The dense and heavy fog that filled Ngorongoro was just starting to abate as we reached the crater floor. Having spent the night sleeping on the rim of the dormant volcano, we woke invigorated by the splendour of our natural surroundings. We begged our guides to make sure we were the first truck inside the crater, and we got what we asked for.
Just as I was clawing the remnants of sleep from the corners of my eyes, we spotted a pride of lions sprawled in tall grass. As we approached, they barely flinched. The stains of blood smeared across their faces left them nearly comatose, burdened with the meat of a fresh kill. Behind them, we spotted a destroyed zebra carcass, picked clean. Hard to argue with the efficiency of nature.
When the sun finally set on our first day on safari, I knew I had made the right decision. To me, going on safari seemed like one of those things only rich old white people did, not young stinky adventurers. But in this case, I think I was duped by the khaki fashion designers and I was happy to be wrong.
After sourcing a budget version, which switched lodge accommodations for camping (exactly what I wanted), it became feasible. After researching the sights on our itinerary, it became impossible to stop dreaming about.
The glowing orange sun was disappearing when our guide announced it was time to head back to camp. We arrived at tent city, stuffed our faces with delicious fresh food and curled up into our sleeping bags. As I drifted off into an exhausted sleep, I was lost to the wailings of hyenas, the snorts of water buffalo, and the trumpeting of elephants. Perfect.
It was nearing the end of the day when we climbed back into the Landcruiser. We had been driving for hours through the open plains of the Serengeti National Park. We had seen cheetahs sprinting and playing in tall grass, giraffes picking the choicest leaves off the tallest trees, and elephants bathing in fresh springs.
I got in the truck and climbed onto my seat to poke my head out through the open roof. As our driver threw the engine into life, we shot off down the baked dirt road. There I was. In the middle of the Serengeti, surrounded by some of the most exotic animals here on Earth. The wind rushed through my hair and dust burrowed into the crevices of my skin. I looked around in every direction as golden light fell, cascaded across the tall water starved grass.
In my mind, I zoomed out on where I was. I floated high up into the sky, looking down at myself as I became a speck upon a great continent. We all became specks. Specks, all connected through the same flowing energy of our home planet.
I came to, just as a truck further ahead shot dust into the still air, leaving it to hang suspended in the setting sun. Best day ever.
I arrived on the scene moments after a hungry lioness had tackled a zebra down into a gully. The death of the zebra was swift, with a deadly blow to the jugular by the hungry hunter.
The lioness dug her teeth into the flank of her meal and began to drag it up to dry land. The zebra slipped from her jaws and splashed back into the water. After a few more attempts to bring breakfast to the table, she gave up and deigned to dine, standing belly deep in bloody water. A lioness lives another day.
While on safari in Tanzania, it took about 5 seconds after seeing three vultures in a tree to start the following conversation in my head.
Buzzie: [to Flaps] Okay, so what we gonna do?
Flaps: I don’t know, what you wanna do?
Buzzie: Look, Flaps, first I say, “What we gonna do?” Then you say, “I don’t know, what you wanna do?” Then I say, “What we gonna do?” You say, “What you wanna do?” “What we gonna do?” “What you want…” Let’s do SOMETHING!
Flaps: Okay. What you wanna do?
Buzzie: Oh, blimey! There you go again. The same notes again!
Ziggy: I’ve got it! This time, I’ve really got it!
Buzzie: Now you’ve got it. So what we gonna do?
I woke up before the sun. The crisp morning air was amplified by the altitude of camping on the ridge of a dormant volcano. I was on the last day of a week long safari through the pristine national parks of Tanzania. The last stop was Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive caldera. It is considered to be one of Africa’s greatest natural wonders and according to fossil evidence has been inhabited by various hominid species for over 3 million years.
We tore down our campsite as fast as we could and piled into the Toyota Landcruiser that had been our home for the last week. We were the first group to get to the entrance of the crater and hoped to catch the animals while they were still active.
The crater was filled with low hanging clouds as we descended the winding roads to the crater floor. As we pulled on to the pathways that crisscross the crater, we immediately came upon a pride of lions. We slowed the truck and approached at a crawl. As we got closer, the faces of the lionesses came into focus. Splashed across their powerful faces were the red remnants of the nights feast. We stopped our truck and peered out the windows at the carnivorous creatures as they licked their lips. With full bellies fuelling their indolence, they were in no hurry to move on. So, with time on our side we soaked in the majesty of these powerful predators and contemplated the flourishing life, and death, inside a volcanic crater.
While on safari in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, I was truly excited to see a hippo. I’d grown up under the belief that they were just big hungry hungry goofballs. I don’t know if it was the cartoons or the board games.
The first hippos I saw were running through tall grass in the early morning light and they sure could they move. So far, so good.
Then it all changed, when later in the day we were brought to the hippo pool. This was one of the few places we were allowed to get out of the truck. As soon as I stepped outside I could smell it. A pungent manure-like scent and it was coming from where I was headed. I walked closer, trying to breath through my mouth, and came to a lookout where down below this is what I saw. Hundreds of farting, belching, poop covered hippos.
Driving the red dusty road into Lake Manyara park in northern Tanzania leads you to some spectacular sights. Having to wait in your truck as a family of baboons slowly amble by is just one of them. Sure beats your everyday commute.
The sun was high in the sky as we wound our way through the labyrinthine roads of the Serengeti. We came upon a pride of lions relaxing in the shade of some small acacia trees. As we watched, hoping for action, a young male sprung to his feet. He flew through the air with laser like precision and within seconds he had covered the distance to us. He whipped around the back of our truck and directly at a nearby unsuspecting gazelle. The gazelle, looked back once, and then nonchalantly bounded through the air to safety.
When I had finished photographing the whole scenario, I turned around to celebrate our experience with my fellow explorers only to find them cowering in the back seat.
“Wow! That lion totally just used us as a decoy! Wait… what are you doing down there? Did you get any photos?” I asked hopefully.
“Are you crazy!?!?! I thought he was coming for me!!”
We had just finished our second full day on safari, following the maze of roads through Lake Manyara and Tarangira National Park in northern Tanzania. As we left Lake Manyara, our truck began to splutter and lose power. Luckily, we were able to make it back to our campsite but our buzz was severely shaken, not knowing how long it would take to get fixed.
When we awoke the next morning, our guides were off trying to find a mechanic and a part in the small market town of Mto wa Mbu. We enjoyed a fresh breakfast of papaya, banana and pineapple and then embarked on a walking tour of the small town. Our guide was a man named Joseph. He was organizing cultural tours around his village and was excited to show us around.
Nearing the end of our tour, we stopped in to see a family. This family was part of the Makonde tribe. The Makonde tribe is one of the few left in Tanzania that works with real ebony wood, or so my guide book told me. This family had small statues, masks and salad spoons carved by hand lined up on the ground.
Now, being a somewhat savvy traveller, I had heard that the recent scam was to smear black shoe polish onto wood and pass it off as ebony. I voiced my concerns. They said they had also heard this and would be happy to assuage my fears. The young girl Winfrieda, who was studying tourism at a college in Dar Es Salaam, picked up an ebony statue and brought it over to me. Running a knife along the base, she dug into the wood. Inside the slit she had cut, the wood was still a dark colour. I was convinced. I negotiated a price and put the hand carved treasure deep inside my bag. When all was said and done, we got a call from our guide. The truck had been replaced, a new one driven out from Arusha. So, off we went on our trek to the Serengeti, with ebony salad spoons buried in my bag.