We shipped off for the Serengeti immediately after ending class on Friday. Teachers were still waving goodbyes as we pulled away in the vans. We drove to the Ndabaka gate entrance to the Serengeti National Park and made a pit-stop for some water and cell credits. There were all sorts of animal skulls on the gates, which cast a rather morbid tone on the park. I felt like I was entering Jurassic Park.
We were a bit late in our schedule but we still managed to enjoy the view. We quickly encountered the herds of wildebeest and zebras that cross the Serengeti during the annual migration. I don’t know much about the details, but every year around this time the majority of these herds cross from one area of the Serengeti to another in search of rain and fertile grasses. They were crossing the road in lines and great herds. We even encountered a group of Elephants lead by a particularly protective individual. Our guide urged us to keep quiet as the big one crossed the road about 20 feet in front of the car. When I saw the elephant’s eyes staring us down I knew without a doubt what message they were conveying – don’t mess with us! Elephants are particularly intelligent animals, and I didn’t want to test this group’s resolve. Further along the road we passed giraffes, warthogs and an assortment of birds. It was getting dark by the time we arrived at the Seronara hotel, and we were all excited to check in and relax. Little did we know…
I’ll leave out the gory details, but the logistics of this trip were organized by Paige through a Tanzanian safari guide named Omary. He was an incredible organizer and guide, but a few months ago he tragically passed away. In the mean time, Paige has been trying to pick up the pieces of the trip arrangements and there have been quite a few mishaps along the way. One tour company in particular (Afriventures I think) managed to “lose” quite a bit of deposited money for hotels, and this problem manifested itself during our first night at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge. The hotel itself was gorgeous, built around a huge kopje (rock outcropping jutting out of the plains). There was a pool nestled between three large boulders, and the restaurant butted up against another. Unfortunately, our “confirmed” reservation never made it to the hotel, so we had to track down our deposits and find a way to check-in. Eventually we arranged a solution with Paige to come by in the morning, but it was a stressful ordeal in general. At least dinner was still being served when we made it in, and the buffet meal was delicious. We all passed out soon after.
The next morning we woke up early to get ready for our Serengeti safari. Breakfast was tasty and we hopped into our vans for the first real day of adventure. We managed to find a lion pride chewing on a zebra carcass. Although it sounds revolting, the lion cubs playing in the zebras torso were quite cute. The Seronera is the fertile center of the Serengeti and the wildlife was amazingly plentiful. We saw elephants, hippos, giraffes, a cheeta being chased away from its kill by a hyena and vultures, and more. We even caught a rare leopard sighting. The theme of the day was “mating season”, and we had plenty of opportunity to watch nature at work. Tony captured all of this on his production quality gear and we got some great shots from our resident photographers. In the middle of the day we stopped back at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge for a delicious lunch and afternoon nap. We had split off into groups for the afternoon safari so that Gavin and Amanda could go to a hot-air balloon ride and Pat and Tony could do some work with Paige at her hotel. That left seven of us returning to the Seronera Lodge for an unwelcome surprise.
I’m not one to troll the blogosphere with hotel reviews, but our ordeals at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge were particularly obnoxious. Upon entering the lobby, we were told that we had to pay full rates before we could return to our rooms. Our bags were held ransom and we were forced to pay or check out. Keep in mind that the sun had already set and it is illegal to drive in the Serengeti after dark. Thus, we were effectively held captive by the hotel’s manager. When we approached him about this, we asked how the situation had become so much worse after he had assured us this afternoon that he had “taken care of” our payment mishaps. The discussion quickly turned into a petty argument with name-calling and general ill-will. We eventually had to pay an elevated rate split between three of us before leaving for dinner, disgusted with the management of the hotel. Dinner was tasty but we were all in sour moods. The only thing that saved the evening was the movie Shaun of the Dead, which we watched in the hotel bar on my laptop. Although we had technically “reserved” the hotel for another night we made sure to pack up our luggage so they couldn’t ransom it again the next day. The next morning Paige met us to help straighten out the situation. The Seronera management was entirely unhelpful, as expected, but Paige managed to resolve our bookings for the remainder of the trip. By check-out we were informed that our pre-booked rooms had “filled up”, and we were cordially invited to get out. Granted, the place was starting to give me the creeps and I was more than happy to leave.
The morning safari was again wonderful, and we encountered several lions sprawled across the Kopje rocks. For lunch, we stopped by the Serengeti museum/visitor center to meet up with the other groups and watch the hyraxes (a rabbit-sized furry rodent) scamper around. With the lion sightings, cheetas, leopards and other incredible sights we were in great spirits at the end of the day when we stopped by at the rest house Bakari had found us. It wasn’t exactly 5 stars, but the place served as a stop-over for researchers and had a wonderful homey atmosphere. We had a brief scare when we found our rooms locked, but it was quickly resolved. Paige even booked us a fancy dinner at the Serena Serengeti Lodge and we enjoyed a wonderful night. We even managed to finish Shaun of the Dead. The following morning we almost saw a lion capture a Zebra, but the hunt was rudely interrupted by our loud truck and a resident crossing the street. At last we met up with the rest of the group and began our journey out of the Serengeti and towards the Ngorongoro crater!
Onwards and Upwards!