Saturday, Jan. 28
I awoke just before my alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. this morning, and I turned down the volume on my iPhone, so that my alarm wouldn’t be too obnoxious to Scott. Scott was awake also, and he told me to feel free to shower first. I had asked yesterday when we checked in to have coffee brought at 5:00 a.m., which the hotel staff said they would do. However, no one came to the door with coffee, and I suspected that it wasn’t going to happen. So I went ahead and brushed my teeth and showered. By 5:35 a.m. I was out of the bathroom, leaving it for Scott, who then went in to shower. By 6:00 a.m. we were both dressed and ready to go, but it was still dark, and we were mindful of the instruction not to leave without a security guard to escort us in the dark. We looked for a phone in the room to call for a guard, but we found no phone. Scott went out on the front porch to sit for a while, and I finished packing up all my electronic stuff. As I had feared last night, none of my electronic devices was fully charged.
By 6:30 a.m. the sun was starting to rise, and Scott and I decided to go ahead and walk for the welcome center to try to do some texting, as we only seemed to be able to send and receive texts there. Scott pointed out to me the beginning sunrise, as our chalet’s porch faced east, and we both took pictures of the beautiful brightening African sky. We then went to the welcome center and began texting. I texted Theresa to tell her good morning and that I love her, and she texted me back likewise and told me about her evening. (Every day on this trip I’ve texted Theresa when I’ve gotten up in the morning and when I’ve gone to bed in the nighttime. With the ten-hour time difference, my mornings have been her evenings, and my nighttimes have been her mornings.) I plugged all my electronic devices in to a power outlet at the welcome center to let them charge a bit longer, and began clearing out old e-mail from my iPhone’s e-mail in-boxes. Scott went to the gift shop to make some purchases, and I asked a porter to go with me to our chalet to get our bags. Two porters accompanied me, and they took my carry-on bag and Scott’s backpack up to the driveway of the lodge, while I went back to the welcome center to wait for the rest of the crew to arrive for our scheduled 7:30 a.m. departure.
Scott returned from the gift shop, and he and I went to the office to check out. I asked the clerk if we could split the bill equally on our two credit cards. Scott demurred, pointing out that he had his gift-shop purchases to pay for, but I told him that it would probably be easier for the clerk just to split the bill equally. The clerk said he could do that, and then he told us that we each owed $42 U.S., which was the total of the drinks at dinner last night and Scott’s purchases at the gift shop. We told him that we wanted to pay for the room also, and then the lodge manager, another mzungu, told us that we had prepaid for our chalet through Masumin tours when we had paid for the safari, and that all we had left to pay was the $42 each. That was a pleasant surprise to me, and I thought that at $376 U.S. per person total for the safari, with lunches included, and the accommodations and the meals at the lodge, the price was more than reasonable.
The rest of our group showed up right around 7:30 a.m., and we went out to the driveway, where our bags were sitting and Papa was waiting for us with the van. He told me that he had been able to have the flat tires repaired last night. Fr. John had told me yesterday that there was a facility nearby at which Papa could do that, and I was pleased to hear that Papa had been successful in doing that. As we started off in the cool morning air, we told Papa that we wanted to see a male lion, elephants and a leopard, if possible.
As we drove up the road from the lodge to the main road, we suddenly saw what we thought was another lion lying against a termite mound very close to the road. (The termite mounds all over Serengeti are huge, many of them three or four feet high.) As we pulled up alongside the creature, we suddenly recognized it as a hyena, which was pretty exciting. It was lying there being lazy, and as we took several photos and videos, it finally got up slowly and began sauntering away lazily. Later on the same road to the main road we saw foxes and a jackal, more firsts for us, and several wart hogs, which have an interesting habit of going down on the knees of their front legs to eat grass and crawling forward on their knees as they eat.
When we got to the main road we turned east, going in the opposite direction from which we had come yesterday. We began a long drive to the east, seeing many more wart hogs, baboons, wildebeests, zebras, the various antelopes, several more foxes and several more giraffes, which again posed for our photos. Then we began to see the unending herds of wildebeests accompanied by huge herds of zebras, all migrating east in search of water. We frequently had to wait for large groups of wildebeests and zebras to cross the road in front of us before we could continue. We were absolutely amazed at the endless number of wildebeests spread out over many miles and visible in innumerable groups on both sides of the road. The zebras, too, while not as numerous as the wildebeests, were extremely numerous.
As we continued driving east we started passing many more safari vans coming and going in both directions. It being a Saturday, we speculated that was the reason for all the traffic. Then we saw a group of vans stopped at one particular pint in the road, and all the safari-goers in them were looking and pointing their cameras south. A single giraffe was standing next to a leafless tree and not moving or eating, and we thought that the other people were simply gawking at and photographing their first giraffe. Then Papa pulled off to the south side of the road and said, “Cheetah.” We all strained to see where the cheetah was, but we couldn’t see it at first. Then we saw it lying under a leafy tree about 100 yards away from us. It was hard to see with the naked eye, but we could see it with the binoculars, and some of our groups’ cameras were able to get decent pictures of it using their zoom lenses. My iPhone’s limited zoom feature didn’t really allow the cheetah to show up in my viewfinder window, so I didn’t bother to take any photos, and I resolved to take a real camera next time.
