I wake up at 3:15. I always do that when I have to get up early. But the next thing I remember is Gershon’s alarm going off at 5:27. We both spring into action, and we’re washed up and ready to head for the girls’ house at 5:50. In the darkness I can see that the lights are on over there. And at Ferdinand’s house—his son Prosper is one of the children coming along.
The crew is all up and on time. The cars arrive at 6, and we distribute everybody as planned, 6 in 1 (the 2 Tumaini girls here), and 8 in the other (the 3 Tumaini boys here). The drivers / guides are Edward and Samuel, whom we had last year. Edward is the lead guide, so I ride shotgun with him. Gershon’s shotgun in Samuel’s car, the 8-passenger. And we have bags of food everywhere.
Through town as day dawns, then 2 hours north and east to the park. We stop at the last town before the park to buy water. There Edward tells me that heavy rains a few days ago have washed out the bridge to the main park entrance. We’ll need to cut through a private game preserve to a secondary gate. How long? Just 15 minutes.
An hour later, we arrive at the gate. That’s a demonstration of standard African estimation skills. Edward points to the toilets. “Local,” he says. That means primitive; it’s a concrete cell with a 4-inch square hole in the floor, where all the business takes place. Bring your own TP. At this gate there’s no souvenir shop, but on the plus side, we get processed through in no time flat. Edward and Samuel pop the tops of the vehicles to allow us to stand on the seats for optimal viewing, and into the Serengeti we go.
It’s common to drive quite a ways in before you see anything of substance, but the sightings start quickly for us: a herd of impala, the single male easily identified by his trademark spiraled horns; a group of baboons in the tall grass, with one up a tree as a lookout; grey herons at a watering hole.
As the search extends farther into the park, Edward comments that the animals are scarce today. That surprises me; I figured that the recent rains, and the resulting pools of water, would bring the animals out in numbers. But each time we meet another vehicle, the guides confer—they help each other out that way, even if they work for competing companies, because it’s in everyone’s best interest to have as much information as possible—and they lament the general lack of wildlife. We patrol the lion area very closely—we’ve seen lion pairs there both of the past 2 years—and there’s nary a simba to be seen.
Another result of the rains is that the water in the river is up. That means there’s too much flow over the dam for us to drive across it, so we need to go several kilometers upstream to a bridge. We stop for lunch on the bank of the river, which is flowing along at a pretty good clip, I’d estimate 10 mph. We devour our PBJ sandwiches—2 apiece—and our hard-boiled eggs—1 apiece, 2 for the children—and are careful to pick up our scraps.
All along the river, including here, there are hippos lounging, and crocs lying on the bank in the sun. I wouldn’t recommend that you get too close; those crocs can move surprisingly fast, and an African friend once told me that the hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa. Not as soft and cuddly as they appear.
After changing a tire, we pack up and move out. Throughout the afternoon we keep searching. By departure time we’ve seen most of what there is to see: besides those already mentioned, some giraffes, a good-sized herd of zebra, as well as ostrich and lots of the deer family. Within an hour we see eland, the largest antelope in the world, and dik-dik, the smallest. We don’t see leopard or cheetah, and we’re especially disappointed not to see lion—that’s always considered the prize—but we see a very good representation of the big game, and many of them—zebra, wildebeeste, giraffe, impala, hyena, Thompson’s gazelle, baboon—at very close range. It’s a good day.
Along the way we throw up a lot of mud, and those in the second vehicle can prove it.
We leave the park by the same back way we came, making a stop at the gate to use the “local” facilities. This time we find there are bats flying in and out of the, um, business end of the loo, which the girls find especially disconcerting, but we manage to get our business done and get back on the road. We’re later than we’d like, and we lose daylight well before arriving back in Mwanza. That means we hit Saturday night traffic before we get to town—Mwanza’s a real party on Saturday nights—and we don’t get back to Tumaini until after 9 pm—with Beth about to start making desperate phone calls. I kick myself for not taking my phone; it would have been simple, and thoughtful, to text her when we left the park so she’d know we were going to be late.
We’re bushed. (Pun intended.) Beth has put together some sliced bread and lunch meats, a real treat here. We have some sandwiches, share a recollection or two, send up a prayer of gratitude for all that the day held of God’s goodness, and head off to bed. So online session tonight, so Friday’s post is delayed a day.