Sunday, August 24, 2014


Right on. Thank you, Pinterest
This is a very long post, but it's mostly pictures. Its length is a reflection of the unbelievable variety of wildlife that walks or runs around, flies over, climbs up, and soaks in the Serengeti. The vastness of the park is matched by the teeming life within it.

*Only sighting
*Caracal cat
*White-backed vulture
Marabou stork
Vervet monkeys
Black-headed heron
Blacksmith plover
Crowned plover
Nile monitor
Thomson's gazelles
Coke's hartebeest
Secretary bird

The name "Serengeti" is a version of the Maasai word siringet, which means "the place with no end," an apt description of a place that covers 5,700 square miles. In that much space, there is a wide assortment of climate zones, each one memorable and beautiful in its own way. The scenery ranges from this:
. . . to this:

. . . and this:

. . . and this:

We also saw a lot of the burn area that we had seen on the Kenya side of the border:
And there were LOTS of animals, both the spirits of those long gone:

. . . and those very present, such as large herds of female impala:

There always seemed to be a few hopeful male impala hanging out nearby, no doubt wishing they had been invited to the party:
A group of warthogs is called a "sounder," but I'm not sure if just two warthogs make a group:
Disney Studios got it right in the character Pumba of The Lion King. Warthogs are one of the most comical animals of the Serengeti. They look pretty absurd as they bounce along with their Fabio-style hair blowin' in the wind and stiff tails rising antenna-like behind them.
Photo by Bob

Photo by J. Mirau
As always, there were plenty of the ubiquitous Thomson's gazelles:
. . . and plenty of Maasai giraffes:
. . . marching away in typical soldier-like formation:
A group is known, appropriately, as a tower:
A congress of hunched-shouldered, glowering baboons--just like the United States Congress:

A baby clings to its mother's back:

"Come along, junior. You need to keep up."
A baboon awkwardly photo bombing my picture of a stately impala:

This is one of my favorite pictures of the entire trip:
Close-up glamour shot:
A group of zebras is called a dazzle, and they definitely dazzled us in a wide variety of places:

A day just wasn't complete without an elephant sighting. This one had a large piercing in one of its large, flappy ears. I'm sure his mother told him that someday he would be sorry he'd done that:
You can see the hole in the picture below:
Photo by M. Lewin
. . . and you can see it in the shadow of the elephant's ear:
Photo by M. Lewin
A Marabou stork, wearing his glossy tuxedo:
In contrast, a scruffy white-backed vulture feeds on a buffalo carcass.
Photo showing blood on his head by E. Tooke
Vultures truly fit the stereotype of a funeral director, don't you think? They look so sullen and dowdy:
Photo by J. Duckworth
Photo by Bob
In complete contrast, a black-headed heron struts regally around, flaunting his well-groomed feathers:
Photo by E. Tooke
There are definitely lower class and upper class animals in the Serengeti, and the heron clearly belongs to the latter:
Photo by Bob
The dapper and personable crowned plover is another member of the bird nobility, in spite of that rather bad toupee. It takes some fashion confidence to pull off that color of legs and beak:
Photo by M. Lewin
We came across a troop of vervet monkeys trying to find (or make) some mischief:
Picture by Bob
A shadowy sighting of a caracal cat:
. . . and a faraway lioness:
A trouble of mongoose (Really! I didn't make that up! Isn't it perfect?):

Photo by J. Duckworth

Photo by E. Tooke
I love the prickly acacia trees that speckle the Serengeti, but this one was special. Look carefully in the branches on the right side and you'll see . . .
a drowsy leopard!
One of the Big Five, this was the only leopard we saw on our safari, and to be honest, he didn't look very scary:
However, in an article for Esquire magazine in 1934, Hemingway wrote: "[Leopards are] more dangerous than lions . . . .They are nearly always met unexpectedly, usually when you are hunting impala or buck. They usually give you only a running shot which means more of a chance of wounding than killing. They will charge nine times out of ten when wounded, and they come so fast that no man can be sure of stopping them with a rifle. They use their claws, both fore and hind when mauling and make for the face so that the eyes are endangered, whereas the lion grabs with the claws and bits, usually for the arm, shoulders or thigh." (qtd. in Hemingway in Africa by Christopher Ondaatje)

Okay, I'm convinced!

