Thursday, March 29, 2012

Day 13 - Tanzania - Second day on safari

Day two starts about the same way day one started. Ben picks me up at 8am and we hit the road. The Highview Hotel where I'm staying is on the edge of a small town called Karatu and we are headed towards the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. We are not actually going to go into the crater today but in order to get to the Serengeti we have to follow the road that will take us up along the crater rim and then down into the Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world and the area known as "The Cradle of Mankind". We'll pass through this area and finally end up in the Serengeti.
As we get to the Ngorongoro Conservation area we have to register with the park rangers so I step out to take this photo of the entrance to the park.

I also grab this shot of the back window of my vehicle. You think we have bureaucracy in this country? Check this out. Every single one of these stickers is required just to drive a commercial vehicle across this country.

Once registered we take off through the park and almost immediately we are driving up a very steep road. Ben tells me we are going to gain quite a few meters here as we climb all the way up to the rim of the crater.Eventually we get to an overlook that looks down into the crater and Ben pulls over so I can grab this pano shot. I wish there was better light but it's already 9am so this is what I get.
Looking down into the Ngorongoro Crater.
After a few minutes it's back into the truck because we've got a couple hours more to go to get to the Serengeti. Just as we leave the overlook area we are still going uphill and our truck starts sputtering and dies on us.
Great...Here we are on the edge of the Serengeti and we are stranded on the road. Anyone read Hemingway's - Snows of Kilimanjaro?  It's a great short story everyone should read and if you have you'll understand why I'm asking. The difference is this is 2012 and not the 1930's. Ben checks under the hood and seems to think it's the fuel filter. He's able to get the truck started but it sputters really bad as we try to go uphill. He suggest we drive back into Karatu and get a new fuel filter. I'm not going to argue with that idea so off we go back down the crater we just drove up.

Here's where something really amazing happened. We drive down the main strip in Karatu which is lined with one little shanty shack after another and Ben just pulls up to one that appears to be selling Coca Cola and cigarettes. At least that's all I can see from the truck. We are talking about a 10'x10' hut type structure just like all the other ones lining either side of the road. Ben calls out to a guy just walking by and they speak in Swahili for a moment then the guys takes off running across the street towards another hut. A couple minutes later this same guy comes running back with a Toyota parts box in hand. He's got a brand new fuel filter for our truck! While they start changing the part right there on the side of the road a kid approaches me as I sit in the truck. He's wearing a shiny jacket and one glittery glove. Hum, I wonder who his idol is? He ask me where I'm from and I tell him. His response is "Obamaland!". He's selling bracelets and ask me to buy one for $5. I'm not interested but he's persistent, telling me he needs the money for school. I ask him where he learned to speak English so well and he says in school. He then tells me very proudly that he speaks six languages. I ask him which ones and he says Swahili, English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. And he proves it too by saying something in each language! How I ask and he tells me from hanging out with the tourists like me. He finally realizes that I'm not buying any bracelets and ask if I have any pens. Well as a matter of fact I do and I give him three. He seems more happy with the pens then any money I would have given him and he walks off just as Ben and this stranger are finishing up changing the fuel filter.
Now we backtrack once again and make it over the crater rim, and down into the Olduvai Gorge passing the Maasai village we plan to stop at on the way back. I'm looking forward to jumping with them! <- That's not me in that video, just a sample of what I'm talking about.

Eventually we get to the Serengeti and I'm blown away at the expanse. It's amazing! Greener than I expected though because we are nearing the rainy season and they've already had a good bit of rain here the last few weeks. Not so wet though to keep the giant dust devils from forming across the wide open plains though.

One of my favorite wide angle shots hoping to show the vast openness of the Serengeti.
A male Grant's Gazelle stares me down.

While a younger male just chills out.

Finally we find some Wildebeest that are close to the road. Again, they just appear to be pieced together from left-over parts. I like the way these two are both staring directly at me.

A few more Wildebeest with one of their young.

Looking at this shot you can see a few Wildebeest in the foreground but each of those dark blurry objects in the background are also Wildebeest and they just seem to go on and on forever all the way up to the horizon and as far to the left and right as we could see.

It's not one of those massive migration scenes you see on NatGeo where all the Wildebeest are crowded into one area trying to cross a river full of crocodiles but it's still an amazing site to see.

Wildebeest Crossing.

What are you looking at?!

I sort of like this shot. The focus is on the lone tree in the distance but the Wildebeest are ever present.

I know my niece Kristyn is going to love these. She's a big Zebra fan. Her entire wedding was zebra patterned. Hope you are keeping up with the blog kid. Your loss if you are not.

So why do the zebras cross the road?

Apparently to get away from the giraffes. They never crossed the roads. At least not while I was watching them.

