Day 34: The adventure ends

The Frankfurt airport’s signage confused us, and we ended up going through immigration into Germany (when we probably could’ve taken an internal air rail to get to our transfer terminal) before re-entering and eventually making our way to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge before 7am. The lounge was pretty empty, and I couldn’t wait for a hot shower (I remember feeling the same sentiment when we flew through Frankfurt on our way home from a one-week backpack-only trip to Italy in July of 2016). After the first running hot-water shower in 7 days, I felt so much cleaner. 

We charged up our electronics, readjusting to an environment with LTE, WiFi, and sparkling water all endlessly available. I continued to devour The Goblet of Fire while eating some breakfast and fresh fruit, and soon enough we headed to our last departure gate of the trip. 

We had a two-story plane (fancier classes up top) that seated 3-4-3. I wished that we could’ve had an empty seat next to us in the middle section, but we were flanked by people on all sides (including an old person who had three seats to herself behind us, who snored loudly while she slept). There was more reading, a couple of meals, and a little journaling on the flight. I noticed they had Ready Player One, which Zach and I read together during our 10-day Utah/Arizona road trip last August, so we watched it, synchronized in tandem. (The book is definitely better, but the movie was fun.)

Thankfully the 11+ hour flight eventually ended, and even though we weren’t seated in the very front of the plane and were in economy, it was one of the fastest treks off of a plane I can remember. It took maybe 15 minutes from the time we started walking until we’d passed through immigration and customs and exited the airport to catch a Lyft. (I’m very grateful for Global Entry and carry-on duffel bags.)

When we got home, there was mail to open, laundry to wash, and an enormous living space to lay flat in. What an adventure. I’m really glad I blogged about every day, and if we do another trip like this in the future I’ll try to do the same. 

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Day 33: The journey of five planes begins

We slept in until 6:20; I woke up after hearing a combination of birds chirping and a diesel engine running. This was the latest we’d slept in for days, so it didn’t even feel difficult to get out of bed, despite my sentimental desire to stay in the wilderness as long as possible. Since we’d finished packing the majority of our bags the night before, all Zach and I needed to do was put on our travel clothes, brush our teeth, and bid farewell to our tent (which was the place we stayed the longest at of our 30+ day trip). We counted: we stayed at 19 different places during this trip (not counting when we had overnight flights and essentially were sleeping on a plane) – and we managed to get good use out of some hotel slippers we got from our very first place, Nobis Hotel in Stockholm! (Which was probably the nicest place we stayed, yay for points!)

We had a leisurely sit down breakfast at the camp, before Fadhil showed up and asked if we were ready to load up. We thanked the camp staff, I filled out a compliment card and enclosed our tip, and we hopped in the land cruiser one last time. It felt surreal to be heading out for the final time (and even though we’d only been on safari for 9 days, it felt like the most familiar thing, because it was the most consistent thing we’d done our entire trip). It was a short drive to the Kogatende Airstrip, where there were lots of cars waiting arriving safari-goers. 

We watched one bush plane make a few circles around the airstrip to help shoo off the wildebeest that had decided to eat breakfast on the runway; I think this was the only time we’d seen people purposely messing with the wildlife. A couple more planes landed and took off before our 14-seater arrived. Zach and I gave Fadhil a thank you note we’d written, hugged bye (I teared up… because I do that), and soon we were on the plane, cozily seated on the 2-seat side of the 1-2 seat configuration plane. The Oklahoman family who’d been staying at our camp was on the same plane too. 

The plane didn’t fly that high (which I think also meant it didn’t require the cabin to be pressurized), so the view we got of the Serengeti was pretty amazing. Herds of wildebeest minimized to ant-sized dots on the ground. There were acres and acres of park land with trees and kopjes dotting the golden ground; it was bananas to think we’d probably only driven around a fraction of the area. I read more of The Prisoner of Askaban. Our plane dropped off a couple at the Seronera Airstrip in Central Serengeti and needed to refuel, so all of us had to deplane while that took place. 

