Monday 10 February 2003
It is 8am and we are finally departing from the wonderful Ndutu Lodge and saying goodbye to our kind hosts, Paul and Louise, the excellent chef, Wilborough, and our ever-cheerful waiter, Joseph. We take one last look around the lodge, looking for our friends, the genets, but they are nowhere to be seen. We look out towards the lake for the last time and although the elephants have moved away the African hare is still there, nibbling at the cut grass in front of the bar, and the abundant birds are still singing with the same gusto they have kept up all week. We climb into the Toyota Land cruiser that has been our second home for the last week and behind Steven, who has been our eyes, ears and main source of information over that time. I make the decision that this will not be the last time I visit here.
We take a slow drive to the Naabi Hill gate and then onto the Simba kopjes where Steven takes a detour along a river so we can see hippo. We then drive up to the Seronera Valley to look for leopards in trees. Instead, we chance upon a lioness – up a tree. Although lions do occasionally climb trees – to escape flies or the heat, or simply for a better vantage point – it remains unusual behaviour, and we were fascinated to compare the awkwardness of the lioness with the ease and grace of the leopard we had watched in a similar tree back on Day 1. Eventually, it all becomes too much for her and she tentatively descends, before heading off into the distance at a lazy pace.
We continue towards the Seronera airstrip and within minutes we discover a cheetah hunting a small herd of Thomson’s gazelles. The cheetah edges towards the herd little by little, attempting to manoeuvre itself into a position where its great burst of speed can overtake the weakest member of the herd. However it is still some way off when one of the herd notices it hiding in the grass and the game is up. The cheetah, realising it has been spotted, heads off immediately in the opposite direction at a trot, no doubt in search of more unsuspecting prey, and we are denied the wonderful sight of the fastest land mammal in the world in full flow, but it is impossible to be downhearted after such a fantastic week.
We are now boarding the plane which will take us back to Arusha where we will be met by another Wildersuns driver and transferred to Kilimanjaro International Airport for our return flight to London. We say emotional goodbyes to Steven, who was at my wedding and whom I have known for nearly five and a half years, and who is, in my view, about as good a driver/guide as it is possible to get, and soon we are airborne. My last view of the wildlife of the Serengeti is a line of elephants walking along a river, looking like ants.