We began the day with a nice but simple breakfast at the hotel. We packed and hopped into the vehicle to get an early start on the day.
Perhaps due to the altitude, it was actually a bit chilly this morning. We were good in pants and a t-shirt or light long sleeve, but a lot of the locals wore hats and coats.
Yesterday, we were in Tarangire, which is a national park. This means that it is only for the animals and no people can live there. Today, we're starting by cutting through Ngorongoro Conservation area. This area allows Masai to live along slide the animals because they don't hunt them. Other tribes are forbidden because many of them like wild game meat and would hunt the animals.
masai with herds
The entrance has a little introduction area, with a 3-D map of the territory as well as signs and pictures explaining the geology, animals, and people of the area. It also has a gift shop and free wifi, which is where I posted yesterday's blog from.
The scenery at the entrance to the park is drastically different than the scenery yesterday. We are in more of a jungle than savannah. Dense green brush and trees line the red mud road. The color scheme here is not golden and light green, it is deep rust and bright forest green.
As we got higher up the mountain, we entered the fog. All we could see past the nearby brush was a big field of white.
Once we were back in the sun, we could see over the edge and into the crater a bit. We got a glimpse of the lake and a bunch of the in-park lodging.
Upon exiting the forested area, we entered into a hilly grassland area. Zebras and cows grazed by the road side. Eventually, we entered another yellow grassland area where we could see a large lake below and several Masai villages nearby. Just like yesterday, the people wore their traditional cloths and drove cattle. I had thought to describe them as a sort of Tanzanian Amish because they don't mix and modernize. Except, today I saw a herder texting on her cell phone.
As we traveled, we saw some steamrollers maintaining the dirt road. They weren't laying anything down, just compacting what was there. Haha. Steamrolls.
We continued driving through the Ngorongoro area, and saw gazelle, wildebeest, and a giraffe close to a lake as well as a buzzard in a tree. We also passed more Masai with their herds and one of the more commercialized Masai tourist villages.
road to lake
The trees in this area are rather scrubby. I can't tell what color they naturally are, as all are covered in dust, so they are the same brown as the road.
As we passed from area to area, the landscape slowly changed. We'd be in a section with golf-course-short yellow grass where you could see for mes that there was pretty much nothing else, and then intermittent scrub appeared. Slowly the scrub turned to umbrella trees or got denser and we'd be in an entirely different landscape. Which might fade to desert scrub again.
Somewhere in the midst of this, we stopped at a Masai village. They speak Ma, and some of the younger ones speak Swahili as the government requires it in school now. One guy spoke English as well, so he was our guide.
We were welcomed by a song performed by a group of adults wearing traditional clothes. We learned that the women in blue were married and the red ones were still not.
After the song, we entered the village and shook hands with the chief. This man was very old and I'm not sure how coherent he was. He may have been a model chief.
The same individuals who sang to us, then performed a dance. The men jumped. In their culture, the higher you can jump, the better you are considered as a mate. For women, the better you dance, the more you're considered a good mate. But you're not really dancing for your peers, you're dancing for their parents as marriages are arranged.
Next, we got to watch how they make fire from cypress and camphor sticks, then dump it into dried grass to catch. We even got to try it ourselves.
They invited us into a model house to show off typical household items, and then into a real person's house to see how they live.
The walls are made of sticks cemented together with mud. The roof is straw and sticks. It is not tall enough for us to stand straight up, so we had to stoop. We sat on a cot made of sticks and cow hide as we listened to our guide tell us about their family life.
We exited to look at the handicraft goods for sale. The women are famous for turning little glass beads the beads into large pieces of jewelry.
Actually, the women do a lot. They build the homes (although the men bring back the sticks). They take care of the village. They haul water. The kids take care of the cattle. So I asked what the men (who are all considered warriors if they're 15-35) do. The guide said that the men do the dangerous outside work because it's too dangerous for the women. (Except the women still have to go out to get water and it's safe enough for their kids to herd their cattle there.) Masai don't hunt. Men gather sticks and protect the village. I'm not quite sure what that entails as there are not really proper wars going on now.
As my partner purveyed the wood carvings, the guide asked if I'd like to join the Masai, now that I've seen their lifestyle. I jokingly asked how good the wifi in the village was. But the joke fell flat as his response was "what is wifi?"
