Last Thursday, we began our safari in the Serengeti. That morning, we were met at camp by our safari guides, Bob and Julius. On our way to the Serengeti, we drove through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Ngorongoro is Masai country, and we saw many Masai herds and villages on our way through. While much of the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater is covered in rain forest, the Serengeti is a vast and nearly treeless plain. Once in the Serengeti, we opened up the tops of the Land Rovers for better viewing. That first afternoon, we were lucky to see several animals up close including baboons, elephants, gazelles and impalas, hippos, crocodiles and even a pride of lions. That next day, we continued our safari and saw even more animals, including a pair of leopards. Our guide, Grace, said she hadn’t seen two leopards together in the wild in fifteen years, so we felt especially fortunate. Patrick was also particularly excited to spot several groups of zebras. On our last day of safari, we drove into Ngorongoro Crater itself, which was created by a volcanic eruption millions of years ago.
The next day, we took a bike ride around Lake Manyara. Lake Manyara is unique in that it contains both fresh and salt water. It is also home to a large number of flamingos. Along our ride we also visited several artists’ studios in the area. Matt chatted with local painters while Andreas added to his growing collection of wooden carvings and objects. That evening, after a fun day of culture and exercise, Sophia and others helped prepare a delicious chicken curry.
From Lake Manyara, we drove to Meserani Snake Park, one of the most popular campsites in East Africa. On the way, Mike entertained us with stories and riddles. Snake Park is not only a campsite, but also has other attractions such as a reptile center, the Masai Cultural Museum and the Masai Women’s Market. It also houses the only snake bite clinic in the area. The clinic, which is free and funded by camp fees, is a great resource for the local people.
Our stay at Snake Park also marked the beginning of the service portion of our trip. For two days, we helped prepare the foundations for a school building. Regan and others planted trees while Clare painted the newly erected fence. The work was hard but gratifying.
Our days in the Meserani weren’t all work and no play, however. Monday, we visited the reptile center before an afternoon shift at the school. There, we learned about native snakes and other animals from a guide. We had the opportunity to hold some non-poisonous snakes and even a baby crocodile. Later that afternoon, we visited a Masai village. One of the villagers, Alex, allowed us into his hut. We also enjoyed a performance by a group of Masai warriors. Tudor and some of the other boys joined in, to the excitement of the village children. The next day, we visited a local primary school, where we learned some Swahili phrases and played with the students. Stephen showed off his skills of the soccer field, while Lauren and Devon made some new friends playing tag and singing songs.
Wednesday, our time at Snake Park over we began the drive towards Kilimanjaro. We will be staying at the Zara Hotel, which is operated by our Kilimanjaro guiding company. There, we will be able to get a good night’s rest before undertaking the highlight of this trip – the ascent of Kilimanjaro.