Following in the Footsteps of Ancient Man

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Good evening and welcome back to another exciting chapter in the African Adventures saga. Once again, strap yourself into the safari vehicle, as Team Cantrailia was once again taking to the dusty roads in search of more of the ‘Big 5’, and any other animals we could scare up. After a lovely evening at Rhino Lodge, it was now time to make our way to two other very famous Tanzanian destinations. First stop of the day would be the Olduvai Gorge, followed by a visit to the Serengeti. If you’re interested in taking a preliminary trip through the eyes rather than needing to read my ramblings, click on over to Flickr and check the set of images out from the day. As you might already imagine, it was another successful journey, so I’ve got a few interesting little tales of the day to share. Read on my friends, read on.

To start our day off, we had a nice breakfast buffet put on at the lodge. It was pretty quiet there, as apart from our group, there weren’t too many people staying there (it was apparently still low season). We dined, then headed to the truck to get settled in for another day of dust and bumps. We didn’t get far before Sarah realized she’d left here travel wallet in the dining area. In it? Money, passport, credit cards, etc. Yikes. We circled back, but it was too late. Unfortunately, someone had unscrupulously helped themselves to the rather large wad of USD that was in it. That was the end of the day for Mike and Sarah, as they opted to stay and deal with the police, etc. As a precautionary measure, the rest of us decided to also grab our bags and keep them with us. This was a major blow to the group. We felt horrible, but after a small delay, we carried on without them. It was a little awkward, but the trip must continue. We weren’t sure what would happen later, and hoped for the best.

We made our way in quiet for quite some time, reflecting on the recent events, as well as just taking in the scenery. It wasn’t too long before the second bit of excitement happened for the day. The roads we were on were pretty twisty, and trucks often try to overtake each other at inopportune places. Well, inevitably it leads to some accidents, one of which we came across on our way. Another Land Cruiser was totally flipped, with another truck stopped with them. No one was killed, but there was quite a bit of carnage. Once again, we were sort of helpless to do much. The injured were being treated for shock as people waited for the rangers or police to show up. The car appeared to be carrying ‘local’ tourists, not western tourists and made us all to aware of the dangers of this country.

At the same time we were pulled over to check on the other vehicle, we were also treated to our first sight of Giraffes, who were grazing not far from where we were stopped. We took the opportunity to snap some shots and even got to see some of them running. It is a very odd thing to watch. They are so tall that their running looks very fluid, but in slow motion. So once again, we had the uncomfortableness of a terrible event, but around us, nature was still going about its own business. It was shaping up to be a rather odd day for us, and we’ve barely gotten going yet. Back into the ‘beast’ and rolling along to the Olduvai Gorge.

Not sure what I really expected at the gorge, but there really wasn’t all that much to see. One of the funnier moments was when Dylan, John and I all went to the washroom on arrival. Stretch to call is a washroom. There was door, but it just led to a room with a hole in the floor should you need to do that. We soon realized the low wall on the outside was actually a ‘trough urinal’, so we just sort of lined up and did out business. It was at that moment that we realized while relieving ourselves, we were actually staring down to the floor of the gorge. It was sort of a weird moment, but ironically also served up one of the best views into the gorge in the area. I couldn’t help but wonder if someone had done that on purpose.

On site was also a little museum with various artifacts, photos, and information on the gorge, and of Mary and Louis Leakey, the pair who were responsible for some of the best finds of the area, including Lucy, one of the earliest hominids ever discovered, as well as incredibly well preserved footprints. However, none of that stuff was located where we stopped, rather, this was just a little museum and interpretation center. We also got a nice little presentation by one of the people working at the museum, who at one point explained how the name Olduvai was actually a misnomer coined by a German fellow a long time ago. In fact, it should have been the Oldupai gorge, named after the sisal plant of the are. He was also well versed in the history of the hominids and explained the various stages of human evolution and the type of humans they were. It was interesting to a point, but we were all quite keen to get back in the truck and make our way to our next stop, the Serengeti.

