PART 3: LAMAI SERENGETI

By Bert Duplessis

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LAMAI SERENGETI

It was another early start this morning with Philip – with very good game-viewing en route to Lamai Serengeti camp.  We stopped for breakfast on the banks of the Mara River, having earlier seen the tragic aftermath of many of the animals having drowned in the river some weeks earlier, during the migration in the Mara.  All in all I was quite unimpressed by Nomad’s ‘picnic breakfasts’.  Good intention but no good. Of any meal, breakfast travels least well and is most unappetizing when served at room temperature.  Cold fried eggs & sausage anyone?  The company would be well-advised to scrap the picnic breakfast idea.  Serve a light breakfast in camp and then return for a late brunch instead.

Just before noon we reached Lamai where there happened to be three cheetah lying in the shade, not far from camp.  We jockeyed for position with about 5 or 6 vehicles in order to get a good angle for some photographs.  Had this been the Mara, there would been 20+ vehicles around so I suppose a half dozen wasn’t too bad.

Then it was on to the camp.  I had been anticipating my first visit to Lamai Serengeti for several months and I was not disappointed.  The camp is built in such a way that it almost becomes part of the kopje (hillock) itself.  It makes the very best of its elevated location, with great to fantastic views from each room.  We were in room #1 which apparently has the best views of any of the rooms. Not having seen all the other views I can’t say for sure but won’t dispute it: our room had a 180-degree view from the front & side of the room as well as from the bathroom, over the prettiest African plains scenery imagineable.  Add a hodge podge of bold rocky outcrops and a line of low hills in the background and voila – as ‘Out of Africa’ as it comes.  All very soothing to the psyche of your average city-dwelling denizen.  It clearly took a lot of verve and imagination and some considerable derring-do to even imagine putting a lodge in this spot in the first place.  Never mind actually building it. But it works.

The camp is not without its shortcomings, although it is difficult to be critical about such a wonderful place.  It is a slog to get to some of the rooms, and there are steps – many of them – pretty much anywhere on the property.  So not a good choice for people with mobility issues.  To get to and from Room #1 is really quite taxing – so be sure to ask for a room closer to the main area if you don’t need or want the exercise.  The two of us were quite happy to huff and puff a bit – exercise opportunities being a rare thing on safari.

The rooms are large and very comfortable and even on one of the hottests of summer days, we were never too hot.  There is no fan but there is a large (approx 24 feet) gauze screen to the front which makes for very good circulation.  So with just the slightest of a breeze, the temperature in the room is not an issue, very comfortable.

The natural wood roof and light gunnite walls insulate the rooms pretty well too.  There is a good size deck with a couple of comfortable chairs in front of the room, to sit and chill and enjoy the view.

It is a pity that the room itself does not match the unique setting.  It is almost as if the designer had run out of ideas by the time the room interior had to be planned.  For example: the bathroom has a totally stunning view but the furnishings are sparse and rather rough-hewn, with a shower in the corner as well as a very plain – totally standard – toilet and a rather unattractive vanity with his and hers bassinettes.  There’s plenty of space for a large tub which would have great; or better yet an outdoor tub making the most of the incomparable view.

The bedroom portion of the unit is large but not necessarily a place where one would be tempted to spend a lot of time.  The view from the bed is superb but it is obscured by a dark insect screen.  Surely a sliding glass door would not be out of place here?  The room just begs to be more open to its superb setting.

Of course I have no idea what the designer had in mind with the property.  If the aim was something rather plain, even a bit rustic, then yes the muted colors, sparse furnishings, local materials and rough finishes do the job.  Lamai Serengeti has an unbelievable setting and great game-viewing but if you are looking for a sleek, deluxe ‘bush chic’ property, this is not the place.  It totally blends into its environment in terms of location, feel and appearance, and has a very authentic ‘classic safari’ feel.  Lamai Serengeti is earthy and natural rather than glitzy and artificial.  If that rocks your boat then yes LS is the place for you.

I haven’t said much yet about the game-viewing at Lamai and I should because it was simply amazing.  Not just in terms of numbers – there’s a lot of stuff to be seen – but the quality of the sightings was right up there with the best we have ever experienced in Africa.

Our first afternoon game drive produced several scintillating sightings including cheetah, lion and leopard in that order! We took a second look at the three cheetah spotted earlier in the day, got a few ok pics and then moved on to a unique lion sighting:   a lioness stretched out on the edge of a high rock cliff.  She was completely relaxed, dozing peacefully in the late afternoon sun, likely seeking higher ground to escape the worst of the heat and possibly also the flies which were swarming all the other big cats in the area.

Then we went off to a nearby rocky outcrop where a family of leopard with 2 very young cubs had been seen the last two days.  It did not take long for the first little face to peer out from behind a rock ledge, and soon enough we were watching the antics of the two tiny leopard cubs clambering about, through the thick vegetation, along the edge of the rock face and beyond the outcrop when one of them decided to come and take a closer look at us.

Dinner at Lamai was fun – we were at a table with a few other agents and industry people – and like all the other meals here (except the packed breakfast) it was good and tasty.  This evening’s menu included a nice vegetable soup and for the vegans a stuffed aubergine (aka eggplant) and fresh fruit compote.

It was one of the hottest evenings of the summer, yet we were very comfortable in our room behind the large mosquito net.  The evening sounds included a male lion roaring quite loudly – we subsequently learned that he was in camp that night.  That’s why they tell you not to go walk-about in the middle of the night…

TWO MORE GAME DRIVES  IN THE SERENGETI

Our last morning game drive in the Serengeti was a doozy.  The morning routine at Lamai is a wake-up call with a hot beverage at 5:30A with the game drive starting at 06:00A.  A bush breakfast is served around 8:30A or so, at a nice spot somewhere out in the bush.  It is important to get out early because the heat builds up quickly and on a clear day temperatures reach 90F by late morning.

Our best sighting of the day was a lioness with three very young cubs, about 2 months old.  They were cute as buttons, extremely playful and very photogenic as they charged somewhat clumsily but determinedly through the veld.  Helter skelter they ran ahead of and sometimes away from their mother, one of the three in particular proving to be quite a handful.  Mom had to backtrack a couple of times to corral her boldest child.  It was rather worrying (for a human) to observe, knowing that the mortality rate of young lion cubs is extremely high at this age.

Back in the camp for lunch, we enjoyed yet another tasty meal, this time couscous, spicy vegetarian  chapati rolls (flatbread), a green salad and freshly baked bread rolls.  Delicious!

Our final game drive at Lamai produced a couple of memorable sightings, the best one being a Martial Eagle dragging its prey – a Banded Mongoose – and the other one an injured female lion struggling to survive a leg injury caused by a poacher’s trap.  The lioness was in very poor shape but was feeding on a wildebeest carcass; my feeling was that she could make it with some quick medical attention (to remove the wire still imbedded in her leg).

We enjoyed sundowners on a large flat rock a ways out of camp, watching a beautiful pink-tinged sunset.  As we stood there awash in the glow of the setting sun, and seeing the reflected light on the rocks behind us, I was filled with a palpable sense of well-being.  It was an ‘Africa moment’ when time and place fall away and just for a second you feel as if you’re  standing in the footsteps of your ancestors.

We slept well that evening, happy with what we had seen and experienced in the Serengeti, and looking forward to visiting some totally new areas (for us) in the Western part of Tanzania.  Katavi and Mahale, here we come!

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