After a memorable landing and an even more memorable Central Serengeti safari, Tristen and I both couldn’t wait for what was in store for us next.
This excitement wasn’t so apparent when our 6am alarm went off. We sleepily got dressed, gathered our belongings, and made our way up to the main dining tent for breakfast.
One aspect of the Namiri Plains camp that consistently surprised us during our stay was the quality and variety of food that they had on offer. Fresh tropical fruit and scrambled eggs for breakfast? Sure thing! Seared pork chops and sweet potatoes for dinner? You bet!
With breakfast gobbled up, we met back up with our guides and all climbed into the off-roader.
“What animals are you excited to see on today’s safari?” Erasto asked with a smile.
Tristen and I looked at each other totally stumped on how to respond. It wasn’t that we couldn’t think of anything. Really, our list included just about everything. Certainly more than could be summed up in a quick sentence or two response.
“Ummmm… Something amazing. Big cats maybe?”
Erasto turned to Chinoi and both laughed.
“Ah, I think that won’t be a problem. Let us see what we can find.”
And with that we were off, unsure of exactly what we would see but confident it would knock our socks off.
Before we knew it, we were winding our way through the kopjes of the of the Eastern Serengeti plains, past intermingling herds of zebra and gazelle.
Eventually, Chinoi moved his binoculars away from his face and talked to Erasto in Maasai.
“Ah, I think we may have found something up ahead.”
As we slowly moved forward, a lone tree shading a large portion of lumpy ground became visible. The closer we got, the more evident it became that these lumps on the ground were a pack of living, breathing animals.
“Why aren’t they freaked out by our vehicle, like some of the other animals who just run away?”
Erasto explained that lions in general are very smart creatures and have learned over time that vehicles aren’t a threat.
“But if you were to exit and step foot on the ground, it would not be very pleasant…”
Our Eastern Serengeti safari continued, but dark ominous clouds began to form overhead.
Rain droplets began to fall. The deep sepia tinted dryness that was omnipresent only a second ago now had light green patches. Brightly colored flowers had seemingly sprouted instantaneously and added to the pops of color throughout.
Even the animals all seemed rejuvenated and immensely thankful for the brief reprieve from the intense Serengeti sun.
Just as soon as it had started, the dreary clouds dispersed and the sun shown through, baking the terrain back to where it had begun.
As we began the long road back to camp, we stumbled upon a group of cheetahs drying themselves off on a termite mound.
For Day 2, Erasto suggested that we head even deeper into the plains – out in the direction of the Ngorongoro crater. The terrain in this area had changed from tall yellow grassland to a scrubby patchwork of clumpy vegetation. Shrubs and tall rocky kopjes were scattered throughout.
Eventually we made a stop to climb up one of the large rocky outcroppings, where Erasto and Chinoi were set up for a quick coffee break.
From this elevated viewpoint, we could easily see the vastness of the Eastern Serengeti stretching until it hit a distant series of mountains. It was impossible not to feel like a small speck in something much bigger.
Once we were back on the ground however, all of the smaller details that we hadn’t previously noticed began to come into view. Bones from various animals were scattered throughout the floor, all battered around and sun bleached by the elements.
Larger prey rarely venture into this area of the plains, as they are easily spotted and have no where to hide from predators. Instead, smaller camouflaged reptiles scurry around below the grasses, where they can easily avoid detection and munch on insects.
We now headed back in the direction of Namiri Plains in search of more lions. The few that we had seen the previous day were amazing, but we were still thirsty for more.
“There!” Chinoi handed his binoculars to us and emphatically pointed in the far distance. I put them up to my face, but my untrained city slicker eyeballs just couldn’t pick up anything. Only rolling golden grassland.
Erasto now took a turn searching. “Ah yes, I think there is something out there…”
Turning off of the dirt road, we slowly crept through the tall grass until we could all see what Chinoi had spotted. It was a full pride of lions.
“Look at the grandfather over there.” Erasto pointed towards an elderly lion who had been segregated from the rest of the group. “Once a new male has taken over the pride, he forces the old one out where they will eventually starve.”
Having a closer look, it was now very clear that this guy was in rough shape. Every breath appeared to be a struggle for him and the effects of malnourishment were very visible. It was a sad sight, but also a cold reminder of the harsh realities of the wild.
We returned to our tent later that night, still buzzing with excitement from the sight of everything. That pride had especially imprinted itself on my brain and I fell asleep with images of lions dancing around my head.
A few hours later I snapped awake to the sound of some serious growling somewhere outside our tent. Not sure if what I had heard was real or just a dream, I sat up straight and waited until whatever it was had sounded off again. This time it was louder. Not necessarily closer, just at a significantly higher volume.
Unsure of quite what to do, I just sat facing the front of the tent in complete darkness, waiting for whatever may come next. But the growls stopped; replaced only by a single hollow crunch that echoed over the plains and through our tent. After that, total and complete silence.
The next day we hurriedly packed up our belongings and rushed out to meet with Erasto and Chinoi. Even though this was our last morning at camp and we should have been savoring every last second, the events of the previous night were burning a hole through my brain.
“Sounds like a fresh kill nearby. Perhaps we can search for it before making our way back to the landing strip.” Erasto had a smile on his face as he said this, as if knowing that an amazing sight lay ahead of us.
After saying our goodbyes to the wonderful staff of Namiri Plains, we departed in search of whatever caused those sickening sounds. It took only a few minutes of driving through the scruffy grass before Erasto was able to locate our culprit.
Proudly sitting over a mangled zebra carcass was a large lioness, guarding her prized kill from other nearby marauding animals. As if on queue, a hyena quickly jumped in and ripped away a mouthful of gristle before the lioness had time to react.
This little slice of raw nature unfolded in front of our eyes and we just couldn’t help but look on in shock, awe, and amazement.
And with that, it was time for us to start making our way back towards the Seronera landing strip, where we would continue on with the next leg of our adventure. Tristen and I began to reflect on these last few days as we drove past groups of watching lionesses.
Really, our Serengeti safari had been even greater than we ever could have imagined. A real deal adventure that we were sure to reminisce on for years to come.
Surprisingly and seemingly out of nowhere, our off-roader came to a quick stop after turning a tight corner. We squirmed in our seats, trying to get a good look at what had brought us to a halt. All I could see was a sea of brown fur, horns, and hoofs.
I opened the rooftop and stuck my head up to get a better angle of things. It was immediately clear exactly what the holdup was.
They were completely blocking the road ahead, but it was hard to imagine a better end to our Serengeti safari than getting up close and personal with the great wildebeest migration.
We once again boarded our small propeller airplane, this time bound for Zanzibar island. As I looked out my window and watched the ground below us get further and further away, I couldn’t help but feel a mild sense of sadness. It was almost like we were leaving something behind. Something wild; something raw; something unbelievably natural that I may never witness again.
The Serengeti had shared with us just a glimpse of its wondrous self, and even this was completely awe inspiring. For that, I can be nothing short of thankful.