Serengeti, Tanzania: (Day 19) Dec-29-2013

Sometime during the night there were loud-mouthed Africans yelling about something.  It was between 1 and 2 in the morning.  I kept silent for a while but was getting pretty sick of it so I finally screamed, "SHUT UP".  Shockingly the level of the discussion did quiet a bit.  It sounded like some people were either just getting to bed, or just arriving at camp and they were getting situated/setting up.  I got out of bed around 5--we were set to eat breakfast at 6:30.  I later learned the entire story behind the commotion--appearantly a girl had started screaming frantically and people thought she had been attacked by an animal, possibly a lion.  It was later discovered that she just had a bad dream.  I'm sure the Doxy had something to do with that?

Hot air balloons in the Serengeti, Tanzania
Just finished lunch at the Serengeti entrance/gate and are back on the road into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  It's 2:45pm.  A few quick notes I took while on today's safari:

We learned that the park speed limit is 20kmph.  Our guide went to school for 'birds' and knows over 1,000 types.  Taking a
one hour ride on a hot air balloon costs $500, thought it does include a free glass of champagne.  We saw mongooses and learned that they are often picked up by vultures.  A Vulture will swoop down and pick up a mongoose, fly to a high elevation and then drop the mongoose to kill it.  When the mongooses see vultures they all huddle together and hold onto each other.  Adorable, right?  We saw elephants on the side of the road, again, and the smallest one was 6 months old  It looked so goofy next to its much larger parents.  Also along the road were a dozen ostriches.

Ostriches in the Serengeti, Tanzania
We stopped at the visitor's center and we looked around at their exibits.  The restrooms were amazingly clean.  However, Debby and Vincent were taking much longer than the rest of us and we were growing impatient--we wanted to get back on the road before it became too hot and the animals started to take cover.

One of the cars in our group spotted a leopard so we went looking in the area.  We did find it, eventually, but it was far off and I was not impressed.  We saw three lions--two in a tree and one eating a buffalo.  Whenever there is a large cat spotting 'all' the cars swarm to the scene.  Can you imagine if these lions and leopards thought like we did?  "These animals are very parculiar--they glide along on 4 perfectly round feet, make loud thumping noises that increase in intensity and pitch as the move faser, and they travel alone.  However as soon as one of these species spots me or a family member more quickly encircle me and watch me sleep.  Once they come to a stop they turn silent.  Then they grow from the top of their large heads and smaller creates peek out.  These creatures are closer to my size.  After I go hide somewhere and don't come out for a while these creatures tuck back into the larger creature and then the larger creature shrinks its head.  Then all the large creatures start making noise and leave me alone.

Lions in the Serengeti, Tanzania
Around half past noon, while we were traveling along a grassy meadow we almost flipped our Toyota Land Cruiser.  We spun out of control going 40-60kph, fishtailed, and felt the 4x4's center of gravity shift very quickly from the center of the car over to the right set of wheels.  Luckily our driver regained control before the car completely flipped.  We were all a bit shaken up.  The driver went outside and took inventory of the vehicle.  Our car was undamaged but there was broken glass on the ground, which was probably from a car that had recently fallen.  Our driver had said that had we been in a Range Rover we would have flipped for sure.

The drive through the grassy meddow was trecherous--almost completely without life, dusty, and infested with flies.  We had to keep our roof and windows closed as to not be completely devoured by the little black devils.  We finally arrived at the Serengeti check-in point where we used the restrooms and ate our lunch as we waited for our 3 drivers to fill out the paperwork.  This took 1.5-2 hours and I was getting increasingly bored.  Over these last few days in the Serengeti I have been thinking alot about traveling the world.  Such issues like, when, how will I get my meds, will I be uninsured once I return home, how quickly can I sell my car, will I get all my visas...etc.  Planning will probably take a bit of time as I want to do my research on all the areas I plan to visit so I will enjoy my experience more.

