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Workin the World The 4 month trip that lasted 5 years .. all the adventures from Workers final year o/s and the trip back to Oz.

Pack Your Pith Helmet ... We're on Safari

TANZANIA | Wednesday, 24 October 2007 | Views [2810]

This was it, the chance to go on safari, sure it wouldn’t be on the back of elephants clad in safari suit and pith helmet, but it would be a safari all the same. Our 3 day trek would take us out to the Nogorongoro Crater and Serengeti National park, with the promise off seeing a few members of the big 5 - Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Water Buffalo, Cheetah.

Our driver, Copper, greeted us with a broad grin looking more like a giant version of Arnold than a hard nosed safari, advised us to load up the truck for a 4 hour drive to a campsite bordering the crater. A drive, which could have been an half as long, had it not Copper’s reluctance to drive at any speed above reverse. Not long out of the camp we were treated to seeing giraffes and baboons. This glimpse of some wildlife, from a fair distance I may add, had the whole truck excited, everyone asking to stop the truck for pictures, a reaction we would later realise was quite over the top given the amount of action we were about to be treated to. Eventually arriving at our campsite we were treated to some local cooking before hitting the hay for an early night, in preparation for our 4.30am kick off.

Nogorongoro is a volcanic crater approximately 20km’s across, providing a natural pen to keep the amazing array of wildlife inside. Driving up toward the lip of the crater the fog was dense, however, as soon as we got over the lip and began our descent into the crater the clouds broke to provide the most amazing vista. Complete with lakes, sweeping plains and forests, it is like God’s very own petrie dish. In fact it is believed early man began right here with following the discovery of homosapien footprints dating back millions of years, some with just the one big toe and others with a complete foot as we have today.

The first animal we saw was a water buffalo, number one of the big 5 ticked off, despite it being a small dot on the horizon. Upon reflection, our initial reactions must have amused Copper no end. He surely would have known what we were about to see would blow this out of the water. Everywhere you looked there were animals, sleeping, eating, hunting, swimming. It is so surreal to see an array of animals you would normally have to sit through a David Attenborough doco to view up close. Over the course of the next couple of hours we managed to see, up close and personal:

Lions – the crater is so big there are 4 prides inside it. We managed to see 2 of them, one of which got up and walked up to our trucks, passing between them to have a drink in a nearby stream before heading off to hunt some buffalo
Elephants – From a distance but still mighty all the same
Ostrich’s doing a mating dance – which is apparently pretty rare
Hippos – complete with babies, amazing creatures. The half rotted corpse in their pool of an old hippo who had died from illness showed us the sheer size of their rib cage as well.
Hyenas – complete with kill, I could not get over how fat they all were
Wart hogs – a small family with 4 little ones
Zebras – these guys really lucked out when it comes to the camouflage stakes! When we left the crater one of the guys on the tour, Phil, and myself decided to stalk some who were lurking in the picnic area we stopped in. We did actually managed to get within a metre or so of them before they took off and I got my potentially fatal spider bite, but more on that later
An amazing array of birds
Monkeys – there is a picnic area inside the crater where you get out and eat lunch. The monkeys here come and steal your food; in fact they climb inside the trucks, through the roof, to get at it if the doors are closed.

After a full morning we stopped for lunch. To get out of the truck and wander around knowing there are lions just a short drive away is quite incredible, yet rather worrying. Next stop would be the Serengeti, a 3 hour drive on dirt roads across impossibly flat, baron land, which would be a test in itself, let alone if you are worried you are dying from a spider bite. As mentioned, we chased some zebras to get close to them, being the intelligent person I am, I figured it would be ok to do this barefoot. Of course there is nothing in Africa that could harm me, no flesh eating worms or poisonous snakes and spiders. After the zebras had taken off I felt a prick in my foot, I didn’t think too much of it at the time but as we continued on to the Serengeti it became worse, much worse. My toes were tingling and where I had been pricked was so sore. It is about this time my over active imagination kicked in and I began to prepare my final thoughts, quite sure I was about to die. Of course this was quite amusing to the other guys in my truck, particularly Copper, who thought it would be best to let me stew for sometime before advising me that I had actually stepped on a prickle, nothing more nothing less. He did this by saying ‘if it was a spider you would be dead by now, so I wouldn’t worry about it’. I wanted to punch that ‘what you talking about Willis’ look off his face, but his cheeky grin got me, well that and the relief upon the realisation I was not going to die a week into my trip.

