Big Cat Wild Camping
As a part of White Masai I am privileged to spend time with and photograph some of the most threatened endangered species on earth. To achieve the best images you need to connect with nature, the environment and truly absorb yourself in your surroundings. Sometimes I loose myself, my senses heightened as I immerse myself in nature. To be at one with nature is truly wonderful, to re connect with the elements and the environment that sustains us is life reaffirming. To help in wildlife conservation we need to reconnect with nature, really understand how it affects our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, those deep emotions, that renewed passion will spur us toward to make positive changes. I started to write White Masai as there are so many stunning photography and nature programmes to pique public interest but I want people to really deeply connect with me as I write about my experiences and truly feel on a personal level what it means to be passionate about specific animals and their fight for survival, their emotions and the environment. When I write I connect with my emotions and the emotions of the animals I am studying and then capture that in an image, the raw emotion of a moment. To help these endangered species we need to emotionally connect with them, value them and understand them. Together we need to make positive changes .
Day 1 –
We set off early for Lake Manyara National Reserve; it is still cool as we drive out of the hustle and bustle of Arusha into the lush green countryside. Along the road we see children walking to school, ladies with baskets of fruit or firewood carefully balanced on their heads and people going off to work in the fields.
Further out we drive through Maasai villages, they dressed in traditional attire as they tend their cattle, sheep and goats. Clusters of traditional Maasai mud houses with straw roofs sit nestled in the long grasses.
We reach the reserve and as we enter cheeky Baboon line the road squabbling and playing in the dappled morning light. Iridescent Fever Trees line the road into the reserve, their tall trunks silvery grey splaying out into wide branches bent heavy with beautiful light green leaves. The mountains either side of us are covered in beautiful Acacia trees, Euphorbia, Cassinia and Palm trees. It is so green and luscious, paradise found. We see Blue Monkeys sat up in the trees eating fruit, they have cute black faces against their grey bodies. Vervet monkeys swing, long limbed and frocking as they navigate the branches.
In a dappled clearing we see four Vervet monkeys laying on the ground grooming each other. One lays down, a look of bliss on its face as the other grooms it. It lifts its arm so the other can groom under it. It turns onto its back its belly exposed so its tummy can be thoroughly groomed. When it has been groomed they change places. It is such a delightful peaceful scene of utter contentment.
A large troop of Baboons forage on the open plain. One adolescent male misbehaves so it is scolded and chased by the dominant male. Others groom each other affectionately, whilst mothers walk with their babies of their back. A male tries to mate with a female but she is not happy so he gives chase to her, he catches her in a pool of water and holds her down in quite an aggressive manner until she submits. A larger dominant male rescues her and gives chase to the other male.
Wildebeest, Pumba, Zebra, Impala and Baboons graze on the fertile grass of the plains. Cool pools of water provide much needed hydration. We see a female Wildebeest walking with two feet sticking out behind her, she is about to give birth. We watch for about half an hour as she walks the lays and pushes out this beautiful new life. The baby flops wetly on the ground the mother licks off the afterbirth. The baby struggles to stand on its new legs, wobbling and falling over many times before it is strong enough. It eventually stands and starts suckling.
Down by the Hippo pool we see Buffalo wading through the cool waters full of long reeds. A mother and baby Hippo walk out of the water to graze on the grass and bask in the heat of the morning. Wildebeest too stand knee height in the water to drink the refreshing hydration.
The forest here is dense but beautiful. I love the way the sunlight streams through the trees creating beautiful shadows and silvery gold light. Elephants peacefully march through the undergrowth using their tusks and trunks to pull fronds of leaves into their large mouths. They ruminate as they walk, such impressively large animals but surprisingly elegant and calm.
To my joy up in the very thick branches of a Fig tree we see a Leopard sitting gracefully. He is staring out into the plains. His distinctive golden coat with black rosettes backlit by the sunshine. He turns his large muscular head to look at us, he is dominant, powerful and graceful. He moves his muscular frame and lays down on the branch quite content to assess his prey. I drink in his princely glory, he is a cat content in his own company, so at peace with his surroundings. There is much we can learn from this stunning feline. Just being at peace with nature and content in our own company.
We have a late lunch up in the hills with stunning views over the reserve. The lake glistens in the sunlight, sparking like diamonds. Architectural Euphorbia jut out from the side of the hill, their branches spikey and thick. Stunning colourful Usambiro Barbet birds hop around us hoping for crumbs. It is so beautiful and peaceful up here drinking in the stunning view.
The heat is rising through the afternoon and we see more animals wading through the waters of the lake, cooling and refreshing themselves. We drive through avenues of trees the rich canopies provide much needed shade for us. The sunlight shines through a soft dusky glow over the scene.
The park is large and beautiful an amazing rich biodiversity. The lake surrounded by tree covered mountains is breathtakingly beautiful. After we leave we drive up out of the park to take in the beautiful views across the rich tapestry of lakes, mountains and forests. In the early sunset the light captures the rich colours, blues, greens and yellows, a perfect vision of nature in all of its glory.
That night back in our lodge we reflect on our glorious day.
This is Africa, a glorious technicolour of nature’s beauty.
Day 2 –
The day dawns bright as we drive out of camp towards the Ngorongoro crater. It is breath-taking starting at the top of the rim and looking down into the basin. The crater is lined with a thick covering of trees and the road down is an exciting rollercoaster of twisting hairpin bends along the edge. There is a low cloud covering as we start off giving it an eerie feel but as we near the basin the sun burns off the cloud and the flat green open plains stretch before us.
Herds of Hartebeest, Wildebeest, Impala, Thompson Gazelle and Zebra graze on the short grasses, it is a great wide expanse surrounded by the green walls of the crater.
Driving through we see a male Lion sat with four females. You will mainly find one male and one female but this male is mating with all four. He is a majestic strikingly handsome male of around eight years old, his mane is still golden with youth and his nose mainly pink. He has a magnificent full golden mane which is stunningly backlit by the sun, it shines in all its glory. As we approach he arises and stretches his powerful muscles. He then confidently walks over to one of the Lionesses and licks the back of her neck indicating it is time to mate. She crouches down so he can mount her and they both start snarling at each other as they copulate. He bites the top of your head and neck and she growls back. Ten seconds later he is done and quickly backs away from her as she turns round to swipe at him with her sharp claws. She then rolls over onto her back her legs splayed.
Just minutes later another Lioness stands and decides it is her turn to mate with him. She walks over to him and nuzzles him and then starts frantically rubbing herself against him. He seems to enjoy the attention but is not ready to mate again. She continues to flirtatiously roll on her back in front of him and rub up against him but he cannot be persuaded so she lies back down.
Fifteen minutes later he mates in the usual aggressive frantic style with the first Lioness. However rather surprisingly when the second Lioness starting rubbing up against him minutes later he mates with her too. It is all about the survival of the pride and ensuring each Lioness is impregnated.
Casually grazing on the longer drier grasses a White Rhino comes into view. His grey amour thick and impregnable. He is impressively large with his distinctive horn, he is unchanged over millions of years. He is a shy and intelligent so keeps his distance from us. White Rhinos are browsers and Black Rhino are grazers.
A Lion and Lioness walk past the Rhino but they are no threat to him, however the Thompson Gazelle, Wildebeest and Zebra start snorting an alarm call. The male lies down and watch the female walk past, she seems to have a purpose but it is too open here to hunt.
The Ngorongoro crater has lighter soil as it is very salty so the animals appear lighter in colour as they sand bath covering their fur in the lighter soil. A spotted Hyena runs into view and instead of being a darker beige its fur appears more golden.
Two Golden Jackal run across the plains, perfect for this environment. They have longer fluffier fur and it is golden like the sandy soil. They are such attractive scavengers.
Ahead we see a carcass of a Buffalo killed by Lions yesterday the skin has been dried to hard leather in the sun and there is no meat left. The rotting stench fills the air. The Lions are sleeping under a nearby bush which makes the Hyena and Vultures nervous about approaching the carcass. Ruppel vultures gather nearby patiently waiting their turn to eat.
We stop to have lunch by a lake it is a beautiful setting. As we sit on the grass eating our lunch we see Hippo wallowing in the water. They contentedly splash and honk their distinctive laugh. White cranes fly overhead. The cloud has created some cool shade for us so we can relax after such an exciting morning.
The nearby Hippo pool is teaming with a large pod of Hippos. They splash and communicate noisily. The stench is overwhelming as they defecate where they wallow. As it is hot they are all in the water keeping cool, later they come out and graze on the grass.
Herds of Buffalo roam over the plains, they keep their young in the middle of the herd away from predator attacks. The dominant female leads the herd deciding the route they take. They graze the short dry grass; they are ruminators so they chew slowly extracting as much nutrients as they can from the grass.