To get there, we first had to stop at the official entrance to deal with some more paperwork and such. While here, we took a short hike where we caught sight of some pretty colourful and interesting lizards enjoying warming themselves on rocks. Another thing we got to witness on the way to the park was amazingly the Wildebeest migration! This happens only once a year, and timing and location is everything. We’d hoped we see some of it, but there were no guarantees. If you check out the video I’ve just linked, you’ll get a bit of an idea what it is. Basically, a rolling black ‘train’ composed of hundreds of thousands of these creatures. Describing it wouldn’t work, so just check my link, ok? 🙂

Inside the park itself we once again had to endure lots and lots of driving around. I was already looking forward to when we’d actually start the hiking portion of our trip. This was only compounded anytime we’d pass another vehicle, as it would basically mean a nice dust shower for our truck, and when the roof is popped up, you can only imagine what it meant for the occupants! Luckily, our guide had the most amazing eyesight, even while driving. He could spot and identify various animals from great distances, and then try to get us closer. Let’s see, what did we get to observe up close this day? Well, how about Lions, Giraffes, Zebras, Camels, Wildebeest, Hyrax, Cheetahs, Hippos, Elephants, Gazelle, Antelope, plenty of birds (none which stole my food this time!), buffaloes, hyenas, and some monkeys I think.

The highlight for me would probably be after lunch when we finally managed to track down a pride of lions. They seemed to have absolutely no care in the world about our presence. I suppose when you’re at the top of the food chain, trivial matters such as humans probably don’t really matter to you. Apparently, they sometimes even go under the trucks to sleep while you’re watching them. Isn’t that nuts? As you can see by the video accompanying this post, we were definitely close to them.

A couple other high points in my mind included us seeing a hyena take down some prey, and also seeing a lion chasing a pair of cheetah’s out of its’ territory. The cheetahs were trying to score a free meal from the lions, which had left some of their food nearby. The lion ultimately decided it wanted the meat for itself, and chased two of them off. The cheetah’s apparently know better than to mess with the lion. While they can outrun a lion, they know they couldn’t win the battle, so they slunk away. Another nice part of the day was our little lunch break. Here we were, in the middle of the depths of the serengeti. We ate our boxed lunches while all these little birds landed all around us trying to score some scraps, as well as groups of cute Rock Hyraxes that were strolling around bumming food as well. We were told not to feed any animals, and we certainly weren’t trying to, but they are still very present in the area, as crumbs always find their way to the ground.

After eating, we also got to do a short hike along an interpretive trail that explained a lot about the cycle of life, and the habits of some of the more interesting animals that call this area home. While some of the group was content to stroll and just look at things, I made it my mission to read a lot of the interpretive panels and try to learn a bit about the area. There was a lot of information there, and I don’t remember a lot of it, but one interesting story talked about a time when over 90% of the buffaloes and wildebeest were wiped out by disease (Rinderpest) that had been spread by cows which grazed alongside in the late 1890s. It was an amazing statistic and one that pointed to the resiliency of life on the plains. Apparently the effects of that plague are still being felt today.

Once we’d had our fill of driving through the vast plains of the Serengeti, it was time to head back to our little lodge for another meal and night of rest. The next day we’d be embarking on our first official hike of the trip, a walk up the 3,100m Mount Lemagrut, an old volcano within the park, which has views out over the Serengeti. On the way back to the lodge, we once again stopped at the entrance, where we discovered there was a little grocery store. Deb picked up a bottle of red wine for the evening, intending to share with John and Sarah, who could probably use a drink! For my own enjoyment, I grabbed a beer for the ride back, enjoying that as we bumped along.

Once back at the lodge, we were reunited with John and Sarah. It was good to see them, as none of us were sure if they would have stayed or headed back to Arusha out of anger. Apparently, they did still get to do a bit of touring. The lodge arranged for another driver to take them around after they’d dealt with the police. Sadly, the money was gone. It was actually a really big deal to all. Even the Masai Chief had come up to the lodge to say he was sorry. In all likelihood, the money had already been distributed into the tribe, and no one would ever know who had done it. Apparently, the lodge also basically went through an entire re-staffing during the day we were told. After all, that kind of money would pretty much set someone off for life! We had a nice meal in spite of everything, and decided to sit around the fireplace and enjoy more beer and wine after the meal. The lodge even gave us a complimentary bottle of red from the region to try. It was quite nice. In spite of all the odd and bad things that had happened throughout the day, it still ended up being a very nice night spent in the company of our fellow travellers. It’s also the place where I came up with the idea that our group should do a Secret Santa gift exchange while on the slopes of Mount Meru. More on that in another post though.

For now, I’ll sign off, and let you get back to your own lives. Final thought of the day based on time spent in the Serengeti? Man, as well as animal, is incredibly resilient and can overcome almost any tragedy or danger that befalls them. In our own daily struggles, it’s important to try and keep things in perspective. However, there is always something bigger out there, so you have to be ready to react, and can’t be too complacent or risk losing it all! Till next post, have a great day!

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