Our plane from Masai Mara takes us, with 1 stop to drop off some people bound for Nairobi, to Migori at the border between Kenya and Tanzania. A driver and guide will take us from here, across the border to Tarime airstrip in Tanzania for our flight to the Serengeti. We drive for about 30 minutes before we get to the border. We stop at the Kenyan immigration and after we get our stamps, our guide tells us that we will have to walk over to the Tanzanian side, pass immigration there and our car will meet us at the other side. This is the first time I walk from one country to another but there is a first for everything, so here we go. We cross an area that is no-mens land between the 2 countries before we walk into Tanzania. Although we were warned that immigration can be a pain sometimes, we have no issues. We already have our visa and less than 10 minutes later we are back in the car and on our way again.
Through a narrow and unpaved road we reach our destination: Tarime airport. Although there are plans to make this the main airport between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya, at the moment it doesn’t even look like an airstrip. At the previous airstrips gravel at least indicated the runway, here there is no runway, just a clearing in the bush with 3 small buildings at the end; terminal 1, 2 and 3, we joke. But again, its efficient. When we arrive our guide radios the plane that we have arrived and less than 10 minutes later our plane lands. Our bags are loaded, we board the plane (no boarding passes needed) and within 5 minutes we are on our way. We make a stop at Camp Klein to drop of the couple that traveled with us from Migori before we land at our destination: Lobo.
As we have come to expect, jeeps are waiting at the airstrip in Lobo for their passengers. In Lobo our driver introduces himself as Adam and he tells us that we will first go and get our park permits. After that we will do a game drive before going to our camp later that afternoon. So after a short stop at the national park offices, we are off for our next game drive. The landscape is different from the Mara, more diverse, rocky at times but we do see the same wide plains as we are now used to from the Mara and we understand why the Serengeti got its name : “endless plains”; they are endless. We see our first groups of zebras and wildebeest. This is part of the yearly migration. It is a very impressive sight. although we are not in the height of it, we see hundreds of animals moving all in the same direction. It seems they have a plan and know where they are going, but Adam tells us that in fact they are very confused and are actually going the wrong direction: they are moving south instead of north because it has been raining. We feel for the poor animals who are just following their instincts. Still, going north or south, to see hundreds of them moving through the plains is very impressive. We try to imagine what it will be like in the middle of the migration with 7 million wildebeest, zebras and gazelle passing through and although today gives us a good impression we will have to come back to experience the real migration to understand the size of this mass movement. We see 2 eland among the wildebeest. They are enormous and you only realize how big they are if you see them tower over the wildebeest.
We drive on and all of a sudden there is smoke and fire everywhere. Adam tells us that they are doing controlled burns at the moment to give the grass an opportunity to grow again. We feel like we entered the gates of hell. Not only is there smoke and the smell of fire, the smoke attracts Tstse flies. They are coming down in clouds and in minutes we are covered in them. We quickly apply insect repellent but even that doesn’t seem to scare them off. They bite through our socks and sneakers and we can’t wait to get away from them. So when finally around 6 our jeep pulls up at the Serengeti Migration camp, we are glad to get out and to explore our next camp.
We are greeted in the lounge area by Robin and Peter, our hosts and managers of the Serengeti Migration Camp. They give us an overview of the camp and the daily routine: drinks are from 6.30 to 7.30, dinner from 7.30 – 9.30. After dark we cannot walk around by ourselves as we are right at the river with 40 resident hippos, who roam around at night and don’t like human company. So after dark when we want to leave our tent we either use the walkie-talkie system to call the reception or we use our flashlight to signal and somebody will come and accompany us. Breakfast is from 7.30 – 9.30 and during the day there are game drives and walking safaris. All tents have running water and generators work 24 hours a day. We admire the gorgeous surroundings. The lounge area has comfortable couches and chairs but before relaxing we are dying to take a shower and wash the insect repellent, the dust and the tstse flies off. We are escorted down the stairs from the lounge and pool area to tent number 14. We enter our tent through a big wooden door and inspect our next accommodation. We are impressed. Yes technically it is a tent….but one with wooden floors, glass windows and french doors that lead to a terrace overlooking the Grumeti river. The sun is about to set right outside our windows. The bathroom has a double sink, shower and toilet. There are 2 double beds, an antique desk and a couch. Yes we are camping again, but not exactly roughing it. We indulge ourselves in a nice hot shower and unpack. By the time we are done, it is dark outside so we try the flashlight routine. It works, within a minute there is a knock on our door and somebody is there to escort us back to the main area. We sink into the comfy chairs and enjoy a glass of the house wine. We are hungry by now as we forgot to ask for our box lunch this morning and are still surviving on our breakfast at Kichwa Tembo, which feels like a world away. So after 1 glass of wine we move to the dining tent and gratefully accept the corner table out on the terrace. We are handed our 3 course menu and realize that yet again, we will not have any complaints about the food, if anything, we will have to go on a diet after this trip.
