Continuing across the Serengeti we were once again immersed in the Great Migration. Today, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of zebras, wildebeests, springbok, and impalas, several ostriches joined the mix. The journey across the plains today was just as magnificent as yesterday, and even more so in the sheer numbers of animals we were surrounded by, but in a rare attempt at brevity I’ll resist the urge to describe it again. Short version – lots of animals, super cool. Long version – read yesterday’s post.
However, each day has something special to deliver in Africa, and today was no different. Our drive today took us across a couple of hundred kilometers of plains and into Serengeti National Park. We were about 3 miles into a spectacular drive when a massive puddle presented itself in across the width of the road. We were moving along at a pretty good clip, and of the many exceptional traits of the 79 series Land Cruiser, braking is not a strong suit. So I slammed the brakes, turned to James & said “I’m just going to hit this and hope we get across” “He nodded his agreement, and within a second or two the world around us had disappeared as the mud from the puddle shot up, over, around, and seemingly through the truck.
We were making good progress as I quickly worked my way down through the gears, into 4wd, and kept the engine revving and wheels spinning… and then we started slipping to the left. The plan was to go to the right. Left looked bad.
It was bad. Our trusty truck bogged down about 10 meters from the end of the puddle in a stinky mixture of black muck that our tires had absolutely no interest in grabbing onto. We almost made it… but almost was a very important word at that moment.
Fortunately we have tools for this. I kicked off my shoes, knowing they would disappear into the mud immediately and forever, stepped into the muck, and made my way to the back of the truck to grab the shovel and traction mat. Digging the tires out was pretty straightforward and I soon had a bit of a path cleared, wedged the traction mat under my back driver side tire, and climbed back inside with a sense of optimism to fire it up and haul our asses outta there. Shifting into 4 Low and letting the engine do its thing, I started with a little push forward, then tried reverse, then forward again, and… you get the picture. Anyway, we weren’t going anywhere. Shit.
So I got back out, dug some more, shifted the traction mat around. Dug waaaaay under the tire and shoved the mat up under there, and got ready to try again. It was at this point that I realized that James had decided that this was a one man job and that his highest and best use at this point was to text a play by play of our situation to a cute girl back home who wanted to hear adventure stories. Honestly, I couldn’t really argue with his logic. We only had one shovel. So once again we went through the process of trying to rock the truck back and forth. And once more it didn’t budge.
As I got back out of the truck, I tried to recall any other cool tricks I might know for getting us out of there. I could deflate the tires. I know that works for sand… but hyper slick, disgusting mud? Not so sure. I could try to find some rocks and start building a little causeway through the mud. That would certainly be a hell of a project.
As I debated what moves would make our situation worse rather than better, I hear the rumble of another truck coming across the plains in our direction. Keep in mind – this is the only other truck we’ve seen all day. We haven’t seen a truck in HOURS. Hours. As they get closer, they weave way out into the plains and around our acre or so of mud before pulling back on to the road about half a kilometer in front of us and heading back our way.
From James in the truck I hear “We shoulda gone around.” No shit. Anyway, the truck pulls up and it’s loaded with 4 professional African safari guides who are immediately competing to see who can help us the most and the fastest. They’re taking the shovel from each other, digging mud out from under the truck with their hands, and happily talking with me about how much it sucks to get stuck in this stuff and how happy they are that they happened to be coming this way because nobody every comes this way – because it’s easy to get stuck if you don’t know the road well.
And then we’re ready to go. I climb back in, fire her up, and we go nowhere. Not an inch. No worries. We have tools for this. So I grab the tow strap out of the back of the truck, they back up as close as they dare get, and the rest of the boys keep digging and slinging muck out of our way. We fire up both trucks, give a good solid jerk on the rope… and don’t budge.
At this point we have James’s attention. “Are we going to have to leave the truck here?” No, we’re getting out damnit. The other driver and I work out a system and soon we’re making progress, a foot or so at a time. One solid pull at a time. Their truck bogs down and we have to untie and let them relocate to better ground. We start sliding off to the left and have to retie to move the truck more to the right. Pull, adjust, swear, pull, adjust, repeat, but eventually we’re free!
The guides are immediately knee deep in the puddle, rinsing mud off of our gear and getting everything as clean as you can in the middle of the Serengeti, and we have it all put away within minutes. Lots of smiles, high fives, handshakes and appreciation all around. I tell them that we’ll be right behind them the rest of the way across the plains to the mountain ridge ahead. They nod, smile, and hop back into their truck to go meet their clients. Within minutes it’s everything I can do to keep up with them as they blaze down the road.
I lose them climbing into the mountains, but soon catch back up at the checkpoint to get in to Serengeti National Park. Not knowing that this is also the official check out point for Ngorogoro (I thought we’d done that 2 checkpoints ago, but that’s a whole other story that I’ll tell you over a beer one day.) I wander off to try to find a hose to get the muck off of me while James hunts down a couple of cold beers.
Cleaned up and refreshed, we’re back on the road and officially in the Serengeti. Within 5-10 minutes we see a truck pulled over on the side of the road. Assuming that they’re checking out something cool, we pull up behind them and shut off the engine to ensure that we aren’t the guys that pull up and scare off the wildlife.
Right about then a lion sticks his head up about 8 feet from James’s window. He’d been lounging in the brush with a couple of friends. And now he’s awake… and so is James! This is freaking awesome. There’s a lion RIGHT THERE. He’s up on a rise next to the road bed, so the ground is pretty much even with James’s shoulders. Which means that from my perspective, James’s head is just about in the lions mouth as he yawns (photo roars) and shakes his head around. I’ve had some amazing wildlife encounters in my life, but this is pretty incredible. And then his friends wake up and start looking around. Now we have 3 lions just chilling out within 25 feet of the car (on tactically advantageous higher ground) occasionally staring us right in the eye as if considering whether it’s worth the effort to eat us. With nothing but the car window between us, I’m pretty sure that the effort expended to end us would be pretty minimal. Thus I am assuming that we did not look particularly appetizing to these guys – a fact for which I am very appreciative.
After some quality time with the lions we proceed into the park and start to get the lay of the land for our next couple of days. The Seronera region of Serengeti is where we’ll spend the last couple of days in Tanzania and we’re almost out of fuel, totally out of cash, need to find some COVID tests, and James is starting to feel a little under the weather.
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