Despite being open to tourists, the village children are not that familiar with them. One toddler was looking at me, and so I went over to offer to take a picture with her. She started crying because I was so scary, apparently I'm too light. Another group of toddlers waved to me, but when I waved back, they ran in the house. I think that last one is a universal game anywhere though.
We saw a few other demonstrations, like the schoolhouse. It was tiny and only one room, with two rows of kids who must have been kindergarten age. I guess all of the older kids are out with the herds.
Another demo was spear throwing, although they gave us a blunted spear to try. I was actually not bad and at least I hit something.
One part of the village I got to see that a lot of people skip is the toilet. The hut containing the toilet is outside of the main village by a short walk. The hut is made of sticks, like the houses in the village, except it is much bigger. There are rocks surrounding a hole in the ground. And that's it.
We moved on from the Masai village and into short grassland plains before entering savannah areas. The word Serengeti means endless plain, and that's what we saw. Plains as far as the eye could see. No mountains, no trees, just grass and more grass. The only sense of perspective came from tiny dots in the distance that were animals.
This section contained lots of Thompson's gazelles and Grant's gazelles as well as lark flocks that scattered as we passed.
We entered a different section of the park that was more savannah. The savannah at least has scattered trees to provide a visual contrast.
Here, we stopped for lunch at one of the picnic areas. We didn't get to eat lunch with zebras like yesterday, but we were surrounded by plenty superb starlings. Superb is part of their name, not just how I want to describe their irridescent blue color.
At this picnic area, we climbed a short hill to get an amazing view of the serengeti. It was still flat plains as far as we could see.
At the top, we saw these amazing red-headed agama lizards. They are such a bright pink and purple that they seem more like a kid's toy than a real animal.
colorful agama lizard
When we climbed down, the real game drive began.
We quickly found a group of several lions, one of whom was sleeping belly up in the middle of the grass.
We watched ostriches, an eagle, and saw a new type of antelope called a hot beast, as well as plenty more gazelle. Up until this point, we were still driving with the top down because the roads were extremely dusty.
As we got into a bit muddier area, we put the roof up so that we could stand and see everything. Shortly after, we saw another new antelope- the topi.
The guides have some sort of cb system and I assume what they're using it for is to tell each other where the good animals are. So when one person finds something cool, like a cheetah, everyone nearby knows where to go. Or maybe the guides just see a group stopped and so they pop on by. Either way, we joined a bunch of other groups that were watching said cheetah. Really, the cheetah didn't do much. He just popped his head up a bit, but that was still really neat to see.
Now, we were in a savannah area with tall golden dried grasses and periodic large boulders or outcroppings. Here, we saw a jackal and on top of a tree saw a lapet faced vulture.
We then joined a big group of other safari vehicles that were parked near an acacia tree. Underneath, 6 lions lolled in satisfaction. One had assumed the belly-up sleeping position that we had seen already and see Sushi do at home all the time. Another was licking itself to clean itself, just like a housecat. And we also saw why they were so satisfied- they had just killed an warthog. One cat was playing with a tusk while occasionally nibbling from what was left of the meat. We observed the lions for quite some time, fascinated, before moving on.
We noticed these really cool-looking trees with some fruits that look like big sausages hanging from them. They are aptly called sausage trees.
Most of the day, we had been in golden grass. Towards the evening, we started to see more marsh area, where the grass is green and there was some small amount of water flow and mud. While the water is a bit too salty for the herd animals to flock to it the way they flocked to the watering holes yesterday, it still contains plenty of wildlife.
bird with dinner
We spotted a black headed heron, some guinea fowl, and some fowlspar fowl. We spotted a pile of hippos sleeping in the mud. One was occasionally splashing water with its tail. I didn't know hippos had hairy snouts until seeing these. Also, hippos are very dirty. They poop in the water where they sleep and just keep sitting in the same water. Eventually, the water gets very poopy and smelly. Later in the day, we passed a section where hippos clearly had been, but were no longer, which we could tell by the smell.
This area also had some sort of volcanic geological formations that stuck up from the plains. These piles of big black rocks were created by volcanoes millions of years ago, and then eroded and rounded by the weather until they achieved today's shape.