Another couple shots of the Wildebeest showing just a tiny fraction of the migration.

Up until this point we've been on what can best be described as the main road into the Serengeti, sort of like the Las Vegas Strip if you will. It's a long, relatively straight road that looks pretty much like this in both directions.

Ben ask me if I want to get off the main road and go find some lions and maybe some elephants? Are you kidding me?! Of course I do. Twende! <- Swahili for "Let's go."
It's already getting late because of our break-down this morning so Ben tells me that we are going to start heading towards our campsite for the night and that we should find some lions on the way. Great! I can't wait.
Eventually we get to an outcropping of rock in the middle of an otherwise flat expanse. The road splits in two directions and circles this area and he ask me which way I want to go. I pick the direction that will put the sun to my back of course for the better light. As we are driving around Ben points up near the top of the rocks and tells me to look at the lion. Wow! There it is, my first lion in the wild. It's very close and just lounging on the top of the rocks. She doesn't even bother to turn around to look at us at first so I fire off a couple shots of her rear and then she lifts her head up and turns around very briefly and I fire off this shot.

Before I know it she turns away again and we are done here, or so I think.
Take a look down there points Ben and I notice three young females laying in the tall grass. At first I only notice two but look closely and you can make out the parts of three.

Eventually it's time to move on. You can tell they are bored with us.
A quick drive around the rocks and there's a cub sitting up high keeping a very close eye on us.

We leave this pride of lions and start to head towards camp as it's getting late in the afternoon. We are supposed to be in camp by 6:00pm and it's close to 5pm now. As we are driving down this unmarked road that appears to look like any of the other roads we could have taken I ask Ben how he knows where to go. He just tells me he does and not to worry. I'm not worried, just curious......
Eventually we see a large dark object near the road and I'm finally able to make it out as a Cape Buffalo. My neighbor that loaned me the monster lens will hopefully like these. I shot quite a few but this one was my favorite and a loner in this area.

We continue on towards camp and notice several other vehicles stopped at one location. That can only mean one thing. Something is there worth photographing so we go to check it out. Here's a shot of one of the vehicles as we roll up to the location. Man I feel so special with my own personal driver....

Nikon shooters...they deserve being crammed in there together.
I kid, I kid. But they look at me with the big white lens and you can see the envy in their eyes. ;-)
Enough joking about my Nikon friends, here's what everyone is here to shoot.

Another lazy yawn.

And then another appears and I get this great shot of the two of them walking straight towards me.

So what's really to stop them from just jumping up onto the hood and attacking. Apparently nothing, but they don't.
Eventually the two sit down and they are so close to me that i can't get both of them into the same frame while shooting with the big lens. So instead of switching cameras I decide to give a pano shot a try with this huge super-telephoto lens. I take two shots and using software I'm able to combine them into this shot. Probably my favorite animal shot of the entire safari.

Now it's really getting late and Ben insist on heading straight to camp. I agree and we start off to the camp. BUT WAIT! Look at the light over there. I know Ben, there's no animals, but I want to photograph the lone tree. I just love the lighting.

I can just imagine the image above as a cover photo for a book. Maybe so.....

Eventually we pull into the Serengeti Wild Camp and I'm greeted by a camp representative that helps me with my bags and shows me to my tent. He tells me dinner will be in the mess tent at 7pm.
As Ben and I are discussing the day he informs me that we will leave in the morning at 8am after breakfast. Really? 8am? I request that we get an earlier start because I really want to get some shots with the early morning light. He says 8am is the normal start time and I beg hm to get an earlier start. He doesn't seem to want to adjust but then I mention the breakdown today and all the time we lost with the truck repair. He gives in and agrees to start at 6:15am tomorrow! Great! Maybe I'll get a decent sunrise shot?

As I walk around this is one of several signs placed around the camp.

That's my tent on the very end down there.

It's really nice with two twin beds and a separate section in the rear with a wash basin and toilet area.
The big camouflage lens standing up at the foot of the bed got to sleep in the other twin bed this evening.

Our dining tent for the next two days.

During dinner I meet two other couples that are staying at the camp with me this evening. One couple from Denmark tells me they had several giraffes walk through camp last night after they turned in for the evening. The server tells me that after dinner we must return to our tents and stay inside till the morning. The animals like to wander through camp after dark......
Around 9pm I'm still awake writing in my journal when I hear a large animal just outside my tent. It's walking within just a few feet of my tent and I can hear it snorting. I'm too afraid to get up and look out so I just stay bundled up in my bed. Surely this mosquito netting will protect me, right?

Tomorrow, sunrise in the Serengeti. I'll just give you a hint, it's worth waiting for it.