The images that swirl to mind when one hears the word "Tanzania"... Lions, Elephants, vast savannahs….and maybe even a Tarzan tree house with wild animals walking beneath. At least that's what went through my mind as a 7-year old boy when my mother informed me that we were moving to Tanzania from Australia for my stepfather’s work. That was the start of four glorious years as a child in Africa (and quite a few months of summer vacations when I was older). No matter how difficult it was back then with the food shortages, robberies, dirt roads –and having to order everything from chocolate to underwear to a car via a thick duty free catalogue provided to all UN employees and their dependents – it was a wonderful life for a kid.
One of my highlights was, as expected, the safaris. And these were always incredible, with Tanzania having some of the largest and best game parks in the world. These trips were such a fond memory of my childhood that, when a couple of friends suggested we take a trip to Tanzania and go on safari a few months ago, I jumped at the chance. I always wanted to go back, but was also a little scared that things would be so different now after all these years. Maybe there wouldn’t be nearly as much wildlife. Or maybe it wouldn’t give me the same thrill as it did when I was a kid.
I figured there was only one way to find out, so we jumped online, booked some surprisingly low fares to Kilimanjaro via Doha, and then I got down to the nitty gritty of planning our trip. Joining me on this little escapade were my buddy and hosting partner Rovilson, and our good friend April.
I did some canvassing, and after much negotiating and deliberation, settled on a triple share, 4 day/5 night safari package with Abercrombie & Kent Tanzania. The package included Lake Manyara the World famous Ngorogoro Crater and the Serengeti game reserves at $1229 per person. Now that might sound a little pricey, but with a lot of other operators charging over $1,000 per day, I considered it fair and a good deal. It included full board, a private safari vehicle, all park fees (which are quite expensive) and our very own English-speaking driver/guide named Andrew. The accommodations were promised to be clean and “budget”. But then we figured we just needed somewhere to lay our heads at the end of each day, and we were prepared to rough it a bit to save some money as this was a bit of an impulse trip.
After being picked up by Andrew we were taken to our first hotel and were very pleasantly surprised! It was gorgeous, with a large garden, bar, outdoor bonfire, comfortable cabin and a view of the mountains in the distance. The food was excellent too. This was to be only the first of many very comfortable accommodations on this trip. So much for roughing it!
Our first day on safari was Lake Manyara National Park, a smaller park near the escarpment that leads up to the ridge of the great Rift Valley. This was a good warm up safari, with impalas, baboons, hippos, warthogs, giraffes and even a couple of lions. It was also a good training ground for us to learn how best to photograph animals, such as the realistic focal distances for our cameras and phones (I chose to use my iPhone 6 attached with a small Sony QX-10 telephoto lens as my only camera for the trip).
After a great night in a very comfortable tented camp overlooking the valley, we made our way to the famous Ngorogoro Crater Conservation Area. This giant volcanic crater has one of the highest concentration of lions around, as the crater generates its own weather system that keeps food plentiful for the big cats and their prey throughout the year. As a nature "conservation area" rather than a “national "park", Ngorogoro also protects the native Maasai tribes that live within the area as they have done for hundreds of years.
A side trip to a Maasai Boma (village) is always enjoyable and welcomed; it gives these pastoralists a chance to make a little extra money from handicrafts, as well as teach tourists about their traditional lifestyle and help fund the small village school. One of the highlights of my trip was trying to teach the Maasai kids how to count in my limited childhood Swahili, the local vernacular in Tanzania.
We were only passing through Ngorogoro that day. After a bird used my shoulder as a toilet (which I attributed to being a lucky sign) and a bumpy and dusty drive along the crater ridge, we reached our real destination: the most famous game park in the world... The Serengeti.
When you see those nature documentaries about the “great migration”, or a feature on the Big 5, or basically anything to do with the African wilderness, you can bet that most of the footage was shot in the Serengeti. It's really that impressive. So much so that, as soon as we passed through the gate (which is a lone arch on the road because there are no fences), we started to see masses of wildebeests. We were seeing the start of the great migration, which over the coming months would see a continuous line of these creatures stretch from one horizon to the other as they made their way through the Rift Valley… and this was just the start of the afternoon.
Want to see Lions? Done. Want to see elephants? Done. Want to see them from just a few meters away? Done. Want to see a leopard in a tree? Done. Want a herd of elephants to walk under the leopard in the tree so you can take a photo of both at once? Done! No cages, no fences. Just animals in their natural environment the way they are meant to be. It was beyond our wildest dreams, and I felt I'd gotten the better end of the bird poop deal, while also fearing that the safari gods would make me pay for this extra good fortune later. I started to look up in the sky a lot and avoided open spaces, just to be sure.
Join me next week, to see how my safari story concludes. Also, treating you guys to some video hacks from my trip.
(Special thanks to ROX for my backpack, Powermac Center for my iPhone 6
and Lifeproof for its indestructible and poop-proof phone case.)
For more information:
Abercrombie & Kent
+1 888 611 4711