Saturday, June 15, 2019

Safari!

Technically, that’s just the Swahili word for “trip,” and a related agent word just means “traveler,” but in the west we always associate it with shooting wild game in Africa, with guns or cameras.

Today it’s cameras.

Up at 4. Brush, shower, shave, pack. Taking the passport just to ensure that we don’t need it. Taking some extra food in case the box lunch is something I shouldn’t eat. Taking electronics, including an external battery for the phone and the mobile router Just In Case.

I drop by the house, and everyone’s up and pretty much ready to go. The 4 safari vehicles show up at 4.45, a full 15 minutes early. I meet the lead driver, Lukas, and drop my backpack in his shotgun seat. I’ve told the team to spread out across the 4 vehicles so each of the children has some oversight. This is the most children we’ve ever taken—15, plus 2 staff members. When everyone has a seat, I note how the crew has distributed themselves—

  • Peter and Sam in a vehicle with a bunch of boys. That’s a really good idea.
  • Abbie, Cheyenne, and Cathryn
  • Rebekah, Shelbie, and Michaela
  • Blake and Kat are with me, with 3 more boys

This’ll work fine.

We realize later that in the rush to get away, we overlook one thing—we forget to distribute the mandazi among the vehicles, leaving them all in one vehicle. The folks in that vehicle, unaware that they have the whole lot, enjoy them immensely during the drive. No mandazi for the rest of us.

Simple oversight. Doesn’t compromise the mission. Inconvenience, not disaster. But I think we’ll need to eat lunch earlier than we might have.

Out to the main drag and north through Mwanza. Traffic is heavier than I would have expected at 5.15 am. Lots of people getting ready for Saturday business.

By 7 am the sun is a bright orange ball on the horizon directly in front of us. I tell the children that when we get to it, we’ll be there.

I know. Dad joke.

It’s 2 and a half hours north and east to the park. Once we’re out of Greater Mwanza, it’s essentially bush, with the occasional village, a dozen or so buildings made of mud brick or concrete block, thatched or metal roofs, often high-pitched. Lots of pedestrians and bicyclists, carrying water jugs or fuel. The names flow by—Nyanguge, Magu, Nyahanga—until we reach Lamadi, seemingly the largest of the towns and the last before the park entrance. I’ve told Lukas I’d like to stop there to pick up a couple dozen more water bottles, just for backup. We’ve each brought our own bottle—well, the team has, anyway—and the company has provided a couple of cases, and there will be water in the boxed lunches, but still …

That done, we drive just a bit further to the Serengeti Stopover Lodge, an inn and restaurant, where the company has ordered the lunches. They place a large, heavy, stapled brown paper bag at each seat.

Then into the park, just a few hundred meters down the road. Turn right under the arch, then down the drive to the Ndabaka gate itself, where we need to stop to register. I show the crew where the toilets are—western or African, to suit your preference—and then show them the gift shop and encourage them to buy now what they’re going to buy. While they’re doing that, a local monkey pops in, knocks over a display, and takes off. The proprietor does a brisk business in all kinds of souvenirs, and also in cans of Pringles™ (of which Africa has many flavors we don’t in the States) and plastic bottles of soda.

Kids these days.

Then open the gate, and in we go. By 8 am. Awesome.

It’s fairly common not to see much out by the gate, but we do see wildebeest first (there are lots of them here). I always think they look like they were designed by a committee—ungainly, looking oddly disproportional.

Wildebeest

Then some ostriches, a few zebra, impala, monkeys. Lots of birds, especially an iridescent blue variety that’s all over the place.

(By the way, zebras are white with black stripes, not vice versa. You can tell that by their solid white hind ends. I know that little bit of information has made your day.)

Lukas wants to know when we’ll eat lunch. He needs to plan the route to be at the airstrip, the lunch location, at the desired time. What with the mandazi incident, I suggest noon. The children will be hungry then.

On the way, we see a sizeable herd of zebra and wildebeest—they seem to like to hang out together—and some Thompson’s gazelle, with their distinctive racing stripes. Then some elephants, at a distance, and back to. A jackal or two, and a group of hyenas. Then over by the river a whole lot of hippopotamus, whose life seems to consist of “I think I’ll get in the river.” “I think I’ll get out of the river.” Over and over again. Nearby one location is a very large croc, sunning. We decide to leave him alone.

 

The big prize of the morning is a pride of lions, 10 females and one male, lounging in the shade near the river. We pull up right next to them and sit quickly, taking pictures. They show no interest, yawning and scratching and completely ignoring us. When you have no predators, you have nothing to be afraid of.

 

On the way to lunch, we see a bald eagle fly overhead. Boy, he’s a long way from home. 🙂

A few minutes after noon we arrive at the Kirawira Airstrip B, our traditional lunch location. We take up 4 picnic tables and open our lunches: a piece of chicken, a pressed sandwich, a banana, an orange, a bottle of water, a bottle of orange juice, and a napkin, neatly pierced with a toothpick. Plenty to eat. I do notice that the chicken breast has considerably less meat on it than we’re used to in the States. Hormone-free, I guess.

A private plane takes off while we’re eating, and another one lands just as we’re leaving. The little dirt strip is busy today.

It’s been a productive morning. There are really only two animals we have yet to see—giraffe, and an elephant herd up close. Well, there are rhino in the park, but more than a day’s drive away, in the Crater. And cheetah and leopard, but we’ve seen only one cheetah in 6 visits, and no leopards, since the latter specialize in not being seen.

Not far from the strip we see some giraffe, at a distance. Then a lot of driving, and dozing, without seeing much. Then a surprise–9 lions in a tree, and 2 more on the ground below. (Can you see them all in the picture?) Around 3 we head for the exit, and along the way we spot several giraffe on the left, at some distance, and then suddenly there’s one on our right, close to the road. He’s darker than what I’m used to; Lukas says he’s a Maasai giraffe. I ask if that means he can jump really high.

 

Another Dad joke.

Well, that’s a good day in anybody’s book. I suppose the lions are the highlight, but there’s been plenty more to see and enjoy. Well worth the trip.

We’re out of the park at 4, stopping to use the toilets again and to take the requisite photo by the sign. Then the long drive home. Lukas goes a slightly different way—I assume to avoid the traffic in Mwanza—so that we come into our usual connecting road from the south. Takes about the same amount of time as this morning’s drive up did, and traffic was undoubtedly heavier in the area we avoided.

The children welcome their “siblings” back like conquering heroes. Beth has some bread and cold cuts ready for us. We’re tired and dirty and a little cranky. I suggest we all clean up and go to bed, and after finishing this post, I intend to set a good example.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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