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Our June 2012 African Vacation Diary

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"Leave only footprints, take only memories" (...and maybe some pictures)
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6/27/2012 7am Breakfast at 7 and bags outside of room by 8am. 6/27/2012 8am Sadly, depart the Serengeti.  Game drive on the way out.  There is some chatter on the radio and we are off.  Lions.  We spend too much time watching and taking pictures of all the wildlife on our last game drive in the Serengeti.  Seems that when you do the paperwork to enter the Serengeti you only get so much time.  If you spend more time (apparently even minutes matter) you have to pay for a whole extra day.  Entrance fees for these parks are very steep.  When we move again we are really moving.  We stop just long enough for Fred and me to lower and lock the roof then we are off like a bat out of hell.  Mwittah says we have 50 minutes (we all heard 15 minutes but we were 15 minutes from nothing) to make the entrance gate for the Serengeti or pay for a whole day.  We drive way too fast, on a dirt road that is way too small.  Two way traffic but the road is almost one-and-a-half lanes wide.  We passed everything in front of us.  We make the gate with 10 minutes to spare and Mwittah seems very relieved. We saw: waterbuck, bushbuck, maribu stork, warthog, wildebeest, zebra, coqui francolin, acacia trees, dueling impala, yellow-billed ox pecker, white-backed vulture in nest, lioness, cape buffalo, “friendly bush” stop on the Serengeti, alkaline lake, Kittlitz’s Plover, giraffe, red-billed teal, baboons, 3-banded plover, Thompson gazelle, crowned plover, kopje, candle tree, lilac-breasted roller, leopard (two young playing), aloe vera.  The race to the gate starts. 6/27/2012 12:45pm We are now at the gate.  We have clocked out and are now safe.  We eat a box lunch provided by the Serengeti Sopa Lodge.  Again, too much food but a nice selection. We saw: superb starling (white eye), and Hildebrandt starling (red eye) 6/27/2012 2:30pm Take off again.  Last views of the Serengeti.  We pull off the road and drive a few hundred feet next to a dried up creek.  No water just a lot of rocks.  This is the upper reaches of Olduvai Gorge.  Robert explains that the dam we see (just upstream from where we are parked) is rebuilt to minimize the damage to Olduvai Gorge digs.  We did not stop at the museum.  This is all we saw.  An area above the digs and a dam.  Robert did tell us that oldupai (Maasai for wild sisal) is a plant that grows wild all over the area.  The Gorge was named for the plant but, as happens sometimes, was misspelled and is now called Olduvai. 6/27/2012 3pm The next stop was a small Maasai village.  After brief talk by the chief’s son the men and women did a song and dance of welcome for us outside the village fence.  Then all walked into the village center where the men performed a jumping contest and the women chanted, sang and performed the necklace bounce dance (the name is mine for lack of a better title).  Then the chief’s son assigned one Maasai to each two tourists. In groups of two we were taken into one of the houses.  He explained the stick/grass/ mud construction of the hut.  Each one has two beds, one for the adults and one for the children.  There is a central fire pit for cooking, light and heat (overnight lows routinely get into the 50s).  The houses are about 5’ tall (you can’t stand up inside) and about (a guess here) 9’ wide by 15’ long.  Maasai men can have many wives.  Each wife get her own house (she has to build it) for her to share with her children and the husband picks which house to sleep in. In the middle of the village is a fence normally used to contain the live stock at night.  The fence is covered with trinkets made by members of the families that live in the village.  Every little trinket is for sale.  Barbara picked out 2 small beaded items.  When the Maasai figured we were done shopping he escorted us out of the village to discuss price.  I’m thinking that is a cultural thing, to not discuss price inside the village.  For the 2 very small items Barbara picked up their asking price started at $50.  We thought he meant $5 for both, which I thought was too high.  Once we understood the real price, Barbara offered $10.  That must have seemed like an insult because they just said they would put the pieces back on the fence.  We were then shown the ‘school’.  A large tree near the village with a blackboard nailed to it and children seated around it on the ground.  When we went back into the village he suggest $15 for the two items, which Barbara agreed to if they repaired one of them.  One was a star with dangles hanging from the points.  One was missing.  One of the women replaced the part (using her teeth) and Barbara paid the $15.  Oh, it fell off again before we made it to the truck. 6/27/2012 4:30pm Now we head for the Ngorongoro Crater.  By the way, ngoro means hole.  In Swahili repeating something means more of it.  So a really big hole becomes Ngorongoro (hole-hole).  We are now back on those narrow, curvy roads we traveled to get to the Serengeti.  Only now we are headed in the other direction.  Mwittah takes off in a hurry again.  Seems he had to stop at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge (not where we were staying) to pick up a package for Robert.  This is a detour so we are moving at speeds faster than I am comfortable with.  Much faster.  