Day 3 of my safari had us up once more before the crack of dawn, and we all piled into the Land Cruiser and pulled out of camp before any of the other goups there were stirring. It’s a good idea to get up and going in the morning, as many of the critters are most active at that time. If you’re planning your own safari, I highly recommend that you get your guide to take you out as early as possible. It’ll be worth it, trust me.
We cruised down the road in the semi-darkness keeping our eyes peeled for animals, and even in the pre-dawn darkness, you could make out the shapes of elephants and buffaloes. It wasn’t long though before the suns rays broke the horizon and began to brighten the Serengeti, allowing us to see further into the distance.
At one point our driver spotted a hippo moving through the grass near a small watering hole, so we quickly pulled over to the side of the road to get a glimpse of him. We picked an extremely fortuitous place to stop however as we spotted three lions, no more than ten years from are vehicle. lounging in the grass. It was a big male and two females, bedding down to rest after a night on the prowl no doubt. The two females in paritcular seemed content to just stay where they were, and keep an eye on us, but the male, who seemed to not notice us at all, had more amourous intentions. He would stroll over to one of the females and mate with her on more than one occasion while we watched, and the end of which the female would push him off, and he’d let out a growl that would make you weak in the knees, even while safely inside the safari vehicle. Seriously, it was a low guttural growl that no TV show or movie can ever convey accurately. It was very impressive.
After watching the lions for awhile, ww were joined by another vehicle or two, so we decided to continue our morning drive. We went just a little further down the road before seeing our next amazing sight for the day. A day which would be filled with plenty of amazong sights. Moving through the thick grass was a large group of hyenas. Their heads would poke out and look around, then disappear again into the grass, only to reappear a short distance away. We watched them for a time before they moved off, no doubt picking up the scent of some prey.
Our morning game drive continued with our next surprise creature being a Sephicat. We were extremely lucky to spot this fairly rare and unusual cat, as they are small, and stay well hidden in the grass. We spotted it peering out of the grass as we were turning around, it’s face barely visible. Once it determined that we were no threat however, it slowly strolled by before slipping into the grass once more.
Getting up before the sun was paying off, but we still weren’t done. Ben, our guide, drove us into an area with a lot of rock formations, some of them resembling pride rock from Disney’s The Liion King. The rocky hills jut out of the plains, and are favorite resting place for the big cats, as they alow them to see into the distance, scanning the horizon for prey. That morning, we spotted lions on at least three or four of these formations, allowing us to get some amazing photographs, and watch these graceful predators as they lounged about in the morning sun.
At this point, we’d been out for several hours, so we decided to head back to camp for some breakfast. Along the way we caught glimpse of another sephicat, a number of zebras and wildebeests, and a water buck, a large deer like creature that was another animal that I saw for the first time. All in all it was great morning, and we returned to camp very hungry, but excited by all the amazing creatures we had already seen that day.
Back at camp, Remy, our cook, had prepared us another very good breakfast. As we ate, we excitedly chatted about the mornings amazing game drive, and one of the other groups that were sharing our campsite asked us what time we had left that morning. We told them we had left before dawn, and remarked that they still hadn’t been out yet that day. Not only had their guide told them that they wouldn’t be leaving too early that morning, their truck broke down, delaying them even further. I don’t think they shared our glee over the animals we had spotted earlier in the day.
After breakfast, we climbed back into the Land Cruiser for our second game drive of the day. We were hoping to continue our good fortune from the morning, and we soon were rewarded with another fantastic site. While cruising the road, we noticed several other safari vehicles clustered together looking at something, but we weren’t sure what yet. Once we pulled in behind them though, it was clear what had caught their attention. Asleep in a tree about thirty yards from the road, was a large leopard, one of the rarer creatures to spot on the Serengeti. The big cat was sprawled out on a limb, his legs dangling to either side, fast asleep, completely oblivious to us. Eventually he did sit up, stretch, yawn, and generally continue to ignore us, much like my own house cat.
