There is a picture from my senior year of high school, Mary you know which one I mean, where three of my friends and myself are standing on a rock as we sing the opening lines of “Circle of Life” from Lion King, my second favorite Disney movie. (101 Dalmations will always be my favorite, with Aladdin as number three, just in case you were wondering.)
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhm ingonyama
Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala
Translated, this roughly means in Swahili, here comes the lion, a lion comes to this open place. After looking up the actual words, I cannot believe how wrong my pronunciation has been all these years!
Growing up I absolutely loved The Lion King; the music, the story, the beautiful animation, everything. It also instilled in me a deep longing to see the real life Lion King, the Africa of legends. As such a safari in Tanzania, with a visit to the Serengeti, was an absolute must for me. (Poor Chris keeps getting dragged to all these animal parks and I am pretty sure he would much rather be hiking or visiting ruins, but luckily for me he is a great sport.)
Hey Pumbaa, what’s shakin’ bacon?
Chris and I spent a good portion of our safari quoting and singing lines from Lion King. I am pretty sure the German couple we were with, who weren’t sure they had ever even seen the movie, found us a bit annoying at times. The best part was our guide got in on it too, telling us constantly “Look there’s Timon” or “Everybody look left, it’s Sim-ba” said in deep resonating voice.
We booked a 5-day, 4-night, camping safari visiting three different parks. I desperately wanted to camp as I had this vision of waking up in the middle of the night to hearing an elephant outside my tent or waking up early to zebras grazing outside. Sadly neither of these happened, the whole thing was actually quite tame, though we did get to listen to hyenas throughout the night and also set-up our tent next to a huge pile of elephant dung the one night. (For our mothers, it was very safe. There are park rangers that patrol the campgrounds all night.) Minus the very frustrating problems we had with the owner of our tour company, see previous post, it was an awe-inspiring experience and something I will cherish forever.
On our first day, after a truly horrid jeep ride out of Arusha, (they are currently redoing the whole road between Arusha and the parks, so if you visit in the next year expect three hours of bumpy, jarring dirt road, as they finish the smooth paved road), we arrived in the first park, Tarangire. Every night we would camp somewhere new and over our time we got to visit Tarangire, the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater.
The stupendous Ngorongoro Crater, the largest crater in the world and home to the 40 remaining Black Rhinos in Tanzania. While we didn’t get to see the Rhino, it was really interesting to hear how the park is working to protect them. Poachers have been flying in by helicopter to prey on these creatures, their horns are worth upwards of $300,000 in Asian cultures, so the rangers have put elecronic collars on them complete with a sensor to let the rangers know if a motorized vehicle comes to close. Chris also read about a new poison they are putting on the rhino horns that isn’t dangerous to the rhino but will make anyone sick who ingests the powder made from the horns. Hopefully these measures will provide some security to these shy beasts.
When we entered that first day, the first thing I noticed was there are a LOT of people and a LOT of jeeps. It was extremely humorous how many tourists there were, all bedecked in their safari gear with khaki vests, big boots, floppy hats, and huge cameras. Woo, do tourists really like their gear and wow, are companies good at projecting what you should wear for a safari! It was like there was a uniform and you weren’t allowed in if you weren’t wearing it. (Well I guess they let Chris and I in.) The funniest part was, as you never get out of the jeep, other than in designated picnic areas, you really don’t need any of it, minus the camera.
At first I was super nervous about the amount of people but it turns out that these parks are huge and we often only saw another jeep or two. The one major exception being when there was a leopard siting on the main road into the Serengeti, I was more into watching the other jeeps and the photo-snapping people than the leopard!
The second thing I noticed was the monkeys. They were lounging in the trees and putting on quite a show for the tourists. While we had seen some monkeys/baboons before in both South America and South Africa, this was our first time with truly tourist-domesticated monkeys and as I very quickly learned they are extremely smart, sneaky creatures, and as a result very well fed!
We were constantly told not to feed the animals, a rule I have always tried to follow anytime I am around wild animals. However, I learned the very first meal that that is easier said than done when a monkey is involved. During lunch our first day I stuck a sealed package of cookies in my pocket for later. I then walked over to the fence to peak down into the valley. Instantly a monkey jumped over the fence and started chasing me! I squealed and continued shrieking as I ran away, only to be followed! The little guy was only a foot away from me and it hit me what he wanted, and a bit hysterically I threw the packet of cookies away from me. A moment later 10+ monkeys had descended on my little pack of cookies, split it open, and were fighting over the goods. I was horrified that I had broken this cardinal rule, bad environmentalist!, but it must have been a ridiculous site to everyone else as when I turned around Chris and our other safari companions were laughing their heads off at me as they snapped photos. Later, I would watch from a few feet away as two huge baboons jumped the fence onto a picnic table, and stole everything out of two tourists lunchboxes, all within seconds, while the poor tourists just sat there terrified. Baboons are quite large, size of a toddler definitely, with huge teeth, and I have to say I am now a bit terrified of monkeys.
Beyond these few moments of sadness (I really wanted those cookies!) the next five days were comprised, for me, of one fabulous moment after another. We would see a giraffe from 30 feet away, only to have our driver be like, oh we can do better, turn a corner and there was a giraffe two feet from our car. See an elephant, turn the corner and all of a sudden have 15 elephants all around us.
We got to see everything we could imagine, minus the very endangered Rhino, and it was definitely a dream come true for me. Unfortunately Chris, who was kind of only on the safari because I so desperately wanted to go, took ill, stomach issues, and the poor guy got stuck riding around in a jeep that was shuttering, tossing, and turning all day. A bit like being stuck in a washing machine that has become unbalanced! And definitely not fun if you’re not feeling well.
Below are some more photos from our excursion. As I am not the best writer and you probably don’t want to hear me say incredible or gorgeous a hundred more times, I thought I would let them do the talking!
Terrible photo but this little one week old elephant could not get out of the river. He would take a few steps and slide back down. Just about the cutest thing I have ever seen. Finally Mom helped him out.
Absolutely love that I get to experience these amazing moments with Chris!
Travel has brought us together is such amazing ways. There really is nothing like sharing seeing a herd elephants for the first time or sleeping in a tent when one of you has the stomach bug to bring a couple closer together!