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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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6/24/2012 6:30am Another early breakfast with friends Sallyann and Fred. 6/24/2012 8am The suitcases had to be outside the room door by 8am to be carried to the lobby by hotel staff.  Once we show up in the lobby, we point out our luggage and then find Mwittah and our land cruiser and the hotel staff and Mwittah get our bags loaded into the truck. 6/24/2012 8:30am We load ourselves into the trucks and we are, once again, headed for new territory.  Our destination for today is the Serengeti National Park.  We have paved, smooth roads for about the first 40 miles.  Then the pavement ends and the dirt roads take over. We saw: incomplete brick buildings (bricks are expensive so the building is done as the family saves money to buy more bricks), shop in one of the towns we pass called “Mississippi Butcher”, Cushtic farm (a farming tribe in Tanzania), ebony tree (thick and gnarled trunk), red clay gravel quarry (no machinery.  All mining is done with pick- axes and muscle power), Maasai stick and mud huts mixed in with brick buildings & cooking smoke emanating only from the huts, Maasai boys (about 5 years old) herding goats, trucks carrying loads of workers with some of them standing on the bumper and hanging on, many Maasai boys (almost men) wearing only black with their faces painted white in patterns that represent his family. 6/24/2012 9:40am We now pass into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  We will be coming back to the Ngorongoro Crater after a couple of days spent on the Serengeti.  We are at the entrance gate to Ngorongoro and there is more paper work to do.  The road from the entrance gate runs up the side of the extinct volcano that holds the Ngorongoro Crater like any mountain road.  Twisting and turning.  This one adds the fun of being a very narrow mountain road that is all dirt.  Then the road rides on the rim of the crater.  We take these roads pretty fast, which is tough on my nerves.  After a while the road levels out and we find ourselves on the edge of the Serengeti (Maasai word meaning ‘endless plain’). We saw: plains below (the Serengeti), Maasai villages complete with kraal or boma, whistling  acacia (small trees), “friendly bush” (bathrooms are few and far between out here.  We still had a ways to go before we got to the lodge and some relief was needed.  A “friendly bush” is a bush with no predators behind it.  Girls on one side of the road and boys on the other), Thompson gazelles, superb starling (at the Naabi Gate to the Serengeti). 6/24/2012 2pm We arrive at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge and go straight to lunch.  It is pouring rain and the way to the rooms is outside and uncovered.  The plan is eat lunch and hope for the rain to stop.  Lunch complete, we head to the lobby and pick out our suitcases and are escorted to our rooms.  We have a little time to relax and settle in. 6/24/2012 4:30pm First game drive in the Serengeti.  Very impressive already. We saw: impala, zebra (Burchell’s or Grant’s – I’m not sure), steppe eagle, topi, giraffe (a pregnant one), cape buffalo, white-backed vulture, spotted stone curlew,  Egyptian geese, squacco heron, black-faced monkey, jackal (it spotted us as we stopped to get a look and it started to run, Robert calls out “stop” and the jackal stopped where it was and turned its head to look at us before heading deeper into the woods). 6/24/2012 7:30pm Dinner, then head for bed and rest up for a whole day in the Serengeti!  Overnight we heard lions calling, zebras braying and another call that we later found out to be hyena. 6/25/2012 7am Up early and ready to go.  At 7am we are in the trucks and heading out.  We saw: beautiful sunrise, start with a cool morning, coqui francolin, impala, giraffe, white-headed buffalo weaver, greater blue starling, zebra, wildebeest, Thompson gazelle, topi, lilac-breasted roller, baboons, warthogs, white- backed vultures. 6/25/2012 8:30am We turn off the main road (if a dirt road in the middle of the Serengeti can be called ‘main’) and head into the grass.  There in front of us we see tents with people in the patterned and tie-dyed outfits from the lodge.  I expected the bush breakfast to be something out of a box.  Not this time.  It was very cool!  All the normal makings of a breakfast at a 5-star hotel.  Pancakes, sausage, bacon, rolls, an omelet station (cooked to order) and fresh brewed, hot coffee.  There was even a ‘loo with a view’.  Two portable toilets (one for the hes and one for the shes) complete with an attendant to pour soap and water over your hands after leaving the toilet. 