Having completed our predawn departure yesterday and seen the sunrise on the road, today was the day for us to sleep in, or at least a few extra minutes of shut eye. As we would be leaving camp this morning, we all had to be completely packed either before breakfast or be ready to run home afterwards to do so. Everyone showed for coffee and a delightful breakfast on time except for Patrick, though he was usually the quickest of all of us to be ready for the game drive, and besides, it wasn’t very likely we were going anywhere without him, anyways. After a very full meal that even included an omelette station, pretty amazing considering we were in the middle of nowhere.
It appeared that we had all packed early and now, all that was needed, was to transport our bags to Turtle for the trip home. The camp staff did this for us, though I carried my own as I often do, always feeling quite self-conscious about having someone else carry it for me when I’m perfectly capable of doing so on my own. Though I must admit that I am one not to like attendants to carry my bags at the airport because I hate to worry about having to tip them, and not because of the money, mind you, but just because I hate to have to think about the situation. Regardless, our bags, which were all sitting at the main tent pending Turtle’s arrival, were all schlepped to the vehicle by the camp staff. Since we had eaten breakfast already that morning, we had lunch boxes packed in the car that we would eat later in the day, most likely at the Naabi Hill gate where we had eaten lunch two days earlier on our way into the park. We had seen quite a bit in the two days we had explored and still had a more of games drives to go this morning.
Our camp sat at the northern end of the Central Serengeti, and we first went north to look at the river that travels through that region, but found very little in the way of wildlife, so turned around and went back in the direction of the Seronera River looking for leopards. We found a few Nile crocodiles out sunbathing and a hippo here and there, but no leopards nor lions were to be found despite the conditions being excellent. Leopards love to sit up on the trees near a river or good water source where it can stealthily stalk its prey. With nothing much to show for morning drive and the threat of mutiny by the female members of our party, Patrick made the unilateral decision to head in the direction of visitor center, where there were very clean and very western toilets as opposed to the alternative, which was a squatty potty, or even worse, Turtle’s rear bumper.
Following the much-needed pit stop, it was time to begin our drive out of the park and head in the direction of the Naabi Gate, well, kind of. Patrick was still looking for more leopards or lions and though we did find some lions sleeping in a tree with other cars nearby, we didn’t spot any other big cats. We drove along on the Sopa side of the valley (nearby the Sopa loge) which is on the west side of the Central Serengeti and eventually leads into the western corridor of the Serengeti, a place I’ve never visited, but hope to someday as it is very different than the other parts and equally unique as things go here.
The drive was clearly the long way round to get to where we were going, but the views were spectacular as we were traveling along very small roads, often flooded, with no one else around for many, many miles, through endless stretches of low grasses broken only by the occasional small herd of antelope surprised to see our vehicle in such an out of the way place. As we drew closer to Naabi Hill, though, there began to appear in the distance massive numbers of wildebeest along with some zebra in small groups or alone, but stretching in all directions as far as the eye could see and feeding on the vital grasses that would maintain them on their long journey to the north eventually across the Mara River into Kenya. This was the Great Migration, the largest movement of land animals on our planet, and there were millions of wildebeest here that were participating in this event unlike any other and we were sitting smack in the middle of it all. It appeared as though Naabi Hill was ground zero or the center of a giant wheel with the wildebeest radiating outward for miles and miles. It would have been amazing to have seen an aerial view of this procession, though it was easy to imagine what it would have looked like. The scene was spectacular.
Departing Naabi Hill and leaving the Great Migration behind, I knew that I would be back to see these sights again, but not so for those accompanying me on this trip. For me, once I had visited Tanzania, I knew that I had to come back, and I have now for the last thirteen years. Some of those who have come with me over the years, have returned, but it is by far the minority. Just having that handful of individuals who have returned, though, is enough to justify what we have been doing here at FAME.
The drive home from the Serengeti is typically long and dusty, though for today, it was raining much of the way that certainly keep the dust at bay. The bumpiness of the road was just the same and left most of us longing to get out of the car. Over the last four years, we have always stopped on the Crater Rim at Kitashu’s boma to visit his family and often be lucky enough to share in a goat roast which is a real treat. Today was not different, and he was waiting for our arrival around 4pm as, once again, we had to be out of the gate by 6pm.
Kitashu’s family, and especially his wife, have been incredibly gracious to have us visit over the last several years. In addition to giving a tour of a Maasai hut, his wife has also made sure to dress all the residents and other guests in Maasai shukas and dress along with all the accoutrements such as jewelry, knives and rungu (clubs). I usually excuse myself from that aspect of the visit since I’m there every time, and then everyone participates in dancing for the women and jumping for the men. It’s quite a bit of fun, though I am more than happy to be the official photographer for the festivities.
After the dancing, Kitashu’s male family members wanted to show us how they make fire without matches so we did that demonstration. I had participated in that a visit or two ago and it’s pretty amazing, I must say. Following this, we all went to eat some goat on a hillside with only the men. Men eat meat such as goat meat and beef without the women present usually. The fact that the women in our group were able to participate was primarily because they were not Maasai. Otherwise, they never would have been allowed. Usha, who is a vegetarian, was more than willing to participate in the ceremony, but of course, she did not eat the meat.
We all washed our hands with water and soap and then Kitashu brought the goat to us on long skewers that could be secured in the ground before slicing off chunks of meat from the legs and ribs. The meat is absolutely delicious and quite flavorful despite the fact that they use no spices or flavoring other than the natural juices and the charcoal over which they are cooking the meat.
It is a very special event to be sitting out on a hillside in the Ngorongoro Highlands beside the Crater eating freshly barbecued goat prepared especially for us and then sliced into small chunks by Kitashu, a good friend, who works with us during the week at FAME and then spends his weekends in his boma in traditional Maasai dress and lifestyle. Being part of this community, even if it is only for three weeks, provides an experience for the residents like no other.