George Youssef and The Pharaoh Mina

by heathercookelliott

Masaai warrior herdsman welcome us with jump-dancing 

Philipo told us the Serengeti would be good. I rattled off a list of animals and for each one his smile grew wider as he said over and over yes, yes, many, many. I believed him, but it turns out that before I saw it I didn’t have the capacity to imagine what – how many really –  animals we would see on our full day in the Serengeti. It means “endless plain” and it is the ancestral and contemporary turf of the Masaai people, a rather entreprenuerial and numerous group who are considered a little vain by their countrymen and themselves. This amazing day would end with a slightly contrived, but fascinating nonetheless, visit to a Masaai family encampment, a sort of human complement to the exotic everydayness of animal life in the Serengeti. But first we would wind our way back to Ngorongoro Crater from the far western Ikoma Gate witnessing the joyful lightness of hippo pools, the calm weight of elephants in transit, the heavy stare of more anmials than I can count and finally, the fascinatingly not gross incidence of a kill.

Philipo, triumphant in the fact that yes, there are many, many hippos here. 

I don’t remember the first zebra we saw – they were sort of everywhere, in small groups all turned which-away so as to keep a full 360 degree look out for one another. But in the Serengeti the small groups turned into thousands upon thousands of individuals. At one point we drove at 30 miles an hour for maybe 10 minutes and saw zebra scattered continuously from the edge of the road to the horizon on all sides. Then, the groupings thinned a bit and we spotted the reason – two hyenas had successfully brought down a zebra. The vultures lay in wait a safe distance to the sides of the dominant hyena. Both groups acted as if a vulture at any minute could glance at a wristwatch and call time. The hyenas beat a retreat at some silent signal and the vultures moved in, nearly killing one another in the process of attacking their meal. Subtly and with no warning a tiny jackal with a ferocity that belied his dog-like frame bounded down the road and commanded the vultures to move. They did.

These photos are taken from our vantage point no more than 15 feet away from the kill. It was too fascinating at the time to think about the possible yuckiness of it all. So be warned, but I hope you see the realness of the moment and finds some beauty there.

Wildebeest fill the plain, my only point of reference: how I imagine the old American West 


A lion sleeps atop a kopje, or stone outcropping 


Leaving the Serengeti and its lions behind we sped towards our checkpoints and a date with a Masaai family, Philipo struggling to balance our need to stop and take a picture of everything and his need to exit the gates before his permit expired. The Masaai are generally nomadic herdspeople, but they build encampments with extended family and some invite tourists in for a few bucks and a polite show and tell. The awkward but fascinating start to the visit was an immediate corralling by gender of our group to dance and sing. The conclusion was a tour of the settlement. Our Masaai guides spoke excellent english, invited us into a woman’s hut, answered our questions candidly, and sincerely congratulated Brian on having scored a wife (me).

My sister-in-law gets a dance lesson 


Our guide allows us to photograph him (above) and returns the favor for us (below.)


Wow, big day, big post. If you made it this far I commend you and plan to reward you with my next post: Ngorongoro’s rare Rhinos. Only 32 remain in Tanzania. One gets up close in part 5.


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