Safari - the word alone conjures up all kinds of images and emotions for most of us. From Disney's Lion King to Meryl Streep telling us about her farm in Africa and everything in between, you are certain to have some connection to the word SAFARI. My connection came at a young age when my grandparents went on safari and came home with amazing stories and photos of wild animals and wonderful people. Ever since then I've wanted to go and from my discussions with other people, I'm not alone - as a Safari is on most people's list of dream vacations. And like many my dream trip just sat on the list as I was too busy checking off other things on the list. What was I waiting for? It turns out I was simply waiting for the right invitation. It came from two fantastic friends in Sydney who would be traveling in Europe over the summer and swinging through the Serengeti on the way home. Why not meet them there? Absolutely!
Given the distance from NY it was imperative to be fully rested up before starting the safari and what better way to rest up than on the lovely beaches of Zanzibar. A few days of spa, snorkeling, and stunning sunsets and I was ready. Next up, a bit of time at the charming Giraffe Manor in Nairobi to have some up close and personal time with the endangered Rothschild giraffes. From the moment I arrived my heart was enchanted by these graceful animals that were walking around like the supermodels of the animal kingdom. Although it was the three month old giraffe named Jock who seemed to capture everyone's heart. While at dinner with the new friends at the Manor I was hearing stories of the safaris that many had just completed and the long list of fantastic animals they had seen. While on the plane I started to wonder...would I really see all these animals? The Serengeti is a large area, will my game driver be able to help me see these animals? Would I have great stories like my new friends? Then as the plane began to descend it started...a few wildebeest followed by the odd zebra or two and what was that animal over there jumping off so quickly?
As we exited from the plane onto the gravel runway our driver Simon was there waiting with his warm Tanzania smile, some snacks, and a glass of wine to celebrate the beginning of our time together. As we began to make our way to the camp, Simon said don't worry you will see many animals, be patient. And he was right - and the line "Simon says be patient" was born.
As soon as we left the landing strip a few of the animals began to appear as if to welcome us to their wonderful world and my fear of not seeing things began to fade away. Twenty minutes into the drive we pulled over to see the large group of vultures finishing off a meal. That was when Simon's helper Bohke all but whispered something and we drove over to the other side of the road to find a young lion who had just killed a wildebeest. She lay there panting from her exhausting efforts. She kept one eye on us and one on the jackal that was interested in taking advantage of her efforts. And that's when it hit me...I was about to have the most amazing journey.
The above slide show provides a brief glimpse into this journey. To try and tell you every detail would be exhausting for both of us. But there are three experiences that I feel will give you an insight into this amazing journey. The first experience was really our first full day. It was a day full of animals including lions, elephants, zebras, and hippos all with young kids. By lunchtime it was clear we were having a very successful day so we stopped under a lone Acacia tree on the hill with a beautiful view of migrating wildebeests to the left and a small group of elephants dining just to the right. While sitting at the lunch table under that tree sipping perfectly chilled wine as the cool breeze washed over us it became evident how breathtakingly beautiful the Serengeti really is. Even now when I close my eyes I can hear the sound of the tall grass swaying in the breeze as little butterflies that danced all around us come into focus. As we headed back to camp that afternoon content with the long list of animals we had been fortunate to see, the elusive black rhino decided to come to congratulate us on our first day.
The second experience that really stands out in my mind is the day of the sunrise and sunset. The day started early with a beautiful private sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Mara River. It was a beautiful sunrise and seeing hippos frolic in the river while zebras and impalas running nearby, we were given a beautiful aerial view of the majestic Serengeti. After the balloon ride we had a beautiful champagne breakfast with sounds of the rushing Mara River nearby. That afternoon there was another fantastic game drive where we sat patiently waiting and watching the wildebeest by the river. Would they cross, would they all make it over? Suddenly it started and they were racing to cross the river with crocodiles sunbathing on rocks just trying to decide if they were hungry enough to attack. That's when we heard it - loud and pleading. A young wildebeest was calling for its mother as it was struggling against the strong current. The others had all made it across except the struggling baby and its mother. The mother was trying desperately to encourage it while keeping an eye on the crocodiles and the exit. It looked like she was about to give up on her child who was now exhausted from its battle with the current. Then the current began to win and push the baby back and fortunately just past the rock which gave it the chance to lunge forward and catch up with the mother. Once they made it safely to the other side they had a brief moment of tender reconnection before they had to move on to stay with the group. That evening we replayed the amazing events of the day on top of a massive rock sitting gracefully covered in lanterns and beautifully set up for sunset cocktails to watch the majestic sun set on the Serengeti.
The last experience was definitely the most exhilarating. By our 5th day the only major animals we had not seen were the swift cheetahs and we really wanted to see this super fast cat. We had been driving around for awhile when both Simon and Bohke had become very quiet and focused like intense animals stalking their prey. As we slowly drove towards yet another large group of wildebeests the air became quiet and suddenly the wildebeest started to scatter as fast as they could and that is when we saw them racing. One. Two. Three. Three young male cheetahs chasing a hare as fast as they could, dust flying, and suddenly two of the cheetahs had stopped. Their brother was the victor as he pranced off to enjoy his meal. As we watched him quickly devour his meal while trying to keep it away from his brother it was then that images of Disney started creeping into our minds with the songs of the circle of life gaining in volume all the way back to the camp.
With each sense being impacted it is hard to narrow it down to just a few memories. Of course I'd gladly share the rest of my stories with you. Just say when! But for now, these are a few of the experiences that I will remember forever. However, it makes me wonder what great experiences you will have on your amazing safari. I'm certain that a safari in Tanzania has just inched higher on your list of dream vacations!