The Grey crown crane slowly stalks through the grass it’s beady eyes looking for small insects. Its beautiful plumage is striking against the dry landscape.
As we drive past a herd of Wildebeest I notice how calm they are here. Even when we drive close they keep their ground. So we stop and take in how lovely a Wildebeest is. It is easy to see them as Lion food or fodder for the Crocodiles when they cross the river during the great migration but actually they have an interesting character and very characterful faces. I stop to take a close up photo of ones face, it is quite remarkable.
I then see two Wildebeest sat down they are being very affectionate rubbing their heads together, this is not something I have observed before. They then both half stand with their front legs still knelt and they continue to rub their heads together affectionately. It is a joy to observe.
We see two Golden Jackal laid together against a large salty rock. Their beautiful golden fur is stunning against the white rock. They are relaxed and confident with no need to run off. They are enjoying the warmth of the afternoon glow of the sun and the gentle breeze.
A large Kory Bustard is stalking through the grass looking for insects and seeds to eat. It is an interesting bird with a large head, very thick neck but an average sized body but thin spindly hollow legs. It is quite striking and very distinctive.
We drive back to the mating Lions, they look tired and hot. One of the Lionesses gets up and walks over to the male to mate. She walks around him so he can pick up her scent and then she starts rubbing up against him. He starts to take in her scent and rises to mount her. She crouches in front of him and he bites her neck as he starts to thrust. They both growl and snarl during the ten second copulation. When he has finished he quickly dismounts and jumps back out of the way of her lethal claws as she swipes at him. She growls then rolls over into her back.
Minutes later one of the Lionesses who was sitting away from them calls and they all get up to greet her. She affectionately nuzzles the other females in greeting and then walks over to the male clearly wanting to mate. She is quite enthusiastic in her encouragement of persuading him to mate with her. He is happy to see her but initially seems reluctant to mate as he has just mated. She is however successful in her persuasion and crouches in front of him. He mounts her and the copulation is over in seconds.
The Lionesses are keen to be impregnated as they want to increase the strength and number of their pride. Lionesses are good mothers and are ferociously protective of their cubs, even to the extent of fighting invading males to protect them.
To my astonishment and amusement the female who has just mated goes to join the other three females but instead of just nuzzling heads she mounts the back of one of the other females and starts imitating male thrusting. The female under her growls her annoyance and she gets off. I have never observed this before, could it be she is androgynous or maybe she is just playing, it is hard to know.
We leave this rather intriguing ménage a trois and head back up the crater wall. I love the steep climb along the sharp winding roads flanked each side by stunning dense foliage and trees. The road twists and winds and with each new turn you can see the vast panorama of the crater bowl.
At the top we stop to take photos of this impressive landscape. The vista is breath-taking, wild, open and natural.
Back at our lodge we shower and change for dinner. The sky is bright so we decide to eat outside under the stars. It is lovely feeling the warm gentle night breeze.
This is my Africa, an expanse of natural beauty.
Day 3 –
We set off early just after sunset, the morning is cool and the air crisp. We drive up to the crater admiring the vast expanse of woodland covering the walls of the crater, it is so green and luscious. The vast Acacia trees with their wide branches form interlocking umbrellas shielding the lush vegetation below. The sun’s rays reflect off the green leaves moist from the morning dew, they glisten iridescent. We wind around the top of the crater drinking in the vast panorama. Fever trees bend with the wind and form stunning arched avenues of silvery bark and vibrant foliage. The sun’s rays are dappled and create an ethereal glow, quite magical and serene.
Across the other side we emerge into the Maasai plains a perfect cornucopia. The grass is rich and luscious and Cassinia bushes with their stunning fronds of yellow flowers burst like balls of sunlit through the ground. Maasai ladies resplendent in their colourful dresses and beaded jewellery walk with firewood on their heads. Maasai men equally colourful in their dress and jewellery tend their cattle, sheep and goats. Young children with spears herd small groups of goats, they smile and wave at us as we drive past.
The villages are beautiful round huts made of mud with straw roofs, a design that has not changed in hundreds of years. It is an idyllic setting of rural life against a backdrop of tree covered hills. It is quite breath-taking looking at the simplicity of life, it is easy to romanticise how stunning the setting is. However it is a hard life, whilst it is green and luscious now there has been no rain for a while and the landscape will turn brown and barren which means the Maasai will have to walk far to graze their cattle and find water.
The Ndutu plains further along are showing signs of the lack of rain, whilst still beautiful, the grass is short green and yellow and the dry earth can be clearly seen. Great Herds of Giraffe, Zebra and Wildebeest graze on the short grasses and bushes.
As the heat of the morning rises the Wildebeest and Zebra gather under small Ballanite trees for shade. This is now birthing season so we see many baby Zebra and Wildebeest with their mothers. The babies need to practice their galloping and running so you often see them frolicking and kicking their back legs up. This will assist them if they ever get chased by a predator, kicking and galloping away quickly is their main form of defence.
The Zebras standing out in the sun stand in opposite directions of each other to look for predators. Often they will stand with their heads resting on each other’s backs. It looks incredibly affectionate and endearing. They can also groom each other this way.
The wide open plain is dry and hot but this does not stop two magnificent gorgeous male Lions sitting out in the open in the intense heat. As we approach the males are cuddled up nuzzling each other, the bromance between two male Lions is incredibly beautiful. They show so much heart-warming affection and love towards each other. They are brothers, one is around four years old his mane is golden and not fully grown so he sports a golden Mohican. The other is around five and although his mane is quite small it is already turning black. The heat is so intense the older Lion gets up stretching his impressive muscular frame and walks over to a land cruiser and sits in its shade resting his head up against the tyre. His face is a picture of bliss and contentment as he revels in the coolness of the shade. The younger male rests his large powerful head on his paws and lays contentedly stretched out.
The land cruiser drives off so the Lion decides that our vehicle will now give good shade so he walks slowly languidly over to us within inches of our vehicle, he looks up at me within two foot of my face, and big golden eyes gently assessing me then he sits right next to me. I feel so privileged to be sitting next to such a magnificent regal king. He lays with his body pressed up to the vehicle and face under the body so to get as much shade as possible. I could literally reach down and stroke him he is so close. I lean out of the large vehicle window and my face is within two feet of his. He is peaceful and calm and I feel at one with him.
As this gorgeous male is half sat under our vehicle we decide to eat lunch right here. He occasionally looks up at me with his gorgeous golden eyes and then sits up and changes position. It is now lunchtime and the sun is at its hottest and he wants some shade. Eventually he stands up and walks back to his brother. They affectionately nuzzle and sit next to each other.
These two males would have left their pride at around two and a half years old. Their mother would have chased them away when they became sexually active otherwise they would have tried to mate with their mother and sisters creating weak genes in the pride. When they are around eight years old they will try and form their own pride by fighting with an older male of another pride and taking it over.
Just a very short distance away we see the stunning lithe form of a female Cheetah laying in the grass with a cub of around five months old. The cub still has the fluff at the back of its neck. The mother digs at a clump of grass to obtain the moisture held underneath in order to cool her. She stretches her sinewy body and lays herself down on the cool damp earth. The cub tries to copy her and rests on a clump of grass. The cub will stay with her mother for up to four years to learn valuable life and hunting skills, only then will the mother mate again.
We drive back to the Lions, they are stretched out languishing on the grass, and it is so hot now they lay on their backs with their legs splayed out trying to cool them. There is a gentle breeze which is a relief from the heat.
Across the plains again we see the distinctive lithe bodies of Cheetahs laying under a tree. It is a mother with two cubs of around nine months old, they are stretched out asleep. One of the cubs has her paw laid on her mother’s back. After a while they stretch and yawn and start grooming each other. They are very affectionate as their long raspy tongues gently lick dirt off of each other’s faces.
The mother gets up and starts walking across the plains she looks like she wants to hunt but all we can see around is Zebra which is too large a kill for her on her own as her cubs are too young yet to hunt. The cubs follow after her frolicking and playing as they follow in her steps. She stops to gaze around but there is no prey for her to hunt so she sits down and starts washing one of her cubs gently holding down its head as she thoroughly licks and grooms.
Maasai Giraffes browse on small bushes their long tongues stretching out to wrap around fronds of leaves. They deposit large quantities into their mouths and ruminate slowly. They are silent elegant animals serenely walking and browsing. When they see something interesting or their curiosity is peaked they stare intensely until their curiosity is satisfied.
Tonight we are wild camping in the bush which is exciting. We head to an area of the plain dedicated to camping. We pitch our tent under a tree and set up a camp fire. As the sun sets a red yellow and orange glow spreads across the sky reflecting the hot red orange and yellow flames of our fire. It is wonderful being free and in tune with nature. I can feel the earth under my feet, the cool breeze caressing my skin and the warmth of the fire warming my soul. I am at one with my environment, my soul is free like the wind and I let my spirit take flight. To be able to connect like this mind, body and soul is such a joy.
