Lynn “Quadman” Blamires
African Safari with Family
The safari was a bonus. The real reason we went to Africa was to visit my son and his family. He is a mining engineer working at the Bulyanhulu Gold Mine in Tanzania. My son knew that if he could get his mom excited about seeing the grandkids, it would be up to me to figure out how we were going to do it. Well, she did get excited and the rest is history.
I was relieved to learn that there is no such thing as a Tanzanian devil. They are all in Tasmania, but I did learn a lot about the animals in the Serengeti National Park.
Our guide picked us up in Mwanza. We rode in a specially designed Toyota Land Cruiser that had a pop-up roof convenient for standing and observing the wildlife. Before getting in, I made sure the vehicle had no dents from charging animals.
Making our way out of town to the west entrance of the Serengeti Plain was a challenge. The road is marked for two lanes of traffic, but there were actually three lines of vehicles. Motorcycles are exempt from any traffic laws and there are not just a few of them. In short, everyone knew how to use their horns – it was best not to watch.
Entering the preserve, I felt right at home. The roads were dirt and not well maintained, just like an ATV trail. We arrived at the Mbalageti Lodge in the evening. Made up of separate cabins incorporated into this wild country, we were about three football fields away from the main lodge and restaurant. We couldn’t go outside of our cabin without an escort at night, but it was no comfort that security was armed with only sticks and flashlights.
After dinner, we got a closer look at our accommodations. The room was nicely appointed, but the walls were made of canvas which was a little disconcerting, especially since I was awakened in the middle of the night by the roar of a lion. Not close, but close enough. While I didn’t see or hear any mosquitos, all the rooms we stayed in were enclosed with mosquito netting.
We came to see wildlife and we were not disappointed. We first came across the bloat of hippopotamuses. Known for their love of water, I was surprised to learn that they can’t swim. They use their buoyancy to come up for air, but they walk on the bottom and come out of the water to feed at night.
We watched a tower of giraffes feeding on Acacia trees. Their tongues, which have been measured at 21 inches, and their long necks, allowing them to pluck tasty morsels from high places only they can reach. It was fascinating to watch the giraffe chewing and swallowing. We could see the lump move all the way down its long neck.
When you see a kettle of vultures, you know you are in for a food fight, or at least a fight for food. We could see why vultures don’t have feathers on their heads or necks. They stick their heads far into the carcass to tear at the flesh.
I was encouraged to see parades of elephants with lots of babies. To me, it was a sign that they are doing well.
We saw sounders of warthogs who stick their tails high in the air as they run through the tall grass. I learned that they do that so that other warthogs can see to follow just like ATVs with whip flags. They have faces that only a mother could love.
We didn’t see basks of crocodiles but we did see some. There are more in the Grumeti and Mara rivers where they take advantage of the crossing herds during the migration. We also didn’t see lounges of lizards, but we did see some.
The Serengeti can support a great variety of grazing animals because the animals have different diets. The wildebeest, for example, prefer short grass while the zebra likes the tall grasses. The small dik-dik antelope like the lower leaves on the trees, the impala likes those higher up, while the giraffe takes the highest leaves.
A congress of baboons carried their babies on their backs and picked bugs off from each other. They didn’t seem as active as the troops of monkeys we saw skittering through the trees.
We passed clutches of ostrich and mobs of mongoose. We saw harems of impalas, packs of jackals, and tribes of gazelles. We didn’t see leaps of leopards or coalitions of cheetahs but we did see some.
We were fortunate to see a portion of the great wildebeest and zebra migration – a circular migration that runs 500 miles from Tanzania to the southwestern part of Kenya. The zebra and wildebeest run together in an interesting relationship. The wildebeest will watch the zebra and if they make it through a section alright then it is safe for them to go.
We came across a herd of wildebeest and a dazzle of zebras crossing a creek when we noticed a disturbance in their movement. Our guide backed up so we could see down the ravine and hidden in the tall grass at the end was a lion. We watched as the lion looked to be half asleep and very uninterested. Suddenly, the lion exploded out of the grass and took down a young zebra and then dragged the meal to another location. My grandsons thought that was great while my granddaughter cried for an hour for the poor zebra.
Coming to a pride of lions early in the morning, we noticed how the majestic male interacted with the females. We were parked in the middle of the pride with lions just a few feet away all around us. They all had the same disinterested look we saw on the lion lying in the tall grass. Our guide, however, told us that if one of us were to step out of the truck, it would be all over.
We spent four days in the Serengeti before moving on to the Ngorongoro Crater, an extinct volcano. Our lodge was on the rim some eight thousand feet above the floor of this 28 square mile crater. As we made our way up the rim, we passed through a lush rain forest that was in stark contrast to the Serengeti Plains.
The two days we spent at this crater and Lake Manyara were focused on an amazing variety of birds. One of the most impressive sights was a sea of pink flamingos. There were far too many to count. There are 500 species of birds that can be observed here.
The Serengeti covers some 12,000 square miles at altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 feet. Temperatures range from 59 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit even though it is situated right at the equator.
Should you decide to go on a safari, the Internet is a good place to start. Safaris are a huge tourist attraction with much wild game preserves all over the country so it is important to learn where you would like to go and what you want to see. A good guide is important so ask lots of questions. Our guide knew the animals and where to find them. He also knew his birds. Safaris are usually all-inclusive which includes food, transportation, and lodging. Tips are extra. We used Rickshaw Travel and paid $361 per day per person. Some of the food in Africa was a little strange, but I always found something I liked.