Safari in Tanzania 2015

Day 5 Saturday September 12, 2015

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The Land Cruiser served us unerringly for four full days.

It was a very eventful night. Although I slept fitfully, I felt pretty good when I woke up. I took my last Cipro with some confidence that my problems were all behind me.[1]

This was taken from the vehicle. Our tent is behind Sue and to the right.

Our fivesome had once again agreed to take our breakfast in the bush. Before we left at 8 a.m. I decided to remove anything extraneous from my backpack. Since my camera was always strapped around my neck, I decided to stop carrying my camera case. The only thing in it was my spare battery, which I could easily carry in a pocket. The backpack seemed heavier to me than it should. I went through every section, and, to my great surprise and delight, I found my prescription sunglasses. I had not lost them after all.

Across the river two dramas played out. On the left a family of elephants and a few wilderbeests calmly ate breakfast.

Upon our arrival at the trusty Land Cruiser, we learned from Belinda that hippos had been very near the camp during the night. These great beasts generally lay around in or near the water all day long, but at night they were out and about filling up their massive bellies with all kinds of vegetation.

On the right momentum was building for a big crossing.

Early in the morning everyone heard a very strange noise that was identified as the call of some hyenas. If you knew what all of the animals sounded like, you could enjoy a greatly enhanced experience in the bush. The abundance and diversity of the wildlife in the Serengeti almost defied belief.

Here they come!

Baraka asked us how we wanted to spend the morning. I, the only morning person in the group, had heard about the spectacularly chaotic crossing that some of the other people in the group had seen, and I was a bit jealous. I volunteered that we should try to see a crossing. The motion was passed 1-0 with four abstentions, although I think that Baraka would have broken the tie in my favor if someone suggested that we go look for a rhinoceros.

We drove down to crossing point #3, where we spotted some elephants on the other side of the Mara. We had only been there for a few minutes when wildebeests began gathering in large numbers. Pretty soon a few of them began descending the bank toward the river. No one wanted to be the first in the water, but as more and more of them descended, there was less and less room for standing.

No one said a word.

The only sound was ...

... the clicking of shutters.

The, all of a sudden it was on! The wildebeests were swimming (or maybe walking) right towards us. Pretty soon they reached our shore and climbed up our bank — on at first in front of us, but then behind us as well! This was not good. The wildebeests would probably be startled by our presence. In a large crossing it was critically important that the animals that had completed the crossing immediately begin walking away from the river at a good pace to avoid bottlenecks behind them. If even one frightened wildebeest decided to turn around or even stop, dozens or even hundreds could die.

They just kept coming.

Up close and personal.

A few boldly leapt into the water.

Baraka understood this. He slammed the car into reverse, and he maneuvered the vehicle safely around the wildebeests and parked it nearby. From the new vantage point we could still see the crossing quite well, but we could not see them going up the bank on our side.

Climb the bank and keep walking! Do not stop!

Not so eager now.

Uh, oh! They lost contact.

This courageous animal got it started again.

Many followed its example.

Many hundreds of wildebeests made the crossing. Once again they were crossing from north to south, the opposite of what I expected. Baraka never remarked on this except to say that they crossed in both directions.

The crossing did not last for a long time. At one point there was, for no apparent reason, a break. The animals on the other shore lost contact with the group in the water. A wildebeest's courage seemed to be greatly augmented by the presence of another one in front of it. Finally, one very brave soul, probably separated from her mother or her calf, decided to take the plunge. That daring act provoked another mini-crossing.

The ones who stayed behind.

In the end a large number of wildebeests still remained on the far shore. They stood around for a few minutes wondering about whatever wildebeests wonder about. They then went back to searching for very short very green morsels of grass, as their kind is wont to do.

I love this shot. It was taken with the camera on the monopod held over my head.

