18 février 2014

The Safari

I'm pretty sure it's the same for you, but since we started thinking of our African trip, the quintessential activity that came to mind had always been the safari. After much research and some great tips from our friend Jasmine, we opted for a 5 days camping safari with a custom itinerary via lake Natron, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater.

Lake Natron
The greatest thing about lake Natron was the jaw dropping scenery on the way there. During our long 6 hours journey, we were able to appreciate some very nice views of volcanoes, some still active, Massai people with their colorful clothing, great plains of bright green grass and the Rift Valley Wall that rose to the horizon.

Although the main reason to get there was to see the millions of flamingos that should have been in the lakes in Kenya, we were once again disappointed. Still there were about a hundred of them, which was enough for Gen to be all excited and run with them in the mud.

The question will always remain for us, though: where are all the flamingos gone?

What we didn't realise was that, with all the driving involved, we would not be spending much time at the lake itself. Only a couple of hours before we had to set up camp for the night.

Our campsite that night was quite nice. We had the whole place for ourselves and we got to experience the great culinary skills of our chef, Erick. We were spoiled that, even though we went for a budget safari, the cook that was following us was able to prepare very fresh, tasty and plentiful meals. Actually, after a few days, we were thinking that he was fattening us in order to feed us to the lions!

Dining was made an even better experience with our guide & driver, Raymond, telling us stories of his previous adventures where he saved a lion stuck in a toilet cubicle or had trouble sleeping because another one was roaring all night next to his tent.

It's hard to describe how we felt as we entered the Serengeti National Park in late afternoon after another long day on the road. I guess what impressed us the most were the things that all those documentaries didn't really manage to convey: the vastness of the place, Sirengit means endless plain in Massai language and it actually stretches as far as the eye can see, with some rolling hills and a few acacia trees dotting the landscape; or maybe it was the smell of those flowering acacias; or the intense storms we could see forming up in the distance under our sunny sky, which would smell of damp earth as we were coming up to it.

Let's not forget about the animals. In this vast wilderness, we were not expecting to see them as close as in a zoo. It was even more surprising when we stumbled upon them right next to our Land Cruiser. Just by traveling the 80 km to our campsite, we saw two male topies fighting ten meters from us, an elephant that crossed our path under the rain and a pride of 5 lions laying right next to the road, looking very relaxed.

The next two days were even better for animal spotting. For the interested biologists amongst you, here is a short list of what we saw: at least 50 lions, elephants, giraffes, hyenas, buffaloes, one leopard sitting in its tree, two cheetahs, tons of hippopotamus, crocodiles, topies, hartebeests, Thomson's gazelles, Grant's gazelles, impalas, klipspringers, dik diks, rock hyrax and so many birds that only Gen can remember the name of. 

Even though our guide was an expert in all animals and birds, he was mostly interested in finding the rare ones for us. I think it was a kind of competition between guides and as soon as one spotted a mating lion for example, you would hear the two-way radio come to life and soon after, twenty vehicules were surrounding the couple.

It wasn't until our last day in the park, as we were about to exit Serengeti, that we got to see the major attraction: the actual migration. Basically, it is a group of wildebeests and zebras, millions of them, that travel hundred of kilometres every year in search of good grass and water. At the time of the year that we saw them, they were at the southern end of their pilgrimage, all spread out across the plain as far as the eye could see in every direction. So impressive!

Ngorongoro Crater
As we have told you before, we opted for camping every night during our safari in order to save costs, as opposed to fancy tented camp or lodges. Honestly, compared to our little mishaps in the Simiens, it was very comfortable. The tent and sleeping bags were good and we didn't get wet or cold. The facilities were also adequate and we were able to enjoy showers and proper toilets at every stop. The only place where it became a little bit annoying was at Ngorongoro National Park where the government only allows one public campsite so that all the tour companies end up in the same place. It wasn't really a problem for us, but our cook had to do some elbowing to get some cooking space.

