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Thursday, February 18, 1999
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Morning came too early, despite being uncomfortable from the mild diarrhea I was experiencing. After all, this marked the beginning of the end of our adventures. I got up and took care of the morning preparations.

After breakfast, we said 'goodbye' to our camp staff and started to pack our luggage aboard the land rover.

As soon as it was light enough, I went to the area where our nocturnal visitor was known to visit. I was rewarded with a wonderful set of pawprints, which I photographed. (22:35 More about this picture later!) I put the long lens on the camera when I was done, and finished getting loaded into the land rover.

In order to make more room for the items I had picked up along the way, I decided to leave a few clothing articles behind with Njau. One of these was a sweatshirt, which I would probably not use much in the US. I also left behind one of the long-sleeved shirts I had brought, again an item I would seldom use. (I prefer short sleeve shirts, even in winter.) In the middle of these, I hid the astronomy book I had brought. Njau had wanted to look at it the entire time we had been together, but never had time. I could afford to leave this behind, as I use computer programs to locate sky objects these days. These items were put on the floor in my seat in the land rover. They would be presented to Njau later.

The last act in camp was to present the tip to our camp staff. We then got into the land rover and drove off.

What happened next was one of the most special moments of the entire trip. Unfortunately for me, it was somewhat ruined by one of those unpredictable problems I refer to as 'timmy luck'.

We had been on the road for maybe 2 minutes, and were still very close to camp. I think Teri saw it first. 'leopard!' she excitedly shouted. Sure enough, it was a leopard! It was moving slowly along our path, but going the opposite direction. It was also close, maybe 40 or 50 yards away. It was looking at us from time to time, but was not overly concerned by our presence. As a result, we had perhaps 2 minutes to observe it.

For me, it was total frustration. My camera malfunctioned! When I attempted to take a picture, the flash would come on and the mirror would move down! I had to turn the camera off to get the mirror to release, and it would do that only after a delay. I tried again, the same results. I quickly tried to change batteries, figuring that the lithium batteries had suddenly gone flat. (Lithium cells and Ni-Cads are known to do this.) By the time the new batteries were in, the leopard was gone. At least, I had stopped my activities for a few moments to observe the leopard.

We started to move on. I tried the camera again. Same problem. However, this time I noticed that the aperture selected was F-0. So, I figured there must be a lens problem. So, I unseated and reseated the lens. Things now worked fine, and I got a nice landscape picture as proof. (22:34) Conclusion: There was a small particle of dirt on the camera- lens contacts that was causing the camera to receive incorrect aperture feedback. It would cause the camera to lock the mirror open for 30 seconds (The longest possible automatic exposure) as a result. Oddly enough, the shutter was not opened under these conditions. The camera must have known it was an illegal condition. In any case, if I had simply released and relocked the lens, I would have had some leopard pictures! (I would have also had a shot if the backup camera had film loaded in it, and I had remembered I had it. Next trip, the backup camera will not be stored 'dry', but will have film in it and be ready to use!)

Now that the technical problem was solved, I was nearly in tears. Although missing photographing a leopard was not a major failure as far as the trip was concerned, it was such a stupid problem at a stupid time! And although seeing or photographing the 'big 5' was not a goal of this trip, I had come that close!! The only consolation was actually seeing the leopard. The image of this magnificent cat will be burned into my mind as long as I live, the leopard that got away! In any case, this extremely frustrating event left me in a somewhat somber mood for the rest of the trip to the airport.

We soon wound our way out of the Lake Ndutu area and were back on the plains. I got a picture of a lone male ostrich along side the road. (22:33) there is another bird off in the distance. I cannot remember now, but this might be a kori bustard. I had been trying to get a picture of these two birds together, but had not had much success. Unfortunately, it is far enough off that I will never know for sure. There are also some gazelles in the picture off to the left. The early morning light made them stand out, even though they were quite far off.

A bit later, I photographed a lone female ostrich. (22:32. 600 d.p.i. scan.) At first, I thought that this might have been the distant bird in the previous photograph. But, the presence of another animal (Perhaps the tail of another ostrich) at the very left edge of the picture proves that it is not. (Three were no other animals close to the distant bird in 22:33)

A bit later, we came upon a pair of jackals right on the road. What followed next was one of the more unusual things that happened on this trip!

