Feb 5 2014
The Trip out
Research in Serengeti is centered at a research center in the middle of the park in a place called Seronera. Arusha to Seronera is only about 350 km and if you ask google maps, it cheerfully tells you it is a 3-4 hour drive. It is not. I usually budgeted 8 hours for a problem free trip. The first half of the trip is on a paved road but once you get to Ngorongoro Conservation Area it is a dirt road of dubious quality the rest of the way. Teeth rattling corrugations are a given, the number of pot holes and craters are the wildcard. You have to go over 50 km/hour to make the corrugations bearable, but that can be tricky when there are huge potholes. The safari drivers in their fancy Landcruisers often go flying past, but having a healthy desire not to crash the car, I take it pretty slow. Almost everyone does Arusha to Seronera in one shot, but having friends in a town called Karatu that is about hallway, means I could break up the trip into two easier days. Due to the danger from carjackings and robbery when driving at night, I had to leave Arusha by 4 pm in order to get to Karatu on time. The last day in Arusha was rather stressful, delays (many of them caused by my own incompetence) kept mounting up, and I just barely squeaked out of town by 4, the car loaded with 3 batteries (only slightly leaking acid everywhere), boxes of dry food to last a month, 2 baskets of vegetables that already were starting the decomposition process, and my luggage. So rather a light load in the grand scheme of things. Due to the lack of fridge I didn’t bother buying meat, cheese, yogurt or butter. Seems I will reluctantly become mostly vegan for the next month.
Cheetah House is one of several houses used by the various projects. It is next to Lion House and over the way from the appetizingly named Disease House. All the houses were solidly built by the Germans in the 1960’s and boast 3 bedrooms and a toilet and bathroom. The days of running water are long gone, but the taps are still there. Thankfully the indoor toilet is functional as long as you flush with a bucket. It is comforting not to have to trek to the outhouse in the dark. There is supposed to be generator power from 7-10 every night. However during my previous stint the generator worked for probably 9 months of the 3.5 years I was there. All the houses are equipped with various systems that capture solar power, there is a bit of envy between the various projects for those who have the good systems that you can use at any time. Cheetah House may be one of the only houses with satellite internet, but at the moment the solar power is basically nonexistent. Thus from 7-10 there is frenzy of charging of computers, phones, I-pods, printing of data sheets, attempts to get the internet to work etc… As I discovered the other night, evening invitations to dine can seriously cut into precious electricity time.
All of our water comes from rain water caught off the roof. We have two 5000L tanks to last us through the dry season from May to December. It is remarkable how little water gets used if you flush only once a day, and only take a bucket shower. Having an outhouse is a huge water saver. We used to have a spacious fancy one that boasted a real toilet in it. When it was installed they simply bashed out the bottom so it was a straight drop into the big dark hole. That worked very well except there was a crack in the bowl, so that if I sat on it straight, the pee would trickle out the crack and onto my feet. Instead of fixing it, I sat on the seat sideways for a year until the next research assistant came and fixed it. But apparently the place wasn’t well built, and the toilet collapsed into the hole (the mind boggles slightly at the idea of whether there was someone in it at the time). Now we have a similarly sized squat outhouse. Either my quads are going to get very strong, or my knees are going to give out.
My first full day back in Serengeti was spent figuring out various things in the house, unpacking, trying to find and organize equipment and remember all the things needed to find and identify cheetahs. But finally the next dawn I was out, driving through the mostly familiar landscape, trying to remember what roads went where and what kopjes were which, and find cheetahs. I headed east to a set of kopjes called Sametu. It was beautiful out there. The grass had been burnt in the dry season and with the rain it was lovely and short and green. There are lots of termite mounds dotted around, the type that cheetahs like to lounge on, and a smattering of gazelle. Welcome to cheetah country. I managed to find Amaretto and her 2 big female cubs which made me very happy not to fail on my first day out.
Veggies for a month