I fall to sleep in my tent to the sound of the night and nature all around me. I sleep on the earth my body connecting to my environment.
This is my Africa, wild, free and connected to nature.
Day 4 –
Waking up in the wild with the earth beneath your body is a wonderful life affirming feeling. To connect with nature like this is so freeing. The sun starts to rise setting light the sky with a vibrant red orange and yellow glow. The Acacia trees surrounding our tent are silhouetted against the fiery sky. The sunrise is warm and life giving, it is the hope of new life and a new day. There is so much soul in a sunrise it makes you feel happy and alive.
After breakfast watching the sunrise we set out in our vehicle to see what nature will give us today. In the early morning hours I heard a Lion roar its low throaty call near camp so we head off in that direction. Within minutes we find her foot prints in the dry sandy soil and follow it. Not long after we see Vultures and Marabou Stalks sitting up in Acacia trees whilst others are on the ground feasting on the carcass of clearing the Lions kill from the night before. In a nearby tree juvenile Tawny Eagle sit with their long talons grasping the branches and using their sharp vision to assess the area for food.
Within sight comes the Lioness I heard roaring in the early hours, her belly is rotund from eating her kill. She leisurely strolls through the grass probably looking to join the rest of her pride. She occasionally stops to take in the scent of the grass to see if the pride has marked their territory. Her golden coat is beautifully backlit by the sun making it look like spun gold. She seeks the shade of a tree as the sun is already getting warm. She sits down and pants heavily as her is very full and warm.
Not far away in the shade of a ravine we find four Cheetah cubs of around eighteen months old, it appears they are all brothers. Their mother must be off hunting as they sit and call for her. They are almost adult size but too young to fend for themselves yet. I love listening to their distinctive high pitch squeak as they call, they want the comfort and security of their mother. They stretch their long lithe bodies and scan the horizon for her, they show their sharp teeth as they call. They then settle down on the banks of the ravine their stunning fur lit by the sun’s rays and their bright dark amber eyes alert and curious. When they are around four years old they will leave their mother and stay together as a strong coalition as they are all boys, this means when they hunt they will be able to kill larger prey.
It is all about the big cats this morning. We see two queens laying under a tree, Lionesses have such regal beauty. They are laying next to each other their beautiful strong faces resting on their powerful paws. Behind them in a small dry ravine their six Lion cubs are sleeping on tufts of grass jutting out of the sides of the dry bed. They are around seven months old and you can just start to make out which are male and which are female. The male cubs have longer fluffy golden hair on their heads which promises to be the start of a magnificent mane.
The cubs look up at us with their beautifully eye lashed golden brown eyes. They yawn exposing long pink barbed tongues and sharp powerful teeth. Their ears are very fluffy and they still have distinctive rosettes on their bellies. Some get up awakened by our approach and start nuzzling their siblings affectionately. As birds fly overhead they look up and watch their flight with curiosity. Others groom and snap at flies which annoy them.
Now they are awake they decide to get up and join their mothers under the cool shade of the tree as the ravine is hot and dusty. As they join their mothers they lick and nuzzle them in greeting. It is hot and dusty now in the mid-morning so they sit down and start to groom. They lick their large paws and use them to wash their fluffy ears and eyes like a domestic cat, it is very endearing. As other vehicles approach they look up with big beautiful curious round golden eyes and you wonder what they think of people taking photos of them. My observation is they are as curious about us as we are of them.
The cubs snuggle up to each other, they are so affectionate with one another. Limbs tangle with limbs as they get comfortable. Heads rest on backs like pillows and they sigh in contentment. This is an idyllic scene of a very healthy happy pride. They clearly had a kill in the early hours of the morning as they all have round full bellies and are content to sleep in the heat of the day.
As we are close to our camp we head back for a delicious lunch. It is such an idyllic setting under the canopy of trees. We are surrounded by beautiful architectural Acacia trees; their twisted branches are gnarly and textured and are topped with an umbrella of leaves and white flowers. After a brief sleep we head out again.
We find the four Cheetah cubs again they are frolicking on the grass sand bathing. On is sat in the bushes squeaking its call to its mother but she is still not around. It is joyful to watch them play and groom.
Not far away the pride of Lions, two Lionesses with six cubs are laying under the tree still for shade. Two of the cubs are restless and start wresting each other. The grapple and chew at each other’s ears and tail in mock battle. Then one gets up and start scratching its claws on a tree. The other cub is very mischievous and jumps on its mother waking her. He wants to play but she bats him down with her large paw to quieten him. They all go back to sleep as the sun is still very warm.
Up on a ridge under a bank of trees we find three Lionesses asleep. They look peaceful and serene. One has her leg rested on the tree cooling her belly. Another covers her face with her paw shielding her eyes from the sun. It is so relaxing sitting in the presence of sleeping cats.
Two DikDik stand in the shade of the trees, they are the smallest antelope and mate for life. They are perfect in their small form with their tiny straight horns and delicate faces. They are very endearing and peaceful.
Giraffe browse nearby on the tops of the trees, whilst Zebra and Wildebeest graze on the short grasses. It is more luscious and green around the Marsh area, the grasses and reeds are iridescent in the late afternoon light, almost every shade of green you can imagine, it is very beautiful.
As we drive back to camp I take in the stunning beauty of the vista, the scenery on these plains is just wonderful. Back in camp we light fires and sit outside and watch the glow of the sunset which gives way to a starry night. Even though it is early evening we hear the roar of Lions not far away. They are gathering to hunt early tonight.
It is absolutely blissful as we are the only camp in this site and we have a fire burning. As I warm myself by the burning embers I look up at the black blue sky and take in the dazzle of the stars. It is absolutely blissful, I feel so relaxed happy and free.
I fall to sleep in my tent to the sound of the wild.
This is my Africa, one life under the beautiful African sky.
Day 5 –
We get up early as we leave this camp today. Breakfast is around the camp fire, I love making toast over the fire it has such a lovely taste. I enjoy the cool breeze of the dawn, the sun rises above the Acacia trees a stunning Monet painting splashed across the sky. Brush strokes of yellows, oranges, pinks and reds are vibrant against the royal blue sky. The Acacia trees are perfectly silhouetted against the sky line. It is breath-taking and just so perfect. I will miss this place so much it really is idyllic.
We drive through Ndutu and into the Serengeti. We are heading for the Seronara area. Within a short while of entering we approach an amazing rock formation. It impressively rises from the ground and stands over a hundred feet tall, a large grey craggy bolder surrounded by lush bushes. In my mind’s eye I see the opening scene of the Lion King, the circle of life starts playing in my head for on top of this pride rock is three Lionesses and six cubs of around six months old they lay
with heads on paws. On the edge lay a Lioness with two cubs, one male and one female and I cannot help but call them Simba and Nala. A tear rolls down my cheek I am so moved by the scene. The sky behind is a perfect cloudless azure blue and is the most stunning backdrop for one of the most heart-warming picture I have seen on safari.
For several hours I take in what I am witnessing, even though it grows hot the cubs are happy well fed and playful. I watch them pounce on their mothers chewing at their tails and ears until they get gently batted away. They chase each other over the rock, navigating the steep sloop. They sit and observe prey in the distance and are enthralled by birds flying overhead. Eventually they grow tired and decide to rest. Some cubs seek shelter with their mothers and curl down affectionately on their mothers large paws, others clamber over each other and lay cuddled up limbs tangled in sibling embrace. As they lay their small heads on their large paws they look contented and peaceful. I have such joy peace and happiness in my heart observing them. Lions really do have an incredible family bond, extremely loving, fiercely protective. It is with reluctance I leave this happy scene.
Under the shade of a large umbrellaed Acacia tree a large herd of Elephants are grazing. The dappled light casts interesting shadows on their large dark grey wrinkled bodies. Impressive ears flap in order to keep themselves cool. Tails swish to keep away flies and long trunks and powerful tusks pull at fronds of leaves that are deposited in their mouths.
The stench hits first as we approach a watering hole full of Hippos. Ignoring the pervading smell it is a beautiful scene as it is surrounded by extremely luscious Palm trees and reeds. The Hippos honk in the water revelling in the coolness compared to the intense heat of the day. They splash and compete for space as this is a large pod of Hippos in a small pool.
We drive looking for more Lions but instead to my absolute amazement we see in the bows of extremely large Sausage tree a beautiful female Leopard. She is laying on one of the branches in perfect Leopard style with her limbs dangling from either side. She is so beautiful as she serenely sleeps in the heat of the day. Behind her comes a small squeak and her small eight month cub raises its small cute face, large eyes look curiously up at us. The small cub negotiates the gnarly thick branch and chooses a comfortable place behind her mother to sleep. We sit and observe their behaviour as they stretch and move ever so often. The small cub yawns showing sharp teeth and a small pink tongue, it is just so fluffy and cute.
