Feeling: THAT SPEC
Day Three & Four: Serengeti National Park
Translating as “endless plains”, the Serengeti is 30,000 km2 of national park. Roaming through it are leopards, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions…..
And we are camping in the open Serengeti.
So for this tour, each of us has a roomie; there are four couples (potentially five; I think the older Aussie ladies are together too), so obviously they’ve been paired up with each other. The rest of us have been randomly paired with another person – my partner is Emer, a Irish lass who I just adore. Good chat, great yarns and we are very much on the same page when it comes to organising all our stuff (esp tent putting up – important to be in tune for that).
The night before we headed into the wild, Carla took us through the safety measures as to not get attacked by a lion; stay in the vicinity, don’t go into long grass, never give a lion your back and when you go toilet make sure you flash your torch.
So pretty much, if you get up to go wees in the night you go in twos; wake your tent partner up to go with you. Unzip the tent and get your torch out and scan the area for eyes. If something glints back at you, blues and greens are good – that means Impalas, gazelles, etc. You’ve got a green light and can go. If amber warm eyes glow back at you – yellow, red, orange, mate that’s a lion – stay the fuck in your tent and cross your legs.
On the return from the toilet, same thing; flash around. And if something happens and you cross some red eyes halfway back to your tent, one person stays flashing at the eyes, the other one lights the way to the tent, and hot fucking foot it.
Last night I held onto my wees for two hours in training.
A.m of day three struck, we packed up our tents (so smart to have a camping day by the lake first to practise, so we’re not fumbling around with tent poles while completely exposed in the park) and hit the road.
A couple of hours to the park, we went inside the gate and stopped for lunch. (Honestly, this tour is so well oiled and the leaders of it so efficient – I’m surely impressed).
Those not on lunch duty were on baboon watch. Just as I and another girl were saying we thought it was just to keep us occupied, a baboon sauntered up, leaped into a tree, threw sticks at us and the food then shat on a girl.
Was quite hilarious.
It was then four hours drive deep into the Serengeti to our camp site. Our first spotting was a couple of wildebeest and we were all out with cameras at the ready; impalas – the McDonalds of the animal kingdom – were next in the view list. Then it was a horde of underwater hippos (apparently the most peaceful animal when in water, but when in one and feeling threatened one of the most dangerous), three crocodiles, a lion, giraffes, more baboons, zebras, ostriches, topias, storks, mongoose.
We reached the area we were set to um, set up in, so Carla gave us the option of going for a short Game Drive then and there. Of course we all said yes (or I may potentially have on behalf of everyone else) and in the next half hour we saw a leopard and her baby cub, a herd of elephants and – from a quite big distance – two lionesses.
In psyching up for this trip, my mind has pretty much always been turned to Kilimanjaro – sounds a bit disbelieving, but I hadn’t really given the safari much thought at all. So to be absolutely loving it, loving the animals, loving being with Emer (she’s my truck seat buddy too), loving the camping and loving the whole schedule of the thing, it’s a really thrilling surprise.
And then it was bedtime in the Serengeti – for us at least; a fair amount of animals were still wandering about in the dark.
After two hours of holding wees in, at 4am I put out a tentative, “Emer?” She responded straight away, and upon me saying the need to relieve the bladder was quite urgent she exclaimed, “ME TOO!”. So we opened our tent, did the scan for eyes and made our way to the bathrooms. After doing our wees, we scanned again and started the little trek back. We got back to our tent, quite exhilarated from our risky wee take – I was almost a little gutted no amber eyes glowed back at us so I could’ve got my strobe on.
Day Four: Game Drive day
7am departure for a three hour roam; five hour chill to do as we please at camp (yes yoga and some stretching of the legs!!) and then a 4pm leave take for another trip out in the truck.
The morning Game Drive started off a little uneventful; couple of impalas, two cheetahs from a bit of a distance, birds. Then all of a sudden the call came there were lions a little way to the side; Zac the driver reversed and we took another lane, then all of a sudden WE WERE NEXT TO TWO LIONESSES.
