The terrain had changed from ravines full of lush vegetation to a dry, dusty, hot savannah by the time we arrived at the entrance to the Serengeti. The name Serengeti is derived from a Maasai word meaning “endless plains.” It is therefore easy to see how the Serengeti got its name, as you can look in any direction for many miles without seeing a border. This place is far vaster in person than I could have ever imagined!
After entering the park, we immediately saw several large herds of gazelles grazing among the grass. We ate boxed lunches at a rest stop, where it became clear that one of the travelers was experiencing a bad case of food poisoning from the day before. She eventually felt well enough to continue on the drive, but would unfortunately be fairly ill for the rest of the trip. A short while into our drive, we saw a lioness napping beneath a tree. Our guide told us that lions sleep for most of the day (around 20 hours!), saving their energy for hunting.
Our guide pointed out the kopjes (prehistoric rock formations) to us. Apparently these kopjes were the inspiration for the movie The Lion King. They are used by some animals as a safe haven from grass fires and used by lions and cheetahs as a place to hide their cubs. Lions also use the kopjes as a vantage point for hunting. Kopjes are the exclusive home to the rock hyrax.
One of the highlights of this drive was getting an up-close look at a pair of impala play-fighting. Shortly after that, we saw a herd of elephants having lunch. Nearby was a herd of hippopotamuses, who, according to our guide, had adapted to living out of the water. Apparently this happens in some localized areas, and those hippos live longer than their water-dwelling counterparts.
Shortly before our lodge, we had to cross a narrow, dilapidated bridge that was marked “Danger for Trucks” with a makeshift sign. As we were crossing the bridge, someone pointed out a hippo in the water below. The driver stopped so people could take pictures. The entire time, I had visions of the bridge crumbling under the weight of our vehicle, and us falling into the water and being attacked by the hippo. Thankfully, the bridge was stronger than it appeared, and we made it across safely.
We arrived at the lodge around 5:30 PM and checked in. This lodge was even more impressive than the last. It is located at the edge of the park. In addition to being well staffed and decorated, the view of the Serengeti from my room was incredible. The porter who brought my bags to my room told me to be sure to close the sliding door on the balcony, or monkeys and baboons would come in my room! I went out on the balcony to take some pictures of the zebra and saw a little dik-dik running around beneath the balcony. I then saw a vervet monkey on the next balcony and took some pictures of him. I was reviewing the pictures on my camera, when the next thing I knew, the monkey had jumped over to my balcony and was sitting right next to me! I quickly ran inside my room and shut the sliding door. I wasn’t in the mood to test out my rabies vaccine!