I'm sitting here at my computer, with the keyboard under my fingertips and it's difficult to find the words to describe the last four days of my life. I couldn't have imagined Safari to be better than it was and, looking back, it's still hard to believe that it wasn't all just a dream. The freedom you feel on Safari is a wonderful thing, standinng up in the car, feeling the wind blow, and seeing so many amazing creatures out in the wild. We were in their territory, respectful of their space, yet still getting up-close-and-personal with animals I have only encountered in zoos. It was wildly therapeutic being in the "African bush", as they call it, and after being in the loud, boisterous city, it was exactly what I needed. Day 1: Tarangire National Park - home of the elephants.
Our guide picked us up at 7am sharp and we were heading out, picking up our private chef along the way. Almost immediately upon entering this 2,850 square kilometer park we saw families of elephants...so many of them. The babies were suckling their mother's milk, and as I continue to expand my career in the natural birthing field, it was incredible to see this in nature! We spent the whole day in Tarangire, seeing elephants, giraffes, lions, turtles, impalas, and other wild animals. This was supposed to be a camping safari, however our guide ended up treating us to an evening at Panorama View, a little village with pods to sleep in and a "panorama view" of the Manyara Valley. That evening, as the chef prepared our dinner, Stephen, our guide, took us down the hill to a local hangout spot. He was so educated on anything from wildlife, to culture, to landscape, and everything in between, so we were able to pick his brain about all of our African fascinations. The next morning I woke at 6am, to have some peace as the sun rose over the mountains and shone it's light over the Manyara Valley. It was so serene, getting some alone time to do my meditations and yoga practice.
Day 2: Ngorogoro Crater
We drove around the 250 mile rim of the crater, where the rolling hills were so soothing. There were two major parts of this day, for me. One thrilling and exciting, the other so astounding and breath-taking. We came upon a cheetah on a hunt. She was scoping two gazelles in the distance, shrinking low to the ground, so skinny and so hungry, hoping to catch her prey. We watched from a distance, not wanting to disturb her hunt, yet even still, the gazelles got away. Once we knew the hunt was over, we drove closer, coming to realize that she had three cheetah cubs. She nursed them with her eyes still peeled for some food for herself. Her body was weak and if she didn't hunt in the next few days, she would die. We were so close, getting to look them in the eyes and be a part of their world. As we departed, we drove only about a quarter mile to find another cheetah and her two cubs. They won their hunt and were ripping away at a gazelle, filling their bellies, and we sat and watched in awe. The Great Migration had moved south, so as we drove across the flat plains, we saw thousands and thousands of wildebeast and gazelle, along with hundreds of zebras on the same journey. The plains allowed us to see for hundereds of miles and in any direction we looked, their was an incountable amount of animals. It was breathtaking, reminding me of Kansas, home, with the open skies and the many miles of grassland. No photo can display and no words can describe the feeling of being a part of this migration. We also were thrilled to visit a Maasai Village, whose people live in the hills, on their own land, living a very simple life. There's one husband per village with many wives. He may have 26 wives and about 80 children and the people of the village are sometimes called "the jumpers" because of their ceremonial dance to show their strength. Although many of these villages have become so touristy, it was still fascinating to see how these people live. When we were on our way to Serengeti to sleep for the night, their was a bus stuck in the mud and all it's passengers were sitting out in the grass, hoping they could continue onward. As we drove past, we noticed a pride of lions watching from only 200-300 feet away....hopefully everyone got away safely. That evening was a restless night, with hyenas laughing around our tents all night keeping everyone up, but we still woke at 5:30 in the morning for our third day game drive.
Day 3: Serengeti National Park
I was excited to visit this park because it was the one that I was most familiar with, but in all actuality it was my least favorite. We drove for hours, seeing many animals, but nothing like the previous days. The truth is, the action didn't happen until we got to camp. The campground was filled with about thirty other travelers on different safaris and as we were setting up our tents, we all noticed a giant elephant walking through! He came right through our camp, putting his trunk in our water well and drinking some of our supply. He casually walked through and continued through the forest, reminding us all that we were on their land and we were truly out in the wild. Dinner was delicious, as it had been everyday prior but so very filling, so Hannah and I decided to take a stroll around the perimeter of the campground to help digest. We were chatting about the weather and our previous day's safari when we noticed some twinkling. Initially, we didn't pay any mind to it, assuming it was some light from the houses off in the hills. It was in an instant that we realized, "OH SHIT", the twinkling was the eyes of at least five lions staring at us, no more than twenty feet away. Immediately my heart sank to my belly and the adrenaline started to kick in. I grabbed Hannah's arm and, knowing that we shouldn't run, started backing up, hoping the lights from our headlamps would blind them enough to not be able to attack. We didn't run, but were still quickly heading back towards the other campers, when all of a sudden Hannah tripped and fell to the ground. It was straight out of a horror movie, (you know, you see the killer and, of course, someone has to fall, being the most ideal moment for attack). I still had hold of Hannah's arm, waiting for her to come to her feet so we could continue our get-away! Although we weren't far from the shelter where everyone was eating, it seemed like an eternity to get to safety. Our hearts pounding, we ran to the ranger, who held a large gun for instances such as this, explaining what had just happened. He simply exclaimed, "Oh yeah, don't walk in the dark. There are lions." Considering we almost pissed ourselves from the terror, we used the toilets and headed to our tents to laugh about the whole situation as the adrenaline started to wear off. The next morning when we told our guide, he laughed and laughed as we reinacted the whole situation. One hell of a story, for sure, but holy shit, one of us was almost dinner for that pride!
Day 4: Inside the Ngorogoro Crater
It was our last day of Safari and we were exhausted from the restless nights, the intense searching of animals, and the long car rides, but going into the crater was still amazing. Inside the crater is the home of the very few black rhinos left in the world, and this is what I was most excited to see. Unfortunately, there were no black rhinos in sight, as the crater is 19miles acrosss and still a lot of ground to cover but we were able to see three other rhinos! We got to see so many hippos and their babies, more lions (as if we hadn't seen enough already!), zebras, wildebeast, wild birds, elephants, and so much more. The shock factor of it all had died because we had seen it all already, but going into the crater alone was still exciting, with a 360 degree view of the rim. We picknicked near a lake with hippos soaking in the cool water, zebras walking around the hills, and birds trying to steal our lunches. After lunch, safari was over and it was time to head back to Arusha, which was about two hours away.
Like I mentioned before, it's challenging to find the words to explain safari. It was an expensive tour for the budget traveler but definitely worth every shilling! Hannah and I relax for the next day and on Thursday morning, we start our ascent up Kilimanjaro. It will take seven days to reach the summit at 19,340 feet, and only one day to get down. The acclimization to altitude is the most challenging aspect of this trek, but we have faith we'll make it to the top without complications!!