While we were watching, Baraka explained that all of the wildebeest calves are born during the rainy season, usually in February. However, Baraka noted that if the weather conditions were not right, the pregnant females could somehow extend their gestation period. He claimed that they were the only animals that could do that, but Betty said that American otters also have that ability.[2]

The wildebeests dined on the short green grasses. Their lips stayed with an inch of the ground.

I used my monopod for the shots of the crossing. It was something of a pain to set up, but it seemed to help steady my hand. I took almost fifty photos, and only a couple came out a little blurry. I also used it for one really cool photo when the crossing had finished.

The four elephants.

We next spotted a group of four elephants. We watched them tear apart some trees for a few minutes. Even the young ones attempted to help pull down branches, but they did not have much effect. Maybe they were just trying to build strength in their trunks, or maybe they just enjoyed playing tug-of-war.

We saw a hyena running and a red-necked spurfowl. I was unable to photograph the former, but the latter was not moving as quickly, and I think that I got a pretty good shot of it. I am not certain, however, because the bird's neck is not visible in the photo.

This small elephant was determined to pull down the branch.

It seemed to think that lifing its right leg would help somehow.

Lifting the left leg only seemed to open its mouth wider.

I think that this is the red-necked spurfowl.

These are definitely banded mongooses.

We did not need Waili to help us locate another business of mongooses. They were running in the road. For the first time I was able to get a decent photo of them.

I also photographed a pair of grey-backed shrikes. If the animals are reasonably still, I can usually be reasonably competent at taking their photos. I still was taking approximately one photo per day of my lens cover. There were no apparent holes in it yet.

The grey-backed shrikes.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

On the way to the breakfast site we drove by a group of four elephants. Baraka stopped the vehicle. I concentrated on trying to get facial shots of the younger ones.

We stopped for breakfast near crossing point #7. I discovered that the array of foodstuffs at these events included bread and peanut butter. I was quite happy to restrict my intake to these two items and some juice.

We wolfed down breakfast, ...

... and drove to the river to watch the crossing.

From our vantage point we could see that a crossing was probably imminent.[3] We therefore hurriedly finished eating and climbed into the Land Cruiser. Baraka drove us to a spot near the crossing point, and the wildebeests did not disappoint us.

This crossing was not as big as the previous one, but it had two interesting aspects. The first was that it also involved zebras. The zebras waited until almost all of the wildebeests had crossed before they set out. They took their time, and it was evident that, except for the babies, they were walking, not swimming. The also did not seem to be affected by the current. Unlike the wildebeests, they were in no hurry to emerge from of the stream. Several stopped near the destination, looked around, and took a drink. All of the zebras crossed.

The crossing was in progress when we got there.

As usual the straight line quickly became a C ...

... until a wildebeest started a new line.

After the wildebeests had nearly completed their crossing, ...

... the zebras began their leisurely jaunt across the stream.

The zebras seemed unaffected by the current, even the baby that must have been swimming for its very life.

This group lacked the gumption to take the plunge.

In contrast, fourteen wildebeests stayed on the far shore on the edge of the water. It was obvious that they wanted to join the others in the crossing, but for some reason they did not do it. I think that it is safe to say that science is still years away from understanding the psychology of these creatures. That does not, in fact, stop people from having opinions.

A rare hippo on passeggiata.

In fact, nearly everyone thinks that wildebeests are stupid. There average IQ is about 1. I began to wonder what would happen if there were a genius wildebeest that could score a 2 on an IQ test. Would he (or more likely she) be considered their Mozart, their Einstein, or maybe their Napoleon? Or would the outlier be considered dangerous, like a witch?

Check out the shapely legs on this secretary.

We saw a hippo strolling on the shore in broad daylight. This occurrence was unusual enough to merit inclusion in the journal.

Not all of the Serengeti is savanna, but this area was just as I had imagined it.

We then saw a large herd of impalas, which, for some reason I did not photograph. We may not have even stopped, but Baraka did explain that baboons have a symbiotic relationship with impalas. I did not record the exact details, but it had something to do with looking out for leopards and lions.

