Into the Serengeti

Originally posted: 15 Sep, 2017

From Rwanda we travelled back across Uganda into Kenya. My tour group changed at this point, lost most of the people but picked up some newbies. We had a new tour leader as well, Victor, and a new cook and driver! The following day we left Kenya and crossed the border into Tanzania.

Our first stop was Mto Wa Mbu which was our pit stop before the Serengeti. After the Serengeti we would return to the same camp for a night stay.  Some people from our previous group who had done this leg told us it was a must to upgrade to a room after the Serengeti because you would be filthy. So once our tent was put up my tent mate Kate and I raced to reception to book our upgrade for our return.

The following day we split into 4 jeeps, I was with Pasci, Celine, John, Ruth, Hellen and Aurelia.  We left at 7am and headed up the mountain to the entrance gate to the Ngorongoro Crater National Park.

Arrived 8am at the gate, and while our driver did paperwork we had a look in the information centre. Ngorongoro Crater is 310sqkm, approx. 21km wide and 18km long, with a depth of up to 760m.  There are 32000 animals in the crater, including 12000 wildebeest and 5 pride of lion.  The crater is the only place where hyenas hunt to kill. Reason being there are more hyena than lion and the hyena cannot rely on scavenging for food.

Once all paperwork was done we got back in the jeep and the paved road turns to gravel (a.k.a African Massage) The roads were misty so we didn’t have much of a view as we worked our way around the rim of the crater.  Windy narrow roads that you aren’t allowed to drive on between 6pm and 6am because animals (especially elephants) wander along them. We stopped at a “viewpoint” I’m sure it’s wonderful when it isn’t misty but we just saw grey and from there we drove down into the crater.

As soon as we got into the crater we had animals all around us – wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, impala, warthog, ostrich, jackals.

Everywhere we looked there were more animals. Our lunch stop was at a small lake filled with hippos, while eating our prepacked lunch we had kites swooping around looking for someone’s food to snatch up.

Lunch stop

At 1:30pm we left the lunch spot and started to head out of the crater. Lots more animals on the way out, buffalo, elephants and we saw a male lion in the grass!

We drove back up the crater towards the rim, this time the mist had cleared so we were able to see the incredible view looking down into the crater.

When we got to the top of the crater we had to close up the roof and the windows because we were about to enter the Serengeti and be covered in dust for the next couple of days! Driving down and away from the crater we saw Masai settlements and Masai herding their goat and cattle. Getting pictures was not easy with the combination of dust and bumpy roads. It was stinking hot inside the jeep but if we had the window open we would get covered in dust.  We would have the window open for a little while then close it up quickly as a car passed us on the other side.

After a couple hours driving we arrived at the entrance gate for the Serengeti, there were a few Masai there wanting money for pictures. They were young males with white paint on their face, the white paint means that they have been circumcised and have started their training to become warriors. We took some pictures of the gate then headed into the park.

Entry to Serengeti

The jeep I was in and another one drove to the information centre which was also the hot air balloon registration.  Most of us had pre-booked but there was a group of 6 of us (myself included) that was on the waiting list.  By the time we had got to the park I had decided I didn’t want to do the hot air balloon ride anymore as I couldn’t justify the $700AUD for an hour long ride.

Turns out the waiting list isn’t my definition of a waiting list. I was under the impression that if someone else cancelled we would take their place on the balloon, but it was actually if we had enough people on the waiting list then they would take another balloon up. There was a moment where everyone was a bit worried they wouldn’t be able to go up because I had backed out, but fortunately there had been a stuff up with Kate’s booking so she made up the numbers on the extra balloon. Phew!

While the others had their safety briefing I wandered around the information centre taking pictures of the cute rock hyrax and mongoose.

Rock Hyrax

We then headed to camp and our tents had already been put up for us (yay). As we were camping in the national park without fences we were given a safety briefing.  If you needed to get up in the middle of the night you had to take someone with you and when leaving the tent you first had to listen for animal noises and then scan with the torch and make sure no animals were around.  If animals are around you need to wait in your tent until they pass

The camp was packed, lots of other groups there and in the large kitchens the cooks were all working away at their stations.  Once we were all set up we had our dinner and then went to bed shortly afterwards.  I fell asleep listening to the sound of hyena!

Up nice and early for breakfast at 7am. While eating we had lots of hornbills and superb starlings hopping around the campsite eating the scraps, obviously a pest because I saw a few cooks chasing them away.

The people doing the hot air balloon had left at 5am so I changed jeeps and hopped in with Meghan, Ebony, Francine and Javier. We set off on our morning game drive, a bit chilly to start with but we knew it would warm up quickly!

After just 10 minutes we saw a cheetah! I was so excited, I love big cats but the cheetah I think is the nicest looking, such pretty facial markings. We watched it for a while, there was a jackal that was nipping at its feet, obviously hanging around in case there was a kill. The cheetah was getting peeved off and a few times the cheetah chased after the jackal! I was dying to see a cheetah run at full speed, but this was pretty amazing anyway watching the movement of its slender body.

