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October 27, 2001
Ndutu Lodge: Serengeti south (Russell)

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Ndutu Lodge, the south end of the Serengeti

When Gail was 12 years old, she read about the famous Oldupai Gorge and the archeological work that was done there by Louis & Mary Leakey.  From that point, she dreamed of becoming an archeologist and traveling there herself.  Gail was never able to pursue a career in archeology, but on October 27th we found ourselves at the Oldupai Gorge, halfway between Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.

The Oldupai Gorge (consistently misspelled as "Olduvai" due to an early German typo -- "oldupai" refers to the wild sisal plants here) has been an archeological goldmine throughout the 20th century.  It was here that some of the earliest traces of human remains have been found, as well as the oldest homonid footprint track (more than 3.5 million years old).  The original track has been reburied for preservation, but a full cast is on display at the museum here.  We stopped at Oldupai for a picnic lunch overlooking the magnificent gorge.

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Oldupai Gorge

We then continued our drive north to Ndutu Lake, just about at the border between the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park.  At this time of year there is not much wildlife along the route, so we had a fairly uneventful drive.  We did see several Maasai, including a very aggressive boy who actually tried grabbing onto our bumper and opening one of the car doors.  We also passed another safari truck with three men inside, looking rather bored.  Tom, as he always does, stopped to chat with the other guide in Swahili.  Tom recounted to us later that the other guide wasn't familiar with the Serengeti and really had no idea where he was going (although he wasn't going to tell his passengers that).  We felt sorry for the other tourists, who probably weren't going to see a whole lot on their safari.

By late afternoon, we arrived for the night at the historic Ndutu Safari Lodge.  This magnificent place has been run for the last four years by Paul and Louise, a very nice British couple from near South Hampton (we admired their bravery in running a Tanzanian lodge, and they admired ours in traveling around the world).  With its abundant umbrella acacia trees, this area is what most people equate with the Serengeti, as most documentaries are filmed around here.  During the high safari season, it is almost impossible to get a room here, as the wildebeest migration practically passes by one's back porch.  We are here at the end of the dry season (the rains are due to begin any time now), so we had a rather quiet evening.  The boys enjoyed the family of genet wildcats that make their home in the rafters of the lodge restaurant.  As well, we enjoyed the evening campfire, where several dik diks and a hare (our first in Africa) wandered up curiously as we watched a thunder and lightning storm off in the distance.  Our last bit of wildlife for the evening was a spider in the bathroom.

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Wild genet cats live in the rafters of the lodge restaurant

There are also many hyenas in the area, and a notice in our room declared "Please do not leave items such as clothing, shoes etc. outside your room at night.  They may be chewed by hyenas!"  As Gail put the boys to bed, she told them "Don't worry if you hear strange noises in the night.  It's probably just the hyenas."  She then thought about it, and added, "And this is probably the only time you'll ever hear me say something like that." 

In conversation, Paul and Louise mentioned that earlier in the day they had seen a couple of cheetahs who had just killed a large Grant's gazelle at the nearby great marsh.  So on the morning of October 28th, Tom drove us by the marsh to see what was left.  We didn't see the cheetahs, but we saw the remains of the gazelle, now being fought over by a group of vultures.  (In vulture etiquette, the father eats first.  The kids get the leftovers of the leftovers.)  We also followed several cat tracks in the newly muddy ground (which the boys enjoyed very much), but we never did get a glimpse of the cheetahs before we had to continue on to the Serengeti.


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