We then encountered a secretarybird that was much easier to photograph than the one we had seen on Thursday.

Limitless scat and the skull of a wildebeest. The courser is in this photo, too; can you spot it?

We saw a Temminck's courser and some ostriches. At this point my right forefinger was too tired to snap photos of the latter.

This eagle looks a little tawny.

Tom lost his hat again. Baraka had to retrieve it for him. This time it was fastened to his collar, but it still came off. The rest of us wore hats with strings a la Annie Oakley on TV.[4] We pulled them tight under our chins when it became very windy, or the ride was rough. They looked dorky, but they never flew off. Baraka wore a baseball cap. Evidently he had never read the guidebooks that advised so vigorously against such headgear.

This one looks more martial.

Baraka liked to emphasize his experience, and he occasionally complained about the fact that some of the guides did not know the park very well. He said that one guide — not employed by Alex Walker — had been lost for four hours and never admitted as much to the tourists he was transporting. In addition to his mental map[5] of the area, Baraka had a GPS, a radio that he used frequently, and an eagle-eyed spotter.

A fool on a hill?

We saw a tawny eagle and a martial eagle. I shot a presentable photo of at least one of them.

We saw hundreds of Thompson's gazelles. I rested my photo finger.

I was more appreciative of a big male eland that never took its eyes off of us.

The eland was in the shade, ...

... but I got a pretty good close-up.

Giraffes on the savanna will always be near the trees.

Next we stopped to observe a group of four giraffes.

Our first view of the male lion.

The shade helped, but he was still panting.

A big cat needs a lot of sleep.

One of the highlights of the morning was the time that we spent in the company of an identifiably male lion, the first that we had seen. This fellow was not close to full-grown, but his mane was coming in, and he appeared to be proud of it. He even moved around a little bit, which is somewhat unusual for lions in daylight.

Not the king yet, but surely a prince.

He almost always showed us his good side, ...

... but this shot demonstrates why the lionesses called him scarface.

We headed back to camp for lunch after still another superb morning game drive. Belinda greeted us and showed us evidence that jackals had been in the camp and left us a present. It was still fresh.

Sue questioned Baraka about whether it was safe to drive through the creek. Incidentally, the Land Cruiser was always well stocked with snacks.

At lunch I avoided the salad, but I ate everything else. I had the privilege of sitting next to Gerard,[6] who has spent most of his life involved with African wildlife and the tourism industry. Among other things he talked about the superiority of Toyota Land Cruisers over the traditional Land Rovers. He said that the slogan of the latter should be "The Land Rover, turning men into mechanics for fifty years." We had not yet ridden in one, but we would soon get a chance.

Gerard disclosed that the security equipment at the Lake Manyara Airport did not work. He laughed when I told him that the terminal there had a VIP lounge, or at least a sign advertising one.

Baraka checked out the conditions and determined that the Land Cruiser could handle them.

Gerard also informed us that the wine bottle filled with hot sauce at one end of the table was considerably stronger than the one at the other end. He preferred the former, and he applied it liberally to the soup served at supper, which my Midwestern taste buds judged not to need any enhancing.

After lunch I was disappointed to discover that I could still not use the toilet standing up. The condition was neither painful nor debilitating, but it was certainly annoying.

The pair of lions was difficult to spot in the high grass.

This is my favorite photo of the Serengeti.

I practically never bother with sunscreen. I have had very mild sunburns perhaps three times in my life. Nevertheless, on Friday the equatorial sun was so hot that I had borrowed a little from Sue for my nose and hands. Even so, I could see a little peeling on both hands. I had repeated the procedure on Saturday morning.

Almost as soon as we left the camp it began to rain a little. It never rained hard, but it was threatening enough that Baraka and Waili rolled out the canvas roof. It was more like what Hawaiians call "liquid sunshine."

The one on the right seemed interested in us, ...

Baraka resorted to the four-wheel drive to negotiate a couple of creeks. We even saw a little lightning in the distance.

... but not for long.