Our first cheetah!

We looked behind us to the other side of the road and saw 2 male lions walking straight towards us! They ended up walking right in front of our jeep, not bothered by us at all. We carried on and about 5 minutes later we saw a second cheetah! This one was a bit further away but we still had a great view of it. Amazing start to our morning game drive!  We saw a huge variety of animals hyena, warthog, impala, Thomson’s Gazelle, dik dik, baboons, crocodile, hippo plus more.

After a few hours we headed towards the information centre and saw another cheetah on the way there! Got to the information centre and read through the information about the Serengeti and some of the animals that are there. We then headed back to our camp for lunch, saw a herd of elephants right next to our campsite!

After lunch we had some time to kill before our afternoon drive at 3pm. I tried to brush my hair but it was already covered in dust and matted. Felt sticky when I tried to put the brush through it so decided to deal with it once we left the Serengeti.

I got back in the jeep with Meghan, Ebony, Francine and Javier for the afternoon drive. Saw waterbuck, common eland, zebra, impala, hyena, we spent about half an hour sitting at a tree that had a dead impala up it waiting for the leopard to appear. Apparently it was sitting in the bush below the tree but after 30 minutes of no sighting we gave up and left.

We followed a lioness along the road to her pride, at times I thought we were going to hit her she was so close to the jeep! The pride had a few females AND FOURTEEN CUBS! They were sooo cute, I wish I could have gotten more photos of them. Drove a bit further up and there was a huge herd of water buffalo, they were heading in the direction of the lions so we waited to see what would happen. Nothing. They veered off as they got closer but the lions were very alert watching them as they passed.

We drove off again and saw jackals, hyenas and about 30 elephants. Tiny newborns and massive matriarchs, got so close to them as they were crossing the road.

The time was up for the day so our driver headed back, we were flying along the road when Meghan yelled out stop! Slammed on the brakes and skidded along, thought I was going to go flying out the top of the jeep! She thought she’d seen something in the bush, we reversed back and sitting there all pretty was a serval! So cute! Right on the edge of the road just staring at us, it was happily sitting there but another jeep came up and it got spooked and ran away.

So gorgeous

We got back to the camp and then our driver got a call from the other driver saying that the leopard from the morning we had been waiting to see had appeared, unfortunately we were too far away to go back to it. I was so happy about seeing the serval I did not even care!

That night after dinner Victor told us stories around the campfire. The history of Africans and where they come from, why some of them are short and fat, some are tall and skinny, some store fat on their tummy and others on their bum. I’m kicking myself I didn’t take notes because thinking back on it I can’t remember details.

He told us a story about how when he first became a guide he was at the camp, and in his group was a woman who always overexaggerated everything. One night at the campfire she suddenly said there was a lion right near them, the group ignored her but then they heard the growl. They jumped up to run away from it and were trying to get into a cage that kept the food but couldn’t. while they were panicking they didn’t realise the lion walked right past and towards a herd nearby. Obviously more interested in the herd than the humans!

Another story was about one of the drivers in the camp had been unwell and while on a game drive he had to go running out of the jeep because he had diarrhoea. He ran out of view of the tourists and pulled down his pants and went. Heard a noise behind him and turned around and there was a pride of lions right next to him.  He literally shat right next to a bunch of lions. He went sprinting back to the jeep with his pants around his legs and all the tourists were snapping photos of him.

Good stories! We were all pretty buggered so we headed to bed straight after that.

Up the next morning we heard lions and elephants during the night! We packed up our tents, loaded into the jeep and headed off at 8am.  We were doing a game drive in the morning before heading out of the park. Shortly after leaving camp we saw three lioness just off the road, we then saw giraffes, elephants, hyena, impala.

Lioness in the grass

We started to head out of the Serengeti, driving past all the unusual rock formations. Ahead we saw a group of jeeps – always a sign there is something good there. We drove up and perched up on a rock was a cheetah! Posing perfectly for a few good snaps.

We continued on and a few minutes later we spied 2 more cheetahs! We got right up close to them lying in the shade, they looked a bit younger than the other ones. Gorgeous! Six cheetahs in two days! How lucky is that?!

We left the Serengeti and went back past through the gate, Masai still hanging around wanting pictures.

Drove 1-2 hours to the rim of Ngorongoro Crater, that was the dustiest it had been I reckon! We stopped at the top of the crater for lunch, had our prepacked sandwiches with two maribou storks for company.

Drove back down the mountain from the first day, was great to get back on a paved road!

Got into camp at Mto Wa Mbu at 2pm, so glad we upgraded! I shampoo’d and conditioned my hair twice, had massive chunks of hair come out and it still felt a bit ratty after that!

Serengeti was incredible, I can’t wait to come back!

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Hey, I'm Shannon!
I've been travelling since I was 6 years old and have been lucky enough to visit 70 countries! From overlanding through Africa and road-tripping in Samoa to Salsa-ing in Cuba and visiting wineries in India. I love new adventures and can't wait to share them with you in this blog!
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