One of the few things that appears to be on the ‘list’ for everyone I talk with is an African Safari. And, so it was for the 2012 OCSC Tanzania Safari we just recently completed. 16 OCSC friends and members struck out together to experience the wilds of Tanzania with our Partners, Blue Odyssey, Mango Safari and the Tanzanian outfitter, Nomad Safaris.
We traveled from Arusha, THE jumping off point for most Tanzanian Safaris, through Lake Manyara, an incredibly dense game park a short plane ride away. Then, to Serena Lodge on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater, one of the largest calderas in the world; thence to the Serengeti Plains and five days in the bush, finishing our trip in mysterious Zanzibar on a beach overlooking the Indian Ocean.
On our first day, in Lake Manyara Park, we started out with TONS of wildlife, from elephants and hippos to zebra and wildebeest and on to baboons and monkeys as well as hundreds of beautiful birds. One of the big surprises to me was how different and varied the bird life was – incredible shapes and colors that I’d never seen before. With such a great start, we were off to Serena Lodge, a great eco-resort, which sits right on the very edge of this huge crater rim, Ngorongoro. AND, the Serena Lodge Bar has a huge 20 foot by 20 foot picture window looking out over the base of the crater. There we enjoyed the setting sun’s rays playing on the opposite edge of the volcano while sipping wonderful cocktails and marveling at our good fortune.
On the next day, during a game drive to the base of the crater, we saw our first lions, relaxing in the early morning sun, as well as one of the few resident rhinos hiding from the midday sun under an acacia tree. These experiences would be emblematic of our guides’ abilities to find interesting game and educate us deeply about habits, history, threats and futures of the animals. Did you know, for instance, that the lion population in Africa has been reduced by 90% in the last 50 years? Loss of habitat and poaching have taken their tolls.
We had one more night at Serena and then off to the bush where we would be ‘roughing’ it a bit more. When I say ‘roughing’ it, I mean luxury tents with running water, showers and en-suite toilets, and wonderful meals and drinks in the common areas. From these outposts we were able to see tremendous amounts of game, including more prides of lions, cheetah and even a leopard. Beautiful and graceful gazelles, mostly Thompson and Grant’s. Some antelope and herd upon herd of zebra. We also saw a herd of at least 60 giraffes from elders to babies just a week or two old. In fact, as it was just after the calving season, there were many babies of all species. Since Cecilia and I are guardians of some domestic cats, we were particularly drawn to the cheetah and lion cubs. Unbelievably cute. (for cold blooded killers!)
At the end of our time in the bush, several of us elected to visit a Maasai boma (family village) populated with over 30 extended family members in mud and dung huts with a fence of prickly acacia branches to keep predators away from the goats and cattle at night. For some reason I expected the people to be reserved, perhaps even suspicious of us. But, I was way off. They were friendly, chatty (with the guides translating) and gave us tours of the boma and huts. They did have trinkets for sale and we had a blast ‘negotiating’ with them for beaded bracelets and necklaces. Then it was off to a local Tanzanian school. This was a highlight of the trip for me. Our travelers had donated $1600 to this school from the US and it was touching to see just where they planned to spend the money to improve conditions. (classroom desks and chairs) While it was interesting to get a tour of the school facilities, it was inspiring to spend time with the kids at the school. There was no class this day (Sunday) but many of the students have to board at the school because their homes are too far away. So, we had 200 kids clamoring to visit with us, to shake our hands and look at digital photos we took of them. We practiced a bit of Swahili and they practiced their English. Such a fun day.
At the end of our safari, we set up three days in a seaside resort on the Indian Ocean on the Island of Zanzibar. Each cottage had a patio with hammock overlooking the ocean and the resort had its pool and its dining area on the ocean as well. Very tranquil, nautical setting. During daylight hours, (and higher tide) over a hundred small wooden craft, from sailing dhows to outriggers propelled by long poles went back and forth in front of the resort, adding to the exotic nature of the place. After the dust and dirt of the high plain, this was a great finish to our trip.
While there were too many to list here, I will add that one of the big highlights for me was traveling with such an interesting and vibrant group of travelers. We had incredible conversations at night as we processed our shared experiences together. Nothing like unique and beautiful sights to stimulate great conversation!
Like so many people I’ve talked to, I do believe I’ve left a bit of my heart in Africa. I hope to be back there someday.