Exploring Africa: A Tanzanian Camping Safari Adventure

Let’s take a walk around the campsite,” suggested our guide Rose. A couple of fellow travelers agreed, including my son Tyler. They had barely taken a half-dozen steps into the darkness before Rose’s flashlight caught two distinct sets of eyes less than 50 feet away. We had guests — a young male lion and his female companion.

Back to the Beginning

Our eight-day “Tanzanian Adventure” safari actually started a couple of days earlier when my son, Tyler, and I flew into Nairobi, Kenya one day early in order to acclimate ourselves. There we visited a few local sights such as the Nairobi National Museum and the Karen Blixen museum — Blixen’s story was portrayed in the 1985 film Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. 

Our accommodations were at the Hill Park Hotel, conveniently located in the Upper Hill area, only minutes from the city and airport. The evening before our safari departure, we met up with our tour guide, Rose, and four of our six fellow travelers. Rose collected our vital information and gave an overview of the upcoming week.  With a fairly long ride ahead of us in the morning, an early start was needed so we could arrive on time at a coffee plantation in Tanzania.

Heading to Tanzania

 

Following breakfast the next morning, we headed to our meeting point on the hotel’s gated grounds. Our two missing travelers had arrived and Tyler quickly bonded with them.

Leaving Nairobi in a spacious 12- passenger overland truck, the people and buildings became further apart.  We stopped for lunch at a rest area which offered a tremendous selection of souvenirs. We ventured through the Kenya border and completed an exit form. Our visas were stamped and we exchanged U.S. currency for Tanzanian dollars. Three hours later we arrived at the coffee plantation where we would spend the night. The community was called Tengeru and our home stay hosts were Mama Grace, along with Joshua and Noel.

After some shopping at a nearby market and a wonderful traditional dinner, we sat by campfire and heard about the Tengeru Cultural Program which gives tourists the opportunity to sample local Meru culture. Program options include visits to local farms owned and managed by members of the Patandi Women’s Group, a guided tour to the Chief’s compound to see his handicrafts and artifacts, ending with a hiking tour up Mt. Meru. Income from the tourist visits are used to educate AIDS orphans and to develop the Mavinuni Primary School.

After retiring for the night we were soon bid an early good morning by crowing roosters and mooing cows.  When we finished breakfast we were given a coffee roasting demonstration and enjoyed fresh cups of java.  We also learned about the bio-gas plant (thank you cows!) that supplied the energy that cooked our meal from the previous evening.  We arranged to return later in the week to purchase whole bean coffee.

Into the Wild

Passing through the city of Arusha, we drove through the Great Rift Valley to the village community of Mto Wa Mbu. It was a great campsite with a pool, bar and units to rent. On the street outside the gated campsite we shopped for Masai blankets and colorful drawings.

Before dinner that evening, we met up with our Tanzanian SUV drivers and set out on a short trip to Lake Manjara Reserve. Since the country’s regulations stipulate that Tanzanians must escort groups while in the country, we continued our adventure in a six-passenger SUV that would give us an even more intimate experience on safari.

Riding through the reserve, we were greeted by dozens of baboons; and at the lake, groups of zebras gathered along with scores of wildebeest. We were even surprised by a teenaged elephant on the road and spied a baby leopard hidden by its hunting mother under a nearby tree. It was a spectacular start to our safari!

Early on Monday we left for Ngorongoro Crater Rim. During our ride we observed Masai villages and very tall, slim young men dressed in traditional red patterned blankets watching their herds. We respected their beliefs and refrained from taking any photos.

As we left the rim and Olduvai Gorge (the area known as the “Cradle of Mankind” where some of the world’s oldest humanoid skeletons have been found), we moved deeper into Serengeti National Park and observed a leopard in a tree with a fresh impala kill. We continued to view hippos, zebras, elephants, giraffes and warthogs on our way to the campsite. Before dinner, we took a quick drive around, observing jackals, gazelles, gnus, impalas and water buffalo. That evening we had our unforgettable encounter with the lion and lioness.

Tuesday was all about game drives! The savanna was quiet on the morning drive, though we did spot water buffalos and giraffes. The late afternoon drive was thrilling as we found ourselves close to a family of nearly fifteen elephants standing by the side of the road. One baby elephant playfully kicked a stone around like he was practicing soccer. Eventually they moved on and crossed the road directly in front of our SUV. We kept so quiet we could actually hear them breath and softly grunt as they stepped over the small embankment by the road.  A couple of the young bulls stopped, swung their heads around and observed us before moving on. It was my favorite moment of the week.  Back at the campsite we dined outside beneath a spectacular setting and were slowly left in darkness to the sounds of birds, a nearby elephant and a couple of hyenas.

In Search of the Big Five-

When Wednesday dawned, it was time to move on after two amazing nights camping on the Serengeti plains. It was almost too much to take in seeing these animals where they belong. Upon leaving we saw more young and adult giraffes, hundreds of impalas along with a herd of zebras (including a few squabbling teenagers).

We headed out of Serengeti National Park and towards the Ngorongoro Crater Rim again. This time we set up camp at the crater’s rim. The campsite had security as elephants will sometimes mistakenly roam through. While putting out my sleeping bag, Tyler called and I ran outside to see a young bull elephant, being nudged away by the guards.  The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact caldera (a caldron-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption). This bowl-shaped area is the stalking ground of up to nearly 30,000 wild animals. Although animals are free to roam in and out of the crater, most remain inside year round.  We had been able to view lions at a distance on the Serengeti, but today we were able to easily observe a pride from the roadside.

We watched and were amused at a small pride consisting of a young lion and a few lionesses. It appeared the lion had a notion in his head as he went over to visit one lioness. Leaning down to nuzzle her, he was rewarded with a sharp snarling rebuttal. With that he skulked away and settled down again.

One of the sadder observances was that of a young starving hyena separated from his pack. We naively asked if anything could be done. Our driver, Herry, reminded us that this was a park and that all animals were to be left undisturbed. Nature would take its course. Before we could dwell further, Herry received information that a couple of black rhinos had been observed in the distance.

We rode off in the direction given and arrived to the sight of a dozen or more SUVs parked by the road with excited guests peering through their binoculars. In the distant, there they were...a mother black rhino and her older calf. We did it!  We had seen the Big Five!

Coined by hunters, the phrase refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot: lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and the rhinoceros. That evening we camped on the outskirts of Arusha and shared our thoughts on the past week.  We also reflected on how well Rose and her team thoroughly looked after our needs.

Repeating our drive back toNairobithe next day, we arrived to the city late in the afternoon. Following many hugs and the exchange of email addresses, we bid everyone good-bye.

The next morning Tyler and I boarded our Kenya Airlines flight to Amsterdam. Looking out the window at this amazing part of the world, I know it’s not yet time to check Africa off my “bucket list” as I have only experienced a small part of it.

I shall be back!


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