Our trip to Tanzania was magical. Looking back over the literature sent to us by Africa Dream Safaris (very little of which I read in advance of the trip) I stumbled upon this quote by, Lisa, a visitor from Vancouver, Canada. She said, “The beauty of the unspoiled wilderness and the kindness of the Tanzanian people beckon me to return again and again.” Well, at my age (71) I’m not likely to return to Tanzania, but that beautiful land teeming with wildlife left an indelible mark on my mind and heart.
What did I love most about our African Dream Safari? Wow! It’s impossible to choose one thing. The wildlife was spectacular, of course. Seeing those magnificent animals in their natural habitat was extremely exciting. Francis, our Africa Dream Safari guide was so good at finding the “ah’ nee mals” as he called them. And then, there were the gorgeous birds, both large and small, the fields of blue, yellow and white wildflowers, the dramatic Acacia trees, and of course the friendly Tanzanian people. I loved it all.
It was good to have two nights and one day to unwind and relax before beginning our Safari on Saturday, May 12th, the day after my 71st birthday. The six of us boarded a small plane that left Arusha Airstrip around 8:30 am and arrived in Western Serengeti an hour later. There we met our guide Francis, who as Africa Dream Safari predicted, would soon become our friend.
Before our trip, I knew almost nothing about the Serengeti, except that it was in Africa. I now know that this ecosystem is a geographical region in Africa located in north Tanzania, extending to south-western Kenya, and spanning approximately 12,000 miles. I have since learned that Serengeti means “endless plains” in the Maasai language.
I learned too, that the Serengeti hosts the largest and longest overland migration in the world and is home to approximately 70 large mammal and 500 bird species. The high diversity of species is a consequence of diverse habitats which include riverine forests, grasslands, woodlands, kopjes (small rocky hills) and swamps. Nearly half of the Serengeti is now part of The Serengeti National Park.
Unbelievably, the third animal we saw on our first day (Saturday) was a lion sleeping on the side of the dirt road on which we were driving. The sleeping lion was just a few yards beyond a dead African buffalo which was also lying on the side of the dirt road. Francis explained to us that the lion had almost certainly killed the buffalo the previous night, which is when they hunt, and had taken a nap after feasting on his kill. We waited until the lion awoke, then we watched as he sauntered down the road past his kill and back into the grasslands. Needless to say we were all in awe of this spectacle.
We soon came upon what would be a scene that would be repeated again and again . . . a family of baboons. This group was perched on a dead tree beside a beautiful stream surrounded by grassland. Soon we encountered our first sighting of elephants, including very young ones. It’s sometimes difficult to get a picture of the babies since the parents are quite protective and somehow seem to communicate to their young to say behind or beside them and out of sight of other creatures.
We saw our first live African buffalo as well and many zebras and impalas which we never tired of seeing. The zebras were often in pairs or even three or four together resting their necks on each other’s backs. Francis explained that by doing this they can spot predators more easily. The impalas are spectacular, particularly the males with their gracefully curved antlers and beautiful markings on their hind quarters. Impalas and zebras are often seen grazing together with a backdrop of the beautiful acacia trees.
Towards the end of the day we happened upon a group of probably a dozen giraffes at a water hole. Twiga, as the giraffe is known in Swahili, is the national emblem of Tanzania, and probably the most interesting of all the wildlife. Finally, before we reached our lodging we saw zebras and more impalas. We all agreed that this first day’s “sightings” would be a hard act to follow.
We arrived at the lovely Serengeti Soroi Lodge around 5:30 pm and enjoyed fruit punch while we were briefed by the lodge keepers. The waiters at this lodge were among the friendliest, though everyone everywhere was incredibly hospitable. We all loved the outdoor shower which was situated in such a way that no one could see you as you showered and looked out onto the mountain above and valley below.
On our second day I became enamored with Tanzania’s birds. I had taken pictures of two birds on our first day, but on this day I saw may more birds, and with the help of Francis’ Audubon Field Guide, I was able to identify them.
I was also taken with the beautiful acacia trees, which to me were almost as fascinating as the wildlife. Our well informed guide explained to us that the outer branches of the thorny Acacia’s protect the leaves from being eaten by wildlife, especially giraffes and the Whistling Acacia tree produces thorns that surround a hollow pod that is home to stinging ants. The tree’s sweet nectar attracts the ants and the ants protect the tree from being grazed upon. I must have taken 50 photos of trees.
We enjoyed a drink on the porch at the lodge and a very nice dinner, then on to bed to grab some sleep before our 6 am departure the next morning. The next day we saw many zebras, baboons, our first crocodile, hippos and our first wildebeest.
One of the highlights (there were so many) was the great migration, a sight that I will never forget. Thousands of wildebeests (possibly tens of thousands) and many hundreds of zebras were moving slowly across the grasslands. Another highlight was watching buzzards and hyennas devour the remains of a carcass that was more than likely left behind by a big cat.
Yet another highlight was observing a group of Cheetahs on the kopjes as well as a pride of lions on yet another kopje. Having been told by Francis that leopard sighting are rather rare, we were very excited to see one in a tree. Soon after the leopard sighting we had lunch with some giraffes. Well, we didn’t exactly have lunch with them. They moved on (but not too far away) and we sat on rocks enjoying our box lunches. We had several sightings of lionesses sleeping in a tree, and other sightings of lionesses lounging on kopjes, up close and personal. At one of the hippo pools we saw hippos kissing, hippos fighting and hippos mating.
Our visit to a Maasai village was unforgettable. After watching the Maasai men dance and jump and then dancing with the Maasai women, we were invited inside the huts which are constructed with bent branches, grasses and covered with dung. These nomadic herders live a very primitive life. The Children sang for us.
On our way to the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge (it was wonderful) we got our first glance of the Ngorogoro Crater, and our first Rhinos – one male and two females.
Everything about our trip . . . the amazing sightings of the gorgeous and not-so-gorgeous wildlife . . . the dramatic Acacia trees dotting the Serengeti landscape, the breathtaking vistas . . our fantastic, enthusiastic, well-informed guide . . . our fun-loving, easy-going travel companions . . . perfect weather conditions . . . would be nearly impossible to replicate.
Jay and I are not likely to take another Safari but will relive our Safari experience in Tanzania through our pictures and reminiscing with the Perrine’s and the Lutz’s. It was an unforgettable journey, one ne we will encourage others to take.
Jay and Patricia Franklin
Fernandina Beach, Florida