So after all our stress of packing, weighing and re-weighing our luggage, stuffing all of our pockets with our heaviest belongings, going to the airport literally wearing 4 tops, and The German even got rid of some tech stuff (begrudgingly), they didn’t weigh our luggage. I’m really glad I didn’t preemptively throw away my nice shampoo.
Our plane from Rwanda had 12 seats on it (13 if you count the co-pilot seat, which was also filled by a passenger). Our flight stopped at a small town in Tanzania just to clear immigration, where they wrote down our details by hand in a notebook.
Once we we reached the closest airstrip, we had about a 90 minute drive to our camp. It wasn’t that far but there are no roads – you drive on tracks that are pretty rough and you really utilize the 4wd of the Land Cruisers. Along the way we say thousands of wildebeest, zebra, baboons, giraffe, several types of antelope, and a warthog. Oh, and an African squirrel.
Our first camp was called Ubuntu and is exquisite. It manages to be luxurious while also being ecologically minded and a big supporter of local communities. It’s part of the Asilia group, and they have received many awards for their sustainability practices and social impact on local communities. Some of their projects include supporting local schools, taking local children to visit the wildlife, educating farmers on organic practices, and their camps are run by locals (including one that is entirely staffed by women!). I feel very good about who is getting our money.
Our tent is super-comfortable, including a flush toilet and a sink with running water plus a shower. (You have to request they come fill it with warm water, but it’s still better water pressure than in Rwanda.) There are solar-powered lights, a queen-sized bed, and and a walkie-talkie to call the staff if you need anything. Each time you return from a game drive you’re greeted at the car with cool, wet, minted towels – so refreshing!
The camp moves 3 times a year and is currently in the northeast corner of Serengeti. They estimate there are 2.5 million wildebeest moving through as they head south to breed. It’s absolutely in the middle of nowhere. There’s no wifi and no phone reception. It only has 7 tents, so you really feel like you’re part of the bush.
The haunting sound of the wildebeest never stops. It’s a constant chorus of this short, honking “moo”, as they call and respond to each other. We pretty much got no sleep the first night as it sounded like they were migrating through our tent.
The day works like this: wake up call when it’s still dark with tea or coffee delivered to your tent. Breakfast is served watching the sunrise, then you head out on a 5 hour game drive. You spend the hottest part of the day at camp, enjoying a leisurely lunch and relaxing in your tent or the communal lounge tent. There is another game drive in the late afternoon, after you’ve had tea and some kind of cake. Just after sunset, you return to camp for a hot shower then a bonfire and cocktails so everyone can share their stories of the day. Finally, a 3 course dinner is served. Then everyone retires to their tents, exhausted from all the eating and drinking. 🙂 All drinks, laundry service, and game drives are included so you don’t have to worry about anything.
Everything is done family-style… the whole camp eats at one long table together. The staff is so friendly that you really feel like part of the family after a couple days. And we spent all of our game drives with a Belgian father & daughter who were a lot of fun – she’s as passionate about animals as I am and he was just generally fun to be around, cracking jokes all the time. We really couldn’t have asked for better safari partners.
At camp, you can hear the wildebeest, hyena, and jackals at night, and during the day there are all sorts of birds, including a marabou stork right by the lunch tent, and of course, the constant line of wildebeest.
The guides all have degrees in animal behavior and know the park and its inhabitants very well – they are experts at predicting where the animals will be and can answer any question you have. It’s like a roaming zoology course.
One morning we saw thousands of wildebeest crossing a river. Luckily, the crocodiles were all full but it was still heart-wrenching to watch the wildebeests struggle to get up the other side, trampling each other on the muddy slope. Babies and parents would get separated and you’d see them crying out, frantically searching for each other.
One of of the lion prides near camp has twin cubs, around 2 months old. We managed to find them just as they were waking up one evening. The pride is massive – possibly 20 all together. While the adult males and females continued to sleep, the little ones woke up and entertained each other by play fighting and hunting each other’s tails. So adorable!
Another time we managed to find some
lions mating. Apparently the females are slow to ovulate so they mate repeatedly over a week to increase the chances of a cub. When we saw them, they were mating every 10 minutes!
In the first two days we managed to see all of the Big 5 (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and even the incredibly endangered black rhino, who was practically in the backyard of our camp), as well as the Ugly 5 (marabou stork, crocodile, wildebeest, hyena and hippo, who I personally find cute but I don’t make these lists). We also got to see leopards in a tree, an egret wrestling with a snake as he was devouring it, and a mind-boggling number of wildebeest. I don’t think The German realizes how lucky we’ve been, since this is his first safari.
The gorgeous scenery stretches out for miles and miles… I never get tired of looking at it and could easily spend day after day watching giraffe graze on acacia trees or zebra munching their way through the tall grass or ostrich protecting their nest.
I was sad when our 3 days came to an end… Luckily, we are only headed to central Serengeti to another camp!