Moving on from there, Ben drove us out to a new area we hadn’t visited yet, and we saw fewer and fewer vehicles as we drove. Along the way we stopped to watch a single female lion looking for relief from the equatorial sun in the shade of a small tree. Again, we were less than 10 yards from her, and she took little or no notice of us. We received the same treatment from a number of giraffes and elephants that we passed along the way.
After driving for some time, Ben pointed ahead and said “Zebras!” Each of us looked in the direction he indicated, but we really couldn’t make anything out. We were headed towards some roling hills and we thought he must have spotted a few of the creatures near some of the rocks that were visible from a distance. We had already seen quite a few zebras however, so we really didn’t get too excited at a few more. As we approached those hills however, we noticed that all those “rocks” were actually the zebras. Hundreds of them. They stretched up the side of the hill in large numbers, which did get us to stop and take a look. We were in awe of how many of them wer in such a small area. But we hadn’t seen anything yet. As we drove over a ridge, we were greeted by even more zebras. The herd just kept going, and every where you looked there were black and white striped horses. All told, Ben estimated that there were more than 5000 zebras in that one area alone, and I wouldn’t doubt it for a minute. The herd seemed to go on forever.
Following our encounter with the zebra herd, we returned to camp one more time for some lunch and a short break. We ate well once more, then crawled into the tents for a brief afternoon nap. We weren’t done for the day yet however, as Ben had one other surprise for us.
Late in the afternoon, we once again fired up the Land Cruiser and headed back out to explore the Serengeti but this time our guide had a specific destination in mind. We drove 35 or 40 minutes, passing more giraffes munching on trees and impalas frolicking in the grass, before arriving at a large hippo pond. We were able to get out of the car and walk down to the pond, actually getting very close to the water. There, in the middle of the pond, were a large heard of hippos. All told, I’d estimate that there were at least 30 or 40 of the creatures, ranging in size from small babies to huge bulls, swimming in the pond.
We all eagerly took pictures of these large creatures, as up until this point we had only seen them from the distance. Now we stood less then 20 yards from them and once again, it was an amazing site. Ben did wander by to tell us to not get too close to the water. While hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, the also happened to share this pond with crocodiles. We all edged away from the water a bit. Just in case.
The hippo pond was created by a series of rocks that formed a natural dam across a river that ran through the area. The water backed p behind these rocks and created this pool. The river stretched out into the distance away from us, lined with trees and rocks, and it was a beautiful site, breaking up the endless grass that makes up most of the Serengeti.
We stayed at the hippo pond for some time, enjoying the setting as much as we enjoyed the great beasts themselves. In fact, I think we were the last safari grouop to leave the pond that night, the sun was beginning to set in the West, and the shadows were growing longer. On the way back to camp, we spotted more jackals running along the road, and several dik diks grazing near by. The dik dik is a tiny member of the antelope family, really no larger than a house cat.
The day was nearly over, but it wasn’t quite finished with providing us with memories yet. Just when we thought we really couldn’t add anything else to an already incredible day, we came across a large herd of elephants. Ben estimated there to be more than a hundred of them, and again, I wouldn’t argue with his estimation. We pulled over to get a few more pictures and we spotted a large, very old bull. Ben told us that he was known to the guides and that he had been there for many many years. While we sat and watched, another elephant approached the old bull and the two squared off face to face. We were then privileged enough to watch these two creatures greet one another like old friends. Their trunks intertwined with one another and they touched their foreheads as well. The ritual went on for several minutes and you could almost sense the respect and affection that the two elephants had for one another. it was a simple moment that I’ll always remember.
Finally, we returned to camp, our amazing day coming to an end. After dinner, we stayed up a little later, playing a Tanzanian card game that resembles Uno and chatting and laughing into the night. When we went to bed that night, there were a half-dozen elephants less than a hundred yards from the campsite, once again reminding me why I elected to camp rather than stay in a lodge. What an amazing day!
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