16 Dec 2013

Following In The Footsteps of Royalty

Tanzania: Serengeti National Park

There is a marked difference between the eastern and western halves of the Serengeti.  The western corridor is more wooded, with far fewer visitors, no campsites and only a handful of luxury lodges.  East of the park headquarters at Seronera is the most heavily visited area (we called it the Serenghetto), busy with day trippers and linked directly by horribly corrugated road to the even greater tourist magnet of the Ngorogoro crater.  Since we were transiting the whole park from West to East, we decided to avoid the crowds and splash out on one of the best tented camps in the Western corridor.  Finding an all-inclusive special offer, Josi had booked us into the fabulous *Serena Kirawira Lodge* for John’s belated birthday present.

Feeling rather self-conscious as we parked Tonka, still plastered with mud and rattling his exhaust, we were greeted by the manager in his crisp white uniform.  From that moment on we were treated like royalty and we later found out that the Queen of Denmark had stayed here on her official visit to Tanzania.  Josi felt immediately at home.

 

Sitting in the Edwardian style lounge bar, looking out over the vast savannah dotted with zebra and wildebeest, we sipped champagne and snacked on canapés served on Villeroy & Bosch porcelain.  This was a far cry from the Tupperware dinners to which we have become accustomed.  Lunch was even more impressive – 5 exquisitely presented courses served in a dining tent with polished wood floors, complete with antique furniture and silver cutlery.  Almost daunted by the prospect of the 7 course dinner only 4 hours away, we retreated to our safari tent to unpack.  This was decorated much like we would imagine a first class cabin on the Orient Express.  Antique closets housed our clothes and the bathroom was panelled in dark tropical wood with English toiletries. 


Also included in our deal were two game drives – one in the evening and one in the morning.  As we were 2 of only 4 people staying that night we had the game drives all to ourselves.  This made it feel like an even more exclusive experience.  It was a novelty to have a guide drive us around and we can’t deny that game sightings were more impressive than we would have managed ourselves.  







We saw several lions just a few metres away including young cubs and a large male.  The male was constantly tailed by a pack of jackals and it finally became clear why - after he squatted down on his haunches, the jackals immediately rushed in to eat his dung.  We also learnt how lions use the black tips of their ears and tail to communicate with one another during a hunt.


 



Back at the lodge we could still hear the distinct grunt of the lion, which sounded ominously close but could have been anything up to 6km away.  Not to be outdone by lunch, dinner was an even more extravagant affair and we were already wishing that we could spread these feasts over a number of days.  By the time desert came it was reminiscent of the “waafffer thin mint” sketch from Monty Python.  Just as we had escaped from the dining room, the barman caught us and offered us complimentary drinks in the bar.  How could we say no?  So we were faced with a fine selection of cognacs, including Hennessy and Rémy Martin.

 

After another amazing dawn game drive we were served an almost equally impressive full English breakfast.  Sadly that concluded our stay here.




 



 

A few hours’ drive further on, and the Seronera region was a very different story.  No Villeroy & Bosch or silver cutlery here, but instead a vast open grassland which seemed familiar from countless documentaries.  It was through this region that the tail end of the massive wildebeest migration was still moving, and it did not take long to find them.  As we ploughed along a muddy track we were suddenly confronted by a procession of hooves, horns and goatees stretching as far as we could see.  

There is something calming about the presence of wildebeest.  Their expressions are invariably benign, unlike the scowling glare of buffaloes, and, en masse, they move with an almost hypnotic rhythm.  As we pulled up alongside them and turned off our engine, they soon absorbed us into their midst, ambling past on both sides.  This migration is one of the natural wonders of the continent, which, along with the rains, dictates the migratory and breeding cycles of the big predators. 




By this stage we have seen most of Southern and East Africa’s large mammals, but the cheetah still eludes us.  The characteristic “kopjes” (rocky mounds) of the Serengeti are often portrayed with a cheetah perched on top of them, but we had no joy on that front.  The Serengeti is as much about the landscape as the wildlife though, and it was a privilege to be here.  Only the 50km of dreadfully corrugated road to the Eastern exit gate finally wiped the smiles off our faces.


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