|Leopard up a tree looking for prey|
In the wee hours of pre-dawn darkness my bladder woke me up. Then I remembered Walter's reminder the previous night: "Don't just step out of your tent. Listen first to your surroundings outside. If you hear something, there's likely an animal. If not, then check before stepping out by pointing your torch outside. If there are no shining eyes looking at you, then you go. To go back in, make sure you are facing outside".
Problem was, there's something outside. "Whoop! Whoop!"
Peeing isn't a difficult bodily function under normal circumstances. I could have walked the few yards to the squat toilet past other tents. Or even just quickly relieved myself outside my tent. But hearing these whooping sounds make peeing outside the tent out of the question. There's a hyena prowling outside - which was confirmed with others later on.
I simply don't want to be eaten alive.
It didn't help that it's cold outside. I zipped back into my -10°F rated sleeping bag trying to sleep again. Nicholas, my Singaporean tent mate, was sleeping soundly, buried in his own mummy bag. Envious of my new friend's undisturbed slumber, tossing and turning made my bladder situation all the more worse. It's a painful deja vu as I remember those many times I felt like going to pee on myself inside long bus rides.
More than an hour later in this misery, I heard one of the truck's latches being opened. Babu, our cook, is up and about, preparing us brekkie. One of the drivers was with him. A van noisily came, picking up other members in our group who've signed up for an early morning hot air balloon ride. The sun was just about to peek out. Finally...I could go out and pee.
|Along the banks of Seronera river|
I made a dash for the toilet. But before I could even enter I remember again Walter's wilderness wisdom: "stay aside as you open the door in case a trapped baboon wants to get out!". There's a huge tank above the squat toilet supplying water. Thirsty animals are known to enter toilets & showers at campsites.
Because of such wild animals, stashing all food inside the truck's cargo hold is a must. Which means no midnight nosh inside tents - or else hyenas will call each other out in a frenzy. Even elephants often mistake a tent for a rock, rubbing themselves against it, so having food they can easily smell might lead to pachydermic stampede.
|"If you can't climb it, drink it" - Kilimanjaro beer is a decent thirst quencher|
|Plenty of carbs for lunch to energize me|
Babu brought some more food out and I helped lay stuff for him. This 60-year-old man is enjoying his job a lot, doing overland trips over and over again for the last 5 years. With breakfast all set half an hour later - fried eggs, sausages and bread - the rest of us going on the morning game drive gathered around talking about our unwanted 4-legged visitor. Turns out no one wanted to go out to pee after hearing those whopping sounds.
Two game drives were scheduled for the day. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. Predators and prey are very active around this time. It gets so hot in the middle of the day anyway that just like all the animals in the bush, we have to find some nice shade for ourselves to rest. In other words, we had to return to campsite, have lunch, recharge, then head back for another game drive.
Everyone on safari wants to see the "Big Five": lion, leopard, African elephant, cape buffalo and rhinoceros. These are big game animals that became notorious among hunters for being difficult to hunt. To be able to snag one was a trophy worth bragging about - like this one I saw in this hotel in Baguio, Philippines. Among the five animals, the rhinoceros is critically endangered. It's even harder to spot now. (Glad to have seen one at Kenya's Nairobi National Park).
Wildlife on second day:
Aboard our hulking truck, we drove past slow-moving Seronera river, a big magnet for thirsty animals. Many dirt roads branch out between open woodlands and savannah. Safari vehicles are expected to drive only on these roads - except for those with 'off road' filming permits normally given to researchers, National Geographic and their ilk.
Nickie the Kiwi was once again the group's de facto spotter. And she didn't fail again. All morning she was poking her head out the open window, screaming "stop the truck!" as soon as she sees something ahead. Serengeti wildlife showed up and the variety is astounding: wildebeest, hartebeest, zebra, giraffe, lion, hyena, elephants, baboons, pods of hippos, various species of birds including vultures and ostrich.
Out in the grass plains, seeing safari jeeps huddled close together is a sure sign of something interesting. True enough, as soon as we parked next to these smaller vehicles, we got a great view of this beautiful leopard up a tree. It proved to be the morning game drive's highlight since leopards are usually more active at night.
Before returning to camp site midday, we passed by the Visitor's Centre to pick up those that have joined the $500-per-person balloon ride. While I would have loved the different perspective, the price was just too much for my budget. When we showed each other's photos, many of them got jealous of our closer encounter with a leopard!
|Babu cooking brekkie|
|Seronera campsite in Serengeti|
|Treated with insecticide, this hanging black & blue cloth is meant to trap tsetse flies|
|Shower room in the bush (water supplied regularly by a tanker)|
Lunch was waiting at camp. Even under the shade of acacia trees, the sweltering heat got so enervating I couldn't even concentrate what I was reading. Taking a nap outside with a sleeping mat made me feel like a lazy lion. Mosquitoes were everywhere I was worried my anti-bug spray might not work or that my Malarone pills might fail later. To trap tsetse flies, blue & black cloths treated with insecticide hang on the perimeter of our campsite.
At 3 PM, our game drive resumed. Everyone's head poked out the window, trying to help spot more animals. Wildlife of course did show up again. But among all animals in Serengeti, the wildebeest wins big in the numbers game. They're everywhere. The annual Great Migration of wildebeest, more than a million strong (and accompanied by other herbivores like zebra), is considered one of the world's greatest natural spectacles.
|Wildebeest grazing beneath a towering kopje - otherwise known as the Lion King rock|
Wildebeest move clockwise following the pattern of rainy season and grass growth: from southern Serengeti where calves are born (February), they head up north to the Moru kopjes (April), into the Western corridor (May-June) and the Grumeti Reserve (July-August) before crossing the infamous Mara river with its hungry crocodiles (September). They cross the border into Kenya's Masai Mara Game Reserve (October), head back down to Tanzania into the eastern side of the park (November) before moving further south into the short grass plains of southeastern Serengeti (December-January).
Migrating wildebeest, moving in columns like a very long train (several kilometers long in fact), is one of the predator's favorite meal. Our truck, often blocked by herds crossing park roads, stopped just in time to see a pride of lions feasting on one unfortunate wildebeest. The lions were a picture of contentment after seizing their own moment of a "lion's share". Vultures meanwhile hover above, a sign which hyenas will never take for granted.
|An elephant family is oblivious to a wildebeest carcass being feasted upon by a lion|
Back at camp later at dusk, we were greeted once more by Babu and his warm cooking. Thank goodness we didn't have to hunt for food. We shared stories of the day in the middle of a crackling bonfire while enjoying dinner. In a little while, the big African sky revealed a dark canvas filled with stars.
Two nearby shower rooms beckoned - it's been a long, hot day after all. With nothing but a hanging headlamp to illuminate me, I braved the chilly water and tried not to think that just yards away, some wild animal might be looking for a watering hole. Or some food.
After showering, I hurriedly went back to the safety of my group. Couldn't allow any predator to put me at the top of their food chain. Now I've got an idea what to do if my bladder wakes me up again later as I sleep.