12. Travel Escapade – An African Safari in Search of the Big Five

Chapter 12 

Farewell at Simba Kopje

On our final day in Serengeti, we woke up with a heavy heart to a cold day drenched by previous night’s rain. As we packed our bags and went for breakfast, we gave a last look at our tent where our stay felt luxurious and rich. After breakfast, we bid farewell to the wonderful staff at Kati Kati who, even with the limited facilities, made us feel welcome and homely. The usual sights of hyena, wildebeests and zebra bid farewell to us from Kati Kati. Driving along, we saw a cheetah walking in the grasses and started following it only to spot a leopard lurking in the trees albeit a bit far from the road. James informed the other groups about the cheetah nearby but we stayed back observing the leopard as we had more than our fair share of cheetahs. I asked James the code name of that place to which he replied Kuminasita (meaning sixteen). This place was named after a research camp numbered 16 which no longer exists today. 

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From Kuminasita, James took as to a different part of Seronera which we had not covered before. We came upon a different pride with lionesses and cubs. This pride had all the lionesses up and alert but in a playful mood with their cubs. Even after viewing many lion cubs we were not at all bored by the antics of these cuties. As James wanted to reach the Serengeti entrance around lunch time, he started the vehicle to move ahead. We gave a last forlorn glance to the pride as we were not sure when we would have an opportunity to view them in this proximity in the open wilderness. We had hardly covered 10 meters from the pride when we saw a warthog merrily strutting in the direction of the pride. As this area was covered with trees, the warthog had no clear view of the deadly predators into whose midst it was walking. We waited in anticipation to see the fate of the warthog. The warthog hardly took two steps, smelled the air, lifted its tail and ran back for its life. It was a funny sight to witness indeed!

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We were driving along the banks of Seronera and in many places the river was running dry. On the opposite bank we could see a lion sitting still under a tree. Soon another lion and lioness came walking from behind a few rocks. It looked as if both the males belonged to the same pride as there was no hostility or territorial aggression between them. The lion and lioness came down to the river bank and drank some water before lazing around in the sun. We also saw wild buffaloes near the Seronera that were grazing the green grasslands. There were also few giraffes beside the road within an arm’s length. James explained that the giraffes are the most peace loving animals in the animal kingdom and they only fight for mating rights. This was the reason why Tanzania, a peace loving country in the African continent, had made the giraffe its national animal.

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Soon it was time for us to turn back and drive back towards the Nabi Hills. With a heavy heart we made our way to the exit. Driving back, we reached Simba Kopje where we had our first lion sighting at Serengeti. We strained our necks to see if there were any lions around the kopje, but to our disappointment, it was empty.  A little ahead, we could see that a few vehicles had stopped to see a mating pair of lion sleeping very close to the road. Even though we strained our necks, it was really hard to get a good view of the couple. Hardly a few meters ahead we came upon another lion, probably the brother of the mating male awaiting his turn. This one was very close to us and was wide awake. It appeared as if he had gulped down an entire buffalo by himself and was trying to rest with a gigantic belly. He was not finding a comfortable position to sleep and was struggling to find the right spot. Even animals have sleeping woes! We observed him for a long time as it was the first time that we saw a lion this close, literally an arm’s length away. The lion, even while looking at us, was dozing off every few seconds.  Finally he was able to find a comfortable position and dozed off. This gave us a unique opportunity to capture the various moods of the king of the jungle.

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At the entrance gate we stopped to have our lunch. James said that we will only be starting by 2 pm. The entrance was less crowded this time and we could see an abundance of Marabou storks. They were even taller than my 5 ft 1 inch stature and were looking around for any scrap of food, including raiding the trash bin. We had our lunch and with plenty of time to kill, we went into the gift shop and saw that like all tourist places the shop was extremely overpriced. We also read articles about the formation of Serengeti and Nabi Hills and the kind of animals found there which were displayed at the tourism office. There was a section about hyraxes and we were shocked to find that they are distantly related to elephants! Talk about nature’s paradoxes!

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At sharp 2 pm, James started our long drive to Ngorongoro from Serengeti. Leaving Serengeti, my forlorn mood was a bit uplifted after the magnificent farewell we received at Simba Kopje. Our vehicle was let through the security gates without much scrutiny. I was surprised seeing this as the dala-dalas filled with localities were subjected to severe scrutiny. James informed that tourist vehicles are not scrutinized much as tourists are above suspicion due to their lack of option to dispose any smuggled goods. Getting contraband through the airports is really hard as the security checks are extremely strict.

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The drive to Ngorongoro was long and tiring, especially just after lunch. The road was deserted and the sky was overcast. The weather changed drastically soon enough and there was a heavy downpour. James drove carefully through the mud splattered road and by 4.30 pm we reached the Ngorngoro Rhino Lodge. The Lodge is a snug building in the Ngorongoro Caldera with a distant view of Mount Oldeani. This building was the home of Ngorongoro’s first conservator Henry Fosbrooke which then was converted to a lodge for visitors to Ngorongoro. The entire building was made of wood and our room looked very cozy with a furnace and balcony looking out to Mount Oldeani and the nearby forest area. The furnace was needed as temperature dropped very low in Ngorongoro! A waterbuck was grazing very close to our balcony and was not perturbed by our sound. . I took a relaxed bath with plenty of hot water as the unlimited supply of water was a blessing after the single buckets showers at Kati Kati. After freshening up, I sat at the balcony enjoying the view were we could see the clouds descending over the mountains. There was slight drizzling intermittently throughout the evening.  After an evening coffee, we explored the grounds – there was a well maintained garden, a dining area with a furnace inside, an office section which had a lot of information and pictures on Masai lifestyle and Masai ceremonies.

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Dinner was at 7.30 pm and James was already waiting for us at our table. Throughout the dinner, we reminisced about the beauty of Serengeti and our luck in being able to spot so many animals. James was visibly more relaxed and was very happy to get home the next evening. He told that the Nogorongo conservation area was much smaller compared to Serengeti to avoid overcrowding each tourist group is only allowed 6 hrs here. So we had to start very early the next day so as to spend 6 hrs in the crater and be back at Arusha before dusk. After dinner, we agreed to meet James at 6 am in the breakfast area the next morning. This was the last night of our safari and we slept reminiscing about our days in Serengeti while listening to the sound of heavy rainfall outside.

 To be continued…

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