After lunch a couple joined our group (the 5 or so of us still sitting on the benches).  We talked a bit and I found out they live in Chicago--he is an econ professor as University of Illinios and she's a 4th year PhD student.  Her thesis is on the effect of our aging population on healthcare.  She said that over the next couple decades 50% of our nurses will retire.  NOTE TO SELF:  Any way to invest in companies contracting out nursing care?  He worked for an econ Professor in Ann Arbor, Michigan before his current role--he told me "Go Blue".  They were the 3rd and 4th American I've met so far over the last 3+ weeks.  The other 2 where a couple of recent college grads from the east coast that I ran into during my stay in South Luangwa National Park.  It's possible I have met more Americans and just cannot recall them now, but at most I have met no more than 10.

Maasai villagers greet us in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Currently we are driving into a Maasai village.  We each paid $20USD to have a tour of their village.  I am excited.

Maasai men jumping in the Serengeti, Tanzania
It's 4:30 and we just got back on the raod from our Maasai village adventure.  It was the highlight of the day, for sure.  We were welcomed by the the chief's son--he was 20 years old.  He introduced himself and asked for all of our names and where we came from.  All the men in the village then conducted a welcome dance for us which involved chanting and hopping--so tribal!  The women were in the background singing something but were never introduced to us.

We were then welcomed into their village, which was a small ~60m diameter circle, enclosed all around except for 4 gateways.  Their village fence was comprised of acacia branches, which are extremely thorny, and act as protection against certain animals.  The village had a large 'social' central section which had a large leafless tree growing in the direct center.  Some of the men sat on and around the tree.  As we walked into the village the men and women continued their welcoming dance/song and invited 2 or 3 of us to join them in their jumping.  Men jump as a way of flirting with the Maasai women.  They are a polygimyst culture--everyone in the same village is part of the same family so they must take wives in nearby villages.  However the wives of a given man are always from the same village.  The women live with their children in small houses.  We split into groups of 2 and were each shown the houses.  They were very small, maybe 100 square feet, tops.  They are sort of dome-shaped and have no door.  They take 1 week to construct as the entire village helps out.  The Maasai are a nomadic people and have multiple permanent locations.  This particular village along with another village act as their permanent locations.  They travel between village 2-4 times a year.

Maasai children in the Serengeti, Tanzania
Everyone had such poor teeth it was uncomfortable to look at.  Even worse than typical African teeth, which is pretty damn bad.  The men had gowns--either red, blue, or some combination of the two--and walked with spears and wooden canes used for herding their cattle.  They were wearing black rubber thongs made from recycled car tires and sported numerous necklaces and bracelets.  The women were dressed similarly, though not in such elegant robes.  Many of the women had children slung over their shoulders.  The men never spoke to the women.  It was obvious that even 'us tourist' men were treated with higher honor than the women in our group.

A Maasai woman in the Serengeti, Tanzania
I was hoping to try the typical Maasai meal of bovine blood and milk but they had told Godfrey (who asked on my behalf) that their cattle were too far at pasture now.  I was a bit bummed.  They tried selling us their 'trinkets' after they showed us their, rather meager, dwellings but I didn't bite.  However I did, along the side of the road while en route to our campsite tonight, buy a Maasai blade.  We had stopped to watch a bunch of the Maasai play football (soccer) in an open field.  They had built simple goals out of 3 tree trunks tied together with some sort of twine--no net, of course.  There must have been 50 people on the field.  While we were stopped a dozen Maasai men came over to our vehicle and tried to sell us stuff.  This was common, for men and women, to sell their goods.  I wasn't interested but inquired on the price of one of their swords.  They had started at $70.  I was mostly just negotiating for fun and practice and got them down to $30, $25, and $20 within a few minutes.  I said $15 and they said no.  I said thanks and started to close the window.  When the window was halfway closed the man said, "ok, ok, $15"  I handed him a $20 and he gave me a $5 along with the handmade Maasai blade with a handmade cowhide sheath.  They saw a wad of cash I had taken out of my pocket and tried to sell me on more 'products'.  I told them that I needed this money to eat for the next week and they smiled and understood.

