This blog entry about the events of Saturday, May 08, 2004 was originally posted on May 12, 2004.

DAY 203:  Every year, the wildebeests (a.k.a. gnus) of the Serengeti plain migrate back and forth between Tanzania and Kenya, following the rains that grow the grass they require for survival.  The month of May being the rainy season in Tanzania, all the wildebeests were around feeding; they would remain until mid-June when the grasses dry up before heading up north to greener pastures.

Like the wildebeests, Francesco, Paola, Simon, Elia and I left our southern camp and headed north towards greener pastures.  After push-starting the 2x4 (again), we made our way up the dirt road to the big open plain where the wildebeests grazed amongst groups of zebras.  As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but grass, wildebeests and zebras stretching out to the horizon. 

THE WILDEBEEST AND THE ZEBRA are often seen together, for they have formed a sort of co-dependency; wildebeests have a good sense of smell and zebras have a good eyes — all the better to smell and see approaching predators with.  This symbiotic strategy probably worked well as far as I could see, because there was a big empty space in the middle of the herds we were driving through.  In the center of the space was what the mammals were trying to avoid:  lions lounging around in the grass.

Driving by white egrets, ostriches and elands, our jeep — or “wheeledbeest,” if you will — continued its northbound migration.  We stopped at the national park visitors center at Naabi Hill, where I discovered that we were truly onto greener pastures; they sold Pringles!  After eating the same old thing everyday prepared by Simon, junk food was a much welcomed change.

Naabi Hill looked out onto the northern grasslands, which appeared to be relatively empty; most of the wildebeests were still down in the south.  When we drove through these grasslands, it continued to be fairly empty up close.  The only things jutting out were kopjes, “islands” of boulders in a sea of grass.  Kopjes, like Ngorongoro Crater, were a result of prehistoric volcanic activity oozing to the surface, cooling and being shaped by winds.

OUR “WHEELEDBEEST” MIGRATION CONTINUED to the central crossroads of the Serengeti at Seronera, home of the greener pastures of the fancy Seronera Lodge.  It being the low season, the place was deserted; the only guests there seemed to just be the local agamas and rock hyraxes.  The manager let us eat our box lunches there anyway, at a deck overlooking the plain.  It was the same usual lunch as the days before:  a small piece of cold fried chicken, an overripe banana, a stale muffin, a butter sandwich, some cookies and (this time) leftover potatoes from the night before.

“Bravo,” Francesco said in a sarcastic Italian accent after opening his packed lunch.  Sarcastic clapping added to his attitude.  “Ah, big tip.”

For him, the migration northbound didn’t necessarily mean greener pastures.  For me, well, at least I still had my can of Pringles.

FROM THERE, ELIA GAVE US A CHOICE:  to stay in a nearby campsite and go on a game drive; or make headway towards the western gate and stay at a campsite outside the park, since we were to drop the Italians off (at their special request) in a town where they could hop on a bus to Mwanza, the main port city of Lake Victoria.  With Elia’s not-so-subtle clues — i.e. “There’s nothing special to see here” and (the kicker) “Simon doesn’t have enough food, we need to stop at a store” — I figured what the hell, we’ll migrate west for the food.  Francesco and Paola nodded in agreement.

THE ANNUAL MIGRATION OF THE WILDEBEEST (picture above) is not without its pitfalls.  During the 100 odd-mile journey between Tanzania and Kenya, the thousands of wildebeest face disease, river drownings or attacks from predators; not every one makes it.  While their partners the zebras don’t necessarily migrate all the way with their four-legged partners, they too are vulnerable to any of the obstacles that Africa poses upon them.

Our “wheeledbeest” was not without its own “diseases,” namely engine trouble.  When Elia veered off the main road to a smaller one to get a closer look at some elephants, he started going back the way we came with some famous last words:  “We have to go back, the road is not safe.”  Just then, the engine died. 

We were stranded again, this time not just stuck in the mud but also in high grass with no room or energy to push-start the 2x4.  Elia abandoned us again and walked to the main road with Simon to try and get some help, leaving Francesco, Paola and me in a familiar situation.  Our spirits weren’t so optimistic this time.  Francesco started with his Italian hand gestures and Paola (in lack of an appropriate gesture) just starting slashing the upholstery of the jeep with her knife while casually humming a tune.

