Thursday, 24 June

Serengeti National Park


Serengeti Serengeti

We were awake before the sun rose this morning. For breakfast, we were started with toast and (instant) coffee. We were then served beans, fried eggs and a grilled tomato. And then we were off for our morning game drive!

Stork Hot air baloon over Serengeti

We came across this stork. Also, it turns out you can take hot air balloon safaris.

Cheetah Cheetah Cheetah Cheetah Cheetah

Then we saw three cheetahs lounging around. Then one pulled its body low to the ground and started stalking a nearby gazelle. The gazelle caught wind of the cheetah and bounded away. The cheetah then just lied down and rested some more. So close to seeing a hunt! I had lens envy of these other people who were also watching the cheetahs. Adam told us that cheetahs will only take easy kills. While they are capable of running very fast, to do so requires all of their energy. After they sprint, they are completely vulnerable for twenty to thirty minutes while they rest.

Gazelle Impala

We passed some gazelles and impalas.

Lion Lion Lion Lion

All of the sudden Adam stopped. He pointed off to the side of the road. There was a lioness a just a few meters from our Land Rover. She sat there for a few minutes and let us take pictures. Then she sauntered off across the road just inches from the front bumper! She then disappeared off into the bushes. This was absolutely amazing!

Zebras Zebras Zebras Zebras Zebras Zebras

After driving around for a few minutes, we watched a bunch of zebras drink. They are very easily spooked! They would wade in a little and then get spooked and run out. Then they'd slowly ease back in...only to run out frantically a few moments later. David provoked them by shouting, "Zebras!" and throwing his hands up. You can see them running in the background.

Cape Buffalo Cape Buffalo

Then we saw two cape buffalos, one on either side of the road. Adam told us that cape buffalos are big, dumb, slow and dangerous animals. As they get older and slower, they become more likely to charge when they feel threatened.

Wildebeest/Gnu Giraffe Zebra

Moments later we came across a few wildebeest, also known as gnus. And then a few giraffes. Then we turned a corner and drove out of the forested area and into an open plain. There was a huge herd of zebra there. We drove into the center of it and stopped. In every direction we were surrounded by the striped donkeys. It was such a cool feeling.

Giraffes have very high blood pressure; they have to in order to get blood all the way up their necks and into their brains. Adam said that they can't keep their head down to the ground for very long. When they drink, they take many, short drinks. He also told us that after a giraffe is born, they are able to stand and walk in a matter of minutes! From an evolutionary standpoint, I guess that makes sense. A helpless baby giraffe would make a nice, easy meal for a predator.

Hippo Hippo Hippo Hippo Hippo Hippo Hippo Hippo dung

Adam then drove us by the hippo pool. He pronounced it "hip-po-pah-TAY-moose." I caught one yawning! Way to go burst shutter mode! I also realized that they're disgusting creatures; they wallow in their own water-logged feces. The pictures only tell a part of the story. To truly appreciate hippos, you need to see, hear and smell them.

Hippos are extremely dangerous. They're regarded as the number two most dangerous animal in Africa (on the planet?), second only to the mosquito.

Travis Pettijohn Tawny eagle Long crested eagle

As we drove back to the campsite for lunch and a siesta, David snapped an unexpected picture of me. Then we saw a tawny eagle and a long crested eagle. By the way, flying birds are really difficult to photograph.

Giraffe and zebras Giraffe and zebras

Our final pre-lunch encounter was with giraffes and zebras, hanging out side-by-side. How cool!


To avoid the heat of the day, we went back to camp for lunch and a break. For lunch, Damien served us a meat pie. I think he called it pizza, but it was ground beef in a pastry, topped with sliced tomatoes and cheese. He also prepared a potato salad as well as a side of green peppers and carrots.

Weaver Weaver

After a nap, we headed back out into the park. Before we left, I took a few pictures of these neat bird nests that were in a tree at the campsite. Both of these shots were taken pretty much straight up. They belong to birds called weavers, a small, finch-like bird. The opening points straight down. The bird must go up and into the main chamber of the nest. Adam told me that the men make the nests and the women pick the best nest they can find; the shoddy carpenters don't get no lovin'!

Adam's goal for the afternoon was to find a leopard, or as he pronounced it, a "LAY-oh-pard." We drove around to all of the parts of the park that had water and trees. We spent an hour or two driving around looking up into trees. Adam was on the CB radio asking other drivers if they had seen leopards. No luck. That's too bad.

Elephant Elephant Elephant Elephant Elephant Elephant Elephant Elephant Elephant

Our lack of a leopard encounter was made up for with a great elephant experience. We came across a herd of elephants walking toward a watering hole. We spent over forty minutes following this herd. They slowly moved toward us. We kept inching forward. We watched a few tussles as the matriarchs kept the order. There was a point where all of the elephants were in front of us on the road. We were right behind them; our truck was the last elephant in the line. It was amazing! I wish I could have taken a picture of that! One of the males unsheathed his retractable "fifth leg," as Adam called it. "Not now buddy, the girls don't want it," he said. This was one of the highlights of the safari.

By that point, the sun was getting pretty low. On our way back, we saw a few baboons off in the distance, as well as a few giraffes. We had an incredibly long discussion with Adam about how to proceed with the rest of our trip. A pass for Ngorongoro Crater is only valid for 24 hours, so we had to decide if we wanted to spend a morning or an evening there. I think we all understood what Adam meant about the 24 hour limit, but he explained it many times. It made for a bit of a laugh later, though this was one of the very few times where language was a barrier with Adam. We decided on a morning drive in Serengeti. Then we would drive to Ngorongoro in the afternoon, set up camp and take a drive in the crater the next morning. Mornings seemed to be better for wildlife viewing, so two mornings of game drives seemed to be the best option.

We got back to our camp site and guess who was setting up their tent right next to ours? None other than Mike and Ashley, the same two white people David and I ran into in Arusha the previous morning. Of all the people in the country, it was them. "Hey, I know you guys," I said to them.

Mike turned and smiled. "Yeah you do," he said. I was tickled by how small of a world Tanzania seemed to be!

For dinner, we were started with vegetable soup. We then had fried fish served with rice and vegetables in a curry sauce. Dessert was a fruit tart. Once again, I was impressed with Damien's charcoal culinary prowess. Damien made a lot of food; we couldn't finish it. He asked us why we ate so little. Lauren said that we ate plenty and accused him (jokingly) of trying to make us fat. She asked him how it was possible for him to be so skinny. Then she got all worried that she had offended him. It was all cool, though. (I wonder about parasites.) David and Lauren informed me that it's custom in Tanzania to eat as much as you can when you can because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

By then, it was dark. We stayed up and chatted for a while. Kate and I learned that both of our mothers earned the distinguished honor of being Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year at their respective high schools! Talk about a crazy thing to have in common.

The moon was about half full. I was marveling at how many stars were visible in a place like that with no light pollution and how you could see the creamy streaks of they Milky Way. David pointed out how many fewer stars were visible near the moon because of how bright it was. I asked him, "Can you imagine what it must be like like when there's a new moon?"

"Yes," he replied very dryly. "Yes, I can."

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All content and photos Copyright 2004 Travis Pettijohn.