Seven Days in the Serengeti. Day Five: Sometimes it's about the Journey.
Sometimes it’s just about the Journey.
Today we bid farewell to Ngorongoro and begin our trek into the Central Serengeti, part of the massive Serengeti plains that cover much of Tanzania and into Kenya. We will experience only a small portion, one section, within Tanzania.
We are told we have two options.
#1 – we can take the shorter road which is extremely rough and will likely take 4 to 6 hours.
#2- we take the longer route, but a better road. On this route we will travel through the plains where we will see animals.
The previous journey to the crater was so rough it felt like the fillings was being rattled from our teeth. With this still fresh in our minds, we opt for Option Two – longer, but better road.
It is not too long before we start to wonder just how bad the Option One road could be. Our route is simply a rutted dirt trail through the long grasses of the plains across the vast expanse dotted only with the occasional acacia tree or stunted shrub. The jeeps slowly wind their way, jostling and bumping over the uneven ground. It reminds me of driving across the stubble fields in the Prairies where I grew up.
It is impossible to differentiate one mile of road from another. I cannot help but wonder how the drivers have any idea where, in this unending and unchanging expanse, they are and how they can possibly know where they are going. There are no roadways and no markers anywhere.
Somewhere, near a Maasi village, we encounter a small group of local people, the bright reds and oranges of their robes brilliant against the sun-drenched background. We stop for a few minutes to visit with the local chief and a few of his people alongside the road. Apparently, Victor, our guide knows him and they greet us warmly.
His tribe is large, he says. He has many wives and children. He is friendly and welcoming, his people somewhat timid and shy in our presence.
A group of children run and play in the tall grass, shepherding a small herd of cattle.
We bid farewell and continue on our way.
Giraffes, elephants, zebras are all around.
Our guides are ever alert, on the lookout for signs of animals. We are hoping to spot cheetah, leopards and rhinos. These are the most elusive of the animals on our list.
Our radio crackles… someone has spotted something ahead. A cheetah they think, on a small knoll overlooking a dry lake bed. We are excited. For some reason the cheetah is the animal all of our grandchildren have expressed their desire to see. We can’t go home without tales, and photos, of this sleek, magnificent cat.
They are stunning, these two beautiful, stealthy, spotted cats. We come in close and they wander right around our jeeps. Their magnificent spotted coats look so soft we want to reach out and touch them. ( I know, not a good idea.) They are sleek and alert. No match for a lion or leopard, we are told, the cheetah’s bones are very light. That’s what gives it is speed. It is apparent that in the law of nature each animal has its one unique characteristic that aids its survival. For the cheetah it is its speed that allows it to outrun its predators - the much stronger, but slower, lions and leopards.
There have been a few rain showers in the area. Here, the least amount of rain makes the dirt paths slippery and mucky. The surface soil is thin, covering rock plates below. There is no place for the water to seep so it sits in dips and low spots and lies in the ruts.
We are nearing our camp and it is getting late in the afternoon. The trail is getting softer and slipperier from the rain. The further we go, the worse the road. We slip and slide. There are four jeeps in our convoy, three larger, heavier veh icles and our smaller and lighter one. However, we are equipped with a more powerful motor and the coveted winch.
We ford gullies with several inches of water over the road, slipping and sliding in ruts that grow deeper with the passage of each jeep. The vehicles hang in the ruts, sliding sideways, at times almost toppling over. We approach narrow bridges over dry riverbeds, no side rails. We close our eyes and hold our breath as our skillful young driver slides sideways onto the bridge, rights the vehicle and somehow manoeuvers it safely across.
The ruts and holes are getting deeper and, as it gets darker, we hit a particularly deep, obscured hole, tossing us around like ragdolls. I fly in the air, slamming my head against the roof – thank goodness the roof is padded. Our admiration for our young driver grows as he calmly pushes on.
The radio crackles. One of the lead jeeps is stuck ahead and, since we have the only winch, we are called to the rescue. The lead jeep is mired solidly in the mucky gumbo. The second jeep, attempting to push it through, has now joined it in and sits helplessly spinning behind it. How can so little water create this mess?
Adam is joined by our guide and his fellow drivers. Together they attach the winch and we slowly inch backward, the winch stretching taut. Gradually the second jeep moves, inching backward until it is free.
One down. They hook the winch again to the lead vehicle. Slowly we strain backwards. But the vehicle is mired so solidly it resists our efforts. The winch strains and finally snaps.
For an hour we continue, re-hooking the winch, and inching gradually further. We spin, sending mud splattering in all directions. It is dark now and we are reminded, we are in the middle of the Serengeti with animals all around. We take comfort in the fact they would not likely approach with the noise of the vehicles roaring and spinning.
Finally, the vehicle gains traction and slowly slides free.
Again I wonder, just how bad could that other route have been?
It has been an adventure, unplanned, but an adventure nonetheless. It is dark as we finally make our way to Naona Moru, our tent camp in the middle of the Central Serengeti.
Life is a journey, as the saying goes.