the serengeti: beautiful, endless plains

When we left the crater, we drove northwest toward the southern Serengeti. Trees gave way to plains, and although we could see mountains in the distance, it felt like we were on a lone road in the desert with no sign of human life except the occasional Maasai wrapped in red shukas herding goats.

I put away my zoom lens, thinking we wouldn’t see animals till the next day. I was wrong. We passed into the Serengeti, Muba turned off onto a rough dirt road with pools of mud — and then we came across the great migration. We could see wildebeest and zebras for miles. Thousands of them. It was gorgeous.

Then we drove into another area with trees and Muba wasn’t really following a road anymore. It was a wonder he knew where he was going. He told us that while in the Tarangire and the Ngorongoro, drivers have to stay on the road. But in the Serengeti, he could drive wherever he wanted — and he did.

The sun started to set.

Then we came across several Land Rovers watching an animal. A cheetah. So, we, too, watched it for a while

until we were ready to move on, down to a pool of water from the rains the night before. We watched the magnificent colors illuminate the sky.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived a mobile luxury camp that moves every few months with the migration. The tents are about six feet tall. Each tent has two double beds and a separate area for a sink and toilet, with running water and an outdoor shower rigged to a jug of water that they fill with hot water when you request it.

The only problem was our tent had no running water and the toilet didn’t have a seat. So at dinner, the guy who runs the place presented us with a bottle of champagne. He said the storm had knocked out our sink, but he promised to move us to another tent the next night. We shared the champagne with four chatty, funny Australians in their late 50s (my guess) who all had grown kids and were fascinated with what A. is doing in Afghanistan.

The next day, we got up early for a game drive.

We saw the migration — at least 5,000 wildebeest and zebras slowly walking across the plains.

We watched three cheetahs — brothers —

chase another cheetah into a bush.

Cheetahs are territorial. If it was a male, they would have fought him, but it was a female, so they cornered her and sniffed her out to see if she was ready to mate. She made pitiful cries from the bush as they circled her.

When we tired of the cheetahs, Muba was intent on finding lions — and we eventually came across a male and a female sleeping near a tree. The male opened his eyes when other car engines started. WTF? he said.

And then picked up his head.

Before settling back to sleep.

We moved on.

We found a leopard (which are apparently hard to find) in a tree. She was sending out mating calls. And contemplating eating us.

After the sun set, we went back to the camp.

We enjoyed dinner with our new Australian friends and then crashed out. While we slept, three prides of lions walked through our camp, according to Muba the next morning. A. said he heard a lion in the middle of the night, too (but wasn’t sure what it was when he heard it).

In the morning, we went on one last game drive — and we got close to some giraffes (look at its tongue!)

an eland (who are usually shy)

secretary birds

and yet another cheetah.

And then Muba got a call on his walkie-talkie. Our plane was taking off earlier than expected. He seemed to panic as he raced through the Serengeti to the Ndutu airstrip, driving as fast as possible on the bumpy roads. Luckily, his source was wrong and we had a few minutes to spare before our 12-seat plane arrived (there were no tickets, the pilot had a list). And we said goodbye to our lovely guide and the beautiful, expansive, unpredictable Serengeti.

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