am I foolish to think that I recognize those lions?
We literally raced to get out of the Ngorogoro Conservation area and into the Serengeti. Our permits for Ngorogoro were about to expire. If we didn't leave on time we would be charged for another day. We made it by minutes! What a ride!
It's amazing how Topguides Safaris was able to judge the time but also briefly stop for a photo op with some animals. The drivers were always scanning the plains, the trees, even the ground for good pictures. One time, as we raced along, our driver stopped to show us where a snake had left its slithery indent in the dust of the road.
This would be our longest day of driving, eight hours of bouncing along paths in the dried grass. More of the Tanzania massage. It was a very dusty drive. We had to cover our cameras as best we could and cover our mouths at times. At one place we stopped, we had a laugh when we saw each other's bright, happy eyes smiling out of our dusty faces. And this road was the good choice for us to get to our lodging. After getting our permits to be in Serengeti National Park we could have taken the somewhat paved road, following behind other safari company trucks. It would be very dusty. Or we could do an overland route. We did the overland route. This way we could leave long spaces between our vehicles so no one was eating the other's dust. Yes, well not as much dust. Lol.
The beauty of the wide open space is mesmerizing. We were there near the end of November. There hadn't been much rain so the grasses were parched and pale yellow.
To me, the road to our encampment was almost non-existent. Two lines in the grass. Eventually though, I saw little pieces of florescent tape on a twig, in a bush, on a low hanging branch of a tree marking the way. We went through a creek (there's a bridge there now) and arrived at Lemala Nanyukie, our home for three days.
This was the second week the camp had been open. Not everything was complete but that wasn't much of an issue for us. The Managers and servers were ready for us. Eucalyptus infused cloths to wipe our dusty faces and hands and a refreshing fruit drink were our greeting. Welcome it was.
This is another of the Lemala group's Camps and Lodges and Villas (www.lemalacamps.com). They even have a Manta (manta ray) Villa. Lemala Nanyukie is within the Serengeti National Park so we would be able to do early morning and late evening drives. It is built at a kopje where there had been a research station. They said at times elephants walk right by the tents. Wouldn't that be marvelous to see?
The next morning my feet were too swollen from our previous eight hour drive so I opted to stay in bed and relax. As I gazed out at the Serengeti I could see the gazelles grazing. Suddenly their heads came up, they froze for a moment then took off into the woods. Seconds behind, a brown streak flashed after them. Maybe a cheetah. Too fast to tell.
Back to life for me. I had a lovely foot soak at my little deck pool, (which brought the swelling down) and a snooze on the outside lounge and a peaceful breakfast at a little table looking out from this beautiful place to the horizon.
Our "tents" were gorgeous and faced out to the plain. The food was gourmet and drinks included. And one thing I loved was that you could drink the water from the tap and not need to use bottled water to brush your teeth. The camp had a triple filtration system. Something that is needed in Tanzania.
This time of the year, near the end of November, it starts to rain. This is the short rain of November and December. The long rains are from March to May. This is the short rain. (Video)
With the rain, a deluge that doesn't last long, comes the termites flying out of their termite hills. Their wings fall off after about a half-hour, so you are left with a lot of wings laying around. (Picture)
To the East Africans, termites are a very nutritious delicacy. Kids go to the termite hills and collect them to make a paste that is spread on bread. Termites have a very high fat content.
So, as we sat after dinner one night, a few of the termites were flying around. The Topguides Safaris owner, Victor Nyakiriga, a Tanzanian, ate one, and told us about collecting them as a child. A termite drops into the glass of the woman beside me. She says, "eww, of course it's me!" And I, unplanned, pick up the glass and drank the termite down, 'though we are laughing so hard I have no idea what it tasted like. Just one of those things.
As is usual in both in the Lemala Camps we were at, you could not walk by yourself at night. Someone had to accompany you, usually a Maasai man. I never felt in danger but we were in the wild. One morning, two people woke up to a half eaten zebra outside their tent. I don't know how they didn't hear anything, but then we were all very tired from getting up at 5 am and going to bed at 11 pm for over a week. It's hard work being on a photography safari.
We would leave the camp at 5:45 every morning to catch the sunrise. (Of course the morning I didn't go they got wonderful pictures of lion and cheetah cubs at play. I'll just have to go back!) We'd have breakfast on the road, provided by the camp, and set up by our guides. Around noon we'd go back to camp for lunch, then had some free time (relax, shower, sleep, edit photos). Then off we'd go for our evening drive. Always an amazing time. We'd have some time back at camp to look at photos either before or after dinner. Dinner was at 8 pm. Then bed at whatever time our eyes said "go to sleep."
The mornings and evenings were magical times on the drives. The evenings with the fading light were difficult for me as a photographer trying to adjust to the falling light and keeping everything in focus. Some of my pictures aren't the best but they do show how magnificent the lions were with the unbelievable sunset. Here's the story of the lions. (Are these the black maned lions of Discovery's Serengeti?)
As we were driving back to the camp through the long grasses we could hear the grunting call of a lion. We spotted him nonchalantly walking in the grass and huffing. The sun was going down. We stopped to take pictures and wait and listen. Our guide kept looking around. Finally, we heard answering gutteral huffs from the other side of the truck. In the distance two lions were walking, nonchalantly also, towards us and towards the other lion. Our guide said the first lion was the leader and they were meeting to hunt during the night.
The end of the Safari
After nine days of amazing sights and wonderful people (not just in our group but everyone we met, I concur with those who say African people are sweet and warm and loving) we drove to a small airport and flew to Arusha. A driver from Topguides Safaris picked us up at the Kilimanjaro Airport, took us all to lunch and then we dispersed back to the airport for our different flights, either home, or in my case onto Zanzibar.
This has been an amazing trip. Thank goodness for the pictures because I do not have the words to express the experience. Would I go again? Absolutely!
Don't think about it, spend the money and go.