Day four of the safari itinerary had us stopping off for a bit of culture as well as archaeology and “history.” I put that in quotes because the theories on how old mankind is and our origins are a source of hot debate.

But first things first. Just out of the hotel area we stopped off at the local school that was created to serve the Masai children living in the area. The government has made school mandatory and while more and more kids are going, still some little guys can be seen by the road during the day begging tourist jeeps for money while they tend the cattle. We were very impressed with kids and the school. Remember hearing your parents tell you how they used to walk a mile uphill in the snow to get to school? Well these kids literally walk up to two hours each way (with wildlife walking about by the way). They show up in uniforms, share books and supplies, and cram into benches. They were very well-mannered, smart, and had the most amazing smiles. We spent a few minutes with them letting them take pictures with our cameras (they loved seeing their images in the LCD screen) and then I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what buttons they pushed and how to undo the new settings on the menu. There’s no A/C or heat (it does get cold up in that altitude) and only a few toilets for hundreds of people. They need food, supplies, transportation, toilets, and more. Education has been very effective in helping these folks become healthier and it gives them some hope to live beyond poverty. Tauck Tours gives back to the places they visit and schools like this one are one of the beneficiaries of their goodwill.

The Origins of Mankind?

Now, after singing goodbye with the kids, we were off to visit the Oldapai Gorge where the famous archaeologists, Louis and Mary Leakey made some remarkable discoveries, including what is believed to be the remains of the earliest known hominid. A fun side-note where we can laugh at white people for a minute. The Germans came to the area and mispronounced Oldapai and called it Oldavai so the name has been promoted and pronounced wrong for decades. Oldapai is the Masai name for the Sisel plant that grows in the area. Whatever the official name is, the local dudes selling wood carvings of giraffes and hippos told me to call it Oldapai.

The area is an archaeologist’s dream because of the erosion of the distinct layers in the ground. Over millions of years these layers changed due to conditions of the earth at the time and some left really awesome fossil evidence including some footsteps taken by early men.

Giraffes Necking

After checking out some bones and the scenery and learning about the less than stellar character of  Louis Leakey, we got into the jeep and Pascal, our driver for the day, took us out past some giraffes who were “necking.” It’s not what you think—in the case of giraffes, necking is when two males are battling for supremacy in the giraffe kind of way which of course being males would involve their egos and most prominent part of their body, their necks. They will slap each other neck-to-neck and sway their heads and necks around until one of them gives up. It was pretty cool to see. A little biology lesson here, the giraffes feed on the Acacia trees which have these spikes on their branches. The giraffes however, have these wonderful tongues that can maneuver between the spikes to get at the food on the leaves they need to eat. Now, as another defense, some of these trees can give off a yucky smell or taste making the giraffe move on to another tree to complete its meal.

I keep saying how all of these animals are beautiful and it is true—each one having a grace about them in their unique movements, behavior, coloring, they way walk or run, communicate, eat and survive in the wild. Something you can’t really get from a zoo.

Paying the Right Price and the Highway to Hell

Eric told us when bargain shopping in Africa (which is how you have to shop—no set prices), the price you end up paying for whatever souvenir crap you’re buying is the right price. Even if the teenager next to you got a spear for $5 less because “she is baby and got a special discount.” If you want something and are willing to pay for it, then that is the market balancing at a very micro economic level. And really, these are very poor people so anything you buy is helping these folks feed their families. With that philosophy in mind, Pascal chose a path of his own—the right path—to get us onto the famous “Serengeti Highway.”

When Eric our tour director told us this was a very busy highway, I expected some pavement, lines, etc. Poor Dawn, still thinks like a westerner after days of being in Africa…she should know better. The “highway” was busy for sure—with buses and trucks going about 30 miles an hour and dust clouding the view ahead. After miles and miles and endless plains with Masai kids grazing their cattle and gazelles lining the fields all around, we came to the Serengeti gate. There are no guards or anything, just a sign over the road letting you know that you are now entering the Park. The Masai were allowed in the conservation area leading up to the park, but in the National Park humans were only allowed to visit. We stopped for some photo ops and continued onto a game drive through the park. This place was filled with species of animals and birds I’ve never heard of before. So let’s begin.

