Last night after being escorted back to my tent by Rama, who’s says he will defend me from the lions, ( he is lovely and 5 foot tall) he told me to not be scared. It was quite a full moon and at 1 am the roaring was almost deafening. I froze in bed and listened to the deep throaty roll of the alpha male as it rumbled into a roar. It was joined by all his females and was just outside my tent. They can be active at night and stroll to re-mark their territory. It was almost unbelievable. I crept out to my outside shower and tried to peep in the darkness for the over the wooden baords. But the grass behind my tent is long and there is a group of acacia trees there. I’m in the last tent. I went back to bed in the dark not wanting to have any light and just lay listening. They rested and then the collective roll and roar started again as they passed behind me….just amazing.
This is Bob, he is one of the oldest alpha males. I was about 20 feet away when I took this. He wasn’t interested in his 3 females that were curled up under the tree. Not daft is he? They call him Bob after Bob Marley because his mane turns black on the ends and he is the leader of the pride at the minute, a real Rastafarian. At least most of the poachers have been stopped in this part now. This place should be protected and I feel quite humbled here.
Here’s a thing. Elisse, my guide had picked me up from Lake Duluti on the Sunday morning. The day across the Rift Valley to get to the crater rim was the whole day… hours of driving. We had experienced the Masai celebration and arrived at a lodge high up on the crater rim for 2 days. But shock horror, I had left my phone charger in his truck. My phone is my alarm clock, my contacts and everything else. I couldn’t wait to ask him the next morning but he was absolutely sure it wasn’t there. I know I hadn’t taken it out if its wallet so I was baffled. I told him it didn’t matter, or could the hotel get me new one? I’d pay of course. Not that there were any shops and we were leaving for another long day drive into eastern Serengeti. He said I must have left it at Lake Duluti. He contacted the hotel,remembered I was in room 10 and told me it was there!!
“Oh Never mind , someone will make use of it” I said, it seemed so trivial to make a fuss of.
I had to get up the next day at 3.30am for the 2 hour drive to the ballon station for a ride. Elisse said nothing to me but had arranged for the hotel to put my charger in an envelope,drive it to the tiny local airport and fly it to the Seronona airport in the Serengeti!!! Whilst I was up up and ballooning over the river, he drove to get it!! How about that!! My first class Guide and a first class travelled charger!!!😅 And nobody asked me for a penny, no postage no flight ticket….they asked for nothing!!!
The balloon experience wasn’t all about the balloon. New to the camp, Epimark, the manager said a tray of coffee would be brought to my tent as a wake up call. Sure enough, in the darkness of the African night, a little voice wearing a woolly hat was singing
“Hello, hello Mama Carol”
i scrambled to a sitting position and said yes yes as he unzipped the tent door and popped my tray down. A flask of freshly brewed Arabica coffee with milk and 3 little heart shaped biscuits in a cup. Hah!!!!
The rough tracks in the Serengeti have a speed limit and you can not drive in the dark…. rarely. Animals freeze in the lights and there would be a lot of road kill but Elisse was up dressed immaculately in his uniform and we set off in the pitch blackness with special permission. Several hyenas stopped us in our tracks,there eyes lit up orange. A lazy lion , out on the prowl slowed us down as he loped ahead of us. He had set the pace and we duly followed slowly till he trapped off the track.
In some obscure field we could see a pair of headlights, the first sign of life for over an hour and a half. It was the 12 strong Tanzanian balloon team. Wearing green overalls the were laying out this enormous thing, setting up gas jet burners and fans. I gulped. I was a bit nervous then, the sun hadn’t even risen. Elisse said that I would be fine, and I little knew of his secret ‘phone charger rescue attempt’
I shouldn’t have worried, Jonathan the English pilot came and spoke to everyone personally. He has charming blue eyes and his enthusiasm was infectious. But we had to climb into the basket whist it was on its side, and strap in, hold onto rope handles whilst we were on our backs…there were 4 compartments ,each taking 4people. The hundred foot monster rose gently from the grass, yellow and green stripes that blended so well. I didn’t feel the lift off… nor the landing…it was as smooth as silk and apart from the odd roar of the gas jets, it was as silent as the morning. Gliding over the tops of Acacia and herds of wildebeest is something else. We saw so much,especially at least 30 hippos in the river, snorting and cuddling up close together.
