(Footnote: I remember after I sent out this email, my friend Wesley, who looks at life through a zodiac lens, affectionately teased me for my Virgo ways, by thanking me for including a listÂ of considerations for others interested in safari’s.)Hi everyone! I have been MIA, out roaming the African wild. Got back from the safari a few days ago – bailed on the Mt. Meru hike due to vile stomach illness. Will spare you the details on that, but I am recovering. Apparently a rite of passage for the mzungu abroad, but still. shudder.
But the safari…wow…First, let me just say that if you are remotely an adventurer or animal lover, I hope you will go on safari someday. I will try to offer some do’s and don’ts at the end of this that I was thinking about while we did it. We went on a 4 day safari, which was the perfect length for me, as I am relatively ambivalent about wildlife. But even I thought it was amazing. We started in a small game park called Lake Manyara, where we saw endless baboons and lots of elephants, hippos, and giraffe. The baboons and elephants and giraffe got really close to our car – we were in a land rover w/ 3 rows of seats and sunroofs you can stand up in above every row. Throughout the animals get pretty close, and they are much more blase about us than we are about them. Lake Manyara was very pretty, and we were traveling w/3 other people, and were able to share their binoculars.
The pain about rushing thru a safari here is there is long driving distance b/w each of the parks we went to. So we spent half of each day on a game drive and the other half commuting. It’s a really long time to spend in a car, esp. w/the gear of 5 people and a driver and a cook, even w/half the stuff tethered to the roof. So we spent the equivalent of a day in the Serengeti, and truthfully it was the low point of the trip. We did an afternoon drive there and saw among other animals, some lions and a leopard, the latter at great distance away. The plains are dry and brown and endless, and the campsite there was mediocre. The night there it rained heavily, but we were snug in our tent and it sounded pretty cool. We did a sunrise drive in the Serengeti and that was unreal. The sky was so beautiful, and it was still nice and cool out. We got out at and watched hippos splash around in a pool. There were tons and they were playing, and one even got out and sort of trotted to another part of the pool. Fat but quick. They smell. But neat anyway. We also saw some gazelles in the early stages of the courting/mating process. Hilarious, as the male gazelle’s cry is like the most gutteral nasty belch you have ever heard and it lasts for about a minute. Charming. As we left the park we saw herds of wildebeests and zebras as part of the Great Migration that occurs this time of year. Animals everywhere in search of water. 🙂
We left the Serengeti in the afternoon and went to Ngorongoro Crater, which was the highlight of the trip and a MUST SEE if you ever venture this way. Lush and green beyond compare, hills and valleys for miles and miles and cool, crisp air. I can’t get over the colors and how endless they were. Well kept campsite on the crater rim, perfect for sunrises and sets, and elephants wandering thru, including drinking out of our water tank! I have never in my life seen a sky like I did that night, who knew there were so many stars. This we miss out on in NYC. Another sunrise drive and this time we saw more lions, including cubs, just sleeping in the road. A lioness got up at one point and sort of stared at our car before deciding we were not yummy snacks and she wandered off. Then we saw a cheetah, also sort of wandered towards us before ambling away. We saw rhinos and ostrich and hyena and buffalo and more wildebeest and zebra. These latter and the giraffe are the most common, and I really like giraffes. They’re so chill and just kind of stare at you munching on leaves as you roll by. It’s also so neat seeing the animals at play or engaging in social behavior. You don’t really get what they’re up to but it’s fascinating to watch. I think our guide was making up a lot of his explanations as to what they were doing.
So the drawback to the trip was the lack of organization involved. We were 4 independent groups of tourists lumped together w/a freelance driver and freelance cook, so there was no real captain and no agreed upon itinerary. Our driver was not really the work-hard, take-charge type, and though he was nice and showed us lots of animals, incl the Big 5 (lion, cheetah, buffalo, rhino, and elephant), he would wander off at night w/the car to meet “black lady friends” (he said this to Nabila and me) w/some of our supplies in the car. Also, the other clients had been sold different expectations so they were let down by the trip and it’s no fun to travel w/cranky strangers. So if you consider doing this:
a) Definitely book w/a reputable company and not an independent agent or middle man. There’s a good US-based company called Safari Makers that people really like.
b) Consider organizing your own group of ~4 people to go. You don’t want to travel w/much more than this for comfort reasons, and you don’t want less otherwise it gets more expensive or you have to travel w/strangers.
c) Don’t go for less than 7-10 days. Yeah, you could do 5 but probably you’re traveling pretty far to do this so I would say 7 is the shortest you should consider. We definitely felt a bit rushed and had a lot of distance to cover in a really short period of time.
d) Consider waiting until you can go a bit more upmarket. If you don’t mind the camping/backpacking lifestyle, then fine. But that’s what we did and it is minimum $100/day. For $150/day you graduate to lodges and quality control is not a concept well-known in Tanzania yet so the campsites definitely varied. (especially the toilets!) It’s an expensive trip regardless but well worth it if you’re into this kind of thing.
e) Think about the time of year to go. We went during the migration so we were fortunate cuz there are animals everywhere at this time.
I think that’s enough to get you started. It’s was a fabulous experience and someday I will get my pics online so you can all see!
Ok, time to feel sorry for me. I start work on monday! Ha, I bet you’re all chuckling at my expense. Wish me luck! But tomorrow we’re off to Zanzibar for the weekend. Can’t wait!