Serengeti National Park

A Masai people zoo
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

So we survived the night hanging out in the Serengeti. Didn’t have a lot of sleep! Then we were up and in the car by 6.45am for a drive around the park.

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It took a long while to find any animals and became a bit dull, just miles upon miles of grass bordered with Acacia trees. Before arriving here, I thought we would be seeing animals every few minutes, with lots of chases going on and drama all the time. The reality – hours and hours and hours of driving over bumpy roads to maybe find another impala. All the drama must just be on wildlife tv programmes.

By 8am the most exciting thing that had happened was seeing one of our group in a hot air balloon! There are 3 hot air balloons that sail across the Serengeti; they look great floating majestically along in the mist the plains. But at almost $500 for an hour, maybe next time.

Shortly afterwards our luck changed! Highlights of the morning included:
– 5 lions (3 adults, 2 babies) lying on a pile of rocks (number 3 of ‘Big Five’);
– random animal road blockages from: elephant, giraffe, domestic cow, zebra;
– loads of colourful birds;
– 2 more leopards lazing in a tree;
– a family of spotted hyena;
– a whole giraffe family, complete with 3 babies;
– baby everything – lions, giraffe, elephant, impala, zebra; and
– other small things – an eagle, blue monkeys, a walking hippo out of the water.

After lunch back at our campsite, we packed our tents and headed back out of the Serengeti, back into the Ngorongoro conservation area. Again, passing through the plains of miles of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle. No less impressive a second time.

We were also introduced to what will probably soon become a common phrase and excuse for everything -TIA. This Is Africa. Some common TIA translations:

– ‘nearby’ means ‘maybe an hour’ (vital for next toilet stop estimation!)
– in 20 minutes’ means ‘in one hour and 20 minutes’. You get the idea.

It is possible to stop off at certain Masai villages and take a look around (ie, a people zoo). I’m no stranger to these type of things; the floating islands in Peru and the Amazon tribe, in the Amazon, where really its just a show for the tourists and their western clothes and iPods are hidden in their real houses.

This time was same same but different. We were a whole days drive from the nearest town, literally in the middle of nowhere. So they really must live there. We were welcomed by Joseph – one of 4 in the 120 strong village who spoke English. And spoken perfectly. We were treated to a traditional dance and song – ok so this was pretty cool. The 10ish women were singing while the 20 men performed a dance, which included taking it in turns to jump. They can jump pretty high!

Afterwards, we were given a tour of the small village. They live a nomadic life, so houses are temporary, made out of various branches and mud. Each woman has a house. We were shown inside one of the houses. I couldn’t see, nor breathe. The smoke from the fire was overwhelming. They were cooking beans on a small fire. Hardly room inside to turn around and 5 people apparently share each house.

A man can have many wives. 10 is about average. Each wife costs 10 cows. I was asked if I have a husband. Past experiences say the answer to this question is a firm ‘yes’. When asked why I wasn’t travelling with him, the story began to elaborate – much to the amusement of myself and the other girls!

We were also shown the nursery/’school’. This was probably he most in-believable part. A room (made of wooden poles) with all the 2-4 year olds of the village sat in there with a 12 year old ‘teacher’. Of course they accepted donations of make the ‘school’ better.

They must make a lot of money from visiting tourists (we were charged $10 per person – and were a car of 6 people!). But I can’t work out what they do with this money. I got the feeling some of the older people didn’t want us there. But obviously the money is an opportunity too good to miss.

Overall, an interesting insight into their lives. But I came away with mixed feelings about the whole charade.

A few more hours of driving later (!), we arrive at our camp site for the night – the crater rim of the Ngorongoro crater. This is around 2000m above sea level, so pretty cold!!!! Reaching zero degrees at night – lucky I only brought a summer sleeping bag then…! We were given more useful advice about not leaving food or toothpaste in tents as the wandering grazing animals like these….oh dear. However, local Masai do patrol the area, banging sticks together to scare away the animals. I heard lots of stick banging all night.

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