There was a Swahili champagne toast when we landed…its tradition😜… led by the second pilot,American Frank… who told us a story while we sipped. Long life in Swahili is ” Mareesha Merefu”
This was followed by a little drive to an amazing bush breakfast in the open. A hand washing table with an enormous copper jug and individual fresh towels… a t
The drives were often gruelling. 6 hours in the car and the tracks were so rough, brings a whole new meaning to the expression ‘off reading’ but to me they were like gold. Elisse, my guide would often stop unannounced and look this way and that and of course I did too, following his every movement. We must have looked like Mere Cats, craning the necks and twitching head directions in unison like a programmed orchestra. It took me a while before I realised his live for the birds…feathered of course. He is such a tall strong Tanzanian man that it is kind of cute that he sees the feathered variety as fascinating. And boy could he see!!! To me in the distance they looked brown or grey but then he would make me use my binoculars and they would be the most vivid things…like the lilac throated roller, or Fischer Love Birds.. he saw the smallest to the enormous. Great big Secretary birds, lifting long legs delicately and pushing their flat crested heads forwards and backwards like the huge Ostriches. I hadn’t realised that the black shiny feathered ones were the boys and the shaggy brown ones were the girls. They lay eggs together and a clutch can have any dozens from different females. Not bad hey…a sort of communal egg farm. I was lucky to see loads of Kori bustards, big things again, but when mating the male puffs up his chest whilst the female sits completely bored looking some meters away. Maybe that s the secret. 😁 The water birds flourished, hundreds of pelicans and different storks but nothing beats an eagle perched regally on the top of a fig tree as it takes flight like a giant menacing plane… or the eagle owl whose large head and eyes would swivel like something out of a movie. Irridescent blue starlings captured me so now I have respect for the birds. 🐣
We were about an hour into our drive. It was going to be a bush lunch day and even though it was chilly to start with, ( I could tell by what hat Elisse would wear!! ) his woolly hat, I knew that in the blink of an eye, the heat would well up to burning point. He switched to his battered leather safari hat then.
The horizontal dust was part and parcel of the journey but ironically was horrendous if we passed another vehicle. Human interference , I thought, but I was part of it.
The rules were clear, no night driving, no getting out of the vehicle except at the few designated picnic areas and no going off the track.
We were approaching a part of a really twisting and turning meandering river, and there they were. At least 50 elephants.
Amazing statuesque, our biggest land mammal. Somehow the families had communicated with each other and they had all turned up this morning at this particular spot….to drink and play and eat. I had really not just come here to identify different animals and tick some sort of box…I had wanted to spend a little time seeing their real and natural behaviour in the wild. And here it was… under a tree a group of 4 teenage males having their ‘gap year’ from their birth families, were stroking and cuddling each other under an acacia tree. One had only half a trunk but was stroked and cuddled by his smaller brother. The little bull was left handed….his left tusk was shorter. He jostled and playfully pushed his brother under the branches until he got hungry. They eat tons of vegetation a day and it keeps the savannah a grassland instead of a jungle….when suddenly I noticed he had ripped off a rather large woody branch. Certainly too big for his mouth. The Acacia leaves are tiny and juicy but the stems are riddled with spiny needles. They are too sharp for me to pick but just not a problem for little jumbo.
I watched as he lowered it delicately to the floor, placed his left big foot on the end to secure it and then delicately used his trunk to swipe the branch clean!!! Amazing. Spines were no trouble to him….
I just stood upright in the car watching these colossal creatures nod and acknowledge each other, mothers with their babies and old bulls…..how did they tell each other where to meet ,how did they know? Apparantly it was not a regular meet in this spot…
And then at almost the same time the whole group,splintered off walking in their own directions away from the water. I have so much to learn but that wasn’t the only thing that day!!!
There were only a few of us at the camp and some came every 2 days before going off somewhere else. That day, new arrivals came from the States. Lori, a lovely 57 year old with her new husband of two years, Tod! She was extremely comfortable in her skin, a former golf pro and had done much travelling although she behaved with surprise at most things. Tod on the other hand was very chatty. It was their first day and off the went. When I arrived back for a camp lunch, I saw him wandering about taking pictures.
Hi, I said, haven’t you gone out this afternoon with everyone…they were in a party of 4.
” No, I can’t do any more of that bouncin’ around,I’ve seen the animals!!!! I’m dehydrated so I’m taking it easy this afternoon. I ve got some great photos. I’ve been trying to get a shot of the sun coming through that small solar jam jar”
I didn’t really know what to say. How can you see all the animals in a morning across this vast vast area? Why was he dehydrated when they supplied you constantly with mineral water?
I let it go, thinking I was being a bit mean but later that evening, after drinks around a huge campfire we all settled at the outside dining table. We talked of where we were going next. Tod was next to me.
“Oh Lori didn’t want to come to Africa she has been everywhere”he said. She doesn’t mind going to Oluvi (another camp) but I want us to move to a different lodge. Its right by a Masai village. That will be cool as they are so primitive”
I was shocked and ashamed at his comment really. I haven’t found anything exactly primitive. I wondered what he thought he would do there, take more pictures? I felt like cringing….. I had found the tribe to be strong, intelligent, some were lawyers etc, but responding and respecting their culture with its tight social care….is that primitive? Are we that good…later at the tiny tiny airport he came over as I was leaving to say he had wanted to fly to the next camp instead of bouncing around for 4 hours. The staff were flummoxed and said they would ring his tour operator to which Tod replied,
” You don’t understand, I will pay cash, whatever it takes, right here right now. How much do you want.”
i needed to cool my anger before my tears…..