We are completing day four of my safari with a cold, windy night in the northern Serengeti. It’s probably in the mid- 50s outside, I’d guess. It is winter here in June, after all, and we are nearing the solstice about 900m above sea level. I am in my tent, vents closed, in a nice warm sleeping bag, surrounded by a well-driven set of tent pegs (thank you Frank!). Better yet, I am clean for the first time in three days. Nearby is an actual bathroom. Yes, that’s right, not a concrete hole in the floor or a shower fixture fed by a garden hose or a spigot planted in mud, but a real toilet, sink and shower. It is a concrete structure (not a corrugated metal shack), has new paint and some well-engineered privacy. There’s a discrete entrance, with a separate ladies’ and men’s room! I am so happy. Frank told me yesterday that the last time he was here, there was a toilet, but no shower, so we might not get one. He said he could see they were building a new bath structure, and maybe I’d be very lucky and it would be done – but I had no idea I’d be lucky enough to get a real building too. Okay, yeah, there’s a hiccup: unheated water. Around here, that means you’d better shower at midday, but it’s a big improvement over every other place we’ve been. Trust me. I could stay here for a week if I had to. On the other hand, the ticks are a deterrent. I found one on my sleeve today and hurried over to the flap to flick it out of the tent before it bit me. I am glad I got rid of it in time. I don’t know how it got in since Frank himself wiped the tent floor (which means it’s clean enough to eat from). I shook out the sleeping bag in the field but was careful not to let it touch the grass. There is a Velcro flap on the bottom of the tent door that maybe had some air gaps, though. I’ll be carefully keeping it closed now – I thought I could relax since we’re out of mosquito country for the time being, and it was too late in the afternoon for the tsetse fly. But no – it seems that in Africa, there is always something looking to eat you.
From Lake Natron, it took about 4.5 hours of driving to get here. I cannot say we drove through “nothing” because there was an obvious path where others had gone before, but at the same time, I don’t feel right saying we were on a road. There were dirt roads, rock-strewn streambeds, some places that were a combination of both, and a lot of sinkholes and uneven terrain. That’s the word I need: terrain. We went over rough terrain for 4.5 hours in a general path and got here, to the Klein gate of the Serengeti National Park and Lobo Campsite. It was pretty bumpy, but our Toyota Land Cruiser is a great car for it, and Frank’s a good driver. Nassoro was even falling asleep at the end of the drive.
On the way here, we saw a couple of dik-diks (tiny antelope about the size of tall housecats), lots of Maasai with goats, cattle & sheep, some persons of another tribe (the Sukuma?), the African Bee Eater bird (a sleekly built, bright green little fellow), baboons, candelabra euforbia succulent trees, a flower called a Lion’s Paw, and a grasshopper in our car that was large enough to skewer and eat. That was the first time I’ve yelped in the car since I left home, but this was big enough to make me do it. Frank pulled over and asked me what happened and I told him we had a large, brown jumping bug with wings. I thought it was a locust or a grasshopper or a large cockroach. He said it sounded like a dung beetle, but I told him I would not make a sound like that for just a dung beetle! We did not find the bug immediately, though – it was hidden in our baggage. About an hour later it showed up on the sleeping pads, as we went up a particularly nasty patch of rocky hill, and I managed not to yelp this time. I told Frank where it was and he looked and said “Oh – yes! – that is a very large grasshopper” and he told me that he saw it leave the car. I hope that was true. I told him I didn’t get too upset until the bugs got large enough to have for lunch. I got a little credibility back after that. A few days later, I saw a locust, and it was about the same size. At first I mistook it for a bird.
After entering the Serengeti National Park, we drove slowly to our campsite. On the way, we saw Thompson’s gazelles, wildebeest, hartebeest, cape buffalo, impalas, lots of zebras, guinea fowls, the white-bellied and the Kori bustard birds, green love birds with red heads, beautiful acacia trees all over the landscape, and the very small cliff-springer antelope (it has spongy hoofs so it can jump on the rocks). Frank told me that the zebras and the wildebeests have a friendly relationship and often are very helpful to each other. Zebras are fat throughout the year because they can digest dead grass (a special bacteria in their digestive system allows it). They will go ahead and eat the tops off of all the high grass, and behind them will follow the ruminant wildebeest, eating the bottom tough green stuff that he can digest best. The zebras have good eyes and ears and can hear lions coming very well, but they need to follow the nose of the wildebeests to sources of water. The two together are stronger than alone.
When we arrived, the men unpacked the tents and I stood and watched them unpack the tents. Just call me Bwana. This is why the safari is expensive – someone else puts up your tent, deals with the bad road and maintaining the truck, and somehow gets your sleeping bag back into its tiny dust cover. I watched how the tent worked and did actually help a little where I could, though Frank did the hard parts. Since I find that I am not sweating or cursing at the tent or the sleeping bag or getting lost, I am not sure I am really camping. I am clean, I had a nice dinner on real plates, and I am warm. I didn’t know you could do that and still be camping. I think maybe this is extra-special camping brought to me by people who know what they are doing.