Hello all, yes I know it is way overdo but here we go and it’s a long one. Serengeti and getting there. Crossing from Tsavo into Tanzania was fairly straight forward but long. The main issue was that the lady had 3 problems. The cellphone she was talking on, the other cellphone she was texting on and then me and my papers. The papers, done wrong of course, were the crux for us both. 2 hours later and I was on my way to Marangu Hotel.
Marangu Hotel, a beautiful place at the base of Kilimanjaro and owned by Jackie (Katie’s Mum) an avid birder. Friendly and wonderful staff and food. The garden is amazing and the bird life, I mean unreal. Pete, local bird extraordinaire and former active conservationist was an added delight. To spend a day in the garden watching all the birds and having Pete rattle of the names, bird after bird that fly by, and those on my computer screen was awesome. I managed to stump him on one, briefly. And then there was the African Hobby. The bird, a falcon, but also a great hobby. A rare bird to see let alone 3 and one being a juvenile. They happened to be nesting high-up on a tree that was visible from the garden. What an amazing day in the garden. And the added bonus a field trip. Before leaving I was able to join Jackie, her sweet daughter Ella and Pete at the TPC Sugar Plantation. They have multiple waterways and excellent bird life especially flamingos. We had watched the local bird life and were becoming a little restless without a flamingo sighting and were about to wonder to a different waterhole when Jackie stated look flamingos. I thought one or two but it was a big flock. And as soon as this one landed more flocks came. Time passed and pretty soon I had to make my way to Karatu before heading to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. I look forward to my return visit.
And then there was the Serengeti. First you have to drive through Ngorongoro conservancy which was 60 USD (one way), but now the prices have gone up and add 18% tax to everything and you have a whole extra digit to that price. It’s all weight based, and the first estimate was for a truck truck and not my stealth Springbok. The worst part as a conservancy it must be cash.
Slight problem with this plan. The narrow, winding, climbing road through Ngorongoro (not the crater) is also used by transport trucks. Can you see the problem with this. Well two met at a rather narrow bend and managed to jack-knife into each other and block traffic both ways. I’m fuming at this point as I was quoted 254 USD one way to go through the conservancy, the wrong price but I didn’t know that yet, and now I’m stuck. For the love of all things. Well, at least I wasn’t one of the endless people stuck on the way out who had to exit by a given time, as the entrance to these parks is time based, or those that had flights to catch. In the infinite wisdom that is the local traffic police the trucks were not allowed to move until they showed up. That usually means a wait of 2-3 hours. We gathered round, hummed hawed and I made coffee with the gas cooker to laughing onlookers. Hey, the only thing to calm me down is a cup of coffee, why not, not like I’m going anywhere. And a miracle occurred. The police arrived in 30 minutes and we were on our way in 40. A quick stop at the overlook and off to the main office to pay the extortion money.
Hurray, the main gate guy doubled the weight of the car and now my price has over halved. Still a ridiculous amount of money but better than 254. Off we go to the Serengeti.
Now I was warned, repeatedly, about how bad the road from Ngorongoro to the Serengeti was. I thought after Opuwo, really how bad can it be. They weren’t kidding. It’s corrugated hell. It feels like hanging onto a jack hammer and it’s all the way through the Serengeti. My hands went numb at times. All the main roads, every last one. Bolts fell out. Things had to be tightened and new bolts added. I mean it was rough. And you look drunk driving as you go from side to side trying to find an easier path, there is not one to be had. The corrugations get bad enough the car gets tossed about and that’s going 20 KMH no highway speeds here. I earned my drivers points on that road and Springbok well he was shaken, stirred and tossed. Poor thing. He got a couple new bolts too. Thank goodness for the one and only petrol station and garage.
Finally the Serengeti gate, after maneuvering through Ngorongoro and endless Maasai kids ready to “perform” or hawk their wares to the tourists. And then the fees.
Ok there is now way around it. Serengeti is bloody expensive especially as a solo self-drive. Period! Dig deep into your pockets and in my case twice. Because the first large bill for the 4 nights didn’t include the car and of course the 18% tax , there is always another fee. But, and really I mean but it is WORTH. EVERY. PENNY. Every last one, break that porcelain pig open. No doubts, no regrets except not staying longer. Hands down the best place to go for what I’m about to show you. Would sell a kidney to go again, it’s that good!
I cross the gate, now doubly poor, Tanzania is not for the self-drive solo traveller, too bloody expensive. I digress. 10 minutes in and there we go our first sighting….cheetah.
If this is how it’s going to start we are in for a treat. The savannah of the Serengeti was abundant in animal life. The Wildebeest had just started to migrate into the far north, sadly I missed that from the Maasai side, next time. And the rest is all scattered in this amazing park the size of Belgium.
There are a number of public camps around the central portion of the park, Seronera. This is also where the tourist office is. No maps, of course that’d be convenient and what looks like high schoolers running the place so their info is not the most assuring or accurate. They rattled off a few camps but couldn’t tell me how to get there. They pulled out a map, circa 1800, covered in dead spiders. Um, I think I’ll wing it. Not to hard really there are markers. As I drive along I notice I’m, as far as I can see, the only self drive vehicle here. There are endless safari cars, even in the public camps. I’m the only solo act. This shall be interesting. I quickly check a handful of camps, all basic some a little less run down then the others and I call one home. And now off to see what we can find. As a rule I try not to follow safari vehicles. If I cross one on my path then sure I’ll see what’s up but I don’t chase after them. There’s no fun in that.