Of course, the jackals started to run off, but in the wrong direction. They were trying to outrun us! (22:31) One of the two jackals finally got smart and left the road. (There was nothing preventing the jackals from leaving the road. Besides, there was enough room on the road for us to pass them safely.) The other jackal continued to try to outrun us. Njau increased his speed, hoping the jackal would get smart, and give up, but it didn't. (22:30) We eventually reached a speed of 50 km/hr, but the jackal was continuing to outrun us. It was running as fast as it could out of sheer fright! Still, it could have easily veered off at any moment, and we all hoped it would. Concerned that the jackal was not going to hold out, Njau slowed down. Finally, after a distance of 2 or 3 km, the jackal finally left the road. Njau figures that this jackal probably died later of exhaustion. Although canines are by nature endurance runners, no animal could do this kind of running for very long. We will never know what happened to this animal. We remembered this unique event as the 'jackal race'.

We reached hwy B144 and headed North towards Naabi Hill. After a very brief stop there for paperwork, we headed into the central Serengeti towards the airstrip. As we descended the road down towards the plains, I took a photo showing the vastness of the plains. (22:29) I took another photo of the same thing as soon as were down onto the plains. (22:28) Of all the pictures of the plains I took, perhaps this one shows just how endless the 'endless plains' are. (About the only feature interrupting the horizon is one of the Simba Kopjes way off in the distance.)

As we passed the area where we had seen the two dead gazelles the day before, not a trace of them was to be found. Njau was right. They had disappeared. We soon came across a hyena, perhaps with gazelle on it's breath. (22:26,25) this was one of the closer encounters we had with a hyena.

We soon reached the Simba Kopjes. As I already had plenty of nice pictures of them, I took only two more. One was an especially nice grouping. (22:24) The other was taken looking back at the kopjes when we later left them behind. (22:14)

'Lions' shouted Larry! Sure enough, the three lions Njau and I had seen the day before were still in the same spot just South of the Simba Kopjes. One of the males and the female were together. The other male was exploring a nearby rut. (Visible in the foreground of the pictures.) I tried really hard to get a picture of the two lions looking at us. Although I took a lot of photos trying, I never got a good shot of them both looking at us. Although the lighting at that hour of the morning was not ideal for a good detail shot, it was nonetheless quite dramatic. We watched these lions for as long as we had time. Notice if you look at all of these lion pictures, they are moving very little. These pictures span several minutes. (22:23,22,21,20,19,18,17, 16,15) The lions, with all of the gazelles in the background, made these pictures images of quintessential Africa. These would be the last lions I would see on this trip. Thank you Jesus for all the lion sightings!!!

As we started to get into the bushier central Serengeti, the wildlife started to change. As there was more water around, we started to see water-type birds. I got a nice picture of two grey herons in a thicket along the road. (22:13) This turned out to be the last wildlife photo I took in the Serengeti.

When we reached the central Serengeti, we actually passed the airstrip, and headed to the visitor's center. There, we stopped to stretch and look around for just a few minutes. It was also our last chance to use the restrooms before the flight.

While I was in the restroom, Njau got us all visitor's information leaflets. These were very much like what you would get at any park in a more civilized locale. They were printed in color on glossy paper. They contained some information, a map of the park, and rules, etc. In any case, a nice souvenir, as there was nothing like it given to us at any other park.

The other thing we did at the visitor's center was a quick last gift shop visit. Larry was the only other person who visited the gift shop with me. There, I hoped to find a T-shirt that said 'Serengeti' and had lions on it, and I did succeed in finding one. It is a heavy red T-shirt, with 'Serengeti' and a lion embroidered on it. A keepsake to last me many years! It cost me $22 US. I also looked for the official park guides, which I had put off purchasing for the entire trip. Unfortunately, they were out of all of them! They also didn't have any vehicle window stickers like the one I had purchased at Ngorongoro.

Although I didn't have long to look around, I made a diligent scan for any other unique items. Larry was busy purchasing some items while I did this. Satisfied with our purchases, we quickly headed back to the vehicle.

Njau explained to us that there was an excellent interpretive center here, but we wouldn't have time to visit it. So, we left the visitor's center, and drove back to the airstrip.

We were just in time, or that is, just in time according to our watches. There was no aircraft at all at the airstrip. So, we waited.

While waiting, there was plenty of time to look around. Even though this was a grass strip in the middle of a wildlife park, it still had the status of being an international airport! There were a couple of small buildings alongside the airstrip. One was labeled 'customs'. It was actually smaller than the buildings we had seen at the Namanga border, and appeared to have just an outside window to step up to!

The airstrip itself was surrounded by a low fence, which was little more than a steel cable stretched between some posts. There were gaps in the fence which were for passengers, but one could easily step over this fence. The waiting area was actually just a parking lot. There were no seats, so we sat on our luggage, or in the vehicle, or simply walked around.

