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Trip Report Ken/Tanz. trip report - Part II

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We left the Crater the morning of Oct. 22 for the Serengeti. Dry and desolate is the only way one can describe the scenery, yet utterly fascinating at the same time. How do the local people survive in such a harsh environment? At my request, our guide took us through Ndutu. Only a lone ostrich or an occasional gazelle dotted the barren landscape. Hard to believe that in a few months time it will be alive with the migratory animals! We entered Serengeti National Park, making our way to the Serengeti Serena. Seronera is an oasis in the vast park, where the Grumeti River manages to keep the trees green and still had enough water to sustain the wildlife. And wildlife there was ... enroute to the Serena, we stopped to watch not one, not two but three leopards in one tree - a mother and two juveniles. What an honor and a privilege! (Leopard count officially at five by this time.) We saw several small prides of lion on our way as well. No vast herds of wildebeest as the area was still very, very dry and no rain had fallen for a while. After lunch, we went back out for a game drive and made sure we stopped at the hippo pool. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, relaxing on the rocks and just enjoying the banter of the hippos. I must admit that when one hippo popped its head up from the water about 10 feet from where I was standing, my heart skipped a few beats. But we were standing on the rocks, which the hippo would not be able to climb. Driving around we saw two magnificent male cheetahs walking around, their eyes alert. They were magnificent specimens! The sky suddenly grew dark and the smell of rain was evident. We knew it was going to pour, so we quickly made our way to the Visitor's Center where we waited out the passing storm. I would encourage people visiting the Serengeti to go to the Visitor's Center. It was very informative and well done. Once the rain stopped, we climbed back into the vehicle and made our way back to the Serena. The next morning we were in search of game and found two male lions and two female lions enjoying their breakfast, a wildebeest. Both of the female lions had collars. We watched as the lions ate their fill, then as the jackals, hyena and vultures moved in for the scraps. Nothing went to waste. My Mom would have appreciated that (she hated to waste anything), so I decided to leave some of her ashes. We followed the lions and after they came to rest under a tree, I took a handful of her ashes and released them out the window. I know those magnificent lions will keep her safe. We drove through the Serengeti heading north to our next stop - Migration Camp. Wow! The tents have all been replaced and rebuilt and the interior is just stunning. Built on a hill, Migration Camp is not for the faint-hearted. The dining area is up, the pool is up ... everything is above ground level, including the "tents" which are beautifully decorated. Leather sitting chair in the corner, with a lovely empire-style desk in another corner. Floor lamps and wood floors, throw rugs and double sinks which have a "basin" feel but are clearly designed to function in the 21st century. I tipped my hate to the interior decorator as it is truly one of the most beautiful "tents" I have ever seen. Because the camp was not full that night, the camp manager arranged for one dinner table, where all 10 guests dined. Following one of the best dinners we had thus far on the trip, we were escorted to our tent - and for just cause. At the bottom of the stairs from the dining area, a huge hippo had plopped to rest for the evening. Following a detour, we arrived all safe and sound in our tent. While preparing for bed, we could hear a snapping sound, like a large tree branch being pulled. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we noticed our tent was surrounded by four buffalo. We walked out onto the pation and they did not even give us a glance. After sitting on the rocking chairs and watching them for a bit, we went back inside and climbed into bed. A few minutes later we heard a "thud" noise. Then again and again and again ... the buffalo outside were trying to reach grass under the patio and their horns were hitting the decking! What a hoot!!!! In the distance, we heard hyena and zebra. What lovely sounds by which to fall asleep. The next morning after breakfast, we got back into the car and headed toward Klein's Camp, a private concession just outside of the park boundary. Enroute we stopped in the Lobo area of the Serengeti and atop a hill, which overlooked much of the park. We could see hundreds of wildebeest in the distance and many zebra as well. It was warm and a spectacular day. Atop this hill, I decided to leave some of my Mom's ashes. Thanks to the wind, she blew in the direction of the herds. And I was completely at peace with that. We stayed at Klein's the next two nights. Because it is a private concession, tour operator vehicles are not allowed to drive inside. We said good-bye to our guide of the last six days, but knew we would see him again after our stay at Klein's had ended. Klein's is a beautiful property, with only 10 cottages, with fantastic views of the migratory routes. The lounge area is filled with overstuffed couches and armchairs, as well as