Friday, March 16, 2012

Stuck Fast in the Bathroom: Expedition in Serengeti Part I

I will begin this return to the Serengeti by noting that it will take place in two parts.  I’m actually quite intimidated by the task of placing a 5 day research excursion into just two short posts, because the trip turned out to be bigger, more extensive, and just more than I ever could have imagined.  But I will try, and I’ll take the time to equip my tales with photos, just small windows into a life-changing experience. 
   Our journey into the heart of Serengeti took several hours, and along the way I learned a bit about this place that has been named a Natural Wonder of the World.  Named in part for its wilderness, as well as being a large part of the Great Migration of thousands of wildebeest.  Our entry into the park was through the heart of this migration, and there were thousands of wildebeest, as far as the eye could see, for several kilometers.  Old, young, and newborn wildebeest practically littered the savannahs, accompanied by a few Grant’s or Thomson’s gazelles dispersed through the great beasts’ vast numbers. 
Oldupai Gorge: "Cradle of Mankind"
   Serengeti National Park is very unique, and I never found myself bored with it.  Other than the animals (of which there were many fantastic sightings) the landscape is vast and untouched by human hands.  Weather is unpredictable, and often we found ourselves driving across the grasslands with the sunshine marking our skin, only to savor the pelting drive of a flash of rain that had been making its way across the plains.  There was always time to appreciate the blue skies and white fluffy clouds, which only served to enhance the grand visage that the Serengeti proudly displays. 
   In the mornings we always were to be awake and in our vehicles by 6:15am.  For myself, this meant rolling out of my sleeping bag, hauling on my hiking boots, and staggering bleary-eyed into the open-topped Land Cruiser.  The nights were cool, and the mornings even cooler as the sun prepared to make its entrance.  Bundled in my Maasai shuka, we took off into the morning to either make note of elephant/giraffe behaviors, or complete a bird watching exercise.  But before any of this would occur, we were given the gift of watching the sunrise.  Seeing the blues and grays of early morning Serengeti being chased away by the red-gold brilliance of the African sun is unlike anything I have ever witnessed, and I envy the animals that get to bask in its splendor every day.  The birds are lively in the morning, and their chirping accompanied the sun’s ascension into the sky.  I meant what I said previously about the songs of the Serengeti, and the singing of sparrows, violet-breasted rollers, butcher-birds, love-birds, and several others of our flying friends lit up the morning sky. 
   On our first day in we saw zebra, gazelle, wildebeest, warthogs, and lions.  If you know anything about me, it is my affiliation and adoration for Panthera leo.  On this trip to Serengeti I saw several, and snapped hundreds of photos, and spent hours watching them through my binoculars.  Before we can come to this, however, we had to set up camp. 
Newborn twin elephants with mother (tembo)
   Our camp is comprised of cliché safari tents, and I loved it.  Packed in with 4 other girls, our tent was an explosion of camping gear, shoes, and dirt.  We ate three meals each day, often lunch was while driving in the vehicles, and at night we washed the dishes and collected around the campfire to reflect.  At night the stars were so bright, and we could always see the misty-lights of the milky way, or shooting stars with their burning red tails clearly visible.  There was one rule for after-dark activities: if you needed to use the restroom, you had to signal from your tent with your flashlight and be escorted by the hired Tanapa guard.  
She walked right next to our vehicle!
   Why the extra protection? Often our campsite often had visitors, such as curious and hungry hyenas.  One night, one of my roommates and myself needed to visit the restroom.  After signaling the guard we were escorted several meters away from our tent to the necessaries.  In the course of using the restroom, I heard a loud rumble from outside.  The next thing I knew the door flew open, and my roommate was hastily shoved inside with me, and the voice of the Tanapa guard harshly whispered that we were to stay inside.  Righting myself and my clothing, I was informed by an excited and slightly fearful tent-mate that a few lions had stationed themselves outside the bathrooms, and were quite curious as to our arrival into their territory.  The grunting I had heard, it seemed, was the alerting sounds of a male lion.  Needless to say I was thrilled beyond belief, and quite electrified by the adrenaline pumping through my veins.  A lion was right outside, and this fierce animal wanted to know why we were so close to their domain.  So we were trapped in the bathroom for a time until it was safe to shuffle us back into our tents, and the lions were away from our campsite. 
Sunset in Serengeti
   Several times I was awoken at night to the sounds of hyenas laughing, whooping, or lions roaring in the distance.  Our professors deigned to tell us the morning after the lion incident that we were the first group to have a lion so close to the site.  The animals must’ve been just as excited to see us as we were to see them!
   In any case, my trip was 5 days long and way too short.  Camping in the Serengeti is an inimitable experience that I’m proud to have tucked under my cap, and it was well worth sleeping on tiny rocks and no showers.  I highly recommend it for any and every person. 
Giraffe (Twiga)
   In the next post, I’m excited to talk more about the thrills and chills of seeing so many animals up close and in their natural habitats.  Until next time, kwa heri!


  1. That female lioness that walked past your truck looks none too happy with her ears back.

  2. As usual, your photos are fantastic. My Mom sven likes them... ROCK on Kristin....
    I am sure you were thrilled with the lions outside the on the other hand loved only reading the story....