I could go on and on about Africa. It was the trip of a lifetime. I’m not sure if it was the company, the sites, or the safari guide, but I would love nothing more than to go back to Africa.
We left Seattle on a 15-hour Emirates flight to Dubai, where we stayed for a night before connecting through Kenya to Tanzania. When we arrived in Tanzania, we noticed that our bags had not. My entire family, including my 80-something year old grandma, would soon learn that we would be in our flown-in clothes for 4 of the 5 days on the safari. Eventually, thanks to our guide, they flew private to meet us in the Serengeti on the next-to-last day of our safari. Enough about clothes, let’s get to the good stuff: our safari.
I want to start off by saying that safaris are a hassle to organize, but amazingly worth it. Not only did we have to get a bunch of shots and pills and pack in only a small duffle bag for a trip half way across the world, but there was also the tedious process of choosing a tour company and booking the flights. We seriously lucked out with our guide, Dearson. I can’t recall the name of his company at the moment, but he wound up being the owner of it and had the most amazing vision; I’m not exaggerating at all when I tell you that he could spot a lion behind a bush from a mile away. He also helped tirelessly, constantly calling friends and airline workers to find our bags to get them to us as soon as possible. He only has two other drivers within his company, so he is a very small company. There are some Dutch and English tour companies that have many, many vehicles and they typically travel in a caravan throughout the tour, which just wasn’t the kind of experience we wanted to have, so we were lucky we had gone with Dearson’s small, local company.
The first official day of our safari was spent in Tarangire National Park, where we saw the first (of many) gazelles, elephants, and monkeys. We were so in awe of all of the animals, but it’s hilarious to think back about how amazed we were by all of these animals that wouldn’t even phase us by the end of the trip. We watched elephants pick up mud and sling it onto their backs to keep cool, monkeys stealing food from tourists, and gazelles leaping through the bush, but it was nothing compared to what was about to come.
Then we spent two days in the Serengeti. While we were driving around, we finally saw a leopard! It was up in the tree with it’s long, dark tail hanging down and it was amazing. It was difficult to get too close because there were quite a few safari vehicles there; the drivers all radio and call each other to let them know when something rare has been found. We paid extra on the second day to go into a special part of the park where the lions usually were. We couldn’t leave Africa without seeing lions! This part of the park allowed us to leave the designated path and off-road anyway we wanted. We entered through a mud pit, which is normally a small lake, but was dried up because it was summer. After driving around for a bit and seeing some more leopards sleeping – on the ground this time – we wanted to find some lions, and my oh my did we. We found a male and female lion just laying there. We thought it would be cool to sit and watch them for a little while, so we all pulled out our sack lunches. Only a few bites into it, the lions started to move around. Then the lions started to have sex. Such a weird thing to see. Apparently lions have sex about every 15 minutes during mating season. After we wrapped up our one-of-a-kind lunch, we kept driving. Around the corner we found a few more female lions laying in the shade of a tree. They must have been his other wives. After taking a few more pictures, we noticed the clouds were coming in then Dearson told us that we had to go as quickly as possible – and he wasn’t kidding. We were high-tailing it out of the park, plowing through rivers and signaling to other drivers to turn around. It turns out, there was a flash flood coming and the mud pit that we entered through would soon be either took thick or too deep for us to get through, but we made it in the nick of time and headed to the hotel to call it a night.
The thing about these “hotels” is that they are really just huts in some cases. There is no electricity, so once it’s dark, the day is over until it gets light again. Because of this, we not only had to start our days quite early, but we were also led by natives from our room to the dinner area because a lion, giraffe or elephant could wander up at any time. How crazy is that?! But awesome at the same time! Apparently, the week before we arrived, there was someone staying at our hotel in the Serengeti that woke up with a lion eating a buffalo on his balcony. Luckily there were two doors to exit from.
Our final stop was the Ngorongoro Crater, where the rhinos were. We went down a very steep hill to get into the crater then just drove around looking at the young zebras playing and the buffalo grazing before we noticed there was a large gathering of safari vehicles. Rhinos! There were only two, a mom and a baby, and they were far away from the path we were allowed to drive on, but we saw them nonetheless. We stopped for lunch and talked to Dearson some more about the animals. Apparently lions don’t have the greatest eyesight and the other animals know this. The zebra will stand next to each other, but one facing each direction (pictured in the gallery) so that the lion will think, “Hmm that looks like a zebra, but it has two heads, so it must just be a bush or rock or something.” Silly lions. We hopped back into the car when it began to drizzle and drove around to the other side of the crater to see what else we could find. What we found was not ideal. There was a family of warthogs, a mom and three babies, and a lion crouched down in the distance. Everyone knew that this lion was about to pounce, but I did NOT want to see what was going to happen. I saw the female lion begin to charge and the mom and babies scatter. The lion had chosen one particular baby to follow but unlucky for the lion, it was the smart baby! It was running in circles with the lion chasing it, slipping and sliding in the mud from the fresh rain, with the mom chasing the lion. Something I didn’t know about lions was that they only have spurts of energy. That is why they wait so long; they have to save up their energy then meticulously plan their attack to best use the energy they’ve stored. Soon, the lion wore tired and gave up, then the mom and all three of her babies kept running off into the distance, away from any potential future threat. I was so thankful to not have witness this lion kill a baby Pumba and thought it was time to call it a day. As we made our way to the edge of the crater to begin the climb uphill to our hotel, we noticed a pack of lions once again, but this time they were eating a buffalo. Our guide told us it must have just happened within the hour, even though it was already half eaten. While it was definitely not a pretty sight, it was so fascinating to truly realize that these creatures are in their natural habitat and this is just the way of life in the wild. Once we finally arrived to our hotel, we noticed that it was built into the edge of the crater, so we were able to gaze out into it while processing all of the amazing things we had seen in there and throughout this whole trip. We saw the “Big Five”: lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo. It was such an amazing experience that I am very grateful to have had.
After our safari, we took a plane over to the island of Zanzibar for a few days to relax. It ended up not being too relaxing because right when we got there, my dad took two steps into the ocean for a swim and stepped on a sea urchin. While it was hilarious for my brother and I, he was in so much pain. The hotel didn’t have a doctor or medical department or anything, so the bar gave me a machete and a papaya. We were supposed to lightly break the skin and use the juice/sap – to relive the pain or to draw out the prickers, we still aren’t sure which. It kind of killed the day, and my dad’s foot was sore for the rest of the trip. We only stayed for a few days then took a ferry to Dar es Salaam, where we stayed the night before beginning our long journey home.