Giraffes in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Our drive to our campsite along the ridge of the Ngorongoro Crater was a long but beautiful one.  We stopped a few times--we even got out of our car and walked up closer to a cluster of Giraffes in a field alongside a dozen zebras.  We also stopped to witness the wildebeast migration.  It was just stunning--spanning as far back as the eye could see.  Watching them dash across the road was a sight in itself.  We saw other delightfully beautiful things along our journey as we finally made it into camp around 6:15.  Although we had stopped several times during the day we had been in transit for well over 11 hours.  Quite tiring given the condition of the roads we were traveling on.

Zebra running with a Wildebeest in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Dinner was at 7:00pm--the same soup and bread we've had the last two nights, cinnimon-spiced rice, and some type of curry beef.  The beef was tough, as it typically is in Africa, but the food was otherwise quite tasty.  For dessert we had orange and pineapple slices.

It's just after 9:00 now and I'm getting ready for bed.  We have another early morning--6:00 breakfast before our game drive down in the Ngorongoro Crater.  I'm sure with the 36 vehicles going down tomorrow and reletively small size (20km) of the crater we are sure to bump into some animals.

I'm in my tent now--I'll pass on brushing my teeth, washing up, and/or showering tonight.  I've grown accustomed to showering every 2 or 3 days and brushing my teeth only in the mornings.  I've worn my North Face pants for all except 3 or so days on my trip.  I really like them, but they sure do need to be cleaned--I have cleaned them 2 or 3 times, but only using cold(ish) water, ringing them tightly, and then letting them air dry.

Elephants in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Serengeti, Tanzania: (Day 18) Dec-28-2013

I woke up before 5:00am so that I could get ready and call Kelly before my game drive.  We took the same 4x4s as we were in yesturday.  We were just leaving camp in our vehicles by 6:00am, way before the sunrise.  Everyone had taken their original seats, as they were in yesturday.  I had asked if we could all rotate to give everyone equal views--everyone agreed.

I slept fairly well, past out before 10:00 and got a solid 6.5 hours of sleep.  I don't recall waking during the night but I may have once or twice.  I had asked the others how they slept...seeing as many in our group haven't slept in tents for many many years.  They said it was all-in-all good, but they had their fair share of complaining (which is understandable).  It was still pitch black at 5:30 when we congragated for tea and coffee.  The stars were shining beautifully--I will try to remember to take a few photos of the star-filled sky tonight.

Sunrise in the Serengeti, Tanzania

On safari we stopped to see the sunrise, it was breathtaking--Exactly how I had imagined.  The dark sky showed a gradient of colors: deep red, turned into red, into orange, and yellow.  The horizen, lit by the morning sun, were silloetted with acacia trees.  Birds flying above were identifyable only by their black bodies which sharply contrasted with sky's light.

Hyena and Jackal in the Serengeti, Tanzania
We first came across a few hyenas being joined by several jackels.  It was interesting seeing such different animals walking around together.  One of the hyenas was pregnant.  We saw some elephants and giraffes throughout the day, but not in the quantity or proximity as in the other national parks.

The Serengeti was bare of most of its grass just a few short weeks ago--now it is overflowing with life.  It seems to be the perfect time for game viewing.  Except for a VERY small % of the land the grass is plenty short and does not hide any of the animals.  We passed termite mounds, which are everywhere here in Africa, and took a bush break.  The area looked looked like a tropical island amid an ocean of grass.  The rocky terrain was unusual for the area, I think it must have been some type of volcanic rock--a byproduct of the volcanoes that helped to form the Ngorongoro crater.

Zebras in the Serengeti, Tanzania
The roads were spread out much farther than in the other national parks we have visited thus far.  This allows for a more 'immersed' feeling--however, it is harder to get close to
the animals.  We came across several groups of lions, some were sun bathing, others were getting some shade.  Towards the end of our drive we watched 3 lions climb a tree while one large male lion relaxed at its base.  It was a bit hard to view due to the distance but still amazing.

