Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chasing lions to Tanzania.

Thursday, July 21

Serena Safari Lodge offers two game drives per day, one at 6:30 a.m. and another at 4 p.m. We chose to do the morning drive today in hopes of seeing some different animals. Specifically, we wanted to see some lions, who typically stay well hidden during the day. After driving for 90 minutes without luck, Victor got a phone call from another guide.

He was speaking Swahili, but we thought he was getting good news from the tone of his voice. When he got off the phone, he turned to us.

"They're almost in Tanzania," Victor said. "Do we want to go?"

Of course, the answer was a resounding yes. Lions had been spotted near the edge of the park!

"It's about 20 kilometers," Victor said as he turned back to the road and stepped on the gas. We bumped off along the dirt path at about 55 kph, instead of our usual 30 kph crawl that allowed us to admire each animal as we passed. We did see some new species on our way to the lions, including warthogs and several types of birds (secretary birds, Egyptian geese, white pelicans, flamingos and guinea fowl, to name a few), but they didn't deter us from our mission.

After a little while, I saw a sign reading: "Observation Hill, 7.2 km." I had picked these words out of Victor's conversation, so I knew that's where we were headed. If only the lions would wait until we arrived!

When we did arrive, we met up with several other vans filled with hopeful tourists in khakis, binoculars attached to their faces and camera lenses stretching toward the tall grass. Unfortunately, we were all disappointed. Victor and the other guides looked for the telltale lion's tail raised above the grass but couldn't spot any.

Disappointed, we drove away after twenty minutes of watching and waiting. Compared to the 141 pictures I took on our Wednesday game drive, I only took 29 today, but here are the best of those:

Welcome to the plains.

Wednesday, July 20

Today was the real transition between Rwanda and Kenya. Although there were differences between Kigali and Nairobi (size being the main one), they were both fairly modern East African cities. Today, we were finally seeing another side of Africa at Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya. We visited the local airport, where we hopped on a bush plane to fly us 45 minutes down to Amboseli, a national park located just north of the Tanzania border.

Our adorable baby bush plane. Look at the man on the far wing to get
an idea of how tiny it was.

On the way, we could see animals out the window, which got progressively more exciting. At first, right outside Nairobi, there was an occasional gazelle, but as we prepared to land in Amboseli, we saw elephants, wildebeest and zebras wandering the plains. A guide from our hotel, Serena Safari Lodge, was waiting for us at the runway when we landed. We paid our park admission fees and jostled off across the bumpy dirt roads to the lodge. I knew I was being “such a tourist” as I snapped pictures of every wildebeest, zebra and gazelle we passed, but I really didn’t care at that point.

This mama baboon carrying her baby waited at the side of the road
for our Jeep to pass before she began crossing.

When we arrived at the hotel, the staff greeted us with glasses of passion fruit juice and sat us down in the lobby for Mom to fill out her paperwork. That is one thing I have noticed is tremendously different between here and the U.S. – the service! Maybe I just don’t stay at as nice of places when I’m traveling in America, but the staff at the Serena Safari Lodge was unbelievably friendly and attentive. They pulled out our chairs and put our napkins on our laps for us at every meal, they kept our key at the front desk any time we left the room, and every time we visited the pool, someone was there within two minutes to serve us drinks. But the best part was that after you spoke with an employee once, that person would remember you and greet you personally every time he or she saw you after that.