On day 2 of our safari we were up before dawn to head back to Lake Manyara for an early morning game drive. It was so early in fact, that when we arrived at the entrance gate to the park, there wasn’t even a guard at the station. Ben, our guide for the safari, got out of the truck and looked around for a few minutes before deciding to open the gate himself. The guard wandered back at that point and motioned us through, while he pulled the gate back into place. Obviously we were the first to arrive at the park that morning, which meant for a least a short time, we would have the place to ourselves.
The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon when we began our slow morning drive. The air was cool, crisp, and fresh, and we knew that many of the animals were more active at this time of day than they would be later when the heat of the sun would make them lethargic. For a little more than two hours, we wandered Lake Manyara that morning, and we once again saw plenty of animals. We drove to a hippo pond and watched as they took a morning swim. As we cruised by a small herd of impalas, several of the younger ones ran around chasing one another, and in the early morning light we crept up on several elephants as they wandered along the road. For most of the time while we in the park that morning, we didn’t see another vehicle, and we congratulated ourselves for getting our butts out of bed to enjoy the place while everyone else slumbered.
Finally, we returnd to the resort where we had camped the night before, and had a hot breakfast before we packed up the vehicle with all of our supples and returned to the road once more. Out next stop, was the Serengeti, a place that seemed mythical after all those hours of watching the Discovery Channel or paging through back issues of National Geographic.
Once we were out on the highway, we began to drive up out of the Great Rift Valley. The walls of the valley were very prominent and clearly marked the region where man first began to thrive. As we drove upward, the views were quite spectacular, with Lake Manyara in the distance. We continued on the road for about two hours or so before arriving at the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which we would have to pass through on our way to the Serengeti.
After checking in at the ranger station we set off once more. We were no more than 50 yards inside the gate when then nice, paved highway gave way to a dirt road. Ben told us to get use that road, as we wouldn’t see pavement again for another three days. The narrow ribbon of dirt that we road on at this point would seem like a luxury compared to what we would find the further out we went.
Another hour of driving brought us to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, where we stopped to stretch our legs and take some amazing photos. The Crater stretched out in front of us nearly 2000 feet below. It was a wide open expanse that was breathtaking to see from that height. The air was also noticeably cooler and more crisp as well. And while we all enjoyed the view, the Crater was not our destination that day. So, we piled back into our trusty Toyota Land Cruiser, specially modified for safari, and returned to the road.
It would be another four or five hours before we would reach the campsite for the night. Along the way, we would enter the Serengeti plains, and see countless animals. You could barely go thirty yards without seeing a group of impalas and giraffes were plentiful as well. At one point we came across a herd of Wildebeests several thousand strong making their way North, a straggling herd from the Great Migration. Perhaps the most impressive thing we saw on the drive was an Eland, the largest of the antelope family, running at great speed across the Serengeti. Imagine a cow. A very big cow, as Elands can grow to be 1500 pounds or more. Now imagine that that big cow can sustain running speeds in excess of 35 mile per hour and can leap 12 feet in the air. When we first spotted him he was a dot on the horizon kicking up dust, and I think we were all speechless as this huge beast continued toward us at an unbelievable speed. He arrived at the road approximately 25 or 30 yards in front of us, then managed to leap across the entire road before continuing along on the opposite side. Impressive indeed. Early on, we also spotted a male and female lion sunning themselves atop a large pile of dirt. We had arrived at the Serengeti in style.
When we arrived at the campsite we finally realized what a Camping Safari was all about. Gone was the resort and the beautiful swimming pool we had the night before, replaced with a semi-flat piece of land to pitch your tents, a couple of simple permanent structures for us to have our meal in, and a few malodorous outhouses. We quickly unloaded the truck and set to work on pitching our tents for the evening. Not far away a small herd of Wildebeests grazed, and you could hear the sounds of other animals in the distance. This was why I chose to camp on safari.
After we made camp, we still had several hours of daylight so Ben herded us into the vehicle and off we went. We drove around in search of more lions, but didn’t see any that evening. We did however come across a large herd of Buffalo who seemed none too happy to have us around, as well as more impalas, elephants, and giraffes.
We returned to our campsite around dusk, where Remy, our excellent cook, had been preparing our dinner. The four of us settled into the mess hall shelter and ate a nice meal and talked about all the amazing creatures we had seen that day. The Serengeti didn’t feel like Lake Manyara all. It felt like a much bigger adventure and something right out of a movie. Manyara was just a warm-up for the main event.
After dinner, we decided to head to our tents to crash for the night. We were planning to be up before dawn again the next day and were ready for some sleep. I clicked on my flashlight as we left the mess hall, and beamed it towards our tents so we could see where we were going. Just as I did so, the beam of my flashlight caught something moving, and there in the grass, standing dead center between our two tents, was a jackal who had wandered in looking for scraps no doubt. Startled for a moment he looked our way, and then in a flash, he was gone into the darkness. This moment was a reminder that the creatures of the Serengeti would not be far away from us something that I was reminded of on several occasions that night. I’m a very light sleeper, and I was awoken two or three times in the night by the sound of footsteps just outside the tent.
As I dozed off that night, I couldn’t help but think how amazing the safari experience has been thus far. The Serengeti was everything I had always hoped it would be and then some. The abundance of wildlife is unmatched anywhere else on the planet, and the great variety of creatures was amazing. On top of that, I was sharing this adventure with three new friends and it enhanced the experience greatly. By that time, we might as well have known each other years, rather than a few days. Such is the magic of Africa.
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