leather chairs and lots of safari memorabilia. There is a round, open fireplace in the center of the room. Plenty of books adorn the coffee tables and there is a decidely "old safari" feel to the place. After lunch and getting ourselves situated in our "home away from home" for the next two nights, we opted to take part in an afternoon game drive. Neither Michael or I wanted to take our camera bags with us ... BIG MISTAKE. I only took my little Canon Sureshot camera, which can zoom in only a very short distance. Our guide and spotter were very amiable fellows and we felt comfortable with them immediately. The other passengers in the vehicle were a lovely couple from Brazil. Not a word of a lie, no more than 10 minutes into the late afternoon game drive, what do we see? ANOTHER LEOPARD! This one was directly in the tree above our heads! Startled, the leopard jumped down from the tree and made its way to a mound of earth on the other side of what was a small gorge. We drove through a dry river bed, over numerous small trees and shrubs (the advantage of off-roading) and stopped about 50 feet from the magnificent creature. And me with only my Cannon Sureshot! We watched it for a while and called in the siting to the other camp vehicle, which arrived a few minutes later. It was a magnificent male and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with him. Fortunately, the couple from Brazil were as infatuated with the leopard as we were, so there was no need to rush off. After thoroughly enjoying his company for a while, we decided to see what else was around. Sure enough, near a dry river bed we came upon a pride of lions. Four females, two cubs and a male juvenile. What a joy to watch the cubs play with one another! And me without my camera! Only the little Sureshot! I tried to take some photos, but I am not holding out much hope they will come out. Oh well ... Lesson to be learned from this story: ALWAYS TAKE YOUR CAMERAS WITH YOU!!!! The cottages at Klein's are beautifully appointed, but my one criticism is that the bathrooms are very dark. Dark stone walls that even with two small lights in the bathroom, just seem all the more dark! There is only one small window which during the day provides a limited amount of additional lighting. I don't know why it bothered me so much, but it did. Another thing - for female travelers - if you travel to Klein's, make sure you take ALL necessary toiletry items as there are not any for purchase in the gift shop. After a hearty breakfast the following morning, we headed back out and saw huge herds of wildebeest making their way from Kenya. Sporadic short rains in nearby hills were drawing the wildebeest back from Kenya. While driving around, we had a herd of about 300 run in front of our vehicle (a crossing of sorts!) and we could see thousands making their way toward the Serengeti from the Mara. It was a beautiful site. We returned to camp and relaxed for a bit following lunch. Soon enough, however, it was time for an afternoon/evening game drive, and what a thrill this one was. This time we had our cameras! A bit on the wet side from a passing shower (the vehicles are open-sided), we came upon another pride of lions, including one particularly curious young male. Michael and I were sitting in the back seat, highest up, when this particular male lion came up behind the vehicle and was looking up at us. I could have reached down and touched him. "Just remain perfectly still," the guide whispered. He didn't have to tell me twice. As the lion raised on his back legs to investigate the spare tire at the back of the vehicle, I could hear his breathing. Phenomenal! From looking straight ahead, I could see our guide was watching every move the lion made, as was the spotter. I knew that if the lion should make any alarming move, we would be out of harms way in an instant. At one point, the lion was so close, I could literally smell it - and it was behind us! He finally had his curiousity placated and walked back to the rest of the pride. Yikes! Closest and most nervous I have ever been, I must admit. We stopped in a low grass area and coffee and tea were served on the hood of the vehicle, which was covered by a picnic table cloth. What is it like standing outside of a vehicle in an area known for lions in the dark? FANTASTIC! Talk about an adrenaline rush! We got back in the vehicle after our tea and coffee and were driving around when we came upon two magnificent male lions resting about 30 feet from each other. We drove smack dab between the two, who were not fazed one bit over our presence. Suddenly, one of the males raised his massive head and starting that impressive "whoofing" sound, to which the other lion chimed in. Great stuff for the video camera!!!! While we thoroughly enjoying the "chorus of lions," we heard something like an impala alarm call. Even the male lions got quiet and looked around. A few seconds later a redbuck came crashing through some nearby shrubs with a female lion right behind it. I thought for sure we were going to see a kill, but the agile redbuck got away. Who would ever have guessed that our last night game at Klein's would be so fun????!!!!! The following morning we flew from the Klein's airstrip back to Arusha, where we rejoined our friends to tell them of our great adventure. On Oct. 29, we left Arusha for Kenya.

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