Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Africa #6: To The Serengeti

Departure Board, Arusha Airport, Tanzania

Another early start to catch yet another 8 am flight, this time from Arusha to an airstrip at the western end of the Serengeti. This was all a bit more haphazard and, well, African, than flights up until now. Firstly, it left from the local airstrip, not the international airport we initially flew into. And trust me, I am aggrandizing this place by calling it an airport. It really is more like a low-end local flying club would have in the US: a few huts with corrugated iron roofs, a shop run out of an old shipping container and a manual scale for weighing bags. Remarkably enough, though, they had a baggage x-ray machine in place and dutifully sent every bag, both checked and carry-on, through it before they were stowed! Global war on terror? You bet. Kudos to Arusha.

Four passengers was the entire complement for the journey, so even though the aircraft was just a single engine Cessna Caravan we had room to spread out. The other couple got out at what was literally no more than a strip cleared in the savannah with a single Land Rover waiting to pick them up; Lake Manyara (LM)I think the destination was, a place we’d return to ourselves later in the trip, albeit by road. Anyway, we then took off and had the plane to ourselves for another hour of flying westwards, most of which was done above the 8,000 feet cloud ceiling.

The Serengeti airstrip was a bit more substantial, but only in the sense it was a bit longer and had an actual building – well, hut really – at one end.

Our guide for the rest of the trip, Paul, along with about 10 other vehicles from an array of safari companies, awaited and we set of for a day-long game drive en-route to the Kirawira Camp Hotel. The terrain now was basically African savannah. A broad, flat plain dotted with trees and bushes surrounded by a range of low mountains. Think Daktari, for those of you with long memories. As we motored around we saw more giraffe, wildebeest and baboons. And trust me when I say this, we quickly concluded that there is absolutely no chance the world will run out of baboons any time soon.

Our guide mentioned that the baboons like to hang around with the impalas. Although they do help act as early warning for the impalas – baboons spending much of their time up trees feeding after all – it turns out they also like to eat the baby impalas once they are born. Nice. Makes you conclude Darwin was right: as a species, we do come directly from a bunch of sneaky, amoral carnivores that will do whatever it takes to survive and win.

Lunch! What safari experience would be complete without scoffing Chinese pork stir-fry in a tent in the middle of the African bush? Not this one, for sure. The beer was good, too ….

More random driving around followed in the afternoon. Yes, the guides really do just drive back and forth hoping to see stuff, though to be fair they all have a common radio system and will exchange information on what can be found where. In our case, that meant lion! Lying under a tree close to a dirt road – the only kind available, in fact - was a male lion that at first sight appeared to be dead. Turned out he was just having a cat nap, something that not even three Land Cruisers parked 10 feet away was going to interrupt. We hung around for a while before heading off to see something more active, like a rock for example. Or hippos. OK, bad example. Yes, we found hippos. Nope, they weren’t doing much either, other than lying in a very muddy pond and bobbing up and down.

Back, then, to the lion to see if he had woken up and decided to eat a tourist or two. “Yes” to the first question, “no” to the second was the answer, with a very good photo-op being the overall result. And that turned out to be about it for the day so we headed back to the hotel for dinner.

I have to say that for a collection of tents stuck up a hillside then the food at the Kirawira was pretty damn good. Dinner was a full 5 course affair, if you were up for it. Salad or seafood cocktail to start, followed by choice of soup. Mains included duck, steak and fish, with desserts covering apple and rhubarb pie, Grand Marnier soufflĂ© and something else I can’t now remember. Cheese and biscuits was the final option for those who by then weren’t totally stuffed and hence likely to be easy prey when waddling back to one’s tent.

(And yes, I will post more of our animal pictures here over time too, complete with link-backs to the post so you will have some idea where they were taken along the timeline of this trip.)

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