Chapter 34: African Safari by VW Bug: Part 2

George, the Rhino, stood quietly and watched us in Ngorongoro Crater until I was precariously perched on our landrover to take his photo... The he charged.

The Rhino stood quietly and watched us in Ngorongoro Crater until I was precariously perched on the Land Rover to take his photo… Then he charged.

In my last blog I described how Peace Corps Volunteers from Liberia, West Africa ended up exploring the big game parks of East Africa. My ex-wife, Jo Ann, and I joined another Peace Corps couple, John and Chris Ogden from New York, to rent a VW Beetle and go on a self-guided 2500 mile safari through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Our greatest wildlife adventure in East Africa was to be a toss-up between Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti Plains, both in Tanzania. Ngorongoro is an extinct volcanic crater ten miles across that offers one of the greatest wildlife concentrations in the world. We arrived in late afternoon and chose a nearby tent camp as home.

There was a beautiful old colonial hotel overlooking the crater, but its cost exceeded our budget by a factor of ten. We consoled ourselves by going there to drink beer on its verandah and watch the sun set over the crater. The hotel’s high-paying guests missed the experience we had that night of animals grunting, growling and grazing outside their bedrooms.

Mere mortals aren’t allowed to drive into the crater. For that we needed a bona fide Land Rover and licensed guide. We paid the price and descended the thousand feet to the floor of the crater.

Our first sight was a standoff between buzzards and hyenas over the remains of a dead zebra. Next we saw the King of Beasts, lying on his back with all four feet up in the air. Nice kitty. I felt a strange compulsion to rub its belly but resisted the urge. An ostrich performed a ballet for some reason, whirling in tight circles before dashing off on an important errand.

There was no "nice kitty" about this lion. It was thinking "food."

There was no “nice kitty” about this lion. It was thinking “food.”

On the opposite end of the food chain from the lion, was this cute baby zebra I photographed in Ngorongoro Crater. Mom was standing nearby.

On the opposite end of the food chain from the lion, was this cute baby zebra I photographed in Ngorongoro Crater. Mom was standing nearby.

Ungainly hartebeests and wildebeests also appeared to have appointments and patiently joined up in organized lines for their journey. George, the Rhino, just stood and stared until I was precariously perched on top of the Land Rover snapping his picture. Then he charged. The driver took off and I almost didn’t. I never did learn why his name was George but I was ever so thankful I didn’t get close enough to ask.

After Ngorongoro, we dropped into one of the cradles of humanity, a rather dry and rocky Eden known as Olduvai Gorge. It was here that the Leakeys discovered the skull of Zinjanthropus, a 1.7 million year old precursor to humankind. We were lucky to engage a guide who had been with Mary Leakey when she found the skull seven years earlier in 1959. The guide took us to the discovery site and excitedly relived the experience. We were almost ready to grab shovels and begin hunting for our own ancient ancestors.

An assistant to Mary Leaky, this man was with her when she made the exciting discovery of Zinzanthropus. Here, he excitedly relives the experience with us.

An assistant to Mary Leaky, this man was with her when she made the exciting discovery of Zinjanthropus. Here, he relives the experience with us in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.

The Serengeti is flat; so flat you can leave the road and drive across it. That provided an opening for all sorts of mischief such as chasing giraffes, ostriches and gazelles. We spotted a cheetah perched in a tree and drove under her. She didn’t pounce. A momma warthog and four little pups, all with tails straight up in the air, provided a humorous diversion.

Captured on my inexpensive Kodak Instamatic camera, these giraffes were running away from our VW bug as we chased them across the Serengetti Plains of Tanzania.

Captured on my inexpensive Kodak Instamatic camera, these giraffes were running away from our VW bug as we chased them across the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania.

I discovered that tiny Dik-diks, members of the antelope clan, are truly small when I was able to sneak up within two feet of one that was sleeping. Again we had the same feeling that we had numerous times during our journey; we were in the world’s greatest zoo but we were the ones behind bars. The animals ran free.

I discovered this young Dik Dik sleeping on the Serengetti Plains. It's possible its mother had told it to stay put. Shortly afterwards it jumped up and dashed away.

I discovered this young Dik-dik lying on the Serengeti Plains. It’s possible its mother had told it to stay put. Shortly afterwards it jumped up and dashed away.

After the Serengeti, the majority of our wildlife viewing was over. We drove around Lake Victoria, crossed the Equator going north, entered Uganda in its relatively peaceful days, visited Kampala and made a beeline for the Victoria Nile. Here we chugged up river amid memories of the African Queen. Hippos dutifully wallowed in the mud, crocodiles slid down the banks and Murchison Falls rumbled. At last, it was time to return to Nairobi and turn in our faithful VW. The 2500-mile safari was over.

Jo stands in the Southern Hemisphere and I stand in the North in this photo taken by John Ogden.

Jo stands in the Southern Hemisphere and I stand in the North in this photo taken by John Ogden.

This photo provides a fitting end to my two blogs on traveling through East Africa when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia 1965-67.

This photo provides a fitting end to my two blogs on traveling through East Africa when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia 1965-67.

6 comments on “Chapter 34: African Safari by VW Bug: Part 2

    • An adventure it was! Interesting to know your parents were out there then and about your background. And yes, it would be hard to replicate the same experience now. So much has changed in Africa.

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