Our safari this week was pretty wonderful. It was full of adventure and unexpected surprises…breath-taking scenery and views…well-behaved children during (what felt like) endless hours of driving…and some of the best “game” we have ever seen. Noah and I made it home safely tonight, and the rest of our crew drove half way home today to join us here tomorrow afternoon. Here is a (lengthy) recap of our Safari 2013, with pictures and possibly video to follow throughout the coming week.
Day 1 - Monday: Left the house at 4:30 am with Noah to catch our 7 am flight to the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was rainy and cloudy and cold and we couldn’t see the mountain at all! But Kristoffer and crew picked us up and we switched vehicles (into an “extended Landcruiser”) and met our guide for the week, Lymo, in Arusha. The plan was to drive to Lake Manyara for a game drive in that park and overnight at a lodge there. BUT there was one big problem. Heavy rains and flash flooding had destroyed the Kirurumu River bridge in the town of Mto wa Mbu (for the 3rd time that week!). It is basically the only way to get to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater by road and we, along with a couple hundred (I imagine) other tourists, were stuck at the bridge for many hours while a bulldozer and a digger tried to clear the road of the enormous rocks and boulders that had destroyed the bridge. At first it was really annoying because we wanted to start seeing game, but then it was a little bit fun because we walked around the village and talked with lots of young men trying to sell us identical merchandise. We were hungry and tired though, and got a bit too much sun (and used some REALLY nasty “toilets”). After maybe 4 hours we finally crossed the river by foot…I got separated from the group and took a lot longer because of my very inappropriate-for-crossing-a-flooded-river-by-boulder-and-branch-flip-flops but found a very helpful Mzee (old man) and also an entrepreneurial young man to help me get to my family on the other side (the boy yelled across the river to confirm that Kristoffer could pay him before he would actually help me across! He had wads of cash in his pockets!). A driver from our hotel (all week we stayed at Serena lodges) came to get us on the other side and our driver came a couple hours later with our stuff. It was NOT the day we expected, but it was an adventure. Some people fell asleep before dinner (Grace and Noah…and maybe me) but everyone slept well that night!
Day 2 – Tuesday: A long day of driving from Lake Manyara to the Serengeti through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (but not into the crater yet). What a beautiful view! I think we drove for almost 9 hours. We stopped at one Masai Village for Rasmus and fam to have that experience. It was memorable…and a TOTAL tourist trap. We’ve never seen those kinds of prices before (even in Kenya). While we find traditional Masai tribes to be interesting…we have a hard time really understanding or respecting so many parts of their culture (child brides, not educating girls or women, female genital mutilation, etc.). But again, it was an experience. We didn’t see a LOT of game that day – the usual wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, impala and gazelles…but we did spot our first lions, which was a good way to “meet” the Serengeti. Rasmus, Jytte and the girls watched a great drum/dance performance that night as well.
Day 3 – Wednesday: This was THE day of all days. Kristoffer and I woke up at 4 am to get ready for our HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE OVER THE SERENGETI. Yes we did. We brought Noah into Rasmus and Jytte (Grace slept all week in a separate room with her cousins…isn’t she so big?!) and were scheduled to leave at 4:45 am. But our driver was very late, and we had to squeeze into a truck with other people. We met up with him on the road and after transferring to his truck quickly learned that he was drunk. Driving in a strange way, talking funny, and just reeking of booze. We were not only happy to make it to the balloon on time, but in one piece! And we can really honestly say that despite not seeing too much game from the balloon (jackals, a hyena’s den, some gazelles and zebra) – for some reason it was a very quiet morning on the plains – it was easily one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done. Top 5 for each of us, I think. Our Canadian pilot was really cool and we met some other nice tourists. It was a true luxury that I will never regret splurging for – to see the sun rising over the Serengeti and to fly over such beautiful landscape (not to mention to drink champagne and have a hot, plated breakfast in the bush as well) was really a once in a lifetime experience. AMAZING. When we met up with our family we learned they also had an incredible morning. Rasmus, Jytte and the 4 kids had breakfast together and then went for a game drive with our great guide. They saw lions, elephants, leopards (really hard to find!), hippos, giraffe, buffalo, etc. They didn’t get cheetah or rhino but both were pretty difficult to find in the area we were that day. They were really happy about that, and on our way back to the hotel for lunch and a non-driving afternoon we also got to see some more lions, leopards and elephants. We finally got to have a swim in the (very cold) pool and just relax a bit that afternoon while it was raining.
Day 4 – Thursday: Time to say goodbye to the Serengeti…but not before spotting 3 cheetah! So lucky! It was a long drive back to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area but it was very cool that we saw hundreds of thousands (maybe even a million?) wildebeest! That was the closest we’ve been to the migration and it was really cool. We made it by late morning and took the drive 600 meters down into the crater. The crater. Easily one of the most beautiful places on Earth I imagine. And as soon as we were down into the crater we started seeing game right away. Elephants! Lions! Rhino (four of them!)! Buffalo! Hyena (and a hyena cub, which was a first!)! Flamingo! Hippos! More lions! And more lions! So we managed to get Rasmus, Jytte and the girls to see “the Big 5” (lions, leopard, buffalo, elephants and rhino) plus just about everything else you want to see. Everything but giraffe and leopard was in the crater, so coupled with the Serengeti we just really got it all. Wonderful! Our hotel was back up at the top of the crater with the most incredible view of the crater from our rooms and the main lodge. It was cool there so we got cozy by the fire in the evening and had a nice dinner together on our last official night of safari.
Day 5 – Friday: Long drive back to Arusha in the early morning. Good thing we had a huge elephant and many baboons saying goodbye to us on our way out. Managed to get back over Monday’s bridge without any trouble (although I suspect with the next heavy rain they will be back in the same situation). When we transferred everything back over to our car, our guide took me and Noah to hang out at a hotel for the day while the rest of the crew started their drive back home. We said goodbye to our guide Lymo, who was really excellent for the week, and Noah and I ate lunch at a boring, old colonial hotel…just killing about 4 hours before we went to the airport. We knew lots of people on our flight home though – seems like safari was on everyone’s to do list over the Easter holiday from school – and managed to make it home with only 1 hour of traffic.
Now it's time to get back to reality, which means LAUNDRY.
I can’t wait to share some incredible pictures. We hope Rasmus, Jytte, Nikoline and Josefine enjoyed their safari as much as we did. And if visiting the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater is not on YOUR bucket list…I suggest you add it ASAP. It was truly the experience of a lifetime!