A Cheetah in the Serengeti, Tanzania
We ended our game drive just before 11:00 and arrived back at camp at 11:10.  5 hours of driving around nature and now we just finished lunch (12:15).  We ate pancakes, toast, fruit, pasta, and taco meet--it was good.  Now we have 3 or so hours to kill before our next game drive.  Some are showering, but I don't see the point...I'll just get dirty again.  It's probably too hot/humid to relax in the tent, but maybe I'll try.

I have asked both Godfrey and our 4x4 driver to stop at a Maasai village on our way to Ngorongoro crater tomorrow.  I want to try their cuisine.  Enjoying cow blood mixed with milk at a Maasai village inside the Serengeti--what a lifelasting memory, I'm sure.

It's 3:00 now and with the exception of 2 or so people all of our groups  is waiting at the shelter for our 4:00 game drive.  These last 4 hours have been the lonest 4 hours ever.  Other than a showering and sweating there isn't much else to do.  I tried to gather wood and build a stone-rimmed firepit but one of the guides told me that fires aren't allowed.  Maybe tomorrow at the Ngorongoro Crater?  I think I'm comming down with something, probably a bit of a cold.  The back of my throat feels funny, in that not quite sore but possibly swollen kind of a way.  Gargling saltwater would probably help though.

Lions in a tree  in the Serengeti, Tanzania

I can't believe I have been on vacation for 22 days.  It's weird becuase the days are long yet the weeks are so short.  Africa has been a learning experience for me, but I don't think I will make it back here anytime soon...and quite possibly never again in my lifetime.  The natural beauty is wonderful, but the culteral/societal aspects are really lacking.  With the very few acceptions I have witnessed Africa seems to be a place where people just live unremarkable and meaningless lives.  I am sure that sounds cruel and closed-minded.  I feel there is no internal passion in the people here to change their present.  Example:  At a given border-crossing from one country to another lines are long, the workers are slow and dull, and groups of men loiter outside the building to shade themselves during the heat of the day--when asked about these issues the all-too-common response is T.I.A., which means "This is Africa".  What is indirectly being said is 'this is how it has to be', 'it cannot be fixed/controled any more so than it currently is', 'it's beyond MY control'.  It's readily appearant that Africans are continuely shifting blame and justifying their current state of helplessness.

However, I do believe people here are incredibly resourceful--using the 'land' and its fruits as building supplies, medicines, food, tools, etc.  I wonder how much of this resourcefullness is a form of rote memorization learned at a young age and how much is genuine innovation?

I know that if the educational system were better here children would understand that they can make a difference and that they are capable of....well something!  Education is so important and the more I travel the more I understand that.  Yes, we are all the least in a basic sense.  It has been proven that certain 'demographics' have a genetic disposition to be 'smarter', 'taller', 'stronger', 'more aggressive', etc..  But its through education that we are able to understand what our limitations are and where they are NOT.  In Africa I get the feeling that people think 'Whites' are superior and that 'We' look downly upon the 'Blacks'.  There is something about the entirety of Africa that gives me the notion that the Master/Slave relationship is very much alive here.  Ok, sorry for ranting...just trying to kill time until we can leave.  3:20...ok, I'll have to figure something else to do for 40 minutes.

Elephants in the Serengeti, Tanzania
Our game drive was very dissapointing.  Our driver gave some excuse that we had to be 'done' with our drive by 6.  He said it was park rules, which I knew to be false.  We ended up going to the grocer so that our guide could buy a torch.  Was this why he cut the safari short?  We didn't see many animals.  A few elephants and giraffes, birds, and probably some other unsignificant animals, but nothing to blog about.  I felt as if the driver would stop for anything.  There would be one bird barely in eye's view and he would stop the car, turn off the engine, give a 1 minute speech about it, and then wait 4 more minutes until  starting the car again.  In this time he would be chatting to friends on his phone.  Of the two other guides one is supposedly very good, but it may just be the case that Godfrey is driving with them.  The other guide is just as bad as ours and others have already complained.

