African Safari: Day 2

March 4. We’re going on a lion hunt! Early start. At 5:00 AM our steward hails us with “good morning.” He unzips the tent and leaves us a tray with a pot of coffee and fruit. Then it’s breakfast in the dining tent: porridge, fresh fruit, eggs, sausage and toast. At 6:00 we’re on the road. David tells us our objective today is to look for cats. It doesn’t take long before we find a koppie (a rock outcropping on the savannah) which seems to be a hangout for a pride of lions. We watch as the pride returns from their night time hunt. Their bellies look full, so it seems they had a successful outing. The pride includes a number of cubs ranging in age from perhaps six weeks to several months. We spent the better part of an hour and a half watching them and photographing their activities. Most of the lions just wanted to lay in the sun and nap. The cubs wanted to play.

 

At 8:10 am we leave the lions. Soon David had us poised to photograph a pair of cheetahs. I’m using my Nikon D800 with a 200-500 zoom lens. This is a substantial piece of equipment, and handling the camera and lens requires support.  The drill is to stand up slowly and stealthily and place a beanbag (a device to help hold the lens steady) on the top of the truck, and then to put the camera and lens on top of the beanbag. This is a new drill for me. I’m used to photographing architectural subjects with wide angle lenses and a sturdy tripod. Shooting wildlife from the top of a truck proves to be a challenge.  It takes me a few days of practice before I’m feeling comfortable with the drill.  I’m starting to appreciate how much skill it takes to photograph wildlife.

The cheetahs moved on. One of them passed quite close to our truck and David was concerned it might climb on the truck. We continued our game drive. Close to noon David suggested we stop in the middle of the road and have our lunches while a herd of wildebeest and zebra were crossing. This is the start of the wet season and the zebra and wildebeest are on migration following the rain and looking for green grass.

 

After lunch we continued, stopping for a family of warthogs with the mother nursing her young. We also stop for Thompson’s gazelles and  a pair of jackals. By mid-afternoon, we were feeling like we had put in a full day and we headed back to Seronera Sametu Camp

Dinner was a special treat. Being that we were the only guests in camp the staff moved a dining table out under the stars, and the three of us, David, Joann and myself, had a exquisite dinner by candle light with a campfire crackling near by and the stars twinkling overhead. For dessert, we were presented with a cake that said “Happy Retirement Joann.” It seems as part of our safari itinerary we indicated that our safari adventure was in-part a  retirement celebration. A fun surprise. We were so stuffed we could hardly touch the cake.

 

Our day’s drive covered 62 miles. You can view a track of our route here. You can also view a more extensive gallery of photos from our safari here.

 

African Safari: Day 1

Two weeks have passed since we returned from Africa and I’ve managed to edit my photo collection down to a few images (143 to be exact) that I think tell the story about our adventures. We’re rewinding to March 3, the first day of our Safari. Our adventures began when we boarded a small plane in Arusha for our flight into the bush.

Our flight took us to the Seronera Air Strip in the middle of Serengeti National Park, a dirt airstrip with a small terminal. We landed at 11:30 in the morning. Our guide David walked out to the plane to greet us. We spent a few minutes in the terminal while David resolved some issue regarding our park permit. Then it was off to the Land Cruiser that would be our base for game drives for the next eight days.  I’m quite thankful that we had an experienced guide. Traveling the parks in Tanzania involves paperwork. Having a guide that knew the language and the customs was quite helpful. Our destination for the next two days was the central woodlands of the Serengeti. It doesn’t take long on a game drive to appreciate how abundant wildlife is and the variety. Impala, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and baboons were among the first animals we spotted on our drive. If feels surreal sitting in a car and watching zebras amble by.

 

For lunch we headed to the Retina pool to watch hippos, and with a picnic area there, David broke out the box lunches. We didn’t have high expectations for the food and we were surprised at how much was packed into our lunch boxes: a skewer of beef kabobs,  hard boiled egg. quiche, ground beef patty, a Kat-Kat bar and an apple. More than enough for our needs. Our guide, David, collected what we didn’t eat and gave it to the the washroom attendant. After lunch we continued our game drive adding warthogs and leopards to our list. We spent some time watching a mother leopard with her cubs playing in the grass at the base of a tree. The cats were a fair distance from us which made photography a challenge. As we watched though the mother leopard climbed up into a tree where she had stashed a wildebeest kill and I managed to capture a photo.

It’s very easy to get caught up watching wildlife; watching animals and talking with our guide about animal behavior and such. The afternoon seemed to pass quickly as we made our way towards our evenings accommodations at Seronera Sametu Camp. Not far from camp though, the road became very muddy and David started to speculate about the possibility of bushwhacking, should we become mired. Fortunately, with expert driving, slipping, sliding and mud flying, we made it to camp arriving about 6 pm, with plenty of time for a shower before dinner at 7:30. Seronera Sametu Camp is a tented camp, meaning the guests stay in tents. Camping is pretty luxurious by our standards. The tents are quite large, with queen size beds, desks, a sitting area, a private bath with flush toilet and a shower. For a shower though you have to order ahead so that the stewards can heat water and haul it up a pole for a gravity fed shower. Even so it feels like a luxury to have a hot shower in a tent.  Being that we were the only guests in camp we felt well taken care of. We were instructed to stay in our tent after dark, or call for an escort should we want to leave the tent. Walkie-talkies were available to communicate with the staff.

Our first day’s game drive covered about 45 miles. You can view a track of our route and an elevation profile here. You can also view a more extensive gallery of photos from our safari here.