I’ve had a busy last few weeks and haven’t had a chance to blog, so here is a belated post about the safari to Lake Manyara, the Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater I went on a few weeks ago.
Myself and 9 of the other volunteers went on a four day/three night safari to Lake Manyara, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. It truly was a memorable experience.
Lake Manyara was our first stop on our safari. We left Arusha around 8am, driving for about four hours. The drive itself was fairly scenic, with lots of flat land, with trees and small towns scattered throughout. In my car was myself, Carmen, Dylan (Australia), and Deanna (UK). Our driver was named Chui, and was very knowledgable, constantly spouting facts about the animals/trees we came across throughout our weekend.
Our campsite was a few minutes outside of the park, and after setting up camp, we headed into the park for our first game drive. I was surprised how many trees there were. But along with the abundance of trees came plenty of monkeys! We saw countless blue monkeys, baboons, and vervet (the blue-balled) monkeys.
We also stopped for a bit at the actual lake, although we weren’t able to get too close. Thousands of flamingos spend their time here, attracted to the salt water. They could be seen via binoculars, and it truly was an astonishing sight to see, as they appeared to completely cover the surface of the water.
But perhaps the piece de resistance of the day was the herd of elephants that we came across on our way out of the park. We were within feet of these majestic creatures, and we spent over a half hour watching them forage the trees for food.
On our way to the Serengeti, we had the opportunity to stop at a local Maasai Village. The visit was short and very touristy and rehearsed and I did not enjoy the experience that much, as it seemed like the tribe was only concerned with collecting your money, herding you and in out, and then demanding you buy a vastly overpriced souvenir to “support them”.
The visit began with a short welcome song, which was probably the best/most authentic part of the experience.
As Dylan and myself were the only males in our group, they handed us Maasai sticks and instructed us to jump up and down. While alright for a few seconds, it began to grow tiring, as they wouldn’t let us stop and insisted us to keep jumping.
After the introduction was over, they showed us the inside of their huts or “bomas”. While simple, they were impressively built, using a combination of sticks, mud, and cattle dung to hold it all together. They then asked if we had any questions. After answering a few of mine, the Maasai man became visible annoyed and shuffled us to the “school” for the children. I put school in parentheses, because I’m not sure how much learning actually occurs there, and how much is for exploitation purposes. The children stood up when we entered and sang a quick song. There was a box in the middle of the room for tips. Since I knew I wasn’t going to buy any of their overpriced crafts, I put in a small donation. This made the children again stand up and sing a song of thanks. During our hour in the village, there were a few other groups that visited as well. I can’t imagine how many times the children have had to perform that same ritual.
We were then led to the “market area”, where anytime we lingered on an item or happened to pick something up, a Maasai tribesman would pounce on us, telling us the price. The few people that made it clear that they weren’t going to purchase anything were ushered by hand back to our vehicle. Never mind that we had to pay an “entrance fee” to even go into the village
The whole experience lasted only an hour, and was the only dark spot on an otherwise enjoyable weekend.
After the Maasai Village, we made our way to the Serengeti-the inspiration for the movie, the Lion King. Park fees are very expensive and are based on a 24 hour day, so we made sure to make the most of our experience.
We entered the park at around 4pm, and after driving only a few kilometers, began to see herds of wildebeest. These were the first of over 3 million that make the migration from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti every year, following the rains that allows the grass and vegetation to grow. We would end up seeing thousands of them over the course of the time in the park.
Once we drove deeper in the park, Chui heard word over the radio that a leopard was spotted not too far from where we were. Leopards are mainly nocturnal in nature and very elusive, preferring to spend their time hidden up in trees. Because of this, the actual number of leopards in the Serengeti is not known. When we arrived to where it was, we found out that there was not one, but two of them about 30 yards away. Chui informed us that it was a male and female, and they soon disappeared behind some foilage, only for the male to emerge moments later, when they were done mating.
After the leopards, we came across a group of seven or so lionesses lying in the tall grass watching a herd of wildebeest walk by. The lionesses were very far away, about 50 yards and were hard to see, but we were nonetheless excited to see them. Little did we know that we would get up close and personal to many more the next day.
It was very cloudy in the west, and we unfortunately weren’t able to get a good view of the sunset. We began to drive in the direction of our campsite when we came across a herd of elephants. We did not have time to spare however, as we needed to get our camp set up before night officially fell.
We luckily made it to the campsite and were able to succeed in getting all of the tents set up. As we made our way to the sheltered area to have dinner, we could see 3 sets of eyes glowing in the dark. There were hyenas only 20 yards away from us, already ready to scavange for food. We were instructed to use the buddy system if we had to leave our tent during the night, and to not stray too far, since any type of animal could be in our vicinity. Nonetheless, camping out in the Serengeti was amazing, from the impressive skyline of stars, to the various animals we heard over the course of the night, mainly the eerie laugh of the hyena. Dylan, my tent mate stepped out of our tent shortly after we went to bed and almost came face to face with a couple of buffalo grazing right behind our tent! Luckily we all survived the night, and woke up at 5:30 to catch the sunrise.
The sunrise was beautiful, a mix of yellows, reds, and oranges. There was a certain serenity of being out in the open grasslands, and being alone with the animals, as there were no other vehicles. After the sun rise, We came across a group of four cheetahs in the distance. As it was still very early in the morning and there were no other vehicles, we drove off the path to get up close to these magnificent creatures. The cheetahs eyed us for a few seconds, but otherwise seemed disinterested, and were more focused on the wildebeest in the distance.
Next, we came across a lion and lioness lying around, not five yards from the road! The male got up for a few seconds, and then seemed to have a change of heart and went back down to sleep. As lions live in prides, Chui said that there must be more nearby. We drove towards a rocky area that had a few trees to provide shade, and we came across 2 males, 4 lionesses, and 5 cubs on their very own Pride Rock! They were lounging in the shade enjoying their catnaps. A couple of the cubs did end up stirring and walked around a bit, to join the lionesses on the rocks.
All in all the Serengeti was an amazing experience, with also sightings of zebra, giraffe, hippos, many different kinds of antelope, hyenas, buffalo, ostriches, and jackals.
Next post I’ll detail about Day 4 of the Safari in the Ngorongoro Crater.