We discovered two young lions lying in the grass. Baraka informed us that the one on the right was a male. He could tell because its mane was starting to come in. It was still pretty scruffy, but it was definitely visible.

We spent quite a few minutes watching this pair. They accommodated us with at least a modicum of interest and activity. I was quite pleased that a couple of my photos of the two of them came out very well despite the grass that sometimes interfered with the camera's ability to auto-focus.[7]

This is by far the best shot I got of the banded mongooses.

We then saw another business of banded mongooses. For once they were reasonably still. One of the photos that I shot is actually clear enough that the bands are easily discernible.

The dwarf mongoose is much smaller than his banded cousins.

As we were passing a termite mound, Sue noticed a head pop out of a hole therein. Baraka stopped and backed the vehicle so that we could see an extremely cute little animal that he identified as a dwarf mongoose. This critter must have been used to modeling. It moved its head from left to center to right, but it always remained motionless long enough to allow for good photos.

Baraka then found us another leopard, or so he said. This one was so lifeless that I took to calling it the "elongated spotted rock hyrax." I cannot believe that I complained about a leopard viewing.

There oughta be a law ...

... agin anything ...

... this cute.

At this distance no one could tell if this was a leopard or an elongated spotted rock hyrax.

Well, hyraxes have ears, too, ...

... but not such long whiskers.

The drive ended with a short stop to see some more hippos, or maybe ones that we had already viewed. They needed to wear nametags.

I guess that nametags would not actually help much.

It started to sprinkle a little between 7 and 7:30. The gathering for the bonfire was therefore moved into the Nest. I actually liked this better because you could see more than the two people next to you, and the conversation seemed more lively. Sue, however, opted to stay outside and watch the campfire. I knew that she liked campfires, but it was very unusual for her to pass up a social occasion of any kind.

The entrée at supper was beef. I was feeling better than I had since we set foot in Africa. I even chanced a glass of red wine.

I enjoyed this supper more than any previous ones. I got to know the names of the other tourists. The two Minnesotans were named Andy and Chris. Sandy and Ann were from a part of Virginia with which I was not familiar. The three newcomers were Rich, Abby, and Ryan. They all were residents of Florida, but Rich and Abby met when Rich was associated with the ill-starred Harford Jai Alai venture back in the seventies. Their son, Ryan, was a physician.

After supper somehow Robin Williams's name came up. I explained to everyone how he had stolen a joke from me.[8] Rich was able to match this with an interesting tale about his quip that his golf game was so bad that he needed to get his ball-retriever regripped. A cartoon was eventually drawn using this gag, and it was published.

Abby told how she had gotten in trouble by repeating a joke that her father had told. It involved a woman in the water with a faulty bikini top. The punch line involved a child beseeching her "If you are going to drown those puppies, can I have the one with the pink nose?"

Martin Mull's name also came up. I recounted how when we had seen him in Detroit in the seventies he had started his act by surveying the audience about their joke preferences. He began by telling the familiar story of Henry David Thoreau (in jail) and Ralph Waldo Emerson (visiting him). Silence ensued. He then started a second joke that began "Two fat black lesbians are sitting at a bar…" He did it much better than I did, and he got a much better reaction.

I felt fine after supper, and I slept all night.

[1]  Apologies to George Brett.

[2]  Apparently quite a few mammals have the ability to time their offspring's birth due to environmental conditions. The name for this process is obligate diapause.

[3]  Nothing is ever certain with the wildebeests, but when a large restless group congregates on the shore, they usually cross unless something spooks them.

[4]  When I researched this, I was surprised to find that although Annie's hat was usually suspended on her back by the strings, when she wore it on her head, the strings always disappeared.

[5]  There is also a nice physical map available #url here. I wish that we had had one. The curvy roads made it difficult for me to maintain my bearings.

[6]  You can read his biography here.

[7]  Of course, someone who knew what he was doing could have overridden the auto-focus.

[8]  This really happened. You can read about it here.