Easy to fall in love with the lions here

The Serengeti ecosystem is a 12,000-square-mile region in Tanzania (plus a small part in Kenya) that boasts 70 species of large mammals and 500 species of birds. It is especially known for its huge population of lions.

In our previous stop, at the Ngorongoro Crater, we had seen 4 of the “Big 5” game animals. I’m not a huge fan of these largely arbitrary tourist obsessions, but you can’t help but get a little caught up in it.

We had seen elephants nice and close up. We’d seen a couple rhinos, albeit from quite a distance (plus Jim and I had just seen white rhinos very close up in Zimbabwe). We saw plenty of Cape buffalo. And we did technically see a couple lions, though they were at a distance and were largely buried in grass. The fifth, who still eludes us, is the leopard. Those guys are largely nocturnal and do an awfully good job of hiding in the grass.

Our guide asked what we wanted to see, so we told him we needed a leopard, and that we really did need to get a better look at the lions. He assured us we’d see so many lions we’d get sick of them. And we did see a LOT of lions. At some points our car would be surrounded by them — lions of all sizes, old lions, baby lions, mother lions, adolescents. They would gather in big groups, playing, rolling around, cuddling, licking each other. Impossibly cute!

But still no leopard 🙁

There’s a reason they call him King of the Jungle

We’ve also really upped our game in the elephant area, coming across huge herds with dozens and dozens of elephants

These are the Cape buffalo. We often see them in very large herds too. They really like to stare at us.

Lots of giraffes to look at, too

Plenty of zebras

The landscape is really stunning, too

And I’m seeing it all with nice people — that’s me with Angus, Ruby, Dan, and Lorraine

Some hippos just barely peeking out

Amazing bird life here, too. These beauties are lilac-breasted rollers.

Lions chilling on the edge of the road

Giraffes sometimes look at us with curiosity

This is a secretary bird. They are cool looking birds that eat snakes. When they kill the snakes they jump up and down in some way that makes it look like they are typing, and hence the name.

Hyenas have kind of a bad reputation, but I find them quite cute. I think they need better marketing.

After the long game drives we relax in our sprawling four-bedroom house with a pool overlooking a vast stretch of the Serengeti. Our house was part of a spectacular lodge, called Singita Sasakwa, which was also home to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi for two of our four nights.

Another lovely sunset

Here is an elephant showing the baby how to rip apart a tree with her trunk, stomp the branches apart with her feet, then chew up the good parts and spit out the stems

And did I mention the lions?

But first…Mount Kilimanjaro! We flew on a private charter from Kigali to an airstrip here in Tanzania near Ngorongoro. Since the weather was nice, our pilot took us out of the way a bit to make a couple loops around Kilimanjaro. What a view!

The Ngorongoro Crater is described in Wikipedia as “the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera.” It is essentially a huge hole i6n the ground, with surprisingly distinct edges, 100 square miles in size, and filled with thousands and thousands of animals.

For all the traveling we’ve done, this is really the first time I’ve ever been to a place with game drives to see vast numbers of animals in the wild. So we dived right in and spent one LONG day — nine hours — traversing the crater from end to end and getting a serious introduction to African safari viewing.

Let me just say this: We are not well equipped for good quality wildlife photography. Every now and then Jim and I debate whether we should buy a real, fancy camera. But we know that if we do we’ll never want to carry it around. We discussed it in the context of this Africa visit once again, and just couldn’t bring ourselves to load ourselves down. So what you get here is the best I could do with my iPhone X. I just take a ton of pictures, and a few turn out kind of fun. So here they are.

Our lodge was perched right on the edge of the crater. Dan went out one morning and caught the lodge and the crater under this heavenly sunlight.

Our first sighting of an elephant in the wild. They are such majestic creatures.

The gazelles rank among my favorite safari animals. They are so graceful and elegant.

A gathering of wildebeests. At this time of year we would normally expect to see the spectacular migration of 2 to 3 million wildebeests when we get to the Serengeti. But because climate patterns are screwed up, Tanzania has had unusual amounts of rain this year, and the wildebeests are weeks behind schedule. So we have to settle for these non-migrating wildebeests just hanging out.

Who doesn’t love zebras?

Came across a couple of Cape Buffalo enjoying a spa treatment. At the resort they charge something like $150 for that.

You see lots of groups of zebras, up to four at a time, interlocked in a cuddly looking way, allowing them to watch for predators in multiple directions

I’m so sad and disappointed that Jim isn’t here to experience all of this, but the Smiths do make great travel companions. They look good in the wild, too. Here are Dan, Ruby, Angus, and Lorraine.

Did I mention I love the gazelles?

Elephants up close

Action shot

Another Smith sighting — Ruby, Dan, and Angus

Hey zebras, get out of the road!

After a long day of animal viewing, Angus and Ruby are ready for cocktails in our elegant lodge lounge