My Last African Safaris, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater

We drove through the gates of the Serengeti and The Lion King theme song came to mind as we looked out over the landscape ahead of us. The 200km drive to our campsite provided us with a herd of elephants way in the distance, giraffes, impala and baboons, and a lot of zebras that were often grazing right on the side of the road. We drove up to a waterhole and encountered a pod of hippos, noisily making their presence known while grossly intruding on our sense of smell.

The tse tse flies were out in force too; my first – and hopefully only – encounter with them. They were relentless, stinging us if we didn’t swat them away quick enough. A small portion of the game drive was missed as we all sat in the truck constantly looking around, shoes at the ready to slowly diminish their population. Thankfully it was only for a small section of the park that we drove through their territory, in the other parts they are somehow able to be controlled and we seemed to be safe.

We arrived at Ngiri public campsite and prepared the fire to act as our animal deterrent for the night. The Serengeti is unique in that when you camp there are no fenced in sites to stay in. This meant that once it got dark toilet runs had to be in pairs or ideally done behind the tent, but preferably nonexistent. I took to banning myself from drinking any liquid after 6pm so as to not have the urge to go at all until morning, terrified at the idea of running to the bathroom and bumping into a hyena. As we settled into our tents for bed you could hear them; hyenas, zebras, a possible lion but hopefully a figment of my imagination.

Despite my no liquids rule and the fact that since growing up I have always made it through the night without needing a toilet run, I found myself waking up an hour before my alarm busting to pee. I held on until I couldn’t anymore, hopping out of the tent expecting at least a little morning light but finding it to still look like the middle of the night. I decided to risk it to the bathroom, unsure what story I would live to tell or worse, what story others would live to tell for me. Obviously I was fine, but the cackles of the hyenas made me feel as though I wouldn’t be.

We set off for our early morning game drive and were lucky enough to see two lions in the distance attempting to hunt a wildebeest. They were unfortunately quite far away but our binoculars helped us to see a bit more. It also happened to be the time for migration, where certain animals make the trek from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara following the rains. Nearing the end of our game drive we stopped for some wildebeest crossing the road ahead of us only to realise how many were waiting to do the same thing. We followed the trail of wildebeest from the road, winding through the tall grasses into the distance where we could only see a sea of black dots. We were held up for about 20 minutes and probably saw over 5000 wildebeest running past the vehicle, only to stop on the other side of the road and find a spare patch of grass to graze on. They are definitely one of the less intelligent animals out there and provided us with a lot of entertainment on our game drives.

A break for lunch at the campsite and a cold shower having chickened out the night before gave us a nice break before heading out for another game drive that afternoon. It was a quiet one unfortunately and concluded with a storm, wetting the clothes I had washed and giving us all a quick soak on our run from the truck to the kitchen. At least dinner was waiting for us when we arrived, a traditional East African meal of chapati, lentil curry, beef curry and sautéed cabbage. One of the best parts of these overland tours has definitely been the chefs that join us, never serving me a disappointing meal. With the campsite wet and the threat of animals still very real we decided to retreat to bed quite early. Grace and I read our books until we couldn’t keep our eyes open and settled into our sleeping bags for the night.

On Thursday we saw so many lions on our drive out of the Serengeti. First seeing one quite close, then a male and female together, a whole pride in the distance and then finally a mother and two young ones with her. It was quite incredible as it’s more rare to see them, and they’re really beautiful animals if you get to see them up close. There was a request for an urgent toilet stop and our guide signalled to the driver not 100 metres after leaving the final 3 lions. I definitely needed to go but the minute I realised where we were stopping I decided I could wait however long I needed to if it meant I wouldn’t be peeing behind the truck with a short distance to the lions we’d just seen. At the exit gate we stopped for lunch and a walk up to the viewpoint which gave us a view of a small section of the 14,000 square kilometre Serengeti, something that certainly took my breath away as I looked over its huge expanse and searched for animals dotted around the place.

Driving to the Ngorongoro Crater gave us beautiful views along the way of the Serengeti and then of the Crater itself and the Maasai villages dispersed around the place. It was the first place we’d been where it was actually cold, encouraging me to put on my pyjamas complete with my fluffy bed socks and thongs, while we played cards and waited for dinner. Soup and roast chicken, potatoes and veggies was the perfect meal for the night, sending us to bed happy and full, ready to snuggle up and keep warm until our early alarm the next day.

Jeeps picked us up at 7am the next morning, taking us to the rim of the crater and beginning our descent. Midway through we were held up in a traffic jam of jeeps, discovering the source of the traffic to be an elephant taking a stroll down the road, holding up at least 30 vehicles without a care in the world. After almost half an hour we continued down and drove past it enjoying the plants on the side of the road, evidently pleased with himself and what he’d accomplished that morning. The floor of the Crater (304 square kilometres) provided me with more animals concentrated in one place than I’d seen in all my safaris yet. Thousands of zebras and wildebeest greeted us and continued throughout the drive. We pulled up to a group of jeeps and stumbled upon a very mature male lion sitting directly next to the road, taking in its surroundings and licking its paws. As it stood up the cameras went crazy and as it began taking steps towards our Jeep so did I. I can’t keep quiet at the best of times and when I’m a little scared it becomes worse, I began persistently telling my guide to close his window as the lion walked closer and closer to us, eventually being shushed by both him and the driver so as not to scare the animal. I sat crouched on the floor of our car with my camera, watching as this supposed ‘cat’ pulled up next to my door and decided to lie down. With the front window still not closed my guide stuck his head out for a photo, the lion lying peacefully beneath him without so much as a look up. After enough time for photos and committing the experience to memory we drove away slowly so as not to run over his tail or scare him away and all breathed a sigh of both relief and excitement.

Driving out of the Crater I was thankful to have finished my experience of safaris in Africa on such a high note, having indeed saved the best until last.

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