Africa Dream Safaris introduced us to the beauty and wonders of Tanzania last year and the memories of the ten incredible days spent on safari beckoned us to return. Could Africa Dream Safaris deliver another rewarding safari vacation to a repeat client when the first safari far exceeded our expectations and set the bar so high? To say, they did and then some would be an understatement. Our safari unfolded as one of the most truly amazing and rewarding experiences we have ever had on vacation.
So the journey began with a warning issued by an Australian gentleman I met on my first day in Arusha at Arumeru River Lodge - “Once you get Africa in your blood, it doesn’t leave you. It becomes a part of you and it calls to you to return home.”
Last year we discovered the marvels of private luxury camping. To genuinely experience Africa, it is necessary to leave the other tourists and vehicles behind and immerse yourself in the African landscape and the kaleidoscope of wildlife that continually moves across it. So this year we opted to spend most of our time camping in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Our first stop was Naabi Hill. Several weeks before our arrival, the skies over the Serengeti had dramatically clouded over and generously poured life-giving rains across the vast plains and so that when we arrived, the immense landscape was incredibly fresh, lush and green and the plains were carpeted with wildflowers of many hues setting a beautiful backdrop for our safari. Our campsite was based on the foot of Naabi Hill with unobstructed views of the southern plains dotted with herds of wildebeest and zebras. Without even leaving our tent we could easily observe not only the migrant grazers but also giraffe and elephants lazily browsing on the plentiful acacia trees surrounding the Hill. Naabi campsite is well positioned for unparalleled game viewing during the green season - the great wildebeest migration was spread out from the base of the Hill and the predators that follow them were close at hand.
Daily we would be the first vehicle out on the plains to observe and photograph the lions, cheetahs and hyenas harrying the tens of thousands of ungulates in the continuous circle of life. Here we witnessed the intricate interactions between predator, prey and scavenger play out just yards from our vehicle. After a day of game driving, we would return to camp to catch a glorious sunset on the western horizon and each evening as we sat down to a delightful dinner, the plaintive “whooohup” calls would commence as hyenas called to family members in the gathering darkness. As we settled down to sleep, the Naabi pride would begin their nightly rounds and their territorial roars could clearly be heard through our thin tent walls. This is authentically Africa.
Next we moved on to Nasera Rock campsite in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Nasera Rock stands at the entrance to the ancient Gol Mountains and the Angata Kiti plains. No words can do justice to describe the breathtaking beauty of this remote area. A photograph is a poor facsimile that fails to capture the grandeur of this location and it was here that we spent five glorious days completely isolated from the outside world. It was here that we met a most unusual Maasai who made one of my greatest dreams come true. It was here that we built friendships that I hope will endure for years to come. It was here that what began last year as Africa slowly seeping into my blood became fully entrenched as a part of me.
I have always been intrigued by the rarest of the African carnivores, the elusive African wild dogs. Their loyalty, cooperation and compassion that they demonstrate not only to their young but fellow pack members are traits rarely seen among other animals. Although I had heard that the wild dogs were making a comeback in the Loliondo/Ngorongoro Conservation Area, they are seldom seen and I had refused to get my hopes up of even getting a glimpse as we headed up to the NCA.