Ngorongoro Crater is actually a big bowl in the extinct volcano with a lake in the middle. Due to this, it gets the animals to be much closer together and is therefore great if you missed any in the previous parks. It's where we saw the last of the "big five": lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros. It's called like that because they were supposedly the five most dangerous to hunt during the old days of trophy hunting. Anyway, it turned out that we were quite lucky with our sighting of the black rhino as even Erick said that it was the first time in five years that he saw one that close.

We would like to include some tips that we learned during this "lifetime experience". Maybe it will help you when you plan yours.

Safari is fun but expensive. Our best tip would be to bring enough USD to cover the cost. It's very hard anywhere in East Africa to pay with a credit card and inserting your debit card 10 times in an ATM to get a huge pile of local currency, especially at the 25$ per transaction your friendly Australian bank charges, is not very economical.

There are lots of operators, so it's not easy to choose. The most important thing is to have a good guide as he will be the one spotting the animals and sharing his knowledge about them. We were very lucky to find Raymond.

Thanks for reading this long entry. I hope the thousand words will make up for the few images we can post on our current internet connection. Check for more on Flickr soon!
A few flamingos (pink patch in the background) and Geneviève, with millions in her head! 
Sunrise over Serengeti. Yes Rob, another sunrise shot from Gen. 
Being surrounded by a pride of lions. 
Cheetah striking the pose. 
Serengeti migration. Look closely, there's a million of them! 
Black Rhino. 

4 commentaires:

Krishna Swaminathan a dit...

nice to see your updates David. Have fun convey my regards to Genevieve as well.

Marc, celui qui n'aime pas les voyages a dit...

Ah, vous avez même vu un gorille! Ah non, c'est juste ta barbe et toi, David, quelle déception. Je me demande ce que se disent les lions en voyant ZZ Top se pointer avec son appareil photo. Probablement "trop de poil, pas assez de chair, ça vaut pas la peine de lui courir après". hehe

Merci pour la carte postale! Je ne peux pas dire que les enfants ont été impressionnés que vous ayez vu les Big Five, puisqu'ils les ont vus aussi au Zoo de Granby cet été (et nos lits étaient très confortables et sans puces aussi après notre safari sur la rive sud), mais ils ont été contents de recevoir du courrier. ;-)

Profitez bien du reste de votre voyage, et au plaisir de vous voir bientôt de retour au Québec, là où ça craint (expression de Français, aucune idée ce que ça veut dire, c'est ma façon à moi de mettre de l'exotisme dans ma vie)!

claire l'ex-routarde a dit...

Super!!! Les mots immensité, impressionnant, inimaginable sont très bien saisis par la qualité de vos photos et par la description de votre safari. Ouf!, je viens de perdre mon intérêt pour mon chevreuil, ma mouffette, mon siffleux, mon castor, mes mulots, mes couleuvres, mes écureuils et mes chats, sans oublier 2 flamants roses figés devant la rivière...
"Ça fa ri-re" à St-Lucien..
Merci de me faire rêver et qui sait, je me vêtirai d'un T-Shirt rouge à mon tour.
Je vous souhaite des Erick et des Raymond pour la suite de votre parcours car j'aime pas les noms Kigali et Rwanda... Grosse bise

Jeremy Teen a dit...

Hey guys, received your latest postcard with the wildebeests a few days ago. Yes, wildebeests aren't pretty but come on that spotted hyena that you snapped looked like a puppy/kitten hybrid!

Very nice photos at the Serengeti. I liked the cheetah and the rhino. And of course also the one with Gen and the flamingos. When you were there, was it scary being so close to lions and hippos? Did your guide tell you about how dangerous hippos are? Apparently they are the #1 most dangerous animal in Africa. I have to go there one day too :)

I also have to say, even though I was reading the translated version, you guys write really well! And did Gen really run around in the mud with the flamingos?