Goodbye

At our campsite, the bees have taken over our shared shower.  I decide I will pass on the shower and wait for Zanzibar tomorrow.  Others’ in our group decide that they will persevere and are stung many times for their efforts.  We eat our final dinner together, sit by the campfire and chat about the expected tip that we will give tomorrow.  We come up with a plan and retreat to our tents for our final night.

I scarcely sleep this last night. The baboons are yelling as the lions are near.   This racket continues for the majority of the night.  John sleeps sound, his snoring adding to the cacophony of sound.The sound travels odd, but it does seem as though they are just outside the tent.  I am afraid to look out the tent window, so I say a prayer that I will not be eaten by a lion on my last night of the Safari. Morning arrives, I’m alive, my prayers answered.  Stephen tells us that the lions were outside our tent, lion footprints are noticeable. I’m glad that we will be leaving today.  I’m excited for Zanzibar.  The rest of our group seems to feel the same as we all pack up quickly today  We take a few final pictures of our group and then happily get into the vehicles for our final safari ride.

The lodge experience would have been nice, but it would have been so much like typical accommodations.  We were fortunate to spend time with our Guides, cooks and helpers and in this manner had a richer experience.  I wish that I had been in better spirits, wish that I did not feel so ill from Kilimanjaro.  Each day when we photographed the animals, I forgot all my aches, pains and sadness and was in the moment. If I could have had a proper shower nightly, and a cozy bed to share with my husband, it would have been perfect.  I do know that millions of people  would have gladly traded places with me and I was grateful for the experience.

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Walking with the Ranger

We pack our camp and prepare for our walk with the Ranger and our drive to our final park, Tarangire.

The Ranger greets us and leads us along the top of Ngorongoro crater where we have an aerial view of the caldera. He smiles but is a man of no words intent on his task of leading our group. John tells me later that the gun he carried would not have been effective against predators. Good thing we only saw four donkeys!  Good thing John kept this knowledge to himself.

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Kilimanjaro fallout continues to pester as I have no feeling in several toes and each step I’m reminded how much I’ve come to rely on all ten. I wonder if the feeling will ever return, or if this is my new normal?

We arrive back at the Safari vehicle, say goodbye to the Ranger and begin our vehicle climb out of Ngorongoro. It is beautiful, lush and green; a sharp contrast to the dust bowl of the caldera.

We see young Maasai men with their faces painted and heads shaved. Stephen tells us that they have just been circumcised. He further advises that during the surgery the boy receives no medicine and must not move a muscle or cry as this would bring shame to his family. He must be a warrior.  Girls are also circumcised and they are allowed to cry though they must not kick at the knife. It is a harsh coming of age.

We meet up with the Lodge group at our lunch break. It’s always a treat to stop at places where we can shop and have the potential for cold ginger pop or even a cup of brewed coffee. The retail shops and restaurants are set up for Safari folks with their inflated prices and costly brik a brak. We buy only a few trinkets as the shopkeepers are not interested in haggling. A few minutes up the road, Stephen stops to purchase cigarettes for John. He leaves us and instantly the vehicle is surrounded. We are offered sale day pricing for nearly identical merchandise and we happily purchase.  In seconds the word is out and layers of people converge asking, then begging us to buy. The prices drop, we are tempted and buy again, a thick glut surrounds our vehicle and our senses are in overload. Stephen returns and shoos everyone away and we are off.

We continue our journey to Tarangire. We are close as we see a sign with a picture of lions in trees. Stephen tells us we may see this at Lake Manyara, the only place where lions climb trees.  It is believed the they have adapted to get away from the tse tse flies, though this is only one thought. A few moments later we see a small pride of lions in a tree. We watch for some time as the cub tries to find a comfortable position. I wonder if the fire department would attempt a rescue?

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We arrive at our campsite, our last home for the final two nights of our Safari. Our site is next to a dry river bed and the centre is a large baobab tree. It is pretty and somewhat shaded but the neighbours are less than desirable as we step out of the vehicle and begin swatting tse tse flies and bees.

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Our water for washing is thick with bees. This is the end of the dry season and the bees are thirsty. I quickly wash and then throw away the water attempting to redirect the bees from the door to our tent.  We swat constantly and shortly it becomes exhausting. I think if I lived here, I would adapt and wonder if the lions are on to something?  We retreat to the swat free zone of our tent and read before dinner. The situation improves dramatically as night falls and the pests sleep.

I lay awake concerned as our campsite is exposed and we are in the tent farthest from the Guides. I’m in the farther cot and only the canvas separates me from the many predators.  It is at moments like this I wish for the safety of a proper structure. John sleeps well, perhaps he doesn’t want to feel it coming?  I remain alert for both of us until I succumb to sleep and dreams.

Lions

We finish our lunch and are on the move.  We travel a short distance, and Stephen points out the Cape Buffalo that was watching us eat. I did not realize how dangerous Buffalo are, a member of the big five. Stephen tells us that the big 5 are the 5 animals that are most challenging to kill. There have been instances of injured Cape Buffalo attacking the hunter when maimed. They are very interesting to photograph with their hairless human like face and perpetual bad hair day.

Cape Buffalo

We are told we will see at least four of the big five but depending on our luck we may or may not see the elusive rhino. It’s sad that the poachers take their horn and leave their carcass to rot. The horn is apparently an aphrodisiac and fetches a high price. Money is always in short supply in this country and I’m not sure who my anger should be directed, the consumer or the poacher. It’s complex I decide and unsolvable by me at present. I’m mad at everyone

We continue bouncing along. Hussein, the driver of the other Safari vehicle spends much time on the radio and stops to chat with everyone that passes. He gains valuable intel in this manner.

There is electricity in the air and we are off speeding over the terrain. A leopard has been spotted. We arrive to a glut of safari vehicles on both sides of a gully. I position my camera, ready. The leopard bursts through the brush and despite having the camera set to burst I repeatedly miss the shot. It’s exciting and I force myself to control my breathing to steady. John fares better as his approach is one of studied anticipation and he waits for the shot and is rewarded. We stare at the beautiful spots and strong body on our small camera screen while the scene unfolds in real time. We set the camera aside for now and watch. We are in the moment. The leopard seems agitated with our attention, I voice my concerns, Stephen agrees and we move along in search of other subjects.

Leopard

Zebra, Wildebeests, and Buffalo barely warrant a second glance, their numbers so plentiful on the Serengeti. It’s difficult to believe that only yesterday we were excited to see one, now we look beyond them for rarer sightings.

Serengeti

We see groups of Giraffes coming from all directions congregating in a gully. They float across the land and we compare their spots. We never learn why they meet here. We never tire of watching.

Giraffes

There is more excitement and we are told Lions have been found. As we bounce along, I imagine they will be far away and hope we can get a few good photos. We arrive and I can scarcely believe my eyes, they are only a few feet away. This is a small pride. There are a few females, babies and a single male. He is young with his barely there mane. I had secretly hoped for a larger mane but we have to start somewhere.

Later, we see larger prides, males with full manes, males with scars, lions with full bellies next to a zebra carcass and lions in the process of making little lions. They are secure on the top of the food chain, our presence only warrants a slight glance, a lazy roll over and then they fall back to sleep.

Sleeping lions

It’s late now, our day in the vehicle reaches it’s 12 hour mark as we make our way to our home for the night. We eat our dinner and go quiet as we listen to the sounds of the female lions calling their babies a short distance away.