The plane turned out to be late. Very late. Two hours late! During this time, we had a long last chance to talk with Njau. We talked about all sorts of things. We learned a lot about the government of Tanzania, and how it functioned in a country with so many diverse tribes of people. We learned more about his home life. We learned more about the Masai. We learned more about the various cultures and religions that made up Tanzania and East Africa in general. It was a really special time. We were lucky to have such a well-educated and literate guide!

Considering how late the plane was, I had even discussed riding back with Njau to Arusha, which would have put me at the hotel around 6 PM. Unfortunately, this wouldn't work out.

From time to time, Njau checked with Ranger Safari Base via the HF radio in the land rover. When we knew the plane was just a few minutes away, we presented Njau with our tips. I then told Njau about the clothing I left for him in the passenger's seat. I told him to give it away if he couldn't use it. He said he would. (This sort of practice is very common, we found out.)

The airplane finally arrived. It was not the little puddle jumper I thought it would be. Instead, it was a twin-engine turboprop that seated perhaps 15 people. It had a cockpit that was open to the cabin, and we could watch the pilots fly the plane. Joe helped Joyce get on the airplane, a time-consuming task because of the extremely narrow steps on the entrance stairway. While this was going on, we helped the pilots load all of our luggage. Some of it went in a compartment in the nose of the aircraft. A surprisingly large amount of it went into compartments on the back of the engine nacelles. This made a lot of sense, as the wings would do all of the luggage lifting without having to also carry the added weight in the fuselage. In any case, we weren't the only passengers. A number of other Ranger Safari clients had their tours ending here as well. Eventually, all luggage was loaded, and we climbed aboard the aircraft.

The engines were started, and we turned around for takeoff. As we taxied, I took one last picture of the Serengeti. One of the propeller blades even made it into the picture! (22:12) As we reached the end of the runway, Njau drove there, and waved goodbye to us. (22:11) We accelerated to takeoff speed, and were soon in the air. Goodbye, Serengeti.

I knew this flight would give some nice photo opportunities. I was not disappointed. A couple of pictures show a river course, probably the Seronera River. (22:10,9,8) I also got pictures of a couple of other river courses, one of them dry. (22:7,6) From this altitude, animals were not visible.

The next photo opportunity was Olduvai Gorge. (22:5)

I had hoped our course would take us over Ngorongoro crater. Joe and Njau explained to me that they would avoid flying over the crater, as there would be turbulence over it due to hot air rising off the crater floor. Luckily, we did fly close enough to it that I got a couple of pictures of it. (22:4,3) The lake in the crater (Lake Magadi) is clearly visible.

Lake Manyara was tougher. Haze made the lake hard to see and even harder to photograph. (22:2) Even so, you can barely make out the lake below the Rift Valley Escarpment edge.

The last item visible from the air turned out to be especially difficult to photograph, but very much worth the effort. It was Mt. Kilimanjaro. Although it was clearly visible out the window, I was viewing it through the nearly invisible propeller swing. I knew I could probably avoid catching the propeller by using a slow shutter speed, but the somewhat bumpy ride would blur the picture. Also, there was a limit to how much I could slow the shutter speed as I was using 800 speed film. I had to patiently wait until the pilot made a slight turn and the mountain was in clear air. He finally did make the requsite turn. I was rewarded with a nice photo of the top of 'kili'. (22:0)

It wasn't many minutes later that we landed at Arusha International Airport. I now know why not many long distance flights land there. It is a small airport for the size of the city. After landing, we collected our luggage and walked out the gate. There was a few minutes wait before our ride arrived.

Soon, we were on our way to Mountain Village. Our drive took us through downtown Arusha. There we saw a different Arusha than we had seen before. In a lot of ways, it was like a large town in a rural location: a lot of small shops selling just about anything you might imagine. I recognized a lot of small shops selling electrical supplies of various sorts. I kind of suspect that I could find most any electrical device I could find in the 'states here in Arusha if I looked around hard enough!

We got to Mountain Village right around lunchtime. Although doing something that afternoon was discussed over lunch, nobody was interested (Except me!). So, we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves.

There was a nature walk every day around 4 PM. I decided that would be a good thing to do, but it was several hours away. I stopped briefly in the gift shop, but there was nothing there I really wanted. The financial goal at this point was have enough money left for last-minute shopping in Nairobi and dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant.

