Friday, 25 June

Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater

Serengeti Sunrise

We were again up before the sun this morning. (I took this picture with a ten second exposure at f/5.6.) The sound of zippers from nearby tents indicated that we weren't the only ones waking up early.

For breakfast, we were served porridge, toast, fried eggs and some fruit. It was then time for our morning drive.

A safari is a dusty experience. There were times when the dust would be so thick it would slither along the windows of our truck. Imagine a rainstorm sheeting water on your windows. Now substitute dust for that water. At its worst, that's how bad it was. If you were driving with the wind at your back, the cloud of dust that your truck kicked up would move with you. You would be stuck in it. In places like Serengeti, if you pass another truck, you literally leave them in your dust. When you wipe the crud out of the corners of your eyes, it was black. When you blow your nose at the end of the day, it was black. It's really amazing just how dusty it was.

Lion Lion

Very quickly after leaving camp, we saw this lion having breakfast. Actually, it was a little disturbing how close this was to camp. (When we passed this spot on the way back to camp for lunch, all that remained were a few ribs. The scavengers had cleaned up after the lion.)

Lion Lion

Shortly down the road we saw another group of three lions, this time with an adult male!

Lion Tracks Zebras

Five minutes down the road, Adam stopped abruptly and pointed to the ground. "Fresh lion tracks, and they're going this way." He backed up and followed them for a while. "It went back into the bushes over there." He told us it wasn't worth waiting around for him, so he drove away. Moments later, we noticed a group of zebras huddled together, looking in the direction we had just come from. They knew there was a lion around, too.

Lions Lions Lions Lions Lions Lions

After driving around for a while, we stumbled upon another pride of lions. This time, we counted nine of them! Two were off in a field as we drove up, too far away for pictures. Then we saw the rest of them right by the road. There were a lot of other people there watching them...including none other than Ashley and Mike, the only other white people David and saw in Arusha two days prior. The same two people who, by complete coincidence, set up their tent right next to David and mine's the previous night. Small world indeed!

Ostrich

A few minutes later, we passed a few female ostrich.

Cheetah

Then we saw a group of topi all standing and looking off in one direction. What were they looking at? We drove closer to find out. Then we spotted it: way off in the distance, a cheetah was on the prowl! Even further away, some gazelles were watching the cheetah, too. We drove closer to get a better look.

Cheetah Cheetah Cheetah Cheetah Cheetah

The cheetah headed straight for the road that we were driving on. Then it met up with another one! The two of them walked across the road in front of us and then trotted off into the distance.

Giraffes Hyena

It was getting close to lunch time, so we headed back to camp. On the way, we passed another group of giraffes, as well as a lone spotted hyena sleeping on a riverbank.

We were going to head to Ngorongoro Crater after lunch, so as soon as we got back to camp, we started taking down our tents. Halfway through, Damien called us over to eat. We were served chicken in a sauce, fried potatoes and carrots, cucumbers, and red and green peppers in a coleslaw-like sauce.

While we were finishing up eating, Damien went ahead and took down our tents. Then we all helped load up the Land Rover and began our journey to The Crater.

When we stopped at the gate between Serengeti and Ngorongoro, I looked in a mirror there...for the first time in three days. It was a bad idea. When you don't shower for that long and you only wash your face once, you really don't want to look at yourself. My face was disgusting. All of the pores on my face were crammed full of dirt. Gross. I realized that I had reached the dust saturation point. I mean, there's only so much oil on your skin. Once all of the oil on your skin has found some dust to grab onto, there's not any room for more.

Camp Simba, Ngorongoro Dung at Camp Simba Expensive hotels

We finally arrived to our campsite, Camp Simba. It was situated up on the rim of Ngorongoro crater, up there at 2,400 meters above sea level. It was chilly. We all added layers and long sleeves. We had to find somewhere to put our tents. We had to dodge some sort of dung (those are David's feet, with socks on because of the cold, avoiding some dung). Off in the distance we could see the $1,400 a night hotels. Damien came and selflessly helped us set up our tents. He even cleaned out the inside! What a great guy.

Camp Simba is beautiful. That tree is magnificent! We were a little worried about just how cold it would be the next morning, given how cold it was that evening. We made sure to place our tents so that the sun would shine on them when it rose...though it was a moot point since we were up before sunrise.

For dinner, we had beef in a sauce served over macaroni. Our vegetable was half of a ripe avocado per person. The place where the pit would have been was filled with diced tomatoes and onions. There might have been a little citrus juice on top. This was awesome. I love avocados and the presentation was excellent! Fruit for desert. We finished all of the beef (we were going to need those extra calories for the coming cold night). I made sure to point out to Damien that we ate it all this time. He seemed pleased.

While we were eating, we talked about how cold we thought it was and how cold we imagined it would be in the morning. We decided that all four of us would share one tent. We hoped the extra bodies would provide extra warmth.

Zebras Zebras and Hyenas

As we were busy shifting our luggage and sleeping bags around, I noticed a ripping sound nearby. It was coming in short, repetitive bursts. I grabbed a flashlight and shone it out in the distance. There were zebras right there! I was hearing them tear and eat the grass. I guess that explained all the dung around the campsite. I grabbed my camera, cranked the ISO sensitivity up and snapped a bunch of flash photos. It was tricky since it was too dark to auto focus. Plus, they came out underexposed, so I had to really compensate in Photoshop. I kept creeping forward, inching closer and closer to them. I was getting nervous. I had to remind myself that zebras are easily spooked...they'll run, they won't fight. While we were watching the zebras, we saw a hyena run in between our tent and the mess hall! Literally five or ten meters from us. No Land Rover to protect us this time. We were all a little freaked out! In the picture on the right, you can make out what I believe to be two hyenas: one on the left and one in front of the zebras. This was a serious wildlife encounter!

We went to bed. The girls got the warmest two center spots. We were pointed a little downhill, feet-first.

During the night, it rained. The outer rain shield of our tent came loose on the corner closest to my head. As the wind blew, the loose tie kept whapping against the side of the tent.

Later in the night, we heard some animal noises outside. I described it as the sound that dogs make when they play-fight. Some sort of growling, grunting, snarling noise. I didn't know what was going on. I really wanted to get up and see, but I was the furthest one from the tent door. So I went back to sleep.

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All content and photos Copyright 2004 Travis Pettijohn.