Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Africa...a travel day...mostly.

Another journal entry from our trip to Africa!
We got a good night's sleep and watched the sunrise from our deck overlooking the Ngorongoro Crater, listening to lions roaring below.  We had a nice breakfast in the dining room and packed to get ready for our travel day...we were headed to the Serengeti!

Along the way, our first stop was a trinket shop, similar things as the shop before so we mostly just browsed and enjoyed a nice cold bottle of Coke and a chance to stretch our legs!  
A Maasai herder.

The next stop was at Olduvai Gorge, an important historical site, where Louis and Mary Leakey did much of their research and excavation to further the understanding of early human evolution.  It was kind of interesting, but as we drove away our friendship with Lyle and Sue solidified as Lyle quietly admitted, "we don't really DO museums."  Yep, us either!
Olduvai Gorge.
Oh, and we saw a herd of giraffes!
This is called "necking"!  Go figure!

Maasai momma.
Don't know if they were all hers, they were standing by the road...

The next stop was at a Maasai village.  I was kind of excited about it when I saw it on our itinerary (the photo-journalist in me) but as we drove across the hottest, driest, most barren part of the world you can imagine, my enthusiasm began to dwindle, a little!  We pulled in, near a circle of huts, and watched what can best be described as a trained human act...the Maasai villagers putting on a performance to entice us into their village (for a fee, of course)...and our collective enthusiasm kind of plummeted.  Once the rest of our group arrived, we had a brief discussion and ultimately decided we would all partake in the adventure, though Lyle and Mike swore they would get back in the car if they were asked to participate in the dance!

Part of their performance.
A standing jump!  This guy was pretty amazing!
The villagers were very gracious and eager to entertain, singing and chanting and then showing us their traditional jumping skills and inviting us to partake.  Gene and Henry jumped in and made a valiant effort, but the villagers had them beat on talent for sure!  We all broke up into small groups to get a tour of one of the huts in the village, and then to the kindergarten class to see the kids, then to the "gift shop" area to buy our souvenirs.   
Gene gave it a shot!
And Henry!
It was a brief, staged glimpse on how and where they have lived, but I had to wonder, with this new element of tourism, how their traditions and lifestyles will change from here on out.  The Maasai people have lived for centuries in the crater and survived as herders, primarily, but now there is this performance-based money-making element that surely will change the way they live. 
Sweet little guy.

The kindergarten classroom.
The children, of course, were beautiful and so sweet.  Much like in Thailand, at the first boarding school we went to, they were immediately instructed to sing, the alphabet (in English) and on the chalkboard were English words along with Swahili.  It wasn't as genuine as I would have liked, but it was a glimpse into their lives and I appreciated their enthusiasm.
Singing for us!

Making a neck band.

Beautiful, warm people.

And then, we were on our way, down the dustiest, rockiest, most deserted road ever, which seemed to last forever! The four of us got really good at synchronizing our windows closed when vehicles passed by and then opening them up again for a breeze! We reached the entrance to the Serengeti, marked by an arched sign and a group of Maasai women, begging, and Godfrey stopped to clean his windshield. We heard a hissing noise coming from the back tire...so, we got out, unloaded all of our gear and luggage to get to the jack, and changed yet another flat tire! It's no wonder, on the road we just traveled, the rocks were huge and the ruts were incredible! Four defective, borrowed, jacks and finally a creative method for lifting up the vehicle later, roasting in the hot sun, Godfrey worked away quietly and, an hour later when we all piled into the car to head down the road, he began again, undaunted, with his guide narrative!
We caught up with the rest of the gang at a picnic spot, the only trees for miles, ate our boxed lunches (Oh, a word on box lunches...is it safe to eat yogurt and cooked meat that has been sitting in the hot car for 5 hours?! Well, we did!), used potties, went on a walk, changed another tire, and we were off again!
The terrain changed as we went on, the grasses a little greener, and taller. We stopped a couple of times near some cool boulders, very Lion King-ish, called kopjes where Martin and Godfrey thought we might spot some lions.

Thunderclouds building.


 And then, as the sun was dropping and we were headed towards Dunia Camp, Debra spotted a lion in the grasses...so we followed a jeep trail into a grassy area and, as the scene unfurled, watched 12 lions on the hunt! This time they weren't interested in using our vehicles for shade, but instead remained very focused on the Grant's gazelles and hartebeest we had just passed.
It was incredible! Really an awesome thing to watch! At one point, as they all came passing by our vehicle at a close enough range that we could've touched their tails as they went by our windows, we lost sight of one of the male lions who had rubbed along our vehicle and we all began to imagine what-if scenarios which included lions pouncing into our open vehicle! I think I swore under my breath a couple of times, maybe a couple of dozen times, especially when they would look right at you, with such intensity in their eyes!
We were probably with them for close to an hour, and watched them prowl, synchronized to the lead of the first female lioness who had her eye firmly on the prize, for 100 yards or more, getting closer to their prey. It was riveting!
Look closely, there are two of them.


This was one of the lead lioness'...watching the gazelle...when the gazelle put their heads down to eat, the lions moved forward.

...never taking their eyes of their prey.

...such intensity.

They were so healthy and beautiful!

I might have sworn in my head watching this one pass by our open vehicle!

A young male...the females did the hunting, the males hung back.

This one had a bad eye.

There are 11 of them in this picture!
But then, as usual for us, we were late getting to where we were supposed to be be!  The parks, though vast and seemingly impossible to regulate, do have rangers, and there are strict curfews for safari vehicles and their drivers.  So, we flew out of there and across the plains at record speeds to our tent camp destination!  (We got stuck in black mud for a bit, and poor Godfrey stepped out to see what his traction looked like and got attacked by biting ants, but we made it to Dunia!)
We were escorted to our beautiful tents (after signing a release form that basically said if we wandered around unescorted and got eaten by a lion, it wasn't their fault!) and enjoyed our first bucket showers (each tent had an attendant who hoisted a huge bucket of warm water into a receptacle above your bathroom!  So cool!) and then a yummy, incredibly elegant dinner in the dining tent.  Again, we loved the chance to talk as a group about the day's events!  The lion hunt was my favorite thus far...unless it be the elephant...or the rhinos...!

(P.S. We had a celebratory toast at dinner...happy 26th anniversary to my travel partner, my best friend, my husband, Mike.)
That night, as we were packing our camera gear for another adventurous day, my mind continued to wander, wishing for a relaxing day with no dusty roads, no broken down vehicles, no warm box lunch...and so, knowing I would be giving up one day of a Serengeti adventure, I decided to stay in Dunia Camp for the whole next day, to give a slower pace a try! 

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