Black back Jackal run by us. Like Hyenas they are scavengers but can also hunt for themselves. They also mate for life and live in a small pack in dens.
Herds of Buffalo roam through the plains being led by the dominant female. In the bushes two DikDik grass wary of predators.
We see two Lionesses sitting in the long yellow and green grasses; it gently sways in the breeze around them. As Hartebeest come grazing into view the Lionesses crouch low in order not to be spotted. It is thrilling watching them crouched low, bodies and ears flat. Their sharp eyes assess the prey anticipating the direction they will walk in and the distance they need to be from them in order for them to commence their short powerful hunt. We observe them so watchful and patient. Unfortunately they are unsuccessful in their hunt.
In camp Baboon and Hyenas run between the tents trying to steal food and items to play with. It is amusing and quite safe. We do however make sure we zip up our tent and not leave our food unguarded! It is beautiful dining under the beautiful starry African sky. The breeze is soft and warm as we dine outside. I listen to the sound of nature all around me.
We sleep to the sound of Lions roaring and Hyenas laughing around us, I love being so close to nature.
This is my Africa, wild and free.
Day 6 –
I slept so peacefully in a tent as I love hearing the sound of the wild all around me, it is nature’s lullaby. As I wake I hear the sound of birds in the trees, it is so still and peaceful in the dawn chorus. The sun starts to rise a majestic fireball throwing flames of red yellow orange and pink across the dawn sky. The pale blue sky is the perfect canvass for nature’s artistic painting.
We set out at dawn and enjoy the feel of the cool air on our skin, the air is so fresh and I breath in the scent of the grasses and trees. As we drive through the plains I marvel at the stunning rock formations jutting up through the long yellow and green grasses.
The Hippo pool is teaming with life, the Hippos are now back in the water after their nightly graze. They are clustered together honking and laughing as they absorb the coolness of the water. As they yawn their large mouths open wide exposing impressive teeth, they look like they are laughing.
In the distance we see the most stunning hill, it covered in large grey craggy boulders which look like sleeping giants and lush green Lantana bushes which have a soft aroma jut from them. The Lantana bush is used by Bushman to disguise their natural scent from the animals; it is also burnt in homes as an insect repellent. Sharper rocks jut out from the sides, natural architectural sculptures. As we drive around admiring this natural beauty nature provides us with something spectacular for on one of these rocks sits the prince of cats, a magnificent male Leopard. Even from a distance you can see he is male he has a large head and very muscular frame. He is sitting up surveying the plains.
He yawns in the morning light, the sun magnifying the distinctive coat of spots, his large canines are bared and impressive. He sits and grooms using his long raspy tongue to lick dirt from his beautiful fur. He has the most stunning eyes, round, sharp and focused. He exudes power and confidence. We watch him for a long while observing his natural behaviour then he gets up and walks down the hill, his impressive muscular frame undulating as he navigates the rocky outcrop, he takes my breath away, I am in awe. He finds shade behind a bush to sleep and we leave this sleeping prince.
As we drive around this impressive hill I am struck by nature’s sculptures created over millions of years of sun, rain and environmental factors. One particularly formation strikes me, there are three large grey boulders with veins of white, rust and black running through them. They are perfectly placed upon each other as if by a great sculpture but this is a natural phenomenon.
The grass is more green and luscious around the marshy areas and this is where we see great herds of Buffalo and Zebra. They are walking through the plains. Intermittently the Zebra turn to bray at the rest of their family as they stride to their destination. The Buffalo are more casual and stop to graze, they moo in communication to their herd. They have common predators and threats so herding together gives added protection.
One of the most impressive trees on the plains in the Sausage tree. It is quite stout with a thick robust gnarly trunk supporting very wide very thick branches topped by a thick canopy of green leaves. Its name derives from the fact its fruit hangs down like large hard beige sausages. This is the perfect tree for Leopards to climb and rest and herds of prey to find much needed shelter from the heat of the day but this morning we are blessed …
Laying long limbed and dangling across the thick branches are three Lionesses! When the grasses are long Lions will sometimes climb trees to retreat from the heat and it also gives them a perfect panoramic view of the plains. One has her body completely long across a branch, her limbs dangling over the edges, she looks very content as she rests her beautiful face on the branch. The other two look like conjoined twins as they sit in parallel on one branch so you cannot see where one starts and the other ends, but both ends have a head. One Lioness gets up and stretches and starts sharpening her claws on the branch, her impressive muscular frame ripples in the action. She cat stretches with her bum in the air and front legs stretched forward and then turns and carefully places herself back on the branch. It is so rare to see Lions climbing a tree so today we are blessed.
We head to the designated picnic area and stretch our legs it is now lunchtime and the sun is hot. The views are beautiful across the Seronara plains. We lunch under a tree enjoying time to relax and talk about our wonderful morning.
The female Leopard we spotted up the Sausage tree yesterday is back in her favourite spot. She languishes on one of the furthest branches which is narrower but affords her a perfect view across the plains. Her beautiful face is a picture of contentment. Her body is stretched across the branch and her limbs and tail dangle either side. Her chin rests on the branch and her eyes are closed. Occasionally she lifts head so we can see her stunning eyes, she observes what is going on then goes back to sleep. We look for her cub but cannot not see it.
As we begin to drive off we see in the v of a nearby tree the cub perfectly cradled. It’s adorable face resting on the edge of the tree. It is only four months old but it learns to be independent from an early age. It awakens and looks at us its eyes curious. It really is the sweetest cub. Its curiosity satisfied it goes back to sleep.
Hartebeest with their curved horns in an almost heart shape graze on the open plains. There are also large herds of Zebra crossing the plains looking for water and fresh grasses. Wildebeest and Buffalo also graze on the short grasses.
Hyena within their distinctive lopping gait laugh and chatter as they run to find carcasses to scavenge. They are such good hunters in their own right but you do see them scavenging more often.
A lone Lioness crosses the track in front of us so we follow her at a distance. She walks right in front of our vehicle when we stop and then finds a grassy mound to sit on to observe the plains looking for prey, she looks like she wants to hunt. She has a real serenity about her and I sit and observe her regal beauty, she is the Queen. She decides to rest for a while on the mound.
A herd of Elephants make their way across the plains. There are over twenty in the herd with several babies who stay close to their mothers for protection. They flap their large veiny ears to keep themselves cool. Others raise their impressive trunks and use them to pull up clumps of plants from the soil.
At the pungent Hippo pool one of the Hippos has emerged from the water to graze of the luscious green grass. It is awakening from its afternoon sleep so it yawns affording us a perfect view of its large teeth and pink tongue. No matter how many times I see this it still looks to me like the Hippo is laughing.
It starts to rain in the late afternoon as we head to camp. The torrent creates flash flooding on the previous dry tracks. The tracks are now like small rivers which makes driving across them in our Land-cruiser quite exciting.
Back in camp Baboons run around trying to find abandoned food and Hyena lope through trying to steal literally anything they can, they have an interesting curiosity which means nothing in safe.
After our shower we sit outside our tent and watch the sunset over the trees a pastel glow tonight after the rain. Lions roar close to camp, we are very much in the wild here and I absolute love the feeling of utter freedom and connection to nature.
The moon and stars are our light as we sit outside and eat. There is nothing like an African starry night.
This is my Africa, fearless, free and wild.
Day 7 –
The dawn rises bright and clears as we pack up our camp and head to the North Serengeti. It is a lovely drive through the small villages.
We stop in one of the larger villages to stock up on provisions for our next camp. The market is colourful and vibrant with stalls selling fruits and vegetables, some I have never seen before. Even familiar fruits are larger and more appealing. These are all locally grown and I love chatting to people as we buy what we need.
At lunch we stop in a small café for homemade cake and delicious avocado smoothies. Everyone is so friendly and comes up to chat to me. I love experiencing real Tanzania, off the beaten track of the tourist areas. It is a lovely village.
We carry on our drive to the North Serengeti, it is so beautiful driving through the Maasai villages and watching village life.
We pitch our tents in a special campsite on the Mara River. I am overwhelmed with happiness as there is no one else camping near and the river flows right in front of us. It is so beautiful and peaceful. The banks of the river are steep and Hippo and crocodile sunbathe by the shallow waters. I am going to love going to sleep and waking to the sound of the flowing river.
As the river is so low a dead tree bleached by the hot sun lays like a sculpture in the middle, on top of it a beautiful black and white Fish Eagle sits on one of the branches looking for fish to catch. He spots one, swoops down and catches it in its large sharp talons and flies off with the grey wet wriggling fish.