I tried to take a long nap, but couldn't sleep well. So, I updated my diary. I also thought about our nocturnal visitor in the Serengeti and the tracks it had left. So, I took some time to look at carnivore tracks in my field guide. Now, at this point, I did not have any pictures of these tracks, only memories of what I had carefully observed.

One specific thing I had remembered is that the rear pad mark and the toe marks were very close to each other. This was not characteristic of hyena tracks. Another thing I remembered was the absence of claw marks. Hyenas have non-retractable claws, and should leave claw marks in soft soils like the ones they had left the tracks in. The field guide drawing shows this.

Leopard tracks, on the other hand, matched both characteristics: close heel-toe pad spacing and absence of claw marks. So, in all likelihood, these tracks had been made by a leopard and not a hyena! Lion was also briefly considered, but the tracks were too small for any lion that would have been out alone. Cheetah tracks have claw marks. Jackal tracks are much smaller. This was quite likely the same leopard that we had seen earlier that morning. (22:35)

Since this leopard always came into camp about half an hour after we retired, it must have been very close by, and was paying attention to what we were doing! We are definitely honored by it's presence! (Or, it was plotting what to do about these troublesome interlopers in it's territory?!)

I also very carefully cleaned my camera gear, but didn't pack it for travel quite yet. There was the nature walk later in the afternoon, and the drive to Nairobi the next day.

I spent some time looking at all my maps and reading the Serengeti flyer we had gotten earlier. I also noticed for the first time that our route to Nairobi takes us through the Amboseli Game Reserve. That would be something to watch for!

I tried to take another long nap, and didn't sleep well again.

Four o'clock finally rolled around. I caught up with the nature walk group outside the main entrance to the hotel grounds. There were about 15 people there, waiting to take the walk. (You could technically call this a 'walking safari', although they chose to call it an 'ethno-botanical walk'.) We would be taking a walk around Lake Duluti, which is just South of Mountain Village. Our guide was a hotel employee who was training to become a guide for groups going to the National Parks. We were also accompanied by two guards for reasons I still don't fully understand. They mainly helped out when we came to rough spots in the hike.

We set out from Mountain Village, and headed through a small neighborhood that was sandwiched between the hotel and Lake Duluti. Mountain Village is actually part of a coffee plantation, and the first thing we saw was some of the coffee fields.

One thing I noticed along the road was a telephone cable on poles. On one pole, this cable had been cut and spliced in the open, with no protection to the splices! Drop lines were connected at splices like this, and would travel along with the main pole for a ways before they went to their final destination. The drop lines was nothing more than a twisted pair of wires, and did not look very rugged.

The neighborhood we were walking through was part of the lands of one of the local tribes. We saw mainly children out playing or doing various types of light work. They happily replied when we said 'jambo' to them. Again, like most other places we had been in East Africa, the people seemed happy even if where they lived looked run-down by our standards.

We soon reached the lake shore. One thing I noticed immediately was some very heavy electric power lines running along the lake shore. I would shortly find out what they were for.

Before beginning our circumnavigation of the lake, I turned back and took a picture of Mountain Village. (23:37)

We learned from the guide that Lake Duluti is a deep lake with not-exactly-pure water. In fact, the water is considered poisonous, and was apparently that way before man arrived on the scene. The lake got it's name from the corruption of a term that indicates the lake kills people and takes the body.

We soon found out one of the things that might take a body! The people ahead of me in the group discovered a monitor lizard! Most people didn't see it, because it quickly swam off. It apparently wasn't a large one either, as one of any size would have created a noticeable disturbance in the water.

We hadn't gone much further when we found a dead black mamba snake. This is one of the few poisonous snakes of East Africa. (23:36) Our guide said that the children of one of the local farmers probably killed this snake, as they perceive it as a threat to their cattle. In any case, it was a somewhat ominous thing to have discovered on this somewhat creepy lake! This makes snake number 4 for a trip in which I was told we'd be lucky to see a snake at all! (The accounts of three of these four snakes is in the text of this journal. The fourth was a snake sighted very quickly by Njau and Larry on a road in Tarangire National Park. I missed seeing it.)

We found the load for the heavy power lines. (Some of which were almost low enough to touch! Thankfully, they appeared to be adequately insulated.) It was the village water pumping station. Despite the 'poisonous' water, it is somehow filtered and used for the local water supply. I have read that drinkable water is scarce everywhere on the African continent; this is proof of it.

The path around the lake had started out as a wide, level footpath. It now narrowed to a treacherous path that was sloped transversely towards the lake. This meant that you were always walking on ground that sloped sideways. I am not the most sure-footed person in the world, and it sometimes took some doing to walk this path. In some places, it was more like climbing, as you had to step between stones, roots , etc. One thing was for certain. I did NOT want to fall in this lake!

