Hands down, going on safari has been put in the books as “one of the best day’s in my life.” The rush of the chase (locating the animals) and seeing beasties living in their natural environment, moments I’ll always treasure. While I didn’t get to the Serengeti on this trip, I have no regrets. The Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park allowed me to see all the animals I came to see, even a rhino off in the far distance.
I joined the safari company in Arusha and after waiting forty-minutes for two guys to show, due to the jeep getting a flat tire (stuff happens, so I wasn’t mad), I was off on safari along with them and two other guest, a cook and the driver; Tarangire is a couple of hours away.
It’s September and the weather is dry and hot. The landscape looked uninviting, yet there was mud and stick houses dotting the area. Occasionally, we passed adolescent Maasai boys herding sheep and cattle off the side of the road or cruise through a village.
Upon arrival our driver registered us at the gate. We entered the park and all of us scanned the area for wild treasures. Wildebeest, zebra and giraffe were plentiful, along with families of baboons that scurried about the trees, land and the water’s edge.
We found it interesting watching a trio of wildebeest backed rear to rear to rear. This instinct allows them to watch out for danger in all directions. Talk about team work.
Farther down the road we came upon elephants. I found sadness in their eyes and bodies malnourished, in the barely there shade of a tree. I doubt they could find enough food to remove the pains of hunger. The rainy season cannot come soon enough.
It was lunch time, so we headed to the picnic area, passing herds of zebra and more wildebeest. It’s a little unnerving eating at a picnic table knowing there are predators in the area. While we didn’t have any run-ins with lions, thankfully, the monkeys were on the prowl. One of the men at the table was telling a story, holding an apple in his hand. A monkey ran up, grabbed the apple then back to his perch upon a tree root. Monkeys never pass an opportunity.
Shortly after, an elephant wandered into the area and stood outside the door to the bathroom, trapping the people inside for fear of being so close to a wild animal. One of the guys at my table grabbed his video camera to film the intruder, only to be chased away moments later. The elephant didn’t mean him any harm, he just let it be known that he treaded to close.
The Land Rover kicked the dust-up as we zoomed across the dirt road in search of cheetah and lions. Tse-Tse flies nipped at us, they are attracted to the speed of the vehicle. The flies either find you tasty or not. Wearing light colors will improve your chances not to become a meal. *I asked my driver about Sleeping Sickness, it’s practically unheard of. In his words “we’d be out of guides if there’s a problem.”
Drivers converse with each other, either on phone or by stopping when passing each other, so the whole park is aware where the must-see animals are. We came to four stopped vehicles and wondered what they were looking at, a cheetah. It was near impossible to make out with the naked eye, laying in the shade, thankfully I had binoculars my Airbnb host lent me. It was way too far to get any photos, unless you’re one of the cool kids with a super lens, which wasn’t me with my cell phone’s camera.
No, I didn’t take my camera. Okay, I know you just gasped. How can someone go on safari without a camera and super lens? It comes down to bulk and convenience. I’m not an octopus with eight arms, it’s a hassle trying to film and shoot photos. I can do both easily and quickly with my phone. Something’s got to give, I chose my DSLR over my sanity.
At the other end of the park we found what we were looking for, lions. A two-year-old male and two females were keeping cool in the shade. They were back far enough behind the bushes that it made it hard for us to see them, so our driver drove around to the other side on the grass to give us a better view. Park rules do not allow to drive off the path, so it was a quick few seconds to get our pictures.
That night we stayed at a camp where we had our own sleeping pod. We were each assigned our own cozy dome rooms, which to me looked like beehives in the inside. Renting a tent was also an option for those who were traveling on their own. Each vehicle has their own cook and you sit together at meal time. The evening entertainment is a group of young men that perform acrobatics, of course, they are looking for tips.
The next morning I changed vehicles, since I opted for a two-day safari and the other guest were doing a five-day. They were off to the Serengeti, about an eight-hour drive away and I was heading to the Ngorongoro Crater.
