Serengeti – the Maasai word for Endless Savannah. Endless. Savannah. I’m sure it’s beautiful in the rainy season, but in the dry season it’s just ….endless. Eeennndddless. Imagine you are standing on a beach and the ocean is in front of you, except there are no waves, the ocean is as still as a lake, and made up of short yellow grass. Now you get it – endless savannah. And you keep thinking – it doesn’t end? There’s no hill in the distance to break this flatness? And then you travel another fifteen minutes and you see something. It’s a tuft of smoke rising from the ground and the driver tells you about how the grass undergoes controlled burning to make sure it regenerates and then you settle back into the bumpy ride hoping that you will eventually see something.
You doze off, and when you awaken it’s because the van has stopped and everyone is clustered to one side. So you get up and look and there he is, king of the beasts, right outside your van. Ahhh…so this is why I came to the Serengeti. The van moves forward a little and you get a better view of the lion, his brother and his other brother, huge, panting, moving slowly on account of the fullness from the kill that is still evident all over their red raw mouths. You linger, trailing after these brutes and then finally when the view has been captured from every possible angle, with every possible Japanese and Korean gadget you feel ready to move on. You’re thinking now that’s what I mean when I say Serengeti…three lions all at once.
Hardly twenty minutes pass and your driver slows down because he’s spotted a cheetah. You do a double take, lions and a cheetah all in one day and we’ve not even made it to the lodge? Wow. So for those who are not familiar with wildlife sightings, randomly happening upon a cheetah with no radio calls between tour vans is like being in Alaska and bumping into a polar bear i.e. endangered species spotted despite white on white (or so I imagine). I haven’t come across a cheetah in the wild in over twenty years, but then again I had never been to the Serengeti, which as I was soon to find out is a whole different class of game park. All the way to the lodge we ticked off animal after animal. Safari Trumps playing kids in the back called out conservation status and bio facts on zebra, elephants, buffalo, Egyptian geese and about every class of antelope there is.
Next day and we were off again, now deep into the park where we encountered the most vicious predator of them all… the mighty tsetse fly. Now this little sucker can floor a grown man and make him cry for this mother. I know because the three men I was travelling with did. Why God gave such power to such a tiny little horror and then added speed suggests He is not good all the time. We slapped and hit each other for a good half hour before winning the battle of man versus beast and having survived the tsetse madness we arrived at the hippo pool and true to Serengeti form we saw lots of hippos. 147 hippos to be exact. A wondrous sight but a ghastly smell to behold. The dry season means that the hippo pools have shrunk and the mighty beasts have to huddle together, wallowing day in and day out in each other’s poop. Ughhh…away away we must away.
After a hearty picnic lunch we come across … more lions. Nineteen of them, lazing around on their sides and backs like they had all come from a Roman banquet, stuffed beyond measure. You can’t help but wonder how many herbivores need to go down to service nineteen lions. Life is rough for families out here in the wild. Twenty minutes later, we come upon a leopard. Granted its hanging about in a tree about 40 meters from the road but who cares? It’s a leopard, right there and if you squint right you can see it through the binoculars.
So I get it Serengeti, you are big, you are wild, you are endless and you do nothing in small sizes (except those damn flies). I’ve never been able to tick off so much game in my life and yet the driver keeps telling us we’ve seen nothing… admonishing us for not visiting during the rainy season when the migration happens, and apparently one like seriously sees lots of animals. Now that he says is a sight worth seeing.