A hyena was hanging out below the tree, hoping the cat might drop a morsel of his latest kill. I hate to tell you this, dude, but he's napping up there.
Speaking of hyenas, one of the saddest things we saw, right up there with the mama waterbuck watching a cheetah eat her baby, was this mama hyena trotting through the grass with her baby in her mouth. Initially we thought it was a small animal she had caught for dinner, but later we could see it was her baby, and she was trying to protect it--from a lion? a cheetah? Nope. Friends in another vehicle told us that they saw a group of male hyenas attack the mama and kill the baby. Males will cannibalize the young so that the female will go back into heat. No wonder hyenas have such a bad reputation.
A topi gave us the "Hey, what are you looking at?" look:
We saw our first hartebeest in the Serengeti, a rather ungainly species of antelope. We would see more in two other locations before we left Africa:
These diminutive dik diks looked like they were ready to bolt, but they stayed around long enough for us to take their picture:
We came upon this huge Nile monitor eating something--a small animal of some kind--and pulled up for a better look.
Photo by M. Edwards
Photo by M. Edwards
It recently dawned on me that a plastic lizard my mother-in-law gave our boys when they were young is a monitor lizard. See the resemblance?  This toy lizard is about two feet from its nose to the bend in its tail. The lizard we saw in the Serengeti was much bigger than that.
Right about this time in the drive we had a little adventure. Our driver (NOT St. Steven of Kenya) got our vehicle stuck. The tires on the left side were a good 8" off the ground. I know the three men in our group were dying to get and and push (at least my husband was because he wanted a closer look at that monitor lizard), but that was strictly forbidden. We had to wait for another vehicle in our group to come rescue us. They hooked up a winch and chain and pulled us to safety.

We were allowed to get out at our next stop, a bend in the barely moving river where over 100 large, smooth rocks formed a kind of a natural pathway:

Then we got a little closer . . .
YIKES! I don't think I'm stepping on those rocks to cross the river! We had seen hippos before, but never so many in one place, and never in a environment quite this disgusting.
I can't decide if the wide-mouth variety look like opera singers, or if they are just yawning (or even complaining) because of the boredom of sitting in a tub of putrid water for hours on end:
A hippo is a dentist's dream, at least for his response to the dentist's request to "Open wide." A hippo's jaw will extend 180°! A hippo also has teeth all over the place and pointing every which way. I wouldn't want to be an orthodontist sticking my hand in there, would you?
Photo by Bob
The pond was carpeted with a layer of scum that clung to the hippos' bodies. When they lifted their heads out of the water to breathe, they looked like ghastly creatures straight out of a horror movie.
Photo by M. Edwards
I always thought pigs were at the top of the Slob Pinnacle, but now I know that hippos can be worse than pigs. They smell bad, they look bad, they make gross noises, and they are about 100 times bigger than a pig. To be fair, not all hippo ponds we saw were as repugnant as this one; this one was a real hippo-sty, the veritable Slum of Hippoville.
Photo by Bob
On top of everything else, hippos like to flick their tails and splash themselves with the murky, fetid water. Ew.
This is an another hippo pool we saw earlier in the day, almost as ghetto:
If I were a hippo real estate agent, I'd try to get them to move to this nicer neighborhood, but they'd probably just trash the place.

As the sun began to sink on the western horizon, the monkeys climbed up to their beds in the trees . . .

. . . a secretary bird made sure to get a good spot for monitoring everyone else's business:
. . .and we started our drive back to the lodge. After two long safari drives in one day, we were ready to be pampered. (Oh, how quickly one gets used to pampering.) As usual, it had been a day of adventure immensely enjoyed with good friends:

Another day came to a glorious conclusion in a farewell explosion of tangerine skies :

In 1933, Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, went on a three-month-long safari to East Africa, spending much of their time in the Serengeti. Two years later his account of the trip, Green Hills of Africa, was published to mixed reviews. One critic said it was a book "about the pleasures of travel and the pleasures of drinking and war and peace and writing." Yep, that's just how Ernest would have described it.