A bit further down the path, the people ahead of me saw another monitor lizard. Again, it slipped away before anyone else got a good look. I took a picture of the place where they had seen it. (23:35)

All of the area around the lake is heavily forested. There were very few clearings on the lake shore. This forest is also utilized by local people looking for 'wild' food. We came upon one spot that had been recently burned. The guide told us that a couple weeks ago, someone was trying to get honey out of a wild beehive by smoking out the bees. Well, things got out of control and they nearly started a forest fire. This could have been very serious with the dry conditions that Tanzania was experiencing. Luckily, it looks like it put itself out.

The guide seemed to know the local flora well. One common tree he pointed out to us was the mango tree. It had poisonous white sap. The poison had a use, but I have forgotten what it was.

Another common 'tree' was an unusual species of acacia that grew almost like a vine. When you would encounter it, it was nothing more than a thorn-covered trunk maybe an inch or a bit bigger in diameter going up into a tree. I never did see what the foliage of this species of acacia looked like. The guide told us that it was also very slow growing.

As we got towards the South shore of the lake, I got a nice picture of a cloud-shrouded Mt. Meru. (23:34) I also got a nice shot of Mountain Village. This time, you could see most of the hotel. (23:33) One of the rondavels visible, on the front row, was the one I was staying in.

Another new plant I saw was papaya. (23:32) Of course, this is the plant the ancient Egyptians made paper out of. I also saw a stand of bamboo, another plant I had never seen wild.

As we continued, the path leveled out, and we found we were paralleling a rubble stone wall. Our guide told us that this was part of a colonial homestead. Sure enough, we found a flight of stairs running up to the house, which was not visible. Not far beyond, we found a water pumping station for this estate. (We came across a total of three pumping stations around this lake. All of them were in use.)

We discovered a bird up in a tree. Unfortunately, I have forgotten what the guide caled it, but it seems most likely to be a hadada ibis. The late afternoon light was making photography difficult, but I did get a photo if it. (23:31)

We were almost all the way around the lake. Our final encounter was a marina. Or, it had once been a marina. The landowner was now selling trucks, and was using his lakefront property as a place to park them. He did this because there was apparently no money in the marina business anymore!

As we left the lakeshore, we came across a small farm. There a young boy, maybe 10, was herding cattle on a long, narrow piece of land that ran down to the lake. He used a stick and a loud voice to keep the cattle under control. The cattle were behaving, well-- like cattle!

Above the farm, we came upon an old coffee plantation. This plantation had been abandoned, and was in poor shape. Our guide showed us what factors made coffee plants unhealthy. At a point above this plantation, I stopped and got a late afternoon photograph of the lake. (23:30) You can see the stunted coffee trees in the foreground.

When we got back to Mountain Village, I used my last dollar bills to give the guide a tip, which everybody else did, too. I then learned that the guards should get a tip, too. Unfortunately, I could no longer do this. Embarrassed, I slipped away quietly.

The walk was supposed to have taken an hour. It had taken nearly two! It was now right around 6 PM and the electricity was now on. After allowing the water heater to heat the water, (We were asked earlier in the day to turn on the hot water heater only when we were ready to use it.) I took a shower.

Each room at Mountain Village has African animals carved on it's door. (All this work is done by hand. No hotel in the US could afford this sort of workmanship, due to our machine-oriented society!) The first time at Mountain Village, I did not have a lion on my door. This time I did. Of course, I got a picture of it. (23:29)

I met up with the rest of our group at 7 PM for dinner. Our last dinner together in Africa was a delicious Chinese meal, with a selection of main dishes. In retrospect, a lot of the food served at Mountain Village had an oriential touch to it.

One thing I did learn at dinnertime is if I want to go to the Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi tomorrow, it would have to be on my own. No one else was interested.

After dinner, I went down to my room, and took a long last look at the African stars. There would be no more chances to do this, so I truly savored the moment.

Another interesting thing would happen this evening, although I would be fast asleep when it did: The lion star, Regulus, (Brightest star in the constellation Leo) would reach the highest point it gets in the sky at exactly midnight (This is called a star's Midnight Culmination.). I thought it was a good thing to have happen when I was in lion country!

I pulled the mosquito netting over my bed and went to sleep. I didn't sleep well that night, despite the comfortable bed because it was my last night in Africa!

Next: Adventures along the Trans-East-African Highway

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