Our driver drives VERY slowly, constantly being passed by other vehicles.  I think it may be because he will make more money the less gas he uses.  I  am planning on having a very serious discussion with Godfrey this morning about it because I do not want my experience at the crater to be the same.

Night Sky in the Serengeti, Tanzania
We got back to the campground and it was packed, even more-so than the previous night.  We sat down for dinner at 7:30 and were served soup right away.  However, we had to wait another 40 minutes before we were served anything else.  The dinner was fried fish, corn salad (with cucumber  and avacado), and potatoes.  I ate mostly the salad, the others were not too good.  Talked on the phone for a while and watched an episode of Dr. Who.  I was sleeping sometime between 11:00 and midnight.

The Serengeti is beautiful, but the animal density is fairly low--I wonder if this is due to the vast size of the park.  It is over 14,000 sq km.

Oh, a few more notes.  The company we're using for the Serengeti tour is "Tanzania Experience".  When I asked our driver, "so tomorrow we're leaving early, probably around 6 or 7" he gave me attitude and said he didn't have to leave until later and that the rules only said...fuck that.  Godfrey talked to them and now we're leaving at 7.  Also, I was told that during their lunch break on the first day's drive they had asked if they were able to take out the mattresses and take a little nap before hitting the have to kidding me!  Then they had asked Godfrey if they could cook at 10:00 so they could have some time to rest.   These tour guides are making it hard for me to remain 'PC' in these posts--at least as 'PC' as I am humanly capable of.  I will definetely be talking to Godfrey.

Serengeti, Tanzania: (Day 17) Dec-27-2013

We left our campground/hotel at 8:00 in 3 4x4 vehicles.  I hadn't anticipated the day to be so long.  We stopped at a place to pack our own lunches.  I packed lightly as the food was all fried.  I had a hard boiled egg completely encased in fried beef, which looked like an owl pellet, fried beef, fried potato kabbob, and a friend mashed potato roll.

Afterwards we went to the 'chemist' or pharmacy, for Marcia and Divia.  Divia had needed to get anti-malaria pills while Marcia needed ointment for an eye infection she had developed.  We stopped for gas and were on the road again.  We weren't on the road long before we had to stop and let the drivers eat their lunches--we had already eaten them during the drive.  Next we had to stop for more gas.  We also made stops at the Ngorongoro Convervation Region where we had to pay and register for park entry.  By this point it had already been a very long day.  The roads were not perfect, but paved for the most part.  We had traveled ~200-300 kms at this point.  The next 100-150kms were brutal.  They were on unpaved gravel roads--the road/car noise was so loud I couldn't hear the people in front of me.  This continued for 60km or so until we stopped and got out of the car at the entrace of the Serengeti National Park.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Entrance to the Serengeti, Tanzania
The Conservational Area had alot of animals in it and it is defined as 'an area within/adjacent' to the Serengeti in which the Maasai people are allowed to reside.  No one is allowed to reside within the Serengeti, other than the lodges/camp grounds.  We drove another hour or so and had to get out and wait to register once again.  Africa is so person to collect the payment, another to staple the papers, another to take a shit, another person just to wipe your ass.  We were back on the road and we arrived at our camp site around 7:30.  Only an 11.5 hours day.  Not too shabby...ha--and here I thought it would be a 3-4 hour drive.

We are staying deep within the Serengeti.  I heard our guide tell us that it's in the center.  Godfrey joined us on our 3 night excursion, but we are with another tour company for this adventure.  It's 9:20pm and I finished dinner and am now in my tent.  I was lucky enough to have my own tent.  I guess it's becuase all other guys are traveling with a companion/family member.  I am not complaining though.  my windows are closed becuase I saw lightening in the muggy in here right now!