Our second leg took us from the Central Serengeti all the way back to Kilimanjaro International Airport, where Zach and I flew into when we first entered Tanzania. The ticket counter wasn’t open yet so we ate our last boxed lunch. The attendants at the desk were really frustrating and made us check our 60L bags, even though we’d brought them as carry-ons for every flight on our trip. 

We sat in the lounge at the airport for about fifteen minutes before heading to the gate to be safe (since there wasn’t really a PA system), almost forgetting to exit through the Tanzanian immigration process. Our plane to Nairobi was a 2-2 seater, and Zach and I definitely saw people with carry-one bigger than ours, ugh. Deplaning in Nairobi was a mess though. Because PrecisionAir made us check our bags, we technically needed to pass through Kenyan immigration to get them, even though we weren’t planning to leave the airport! 

Rather than both of us getting transit visas ($20/each), only I got one and went through to get our bags and take them one terminal over. Eventually Zach and I reunited and then spent a couple hours at the Turkish Airlines lounge (yay again for Priority Pass). We tried two more African beers (White Cap and Tusker), and I finished The Prisoner of Askaban and got started on The Goblet of Fire. We left to get to our gate for our flight to Addis Ababa feeling a bit tired. I think the multiple security screenings that happen at African airports are a bit annoying because you can’t really stay hydrated well; if you try to bring water with you to any gate, the second security check before you board forces you to drink all of us. 

We flew a 3-3 seater to Addis Ababa, getting in late in the evening and feeling more and more tired. By the time we got to the gate for the flight to Frankfurt, it was already past the time we’d typically been going to sleep on safari, so exhaustion was rampant. This plane was a 3-3-3 seater, and Zach switched seats with someone so that we could sit next to each other. After we took off, they served a meal and then we both slept as much as we could until arriving at Frankfurt in the early morning. 

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Day 32: Kopjes, crossings, and cubs

For our last full game drive day, we kept up our early morning routine, heading out at 6, before the sunrise. The reds and pinks of the sky slowly faded away as we headed toward the Wogakurya kopjes (rocks) in search of lions. We passed a few enormous herds of wildebeest, and then a flock of various vultures and birds of prey appeared on the side of the road, jabbering and jockeying about for a piece of one unfortunate wildebeest for breakfast. The birds were really going at the wildebeest and each other! 

We drove a bit more and spotted one lion headed in the direction of his brother, roaring quite loudly. We found the other brother, but the first lion seemed to be held up at a gully so we drove off, toward the Olakira kopjes (which is where we saw the leopard at the end of our first day in the north) for breakfast. We ate breakfast under a tree, with the spread in tupperwares on the hood of the land cruiser. 

Not far from there were some tributaries of the Mara River, and we were fortunate enough to see hundreds of wildebeest cross the small branch of water in a more natural state than the day before. Some stopped for water for a minute, others galloped across to the other side in ten seconds. A small group of ten zebras even hopped into the mix, a little more cautious than their hairier friends. 

We drove along the tributary toward the Mara River itself, and we got clued into an enormous treacherous crossing in action at number 9. Hundreds (maybe thousands?) of wildebeest crossing the river at a mouth-deep level of water, slipping and scrambling to have traction on the rocks in the middle before working up the guts to bound off in a flop into the water. We saw one crocodile that snatched an unsuspecting ‘beest. Inevitably the little packs of zebra got into the mix too, forming their own single-file lines across the river, crossing with much more trepidation than their herd mindset colleagues. 

The rest of the afternoon zipped by: we drove a large circle around an area known for rhinos because of the medium-sized trees there and shade, but we found only warthogs. We also drove through the actual Wogakurya kopjes A, B, and C looking for some lion friends but also came up short (finding only zebra, eland, and klipspringer there instead, which indicated there were definitely no felines at home). 

The game drive ended on a cute note though: we got word of a leopard spotting in a rocky area next to a gully, and low and behold… there were two baby leopards! These were the youngest animals we’ve seen in all of Africa (they were about a month old), and they were nestled together on a rock tucked far away from the road. It took some creative driving and good binoculars to see the cubs, but they were so cute. 

