Our safari begins! We fly to Kogatende, have our first game drive and check-in at Olakira Camp. Catch up on day 1.
Our safari starts in Serengeti Mara, by the Mara river which is right up by the border with Kenya.
The driver takes us to Arusha airport for our flight to Kogatende. We’re ushered to a private lounge operated by Asilia and offered coffee and snacks while the attendant takes our passports and disappears to check us in. We exchange pleasantries with the other couple in the lounge who are from the UK, comparing trips. It’s the first time we answer 1. “where have you been so far?” and 2. “where are you going next?” but will not be the last. We eventually learn to be prepared for these questions and also, “what was the best thing you saw today?”.
The attendant returns and hands us our boarding passes, nothing more than a colour coded plastic card with no identifying info on it. We’re surprised as the couple we’ve been chatting with are led away without us, having just established we’re all heading to Kogatende.
After some minor confusion, we watch as our bags are pulled off one plane and put on another, yet, not the one that the UK couple boarded. We’re walked to the airplane and confirm with the pilot that we’re heading to Kogatende. As it turns out, we are, just not on a direct flight. Lee and I look at each other with apprehension but assured by Zander, our South African pilot, when he suggests we sit up behind him. The seats up behind him offer the best view he tells us.
Our connecting flight is a blessing in disguise. It takes us a little longer to get to Kogatende, but on ascents and descents, Zander points out the pink flamingos at Lake Manyara, an overhead view of the Ngorongoro crater and our first glimpse of animals roaming the Serengeti, including giraffes, elephants and wildebeest. When we compare notes with other travellers later, we find that we were lucky to land ourselves a tour-guide-slash-pilot. They got only pilots.
At the Kogatende airstrip, we meet Stanford, our private guide for the next five days. He takes us to our land cruiser, and we hit the road for our first game drive, en route to our first camp. Before we even reach camp for the first time, we see hippos, buffalo, gazelles, mongoose, wildebeest and a number of different birds. It’s exhilarating; the animals are all just RIGHT THERE, doing what they do. We hardly even have to look for them. It’s amazing; I can barely contain how excited I am.
We reach Olakira Camp just before lunch. Three staff members greet us with a chorus of “Jambo, Jambo“, cold towels to freshen up, and hibiscus iced tea. We’re welcomed back to camp this way every time we return from a game drive.
The word “camp” in this context is laughable. Everything is in tents, sure. Tents nicer than my first apartment. Our “tent” has a large bed, a screened lounge space, a bathroom with flush toilet, a sink with running water, and a shower. Meals are a communal affair in the dining tent, and our first lunch is a buffet of salads and chicken hand-pies with a beurre blanc sauce. Chef John stands by to answer questions and make sure everyone finds something to their taste.
Our tent includes two things that most hotel rooms don’t, a walkie-talkie and an air horn. We’re instructed to use the walkie-talkie the same way we’d use a phone to call reception, in other words, to ask for anything we might need, which includes an escort. We’re not allowed to walk alone after dark. We are in the bush after all; we see zebras and hippos from our tent and are woken up by roars (lions?) later that night. The air horn is for emergencies; I decide not to contemplate that one too deeply.
September in the Northern Serengeti is all about wildebeest crossing the Mara River on their annual migration south. Crossing the river is fraught with danger; jumping from too high, misstepping on a slippery rock, underestimating the depth or getting nabbed by a crocodile are all killers, and the Mara is littered with wildebeest who didn’t make it across. The vultures clean up that mess eventually.
So, Wildebeest are pretty choosy about when they cross; they’ll walk back and forth and up and down along the shoreline for hours before crossing the river, or deciding not to and wandering away. It takes just one wildebeest in the herd to go, and they’ll all go.
We jump into the land cruiser with Standford for our second game drive of the day an hour early, when news that a sizable wildebeest herd is gathering along the shore nearby. We don’t catch a crossing that afternoon, but we’ve got another two days, and we’re hopeful we’ll see one eventually so we head away from the river to see what else we can find.
That night we have our first sundowner. Camp guests gather to watch the sunset together, with drinks in hand. Not a bad way to end a day.