This is where I need to warn you about budget tours in Tanzania. All the companies work together and while this is helpful for leaving on safari a day or two after you pay, it also means that unless you hired a private tour, you’re on Tanzania time, and that means, there is no rush and definitely no concern for the people who are on time. The Serengeti group was delayed on their journey well over two hours, due to the driver trying to figure out how to pack the vehicle. They filled my spot with not just one person, but two! Not everyone packs like I do, with a 31 liter backpack, the new guys had a lot of luggage. By the time I left, the driver had everything wrapped in a tarp and was trying to secure a huge mound on top of the Land Rover.
At 8:30, I was picked up and taken down the hill to another guest camp. Along the way my driver informs me that we have to wait for the other guest to arrive, before we can leave. A group of three are heading in from Mt. Kili, it’ll take another hour or so.
Okay, this is where I get mad, but keep my cool. These selfish assholes over slept (all three! and none knew the others), making us wait. Now I didn’t mind being delayed the day before with the flat tire, we’ve all been there, but this excuse is not unacceptable. Here’s a tip from the guides and from me, if you are going to climb the tallest mountain in Africa, do it after your safari. If you’re anxious to do it first, then book a day’s rest in between. To me, taking a day off to recover is a no-brainer and knowing me, I would use that day to travel to my safari pick-up destination. But apparently, there’s a lot of stupid humans roaming this planet. My guide told me that the majority of people book safari the day after all-the-time, then regret it. Do not ask me why the guides wait, delaying everyone elses trip, they just do. If I was driving, I would have left without them. So my advice, hire a private safari; unless you do not mind waiting around and wasting your time and money spent.
A quarter past ten the inconsiderate SOB’s were dropped off and we were on our way. It’s a beautiful drive up to the rim. The scenery turns from “you couldn’t pay me to live here” to “wow, this is beautiful.” Before we got to the entrance gate, where you have to register, we were treated to an overview of the Ngorongoro Crater.
A huge bull elephant was the first critter we encountered (can you call an elephant a “critter”?). He was larger the ones seen in Tarangire. There’s not as many herds in the crater, so even during the dry season, there’s enough food for the animals here.
If you’re wondering, there is no fence around the crater, so the animals can come and go as they please. Other than perhaps the wildebeest, the animals choose to stay year round.
As I mentioned, this day goes down in the books. There were not many tours going on, unlike the day before. Which is odd, because in dry season out of the two National Parks, the Crater wins in beauty and animals, in my opinion. It also has the bonus of not having any tsetse flies, it’s too cold and windy for them. Any place without biting disease infectious flies is a winner in my book.
We saw plenty of Thompson gazelles, warthogs, zebra, elephants and wildebeest. There’s a lot of secretary birds in the crater, they are weird long-legged fowl that hunt on-ground. Off in the distance we saw hyena, and way out there using binoculars, a rhino with a calf.
Not too far into our day, a young male and two lionesses strolled out of the tall grass to bask in the sun. They were still there when we returned hours later. The crater is cool enough for all-day sunbathing.
A sign to the hippo pool brought a “wahoo” from all of us. Behind a knoll with a pride of lions taking a nap in the shade, the hippo pool was full. I’m guessing there was seventy or so fully grown adults sleeping, yawning, flicking water on their backs, shitting and farting in the mucky water. We spent a good twenty-minutes watching these oversized dangerous beast.
Time was running out, the park closing time is 6 pm and it takes an hour to get out of the crater, so we set off to find lions. Thankfully, our guide is seasoned and knows where two adult brothers hang out and sets off.
In the shade of the bushes we easily see one and the other is only visible to the guide whose eye sight resembles a hawk. The king of beast isn’t bothered by our presence on the other side of the river, so our guide revved the engine to get his attention. It worked.
To get a better view, we drove to the other side of the river. The gas pedal floored, we’re all bouncing along, grinning ear-to-ear as we cross the river and zoom to the cats. Just as we arrive, our sleeping friends decide it was time to get a drink and wander. After we took our snapshots, we rushed back to where were originally were and there one of the brothers was lapping up water, then crossed the river and walked right next to our Land Rover. Making a perfect ending to our safari.