We made it back to camp a bit after 6, showered (I will not miss the shower at this camp; it only had three weakly fueled spout strand for the shower), and packed up the majority of our stuff since it was our last night, in Africa, and of our vacation! A little after 7 we heard some singing happening outside, so we hurried up and met the other camp mates at the fire, where some of the staff were singing Tanzanian songs in Swahili. The songs are particularly catchy; one repeated “hakuna matata” (but not like in The Lion King) and another’s chorus was “poa” (which means “cool”). This camp was all-inclusive with drinks, so we’ve tried a couple different beers (Kilimanjaro and Serengeti), and our guide told us that the ginger beer was good so I’ve gotten it with vodka (like a Moscow Kyle). Over dinner we chatted more with the Oklahomans and their guide, and then the staff came to sing the Tanzanian songs one last time since it was our last night. 

I feel like my brain is so full of facts about animals: which ones live solo vs. in groups, which are matriarchal vs. patriarchal vs. equal, who eats plants and who eats other animals, how to differentiate between the multitude of four-legged antelope-type animals, how the animals poop, which animals birth how functional of young at what time of year, and the list goes on. Tanzania is the country that we’ve spent the most time in of our month+ long vacation, and we’ve both definitely learned quite a lot. 

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Day 31: Wildebeests, water, and waiting

We were up and at it early like usual, but our second day in the northern Serengeti was focused on catching the migration in real-time.  As the sun was rising we drove around to some of the different river crossing points (the guides refer to them by number, starting with 0 which is the most downstream) and settled with a view of number 4. 

Maybe an hour passed of us joking about how chicken the wildebeest were being, but the animals kept on piling up on the cliff ledge near the ramp by the dozen. They’d get closer and closer to the water, then back off and go munch on some grass, and then a new frontline of wildebeest would appear. I powered my way through The Chamber of Secrets, and soon enough it was time for breakfast. No sooner had we finished making green tea before Fadhil noticed a calf trotting down toward the water, starting to cross, and then we started the engine and zoomed over toward the cliff side to watch the herd do its thing. It was just our car and a couple others, so the wildebeests weren’t spooked, and the entire lot of them crossed successfully. 

After that crossing finished, we wrapped up breakfast and resumed camping out in the same general area. Zach and I went to town on swatting tsetse flies that were nagging us. At one point there was a sudden raucous start up of engines, and all the cars dashed off in hopes of catching another crossing in action… only to discover that it was the tail end of an elephant crossing! Still cool, but everyone felt a little baited. 

When we made it back toward crossing number 4, and even larger group of cars had amassed on our side to match the accruing number of wildebeests on the opposite side. Many of them had crept down toward the water, and the steepness of the cliff meant the number at the water was growing faster than they could amble back up the cliff. I started a video of the big pack at the bottom, and once again the revving of engines meant that someone had noticed the crossing begin. All the cars hurried to the cliffside, jockeying for good views, as the minutes on my video ticked into the teens, the crossing took off, with even more wildebeest making their way through the water, which wasn’t that deep. The last few finished around 23 minutes (which was a relief for me since the maximum video length I could record was 25 minutes). 

Soon enough we ate lunch; I dozed off a little as we drove northward back toward the boundary of Tanzania and Kenya. We finished the day’s drive by happening upon two brother cheetahs in the burnt plains, followed by the lionesses from the day before (a total of four this time) with the five lion cubs. We got to see some of the cubs nursing!

We made it back to camp after 6, showered first thing, and ate dinner with our Oklahoman camp mates. I always feel so full after dinner. I mustered the energy to brush my teeth and read another chapter of The Prisoner of Askaban before passing out. 

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Day 30: Our first day in the Northern Serengeti

We ran our typical early morning schedule, waking up at 5:30 and getting in the car at 6. The morning started off with a pair of lionesses and their five cubs snacking on an unlucky wildebeest. Zach had fun people watching one of the other cars which was full of photographers with enormous camera lenses. 

