Tent Camping in the Serengeti

We tented at Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, and at the base of Kilimanjaro.  But our experiences in the Serengeti were the most remote and unique.

Our tent was not a presto-pop-up, it took quite a bit of effort to put together.  All the while our overland truck was parked in the middle of a clearing.  We all pitched in for our dinner duties.  Some prepping dinner, some helping cook, and some washing.   Then we settled in by the fire for some evening conversation.  The expected conversations ensued, until a noise by a nearby log startled everyone.  We quickly looked over and saw a small animal scurrying under a fallen tree. This provided us with plenty material to argue over.  A group from Canada insisted it was a serval on the prowl.  Another group argued it was a hyrax.  To me it looked like a bushbaby.  Regardless, it became clearer to use the reality of our situation.  We were very far from civilization, and none of us was familiar with the creatures of the night.  The disagreement subsided as we started to listen to the night sounds and marvel at the night sky.

As new sounds were made, our guide helped identify them.

“That was a lion.  Their roars can last from 10 to 60 seconds and can be heard for up to 8 kilometers.” (Hear one here)

“That Whoooop is a hyena.  They amplify their sound off the ground. They make many different sounds and are the smartest hunter on the plains.”(Hear on here)

“The crying you hear are jackals. They have incredible stamina and often outlast their prey.” (Hear one here)

“Help….Help….Help….is the alarm call of the Baboon.  It almost sounds human.” (Hear one here)

We listened to all these sounds mixed in with nightly bug sounds, in awe.  I wish I had brought a recording device.

As it became darker, Jules, our guide took time to speak to the group:  “If you really need to pee in the middle of the night, hold it.  And if you can’t, go right next to the tent. Do not wander off!”

To emphasize his point he motioned us to follow him away from the fire a bit. He produced a high powered spotlight and ran it along the clearing edge about 50 meters from our location….where the brush started.  Dozens of sets of iridescent eyes that were green, yellows, and reds were that close.  No fence.  Just the canvas tent wall.   The grassy area between was littered with small green dots.  Our guide told us those were spiders. Great.

We walked back to our fire and the Nova documentary on Leopards of the Night popped in to my head.  The piece that stuck in my mind were images of a Leopard taking nearly an hour to carefully and quietly sneak up on a gazelle.  It got within three feet of the gazelle without it hearing a thing.  If a gazelle with those big old ears didn’t hear a leopard coming, I knew that with my tiny human ears I’d be a goner before hearing anything.

We all decided to turn in.  I waited for Sharleen at the tent door, swatting my nightly bombardment of mosquitoes and other flying blood suckers.  As she was closing the tent door, I felt something run up leg, over my chest and came to a stop on my face.  I could not grab and crush it fast enough.  It was definitely NOT a flying mosquito.  It was larger and very fast.  I laid in terror trying to decide whether or not to look for what I crushed, or zip up and hide until morning.  As I lay there listening to this cacophony of sound, I started to hear the faded snores of our travel mates.  I listened to Sharleen’s breath become heavier and heavier and felt her body become heavy with sleep.  The land was so full of life, sound, and beauty.  I knew as I fell asleep that no picture or story could capture the majesty of this land.

I opted not to look for what I crushed.  We needed the rest, and I certainly didn’t want to open the tent flaps again.  The next morning I looked around and found the lifeless mangled body of my night time attacker: A preying mantis.

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