Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Serengeti

“[The Serengeti Plains] are endless and they are empty, but the are as warm with life as the waters of a tropic sea. They are webbed with the paths of eland and wildebeest and Thompson’s gazelle and their hollows and valleys are trampled by thousands of zebra. I have seen a herd of buffalo invade the pastures under the occasional thorn tree groves and, now and then, the whimsically fashioned figure of a plodding rhino has moved along the horizon like a grey boulder come t life and adventure bound. There are no roads. There are no villages, no towns, no telegraph. There is nothing, as far as you can see, or walk, or ride, except grass and rocks and a few trees and the animals that live there.”—Beryl Markham, West With the Wind

The Serengeti meets Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area at the Serengeti’s southeast border. Along the dirt road lies Oldupai Gorge. You might know this as Olduvai Gorge, the spot where Louis and Mary Leaky discovered some of man’s oldest fossils, including hominid footprints estimated to be 3.7 million years old preserved by layers of volcanic ash. Apparently the white man who found the gorge asked locals what they called the area and they answered Oldupai, but he heard Olduvai and that was the name that went in the books. We stopped in at the small museum at the site of the gorge and for a quick lecture before getting back in the car – here’s the car, by the way –

and heading into the Serengeti. Even before we passed through the gate, we came across three lions sleeping by the side of the road.

We picnicked and hit the road again, driving all afternoon. (You never get used to bumpy roads.) Late in the afternoon a cluster of cars caught our attention. Our guide, John, said, “Maybe it is something special,” and pulled up closer. Whispers of “leopard” reached our ears from the heads that stuck out the roofs of the cars in front of us. We searched and we searched with our binoculars but could see nothing amongst the branches of the sausage tree, except, well, sausages. Finally J spotted the spots, because J spotted everything first. It was the most well-hidden leopard, perhaps ever. There were spots amongst the leaves, but no head, no tail. After a few minutes we pulled away, but before we got very far John received a call on his radio. The leopard was on the move. By the time we got back it had repositioned itself on the branch so we could see its head and its tail. It lounged without notice of the line of vehicles before it, its head resting on its front paws, back legs dangling thirty feet above ground. It was my birthday.

What else we saw:
Leopard, lions, elephants, buffalo, hippos, wildebeest, gazelle, hartebeest, zebra, giraffe, topi, impala, crocodile, monitor lizard, dik dik…

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