Walking down to breakfast Don spotted a baby impala and her mother grazing a meter off the path. The baby seemed a bit startled but the mother was too busy eating to bother with us. We watched the pair throughout most of breakfast. It was a reminder of just how immersed you are in nature and the animals. There is no fence around the camp and the animals can roam in out and as they choose.
Today we opted for the full day drive out to the Maasai Mara river. We travelled into the Serengeti National Park on a 3 hr drive, that is, a 3hr drive if you don't stop! We didn't see much at first but then got into zebra country. It was exciting- Dad asked Patita to stop at the sort of up close zebra and we quickly realized afterwards that they were absolutely everywhere. We passed one other vehicle during the day and they reported spotting a leopard in a little oasis nearby. I’ve never strained so hard to see anything as on these drives. We didn’t get to see the leopard today but by now ‘seeing a leopard’ was on everyone’s radar. When we arrived at the river there was a rush of movement as the hippos stampeded into the water from their sunny sand bar resting area. There were I'd say approximately 100 hippos, all moving around, cavorting, yawning and making hippo noises. I'd never before seen so much hippo activity. And they were all watching us intently. That was quite different from Botswana where they just slept as you went by. We also saw some big crocs in amongst the hippos. Apparently they don't bother much with each other because of their mutual size. As I mentioned in the last post the Mara river is the river where you see the great migration videos with the wildebeast crossing and the crocs snapping them up. Patita said that during the migration the land looks black because there are so many animals.
We then headed further along the river to watch a herd of elephants with a very young baby- the guides thought about 2 months old. She was so little! She kept lying down, I guess because she was tired. We then watched them cross the river (and play around in and with the water as they did so). In some of the photos you can see just how tiny the baby is compared to the adults. She was almost completely underwater at some points during the crossing. Two of the young males looked like they were having a bit of a tiff (trunks intertwined, photo below). At this time of year the river is quite shallow- I’d guess it was two feet deep in the deepest part. After spending about 45 minutes with the elephants we moved off to a spot where there were no animals immediately in the vicinity- this actually took some work because there seemed to be elephants everywhere. Lunch was served under the shade of a nearby tree, and just as it felt special at breakfast the day before, when you are able to get out of the vehicle you really get a heightened sense of where you are and that excited feeling of being there comes back in full force.
The drive back to camp was the really exciting part of this trip and when we got our first full dose of lions and cubs. We first spotted three females off on their own and as we pulled up it began to rain, and then pour. We hung around for a while but the lions were clearly focused on hiding under the brush to get out of the rain.
The other &Beyond truck alerted us to a lion pride feeding on a buffalo carcass nearby. The pride as we saw it consisted of two large males, a handful of mature females, two young males with tufts of hair coming in for their manes, and two litters of cubs, totalling I’d say 8 or 10. We sat there, in the rain, enjoying every moment. Don pointed out that one of the cubs was actually inside the belly of the carcass, eating his share from the inside (photo below). As we watched you could see that the lions were feeding in groups, in a hierarchical order. The big males were lying on the grass nearby with bulging bellies, then the older females came in, followed by the young males. The cubs were mostly just cavorting around in the muddy water and occasionally making an effort to take a bite. I’d guess the cubs were about 2 and 3 months old. These were, compared to cubs we saw later in the trip, very, very shy. Finally, as the realization set in that we were all soaked we decided to continue on our still several hour drive back to camp.
Another tip came in from the other vehicle shortly after- a Rhino spotted in the distance. We had been told that out by the river was our best chance of seeing a rhino and so I couldn’t believe our luck. Well, I’ve posted wheat we’ve come to term proof of existence photos- these show that yes you did in fact see an animal but really what you hope is that they’ll hold a spot in your photo album until you get the chance to upgrade it to something a little closer. Again I have no idea how the tracker spotted them- even when the guide was telling me exactly where to look I couldn’t see them. We were quite far away and impeded by getting closer by a river. I did eventually see them with the binoculars, which I highly recommend on these trips if you are not constantly taking pictures (Don had a big 400 fixed lens, and Dad a 21x zoom camera, which both effectively act as binoculars). I did in fact just buy a pair of binocs for the upcoming Namibia/Zambia trip, which starts in under two weeks (yes- I am a bit behind on these posts). As we were looking for the rhino we saw another female lion off on her own. She blends in so well with her surroundings you could easily miss her. As we drove we moved ahead of the storm and this allowed us to get great photos of the weather and the landscape. What a beautiful place!
We passed two broken down vehicles near the park gate exit- a group of four vehicles on a self guided driving tour had two vehicles break down. And of course it was nearing dark. We saw this group at the ranger station trying to sort out what to do- you aren’t near anything at all in these parks. I couldn’t help but think that I was so glad we weren’t in their situation.. While our guides spoke with the rangers, I am guessing about how to take care of these people, we wandered around the entrance. Don got some great photos of the red and blue lizards that were absolutely everywhere. The photos below are of one such lizard sunning himself on an elephant skull. We arrived back at camp around 6 and then it was on to drinks and dinner, after, of course long, hot showers to work the chill out of our bones.