WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, 2009 – 90/54 – TANZANIA SAFARI – SERENGETI SOPA LODGE
George is expecting us to depart at 8:00AM, so we are up at 6:45AM to pack and go to breakfast. Breakfast is something of a disappointment but Dick settles for some cold cereal, toast and coffee grown here on the farm. He reports the coffee as very good. Carolyn goes for a cooked breakfast of eggs and local bacon with her usual peppermint tea.
We had higher expectations than Gibbs Farm met based on Carolyn’s research. It is certainly nice enough, but it is no Nirvana as some have reported. They pride themselves in serving only food grown on the farm and, to our tastes, the preparation and the choices left much to be desired.
By 8:10AM, we are heading back down the rough road to the highway that is now quite muddy from the overnight rain. Thank goodness for 4-wheel drive. Once on the highway, it is smooth sailing through Massai and other tribal countryall the way to the checkpoint to enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Region. Here George pays our fees and we head up the dirt road to the rim of the crater.
What a wonderful sight to see Ngorongoro Crater for the first time and we are lucky enough to have the sky crystal clear. We can see all the way across the 20km to the far rim. The crater floor is some1,800 feet below us and we can see animals grazing down there. This sight is right up there with the star filled night sky on the southwest coast of Australia.
Our route runs along the rim for many kilometers. We see some cape buffalo and pass Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. We then drive down the crater wall again and out toward the Serengeti. We pass many Massai with their herds of cattle and see their huts and bomas from a distance. George points out one of the Massai compounds open to tourists which is quite different from the bomas and huts where the people actually live. We refer to it as the “Disney Version.” Once off the crater wall, we head out into the plain on a horrible road. It is extremely rough and, surprisingly, has heavy truck traffic on it. Looking at a map later, this road appears to be the only direct route from north of the plain down into the interior of Tanzania.
We see only a few animals; a giraffe, some Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, impalas and several big birds; a secretary bird, several cory busters and an east pale chanty Goshawk. In addition, there are the Massai and their herds for many kilometers. Not far before the Serengeti gate, we begin to see wildebeest in their thousands. There are also zebra mixed in them and many babies born in February and March. We have found part of the famous migration!
We run in and out of the migration as we continue to drive what appears to be a main road, but it is in much better condition now. There is also a huge thunderstorm building to the North and East of us.
At the Serengeti gate, we stop and have a picnic lunch from Gibbs Farm. Again, Gibbs disappoints us as this was billed as a gourmet lunch and it didn’t even come close; a hardboiled egg, a bread and butter sandwich, a piece of cheese that is suffering from not being kept cold, two carrot sticks, a very small piece of dry stringy chicken, juice and water.
George says we will start to see many animals from this point on and he is right! We drive mostly Northwest across the Serengeti Plain and see more wildebeest, zebra, giraffe both Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles plus the topi gazelle and the hartebeest. George finds a few more birds for us that we have not seen before. Carolyn’s favorite is the crown crane.
Carolyn tells George we would like to try to find some cats today. When we get to the Simba Kopjes there is the first lion of the many we will see by the time we reach the Sopa Lodge. She is napping on top of one of these big rock formations.
We reach an intersection and head to the hippo pool. On the way, we see more wildebeest on the move and several groups of warthogs and a pack of hyenas. At the pool, there are a number of hippos doing their thing in the mud. Not far away, we see several jeeps parked near a tree and, sure enough, there are four lions resting up in the tree, a cub and three lionesses. The landscape is less a savannah now with more trees appearing. Leopards like trees and George spots a leopard out on a limb snoozing away. In this area we also see some neat birds; a number of vultures, mabou stokes and a butler eagle.
The huge storm cloud is gaining on us as we turn in the general direction of the Sopa Lodge about 3:00PM.The road, I hate to dignify the muddy track with that name, is one muddy rut after another, but George keeps the Land Cruiser going.
We see some vehicles stopped near a stand of widely spaced trees. Dick and George search and finally find a leopard. We cannot see it too well, so George back tracks to a road that will go on the other side of the trees. Now, we get a great view of a different leopard that is very intent on a gazelle almost under his tree.We watch as the leopard moves from one position to another in the tree. It appears ready to pounce. All the while, the rain is moving in and it begins to pour. George does not think the leopard will try now that it is raining and sure enough, he lies back down. We give up and move on looking for the other leopard we had first spotted. We cannot find him and as George drives away, Carolyn spots something dark in a tree. It turns out to be a kill and then we find the leopard out on one of the branches. George says we will check this spot out again in the morning.
It is definitely time to get out of the car so we head to the lodge. We pass two more huge groups of wildebeest heading in the general direction of the huge group we saw around the entrance gate. The line of them stretches as far as we can see.The funny part is that they travel in, mostly, a snaking single file; a single file that goes on for miles.
The landscape is getting hillier and there are more trees and brush. We pass a stream where another vehicle has stopped. At first, we cannot see anything. Then out of a bush, the “butt” of a lion appears and it seems to be pulling something. We move around some brush, trying to see it better, and come on a lioness stretched out in the nearby grass.She is no more than five feet from our truck and does not bother to move an inch. We then spot the first lion again.It is a male and is pulling a fresh kill around some dense brush.
What a day! Three leopards, one with a kill, seven lions, including a cub and a male and female with a fresh kill. We are about 15 minutes from the lodge now so we head to the barn. As we get to the last turn we come on yet another lioness in a tree…that is eleven cats for today. Not far away up the hill in the trees, we find two giraffe with two babies; wonderful! We check into the lodge in short order and make our plans with George for tomorrow. The Sopa Lodge is fine. Our room has a great view and is Spartan but spacious. They have electricity 24 hours a day and hot water for three hours in the morning and three in the evening. We go for a cocktail then clean up and go to dinner. It is served buffet style with many selections and is very good. We both agree it is the best we have had on our safari adventures.