The Serengeti is a place i’ve dreamed of going, ever since I first saw David Attenborough’s documentaries when I was a little girl. To say I was excited about going is an understatement! We’d heard about the extortionate fees and bad roads, but nothing was going to stop us from going –how bad could it be? To access the Serengeti, you first need to go through the Ngorongoro crater Conservation Area – either $140 for the privilege of driving round the crater rim, or an additional $200 to go down into it. Facing a further fee of $220 per day to get into the Serengeti, we decided to just transit through and begrudgingly handed over the fee to just drive through. Having been completely spoilt with the parks further south, which are a fraction of the price, have great facilities, plenty of wildlife and fewer tourists the Ngorongoro experience was a far cry from this. We drove up to the lookout point, which although offering spectacular views of the crater, was completely mobbed with tourists and gave us very little for our $140!! We didn’t hang around for long and instead drove onto a picnic site, which although only showed a glimpse of the crater, we had the place to ourselves and had unspoilt visits from elephants, zebras and a huge black stork. Not to mention the thieving eagle which swooped down and stole my sandwich right of my hand. I didn’t even see him until the force of him knocked me backwards, scaring the living daylights out of me! I was left wing slapped and sandwich-less!
The drive onwards towards the Serengeti was one of the most spectacular sights we’ve ever seen. The dramatic mountains of the Nogorongoro opening up to the vast expanses of the Serengeti plains – it was just how I imagined it to be – the vast grassy plains stretching as far as the eye could see all underneath a bright blue sky filled with big white fluffy clouds. It was a vision. We also passed the many Masai who are allowed to graze their cattle here, their beautiful bright red cloaks stood out against the golden colour of the grasses. We pulled over at one point, to take a break from the road and as we cooled off under the shade of a nearby tree, a young Masai wondered over to also seek some respite from the burning sun. We all sat together under the tree, neither of us could speak the others language but we still managed to communicate, both just as intrigued with each other. Before we headed off, I asked if I could photograph him, which he agreed to very enthusiastically. As I showed him his photo on the screen, his face lit up and he asked me take more pictures. As a thank you, we offered him an apple, which he accepted but stood holding it a distance not sure what to do with it. He’d never seen an apple before. We gestured to him to just bite into it, which he did very cautiously, but as the sweetness hit his palette, he was soon munching into with gusto. It was a really special moment.
One thing they don’t mention on all those wonderful wildlife documentaries is how bad the roads are. The corrugations were the worst we’ve encountered and as we drove on into the Serengeti the vibrations were unbearable and the car began to shake itself to pieces. Having just paid the princely sum of $580 for the privilege of 2 days in the park, it was a very bitter pill to swallow and we tried hard not to let it ruin the experience, but unfortunately it did take the shine off things. Sure enough, a few hours later, both rear shocks had gone and we limped into Seronera area where a lovely guy from the hot air balloon company took us to their workshop. Whilst I was on look-out duty for lions Rich set to work re-installing the old shocks which fortunately we’d kept as emergency spares. We left the workshop later that night and enjoyed a rare opportunity to do our own night safari up towards our campsite – driving slowly with the full beams on and me hanging out the window scanning the Maglite into the bush to find lots of pairs of red glowing eyes. We got to camp late, which was probably a good thing as the facilities are pretty poor and its best to spend the least amount of time possible there. Considering camping fees are $60 a night, you’d at least expect clean ablutions with hot water, but of course that would require some of the millions of dollars the park makes every year actually being invested properly rather than I suspect being siphoned off for personal holidays, fast jets and cars!
We spent the next 2 days driving around the park, taking in the wonderful vistas. The plains were full of zebras, elephants, antelopes of all kinds, lots of hyenas and birds of every shape and size. We also saw plenty of kitty-kat action (literally) as the lions seemed to be far too focused on their intense mating schedule to even notice the line of cars parked next to them. After watching a huge male lion pin down his lucky lady for the fourth time, we decided to leave them to it and continued our journey only to find a leopard sleeping in the tree just round the corner. Our closest view of a leopard yet, it was stunning. We then headed onto the ‘western corridor’ where the zebras and wilderbeast were beginning to return from the Mara on their great migration south.
Gradually the numbers out on the plains began to grow and grow until the plains were completely covered with them. Taking a side road to the Grumeti river, which when in full flood in June is one of the huge iconic wilderbeast river crossings, but even now with the water running low the wilderbeast still had to navigate past many huge crocodiles waiting for them in the shallows. As we drove along by the river, suddenly 1,000s of wilderbeast came charging past us – so we decided to join them – driving slowly at the rear of the heard we became part of the great migration! It was wonderful!
The experience we had in the Serengeti, was definitely something we’ll never forget, it really is a magical place but the price of the park and the horrendous roads really did take the shine off things. It wasn’t just our complaint either, the road was littered with broken Landrovers and Toyotas – we even had to rescue one! (Yes, a Mitsubishi towing a Toyota!) and everyone we met in the campsites were having to spend time fixing things on their cars. We would definitely recommend taking a tour or leaving your car outside the park!
But here we are now, just outside Mwanza on Lake Victoria, in a fabulous place called Tunza beach lodge, where we are recovering from the Serengeti and getting the car fixed. The first day we were here, it was a public holiday (Muslim festival) so the lodge was extremely busy but It was amazing to see such a mixture of religions and races, all playing and celebrating together, regardless of whether they were Muslim or not. We met a lot of lovely people and with our camp right on the edge of the volleyball court we became a key attraction – everyone slightly bemused by our mobile house. That night we turned our roof lights on and played football and handball with the kids on the beach, finishing up with a disco at the car. The children were really keen to hear western music and so we put the ipod blaring out over the car speakers so everyone could dance. The next day the owner Jan, sorted us out with his mechanic and he showed us that the vibrations from the corrugations had caused one of the pipes in the engines to wear a hole through the radiator! The radiator had to be removed and taken away to be re-patched, but the whole thing was completed in a day! So fully fixed once more, it’s now time to head onto Rwanda!