We encountered an enormous herd of wildebeest far from the river before heading out to an area where the rangers had done a lot of controlled burning. It looked like a couple acres of plains had been burned to an ashy crisp; this did make it really easy to spot a lion and lioness who were wrapping up their honeymoon. We waited fifteen minutes to see if they might have a go at it again and then we posted up further away to eat breakfast. 

The boxed breakfasts and lunches are so much food. We had omelette, crepes, croissants, pineapple, mango, watermelon, tea, coffee, and milk. Way too much food to try and eat when all you’ve been doing is sitting and standing in a land cruiser for hours every day. 

We drove around the burned plains and discovered an injured male cheetah whose special parts had been scratched up and exposed (likely by hyenas or a lion). It was really sad to see the cheetah lying on its side in a shallow depression on the ground, hiding from other predators, looking very starved and skinny. He licked his balls tenderly and eventually got the energy to stand up and walk over to a tree, but the conclusion was that he didn’t look like he was going to last more than weeks or days depending on if he could get any food. I was pretty bummed about the cheetah; on the one hand Mother Nature has to run its course, but on the other I wished that there was a zoo or animal biologist who could come rescue the cheetah and help him recover (or at least put him out of his misery). 

The road we got back onto eventually took us to the Kenya-Tanzania border, where Zach and I hopped out of the car just for a minute to take a few steps on Kenyan soil. (We’ll also be flying through the Nairobi airport, which will give us two “stops” in Kenya technically.)

The rest of the day we tried to catch a wildebeest crossing. We drove up to see just the tail end of one happening; maybe fifty animals were remaining and had started the hurry across the water, not wanting to be left behind. One lone zebra picked up the tail and then they were done. The sun was starting to beam down on us so we found a spot shaded by a tree to post up for lunch and wildebeest monitoring. Unfortunately being in the wooded area also meant that another consistent flow of tsetse flies continued to visit our car, mostly pestering me every few minutes as I attempted to swat them away and not get bitten. 

We watched for over an hour, but all of the animals were just kidding about crossing, as they came down to the water’s edge just for a sip before scrambling back up. I was relieved when we all decided to call it quits for river crossing monitoring for the day, solely because I was getting rather paranoid about the tsetse flies. 

Later on we drove around to see other animals in the area. When we were watching a small herd of elephants eat next to a gully, I thought about just how evolved humans are that we have countless ways to physically eat food, to get the food to our mouths. Our mouths are on our heads, but we have hands that are always capable of bringing the food to our mouths, and on top of that we have an endless set of utensils at our disposal. So many four legged animals can only use their mouths and necks, craning their heads close to the plant they want to eat. Elephants have long trunks which help pull off plant material for munching on, but even that feels laborious when you think about it. Evolution is pretty incredible. 

We wrapped the day’s drive heading to where there was a leopard, but the cat just lied on its side the entire time we were around, so after fifteen minutes we headed back to camp. A lot more people had arrived, so for dinner we sat next to a family from Oklahoma (Norman, specifically! Who’d have thought we’d find a mini-Red River rivalry in Africa.). 

When we were heading back to our tent for the night, we noticed a small group of four or five zebra munching away at the grass twenty yards from our bed, and there were a few low wildebeest chortle noises as well. I read through a few more chapters of the Chamber of Secrets before completely passing out in bed. 

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Day 29: From Central to Northern Serengeti

(Co-written)

We had a 7:00am breakfast (not boxed) and got on the road after we checked out around 8:00. There were a couple herds of buffalo and wildebeest on the drive out. We also saw a serval cat (our second) wandering around some bushes in daylight. We learned that to traverse from the central Serengeti to the northern Serengeti, you actually exit the park and then re-enter. There is a road that connects the central and the northern regions within the park, but it is supposedly of terrible quality.