It was at Nasera that Manang’oi, a tall, talkative and most unique Maasai, entered into our lives. Apparently he just showed up out of the hills one day as Africa Dream Safari’s camp crew was setting up prior to our arrival and claimed to know where the wild dogs could be found so immediately upon our arrival, we hired Manang’oi to be our local guide for the duration of our stay there. I was still quite skeptical and doubted that the wild dogs could be located as they are known to have home ranges of up to 1,000 square miles and can travel upwards of 30 miles in a day. The following is an excerpt from my email to Michael Wishner regarding my first extraordinary sighting of the wild dogs…
“So around 4:30 that day, we climbed into the Landcruiser with the Maasai guide, Manang'oi, and drove eastward between the Gol Mountains and up a nearby hill. As we crested the hill, Manang'oi excitedly points and says "wild dog". Of course, we were beside ourselves with excitement and scrambled for our binoculars but once in focus, we realized that they were two cheetahs lying in the grass. What a disappointment!! It's funny because normally we would have been excited to see two cheetahs, but at that moment – I was thinking to myself, “I hope these aren't the wild dogs he saw this morning”. So we continued over the hill and we came to a spot near a ravine or a small gorge formed by erosion where Manang'oi kept pointing. Pokea [our ADS guide] and I scanned up and down the gorge with our binoculars looking for the wild dogs but we couldn't find anything. Then Manang'oi tells us that is where the den is located and the dogs are not there so we need to wait. So we wait and wait scanning the horizon and after about an hour, I decide to sit down and give up. In the meantime, another Maasai appeared out of nowhere and was chatting it up with Manang'oi. I was worried that we should head back to camp because the sun was starting to set when suddenly Manang'oi excitedly starts pointing to the hill behind us. I look, but I don't see anything… then I hear the barks – I can hardly believe it. Though my binoculars I could see tiny dots running down the hill!! The dots materialized into four wild dogs as they came closer and after they spotted us came a little more cautiously. As we watched the four dogs approaching, another dog suddenly appeared out of a den close to our vehicle and ran up the hill to greet the returning pack. There was much commotion and greeting amongst the dogs. We all noticed that the dog that appeared out of the den had a swollen abdomen so likely she was pregnant or had pups. I couldn't believe my eyes - that I was actually seeing the wild dogs, something very few people have had the privilege to see. The pack consisted of three females and two males. The sun was quickly setting at that point, but the pack seemed to be heading towards a group of wildebeest that were grazing about a 1⁄2 mile away on the other side of the gorge so despite it starting to get dark, we decided to follow. Pokea expertly navigated the gorge with Manang'oi's help and we watched the chase but we ended up losing them in the dark. What an incredible day!!
For the next four days, each day and sometimes twice a day, we headed to the little hill and without fail the wild dogs were there – eating, playing, resting and one morning we witnessed another failed hunt. What luck that they were located so close to camp and easily observable...”
The wild dogs sighting was the highlight of our trip this year and probably one of the most exciting and unforgettable moments in my life. Having said that the friendships that we made during this trip with our guide, Pokea, Africa Dream Safari’s camp crew, Rama, Evans, Danny, Lyimo, Masudi and Paulo, and the Maasai guide, Manang’oi, we hold dear to our hearts. Manang’oi generously invited all of us to his village to see his boma and meet his family members. He had also asked us to attend a Maasai wedding but unfortunately we did not have enough time. This year’s trip was not only about appreciating Tanzania’s wildlife but also sharing our lives with its people. We were sincerely touched by the warmth and kindness shown to us by everyone.
Early on the last morning at Nasera before any of the camp crew had stirred, I climbed high upon a hill behind our campsite to watch the sun rise slowly over the horizon and spread its rays across Angata Kiti and Nasera Rock. As I sat quietly taking in the beauty of another splendid African morning and reliving the past twelve days, I wished I could bring time to a standstill so that I would never have to say good bye and bring our vacation to an end. But alas, the sun continued to rise and the camp crew soon clambered out of their tent and began to stoke the campfire and start preparations for our breakfast. I reluctantly headed back down the hill to face a day that would lead us on our long road home.
Everyone at Africa Dream Safaris did a phenomenal job in making our second trip to Tanzania even more memorable than our first. It has been difficult to put into words even a fraction of what we experienced on this trip or begin to convey the scope of emotions that coursed through us during our fleeting time in Tanzania. Asante sana, Africa Dream Safaris, for another beautiful and unforgettable holiday.
Already I feel the warning heeded to me in Arusha resonate…”…it calls to you to return home”.
Gene and Lisa Y.