We hadn’t scheduled to today as a full day in clinic so as to allow us to leave by noon for a weekend safari that has become standard fare during this elective. Going on a game drive to one of the parks that are close is great, but having a chance to spend the night in a tented-camp is just something that goes far beyond. Last March, we traveled to Lake Ndutu, which is where the migration is that time of year. Unfortunately for us at the time, it was also far more wet than usual leading to our spending the day in the mud digging not only ourselves out, but also five or six other safari vehicles. Though it wasn’t the classic game drive we had expected, it was still an incredible experience that no one would forget.
This weekend, though, we were heading to the Central Serengeti. We had planned to leave a bit earlier than originally scheduled, as it is a reasonable long drive there from Karatu, albeit absolutely spectacular. Leaving town, you head to the Ngorongoro gate where you enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Here, there are usually troops of baboons looking to steal your lunchbox from the car through even the smallest opening in the window, This happened to us last March and is always an exciting affair, especially when we were all sitting in the car to experience it. After leaving the gate, you’re driving up the crater rim through what seems like a primordial forest with deep ravines and trees that seem like they rise forever from the bottom. The road winds slowly to the top where you come upon an overlook that has a spectacular view of the crater which is 10 miles across, with steep walls that are 2000 feet.
Seeing the crater for the first time is always an experience and I love bringing people here to see it. You then leave the overlook to drive about a third of the way around the crater towards the descent road (into the crater) where you leave the rim and descend onto the far eastern reaches of the Serengeti where Oldupai Gorge is located. The drive here is along a very rough and flat road that goes on forever until you reach the Southern Serengeti where Lake Ndutu is. It is here where you find the wildebeest migration in March and April as they follow the grasses (and where we got hopelessly stuck in the mud last trip). The road here turns northwest towards Naabi Hill and Naabi Gate which is the official entrance to the Serengeti from this direction. It is also the only road to western Tanzania, Mwanza and Lake Victoria so trucks travel this route commonly along with buses carrying locals back and forth to both sides of the Serengeti. It is here at Naabi Hill that we will begin our journey.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, as we still need to attend morning report and then get everything prepared for the trip. Thankfully, there were no new consults for us and I had already let reception know that we wouldn’t be seeing any new patients today since we had all next week to see people. We had arranged for a driver/guide for this trip since I’m not as familiar with driving in the Serengeti as it is an incredibly immense park that seems to go on forever, hence the meaning of the Maa (language of the Maasai) word “serengit” which is “endless plains.” Simon, a good friend and guide who I have known for several years, would be traveling from Arusha this morning to meet us for the trip. We had planned to meet between 9 and 9:30am, but he had some car trouble in Mto wa Mbu requiring him to take a dala dala to Karatu and was a bit late. No matter, though, since I had forgotten to order lunch boxes for our drive and didn’t end up doing so until this morning meaning that they were still being prepared. We eventually left FAME by around 10:45am and met Simon in town, lunch boxes secured, just needed to fill our tanks with enough diesel fuel for the drive. We were finally off for the Ngorongoro gate, paid our fees and were on our way to the Serengeti with all the excitement one can imagine for such an adventure.
Naabi gate is almost always bustling with activity as anyone heading to the Serengeti has to pass through here, unless, of course, they have chosen to fly, in which case they will have missed half of the experience traveling through this vast park. We had decided to break into our lunch boxes here as there are lots of picnic tables and there is also a nice walk to the top of Naabi Hill with a nearly unobstructed view in all directions. Once finished with lunch, we popped the top on the Land Cruiser and began our trek to the Central Serengeti where our camp would be. We had planned to do a game drive on our way and were in the region of the Maasai Kopjes (a kopje, phonetically “käpē”, which means “little head,” is the Dutch/Afrikaans term for rock outcroppings) when it began to rain and then pour necessitating a rather rapid lowering of our roof to prevent our bags from becoming drenched.
Even with the rain, though, we had had a chance to see a lone cheetah sitting atop a termite mound (their favorite spot for a 360o view of the plain), tons of wildebeest, several lions including a mating pair (though not caught in the act), and a pair of hyenas devouring some kill with a host of vultures eyeing them quite aggressively, all before arriving to our camp by around 5pm or so. The rain had stopped, as it usually does here in the afternoon, and we were able to enjoy our arrival at camp without having to run for immediate cover.
The camp was simply amazing. It was in a very secluded location with a great view out front of animals constantly traversing to and fro. We were welcomed with cool washcloths to wipe off the dust and grime and then invited into the lounge where we were treated to juice before our briefing on the camp. The lounge was a tent with sofas and chairs, a charging station and a bar. Next to it was the mess tent where all the dining tables were already arranged and set for each visiting party. We were taken to our tents (the girls stayed in one and I had an entire tent to myself) and were each given another brief orientation to the lights, shower, toilet, etc. You’re not allowed to walk around camp by yourself after dark, so all you would have to do is flash your flashlight towards the mess tent and someone would come running to escort you to wherever you needed to go. If you felt threatened at night, there were whistles in each tent that you could use to summon help. The tents were just spectacular.
Dinner was served at 7:30pm and it was buffet style with an amazing eggplant soup, salads, beef, chicken, rice, beans and several other dishes. Everything was delicious and, best of all, we were smack in the middle of the Serengeti having an incredible meal. You couldn’t ask for anything more. After dinner, we all sat around the campfire, referred to everywhere as “bush TV,” for a bit before retiring to our tents for the night. We had planned to meet at 7am for breakfast and a departure time of 7:30am for our day on the Serengeti. It had been a wonderful day of travel and game viewing, but we had the entire day tomorrow to look for animals.