We start our afternoon exploration of the North Serengeti at Rock city, so called due to the steep rocky terrain and the impressive rocky outcrop. The rocks are impressive architectural masterpieces, hone over millions of years. Trees and shrubs grow over them, some of the roots even grow around and over the rocks, and it is most impressive. This area is breathtakingly beautiful and the perfect place for Leopards. We enjoy exploring each outcrop drinking in the detail and marvelling at the sheer beauty.
The grass is long and it flows in the breeze, the sun makes it shimmer colours of gold, green, red and purple. It is quiet here as it is low season and I enjoy spending the time connecting with nature.
Back at camp we light a fire by river as the sun sets. The sky burns bright with vibrant shades of red, yellow, orange, blues and purples. The sunset is magnificent; the river reflects the colours and birds are silhouetted across the skyline as they fly to roost.
I wash in a bucket behind my tent having boiled the water over the fire. It is lovely not relying on modern facilities.
Dinner is by the river listening to the sound of Hyena laughing just feet away as they smell our food cooking over the fire. It is blissful just relaxing by the Mara river taking in the scents and sounds. It is now dark and the sky is a blue/black blanket cover in a million stars, you can point out the clear constellations. It is amazing what you can cook over an open fire, the food is so fresh and delicious from the market, I am in heaven.
I fall to sleep contented and happy listening to the sound of the wild around me.
This is my Africa, a rich biodiversity.
Day 8 –
We wake as the sun starts to rise over the bank of the Mara river. It is a perfect fireball of vibrant reds oranges and golds against a clear royal blue sky. The bank is silhouetted against the skyline, it is so still and serene. I breathe in the cool crisp air and feel the dewy earth under my feet. I feel alive and connected with nature. The waters in the Mara River are low it burbles over smooth grey rocks which would usually not be visible when the river is high. Hippos wallow up stream and honk as the new day dawns. The sun rises high and the rocks and plants are perfectly reflected in the water. We do not know what nature will give us today but it will be under a stunning cloudless azure blue sky.
We eat an early breakfast by the river drinking in the stunning vista and listening to the sounds of the wild all around us. We then head out for our days adventure. We drive over the river and through bubbling ravines flanked by stunning luscious Palm trees. It is so beautiful on these plains; they are expansive and far reaching. The light is now golden and reflects off the green and yellow dewy grass like diamonds.
Wildebeest, Zebra, Topi, Pumba and Thompson Gazelle graze on the moist grasses. These are resident herds here so the predators still have plenty to hunt. The migrating herds will come up from the south after the April rains so around the beginning of June. The grasses will remain long until the migrating Wildebeest and Zebra arrive.
We see in the distance an oasis of lush palm trees, vegetation and moist marsh lands. The herds gravitate towards it for the refreshing cool waters, it is the perfect watering hole. Of course these factors also attract predators as it is the perfect place to ambush prey whilst they drink. Camouflaged in the foliage a stunning female Leopard sits watching the herds. We can see she is female by her smaller body size. Her stunning coat is lit by the morning sun and as we approach she looks over her shoulder at us with her big beautiful round eyes. She sits patiently observing her prey and then walks over to an Acacia tree. The trunk is long and straight but she uses her sharp claws and incredible muscular shoulders to climb the trunk. It is most impressive to watch.
The Leopard navigates the thick branches and tugs at the body of an adult female Impala, it is still fresh with bright red blood dripping from its open wound. The Leopard must have hunted it earlier this morning and dragged it up the tree. She pins the lifeless head with clouded dead eyes under her front leg to steady it on the branch and tears into the soft flesh of the body. You can her biting and tearing at the flesh and chewing on the fresh meat. As she eats open mouthed you can see her sharp canines tenderising and breaking down the flesh before she swallows it. She sits and eats for over half an hour enjoying the soft fleshy part of the Impala, occasionally we hear the crunch of bones. When she is contented she picks up the carcass and positions it further into the shade of the leaves as she will eat this kill for up to three days. She looks down at us her bright sharp but beautiful eyes observant and watchful. She is satisfied so she sits up on the branch and starts washing blood from her large impressive paw. She then licks her paw and uses it to clean the blood from her mussel. She is thorough and elegant in her cleaning.
Satisfied her kill is safe she walks carefully along the branch and uses her sharp claws to walk forwards down the vertical slope of the trunk. It is wonderful to observe her final leap off the trunk to the grass. Her muscles flex and act as shock absorbers. She walks into the long refreshing tall grasses of the ravine to drink and find shade as it is already growing warm.
We drive past the herds of Zebra braying and grazing on the grasses, they are on alert for predators. Then in the distance under the shade of a small Acacia tree we see two beautiful Lionesses laying together. The sun is growing hot and the Lionesses rest their large beautiful faces on their paws to sleep.
Under the shade of a nearby tree is the other Lioness she is laying with three majestic male Lions of around nine years old. They are just powerful regal dominant males with full manes golden turning into black. They sit up as we approach so we can observe them in their full majestic glory. One stands and stretches it powerful muscles, yawns, turns and lays back down next to the Lioness. The males are incredibly affectionate to one another. As it grows hot one of the males turns over onto his back with his legs splayed wide to cool his hot body. The female sits up and yawns and wakes the male next to her they both get up and stretch, he affectionately licks her head and the move closer under the shade of the tree to sleep.
Topi’s top termite mounds looking out for predators. Laying on the tracks in front of us are two Hyenas hot from the morning sun, we drive around them they are quite relaxed. Rather interestingly in a nearby small watering hole an albino Hyena lays cooling off in the water. It has sandy fur, light eyes and a pink nose, it is quite unusual.
Two more Lionesses from the Lamai wedge pride are laying under another Acacia tree. It is a mother and daughter of around eighteen months. The cub has a raw wound on her neck probably from hunting. They start to crouch low as a herd of Wildebeest walks past them. They assess the possibility of hunting but decide against it maybe because of the heat as it is now midday.
Topi compete for space on the top of termite mounds. A mother, father and baby stand on one the perfect family setting. There is a large herd of Topi on these plains, they have good eye sight and other prey rely on them for spotting predators from great distances.
The resident herds of Wildebeest keep the grass short of these plains. There are smaller numbers here at the moment but there is sufficient for the predators. They walk from one watering hole to another to drink the cool waters. Generally in the heat of the day you will see at least Hyena in the shallows keeping cool.
Secretary birds and Kory Bustard walk through the long grasses looking for seeds and insects to feed on. Their beady eyes are sharp and focused and necks long ready to bend to the ground to quickly peck at the ground.
Through the Marsh lands we see a herd of over hundred Buffalo grazing in the long grasses. A herd of over thirty Elephants roam past heading for water. It is wonderful seeing two of the largest animals of the Serengeti in such close proximity.
We stop for lunch under a tree it is calm and peaceful. I lay in the long grass eating my lunch and enjoying the breeze. Little do I know until after lunch there is a Lioness sleeping under a croton bush twenty yards away from me across the small ravine. We only notice her when we drive off which makes me smile.
The plains are teaming with Wildebeest, Zebra, Buffalo and Topi. It is so beautiful watching them graze the wide open plains. We drive through tall grasses that reach the top of our vehicle doors. It is like driving through a lake as the grasses sway in the breeze, a wave of green yellow and red, it is quite mesmerising. Ballanite trees rise up through the grasses like islands.
We drive back to the three Lions and Lioness, they are still sleeping under the tree, they look content and peaceful. Occasionally one will rise, stretch, yawn and turn round to find a new comfortable position to sleep in.
Back in our camp on the edge of the Mara River we watch the sunset over the plains. The sun casts it glow of red orange yellow and gold lighting up the sky in a stunning technicolour of vibrant strokes. The banks of the river are perfectly reflected in the water. The river bed is very low so the suns red golden glow reflects off the water and rocks, it is very ethereal.
We dine under the bright moon and stars, tracing the consolations. The river gently flows past us and Bullfrogs and Hippo sing their nightly chorus in the river.
I slept peacefully to the sound of the wild.
This is my Africa, a colourful array of beautiful colours.
Day 9 –
I rise after my peaceful night’s sleep, it is still dark and the camp fire is lit, it casts a red golden glow. The sun starts to raise over the horizon a perfect fireball against the clear sky. I sit next to the fire to warm myself and make toast over it. As I drink my aromatic coffee I take in the stunning colours blazing across the sky lighting up everything it touches. The banks of the river are perfectly silhouetted in the shallow waters under the richly jewelled coloured sky.
As we drive Black faced monkeys forage under the bushes and out in the clearings. They are mischievous and chatty. They look up at us with innocent round eyes, even though they are quite cheeky.
The Lamai Leopard is sat in the branches of a tree resplendent in the morning light. Its focus is on the prey grazing on the plains. He watches carefully the herds seeing which direction they are moving in and seeing if there is an opportunity to hunt.