Overwrought purple prose like this drove me a little crazy:
"The way to hunt is for as long as you live against as long as there is you and colors and canvas, and to write as long as you can life and there is pencil and paper or ink or any machine to do it with, or anything you care to write with, and you feel a fool, and you are a fool, to do it any other way."

Or how about this:
"I had been wrong before, I remembered."

There were other passages, however, that I really appreciated:
"I loved this country and I felt at home, and where a man feels at home, outside of where he's born, is where he's meant to go."

Hemingway records a long conversation about authors and literature that occurs, surprisingly, around the campfire. This is one of his comments that is often quoted, but who knew it came from this book?
"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." 

Great pairing of two words:
"verbal dysentery"

Provocative description:
"The tribal marks and the tattooed places seemed natural and handsome adornments and I regretted not having any of my own. My own scars were all informal, some irregular and sprawling, others simply puffy welts."

Describing a rhino he shot:
"There he was, long-hulked, heavy-sided, prehistoric looking, the hide like vulcanized rubber and faintly transparent looking, scarred with a badly healed horn wound that the birds had pecked at, his tail thick, round, and pointed, flat many-legged ticks crawling on him, his ears fringed with hair, tiny pig eyes, moss growing on the base of his horn that grew out forward from his nose." 

Astute insights:
"A continent ages quickly once we come. The natives live in harmony with it. But the foreigner destroys, cuts down the trees, drains the water, so that the water supply is altered, and in a short time the soil, once the sod is turned under, is cropped out and, next, it starts to blow away as it has blown away in every old country and as I had seen it start to blow in Canada. The earth gets tired of being exploited. . . . A country was made to be as we found it. We are the intruders and after we are dead we my have ruined it but it will still be there and we don't know what the next changes are."

Hemingway went on a second safari with his fourth wife, Mary, twenty years later. His son was living in Tanganyika at the time, and the Hemingways went to visit and do some hunting. In Hemingway in Africa: The Last Safari, Christopher Ondaatje retraces Hemingway's journey. Rather than a description of the trip, although that is there, this book is really more literary analysis than anything else, with Ondaatje parsing Hemingway's novels and short stories to find the direct and indirect influences of his two safaris in East Africa on his writing.

Ondaatje also ties together many of the famous names we associate with Africa: Teddy Roosevelt (the first high-profile American to go on safari, he went to East Africa for eleven months in 1909), Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen and her husband Baron Bror von Blixen and lover Denys Finch Hatton, and the author Beryl Markham (who had affairs with both Bror and Denys). For example, Hemingway was greatly influenced by Roosevelt's trip to Africa and even used the same safari guide Roosevelt had used. Hemingway had a correspondence with Karen Blixen (but never actually met her) and suggested in his Nobel prize speech that she should have received the prize before he did. He was friends with and had hunted with both Bror and Denys. Also friends with Beryl Markham, Hemingway talked up her book West with the Night and made it a best seller. It was really interesting to see how interwoven all of these lives were.

This passage seems especially relevant to our trip to East Africa:
"More than any other writer, including Blixen, Hemingway established Africa in the American consciousness. He made it into a land of mystery and adventure. . . . Hemingway's African writings and the films based on his safari stories made African tourism fashionable in America."

Besides the great writing, this is a visually beautiful book. It has dozens of full-page and smaller photographs of people and places, including some of Hemingway himself in Africa, but also many from other sources. 


  1. What an astonishing variety of animals!

    There's probably a great story behind the hole in that elephant's ear.,

  2. Hippos became one of my favorite animals. All of them in that disgusting hole, wide mouthed, splashing putrid water and making impolite noises endeared them to me. That water hole was one of the best events of the entire trip.

  3. (Interesting that the first book cover you show has Hemingway's name misspelled.)

    You did see a lot today, and the sounds and smells came right along with it (glad we don't have smell-o-vision yet!). My husband is always referring to that quote at the top of the post--do you feel changed?

    1. There is interesting background to that misspelling that I forgot to include. This was from a dummy edition of 30 copies printed for salesmen prior to publication. As the book was published in 1935, Hemingway was already well-known in some circles, but apparently not by the typesetter.

  4. Hi
    After reading this blog I am shocked to know that how much you enjoyed Serengeti National Park with your own way. Really it is great information about Serengeti animal. And the pictures are looks like natural. Thank You So much.