Friday, 27 December 2013

Serengeti Christmas - Day 6 A final surprise

Cheetah and cubs
Because we had come into the Serengeti only after lunch, we knew that we would have plenty of time to have a morning game drive before heading out to the gate.  We decided to use the time to take the long way round to the gate, more or less the same way we had come in.  That way we got a nice game drive, and also avoided most of the badly corrugated road from Seronera to Naabi Hill.  

Having coffee with lions
We wanted to see if we could catch the big pride one last time (yes, we’re lion obsessed) but they were nowhere to be seen this time around.  By looking for them though, we ended up on the Maasai plains, and eventually found 2 male lions right on the side of the road.   

Zebras on the plains
I had actually missed them, having looked down to find a juice box, but luckily Dru spotted them and we ended up spending our early morning coffee with them while they slept virtually oblivious to us.   We figure that they were the 2 males that we had seen a couple of days earlier near to the spot they were now.  We also spotted a lioness on top of a nearby group of koppies, but couldn’t see any more although we figured a pride was holed in there somewhere.
European roller with breakfast
We were now getting relatively close to Simba Koppies, and were debating whether to check them out or not as they’d been good to us in the past.  We turned off to head there, when we spotted a clump of cars in the rear view mirror.  It was an unusual place and time to see cars, and we know not to ignore that – so turned the car to quickly check out what they had sighted.  

Cheetah with cubs
And Serengeti gave us one last surprise – a cheetah mom with 2 cubs!  As we approached, she climbed up a small mound and sat down scanning the horizon, while her 2 cubs climbed up next to her and copied her moves, also looking around, though probably not sure what they should be looking for ;)  It only lasted a few minutes, but it was fantastic to see.  Soon though, she decided to move, and headed off down the dune, with the small cubs in tow.  Quickly crossing the road, she headed off into the plains, with the cubs in tow barely visible in the grass.  A fantastic goodbye from the Serengeti for us!

Cheetah cubs following mom
It was still relatively early by the time we got to the gate, and we decided to take advantage of the last few hours by going to check out Gol Koppies – a corner of the Serengeti in the south east that hosts the wildebeest migration as they pass to the Ngorongoro Crater Area (NCA).  Indeed we’d spotted herds of wildebeest in the distance as we’d got closer to the gate, so after paying the “rip off the tourist more” extra $10 for the car to head into that area (of the Serengeti which we’d already paid for), we took the turn at the gate and drove into the plains. 

Hyena chilling in a puddle
It’s absolutely flat Serengeti plains with the koppies in the distance, and sure enough we found the wildebeest milling around.  Again they were spread out while grazing, so it was difficult to capture, but the drive through them was really nice.  And what stunned us were how many hyenas were around – almost every waterhole we passed had a clan of hyenas in and around the water.  We doubt that they are resident since the area seemed devoid of any other animals besides the migratory gazelles, zebra and wildebeest, so we can only assume that they are actually following the migration as they move around the circuit. 

Lappet-faced vulture near the remains of a kill
We had planned to drive north for a bit and then turn off into the NCA and head out that way, but we didn’t know the route.  Dru had gotten (vague) directions from one of the guides but after about 2 hours of driving, we suddenly spotted Naabi Hill again… where we’d come from?!  After a bit of a discussion, we decided to take the cautious option and head for the gate, rather than try to find our way out through the route we had planned.  We only had about an hour or so left on our permit (nope, the extra $10 doesn’t get us extra time), so we headed back to the gate and got out with about 15 minutes to spare.
Hyena with his prize of a gazelle skin
After a quick lunch, it was back to the slog of a drive through the NCA and out to Karatu where we planned to stay the night.  But it’s a bitch of a drive with the corrugations, and for us it’s extremely slow going.  We also had a problem, we has slightly miscalculated the fuel and weren’t sure if we’d get to the Crater fuel station to fill up.  We still had fuel on the roof but were wary of stopping anywhere along the road because the Maasai materialize out of nowhere demanding money.
Cape teals
But in the end the road made the decision for us.  While slowly bouncing along the road with the air con off to conserve fuel, we suddenly heard a metal “plonk” as if something had come loose in the car.  Hoping against hope that it wasn’t something bad, we stopped to investigate (luckily in one of the few areas where there were no Maasai).  