We realised that yesterday when we got super close to the elephants I was in my elephant top; today, close to the lions, I was in my Simba one. A collective decision was made to try and source me rhino pants and a dress bearing the Big Five.
A break meant a trot up and down the track for me, some yoga and a shower then afternoon Game Drive.
We were observing (ok, gaping at) a pride of lions when one of the girls hustled off on her own buzz (to clarify – lion girl, not tour girl). We were looking at the closer ones, then all of a sudden looked over and the aforementioned gal was up in a tree! Just chilling on the high branches, having a gander. (Tried to take a pic but unfortunately Max X cameras don’t zoom in to such situations that well). Then with binoculars we realised she’d climbed up to snatch a kill that a leopard had stashed up there.
I made sure to not always be behind my phone taking photos of the animals and landscape; in such a situation, it’s so easy to get caught up trying to capture the scene through a screen and not actually be present in the moment with your own eyes. I got a lot of pics the day before, so spent today watching and only taking photos when they were a really significant moment.
Couple of moments or random info that will probably never be of use to you:
⁃ During our first half hour driving into the park, I spotted a lone wildebeest in the distance. I zoomed in and took a photo – only to realise upon reviewing that it was actually a tree. Going on safari? Have not-quite-20-20-eyes? Make sure you do the smart thing and take your glasses.
⁃ Another moment Emer and I couldn’t stop laughing; with some elephants super close to us, I asked her to take a photo of me with them. She commented on how the camera wouldn’t focus – after I told her it was on portrait mode and this blurred out the background. So my photos were literally my face and smudgy colours behind where the whole point of the pic was.
⁃ Remember in the previous post I talked of the Kenyan roads being an “African massage”? Well if that’s the case, these national park ones are acupuncture, foam rollers and a vibration plate machine all in one. The safari truck must get super fucked up on its insides. I’m actually quite surprised – a lot of people I’ve yarned to have done safaris here, yet not a single one told me about the insanely bumpy road. I LOVE it.
⁃ It’s pretty phenomenal; none of the park is fabricated by humans aside from the camping grounds dotted about and the aforementioned bumpy roads. It’s pure nature, with the random trees and scattered stumps and parts with pools. It’s pretty incredible to see it all so maintained through Mother Nature herself. And there is NO RUBBISH – even though you don’t see anyone patrolling, you just know it is so heavily policed, plus everyone respects it to not litter.
⁃ The Lion King has within it a lot of Swahili words; “Simba” means lion, “Pumba” is a warthog (also a way of saying “stupid), so on. I asked Carla if it is the Serengeti that the movie is meant to be set in, and she said it’s all of Africa – they took animals from all over and used them so it isn’t locale specified. Case in point, Timon; here is a meer cat, and the Serengeti does not have any of those – closest thing is mongoose (which at first I thought everyone was saying “mongols”).
⁃ Cheetahs can run up to 110km/hour, the fastest land mammal; they can’t climb up trees while lions and leopards can. A cheetah is a half dog, half cat – not full feline – and have retractable claws. Their spots are called rosettes.
⁃ Lions and cheetahs always have even numbers of babies; cheetahs will have five in a litter. A cheetah’s main enemy is a snake – they swipe their eyes and make them loose sight.
⁃ Hierarchy: lion, leopard, cheetah, though leopards are the strongest – they can kill an animal twice their size and carry it up a tree. The three animals, to avoid competition for food, will kill each other’s babies – lions will kill baby cheetahs and leopards, leopards will kill baby lions and cheetahs, cheetahs will kill baby leopards and lions. Gestation period for all three is three to three-and-a-half months.
⁃ Hyenas have the strongest jaws of any of the animals in the wilderness – they’re actually quite environmental, as they tidy up the area, the bin divers of the Serengeti. Without them, there would be carcasses all over the show! Carla puts them at the top of the animal kingdom.
