Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Safari: Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater
We have photos, and we are really excited at how they turned out. This posting shows some of the safari highlights. Later this week we'll add our visit to the Maasai village, Zanzibar, and finally Cape Town.
The above picture features us after that fateful night camping in the Serengeti . . . the night of the perilous trip into the bush at 2:30 AM. The canvas tent behind us with the sloppy rain-fly was our honeymoon penthouse for the evening. The night before we had enjoyed some Kilimanjaro beer next to a very wet (and therefore very smoky) campfire.
It was a good home for the night, and camping offered the unique experience of waking up to very strange animal noises that we could not begin to identify. The noises seemed to come straight out of some sort of horror film involving either dinosaurs or some sort of zombie pig . . . maybe a mythical sea dragon . . .
Regardless, the safari began in Arusha, Tanzania, on Christmas morning. We boarded our vehicle, an extremely durable Toyota Land Cruiser, and set off on roads that reminded us of rivers . . . often because the roads were rivers. The roof panels in the Land Cruiser could be removed, which created prime wildlife viewing opportunities.
Photographing wildlife is a tricky thing. First, it's highly unlikely that any photo we could produce will contribute something significant to the world of wildlife photography. When it comes down to it, National Geographic does it much better. That said, we came equipped with 400mm of zoom and a monopod. We weren't going to leave without a fight. The result was pleasantly surprising. We've posted some of our favorites here.
We came across this pool of hippos in the Ngorongoro Crater. The animals put on an amazing show for us complete with really loud noises. They also proved to be the stinkiest creatures we encountered in Africa (even surpassing the African penguins at Boulder's Beach near Cape Town). The smell was truly remarkable, especially since it seemed to originate in the bubbly parts of the pond near the hippos' hindquarters (and this was no natural hot spring): unfortunately no zoom lens will capture the stink adequately.
Zebras are amazingly photogenic, and they tend to pose perfectly. The first zebra is a baby (important detail since most people find baby animals adorable). The second and third photos reveal why I was thrilled to carry along a beast of a lens.
The baboons were great fun to watch. They were some of the more playful creatures we witnessed and another opportunity to shamelessly insert more photos of baby animals. In parts of Africa, baboons are a serious menace, tending to steal anything that potentially resembles food. The fourth shot, a panoramic image that Megan captured, features a large number of baboons crossing a grassy field. With the height of the grass, they appeared like ghosts floating among the weeds . . . the picture, while small, really gives a sense of that moment with each dark spot being another baboon.
The wildebeest amazed us with their numbers. The landscape, as far as we could see, was covered in moving black spots. Almost more interesting was watching the cycle of life and death take place all around us. We witnessed one ill wildebeest fall to the ground next to a safari vehicle. The hyena below was heading quickly toward the dying creature.
At another spot on the journey, Megan captured video of a hyena carrying the head of a wildebeest. We also found an impala hanging high up in a tree having been killed and stashed away by a leopard (warning: the photo below is fairly graphic). The powerful juxtaposition of life an death removes the experience from anything we had known from zoos or other animal encounters and really makes the safari experience an experience of nature's intensity.
Other times we sat stunned by the size and the grace of the animals surrounding us. In order below you will find elephants, buffalo, a topi, Grant's gazelle, a baby giraffe, and Coke's hardebeest.
While the big mammals tended to steal the show, the bird life provided plenty of entertainment. We loved the sight of an ostrich in a field of wildebeest, and the crested crane, the national bird of Uganda, was, as our Aussie companions might say, a real "show bag." We also saw an interesting eagle and frightening carrion birds that happened to be hanging out ominously in a dead tree next to a pride of lions.
And, last but not least, we have the cats. We visited during the worst season for viewing lions. During dry season, lions tend to congregate in areas near watering holes to allow them to nap (which they do constantly) near dinner. The grasses are shorter during that time of year, and, as a result, it is fairly easy, we're told, to get close to large numbers of lions. We visited during rainy season (which is also hot and humid season)--all of Tanzania was a massive watering hole, and the grass was very high. This meant that the lions could relax wherever they wished and stay well hidden. Regardless, they couldn't escape 400mm of zoom, so here they are. The second photo shows how hard they are to spot, since this cat was napping with both paws sticking up and everything else hidden. The other cat below is the cheetah. No luck finding a leopard.
While I imagine the term "landscape" scared off the readers who are really only wanting more baby baboon photos, the landscape was as amazing a part of the trip as the animal life. The acacia tree, with its distinctive shape, always reminded us of where we were, and the babao tree looks like it must possess some sort of magical powers . . . babao treess look like fairy tales waiting to happen.
This first photo features one of the funniest creatures we watched, the warthog. The appearance of this warthog along with the small grouping of acacia trees makes this photo one of our favorites.
The babao tree became famous as the home of the baboon, Rafiki, in the Lion King (frame of reference). Megan captured this gorgeous photo in which a babao tree actually seems to be glowing (I mean . . . talk about fairy tale charm!).
The Serengeti is a vast space--a massive plain dotted by mountains and occassional mounds of rock. Below, Megan captured this expanse cut only by the dirt road. The second photo features an impala with a mountain in the background.
The Ngorongoro Crater has unique geography making for an impressive landscape. As the name suggests, the area is a vast central plain surrounded by a crater rim. Nearly treeless, the crater offered amazing moments. In the image below, elephants wander through the fog a long distance from our vehicle--nearby you can see safari vehicles dwarfed by the massive creatures. In the foreground, a Coke's hardebeest wanders toward a pride of lions, lions so full of meat during the bountiful rainy season that they barely took note of the tasty visitor.
In another geographical quirk, Ngorongoro Crater features a massive salt lake that, at a distance, has a pink hue. The hue is created by a massive flock of flamingos. We arrived on a cloudy day, so the images below show the clouds along the crater rim with the flamingos in the lake at the foreground.
After seeing what the crater had to offer, we headed on the long road back to Arusha before heading on toward Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. We new a long trip awaited, but we were on cloud nine. Below, a hyena heads out on its own journey ahead of our vehicle.
So there you have it. The safari was an amazing experience that we look forward to repeating someday. Here we've focused on the animals and landscape, but the safari also produced a load of (somewhat embarrassing) stories bound to appear in future postings. We'll end this one with a picture of the two of us on Christmas morning sitting in the Land Cruiser ready at last to start our African adventure.