“Itsa crazzy day,” she said.

Only about forty minutes went by (it seemed a lot longer) when another truck with license plate “ARQ 787” rode by on the main road.  Elia and Simon flagged it down and had them come to our ailing vehicle in the tall grass.  Seeing the ARQ 787 truck with its true 4x4 action cutting through the high grass really got me jealous.  We tied a tow rope between the two wheeledbeests, and of course it didn’t work on the first try.  Nor the second try.  But as they say, the third time’s the charm, and we were back on our feet, er wheels, again.

Obstacles continued to confront us like they do to the actual wildebeests.  The gnus sometimes have to deal with high river crossings.  The ones that aren’t strong enough get swept away by the current — or simply get eating by crocodiles.  When we arrived at a crossing of the Gameti River, it was overflowing from the rains, and we wondered if we could make it.  ARQ 787 went ahead and showed us that it could be done; we followed closely behind in case we’d need another tow but it wasn’t necessary.  Afterwards, ARQ 787 left us in the dust.  However when we caught up with them, it was they that stalled.  Like the co-dependent relationship between the wildebeest and the zebra, we towed them this time, pulling them down the road until ARQ 785 came to their aid and took over for us. 

WHY DID THE TWENTY-FOOT PYTHON CROSS THE ROAD?  So that Elia could slam on the brakes to avoid running over it, causing the engine to die again.  The big snake went off to hide in the long grass and Elia threw some rocks in its vicinity to keep it away since we had to get out and push-start the jeep again.  It was really getting to be a hackneyed safari activity.  Our usual problems were met with some new ones, i.e. the radiator overheating and Simon used two liters of our bottled drinking water to quench our “wheeledbeest’s” thirst.  So that we wouldn’t die of thirst, he saved a couple of bottles and got collected local water with Elia at a river bank instead.

“You think there’s a crocodile?” I asked Francesco as we watched Elia put his hand into possible croc-infested waters.

“I hope.”

WE FINALLY ARRIVED at the national park’s western gate and exited it to drive to the Lake Victoria shore town of Lamadi, where we would camp in a campsite for the night.  We arrived at the site, near the shores of the lake, just before it started to get dark.  It would seem like it was a great accomplishment of the day, migrating for a long stretch of land to finally get somewhere, but Francesco and Paola were so aggravated at the unprofessionalism of the Kilimanjaro Crown Tours that they just started arguing with Elia.  They argued that they should have been in the Serengeti one more night before reaching Lake Victoria according to their contract.  Elia argued that they agreed to leave the park since “there was nothing special to see” and that whether or not they did the game drive on the western corridor that day or the next didn’t matter.  I just stayed out of it, remained positive — i.e. “At least this could make a good story” — and admired the sunset

Greener pastures?  I wasn’t sure, but at least I still had some Pringles leftover.

Next entry: Straight From The Source

Previous entry: Stranded in the Serengeti

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Comments for “Migration”

  • wow….you really are going through hell. if your lucky maybe a wild animal will come and put that truck out of its misery.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  03:18 PM

  • whats with the pos jeeps?  that italian dude seems like a total buzz kill

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  04:41 PM

  • that’s one big python!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  04:55 PM

  • Erik I admire your patience. smile  I’d be strangling someone wink

    Posted by Liz  on  05/12  at  04:57 PM

  • Me too LIZ. Hakuna matata? That’s crap, I’d want someone’s head for that. Whadya expect… I’m from Jersey.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/13  at  01:45 AM

  • Um, that’s a large and colorful snake… Lots of fun animals on this post. That agama is brightly colored too. But that rock hyraxe - that looks like it could be dangerous - one of those cute but deadly animals. I give you props for not going for someone’s head, Erik!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/13  at  03:36 AM

  • wow, after all the labor you had to do for, you should get a partial refund. though i have to say, the experience is still worth every penny of the tour. and the pictures are incredible. sounds tiring, but i am still jealous. =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/13  at  05:40 PM

  • whoa.  what’s a hyrax?

    Posted by hanalei  on  05/14  at  08:12 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Straight From The Source

Previous entry:
Stranded in the Serengeti


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