⁃ Global warming has massively affected the migration; up until 2014, tour guides could tell their passengers exactly where animals would be. Now, it can be raining in both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara (where they move to on the Kenyan side) and animals are confused at where to go, criss crossing back and forth.
⁃ Elephants sleep for two hours a day, and not continuously – they’ll do a five minute nap here, walk a little, another 10 shut eye, then trot on before another fiver.
⁃ When male elephants reach the age of 16, the matriarch elephant kicks him out to avoid inbreeding. It can be a challenge for the lad to find a new fam, so often a couple of the boys get together and form a bachelors pad. Gestation pregnant of 22 months with a baby born at 100-120kg (fuck that).
⁃ Every year an elephant gains the number of kilos they were born at; say one was born at 110, the next year 220, following 330, so forth.
⁃ Memory like an elephant? If one dies, whenever the herd passes by that spot again they group for a moment of silence.
⁃ Elephants have six toes – an extra to disperse weight to balance.
⁃ Elephants are right or left tusked – you can tell as the bigger tusk shows the dominant side.
⁃ Elephants eat between 250-300kg of grass a day.
⁃ African Elephant – named so as their ear shape takes the form of the African continent.
⁃ Elephants are SUPER protective of their babies; when a pregnant elephant is about to give birth, the other elephants made a circle around her and will not leave until the baby is up and walking. You never want to get between a mother and her baby – she can overturn a full bus in her angst and anger to find it.
⁃ The Big Five – lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard and elephant. These five because of the value they hold for the African community – lion mane, elephant tusk, buffalo meat, leopard skin and rhino tusk as an aphrodisiac.
⁃ If caught poaching in Kenya you are given a life sentence regardless of your nationality.
⁃ Every rhino in Kenya has its own ranger human to bodyguard it.
⁃ A group of giraffes is called a Tower – minimum is four, max is 40.
⁃ As giraffes grow older they go darker in colour; really old one turn black.
⁃ To bring down a giraffe takes nine lionesses.
– Giraffes are one of the three animals that have an “ample walk” – that is, left side front and hind leg go at once, next step it’s all right side, while other four-legged animals do opposites.
⁃ All the main prey animals – wildebeest, impalas, gazelles, giraffes too – need to be up and running within ten minutes of being born. If not, their chance of survival is slim; hyenas and jackals are at the ready to pounce.
⁃ Although hippos spend most of their time in their water, they can’t swim. Adults can stay under water for 5-8 minutes, children can for up to 15 minutes.
⁃ When on land, hippos feel threatened by anything that comes their way – although vegetarians, their big jaw is their defence mechanism. They will rip anything in half – including humans. Hippos have killed more people in East Africa than any other animal. On the ground, they can run up to 30km/hr.
I don’t know how I feel about safaris. Like, I love it; love seeing nature in action, love seeing the animals, but there were times I felt super invasive – one instance, there was a leopard cub up on a rock as his mum went hunting and no less than eight trucks of safari-ers were parked up at the bottom, taking millions of photos and making a fair bit of noise. The way the lions didn’t even bat an eyelid at times when up to ten trucks were right up around them had me thinking about how many people they see gawping at them on a daily basis. Like I get it, no one is hurting them, etc, but what the fuck must they think we are? Then I think about the fact that most of the animals (aside from the warthogs – their memory span is like two minutes) know that the road means heaps of eyes travelling in big metal boxes, yet they still come close to it – we are just another aspect of the Serengeti to them.
Seeing the animals doing their thing is pretty phenomenal. Like, I’ve seen most of them before at a zoo, but it’s a whole different ball game – these guys are in the wild and seeing them is full chance, where the poor zoo ones are on display and you just need to head to their enclosure where you know they will be.
Tomorrow: onto the edge of Ngorongoro crater for the night with a game drive early the next morning into it – hopefully to see a rhino, as that’ll mean we’ve seen the Big Five.