We have a wonderful dinner with a bottle of South African rose. Yes, rose has penetrated even the wilderness of Tanzania. After dinner we retreat to the lounge where they have wireless, but connection is slow and after it takes Mandi 40 minutes to send out 1 email she gives up. Watching her, I don’t even try. Email will have to wait. Cellphone coverage is non existing as well in the Serengeti so for these 3 days we are cut of from the world. This is a first for me in years, and it actually feels nice. We can sleep in the next morning, as Adam told us we don’t leave till 8.30. Compared to the previous couple of days this is a luxury. The hippos are roaming and roaring around our tent all night but we are starting to get used to being among wild animals and we sleep through it until early next morning, when we are woken before the sun is up by 2 birds knocking on our window for at least an hour. Apparently they see their reflection in the windows and try to fly towards it, crashing against our window time after time. So much for sleeping in.
We have breakfast on the terrace, with stunning views of the river and the wilderness beyond. A lone giraffe stands underneath a tree in the distance. After breakfast we are ready for another day of safari. Today the plan is to drive to Seronera, in the middle of the Serengeti. Adam tells us it will take about an hour, so we make ourselves comfortable in the jeep. Adam doesn’t seem as talkative as Robert, but once we start asking some questions, he starts to warm up. We pass several ostriches and trees full of vultures, before Adam stops at the side of the road and points in the distance “a cheetah” we stare and it takes us some time before we do see the cheetah when it sits up in the grass.
We continue our trip, which takes us again thru a sea of wildebeest and zebras. I am starting to really like the zebras. They are so funny, how they will stand on the road or the side of the road, not moving until we almost hit them and then they will nervously run away, sometimes not knowing which way to go. We stop at one of the ponds where we watch a crocodile snoring away on the bank. We have now reached the Seronera area and at our next stop we see 2 lions lying on top of a rock. They are staring down at a dazzle of zebras grazing in the grass below them, but the lions are either too lazy or not hungry enough to go hunting as they are not moving.
It’s almost noon when we see our first elephants in the Serengeti. Just on the side of the road, a couple of females are watching over a baby sleeping in the grass. When we continue, we see a number of jeeps gathered on the side of the road a little further down. We drive up to them and learn that there are lions, a male and a female, under the tree next to the road. We see the male lion sit up in the grass. After a while he strolls back to the tree and next we see him jumping the female. It only takes a couple of seconds before they both lie down and go to sleep again. Some jeeps move on, but Adam tells us we will wait as they will probably mate again. He moves closer to the tree so we have a better view. The female gets restless, sits up before she moves to the other side of the tree. I manage to capture a picture of her peaking around the tree before she disappears again. Both are now hidden behind the tree and Adam manages to get the jeep even closer. Several new jeeps appear. Some of the people are obnoxiously loud, causing irritated looks from several guides. The one that tops it all is just behind us. They completely disregard the lions less than 10 meters ahead of us, when they spot some hippos in the far distance. We cannot believe it when we hear one of them scream on top of his lungs “hippos, 4 hippos.” Adam looks up and just shakes his head. Thankfully the lions seem to sleep through the whole incident and it is only minutes later that we have another chance to capture the lions mating, this time up close and personal. I guess we were lucky; other animals like leopards or cheetahs would have made a run for it or in case of elephants, they would probably have charged us. We agree that some people are just clueless and probably shouldn’t be out in the wilderness.
By now we are hungry and Adam tells us we will stop at a place where we can have a picnic lunch. Just before we reach the picnic area, Adam stops. He has spotted a leopard sleeping in a tree not far from the road. We are amazed how relaxed she looks, draped around the tree, not a care in the world. We are happy with how our day in the Serengeti has turned out so far: a cheetah, a crocodile, zebras, giraffe, 2 lionesses, elephants and to top it of mating lions and a leopard. I take a picture for a Dutch family having box lunches at one of the other tables, while Adam unpacks our lunch. No boxes for us. Instead we have white linen, silverware and a hot lunch. The three of us dig in while Adam tells us about his background, his job at the Migration camp, and how he misses his family, who he hasn’t seen since he started his job here over 4 months ago. We feel bad and don’t really know how to reply to this; on one hand we are the reason we keep people like Adam away from their families by doing these luxury safaris, on the other hand people like us do bring money into this country and provide people with jobs.