Nearby, we saw a lone elephant. Then we followed our eyes to two more. And then the whole herd. Again, we saw a baby rolling around and playing today. These elephants were eating bushes. One was struggling to pick the bush it was trying to eat. We watched as it pulled this way and that for a while, sensing its frustration. Eventually, he got the bush and started chewing. These elephants were not afraid of us at all. They completely ignored us as they crossed the road only about 2 car lengths away from us.
Near another stream, we saw an Egyptian goose. As we stopped to take its picture, we noticed something moving across the stream on a rock. It was a family of monkeys! But these were no monkeys I had ever seen before. These are called blue ball monkeys for a very good reason. The males have huge blue balls. Not blueish- bright robins egg blue. I guess the whole point is that you can see these balls from very far away. They certainly do stand out.
adult blueball monkey
The group contained one large male with his big blue balls, but also several females carrying around lots of babies. I'm guessing that his big blue balls are more than just for show. The babies hung from the underside of the moms as the moms made their way around. Other moms fed their babies. Some of the babies were playing with each other. This group of monkeys was fascinating to watch, and not just because of the blue balls.
youg blueball monkeys
I think that at this point, the guide was headed to our lodge. But still, we saw plenty of wildlife on the way, including a huge herd of giraffe, some crocodiles, zebra, more topi, and impala. The herd animals actually prefer this area as it has lots of new grass. Last year, this area had been selected for a controlled burn, so the tall grass no longer blocked the light from getting to new grass and was fertilizing the ground.
Elyon tours chose for us to spend tonight inside the park at Mbugani tented camp. Our "camp" is amazing. Really, I'm not sure I like any place I've ever stayed more, and that includes the 5-star hotels my company puts me up in for business trips.
This cannot be called camping. Sorry. It's glamping once the tents fit 2 queen beds, have electricity, and have indoor plumbing, including a proper flush toilet.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with a wet towel and a drink and asked to sit by the campfire for a description of the facilities. These included laundry service for those staying more than one night. One important item of note was that nobody is allowed to walk to/from their tent by themselves at night. If you need an escort to the main dining tent, they tell you to flash your flashlight and somebody will come get you.
We got settled in our spacious and luxurious room that just happened to have walls made of thick cloth instead of drywall or brick. We then came back to the dining tent for happy hour, where we chatted with lots of other well-travelled people. Then came dinner. First came a delicious soup course, followed by a high-quality buffet, served on plates with animal print rims. The placemats were Masai bead style. Everything was so incredibly amazing.
After dessert, I got an escort back to the tent.
"Do you see those eyes?" he asked.
Finally, he pointed the flashlight at two sparkles in the dark. Eyes!!!
"That's a hyena," he informed me.
I have no clue how he knew, but that was one of the last animals we hadn't seen and expected we might see.
I actually wasn't quite sure which tent was mine. They all look the same and I didn't see any identifiers. So we just sort of walked towards the end of the row I knew we were in. I thought maybe the third one was ours and stood outiside discussing it with the escort. The guys inside helpfully let us know that it was not ours. So we tried the second one, which was also not ours, as the residents informed us. I checked the first, although I was pretty sure we weren't at the end of the row. Aha! We were the fourth cabin in and my fourth guess. Fourth try is the charm, right?
Before going to bed, we took another good look at the stars. Again, we could easily see the Milky Way with our bare eyes. I admit that I don't usually find stars too impressive, but looking up at that sky, I understand why pre-industrial societies were intrigued and enthralled.
As we closed our eyes, we were lulled into slumber by the soft chirps and croaks and other animal noises surrounding the tent.
So, today's summary is: zebra, cattle, wildebeest, giraffe, Thompsons gazelle, Grants gazelle, buzzard, lark, superb starling, red headed agama lizard, lion, ostrich, eagle, hot beast, topi, cheetah, jackal, black headed heron, guinea fowl, fowlspar fowl, lapet faced vulture, hippopotamus, elephant, Egyptian goose, blue ball monkey, crocodile, impala, and hyena eyes.
And of course, there were lots of birds that went unidentified. Really, there's far too much to take in here. More to find than can ever be found...