Serengeti Sightings Included:

  • A cheetah drinking from a watering hole. The first one I’ve seen and she was beautiful. The teardrop eyes looked at us and around her as she kept watch for other predators before slinking off.
  • Toppi—a kind of antelope that is brown with dark patches. We began to these guys a lot throughout the trip.
  • More Impalas. The women hang out together with one male who protect them. The other males hang out in bachelor herds and wait their turn to challenge the guy with the girls. It’s tough keeping up that kind of pressure, so the males do find themselves alone for a bit after being ousted.
  • Hartebeest—another kind of antelope I think. This one is lighter than the Toppi and Wildebeest.
  • Agama lizard—a lizard with bright orange (or red) coloring on his head.
  • Lots of Grant gazelles peeking up from the long grass to make sure Mr. Lion wasn’t lurking about.
  • Superb Starlings—beautifully colored birds that look shiny in the sun. These guys were seen a lot in our lunch areas.
  • Mongoose—little guys who are rodent-like but for some reason didn’t gross me out as they ran under my bench while eating lunch at the rest area.
  • Dik Diks—the tiniest of the antelope family (I think) and very cute. This little guy (see below) was hanging out getting some shade and watching for predators.
  • Baboons, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, storks, and buzzards also filled the bill. We were becoming blasé about these guys already!

Elephants and the Glorious Four Seasons

One big stop before we headed off to the most amazing hotel was to view a family of elephants. Mama kept a close eye out on her little ones while the teenage boys trunk wrestled off in the distance. As the family moved, taking down a small tree in its path, it crossed the road in front of us. We must have been making too much noise because mama stopped right in front of our jeep and turned her head to stare us down. I gave a little jump when she snorted at us but was immensely relieved when she moved on. A little warning goes a long way when a four- ton beast gives you the stink eye.

On to the Four Seasons and a second day in the Serengeti National Park. What can you say about a Four Seasons that is planted in the middle of the Serengeti and has a year-round, clean, reliable waterhole directly in front of the pool and your gigantic rooms? From the moment we got there, baboons, antelope, zebra, gazelles and more took turns coming up to the pool for a drink. We had the most amazing show put on by a massive group of elephants who came up to swim, drink, eat and cool off at the pool right before sundown. Here is a video of just a few minutes of the show. It’s very hard to communicate how marvelous it was to sit on my balcony and take it all in. Some of the elephants had little spats and were chasing each other, others were spraying mud on themselves with their trunks and feet (to keep cool I guess), still others were pushing their young here and there keeping order, and all were taking turns lapping up the delicious clean water filtered into the hole by the hotel’s water system. Truly breathtaking and a great way to end the day!

A male lion hangs out under a tree in the shade while the noon sun blazes.

A male lion hangs out under a tree in the shade while the noon sun blazes.

Masai school

Kids take pictures with our cameras at the Masai school

Dik Dik

Dik Dik is a really little guy.

Elephants at watering hole

Dad pushes the family into the water with a head butt.

nursing elephant

Baby elephant nurses while Mama hangs out at the watering hole.

Serengeti gate

The Serengeti gate on the “highway.”

Giraffes in the Serengeti

Giraffes roaming the Serengeti. Beautiful animals walked around our jeeps looking for trees to nibble.

Toppi is a kind of antelope.

Toppi is a kind of antelope.

The elephants were very close to the pool and right outside our rooms.

The elephants were very close to the pool and right outside our rooms.

Elephants at the watering hole right before sunset cast wonderful shadows.

Elephants at the watering hole right before sunset cast wonderful shadows.

Watch a video of the elephants by the watering hole.

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