I can hear the animal howling right outside. It’s snuffling around my tent and calling. I have a good strong tent tonight – but this is a bit scary. This is my last night in a tent, and what a nice tent it is. After five nights on the ground, I am in a real bed. We are at a “mobile camp” where there are room-sized tents with beds, a desk and believe it or not, an attached bathroom. Don’t ask me how they got a real western toilet in there, working, but they have. There’s even a bag for hot water to go into the shower. Tonight was my first hot water shower in six days. Unfortunately, the air surrounding it was freezing cold, but it was better than the cold-shower/cold-air combo I had at the nice new bathrooms at the Lobo camp. There is also a real dinner service and pretty ambiance outside, with pretty kerosene lanterns on the path.
It’s sort of weird not being in my usual tent and extra-warm sleeping bag. I had gotten used to it, and used to being on the ground. While I suppose that you can get used to anything, the gear that my guide chose for me was good. If there were hot showers and clean bathrooms involved, I can see that camping could be fun, especially if there weren’t more than one or two other campers at the site. US campgrounds probably have a western toilet instead of the African hole-in-the-ground (with either a concrete or porcelain surround). Bathrooms aside, there is something special about sleeping under the stars and hearing animals and the life outside. It feels connected.
Soon my safari will be over and I will be truly sad to leave. This trip has been one of the most amazing things I have ever been part of. I feel privileged to have seen the animals and the ways of East Africa. I don’t know if words can adequately express the way I feel about the Serengeti, its human and animal inhabitants, and its beauty. It moves me greatly to think of it. In the last few days I have seen things I never imagined. I learned a lot, and was surprised often. Let me try to give you some highlights:
1. The birds of Africa are amazing. I had no idea they were this cool. My favorite is still the ground hornbill, and I have seen many of them, despite the low odds of it. The little green bee-catcher bird was a surprise and the saddle-billed stork blew me away.
2. Through 30 minutes of very patient watching, we saw a leopard come out of its tree, disappear in the grasslands, while all the other safari trucks gave up and left. Alone we saw the leopard come back up the tree with its fresh kill, a male gazelle.
3. A lean and hungry cheetah, after another 30 minutes or so of watching, eventually came out of her grasslands and across the road in front of us.
4. A pride of lions with their young ate a zebra by the side of the road.
5. We watched an old male elephant (about 70 years old according to Frank, my guide) give himself a big rub between the trunks of an acacia tree. He then deliberately knocked one of the trunks down with his head and trunk, walked to the other side, and ate the treetop he’d made accessible. This was less than 10 feet from our car and we were the only spectators.
6. The proud traditional life of the Maasai, including meeting a young boy who would be circumcised the next day as part of the ritual to become a warrior of his clan.
7. The wildebeest migration herd in flight.
8. Young elephants playing together with their mothers looking on.
9. Three lionesses sitting on a fallen tree, looking for lunch, about 10 meters from the car.
10. Another lioness crossing the road, sitting on a mound, crossing it again and sitting on another mound, all within 15 feet of the car.
11. Watching a bunch of patient, hard-working African guys carefully remove an entire wheel assembly down to the axel with three wrenches, a hammer, tent stakes and no screwdriver. Then put it back together and keep the car running for two more days.
12. Baobab trees and giraffes: unexpected geometry, still graceful.
13. The grasslands burning at night by controlled ranger fires.
14. The stars of the southern hemisphere.
Tomorrow we will do a morning game drive and then go to the Ngorongoro crater (the world’s largest intact caldera or crater). That is where the elusive black rhino lives.