Turns out that it was the metal brace for the jerry can holder on the roof.  The road had actually rattled the bolt loose and the cross brace and rattled itself into 2 pieces before falling off the car, which meant that the cans weren’t secure on the roof.  Which meant that we had to empty the cans and put them in the car.  At least it solved our fuel dilemma.  So in the middle of the NCA, Dru had to do his least favourite task – emptying 40 litres of fuel into the tank.

Common ostrich
What made it more amusing (to me at least) is that we’d been having problems with our back door, and now it decided that it was no longer going to open!  That meant trying to make space in the back – and our car is always loaded – without being able to open the back door and sort things out.  There I had to lean over all the things on the back – including a spare tyre and big cooler box to make enough space for the jerry cans.  

Lappet-faced vulture
Eventually we managed to squeeze everything in, now with the fuel in and the air con on, we continued to make the crater gate before it closed at 6pm.  But not long after we heard another “clunk” and stopped to check – and the brace of the second set had rattled itself loose.  Luckily it hadn’t broken, so it just meant securing it again.  In the meantime 3 Maasai kids had spotted us and immediately surrounded the car, looking for money.  Dru decided to give them something, but almost before he could hand it to them, they snatched it out of his hand, scratching him in the process – just shows how desperate these guys are in the middle of a conservation area that makes millions of dollars off the tourists…

European migrants - White storks
Without further incident we managed to get to the Crater but as we were thinking we were almost at the gate, we came across the boom at the viewing platform.  Now normally this is open with no one manning it, but this time it was closed and the NCA officials were at the gate, checking the registration of every car before letting them through.  Totally confused, we were allowed through, but soon got to the NCA main gate and this too was closed with a bunch of irate tourists and guides standing outside not able to get in.  

Black-headed heron
The officers checked our registration again before letting us through, and then AGAIN  at the edge of the NCA.  We couldn’t figure out the reason for all these checks, and spent plenty of time coming up with crazy theories as to what was happening.  We finally found out when we finally got to our campsite in Karatu and set about setting up camp.  We still hadn’t managed to get the back door of the car open and enlisted the help of one of the guys milling around.   

Us in the Serengeti
Turned out that he was a freelance guide and he told us that the guides were protesting the slow repair of the main road down to the crater – promised to be fixed about a year and a half ago, it was still not finished, and it was hampering their tours.  So today was the day that they had protested by using a road that they weren’t supposed to – the officials weren’t happy about it and had clamped down – pretty amusing to us, but a very valid argument to the tour operators – this was their livelihood after all!

<< Day 5          Day 7 >>

Birds seen in the Serengeti:

* First time sighting 

White stork
Speckled pigeon
Lappet-faced vulture
Greater kestrel *
Helmeted guineafowl
Egyptian goose
Saddle-billed stork
Superb starling
White-headed buffalo-weaver
Adbim’s stork
Hilderbrandt’s starling
Secretary bird
Fisher’s lovebird
White-bellied bustard
Coqui francolin
White-crowned shrike
White-backed vulture
White-browed coucal
Blacksmith lapwing
Little swift *
White-headed vulture
Yellow-billed oxpecker
Yellow-billed stork
Black-winged stilt
Pied avocet
Fisher’s sparrow-lark
Southern ground hornbill
Tawny eagle
Black-headed heron
Black crake
Pallid harrier
Grey-backed shrike *
Montagu’s harrier *

Three-banded plover
Spur-winged lapwing
Namaqua dove
Red-billed teal
Two-banded courser
Black-lored babbler *
Striped kingfisher
Ruppell’s long-tailed starling
Martial eagle
Pin-tailed whydah
Lesser kestrel *
Black-chested snake-eagle
Yellow-throated sandgrouse
Black-bellied bustard
Greater honeyguide *
Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse
Spotted thickknee
African paradise flycatcher
Little bee-eater
Black-faced sandgrouse
Cape rook *
Caspian plover *
Common moorhen *

African fish eagle
Grey-crowned crane
European roller
Brown snake-eagle *
Pygmy falcon
Hooded vulture
Beautiful sunbird
Green woodhoopoe
Long-crested eagle *
Bare-faced go-away bird
Red-billed oxpecker
Magpie shrike
Rufous-crowned roller *
Grey-breasted spurfowl
Cliff chat *
Brown parrot


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