Our evening game drive in the Serengeti started off incredibly enough. Our guide pointed out that what appeared to be a broken-off tree stump, sticking out of the ground, was actually a hard-to-spot owl! It kept rotating its head almost all the way around, blinking at us from time to time, and just generally staring at us. Awesome. Later, we got so close to an old bull elephant that I couldn’t even capture his full bulk with my zoom lens (and my heart was beating a little too rapidly for me to think straight enough to switch to my wide-angle). As he passed behind our van to cross the road, he turned his head to his right and stared right at us. We knew that, even though elephants have poor eyesight, this one could definitely see us. Fortunately, he wasn’t motivated to throw his weight around, focusing mostly on getting his evening meal.
The pinnacle of the evening, though, was reaching the special, marked hippo pool. We had seen plenty of hippos thus far along the way, but we had yet to get a good shot of a hippo out of water. After days of pestering our guide and drivers about this, they delivered, big time. The pool was massive and filled with just-now-waking-up hippos. Plus, in the background was an adult hippo and two babies, standing out of the water on some large rocks. We were happy to get the shots, but the happiness of most of the group members was short-lived. There’s no elegant way to put this: the stagnant water of the pool stank to high heaven of hippo sh!t. One member of our group got nauseous almost immediately, scurrying quickly back to our van. Others stuck around for a little bit longer to at least get a shot of a giant hippo yawn; however, they, too, were soon driven away by the smell of the constant pooing, made even more aromatic by the fact that, each time they pooed, the hippos would simultaneously helicopter their tails around to ensure an even distribution of fecal matter. Yum.
The yawning and helicopter action reminded me of a story that one of our drivers had told us in Kenya. Hippos are grazing land animals and, as such, technically have no business being in the water at all, let alone spending so much time there. However, they wanted to be able to soak in the water in order to escape the at-times-oppressive heat of their environment. Thus, God allowed the hippos to enter the water on one condition: that they not eat anything found in the water. That’s why hippos yawn from time to time and always helicopter their poo: they are proving to God that they are holding up their end of the bargain by not having any illicit snacks.
In any event, the delicious smell permeating the air meant that, eventually, the only people left at the pool were me, another group member, and our guide. We were cracking jokes and trying to capture some great shots of hippo yawns. Suddenly, one hippo yawned widely just as the hippo directly in front of it helicoptered its poo. You can imagine the result: helicoptered poo definitely entered the yawning mouth of the first hippo. Absolutely disgusting. My fellow group member, upon seeing this, was appalled: “Did you see that? He just went in the other hippo’s mouth! Who does the pooing hippo think he is, R. Kelly?” Gentle blog reader, I must admit, I laughed my a$$ off. I’m still laughing as I write this. Hilarious!
In any event, we eventually got the desired shots and headed back to the van. Our fellow group members marveled at how long we had stayed (and later admitted that, upon our return, we had stank horribly). I apologized that the excursion had made them feel nauseous. Then, they shared that another group of safari-goers had–wait for it–actually POPPED CHAMPAGNE at the picnic area directly adjacent to the hippo pool. Now, it was my turn to be nauseous. Didn’t those people realize that they were, literally, drinking hippo sh!t?! Gross. On the plus side, I guess I have finally found a time and situation where imbibing alcohol is 100% inappropriate. Silver lining? On a happier note, I calmed my nausea by seeking refuge in the hilarious R. Kelly joke as we made our way back to the lodge. As the sun set, the final rays cast a beautiful, purple-pink-fuchsia light over the Serengeti, a beautiful end to a “unique” day.
The next day, we left our lodge to head over to the Ngorongoro Crater, our last stop for the safari. Along the way, we did an especially long drive in the Serengeti. It was perfect. Because we were so deep into the Serengeti, we escaped almost all of the other Land Cruisers that had cluttered the landscape on our earlier Serengeti game drives. Even better, the weather was amazing. Hot, but not too hot, with clear blue skies dotted with cotton candy clouds. After a certain point, we were surrounded by zebras and wildebeests as far as the eye could see, providing the perfect foreground for our pictures of the distant mountains and closer assorted kopjes–or rock formations–that studded the ground. We saw another cheetah and, for the first time, a new (to us) type of mongoose, whose face and alert posture reminded us of an adorable teddy bear. We even returned to Pride Rock, asking our driver to stop so that we could get the pictures that we couldn’t get on the overcast day when we first passed by.
The drive wasn’t without its imperfections. With large amounts of animals come large amounts of flies. As our windows were open and the roof up, there was no escaping the flies. In his worst judgment call of the trip, our driver handed over a fly swatter that he kept handy. One group member in particular went to town. She took an extreme, almost perverse, pleasure in swatting any fly that dared to invade our Land Cruiser sanctuary, swatting at both our luggage and at our bodies in order to accomplish her mission of exterminating the flies. Even our driver wasn’t safe. Calls of “Don’t freak out” would arise from time to time just before flies around his head were swatted, all as he drove. At first, our hilariously aggressive group member would scoop up the carcasses and toss them out the window. After awhile, though, she decided to leave the dead flies where they fell, “as a warning to the others”. The fly situation was eventually brought under control, but when we saw the spotlessly clean Land Cruiser the next day, we apologized profusely to the driver for all of the detritus that he had had to remove.
Later on in the drive, we had to pull over for a bathroom break. Throughout the trip, “happy time” had referred to a break at an appropriate facility while “checking the tire pressure” had referred to side-of-the-road stops. This was definitely a “checking the tire pressure” moment. Unfortunately for her, one group member needed not just to check the tire pressure but also to “change the tires” (a new term invented by her in her time of distress); further, she wasn’t sure that she could do the former without also doing the latter. We decided to take our chances, taking turns checking the tire pressure while confused zebras and wildebeests looked on (and, presumably, snapped pictures with their cell phone cameras to share with their family and friends on Facebook–whatever, turnabout is fair play). Our “change the tires” companion went last, just in case, but managed to escape with just a tire pressure check. After we had all marked our territory (and laughed at the telltale evidence), we headed to a picnic lunch under an acacia tree at an idyllic water hole populated by frolicking zebras before continuing on to our lodge at the Ngorongoro Crater.