The package was not there.  Back in the truck and headed for the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge.  The crater is about 15 miles across.  The Serena Lodge is north of the western point of the rim and the Sopa is in the north-east corner.  The only road that connects them runs the southern end of the crater.  Not a short drive.  Probably 30 or 40 miles of dirt roads on the crater rim.  Mwittah is a very good driver and got us there in one piece.  We actually caught up to the rest of the party on the road to the Sopa Lodge.  They were slowed down by a pair of lions (male and female) taking a slow stroll down the middle of the road.  They are such a powerful presence when seen from less than ten feet away in the wild.  Mwittah said they were ‘honeymooners’.  Later we found out that they lock a gate across the road to the Sopa at 6pm.  By my watch we passed the gate at about 5:59pm.  If it had been locked we might not have had a place to sleep.  Kind of explains his hurry. 6/27/2012 7:30pm Due to the timing of our arrival at the lodge at dinner time, along with hot water hours only 6pm to 9pm, I decided to skip dinner to enjoy a hot shower.  After that drive my stomach was a tad unsettled and relaxing and a nice shower sounded much better.  Barbara went to dinner with Sallyann and Fred but she took pity on me and brought me back bread and water (okay, a buttered roll and a diet coke). During the night we could hear what sounded like someone screaming in the distance.  Kind of creepy.  We found out the next day we were listening to bushbabys.  That cry is how they got their name. 6/28/2012 5:30am No time for breakfast at the lodge.  From 5:30 to 6am coffee is available at the coffee bar near the lobby.  By 6am we are in the trucks and headed down the side of the crater. 6/28/2012 6:30am Right at 6:30am we are driving past the gate that marks the entrance to the crater floor.  First stop is a pride of lions lounging right next to the road.  We actually get to watch the start of a hunt.  Mwittah said it could take hours to get to the chase, and since the zebras were pretty far off, I can understand that.  We watched as a herd of cape buffalo enter the area at a run and even chase one the pride’s top males. We saw: lion pride at the edge of the road starting a hunt (the lions were near a water source and waiting for the zebra to come closer),serval,  jackal, cape buffalo, kori bustard, sand grouse, Cokes hartebeest, Grant’s gazelle, ostrich, grey crowned crane, lake full of papyrus, lioness near the grass and water. 6/28/2012 9am We are dropped off near bathrooms for relief, then walk next to a lake to get to where the trucks are parked.  We have a box breakfast at the edge of a hippo pool.  So many things about this trip are just so memorable.  Another nice box meal, this time with hot (instant) coffee. We saw: hippos, grey crowned cranes, Egyptian geese 6/28/2012 10am After the relaxing meal by the side of the hippo pool, its back into the land cruisers and more game driving. We saw: hippos, wildebeests, hunting lioness (she missed), cheetah, spotted hyena, zebra, Grant’s gazelles,warthog, ostrich, golden jackals, Cokes hartebeest, singing bush lark, Egyptian geese. 6/28/2012 12:20pm After a couple of hours we stopped at a rest area, complete with bathrooms. We saw: cape buffalo skulls, zebra, black wasp nest 6/28/2012 12:30 Since we arrived in Tanzania we have seen all of the ‘big five’ except the rhino.  The term ‘big five’ goes back to the days of the great white hunter.  The big five are the five animals prized as trophies that were most likely to kill or maim the hunter first.  The big five: elephant, rhino, cape buffalo, lion and leopard. Due to the area of the crater floor being pretty small the park rangers limit the number of vehicles at any one time.  Being close to the equator the days are 12 hours long all year.  That makes it very simple to divide the day into two 6 hour segments.  We were told the limit is 100 vehicles from 6am to noon, and then another 100 vehicles from noon to 6pm.  Since we entered the park at 6am we only had until noon.  Robert contacted the park rangers and requested permission to stay for a couple of extra hours so we would have a better chance of seeing a rhino.  About 7 minutes before our extension was set to expire we were looking at two Rhinos across a large field.  A very nice end to our safari. We see: eland, spotted hyena, secretary bird, zebra, warthog, wildebeest, golden jackal, flamingos (many but from afar), ostrich, black-backed jackal, rhinos, 6/28/2012 2:30pm Back to the lodge for a late lunch then some time to relax and take some last photos of Ngorongoro Crater. 6/28/2012 6pm The tour group (director, drivers & tourists) all meet in the lodge’s conference room called the “Rhino Room”.  We talk about the safari.  Anything that we did or did not like about the lodges, the tour, anything.  After the meeting it is time for dinner.  Then, sadly, pack for the ride back to Arusha.
Photos 19 - 36 Photos 1 - 36 Photos 109 - 144 Photos 145 - 180 Photos 73 - 108 Photos 37 - 72 Photos 1 - 18 Photos 1 - 25 Photos 1 - 30 Photos 31 - 60 Photos 61 - 81 Photos 1 - 27 Photos 28 - 54 Photos 1 - 33 Photos 1 - 16 Photos 1 - 23 Photos 1 - 15 Photos 1 - 19 Photos 1 - 25 Photos 133 - 161 Photos 67 - 99 Photos 34 - 66 Photos 100 - 132 Photos 17 -33 Photos 70 - 91 Photos 47 - 69 Photos 24 - 46 Photos 39 - 57 Photos 58 - 75 Photos 20 - 38 Photos 26 - 51 Ngorongoro The Start of a New Day on Safari in Tanzania