Thursday, December 24, 2009

Skipping Christmas

Pardon for skipping on Christmas greetings, but the wilderness does not decorate, so I have lost track. Hotel decor has been from laughable to please stop trying. Our last hotel in Kenya was playing non-stop Christmas carols all day yesterday. There is something unnerving hearing Elvis sing about a blue Christmas when in Africa, or I am dreaming of a white Christmas. Well if I were, I would have stayed home.

So this Indian run, Chinese constructed, Tanzanian hotel gets poor marks also for sound quality. We are on the ground floor. In the bathroom, above the sink is a permanently open window with screening. Everyone walking by laughing, talking, yelling, comes filtering in. Keeping the bathroom door closed does not help since the room door is flimsy at best and not flush, so sounds vibrate it. For once and this may be a historic event to put on the calendar, I slept soundly and Ron was disturbed by the noise. Three cheers.

Anwar was ready for us by 8:30 and so were the animals. It was a fantabulous day of viewing. We found a lake of hippos, counting forty before we lost count of the rest and those coming downstream to join them. There was another leopard spotting in tree with its fresh kill in storage in the tree trunks waiting for chow time. A little leopard turtle crossed the street in front of us. Lions were everywhere. We found some in the kopjes (pronounced copies) rocks nursing young or just relaxing in shade. Kopjes are technically called inselbergs, ancient granite rocks that have cracked with erosion from sun, wind, and rain. They provide water and shelter for plant and animal life, especially important during the dry season on the plain. Other lions were on the ground under bushes.

According to Anwar, hundreds of thousands of zebras and wildebeests were spread across the plains up to the roadside. During migration time, 1.5 million of them cross the river in search of feeding grounds. This is the largest animal migration in the world. The best times for viewing is June to December. Their return migration is May and June. Needless to say, the migration causes a high percentage of deaths from trampling, drowning, or getting ravaged by crocodiles as they cross the waters. Watching hundreds of wildebeests line up to cross the plain was a sight I will not soon forget. Still thousands were spread across the plain as far as the eye could see.

Wildebeests share the same grazing area as the zebras. Wildebeests bite off the tougher grasses and swallow. They have stomachs like a cow, so they are able to ruminate the food later to chew and digest it. Zebras eat the tender grasses and chew before swallowing. Like the wildebeests, there were thousands of zebras interspersed. There were a group of six zebras all lined up with their backs to us. My first thoughts were they were having a best butt beauty pagent or they were asking "Do stripes make my ass look bigger?" Zebras are so funny. They seem to like to play this game of "Get me if you can". They will stay so close to the road or even cross it until you are very near them and then they take off like a lion is after them. Some of the less intelligent wait for us to pass them and then get spooked. "Oh, I should have run. Okay, let me do it now." Wildebeests have the sense to run as soon as you close in on them. Then they stop and turn around to look at you. "Are you chasing me yet?"

Stopping at the Serengeti Tour Center, we followed the metal wildebeest signs and footprints in cement to various levels, each offering education information about the park. It was entertaining, educational, and well put together. As we left, the sky became dark suddenly and it poured rain, the first time during our trip. Temperatures dropped from the mid-80s to about the 60s. All of the ruts in the road flooded immediately, causing our jeep to slip, slide and at some points spin like the pointer on a wheel of fortune. Anwar had it all under control, but we were concerned we would get stuck in mud that we would not be able to escape from. By the time we reached our lunch spot, our white jeep was totally muddy brown.

Tonight's stop over is the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, run by the same Indian group as last night's hotel. It sits on the rim of a crater created by volcanic eruption. Tomorrow, we will venture down to view the wildlife as well as see the soda lake, which I don't know yet, what it is. Supposedly, only one day is allowed in the crater itself to keep it from being overwhelmed with tourism. The only lodges are up on the rim, none in the crater itself. Regardless, the vistas from the hotel were breathtaking, until the cloud coverage came in. Then it rained again obliterating everything.

Ron has been handing out Hungarian Christmas candies to staff member, who seem to really appreciate it. They do have some trees with lights, but only balls of cotton for decoration. At dinner, the dessert was a Royal Plum cake and Christmas pudding, but the Brits in line ahead of us disparaged both attempts. We tried both without complaints. African music and dance were tonight's entertainment. Same, same, but different than before.

Have to get to bed so Santa Claus will find me. I do hope he found that note I pinned to the door with my forwarding address.
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