Cheetah? What Cheetah?

September 23

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This morning was an example why arms races are silly. For the duration of the trip I slept with ear plugs since Jim has a habit of snoring; but because Jim is a nice guy he tried to wake me up gently, by calling my name. Unfortunately I am the dude who slept through a fire drill in college - without earplugs. So this morning it was just luck that I didn't miss the departure; ok, they would have probably waited for me, but it's good not to be the last man out - if for no other reason than being able to pick the vehicle in which to ride.

We drove all the way to the "hippo" Mara River, did a quick stop at the ranger station, and headed across the river towards the northern Serengeti plains. The goal was to find some cheetahs. We were allowed to drive off road here, which would facilitate the search. Still, the initial search found no cheetah - only the Kenyan border. We took this opportunity to make this trip count for two countries, and illegally crossed the border. That's not hard to do, since the border is a white stone with some rocks laid across the "road" to remind the drivers that hey, you are crossing a border. After a quick coffee break we resumed the search. Until lunch time we found lots of wildebeest, giraffes (even running ones), zebras, flocks of vultures and the occasional running ostrich. I even got to pay the promised $5 reward to Derek for organizing a warthog running at, or in parallel with us, a request I had become quite notorious for by now, but one that isn't all that easy to meet. My other request for a drinking giraffe in a photographable situation - with a promised $100 reward - did not materialize, probably because no guide believed my sincerity with the $100 cash - at least not until I paid out the $5 for the warthogs. Oh well, there's always next time. But no amount of driving in formation and coordinating over the radio would get us a cheetah sighting.

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Lunch was another DIAB, but that didn't phase us anymore. For some strange reason today even the melt-proof chocolate bar in the DIAB couldn't resist and liquified, which spared us the taste of soft sand. The highlight of the lunch break was the fact that we didn't cast any shadows. Only a geek like me would come up with that photo idea, but my computations (thanks to Garmin GPS and "Planetarium" for Palm OS) showed that at 12:37 on this day, at the given location, we would cast virtually no shadows (only a fraction of a degree). You know that you've made it when you can pull that out of the hat :)

After lunch, Andy as usual switched cars, which had a domino effect on all the other ones: I joined Val and Pete, and Graham joined The Ladies. With this new configuration we abandoned the search for cheetahs and headed back to see some hippos and elephants. Andy's car got charged by an elephant that was upset that they stood in his path exiting the river. On the other side of the river we got to witness what Pete appropriately labeled as "The Grand Finale" - all animals parading right in front of us. Pretty much everything that's not a cat made an appearance and came to say goodbye. That was neat.

Since we were heading home, past the same ranger station as we saw in the morning, another observation worth mentioning is the fact that all the ranger stations here look more like a World War II fortress than what you'd consider a ranger station. It comes complete with an 8-foot concrete wall, steel doors, and strange looking round auxiliary buildings that may accommodate a cannon.

The drive home was relatively calm - far calmer & smoother than yesterday, and fully in the sign of swatting Tse-Tse flies with the supplied home made swatting devices. It should be noted that I suck at it, and that I was particularly happy that (1) the season was weak for the flies and (2) I could rely on 21st century clothing with built-in insect repellent.

Since we got back to camp so early Val and I decided to go and get some more sunset pictures right outside camp. However, Kileo insisted that we take adult supervision with us - namely the armed ranger who was working security at the camp. So it came that we walked full 50m out of the camp to The Tree with a friendly native man in tow, rifle on his shoulder, and grinning wide. He was very amused by this, and probably developed a whole new appreciation for photography.

Dinner was short and sheepy, which meant more weight loss for me. Most people didn't hang out today but rather headed back to tent to pack up all their belongings, since the sun had just set on the last day of our safari.

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