Published: June 14th 2011February 28th 2011
Affordable Rustic Tent Safari--Ask for Details Inside!! Normally, these ads plastered everywhere in the major tourist hubs would speak to the adventurers in us but having just gotten our fill of tents on Kilimanjaro just days earlier, we set out find more comfortable accommodations. The tourism industry in these countries are well aware they have the market cornered when it comes to wildlife safaris and it’s a “must do” so the prices can be shocking. However, we felt the cost of having our own driver/tour was worth it. We had embarked on past safaris where it only took one annoying member in a group tour to grate your nerves to the point of attempted murder. The 5-star treatment allowed us to take in the animals at our leisure and give very specific instructions to the driver. We HIGHLY recommend going this route or you may find yourself compelled to heave an earsplitting, middle-aged, German frau to the lions. I should also add that one should not worry about arriving pre-booked for these safaris as options are available to you at every turn. You’ll quickly be acquainted with the unadvertised market prices and benefit from grapevine referrals from satisfied fellow travelers.
driver picked us up in an aged Toyota Landcruiser and despite my love for the classic Landrover experience, I appreciated the reliability of this truck after hearing how many stranded travelers have been left in the wake of Landrover tours. Our viewing canopy required a bit more assembly each day but it did the job. A 4 hour ride to Lake Manyara Park gave us our best close up viewing of animals in a jungle setting. The small animals here are considered the prey in most cases seeking shelter and security, i.e. wild pigs, monkeys, small deer, impala, etc. The up close viewing of baboons was entertaining. We were fortunate enough to arrive first when a large group began congregating around a jungle stream at sunset. We were treated to perfect temperatures while our photo subjects basked in the best light of the day. Adults juggled the responsibilities of grooming, tending to the very young and keeping the adolescents in line. No bars, no borders, these animals have free reign to live a natural life with all the pleasures and perils. I won’t forget two baboons casually sitting side by side like a park bench couple taking in the last
glimpses of the setting sun.
The driving and frequent stops between safari parks gave us some of the best exposure to everyday life of the Tanzanian people. In the outlying farmland, the famous Masai people with their draped, red capes and wood staffs would wave and flash friendly smiles from beside their livestock that they watched closely. The huts and livestock fences built of tangled brush and branches dotted the landscape. At the end of our first day, we turned off of the main paved highway we had driven for hours and down a deeply rutted and muddy road, past full families tilling and planting the new season of crops. Children waved from the nearby orphanage we later visited and we were greeted at the Highview resort that night with wet cloths to wipe the day’s dirt and grime from our faces.
Safaris are dirty, period. Hours on dirt roads or no roads at all with the windows rolled down cakes every exposed inch of your body with fine African dust. This fact leads us to the number one issue we run into in backpacking…washing clothes. Packing for a climb to 19000 feet, an African desert safari and an eventual
beach in one trip means we were living clothesline to back every day. With the Highview Resort being an upscale establishment, we decided that stringing our clothes from the balcony was bad form and transformed our room into what looked like a Moroccan bazaar. Dripping articles of clothing hung from every available piece of furniture, even the brochure perfect canopy bed had hoisted outfits at its peaks…not classy but we tipped the cleaning ladies well to keep their mouths shut. In the evenings, we enjoyed pool side glasses of wine while a chorus of competing livestock announced their nearby presence.
Our 2nd safari park destination was the famous Ngorongoro Crater. At 100 square miles and 2000 ft deep, it’s considered the “garden of eden” for wildlife variety. The trek in required miles of narrow switchbacks to reach the upper rim before finally descending down into the crater. You realize just how important these lands are to the Masai people when you arrive in the fertile grasslands of the crater’s floor. The adult men’s way of life has changed little over time as they tend to their livestock with a watchful eye while a very real threat of predators looms nearby.
The wide expanse and tall grass of the crater was ideal for the large predators that make these safaris so world famous. Large groups of wildebeests and water buffalo moved about seemingly unaware of us and completely preoccupied with the constant threat of lions. The crater’s lions we were told are unusually large here due to the plentiful food supply. We were treated to 3 separate sightings of the nearly extinct Black Rhino where numbers are less than 20 in total. We stopped by a beautiful watering hole to eat lunch while hippos snorted and yawned nearby. Of the “Big-5” known to live within the crater, only the leopard managed to avoid us.
Our final day took us to the Tarangire National Park named after the river that runs through the park and is often the only source of water for the wildlife during dry season. The park’s terrain tested our truck with its dense brush, hilly ascents to look outs, and the eventual knockout punch…mud. We had just finished viewing a Leopard’s new kill of an impala lodged in the branches of a large tree when we came upon a mud bog. This bog, deeply rutted with tire tracks
and standing water was lying precariously in the middle of tall grass giving anything amongst it perfect camouflage. We protested lightly to the driver and muttered under our breath to each other that there was little chance of this vehicle making it through, and if it did…we were going out to buy a Landcruiser immediately. Trusting our driver too much ended up being a mistake, half way through the 150 foot bowl of pudding…we were stuck. High centered with mud backfilling any space around our tires and wheel wells, we pleaded with the grinding gears while rocking back and forth in hopes of releasing us from the mire. Our driver elected not to turn around and give us the bad news…it was pretty apparent we were going to need help and he wasted no time in trying to raise a response on his cell phone that was showing no signal. The predicament we were in reminded me of the stories you hear of tourists or tour guides being devoured just feet from their vehicles while mending a flat tire or overheated engine. Standing atop the truck gave no advantage to seeing beyond the 10 feet around the truck but the
driver had little choice. He surveyed around the truck and hailed in vain to reach fellow guides by phone. Eventually after an hour (and two guides who turned around at a distance) an old Landrover with a rusted chain pulled us out. I have to venture that this hurt our Toyota’s ego greatly for it struggled up the next hill where we had our best find of the trip. Just off our right side nearly on the path was a lioness looking out at the valley we just came from. She turned from the roadside rock she was perched on and walked slowly towards us. Windows open, our heads fully exposed out the viewing top, she walked right at us looking us in the eyes. The energy of it was breathtaking…to the point that we slammed the windows shut and a huge exhale was heard from both of us. It was exactly the experience we were looking for on the trip. Other great sights were elephants splashing and playing in a watering hole just feet from us and eventually the watchful matriarch urging us away to an acceptable distance for her comfort.
With too many sites and experiences to really
note on these days, it’s no wonder that an African safari remains a top 10 bucket list adventure for most. I highly recommend seeing these amazing animals in their natural habitat where they belong and with protection from man instead of a threat by man. Feel free to reach out if you would like any tips on visiting this amazing part of the world. Make sure to click on 'photos' tab to view all 82 photos...
A heartfelt hello to all of our friends and past travel companions out there…we wish you well and hope we get the opportunity to see you again in the future.
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