We drive to Bologonja Springs. These springs are an idyllic spot hidden away in the remote North-East reaches of the Serengeti National Park; the water from these springs forms the headwaters to the Bologonja River that across North Serengeti flows into the Mara River. Numerous resident and migratory animals live here.
Herds of Elephants march over the long grassy plains. Stopping to kick and pull up small bushes. They use their feet to kick and loosen the roots then their powerful trunks to pull them up and deposit it in their mouth which are continually chewing. As they walk they kick up dusk which surrounds them like a grey and beige hallow.
In a rich cornucopia Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, Pumba and Water buck graze together on the wide open plains. United against common threats they provide each other with much needed protection. It is just so beautiful seeing such a vast array of prey together.
A herd of Buffalo wander across the plains following the matriarch. They keep their young in the middle away from predators. They always amuse me with their angry looking faces and unyielding postures. They are dangerous especially when they are grazing in bushes as the like to charge when threatened.
A lone elderly Buffalo grazes down by the watering hole, its face is no longer black but more of an aging grey. It has parted from the herd to die alone. These buffalo are even more dangerous as they are hard to spot alone.
Beautiful Hartebeest with their love heart shaped horns are sitting in the grass ruminating. They stare at us as they chew but seem very relaxed. Both sexes have horns and stunning reddish brown coats. They related are to Topi.
I have always loved Topi; I admire their incredible eyesight and aggressive stance when they see predators. It amuses me every time I see them on a termite mound doing their sentry duty. This however is the first time I have seen a male leaping and dancing in a mating ritual. It was so beautiful watching him trying to impress the female.
Two Lionesses were hunting a Pumba, it was intriguing watching them crouch low in the grass and flatten their heads and bodies. Their eyes were focused and alert studying every movement. The Pumba unfortunately became aware of their presence and ran off. The Lionesses sat up and watched in disappointment as their food headed into the distance.
As we drove past a group of bushes we saw two Veroux Eagle Owls on one of the branches. Their sharp round eyes observed us as we moved closer. They were scanning the round for rodents to feast on.
Down by the river we see a huge flock of White Storks. The White Stork is a large bird in the stork family Ciconiidae. Its plumage is mainly white, with black on its wings. Adults have long red legs and long pointed red beaks. They were feeding in the shallow waters.
A Leopard Tortoise slowing walks down the tracks; it is one of the small five. It is so beautiful with its hard round shell covered in a leopard print pattern. Its greatest threat is birds of prey who try to turn it over and pick out the soft flesh inside the shell. As we stop its head retreats inside the shell for protection.
I love driving through what is affectionately known as Rock city. The large grey rocks lay like sleeping giants amongst the long grasses. The formations really are works of art, nature is an amazing artist, millions of years of wind, and rain and sun have created these architectural beauties. Stunning trees grow through the cracks in the rocks, twisting and rising in many directions to find the sun. These rocks covered in bushes with and trees are perfect Leopard territory. Then as if my natures design we see a beautiful male Leopard lying on top of one of the rocks. He is the prince of big cats with his stunning rosette covered gold and black fur. He is laying his head on his paws his chin thrust forward. He looks quite relaxed and content. We sit and observe him as he surveys his territory.
Klipspringer frolic on a nearby rock. Klipspringers have a coat made up of coarse hairs which can sometimes damage their teeth. They can range in colour from yellow-brown to grey or ochre. The underside is white as are the insides of the ears. These colours allow them to blend in with their habitat. The nose, the hooves and the edges of the ears are black. They also have a noticeable black pheromone gland beside their eyes. It looks like a family group and they are checking for predators. Their noses twitch sweetly and their tiny hooves scamper over the rough surface of the rocks.
A Red headed Agama Lizard lies on the rocks. Young red-headed agamas live by themselves, but join a group by the time they are four months old. Groups include females, juvenile males, and a dominant male. Male agama lizards defend their territories fiercely. They challenge intruding males by bobbing their head; an action that looks like the lizard is doing pushups. During fights, the male’s body changes colour to dark brown with a blue-grey pouch on their throats. Agamas communicate mainly with their bodies, either through movements and postures or by changing colours. Head-bobbing means different things depending on whose doing the bobbing. Between males, it signals a challenge: “Do you want to fight?” But when a male head-bobs to a female, he’s trying to impress her in an attempt to mate. Subordinate males, females, and juveniles are typically a dull, olive brown, while a dominant male is brightly coloured. Red-headed agamas spend their days hunting for food, basking in the sun, and occasionally seeking out a bit of shade to cool down. Agamas mainly eat insects, especially ants, grasshoppers, beetles, and termites. They will also consume berries, other fruit, seeds, eggs, flowers, grasses, and even small mammals. They wait in shadows for prey to pass by. When it does, they give chase and catch it, usually with the aid of their sticky, mucous-coated tongues.
Baboons forage in the long grasses looking for seeds, insects and even small prey to feed off. They have excellent eye sight and sit quite peacefully for hours. Occasionally a squabble will break out and they will frantically chase each other screaming at high pitch.
We drive back through the long green and yellow grasses topped with vibrant red oat seeds. It is a beautiful iridescent sea of colour as gentle breeze makes the grasses bow and bend. We are heading back to the Lamai area. A safari of Giraffe walks behind us their long legs striding through the grass. Mongoose scurry from one termite mound to another wary of birds of prey overhead that may pick one off.
Ballanite trees seem to float in the sea of long yellow and green grasses topped with red oat seed pods, it is a stunning vista. Five black back Jackal run through looking for either carcasses to scavenge or small prey themselves to kill, they are quite effective hunters in their own right.
We see the stunningly beautiful female Leopard sat by the watering hole. She is laid out stretched, her coat shining in the late afternoon sunlight. As we approach she raises her head, confident and relaxed and assesses us with her beautiful round green eyes. She is waiting for prey to come down to the watering hole so she can ambush them. She is quite fabulous as she lies against the white sand. She has a serenity and grace that draws you to just want to sit and observe her. She is being most helpful as she sits up and walks nearer to us and sits down so we can see her in close up to admire her graceful beauty. I am quite taken with this usually private, elusive Leopard; she seems quite comfortable in our company.
We drive back to camp under the glow of the golden red sunset; it has been a wonderful day. We sit by the burning embers of the camp fire and watch the sun set over the Mara River; it casts its reflective glow off of the river. The sky is a stunning artistic painting of rich reds, oranges, yellows, purples, pinks and blues. It is so peaceful camping in the wild with the sound of Hyenas laughing and Lions roaring. The river gently burbles in front of us and I feel relaxed and happy. I sleep so peacefully.
This is my Africa, stunning, beautiful and peaceful.
Day 10 –
There is a thunder storm in the night, the rain gently battered our tent but I slept through the lullaby. It is clear by morning and we sit warming ourselves by the camp fire as we toast our bread over the leaping flames. We watch the sun rise, there is nothing more beautiful than an African sunrise, and I feel the heat on my face and thank nature for the gift of a new day. I feel the cool air on my skin and thank God for life. For life is a gift and I love to see the beauty in every moment.
Here you can connect with nature for it will re balance your soul. You are happy and connected when you root yourself in nature. It is important to stop, listen to the heart beat of this beautiful land.
Lions are roaring across the river, they most likely had a kill in the early hours and are communicating to the rest of the pride to join them to eat. There call can reach up to 5km so it is hard to tell how far away they are. Of course this roar can also indicate to other prides this is their territory.
Today we are sadly packing up and driving to Seronara. I will miss our beautiful camp on the river, just us and nature. I have loved waking up seeing the sunrise and building our camp fire.
We drive through beautiful Maasai villages, the houses made of sticks, dung and mud. There is something very serene, beautiful and natural about this way of life. I enjoy watching the women in traditional dress collecting firewood with wild animals all around, whilst the men take the cattle to fresh pastures. The Maasai are an incredibly friendly tribe and I wave and say hello to everyone we pass.
Back on Seronara in the Serengeti we quickly find a stunning Female Leopard laying up a dense Fig Tree. The branches are incredibly thick and strong and she lays with her legs either side and her tail dangling down. Her eyes are closed and she is the picture of peace and contentment. She moves her front legs and rests her beautiful head of her front paws. The day is hot and she enjoys the cool shade of the leaves. She will conserve her energy until prey move closer to the tree for shade too which will give her the opportunity to hunt.
DikDik dart in and out of the bushes, as they pair for life you will always see two, their tiny beige bodies and round soulful eyes peek at you. This pair has a young with them and it is skittish and watchful. They have so many predators but they are quick and spritely. They can quickly dart into the dense undergrowth for protection.
Large herds of Impala graze of the dry arid lands, the rains are due to fall soon, and it is so dry and hot. Herds of Zebra mingle with them grazing on the short brittle grass, food is quite scarce.
Seronara is quite stunning with its islands of rocks and foliage in the vast open plains. They rise like sleeping giants, lush, green and architectural. In each formation you expect to see a Leopard as it is rich and fertile and the Leopards love climbing the rocks to surprise unexpecting prey.
A group of Ostrich run through the grass. The males black and white are resplendent with their beautiful feathered plumage. The female are grey/beige but are just as large and powerful, one kick could easily kill an animal or person. They are curious birds with their very small heads, thin long necks and legs but large bodies. They occasionally flap their large wings to cool themselves.
Down at Ndutu Lake we stop for lunch under the shade of a Ballanite tree and enjoy the shade. Prey graze around us peacefully as we take in the splendour of our natural environment. Giraffe walk past us and stop and stare, I love their curious gaze, once satisfied they walk on to graze on the underside of a nearby Ballanite tree, they use their long rouge tongue to pull off fronds of leaves giving the Ballanite its umbrella shape.
The marsh lands are rich and luscious around the lake even though the water is low. Two Cheetah brothers are lying in the long grass enjoying the coolness of the moisture. They are long, lean and lithe, their bodies built for speed and endurance. They are so graceful and beautiful. You can distinguish Cheetah buy the formation of their markings, each Cheetahs markings are as individual as finger prints. They look up at us their beautiful faces distinguished by the black tear markings that run from their eyes to their nose. One yawns giving me a lovely view of its sharp canines. They really are stunning graceful cats. They lay back down to sleep in the late afternoon sun before they hunt.
It is time to leave and the sky becomes dark with thundery blue grey clouds. Then a heavy rain starts to fall, thick and fast. The dry tracks become flooded very quickly which makes driving, slippery, dangerous but exciting. The vehicle veers from side to side but we make good progress. A couple of times we have to change direction as the tracks become fast flowing rivers too dangerous or deep to cross.
We make it through the plains and drive up through the Ngorongoro crater. The rain has eased and we get out at sunset to look over the crater basin. The bushes and leaves shine vibrant green with the moisture from the rain, the sun now shines off of them like diamonds. I adore the stunning vista up here; you can see for miles across the crater, it is a stunning natural phenomenon.
At our lodge for the night we dine outside in the fresh air. It is a little chilly but I feel more connected outside listening to the sound of nature all around us. It was a thrilling day with the dramatic change in the weather. But in Africa you have to expect the unexpected and be prepared for everything. I am quite exhausted but happy when I go to bed and dream of what nature will give me tomorrow.
This is my Africa, wild, unexpected and glorious.
Day 11 –
I slept peaceful after our dramatic day yesterday. We rise bright and early as we are off to Tarangire National Park for two days.
Tarangire National Park is one of the smaller National Parks but incredibly green and scenic with its rolling hills, abundant forests and extremely impressive Baobab trees standing like ancient giants. Tarangire means river warthog, named after the tribe who used to live here and eat the Pumba.
As we start our safari I am immersed into the breath-taking beauty of this park. We drive through stunning forests of large towering Baobab trees with their immense trunks metres wide and thick branches which look like roots, the leaves are sparse compared to other trees as the tree looks like it is growing upside down, most here are hundreds of years old. What is also interesting about this tree is you often see a hollow at the base, a doorway to a possibly magical other world. Alongside these impressive giants are tall architectural Acacia trees with their gnarly twisted trunks and branches that are topped with an abundance of leaves and white flowers. Of course a favourite with the Leopard is the Fig tree, one of nature’s stunning architectural masterpieces with its large twisted trunk and thick branches that splay out broadly to hold thick foliage of dark green luscious leaves. I love the legend locals tell of the Baobab tree, it is said it angered God so he threw it down to earth and planted it upside down!
Amongst this beautiful vegetation DikDik graze on leaves keeping a low profile from predators. It is the smallest of the antelope and really is so adorably cute, no wonder it mates for life it is such a delicate peaceful animal.
Large herds of Impala graze on the lush green grass, we pass a herd of females with the dominant male who will mate with all of them. Not far away we see the bachelor herd of Impala whose individuals will hope to challenge the dominant male for a chance to take over mating with the females.
Vervet monkeys scurry along the ground looking for seeds and grubs to eat. They are cheeky and playful with their small brown faces constantly alert and mischievous. When we pass they quickly climb the trees to observe us. They sit on the branches picking leaves, berries, flowers and grubs to eat.
There are plentiful Pumba here. They graze by kneeling their front legs and keeping their back legs straight and they walk along the ground like this eating the short grass. We see a mother, father and five piglets, they stay close together looking out for predators. If they feel threatened they will run at top speed with their tails in the air so their piglets can follow them to safety.
Two adolescent male Elephants are having a practice combat, they use their impressive tusks and trunk to wrestle with the other. The combat is not serious at their young age but they learn skills for when they are adults and need to compete.
Three female Waterbuck are sitting in the grass, they are the common Waterbuck and are very large with beautiful faces and colouring. They look so serene sitting with the grass gently stroking their short beige fur. They do not have horns, just the males.
As we approach a watering hole we see Pumba wallowing in the shallow waters around the edge. The day is growing very hot as it approaches midday. There are Grey crested crane perched on the edge their beautiful plumage brilliant in the sunlight. White Stalks walk slowly through the water looking for fish to catch.
Two Cheetah brothers are sitting in the long yellow and green grass under the shade of an Acacia tree. They hunted in the morning so they have full round bellies although the rest of their body is lean and lithe. They roll over on the sandy soil riding themselves of ticks and mites. Every now and then one will raise its beautiful head and sit up and look around. Cheetahs do not sleep for long as they are conscious of Lions who may be around to attack them. We eat in the vehicle as want to watch to see if the Cheetah will move to seek better shade.
The park has very large herds of Elephants, they are smaller and darker here as the soil is darker that they cover themselves in. We see a lovely mother with a calf of around a week old, it walks under her belly for protection. The river running through the park is very dry and the Elephants walk across the drying river looking for pools of water to drink and bathe in.
As we drive up the slopes of a beautiful tree lined track we see a stunning young male Leopard in the bow of a Sausage Tree, he is perched viewing the plains for prey. His impressive muscular body is perfectly balanced on the tree; he looks around at us with his stunning round green golden eyes. Buffalo walk down the banks of the ravine to drink water behind the tree. To the left Elephants trumpet communicating to each other.
One of the most impressive antelope is the male Waterbuck. We see two males with their impressive horns surrounded by a herd of Impala. Maasai Giraffes nearby sit relaxing in the tall grass, their eyes curious as we pass them by.
As we drive along Tree Squirrel bounce along the tracks, they are much smaller than common squirrels in the UK. They scurry up the trees looking for seeds, berries and nuts to eat.
Russet coloured Elephants covered in the rich orange soil stand under the shade of a large Acacia tree. They are a large family group of around thirty from one week old calves to the large dominant matriarch. They pull up the roots of small bushes to eat by first kicking them with their large feet to loosen them then using the end of their trunks to pull up the foliage.
A large male Elephant stands in track, he turns to stand us down, and he has very large tusks and a very confident demeanour. He is not threatening us but asserting his dominance. We stay a respectful distance until he passes us by.
We stop by Marsh lands and watch Elephants stroll through the moist grasses. This is a beautiful green luscious area. The grasses sway in the breeze and the Elephants use their impressive trunks to drink large quantities of water, they need to drink two hundred litres per day. A cheeky Male Elephant grazes swinging his impressive fifth leg that hangs almost to the ground.
The sun begins to set as we drive back to camp, the sun sets the sky ablaze with rich vibrant red orange and yellow light.
Dinner is under the stunning African sky, the moon and stars are our light. The breeze is warm and caresses my skin. I feel relaxed, happy and at peace.
This is my Africa, nature’s rich tapestry.
Day 12 –
We enjoy a leisurely breakfast today basking in the warm early morning sun. It is so lovely to just sit and enjoy the nature all around us. I adore the peace and serenity of the morning it makes you feel just so happy to be alive and blessed to spend time in this wonderful blessed country.
We are staying in the National Park so we drive straight into this wonderful bountiful paradise. Towering Palm, Fig, Baobab, Acacia and Sausage trees envelope us in rich green serenity. You can feel how alive this forest it, so ancient and solid but constantly growing. Vervet monkeys sit under the trees grooming each other, they look so contented as they sit concentrating on the important task of removing ticks, fleas and dead skin from each other’s bodies. They are incredibly affectionate and sociable.
A baby Vervet monkey climbs onto the branches of a tree and we pull up next to it. I look at it and it looks back and I start mimicking its actions which it finds amusing. It is playful and cheeky. I adore its cute little brown face with wide round innocent eyes, the park is full of wonder for it.
The male Vervet monkey has blue testacies to attract the female to mate with it. It struts around the females to gain their attention. A Female Vervet monkey with a very young baby, it is clutched to her chest and she is breastfeeding it, it a beauty image of motherly care and devotion and it touches my heart, monkeys share so much of our DNA and are extremely loving and protective of their young.
I have never seen so many female Waterbuck, we pass a group of nine. This common Waterbuck is so incredibly pretty. They stand grazing and observing us as we pass, they are also more confident than other types of Waterbuck we have seen.
We stop and observe by the dry river a large herd of Elephants. We see a mother with a week old baby suckling underneath. It is so small and vulnerable but it is protected under the belly of its mother. The herd will also keep it safe from predators.
Sitting on a branch two stunning White and Black Fish Eagle perch watching the water below. One swoops down to try and catch a fish but misses this time. Fish Eagle mate for life which is beautiful.
We lunch under the shade of a stunning architectural Fig tree by the river so we can watch the herd of Elephants below. We need the shade as it is early afternoon and very hot still. It is so relaxing and peaceful here.
We spend the afternoon driving through the park enjoying the stunning flora and fauna. The park is a paradise found. I feel so at one with nature and connected to the earth, sky, animals and plants. Here you can reconnect with yourself, be free to feel at peace.
Dinner is under the beautiful sunset, watching the colours blaze across the sky. I feel the heat on my face as I gaze up at the evening’s light show. Once again I sleep so peacefully after a beautiful day spent in nature, connecting with the environment. Here you really can find yourself and your inner peace.
This is my Africa, Mother Nature caring and protective.
Day 13 –
After a wonderful breakfast outside looking across the park we set off early to drive back to Lake
Manyara National Park.
The setting for the earliest Tarzan films, verdant Lake Manyara National Park was once described as Ernest Hemingway as “The loveliest I have seen in Africa”. Lake Manyara National Park is an unspoiled paradise of ground water forest fed by underground springs and teeming with wildlife such as elephants, hippos, giraffes, buffaloes, antelopes, and some of the largest baboon troupes in Africa.
We drive past stunning trees the species name xanthophloea which is derived from the Greek words xanthos meaning yellow andphloios meaning bark. Early pioneers thought that this tree caused a fever since people travelling or living in the areas where it grew contracted a bad fever. They therefore associated the fever with the tree. The common name, fever tree, comes from its tendency to grow in swampy areas: early European settlers in the region noted that malarial fever was contracted in areas with these trees. It is now understood that malarial fever is spread by mosquitos living in the swampy areas that often support this tree species, and not by the tree species itself. In the sunlight the yellow bark is iridescent and quite stunning.
On the track we see a troupe of Baboons grooming each other. Some are laid out flat so another can pick ticks and dead skin from its fur. They are the picture of contentment which is usual as they do tend to fight quite a lot. They are enjoying the cool of the shade as the morning is growing hot.
A herd of Elephants crash through the forest as the vegetation is very dense here. They bring down small shrubs and trees as they walk. We stop as they want to cross the track and we do not want to stop their progress. They cross right in front of their vehicle and we observe them swinging vegetation clutched in their trunks before depositing it in their large mouths.
Giraffe appear through the tops of the bushes; their heads were bent to reach some of the luscious lower foliage. They look at us through thick eye lashed eyes before flicking out their long tongues out to pull off more leaves to chew.
Lake Manyara is an isolated lake subject to intense evaporation during the dry season; it is a slightly salty lake that is home to hippopotamus, flamingos, and a large variety of aquatic life. Despite its salt content, it is safe for animals to drink and is a popular watering hole for the park’s animal population. As it is February and dry season the lake is very low.
Today we are visiting the Hots springs Maji Moto Springs. As we wind our way down a bumpy, dusty track through the desert land surrounding Lake Manyara National Park, it seems unlikely that something as beautiful and relaxing as Maji Moto could exist out here. Yet when the oasis comes into view, it’s all worth the long drive. Maji Moto (Swahili for hot water) is a natural spring surrounded by palm and fig trees, an isolated paradise of crystal clear waters, sun-dappled shady picnic spots, and unmatched beauty.
We get out of the vehicle and walk down to the springs and dip our hands into the hot bubbling water surprisingly full of plant life. It has an intense mineral content which is wonderful for the skin although it is quite pungent to smell. The spring runs into the Lake and as we cross the pier that extends over the lake we can see aquatic life swimming beneath the surface.
Out in the lake Hippopotamus wallow in the now shallow waters. They honk and tussle with each other, large mouths opening wide showing rows of large teeth.
Flamingos stand on the sandy mud flaps, sometimes on one leg to sleep. They squawk and flap their wings as others fly in. Some bend their long necks to eat the plankton with their curved sharp beaks. They are very beautiful standing together; they are an array of different shades of pink. The colour comes from the plankton. Amongst them storks also fly in to feed, their extraordinary beaks ready to swallow large quantities of fish.
The Lake is beautifully framed by a tree covered Escarpment. These rolling hills are home to such interesting species of trees and bushes, it is a visual technicolour of greens and yellows. It is lovely to do a walking safari in these hills to enjoy viewing the plant life up close.
We lunch overlooking the stunning lake. Wildebeest graze right below us; the herds are small at dry season just the local herds, as the rest have migrated. Village Weaver birds with their stunning yellow feathers fly over us to their beautifully formed nests hanging like artful decorations from the trees. They are such diligent colourful birds. Of course as this is a picnic site cheeky Baboons run between the tables stealing food from unsuspecting tourists.
Yellow billed storks fly down to the lake; they have an impressive wing spam. I love how the sun glints off of their wings. As I am watching them a Skink Lizard scuttles over, the bodies of skinks are typically cylindrical in cross section, and most species have cone-shaped heads and long, tapering tails. It sits patiently watching a butterfly then all of a happen its long serpent tongue shoots out and deposits the butterfly in its mouth. It is most amusing to watch.
We drive down to the Hippo pool; the late afternoon is still very hot. This is a stunning wetland area surrounded by beautiful Reeds. A Hippo with a baby are frolicking gently in the water, it is lovely seeing them playing together.
It is quite the utopia down by this watering hole; this is probably because the park is so dry and dusty. Zebra, Buffalo, Pumba, Hippo and Wildebeest are grazing along the edge of the water, although some are walking the shallows to cool off.
Dozens of Egrets are sitting one the branches of a tree. An Egret is a heron, it is white with a long beak which it uses to catch fish and shift through the sand for plankton. They inhabit the margins of coastal and inland water habitats, preferring open areas with shallow fresh water. The wetlands are the perfect breeding ground.
White Storks walk through the shallow waters feeding on small fish. Their eyes are focused on the moments below the waters. As quick as a dart they plunge their beaks below the waters and catch the small morsels.
Hadada ibis along walks along the shores of the wetlands. The Hadada is a large (about 76 cm long), grey-to-partly brown species of ibis. It has a narrow, white, roughly horizontal stripe across its cheeks. This is sometimes called the “moustache” though it does not reach the mouth corners. The plumage over the wings has an iridescent purple sheen. The bird has blackish legs and a large grey-to-black bill with a red stripe on the upper mandible. The upper surfaces of the toes are of a similar red. The wings are powerful and broad, enabling quick take-offs and easy manoeuvring through dense tree cover. It has an extremely loud and distinctive “haa-haa-haa-de-dah” call—hence the name. The call is often heard when the birds are flying or are startled, or when the birds communicate socially, for example early in the morning in residential suburbs. While roosting they produce a single loud “haaaa”. When foraging, their contact call is a low growl similar to that made by a young puppy.
The wetland is a bird’s paradise with the fresh water and plentiful food. A Fish Eagle watches a White faced whistling duck, then to my surprise swoops down and takes it down and kills it to eat. I have never seen this before and it is quite fascinating to watch.
We walk across the walk way over the pool to study the bird and pond life closer, the sun is low in the sky now and the sun colours reflect off of the water. It is so beautiful and peaceful here. Pelicans fly across the water, beautifully reflected in the still pond. Great White Pelicans are white in colour with black and grey primary feathers. Their bodies are large with long, broad wings attached. They have a short tail, short, pinkish legs and webbed feet. There is a bare pink/yellow facial patch around their eyes. Their spectacular bills are azure blue on the top and yellow underneath where there is a large pouch. The bill has a central red stripe, and ends in a small, red hook. They are stunning in flight with their large wing span.
Then all too soon it is time to leave this beautiful national park, it has been absolutely stunning finishing where we started two weeks ago. I will be leaving my heart in East Africa, for soul is here and it is my home.
For me Africa is Mother Nature’s gift. It is natural, connected and beautiful. When I come here I remove myself from the modern world, technology, noise and stress and just listen, feel, connect with this beautiful nature. For when we connect with nature we find ourselves, we are part of this land. Look with your heart not just with your eyes and you will see the natural richness’s this world holds. Money, possessions, power or wealth will not bring happiness, only finding yourself will. Here I always come back to me.
This is my Africa, beautiful, connected and natural.