OnSafari: Last Drive

OnSafari: Last Drive

Many still considered him a youngster. Only 6-7 feet long he was little compared to the monsters of Lake Turkana, many photographed at over 25 feet. But he didn’t feel young, anymore.

Born on a buried sand nest on the edge of the great Mara River, he ate voraciously his first several years, swimming madly away from the large bull frogs the size of soccer balls that gobbled up little crocs by the dozens.

A few years later when he reached a couple feet long he had to eat only a few days each week. He lie motionless just under the water at the shoreline, jumping up twice his length to snatch a bird trying to flee. Soon, irony of ironies, he was hunting the frogs.

When he reached his early teens he was too big to hide any longer among the water lilies in the crags of the great Mara. He began to crawl out onto the rocks to get warmed by the sun like the big guys.

It wasn’t long ago that he started to sleep more and more. When he woke hungry he waited for a small impala coming to drink and that was only a few times every couple months. But back then he ate his hunger rather than the impala if there were any big guys around. He’d seen some buddies persist only to lose the prey to one of the Mara monsters, and sometimes even parts of their snout.

Now at a robust 7-8 feet he found himself with no appetite except twice a year. He slept the rest of the time behind a secluded and log hidden under a big leafed tamarila bush that hung over the river.

His hunger woke him the day we saw him. Perhaps, too, he felt the ripples of the big guys slipping into the river. Whatever it was he was famished.

So no longer junior he couldn’t hang back an instant longer, because the moment he started to swim again after his several month sleep his appetite grew extreme. He hurried out no longer deterred by the current, his sleek powerful body cutting through the turbulent Mara waters as if it were a still lake in the mountains.

Suddenly he was with others his size swimming but without any real direction, nothing to hunt in the deep middle of the river. Then all of a sudden he saw one of his buddies snapping at a head with horns that bobbed among three or four of his peers. The horns weren’t sharp at the end or shiny in the sun. They looked puffy and grey.

The four 7-foot crocs gnawed and slapped their jaws all over the thing but it didn’t soothe their appetites. Soon they backed off and encircled it like the spokes in a wheel.

Finally the 6-month old skeleton sunk back into the water. His appetite soared. He wriggled, challenging his peers, but they quickly swam away. He stayed right there in the middle of the river. He knew something was on the way.

By the end of our 8th day in the Serengeti, our 18th on the overall safari including Kenya we’d seen virtually everything but a rhino. Most travelers lack the inclination for spending so much time and money on an East African Safari today but it reminded me that in the old days I rarely guided a trip that was less than 23-25 days. Marlin Perkins’ first safari with supporters of the Lincoln Park Zoo in 1957 lasted two months and six days!

We intersected the migration big time two days ago in the western corridor. We spent a night at a beautiful camp on a hillside overlooking Seronera and the next morning watched a 5-mile long file of wildebeest race across the valley below. The migration has yet to reach further north, but our schedule had us the last two days in Tanzania’s far north just in case the migration had been early.

On our way up we saw our last group of lions, bringing our total to 46. The family of 13 was draped onto a very small kopjes in the middle of a vast flat prairie like bits of discarded bread dough thrown over a broken spatula. We left the rock of lions just a tad bit south of Lobo and continued moving north. Game became very scarce. The grass grew five feet high.

Our last game drive scoured the veld up to the Mara River and the Kenyan border. This is Tanzania’s Mara District, and the terrain looks almost exactly like Kenya’s Mara: gently rolling hills, verdant and bushy.

But here in Tanzania south of the great Mara it’s higher and drier than just north over the great Mara River in Kenya. There in Kenya the valley is much better watered, less rocky and has better grass.

So our last game drive was pretty scant. The drive was interrupted with a bit of excitement as we tried and failed to pull another tourist rover out of the black cotton soil in which it was stuck. (Not really a good idea to travel in these parts during the rainy season with only one vehicle. Moreover this one had a broken 4×4 system, so it was doubly doomed and got what it deserved.)

We offered the lovely couple from Barcelona a lift back to their camp but they opted to remain with their driver until another vehicle was sent from their camp. We confirmed this happened by radio before we returned to our camp later that day.

The other notable event was sighting about a dozen giant crocs in the Mara River. Generally these 12-18 foot beasts hide themselves for most of the year in a dormant state. But they know the wilde are coming. This is one of the two times in the year they eat: when the wilde come, and when the wilde go back.

So they were out on the sand banks waiting in the sun or slithering anxiously through the river, positioning themselves for the hundreds of thousands of beefsteaks that will arrive probably in the next 2-3 weeks.

We even saw four trying to devour the head of a wildebeest. We didn’t see the kill and it was possibly the skeleton of last year’s migration, pulled from its crag under water.

So it was a very soft ending to a great safari.

As Steve said to me at our last dinner in camp, it’s a bittersweet time. Everyone looks forward to going home, but no one wants to leave.

OnSafari: Where they go?

OnSafari: Where they go?

Hundreds of vultures. Mounted on the acacia trees, flying between the patches of thick forest, landing and taking off from the meadows within the woods. So we plowed back and forth through the high grasses trying to discover what they were scavenging. What dinosaur could bring so many birds together?

