We took a 25 minute flight to central Serengeti, which is the area you most often see in the movies – a vast expanse of umbrella acacia trees and tall grasses blowing in the breeze.
From there we drove a couple dusty hours to Namiri Plains. This camp is in the very eastern part of the park, which was closed to visitors until 2014 so the cheetahs were undisturbed, in hopes their numbers would increase.
Suffice to say, this is cat country and the drive to camp did not disappoint. We saw a leopard in a tree, a cheetah, and at least a dozen lions, one of which was hunting warthog until a safari vehicle accidentally interfered.
This camp is even more luxurious than the last. I’m fairly certain our tent is larger than my SF apartment was, and includes both an interior and exterior shower. The outside shower has 2 shower heads and overlooks the plains, where I’ve already seen two types of gazelle. (This makes The German happy, as gazelle are absolutely silent unlike wildebeest). At every turn someone is offering a soft blanket to keep you warm, or a wet towel to keep you cool. In other words, we are being spoiled.
Our first game drive resulted in an exciting elephant encounter. There was an adorable 2 month old baby, perpetually flanked by two grown elephants for protection. We kept a respectful distance, and they initially seemed fine with our presence. A few minutes later, they decided it was time for us to leave and commenced charging. While I shouted at The German to take video, our driver floored it to get us safety. The elephants pursued us for quite a few minutes, with us shouting “they’re still coming!” at our guide. Elephants certainly can move quickly when they want to… exciting!
You hear lions every morning at camp (and sometimes all through the night) – it’s an amazing wake-up call! The males roar to advertise their territory, and there are 6 brothers close to camp.
The next morning we managed to find 3 different mating pairs… It was starting to feel like a sex tour. As we learned at the other camp, the females ovulate slowly so they have to mate every 10-15 minutes over 7 days. It’s not exactly a romantic picture.
We followed this up with two different cheetah with cubs. It’s really amazing to see them wandering the plains. The grass is so tall you can only see the tips of the raised tails of the little ones as they follow behind their mom in a single file line.
While the area near the air strip was congested with safari vehicles, we rarely saw anyone else on our game drives unless they were one of the other two cars from our camp – you really feel like you’re isolated in nature. And the wildlife doesn’t seem particularly bothered by us, provided we are quiet. We’ve gotten incredibly (and sometimes uncomfortably) close to lion and cheetah. You hardly need binoculars here since the cats are right next to the car.
And sometimes it seems like we don’t even need to go on a game drive at all since so many critters are so close to camp!
The guides are all so knowledgable – every drive I get more info that makes me even more impressed with nature. Despite the plains being flat and open, it’s often difficult to see animals until we are very close to them, thanks to their camouflage. One morning we came across a cheetah, still panting from hunting a gazelle. Once she caught her breath, she dragged the gazelle into a clump of tall grass to hide it from scavengers. Even the vultures that flew overhead didn’t manage to spot her.
Another fascinating detail is the defense mechanism of the acacia trees. A chemical reaction is triggered when something is eating its leaves, changing the taste of them. After giraffe have been munching away, the leaves start to taste bad so they move on before the tree is stripped bare, which would kill it. That tree signals other nearby acacia, which means downwind trees will trigger the reaction preemptively. The giraffe seem to have figured this out, and always shift upwind to graze. Everybody wins! The giraffe get food but leave the tree before irreparable damage is done. How cool is that?!
Other highlights included a brief encounter with a serval cat, which look a bit like a housecat wearing a cheetah costume. We also saw some adorable bat-eared fox, a baby owl in a nest, and a big bull elephant. Our stay completed with a view of lions mating while we had breakfast. I think we are certainly spoiled when it comes to big cat viewing now!
Then it was one final small plane ride to Ngorongoro Crater to complete our safari adventures. I’m really liking these small planes now – no TSA hassle, just throw your bags into the storage compartment and get on board. Plus, we always get a handshake and personal safety briefing from the pilot, and today our flight actually left 30 minutes early!
On a side note, we’ve had extremely slow/no internet access for about 2 weeks now. While it makes travel planning a challenge (and it will be a miracle if I ever get enough images uploaded to post this blog entry), it’s been a good reminder to put down my phone and just enjoy the moment. I’m hoping to continue this trend once we leave as it’s been nice to be more engaged with my surroundings.