East Africa Day 12 – Lake Manyara to Serengeti

The bush breakfast was at 07:30, so was up by 07:00. They call it a bush breakfast, but it’s really just a picnic table on the grass overlooking Lake Manyara and the infinity pool. Once again champagne was served for breakfast – I got the impression alcohol at breakfast may be common in this region.

To get to the Serengeti National Park you have to first drive through the Ngorongoro National Park, so we had to get a transit permit to go straight through (this just skirts round the edge of the crater following narrow windy roads up the side).

Ngorongoro Crater

When we arrived at the entrance to Ngorongoro there was quite a wait whilst the papers for entering the park were sorted. It was then a slow ascent up the crater until we stopped on the rim of the crater to allow photographs of the crater itself – an expanse of grasslands.

Masai tribe

It’s quite a long drive through Ngorongoro, but you get to see some pretty stunning scenery. We made another stop just before midday for about half an hour to go around a Masai village. This time it’s one that Somak paid for us to go around. Their lifestyles, customs, and village are not too dissimilar to the Samburu people in Kenya. They too walked us around the houses and the school before showing us what they had for sale. This time though their English wasn’t as good so they were finding some things difficult to explain.

Olduvai Gorge

About 30 minutes after this we arrived at the Olduvai Gorge where we stopped for lunch. It was a packed lunch prepared by the Serena hotel we’d come from. It was quite good, and there was far more than what we needed to eat. However it made a nice change to have a sandwich and a chocolate bar.

This stop lasted far longer than we needed though and they got us to look around a very simple museum and wanted us to listen to a lecture on the history of the gorge. We opted out of the lecture though as we didn’t really want to waste any more time. Minutes after leaving we were told it’d be another 4 hours until we reached the lodge, so everyone on the Land Cruiser restricted their drinking of water thinking there would be no further washrooms until then.

It was then quite some time before we passed through the gates into the Serengeti National Park. Around this time we were told that there would be another washroom break after all and that there would be another gate to pass through at the top of a hill where the security checks are done.

At the gate whilst waiting for admittance, we climbed to the top of the hill as it acted as a good viewing point. We then stood around waiting for quite some time before we were able to continue into the proper reserve. Whilst waiting a dust devil formed around me sending dust everywhere – we’d seen them before, but never that close – they always looked like twisters in the distance, but this time it was a little too close.

As we entered the park proper, we noticed a sign at this time indicating that vehicles are not allowed off the road, so this obviously meant the closeness of animals would be restricted. We’d have to rely on them coming to us instead. In a lot of ways this does sound like a good thing as it avoids agitating the animals, it just meant photography might not be ideal.

Lion and Lioness

Our itinerary described the afternoon as being a “late afternoon” game drive, but the only part I would have referred to as one was 20 minutes we spent going off the main road and down a trail at 60kmph. We made one stop at the furthest point of the track but the driver couldn’t see anything so started to pull off. At that point I saw a lioness with her paws in the air so called for the driver to stop. It took about 3 attempts to convince the driver that there was a lion there, and it turned out there were 2 females and one male. The male mated with both and then went back to lying down. Apparently it’s quite rare for tourists to see that.

An island of rock

One the way back we stopped again for a lioness laying down on a rock and then returned to the main road with some haste. The driver really didn’t want to make any more stops, so I’m not sure how Somak can have the audacity to call it a game drive.

We then continued on to the Serena Serengeti Lodge which took about 2 hours to reach. By the time we got there the sun had set and it was getting quite dark. Along this leg of the journey we were told about the plans for an 08:00 start in the morning – our driver had no idea Somak had booked us on a balloon ride. That didn’t seem like a good sign, but he then proceeded to tell us that we’d be picked up at 05:00 for that and he’d collect us from somewhere at 09:00.

After checking in at the lodge we went to see the Serengeti Balloon Safari representative who explained that we’d get a wake up call at 04:15 and would then leave at 04:30 to head to the balloon site. Another difference we were told is that our driver would need to pick us up at 10:00, and the balloon ride would last for one hour. I’m not sure we were told how short the balloon ride would be when we booked it – it meant the price was actually quite steep.

When we got to our room we found the hotel had made a mistake and booked a double instead of a twin room. In all the years I’ve been travelling, and across 5 different continents (so far), this is the first time that this has happened. We got straight on to reception who explained they had no further twin rooms. We explained that wasn’t our problem – it’s something they’d have to sort. Their solution was to put a second bed in the room next to the King Size double which meant it was quite a crowded room after that.

We then left the room to be sorted whilst we went for dinner. This didn’t help tempers much either. When asked which of the meats we’d like we didn’t get the ones we asked for, and what we did get was mostly bone and fat. It was a little reminiscent of our experience on a boat in China. The drinks we ordered before the meal then took 15 minutes to arrive, and they only arrived then because we were asked if we’d like drinks and my friend replied with something along the lines of “yes please, I’d like the ones we ordered 15 minutes ago”.

The bread rolls to use with the soup (i.e. the starter) then didn’t arrive until I’d just finished eating my main course. The waitress delivering the bread said “enjoy your meal”, to which I responded with “I did thanks”. To top that all off, when we wanted to pay the 5000 Tanzanian Shillings for drinks they wouldn’t let us because they didn’t have the 1000 change required so we had to bill it to our room instead. Previously we’d been asked not to do that so we could check out quickly on days we needed to drive – so we had no choice but to go against the drivers wishes because of the lodge.

I don’t think it’s entirely fair to be too angry at them though, I imagine they were trying their best but compared to the rest of the hotels and the previous days, they had made a bit of a mess with this one.

By the time we got back to the room it had been sorted, but was only 6 hours until the wake up call for the balloon ride.

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