Leaving the crater most of us were questioning whether the extra £120 to go into the Serengeti would be worth it. We had seen a heap of wildlife and up very close, what more could the Serengeti offer? Apart from the benefit of being able to say you had actually been into the worlds largest game reserve, surely we would see much of the same. We could not have been more wrong. As for the £120, well let me just say it represented better value than my Macpac waterproof sleeping bag, which cost me the same amount has not been used! Plus here your money goes into the protection of the worlds great animals.

Here is a run brief down of our Serengeti adventure:

Giraffes – we came across a male and female eating their dinner right in front of the truck, you could seriously almost reach out and touch them
Elephants – there were so many walking around here it was incredible. Little babies, large males, one of whom was going to but into our truck until another truck drove in front of himn causing him to rear, raise his trunk and roar. It was sensational. We also saw two packs have a stand off on one of the plains as one group made their way to get water.
Lions – we finally got to clap eyes on the king of the jungle, the male lion. These are the most incredible creatures, so big and powerful. It was mating season and our big cat was trying to put the moves on his lady friend, unfortunately she was nt having a bar of it.
Lion cubs – with their mothers out hunting there were sevral cubs left on their own. In one place we actually had 4 cubs all lying together on a rock, according to Copper this is very, very rare to have a litter this size
Cheetah – we were very fortunate to see a Cheetah, even though they were a couple of hundred metres away. We managed to see one out hunting on its own and a pack of 3 who were being monitored by a scientific team
Leopard – this was the absolute highlight. It is very rare to see Leopards up close, they are usually hanging out in trees with a kill. We managed to get one walking along a stream, Copper was on the ball and predicted where he would come out in the clearing, gunning the Landcruiser at a speed he had not managed to reach on the tar, we positioned ourselves and waited. Next, out of the reeds it stalked, right up to and past our truck. Now there are times over here where you think your guide is telling you some things are rare just to make you feel special, not so in this case. I thought Copper was going to have a heart attack he was so excited, he said he had never been that close to one and could not get the grin off his face for about an hour afterwards. The Leopard itself is a lot smaller than I would have thought but they are the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. The sleek body, beautiful colours in its coat and piercing, gold eyes are unbelievable.

That night we actually slept in the reserve. The welcome sign, which advises, in a rather relaxed manner, you may die if you wander outside the camp boundaries, is not your usual welcome but then again this is not your usual campsite. Probably just as well given 200m down the road there was a dead gazelle hanging in the tree, placed there by a leopard a week earlier.

Waking the next morning we continued our safari before heading back to Arusha, in fact this would prove to be the scariest event of the weekend. Copper must have decided to tryuu and break the record for a run back. He was driving at least 80k/h on all surfaces. Now remember the majority of the drive is on a windy dirt road, the main road between the Serengeti, so there are also trucks with livestock, fruit and veg etc making their way along these roads. I used to say Egypt was crazy, but I am now sure you have not experienced true fear on the road until you have tried to overtake a lorrie, carrying fish (with no refrigeration and covered in a tarp so it pongs), on a single lane dirt track, on a sharp bend, in an area where the smell of your blood if there is an accident, can attract animals that will eat you. Eventually we made it home in one piece in a time that the Delorian would be proud of.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the experience. It is incredibly surreal to be so close with these beautiful, yet deadly, creatures that have no apparent fear of the trucks. If anyone is ever thinking of coming to Africa, do it! Hell, I am only a week into my trip and I can not believe all we have managed to see and do!

Tags: Adventures

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