Tents at our camp site in the Serengeti, Tanzania

There had to be at least 3 dozen 4x4s in the parking lot of our campground--no less than 100 tents.  The campground reminds me of an army barrack--with all the stone common areas/mess halls and tents lined up in rows.

We're leaving tomorrow morning at 6:00 for an early morming game drive.  We return for lunch and relax for a few hours until the heat dies down a bit.  Then we're off for an evening game drive.  Today's game drive was interesting.  We did see great animals, but we were a tad rushed.  We had a final destination set--our campground--so we were not completely free to drive around and take our time.  We stopped a dozen times and drove slowly during exciting views, but tomorrow will be more 'chill'.

The "Ngorongoro Conversation Area" is a region adjacent to the Serengeti in which the government has allowed the Maasai people to reside.  The Maasai men all wear red robes--black for men who recently underwent a circumcision.  The men were walking with large wooden walking sticks along with their 100s of cattle.  Many of their villages were primative, but there were some that looked much more modern.  You oftentimes see Maasai in cities--even in Zanzibar--becuase they are sent for work and to send money back home.

Wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, Tanzania
We saw Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeast, Lions, Birds, and a Leopard...not to mention a breathtaking sunset.  The wildebeast are in their migration now and we witnessed tens of thousands stretching as far in every direction as my eyes could see.  They were crossing the roads quickly and leaping as if the road was a toxic substance.  As we approached their crossing path they stopped and backed up a bit.  Once we passed a bit they continued.  The wildebeast migrate in single file and are typically led by Zebras.  Zebras has much better eyesight than the poor vision of the wildebeast.  However wildebeast have better hearing--according to Divia.  Although there were Zebras walking alongside the wildebeast their numbers were virtually unnoticeable compared to those of the wildebeest.

Bird on tree in the Serengeti, Tanzania
We saw a pride of 5 or 6 lions--2 cubs playing with their mother.  The mom lion was appearantly teaching her young how to hunt since she was stalking a sole caribuo (or bush back).  We waited but a kill didn't seem inevitable, so we kept on going.  As we got closer to camp and the sun had almost set our driver noticed a bunch of cars congregating in the distance.  I couldn't see anything, but it's possible he was keeping tabs on other drivers via phone/text.  Just prior to reaching the other 3 vehicles we stopped, popped the roof up, and witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen.

Lions in the Serengeti, Tanzania
After the sunset we moved closer to the other 4x4s.  Everyone was looking at a leopard in the distance.  I could just make out its distinguishable black patterned head.  Not only were we able to see the leopard from afar but it actually approached us and walked up to a couple of our 4x4s.  It seemed to want to pose for us--it was less than 10 feet away.  The sounds of our engines, the flashes of our cameras, and our rambling all had no effect on the leopard.  Actually, the leopard started to stroll down the side of the road alongside our 4x4s.  This animal seemed very social, though it was alone (as are most feline breeds, excluding lions).  After snapping photos for a good 15 minutes our driver told us we needed to head to our camp ground.

Leopard in the Serengeti, Tanzania
We reached camp around 7:15 and I located my tent at 7:30.  Dinner was served between 8:00 and 8:30--it took a while to get all our food, but it was delish!  We had some type of chicken/squash soup and white bread for our first course.  Our main dish consisted of rice and some type of beef stew, which was tender and flavorful.  We had watermelon and pineapple for dessert.

It's 10:10 and I'm going to watch an episode of "Doctor Who" before going to bed.  I will be able to charge my tablet/camera in the car as there are two transformers with universal power outlets.

Leopard in the Serengeti, Tanzania
As much as I want to go on and on about my trip and about my experiences I'm not sure anyone would want to hear any more detail than I am providing.  I have, however, been taking some pretty keen photos and look forward to sharing them once I get the opportunity.  Goodnight!

Storms in the distance in the Serengeti, Tanzania
Sunset in the Serengeti, Tanzania