Stepping into Serengeti
Serengeti, spanning nearly 15000 sq km, was formed when volcanic ashes settled here from the nearby Rift Valley. As these plains have rocks underneath, only plants that have shallow roots can survive here. Hence, the vegetation consists of grasses and acacia trees. Serengeti has three major rivers flowing through it, namely the Seronera River, Grumeti River and the Mara River which originates in Masai Mara in Kenya. During the dry season, there is not much vegetation here due to which wildlife cannot sustain leading to the great migration. There are also rock structures called kopje’s in Serengeti. Kopje is a structure formed by volcanic magma that is pushed to the surface and then cooled down. Over time, the overlying layers erode until the volcanic rocks like granite are exposed. It reminded us of the structure in Lion King where Rafiki introduces Simba to the animals.
Crossing the entrance gates of Serengeti, the officers asked me my name and greeted us with “Mumbo”. Needless to say, I was totally stumped by Mumbo and kept staring at James, who served as our Swahili guide too! He replied Poa to the officer and explained the meaning of these words to us later. We had to really catch up on our basic Swahili. Travelling from the Naabi hills, the first sight that welcomed us was Simba Kopje. James informed us that Simba means lion in Swahili. A moment of silence for all those travel agencies named Simba which I rejected because I thought they were cashing in on the Lion King fame. Lions generally reside in kopjes and rear their cubs here as it provides plenty of hiding options. We slowed down in front of Simba Kopje in anticipation of encountering the lazy king of the jungle. We were rewarded by the sightings of two male lions sleeping to their hearts content in the shade of the kopje. We couldn’t believe our luck – just stepped into Serengeti and sighting two lions within a few minutes! We waited for a while to see if they would wake up or not. But these two showed no sign of even lifting their head to look at us.
We stopped our ride near the Seronera River when we saw a giraffe drinking water from a puddle nearby. A lone African elephant was also close and was making its way towards us. I was already standing up looking at the elephant approaching and it never occurred to me to just sit down quietly in the safety of the car. James asked me to be silent when the elephant was approaching so as not to agitate the giant. The elephant passed literally at an arm’s length to me without even a glance at our direction. When the elephant moved away only did I realize that I was holding my breath.
Almost immediately, we became aware of an extremely pungent and unbearable odour coming from nearby. James pointed out that there were hippos in this part of the river and this was the characteristic smell of hippos. The stagnant water in the river and the hippos stewing in their filth for days was the culprit for this deadly odor. The wireless started crackling and James informed us that there was a cheetah spotting. James drove very fast to reach the location and we were really excited to see our first cheetah in the wild. We could see two cheetahs sitting on a termite mound and watching the surroundings. James informed that cheetahs are very shy animals and that we should be quiet so as not to spook them. We ogled at them for a long time taking in their lithe body and magnificent spots. Both of them looked elegant relaxing in the termite mound. Slowly, they made their way further away from us and into the grasses. Their camouflage was excellent for it became really hard for us to spot them amidst the grass. They are the fastest animals on the earth but are not very strong and hence can be preyed by lions or leopards. They also face stiff competition from the hyenas for food. Hence, they quickly gobble up the meat after the kill so that the hyenas do not steal their food.
We came back to the river bank where we had encountered the elephant earlier. In the river we could see a Nile crocodile at a distance from the hippos. The crocodiles do not attack the hippos as the latter has very powerful teeth that can even cut through the former’s hide! So the hippos were peacefully immersed in their filthy bath pondering about life and babbling to each other. Driving ahead, we saw a crowd of tourists with their binoculars out. James focused his binoculars and spotted a leopard in a sausage tree further away. We focused really hard and my husband could make out a spotted tail hanging down from the tree. Even I caught up after some technical issues with the binoculars. We waited for a while for the leopard to move around and was lucky enough to see its face and limbs. After enticing us for a while, the leopard got bored and withdrew higher into the tree. Since it was a heavily leaved tree and we lost sight of the leopard.
We also had to collect our hot air balloon ride tickets for the next day from the tourism office. On the way, we could see the Serengeti air base which had small charter flights coming in from Arusha and other places. Reaching the tourism center, we collected our tickets for the hot air balloon ride which we had pre-booked via Good Earth for an additional cost. They required our passports and more importantly our weight! I reduced a few kilos in the belief that my husband would add a few extra kilos in his one. Just as I expected, he over compensated balancing out our total weight. We could also see a lot of hyraxes near the office. They looked like furry mice and were quite adorable to watch. They were everywhere in the parking lot, garden, front of washroom and even on a tree. I had read about hyraxes before coming to Tanzania and was happy to see them. After collecting the passes we made our way to Kati Kati, our camp for the night, which we soon found out was located in the middle of nowhere.
Continue reading here : Kati – Kati