Perhaps the pinnacle of African safaris is the Serengeti, 1.5 million hectares of savannah. And much to our delight, we were housed in tent cabins in the middle of the annual migration of two million wildebeests, and thousands of gazelles and zebras.
After landing at the airstrip at the Serengeti, we met our new, and skillful driver, Samonji. It turns out he was previously a big game hunting guide, until hunting was banned here. Naturally, he and Mr. Mike hit it off, since they had hunting in common. He even offered to come out of retirement to guide Mike on a real big game hunt!
The Serengeti was remarkable for several sightings. First, we got to see a leopard (pictured above) with its kill. She carried it up at tree, to eat unimpeded by other animals, such as hyenas. We got pretty close to a cheetah (also above) on a hunt. But the highlight was seeing the lions on a hunt for water buffalo. I can only compare it to a soccer match, where everything is laid out systematically. The speed, skill, and teamwork were incredibly impressive!
But it was a long day, so by mid afternoon, we headed to our safari tent camp. It really was not much more than several individual tents (mine pictured) placed on a small hill, with a couple larger tents for meals, food prep, storage, and lounging.
In all modesty, I must tell you that I became very popular with the camp helpers (see above photo) at this camp. Why? It turned out that the bothersome tsetse flies love darker skinned people. Our poor driver was under constant siege, while trying to drive. So, I pulled out my bug zapper, and got rid of the flies in our SUV. As I am waving it around, we arrived at our camp. The camp guys came running towards us, as we parked. They were yelling, “Roger Federer, Roger Federer” as I waved the bug zapper! It was the funniest part of the trip!
The zapper was intended as a gift for Barry the V in Cape Town. I was tempted to give it to them, but finally saved it for Barry. They had never seen anything like it. But I was afforded VIP treatment after that. I was offered the most drinks, given priority wherever I went, and everyone knew my name!
Leisure time in the camp was quite pleasant. Imagine our surprise when we were offered a “bucket” shower before dinner! Yes, they stoked a big fire, and each tent was given one large bucket of hot water for an intermittent soap and shower (and some laundry). Since my tent was closest to the staff, I was always first!
The evening ritual starts with “sundowners”, their term for cocktail hour. We sit around a camp fire, the camp staff brings snacks and unlimited drinks. We soon became friends with a big, burly guy and his newlywed wife. Turned out he was the color commentator for NFL Mexico. And they were willing to share their champagne with me!!
Mealtime was a big deal. Our driver/guide reappears, seemingly out of nowhere, to dine with us. We review the day’s activities, and plan for tomorrow. We wanted to see the big hippo pool, as well as the annual migration. And we packed the traditional picnic lunch that all safaris include.
An interesting conversation came up at dinner that night. My camp buddies asked where I was from. When I said I am an American, they refused to believe me. So, I asked them what an American looks like. They pointed to Mike, of course. I proceeded to point out that anyone in the camp, guests, guides, and camp personnel looks like an American! They got a big kick out of that conversation.
Then, when I told them my Grandfather came from Japan to the US in 1896, they became even more curious. After several minutes, our guide asked me a question, a bit reluctantly. He wanted to know why Japanese tourists do not tip. I had to explain that tipping is almost forbidden in Japan, that the tip or service fee is included in the price, and that good service is expected. I suggested they have a business card made, in both languages, explaining that tipping is essential to their livelihood.
So, after the cultural and anthropological discussions were over, they all wanted to use the bug zapper. Guess who was offered the most desserts and after dinner drinks? Everywhere I went, they would call out, “Roger Federer, Roger Federer.”
The next morning, we had a long, sad farewell with the camp guys, after breakfast. The camp manager even appeared in a shirt and tie (see above photo). I gave all the guys the little gifts (Sun Maid raisins) I brought. They were really sad to see Roger Federer leave the camp with his tennis racket bug zapper.