Tanzania continues to astound me. We didn’t have time for a game drive today since we had a lot of ground to cover between the lodges we were visiting. Nonetheless I saw all three of the country’s big cat species; dozens of ostriches, elephants and hippos; thousands of wildebeest and zebras; and several giraffes, hyenas, vultures, eagles … and the list goes on.
One of the biggest highlights of the day was watching two cheetahs hunt on the Serengeti. We encountered the cheetahs just as they were preparing to make their move. They stood still as statues about 10 or 15 yards away from a gazelle who had strayed to the edge of the herd. Every few seconds, a cheetah would move one leg cautiously forward to get closer to its prey, the movement so quick and subtle that the gazelle they had their eyes on remained oblivious to their presence. It continued to munch happily on grass until it was too late: The cheetahs lunged forward, and though it tried to flee, the chase only lasted a few seconds. They pounced on it, killing it swiftly and cleanly.
But the cheetahs didn’t have long to enjoy their meal. Less than a minute later, a hyena arrived and demanded their quarry. In a battle between a cheetah and a hyena, the hyena’s stronger jaws ensures its victory; the cheetahs surrendered their kill instantly to avoid getting into a fight. Our guide Modi assured us that the cheetahs would not end up going hungry since they are successful in the hunt 75 percent of the time. They just needed to find another wandering antelope.
Soon after we came across a pride of about 25 snoozing lions scattered around a buffalo carcass that they had dined on earlier. It was fun to watch them so rested and content. I may have been a little tempted to nap along with them!
But it wasn’t until the cool relief of a much-needed rain that we found a pair of lions on the hunt — or rather a female lion on the hunt and a male lion who was tagging along, waiting for her to go into heat. She was more interested in the zebras a few hundred yards away than in the male’s amorous overtures. Unfortunately for her, the distracted male soon gave their presence away an the zebras quickly galloped off.
In additional to the great game viewing, the landscape itself was fascinating. We started out this morning at Lake Masek in the Ndutu section of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Ndutu is named for Lake Ndutu, a large sister lake a few kilometers from Lake Masek. Unfortunately, drought has left Ndutu’s lakebed completely dry. The lake should return when the rains come, but for now it is just a small depression in the plains. Modi explained that the catfish living in the lake burrow in the mud and hibernate as they wait for the lake to return.
We visited some wonderful lodges in Serengeti National Park, a large L-shaped national park that encompasses a portion of the Serengeti region. We started off with Dunia Camp, an intimate 8-tent semi-permanent camp near the Knobby Hill gate on the park’s southern side. Dunia has a mobile camp feel with bucket showers, comfortably furnished tents and attentive staff. The central lounge and dining room are a short walk from tents, and it’s a perfect place to have coffee or drinks and chat with other guests. All tents have stunning views of the plains.
Next on our list was Mbalageti Lodge in the park’s western corridor. The lodge has 24 tented chalets (buildings that incorporate the best features of a cabin with the open breezes and classic safari feel of tents); two large tented suites with two bedrooms, a living room and dining room; three family cabins; and a 14-room lodge. All lodgings have verandas that overlook the savannah. Public areas and chalets are decorated with gorgeous arts and crafts from around East Africa. Onsite activities include bush walks; bush dinners and sundowners (cocktail hour in the open savannah); a swimming pool; and a spa that offers massages, facials, manicures and pedicures.
After an exquisite late lunch at Mbalageti Lodge, we headed toward Serengeti Simba Lodge for the night. To give you an idea of how big the park is, it took a little over two hours to get from the western corridor to the central gate, which is located near the bottom corner of Serengeti’s “L” shape. We exited the gate and drove a few kilometers to reach Serengeti Simba Lodge, an attractive hilltop property with 15 permanent tents and a small lodge with 6 rooms for families. The lodge’s main building is stunning, looking almost as if it arose naturally from a rock outcropping. We had excellent sleeping weather and awoke to a stunning sunrise over the Serengeti.