Radioing back and forth between our rovers we covered almost every inch of open ground and could find nothing, even as the shadows of their huge wings slipped back and forth across us. What was going on?
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OnSafari: Lion Story

OnSafari: Lion Story

It should have been the best day of his life. Instead, with every step he made walking away from the big black-maned pridemaster who was seated on the veld like the sphinx watching him, he pressed his eyes closed, lowering his head slightly. I wasn’t sure since I was looking at him through my binoculars from about 80 meters away, but I think he was in great pain.

Still, his belly wasn’t thin. In fact, it was pretty full. In fact all 11 in the pride including the kids had full bellies. The wilde must have been killed 2-3 hours before we arrived shortly after dawn, but it was already nearly licked clean.
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OnSafari: Endless

OnSafari: Endless

The unexpected night at Hemingway’s resort in Nairobi refreshed and rejuvenated everyone. I love Hemingway’s. I thought of Raffles in the Seychelles, an over-the-top property specifically marketed as a “fancy resort and spa.” I like Hemingway’s better.

The rooms are bigger, the bathroom is just aw large and gorgeous, the woodsy grounds with flowered landscaping a fine substitute for the Indian Ocean, and the dozens of chirping swifts, grunting colobus and melodic bulbuls more relaxing to me than the crashing waves on the beach.

Hemingway’s is where you go to rest up, not worry about which jewelry worn to dinner will perfectly reflect the candlelight. I ordered a hamburger.
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OnSafari: Gun Fire

OnSafari: Gun Fire

I haven’t delayed telling you. It’s just been an awfully busy time. Our two days in Samburu were cut short by automatic weapons and mortars. Everyone is fine, excited to keep going, we immediately returned to Nairobi and I’m infuriated that the Kenyans have wrapped this up. After one day of oblique reporting, the trouble in Samburu which we experienced first-hand is as if it had never happened.

That’s no way to boost tourism.
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OnSafari: New Nairobi

OnSafari: New Nairobi

Once I really liked Nairobi. But our two-day visit here was like walking back and through a time warp in an nondirectional universe. The pandemic did a number on a lot of things. I was here just before the pandemic and I swear some crazy aliens confiscated the city, goofed around with it and just now dropped it back down to earth!

There are highways, sometimes multistory, all over the place. The 27 km southern bypass is reported to have been built in two years, all of it elevated and on each of the four sides of the hundreds of concrete pillars on which the concrete sits three stories above the ground are at least 500 tiny holes each containing a live nasturtium plant kept alive by the rain drainage from the highway above!
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OnSafari from Above

OnSafari from Above

I just love the flight down from Europe to East Africa! Whether from London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Zurich or Paris most of the flights are day time and travel over some of the most dramatic scenery on earth!

This time I started from Frankfurt flying over the gorgeous springtime greenery of what many of us Americans consider an overly manicured Europe. But you’ve got to admit those perfectly planted farm fields with bursts of little thick forests all around them are definitely where the Pied Piper is hiding his kiddies!
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Covid Formalities

Covid Formalities

Seven of us returned from 3-4 weeks in Tanzania on Thanksgiving Day. This is a report of the formalities required with regards to Covid. This is a very small sample of how people travel to and from Tanzania, but every little bit helps.

Like all unexpected obstacles to travel, it’s usually a lot easier than presumed. I often refer to the time in 1970 when New Orleans announced the first metal detector for departing passengers. For a year no one flew through New Orleans. Today it’s second nature to us all.
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OnSafari: Rain

OnSafari: Rain

The rains start north to south, and we traveled north to south and always seemed to be just a day or two ahead of the rains. It was so dry and dusty in Tarangire when we got there Monday that the interior of my room was 105F and my hands were dry after washing my face in the sink before I could get to the towel rack.

We followed the Tarangire sand river and found lots of elephant but little else. At least the tse-tse were down in such conditions. Tuesday morning our dawn drive headed to the Silale Swamp and I swear that every animal in Tarangire was there.
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OnSafari: Ele Revelation

OnSafari: Ele Revelation

There are so many difficulties with protecting African wilderness but the biggest single one is elephants. Sunday gave me a surprising new insight.

Crushed into a smaller and smaller habitat between the sheering cliffs of the Great Rift Valley and the increasing girth of Lake Manyara, I expected the few remaining overly docile ele of the national park to be of little interest. How wrong I was!
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Whistling Winds

Whistling Winds

We left Ndutu after seeing another cheetah with three cubs, not sure exactly how we would go. Our destination was a lovely camp on the north end of the crater but the way you would go depends upon the dust.

The ride didn’t start out very propitiously. Although some rain had fallen the length of the dry season and its tons of dust were going to take a lot more than a few sprinkles to settle things down. Although the game viewing had been good around the lakes, as we left the area eastbound it looked like a desert trip, again.
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OnSafari: Rains

OnSafari: Rains

We’d had an 8-hour morning game drive, followed by a wonderful lunch al fresco and everyone was enjoying the afternoon in their tents or in the tree house overlooking hundreds of miles of the western Serengeti. When the storm came.

The reputation of the start of the November rains will never be actually achieved, but for sure our experience in both the eastern and western Serengeti explains it. After thunder and lightning like you’d never imagine, the water came down like a river falling from the sky.
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