Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Full Game Drive in Ndutu

Today we awoke to staff politely waking us up saying “your showers are ready”.  After warm showers I grabbed my GoPro outside which thankfully wasn’t stolen by a monkey thief.  We grabbed all the batteries we had been charging overnight and headed to breakfast to meet up with Eric and Emy, passing by two big giraffe grazing on nearby trees.  We also saw a couple big hot air balloons sailing by in the distance headed towards the Serengeti. 

We ate an amazing breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and fresh fruit at 7am and it seemed like we were the only ones left in camp!  Were we late?  Shange assured us there was no rush but within 20 minutes of driving from the camp we came across our first lions and two males were lying in the bushes (humorously on their backs) after having just stuffed themselves from an early morning kill!  We missed it!  We were too late!  We took a bunch of photos of them disappointed we had missed the action.  

We saw a lioness in the distance across a dry riverbed and headed over to check her out.  We were the only vehicle around as we watched her from a comfortable distance.  Then something truly amazing happened.  A lone baby wildebeest suddenly emerged from the brush on one of the dirt access roads.  Instantly the lioness spotted, crouched, and then sprinted over to it.  Shange sprung into action and drove us over to watch the encounter.  

To our utter shock the baby wildebeest then charged the young lioness… and chased her… several times.  We were completely confused and Shange was honestly a bit surprised as well.  “Fight or Flight” was in full effect and although perhaps this baby wildebeest already knew its fate it wasn’t going to go out without a respectful effort.  This went on for about a minute or two with one moment being a spectacular stare-off between the two across the dusty road.  Then, with one swipe of a single paw and claws it was over.  

Within 4-5 minutes of clamped lion jaw around it’s neck the baby wildebeest was choked to death.  It desperately was calling out in its final breaths and Emily almost couldn’t keep filming but I reminded her this was natural and gently told her to keep focused.  When it was all over the chest of the wildebeest ceased to rise and fall anymore. 

We looked up, to find ourselves not only closest to the action but surrounded by about 8-10 other safari vehicles which had shown up near the end of the kill.  In the distance we saw a male lion which had walked over hearing the commotion and was mock-roaring, perhaps at frequency we couldn’t hear but the female could, as she quickly left her own kill to the male lion who sauntered over and took it from her.  

Neither animal seemed to care at all about all the vehicles watching them but the male did take the time to lift up (with awful tearing sounds) the wildebeest and drag it into some bushes out of sight for feasting.  Once this happened we told Shange we were ready to leave and to give the lions some room to relax and enjoy their meal.  This encounter was probably the 2nd best highlight of our whole trip, just after moon glow on the summit of Kilimanjaro, and was another notch in our Africa “Circle of Life” we were hoping to experience.

After leaving the kill we quickly came across more lions.  This time it was a pack of female lions with cubs hanging out in some tall grass.  We stopped and watched them as they relaxed and snoozed in the sun and tried to count all the cubs that were with them.  Perhaps 5-6?  It was about this time that two safari vehicles nearby got stuck in the dry mud of the riverbed.  

Our experienced guide Shange jumped into action and basically took over the situation.  He directed other young guides on how to drive their vehicle and hook up chains to pull the stuck vehicles out.  He even had to show one how engage 4x4 on their vehicle… come on now…? Really?  We definitely chose the right company with Duma!

The rest of the day we drove into the Serengeti too look for wildlife.  Well, we found it!  Two different cheetahs, our first hyena, and after a bit of distance we reached the Great Migration.  As far as the eye could see were wildebeest!  I’m not exaggerating when I say hundreds of thousands!  It is not uncommon for 10,000 to die from drowning on just a single water crossing there are so many!  They follow the rains and predators follow them.  

We were lucky to see them so close to where we were on safari.. thereby ensuring we’d see other predators like the many lions we saw in the morning.  We also learned that Zebra follow closely to the Wildebeest as the Zebra have great eyesight for predators while the wildebeest lead the Zebras lead them to water, a great symbiotic relationship.

Shange provided a very nice lunch for us under a tree in the bush.  He of course kept an eye out for animals around us while we ate.  Chicken, pasta, corn bread, quiche, all prepared by the cooks at Chaka camp for us.  The rest of the day we drove off-road everywhere desperately looking for leopards to no avail although we did get some great views of Lake Ndutu and got to see many more giraffe.  In several places around water we saw piles of wildebeest skulls from where many, in their stupidity (they are really dumb), had chosen crossings that were too deep and drowned.  

We arrived back at camp around 5pm to find it full of Zebras walking around!  Amazing!  After a more traditional dinner again with soup and main course, we met a staff member nicknamed “Cobra”.  This guy was awesome and had quite the personality.  He was working there but wanted to be a guide someday and certainly had the charming attitude to be a great one.  He gave us all nicknames - Eric was Duma (Cheetah), Emy was a Kori Bustard (large bird), Emily was a Fish Eagle and I was a Black Mamba.  

We had many more drinks this night and it turned out to be the only time on the trip that we all got a bit “tipsy”.  I also clogged the toilet because it had run out of water which was pretty gross but bearable considering where we were in the world.  :)  #FirstWorldProblems  It was fixed quickly in the morning anyway.  Once again a night of beautiful stars and rising moon in the distance.

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