After lunch we continue our trip and the next stop is a hippo pond. It is a small pond and because it is the dry season, the water is not moving. We walk to the edge of the pond and see at least 50 hippos in what seems like way too small an area. We take pictures but the smell is so bad that before we start gagging we retreat back to the car. It has been another awesome day and we decide that we are ready for a shower and a nice dinner, so we head back to our camp. Watching the sunset from the lounge with a glass of wine, I download the pictures and even manage to post a couple to Facebook. We have another nice dinner out on the deck.
The next morning we leave again at 8.30. We had told Adam yesterday that we only want to do a half day today so we have time in the afternoon to relax by the pool before going on a walking safari this evening. It’s another nice day with clear blue skies and we notice that the burns are almost all stopped. We found it hard to believe when Adam told us that the grass will start growing back within a couple of weeks, but at some of the blackened areas, we see indeed small patches of green growing back. The first thing we see this morning is a big group of vultures picking on something. At closer look we realize it is a fresh prey, still red and bloody. We later learn from one of the other drivers, that we just missed the kill and that the lions had just left when we arrived. We don’t see too many animals this morning, but it doesn’t matter. We enjoy driving on the vast plains in the open jeep, sun on our face, the smell of fresh grass, while watching some zebras, couple of giraffe and an elephant in the distance at some places. It is peaceful and it is beautiful. Adam teaches us the Swahili names of some of the animals: simba (lion), tembo (elephant), chui (leopard), twiga (giraffe) and dumo (cheetah). They sound right and much nicer than our names. I love how the zebras line themselves up: perfectly side by side, some facing one way, others the opposite direction, keeping their eyes out for predators. Sometimes we see 2 zebras leaning their heads on each others back, looking at us with their big black velvety eyes. The more zebras I see, the more I fall in love with them.
After lunch we settle ourselves by the pool. We read, relax and when I lift my head after a little while, I see a black-faced monkey making its way to the pool. It carefully approaches the edge of the pool, sits there for a while, looking around as to say “hey look at me, I am here….” when he is sure he has an audience, he dips his head in the pool to drink. We can’t help laughing, he is such a funny little creature, almost human.
It is nice to relax for a couple of hours and I almost regret that I have signed up for the walking safari. Mandi has decided she is not joining because of her allergies, so it is just me meeting Elly, the guide at the reception at 4. One other guest is joining us, so it is me, Mike from Seattle plus Elly and a ranger. As we are going into the national park we are not allowed to go without a ranger. Both Elly and the ranger carry guns, the rangers is an AK47, so we are not talking small guns. It makes me a bit nervous, but when I ask them how many times they have used their gun, they both tell me that in their total careers of 15+ years, they have never shot an animal. I feel better when I hear this and it gives me confidence when we start our bush walk. Elly points out some fresh footprints at the edge of the camp, next to one of the tents “a giraffe, and the imprints are fresh so it is very recent.” he pronounces.
We cross the Grumeti river. The water is very low and is barely moving, as it is the dry season. On the other side of the river, we walk to the edge to watch the hippos. So these are our friends that keep us awake at night with their roaring. They are big, they are impressive and I definitely see that you do not want to cross their path at night. From the hippo pond we can see our camp and we wave at some of the people at the sundeck. We continue our walk and Elly points out more footprints of buffalo and hippos. He stops and picks up a snake from the trail. It’s a Black Mamba, the deadliest snake in Africa and even though this one is dead, I shudder at the thought of them, hiding in the bushes. I almost want to turn around and go back to our camp, but I pull myself together and we continue.
We climb up the hill opposite our camp. The view is spectacular. To one side we have a great view of our camp and how it completely blends into the bush. The other side is all wilderness. Elly points beyond the hill where we are standing and tells us that from here the wilderness stretches all the way to the border of the Serengeti and that it is just wilderness, no roads, no civilization. The only way in is on foot, like the Masai people…..and the animals. Elly then tells us a funny story. A couple of days earlier he had a Japanese couple with him. When he explained to them how the migration moves from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya and back, they asked him very seriously how the animals pass border control….. hmmmm we wonder: passports for the lions and elephants…..
We find some impala horns and Elly tells me he will take a picture of me with them and announces this to be a new rare species: Queen Impala. Just over 2 hours after we started our walk we get back to our camp. I am glad I did go on the bush walk afterall. After several days driving around in jeeps, it is nice to be out walking and it also gives you a different perspective of the wilderness.
This is our last night in the Serengeti. We enjoy another nice dinner out on the terrace and another beautiful sunset. The next morning Adam drives us to Lobo airport where we board our plane bound for Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater.