Hyenas… Your ‘Friendly’ Serengeti Campsite Companions

So the title of this post surely leaves many unanswered questions, but we’ll get to that later. Anywho… Hubs and I flew from the States to Nairobi, Kenya on 26 Oct 2019, excited to finally be on vacation again. It was much needed. We were excited to take our first tour with Intrepid Travel. The tour, Road to Zanzibar, began in Nairobi, Kenya before culminating on the northern beaches of Zanzibar 12 days later. After concluding the voyage, I can highly recommend not only this particular tour, but also the tour company, and more importantly, our superb guides. Anyway, on to the good shit.

We flew Emirates, the supposed “world-class” airline, for the first time. We were sorely disappointed in the services we were provided (or lack, thereof). Also, more on that later in another post. We landed in Kenya the morning of the 27th of October. Upon arriving in the African country, we hired a lying cabbie that claimed he was with Intrepid (snatching an Intrepid sign and everything to give the illusion of authenticity). Thankfully, the little bugger safely deposited us at our hotel regardless of his lying ways.

Kenya Comfort Suites

After being ferried from the less-than-secure airport (in a less-than-honest fashion) to our hotel, Kenya Comfort Hotel Suites, we were escorted to our room on the 4th floor. It was a HUGE room with a full kitchen and a small bathroom. It overlooked a sad little market and the shaded hotel pool. The large bed was surrounded by the usual mosquito netting, and the kitchen appliances were likely made 50 years ago. Regardless, it was a decent hotel room with an adequate restaurant downstairs.

Hello from Kenya!

After checking in, we headed downstairs to meet up with our group. That group consisted of eight people, as well as our guide Q (short for Queenter), driver #1 Felix, and our chef Edu (short for Edwin). Q was tossed on this trip at the last minute, but handled the change with ease. After we all introduced ourselves, Q went on to describe the trip. We would be forced to wake in the wee hours of the morning almost all days (boo), beginning with the next morning. She said we would head out to the Ngorongoro Crater, before spending the night in Mto Wa Mbu, a village nearby. Q then moved on to the SAFETY BRIEF for the stay in the Serengeti.

Preview of the open campsite

The campsite on the Serengeti is completely unfenced. We would be snoozing under the stars in our tents while any number of animals could be waiting to greet us just outside the canvas. We were regaled with horror stories of lion encounters. Q said she was strolling to the toilet in the middle of the night when she heard the familiar sound of a lion’s throaty groan. Shit. She was within feet of a female lion. Time to flee to the toilet! And never come out of a tent at night ever again. As a means of reassuring anyone that was now scared, she informed us, “I haven’t lost anyone.” To which I responded with, “Yet.” That elicited one of Q’s maniacal cackles that I came to love and giggle at. Once we were in the Serengeti, we were advised of another such encounter by our 4×4 driver, Harry Benedict. He was headed to the toilets as well, when he came upon SEVERAL lions from a pride! He scurried into the toilet, where he proceeded to spend the rest of the night hiding from the large cats. This could get interesting.

Another preview… Zebras won’t eat me, so…. HANDSTAND!!! With the striped horses 50 feet behind me.

On to our gang… Meet our delightful guides for this little excursion, and our modest group:

QUEENTER!!! Or simply, Q!
EDU!!! Short for EDWIN… our AMAZING COOK for the trip!
OUR 4×4 DRIVERS… Ours was HARRY BENEDICT (on the right). Sadly, I never got the name of the other driver, but he was just as friendly!
OUR CLAN
Our Clan with a bonfire

DAMMIT!!!! I failed to capture a photograph of our Intrepid driver, FELIX. Fail. He was awesome, too. Especially when navigating itty bitty roadways in rural Africa in that gigantic truck/bus/van. Can’t forget manipulating steep, treacherous mountain curves.

AFRICAN DRIVING (yes, it requires it’s own heading) & AFRICAN LANDSCAPE

Thanks Toyota, for supplying all of Tanzania with vehicles

We took two different vehicles on the duration of the trip… 4×4 Land Cruiser for the game drives, and a large bus with Intrepid plastered on the side. We were ferried through a multitude of African villages during the journey. They reminded me of Puerto Maldonado in Peru… many buildings resembled lean-tos with none of our accustomed creature comforts. Many were simply huts littering the landscape. The residents stood and stared at our bus when we passed. The children typically emphatically waved. The homes were bare bones, oftentimes built sans glass windows. Some buildings looked uninhabited and falling down, but the presence of drying laundry and women loitering around within the walls proved that assumption wrong. Additionally, in parts of the rural landscape reminded me of the Irish landscape littered with lush, green areas and fields separated by hand-stacked stone walls.

The more populated areas were extremely…. eclectic. A hospital next to an arcade. A pharmacy attached to a gas station. A gentleman’s club sharing a building with a pet store. It was certainly interesting.

The cities were crawling with people, vehicles of many different types, and random farm animals. All were sharing the roadways, which by the way, are navigated like those in Britain, since it’s a former British colony… opposite side of the road and opposite side of the car. Add to that, driving is a complete free-for-all. Lane lines and street signs were most obviously a suggestion, neither of which being followed with any regularity. We often found ourselves passing into rapidly oncoming traffic, be it a motorcycle, a bus, another car, a tuk tuk, a pedestrian, or a bicycle. Horn honking was common, due to the nature in which the passing occurred – sometimes three abreast. Hell, there were even times where our drivers simply drove on the right, ignoring the customary left-sided driving. It was a constant game of chicken.

Share the Road!

During the long rides in the vehicles, our ears were besieged by 80s and early 90s music, courtesy of Q and the drivers. Given we had a somewhat older crew (only a few people in their 20s, with most mid-30s+), the music was delightful. Enrique Iglesias and Prince have finally made it to Africa. And ahead of the curve, so have skinny jeans?

NGORONGORO CRATER

We woke early in the morning and headed to the Ngorongoro Crater, a volcanic crater with extremely fertile soil that draws animals and people alike. Because of this, poachers are also prone to visit. In order to combat these evil beings, Rangers hide throughout the crater, lying in wait for any brave poachers to enter the protected area. The Rangers are permitted the kill poachers on site… damn, Africa, that’s intense!

From around the crater

The Maasai people also live in the area, using the crater to feed their cattle. At least, they used to. Poachers, the conniving jerks that they are, used to pose as Maasai as a means of gaining access. Due to this development, the government asked the Maasai to relocate to the outer edges of the crater, and not herd their animals in the bowl. Thankfully, they complied, and poachers have dwindled.

Upon entering the crater in our 4×4 Land Cruiser, we were met with an abundance of animals almost immediately… just feet from the vehicle we watched a warthog grazing, while Cape Water Buffalo looked on. The caldera was crawling with Land Cruisers similar to ours. The drivers communicate in Swahili by radio, advising of animals spottings.

Inside the crater

One quick mention of the native four-legged varmints when they’re spotted… this is what happens when a driver squawks over the radio that they discovered a lion in the brush. A Serengeti traffic jam…

So many 4x4s!

Our game drive vehicular device…

The Maasai people were mentioned previously, but not in depth. This tribe can be characterized as possessing a very slender build due to the long distances roamed with livestock, as well as elongated and pierced ear lobes. These people often knock out their incisors, and practice polygamy. They celebrate three distinct events: Births, weddings and deaths. It is illegal to photograph them, and can result in a $50 fine (shhh… don’t tell!). They typically reside in thatched roof huts on the outskirts of the Ngorongoro Crater. On our journey into the giant pothole, we observed them herding their cattle along the side of the road clad in their customary bright attire. The younger members of the tribe waved emphatically at us as we passed by. One of my most vivid memories was of a small boy lying on his stomach in purple garb on a hill next to the roadway just smiling as we sped by.

Maasai Villages

ANIMALS OF AFRICA (at least the eastern part)

We saw an insane number of African creatures, mainly on the game drives. Some, including several lions, were only separated from us by a car door and about 10 feet. These creatures were observed both within the walls of the crater and in the endless expanse of the Serengeti. Insert an insane number of animal photos here:

Warthogs galore… such ugly little things. However, it was fun to see them drop to the elbows while grazing.

A member of the “Ugly Five”

Wildebeests! It was migration time, and these hideous donkey horses were everywhere.

Hyenas… Evil and ugly are the best descriptions of these laughing dogs. We watched several attack one of their own. A quote courtesy of Harry: They are hermaphrodites… “No dick, long clit.” Oh, Harry… And more on these later.

Hippos… One of the ugly five. Also violent and mean. We saw what Helen aptly called a “bowl of hippos.”

Someone’s sleepy… that’s one vicious looking yawn.

Thompson Gazelle… I wanted to take one home, but Hubs failed to secure me this new pet to join Guinness, our pit bull. There are a couple other types of gazelles thrown in these photos… oops.

Flamingos… The stick-legged, awkward, pink birds that people like to mimic with yard decorations. Didn’t see a whole lot of them, but caught a glance during our crater tour.

Golden Jackal… The dogs of the Serengeti? They just looked like foxes to me.

Cape Water Buffalo… Some of the most confrontation animals in Africa. We watched one start to charge a pride of lions. Harry even said, “If you see these ones by the toilet at night, DON’T GO!!!” They will kill people in Africa.

Another member of the “Ugly Five”

Zebras everywhere! They are also taking part in the migration, oftentimes intermingled in with the Wildebeests for a very simple reason… zebras are far more intelligent than their ugly friends. They not only remember the way, but usually allow the brainless Wildebeests to cross rivers ahead of them as a means of drawing out the crocodiles. A generous sacrifice so the zebras can navigate the waters without fear of becoming food as the crocs have satisfied their appetite already.

One of the most beautiful photos I took all trip… looked at me at the absolute perfect moment.

Giraffe… not common in the crater, since trees are sparse, but found throughout the surrounding areas and all over the Serengeti.

Giraffes at sunset on the Serengeti… has a nice ring to it.

Elephants… Everyone knows what they are. Enormous, trunked fatties with ginormous feet and tusks.

Lizards… At least the male ones are beautifully colorful. The chicks, however, are ugly and plain.

Ostriches… goofy birds with eyes bigger than their brains.

Secretary Birds and other flying critters… The secretary variety violent things kill by stomping their prey to death, and are the national bird of Sudan.

NOT the Secretary Bird, but this one is prettier than those angry things.
Secretary Bird is the middle right.

Impalas and Topis… Lone ones mean they were kicked out of their herd. Sad.

Sunrise grazing

Baboons… Little thieves with bright, red butts. Enough said.

Pole Pole in Swahili means Slow Down, as the sign nicely advises. In this case it was slow down for the Baboon crossing… little fuckers were everywhere!

Monkeys!!! The cute ones, not the aforementioned bandits. And no creepy, bright red anus.

Cheetahs… We spotted several of these elusive cats shortly after entering the plains. They’re so cute!

Leopard… Even more elusive, these secretive felines were spotted hiding amongst a stand of trees. Such beautiful animals.

Lions, lions and more lions… they were shockingly easy to locate! Couples, entire prides, we didn’t go a day without watching these giant cats lounge lazily on the Serengeti. To the point that we stopped taking photos of them because we already had MANY.

Since it’s all related, I shall end the animal section with Q’s description of the animals as they time and time again fled from us when the trucks got closer…

BUMS OF AFRICA

(should be self explanatory)

We saw A LOT of animal rears. I suppose the creatures are camera shy. Please, enjoy a montage of the bountiful number of critter derrieres available for ones viewing pleasure in this part of the world.

Cattle, Baboons, lizards, Warthogs, Lions, Zebras, Ostriches, a Leopard, and an Elephant
More Baboons, Wildebeest, Zebras, Giraffes, Thompson Gazelles, Impalas, More Lions, a bird and a muddy Wathog

This seems like a good time to toss in the myriad of creatures crossing the road that our fast-moving drivers had to avoid.

Don’t play with the animals they said…. apparently, these in particular like to bite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

SERENGETI… ENDLESS PLAINS

And a Handstand upon Entry
X Marks the Spot

After touring the Ngorongoro Crater, we departed bound for our campsite in the middle (literally) of the Serengeti. During the jaunt that day, Q continually mentioned a “Level 5 African Massage.” Again, that phrase was brought up, and we were told to prepare. We had endured a relatively bumpy ride all day due to the unpaved gravel and rock roads, what in hell are we in for now? Well, a Level 5 African Massage entails traveling at high speeds (typically, between 70 and 90 kph) over deeply rutted, poorly maintained, rock and gravel roads. The vehicle vibrates with a vengeance, knocking belongings off seats, bouncing passengers sporadically around the truck, and sometimes includes playing chicken with other vehicle as drivers attempt to evade particularly deep holes. The truck feels as though it’s about to fall completely apart beneath you. That, or you wonder if the driver is about to lose complete control, sliding over lose rock. The concept is that the vehicle skips from the peak of each rut to the next, maintaining decent time, while also avoiding going into and out of each individual valley. Supposedly, it also helps to avoid more damage to tires, even though we encounter many broken down vehicles along the journey. However, it does not in any way avoid additional damage to the skin of the truck. I noticed Harry placing five fingers of one hand against the windshield as we flew by other 4x4s. The explanation made sense… if a rock impacts the wind screen, it won’t crack the entire thing. The impact is minimal because there is counter pressure applied to the glass. The result is a far more minor chip.

A harsh difference immediately made itself apparent as soon as we left the elevation of the crater… we went from green and lush to desolate. Serengeti means “Endless Plains” as mentioned in the heading, and that meaning was obvious as we drove.

We arrived at the campsite just after sunset. Thankfully, our kick ass chef, Edu, had set up all the tents prior to our late arrival. He was also busily preparing what would be become one of MANY delectable dinners we would dine on during the expedition.

Edu in Action!!! Whipping up a surely delectable meal for us on the Serengeti.
Fence Free!!!

So… on to our campsite. As previously mentioned, the campsite was entirely open. Not a fence, gate or barrier, either man made or natural, isolating us from the wild animals probably not far away. We slept in brown and green “elephant proof” (according to Q’s portrayal) tents only large enough for two people and little gear. We were blessed with REAL toilets, not just unsanitary holes in the ground, and showers. Granted, the water spraying from the shower heads was nowhere close to warm, but given we’re in the middle of a savanna safari, I’ll take what I can get. We were also provided with a kitchen/dining building, which is where Edu did his magic.

Just hanging out with a few dozen zebras
Our bathroom facilities

….Greeting us in the morning feet from the back of our tent. During our feast that first night, Q entertained us with the cacophony of noises we would likely detect. The lion sounded like a throaty grumble that she mimicked splendidly. The hyenas not only cackled, but emitted a deep yip that decreased in decibel before becoming higher pitched. Edu simulated that sound marvelously. Once we retired to our tents, and snuggled up in our sleeping bags, full stomachs and a loooonnnggg day of driving sent us off to dreamland quickly. I sleep with earplugs in. During the night, a sound woke me from my slumber that was directly behind the thin, canvas walls of the tent. Because of Q’s magnificent imitation, I instantly recognized the eery sound lions make. Dearest bladder, you are going to have to hold it. I am NOT exiting the flimsy confines of this tent anytime tonight.

I have no desire to run into all these in the darkness

Day two on the plains started soon after our early breakfast. Harry loaded us up in the Land Cruiser for another game drive. The animals viewed were all mentioned and pictured previously. Another successful day spotting African wildlife. In fact, here are a few more snapshots:

Another fun fact: This time of year the great migration is in full swing. When one gazed out over the endless plains, you see countless wildebeests and zebras milling about, munching on grass. It was pretty incredible to see that many animals in one place while not being in the confines of a zoo. It starts in the Ngorongoro Crater, moving in a clockwise fashion through the Serengeti, and up towards the Masai Mara in Kenya. The plains can handle this many grazers because each animal forages on different herbage, all of which the Serengeti offers. All with a relatively moderate temperature reaching the mid 70s during the day.

So many ugly horse donkeys!

I shall toss in a few Serengeti sunsets. Because… sunsets! They’re pretty.

Sorry for the insanely blurry picture. Those little fucker move quickly!

So, I shall finally explain the title of this post… Hyenas, your ‘friendly’ Serengeti campsite companions. Our second, and final, night in the Serengeti included another savory meal courtesy of Edu. While we were gorging on the food, our guides started up a bonfire just outside. We retired to the fire, and Q decided we were going to play a game. Name your favorite animal and imitate the sound it makes. Most named household pets, while I decided to display my oddball personality, and name a dragon as my favorite animal. I equated the sound as Q’s hilariously, maniacal laugh as the sound a dragon makes. While Q was eloquently demonstrating the aforementioned chortle, our group heard a strange sound. We peered in the direction of the toilets to find a group of hyenas descending on our campsite – at least five to six. Instead of fleeing from the grotesque mongrels, we pursued them with flashlights. Maybe not the brightest of ideas. The little devils snatched the rubbish bin from outside of the kitchen and dragged it towards the bathroom with us on their heels. The hyenas snagged a few things from the bin before descending into the darkness beyond the toilets. We simply laughed and followed the entire time.

Again… Blurry. I did what I could.

We woke insanely early the next morning for our final sunrise game drive. Later that afternoon, we had our lunch overlooking the Ngorongoro Crater with our drivers. Insert laughter, photos and handstands during chow time. Later, they unceremoniously discharged us at the campsite in Mto Wa Mbu. Goodbye, Harry… your humor and knowledge made for a wonderful safari on the the Serengeti.

We lunched overlooking the crater. Lunchtime inclusions: Helen and I goofing around doing handstands and headstands, using logs as a balance beams, climbing on trees, and eating our minimal packed lunches.

Helen gave it the good ole college try

On to Mto Wa Mbu….


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