I like using the knowledge I’ve gathered from the WildEarth SafariLive crew over the years. If you don’t know check them out @ http://www.wildsafarilive.com or Wildearth.tv, twice a day everyday live game drives from the Sabi Sands. I’ve learned an immeasurable amount from these guys. And I’ve been able to put it into practice on this adventure to many rewarding sightings. See the behaviour of the other animals, birds, prey and deciphering where the predator is. Or plain dumb luck at times. All in all I love stumbling onto things. And that’s just what I did. I drove down the main road, or bounced I should say and turned off on a side road. Tsetse flags were up so maybe I may make it out of here unscathed. Safari cars zip by as I amble down the path slowly and then wait what’s that under the tree. And then within minutes we have a performance of sorts.
A few more herbivores and it was back to camp before sunset. What an awesome start. The night was filled with Hyena whoops, distant lion calls and the occasional belch of an Impala. Best night sounds ever.
Early start the next morning and back to see if our love birds are still around.
After the mating pair I continue to wonder in this amazing place. Swatting the damn tsetse flies as I go. And then the next find followed by the next and next. I stopped counting lions at 30. And I’m on my own, I do not have the luxury of game radios like the safari vehicles and I stopped counting after 30 separate lions, I mean it was too much and if I’m perfectly honest I just lost track of what number I left off at. The prides of 8+. And all melting in the heat. There was a little bit of a breeze so no lions in a tree.
And then I stumble into this find. Nice place to eat lunch I think.
And then I stumbled upon a row of at least 15 safari vehicles staring into a field. Ok, this I cannot pass, what are you staring at. The binos come out and…
And if that wasn’t amazing enough my day ended with an African Drama, the circle of life. A small herd of Cape Buffalo with a baby and two very hungry looking lioness with the sunset fast approaching. Let’s play it out.
What a day. I had a hard time cataloging it all in my head, there were just too many sightings. Tomorrow I head north, or that’s what the tour boys told me. Off to the tented camp.
How to get lost in the Serengeti.
- Book a new tented camp in the middle of nowhere.
- Get bad directions that lead you completely in the opposite direction.
- Get coordinates texted to a kind safari guides phone.
- Now try to get to said coordinates.
- Congratulations you are now thoroughly lost in the Serengeti.
Yup, I could see the camp North of me, South of me, East of me and West of me but I’ll be damned if I couldn’t find the road that led me to camp. And there is no off-roading without a permit. Grrr! Nice sighting along the way though.
I finally found camp after driving around for 2 hours. Turns out the herd of safari vehicles around one of the kopje’s or rock outcrops were inadvertently hiding the road. Once one moved I finally saw it. Nothing wrong with driving around the Serengeti Plains, but base camp is always good to find. The next morning was to be my ultimate day starting with a Hot Air Balloon ride.
The Balloon ride almost didn’t happen, but that’s not relevant. It did and what a start. I had to drive myself to the launch site and then one of their people would drive my car to the breakfast place where I would be free to wonder about the place. The camp was so remote they could pick me up but not drop me off. The self drive back to camp was a great compromise. So a driver, who was to pick up another client at the other camp near by, would lead and I was to follow. He was early, like 30 minutes early, before 5 early. Good thing I heard him coming I was ready and going within minutes. The camp even had a boxed lunch for me. How kind. We drive for a few minutes and he leaves me at a junction to pick up the other clients. There I am, in the middle of the Serengeti at night. Engine off, lights off, the night dark all around filled with endless stars and oh that milky way. How magical. We drive for about 30+ minutes to the launch site. The balloon ride by far, apart from the Gorillas, is the best thing I have done. Yes its expensive but it was the greatest thing ever. If I had to recommend one thing to do, this is it. No questions, no doubts, no hesitation.
I was off with the Serengeti Balloon Safaris, the oldest and mobile company, they head north for the migration too. And I had the best captain, Cpt Frank, who happened to be Canadian which made my day and the rest of the group was mainly Canadian too. How awesome. We start from the sitting position and then they heat the cold filled balloon for a gentle rise. I have yet to experience anything so breath-taking. We flew for about an hour, high and low, above hippos, hyenas and even lions. Yes, lions with cubs on a kill. Cpt Frank maneuvered us so close overhead the pics are wonderful. The views from above, I can understand why he’s stayed at this job for over 7 years. I’d do the same! And the breakfast that followed was a treat, champagne and all. Frank thanks for an epic ride, I’ll have to come back in the wet season to see the green view.
This I will remember for a long time. As will the day that followed. This self drive was by far the best I’ve had in the 3+ months on the road. More Cheetah and Lions but then a few surprises too.
Let’s start with this Cheetah hunt, it is from a distance but hopefully you’ll get the idea. It was spotted on the way from the landing site to the breakfast spot.
This lovely beast was next as I made my way slowly back to camp and to check on the surprise.
The Kopje’s are scattered around the south-eastern aspect. I spent most of my day wandering around these massive rock outcrops just awed at their presence. This handsome fella happened to be a nice find.
Leopard sightings are always exceptional. But my little (hint) surprise is even better. Remember when all those safari vehicles hid the road to camp, turns out they were all waiting to spot (hint) something special. I ventured to the same Kopje as it was the way to camp and found a huge overland vehicle taking up the space. I parked and sat and sat and sat. Once everyone had left and there was quiet the surprise showed up.
And that ended my last night in the Serengeti. I went back the next morning in the hopes of seeing them again but no luck and I had to be out of the park by noon. What did I tell you, EPIC! I will come back, without a doubt. I was devastated, honestly, to leave but it was time. Now I was supposed to stay in Ngorongoro but that didn’t happen as the camp didn’t arrange anything as previously planned. That’s ok, serendipity had a hand to play but that’s for next time.