We then continued along the road and saw many more vehicles lined up at a distance ahead of us. Then we saw the elephants. There were three on one side of a side road, walking along a small stream and several more under a tree on the other side of the road. The road was so clogged with vans full of people that I didn’t think we’d be able to get through to get closer to the elephants. But Papa skillfully wove his way around and through the other vans, squeezing through gaps I didn’t think he could get through, until we were able to get as close as possible to the elephants. We took many photos of the elephants, which were so majestic. A couple of our group also took pictures of the many other vans in the traffic jam filled with tourists who, from what we could hear of their comments and conversations, were from several other continents, including North America, Asia, Australia and/or New Zealand, either Central America or South America and possibly Europe.
After we got our photos, Papa again wove his way through the traffic jam and back onto the main road, again going east. We saw and photographed several other elephants not far from those we had first seen. Then, as we drove farther east, Papa pulled the van off to the north side of the road, pointed to a tree perhaps 75 yards away and said, “Leopard.” Again, it was hard to see with the naked eye, but with the binoculars we could see a large leopard lying on the limb of a tree, with its legs and tail hanging down on either side of the limb. As we looked at it, Papa said that there were a female leopard and two cubs in the tree. We looked to the right of the large leopard we had first seen, and then we could see portions of another leopard hanging down from another limb of the tree. But other limbs blocked most of the body and the head, and I wasn’t sure how Papa knew that there were two cubs in the tree. The cameras with the zoom lenses were again able to get pretty good photos of the first leopard and the portions of the other one or perhaps two that we saw as well. Then we made a u-turn in the van and headed back west.
Papa detoured off the main road several times as we headed back west, and we surmised that he was looking for a male lion to show us. We saw more hippos, but we never found a male lion.
We went to the main visitor center located in the center of Serengeti, and Papa said we could stop there for a bathroom break. The visitor center looked nice and accommodating with a complex of buildings, several picnic tables with grass-roof shelters over them, and a separate building with restrooms. We had discovered yesterday that the bathrooms at the airstrip terminal were among the nicest we had encountered anywhere in Tanzania, with nice clean tile wall and floors, flushing toilets and urinals, and soap and running water in the sinks with which to wash our hands. The bathrooms at the visitor center were similarly nice, and we decided that since it was noon, we should have our lunch there. There were lots of other safari-goers there from all over the world, and the place was crawling with rock hyraxes. I finally had to take a photo of one to show Theresa, who I knew would think they’re so cute. I went into the visitor center office, had some pleasant and informative conversation in English with a very friendly and helpful attendant there, and looked at a large bas-relief map of the park to confirm where we were and where we were going. Then I went to a food and drink vendor on one side of the building, bought a package of some chocolate-filled cookies and a cold coke, and went around the back side of the building, where I saw Scott and Fr. John purchasing cold beers. Scott had bought himself and me Kilimanjaros, and I thanked him for mine as we headed to one of the picnic tables. We had nice box lunches again, had too much food to eat again, and ended up with leftovers again. At about 1:00 p.m. we loaded back up in the van for the five-hour drive back to Mwanza.
Several of us napped at various times in the van as we headed back to the Ndaka entrance, having seen all the different species and varieties of birds and animals we were likely to see. At one point, when Papa stopped the van alongside another van coming from the opposite direction, we saw three zebras very close to the road. Scott, who was napping at the time, had said earlier that somehow he hadn’t managed to get a photo of a zebra and hoped to see one close to the road to photograph. So I roused him from his nap, and he thanked me and took some photos of the zebras.
We arrived back at the Ndaka park entrance at about 2:20 p.m. and stopped for another bathroom break. Papa went off into the bush to take a cardboard box of something to a friend he told us had there, Jill bought some more souvenirs, and Fr. John and I consulted about the tip we would give Papa, finally deciding on 70,000 shillings, which is about $31 U.S. While that might seem a small amount to us Americans, Fr. John said it was a generous tip relative to Papa’s monthly income, which Fr. John said was about $150. I gave Fr. John the 70,000 shillings from one of our group funds, and then we all loaded up in the van and headed back on the highway to Mwanza. It was about 2:50 p.m.
The drive return from Serengeti to Mwanza was just like the outbound drive from Mwanza to Serengeti in reverse, sans the flat tire, the scene of a father beating his son with a stick, and the stop for water along the way. It was about 5:30 p.m. when we reached the outskirts of Mwanza. The traffic was just as busy and hectic this late Saturday afternoon as it was when we left yesterday morning. However, Papa skillfully got through the crazy traffic and delivered us safely to the Malaika Beach Resort, where we arrived about 6:15 p.m. We said fond goodbyes to Papa, then we checked in, agreed that everyone would do his own thing for the evening, and had the bellmen escort us to our rooms.
My room was a top-floor room and, being more exposed to the sun, was pretty hot when I got into it. I immediately had the bellman turn on the air-conditioner, tipped him and began unpacking my bags. Before too long, I decided it was just too hot to stay in the room, so I went down to the open-air restaurant and bar, where I suspected I’d find Scott enjoying a Kilimanjaro. Sure enough, Scott had just started on one, and I sat down with him and ordered a Coke (no Pepsi). Scott and I enjoyed a very good conversation, and when I finished my Coke, I ordered a Kilimanjaro. Scott had another one, and by the time we finished our second drinks, I decided that I’d better go up to my room and work on my journals. I worked on my journals for a while, and at 10:30 p.m. crawled into bed and fell asleep.