6/25/2012 9:30am We managed to get a group photo before heading out for more game drive.  It was a great day in the Serengeti. We saw:  African hoopoe, vultures, African Fish Eagle, black-faced plover, gray-backed shrike, lions, red-billed teal (moorhens?), elephants, leopard kill in one tree and the leopard (pregnant) in a nearby tree, black-headed heron, secretary birds, nile crocodile. 6/25/2012 12:50pm Something of note that I have not mentioned yet.  Driving around the Serengeti you see no buildings or structures.  As large and flat as it is it seems that some buildings should be visible.  We were told that all the hotels, offices and other buildings are not permitted to be built on the open grasslands.  They are only allowed when surrounded by out croppings of rock or wooded areas.  The view of the plain remains intact and the needed services are there, just hidden from view.  I think that is great! We have a box lunch (provided by our lodge before we left in the morning) at the Serengeti Park Headquarters.  We are amazed at the sheer number and variety of animals we are seeing.  After lunch, more photo hunting. We saw: Egyptian goose, elephant, zebra, lioness in tree, cheetah. 6/25/2012 3:30pm Back at the lodge about 3:30 in the afternoon.  What a day.  Could the wildlife get any better?  Some time to relax. We saw: red-billed hornbill. 6/25/2012 7:30 Dinner at the normal time.  All the food is great.  I am (or they are) confused about desserts.  The names they gave the desserts just never quite matched what I expected.  After dinner the four of us (Sallyann, Barbara, Fred & John) head to the hotel bar.  Robert had told us about a local drink called Amarula.  At the bar we found out that it is usually poured into hot coffee.  Very good.  So good, in fact, that Sallyann found Amarula at the airport in Amsterdam and bought two bottles.  One for them and one for us.  Thank you Sallyann! We saw: many butterflies feeding at the lodge garden, cape buffalo, waterbucks, olive baboons. 6/26/2012 7am Breakfast at 7am.  Have yet to be disappointed with any of the meals while on tour.  Even the box lunches have more food than one person can eat in one sitting and as big a variety as can be fit into a small cardboard box. 6/26/2012 8:30am Depart lodge for morning game drive at 8:30am.  Highlight was a lioness with 3 cubs.  She appeared on the right side of the road, called the cubs to her then walked them between the trucks to the left side of the road.  All four cats were within mere inches of our land cruiser.  Couldn’t get any closer unless you tried to pet them which I kept trying to get Barbara to do, but she was being a real spoil sport.  What a photo op, Barbara petting a wild lion cub as its mother watches.  She just wouldn’t go for it. We saw: another cloudless morning but not as cool as yesterday, white-browed coucal, magpie shrike, crowned eagle, Tibetan vulture in trees, several other species of vulture, yellow-necked spurfowl, love birds, zebra, wildebeest, Egyptian geese, monitor lizard, nile crocodile, black-faced monkey, fish eagle, kori bustard, topi, a poisonous relative of milkweed, spotted hyena, Grant gazelle, jackal, sacred ibis, lioness with cubs, kopjes (a rocky outcrop), white-crowned shrike, buffalo weaver, lilac-breasted roller, Nile crocodile, white-backed vulture. 6/26/2012 1pm Back at the lodge for lunch and some relaxation.  Was raining as we pulled up to the lodge.  Robert told the group that we have a plans for an afternoon game drive but that it would be cancelled if it was still raining at 4:30 pm when he wanted to leave. 6/26/2012 4:30pm Was still raining as we left the room, but we dressed for the game drive just in case.  We got to the lobby as Robert decided it really wasn’t raining any longer and he was trying to get the group in the trucks and looking at more wild critters. We saw:  topi, guinea fowl with chicks, tawny eagle, white-backed vulture, hooded vulture, elephants, wildebeests, zebra, Thompson gazelles, giraffe. 6/26/2012 7:30 Dinner in the lodge.  After dinner (about 9pm) the wait staff and a few kitchen workers walked around the dining room singing songs in Swahili.  After a couple of songs they started dancing and grabbed some people from the audience to dance.  Our waiter, Jackson, grabbed Barbara and had her up there dancing. After they finished, it was time to head back to the room and then bed.  I remember having a feeling of sadness because I was thinking that in the morning we leave the Serengeti and head to Ngorongoro Crater.  The Crater is the last event on the menu.  That means the tour is almost over.  The ‘trip of a lifetime’ is almost over.  How depressing!
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