When we reached the exit gate of the park, a solo dust twister happened to be spinning up right behind us, and it moved right next to the car and swallowed Zach as he exited! Luckily the twister left him alone after a couple seconds. We passed by a lioness on the side of the road that was very skittish around cars because she’s not used to them like some of the ones in the park. We also passed by a military base and an old jail (that our guide’s grandfather used to be the warden of).

The most eventful part of our transition day was car trouble. Our guide had a little bit of trouble with the car brakes the day before, and it got worse after a rock got stuck in the wheel, so we made a pit stop at a town on the way. A pit stop turned into three to four hours as our car had the brake pads replaced on the front left wheel. Vicki and I stayed in the car most of the time, eating our boxed lunches, reading Harry Potter (Vicki finished The Sorcerer’s Stone and started on The Chamber of Secrets) and doing Duolingo (Zach). 

After the car was fixed up, we re-entered the park in the northern Serengeti around 5:00pm. We discovered that cars are allowed to drive an extra hour in the north (until 7:00pm) because river crossings sometimes happen around sunset and people want to see them. We drove on a new road with a new (to our guide) pride of lions that wasn’t used to cars yet. We also took some nice sunset picture en route to our camp.

Our camp for the next four nights is a temporary camp that’s only set up for a few months during the season while the migration is here. We had dinner with Fadhil and had lots of interesting conversation. He told us more about the poaching industry and some of his run-ins with poachers. We also talked about learning languages (he speaks five) and tribes of Tanzania and Africa. We turned in for bed around 10:00pm, and I heard some animals (maybe hippos or zebra) grazing grass outside our tent around 2:30am.

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Day 28: A Serengeti feline three-peat

We were like machines: 5:30 wake up, 5:45 meet up, and 6am departure. As the sun was rising, Zach impressively spotted a leopard in the tall grass! We also came across a hyena trekking on the road. Then we happened upon a pregnant lioness walking the trail in the cold, making her way back to an area with a large rock formation, hosted by two brother lions who weren’t super friendly. She’d had something to eat and sported a bloody mouth. Later on a herd of elephants (with two baby calves, eee so cute) crossed the road in front of us. 

We drove past a rock area with Massai paintings, and we ate breakfast on a large rock formation overlooking the plains. I had a tea to warm up, although the temperature was definitely heating up thankfully. 

The morning continued with flamingos at a soda ash lake, two more male lions (with quite the puffy manes) on the side of the road, and then I nodded off some as we drove eastward in search of the third member of the cat family. I figured I ought to make some coffee to alert myself, and before I knew it, there was a cheetah spotting. (We’d passed some large pastures of dry grassland with many Thompson gazelle, aka cheetah food, which I joked ought to be called “cheetos”, haha.)

The cheetah was perched on a termite mound, and we noticed her kill in the foreground, a fresh Thompson gazelle. She took her time scanning the entire area, making sure there were no other predators who would steal away her prey. (Lucky for her the growing wall of land cruisers also helped block off the area, as predators aren’t a fan of herds of vehicles either.) We spotted a family of warthogs in the distance, as well as a hyena (who the warthogs scared off), and then eventually after a few more cars left, the pregnant cheetah came down from her perch for a well-deserved meal. What a cool sight to snoop on. 

We encoutered all of the other typical animals of the Serengeti, and I took so many pictures that I have no idea if I should even bother trying to cull them down in number to post on Facebook.

Afterward we drove to the central Serengeti visitor center to eat lunch and walk through an informational exhibit they have there. Soon enough it was time to drive back toward our camp, which we arrived at a little before 6pm, which is when visitors are supposed to stop driving around the park. 

We cleaned up and requested hot water for showers at 6:30. Asanja Camp had a full house, and we ate dinner with everyone at 7:30. Basically everything we’ve had at camps and lodges while in Africa has been reasonably palatable, but they had this carrot “cheesecake” that I couldn’t even finish my first bite of. Soon enough we excused ourselves to stand by the fire for a few minutes before being escorted (in case of meandering wild animals in camp) back to our tent for a good night’s rest. 

I took a little time to catch up on a few days’ blogposts and am finally back to real time.

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