For nine days, we traversed the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania with their “vast expanses of highland plains, savannas, woodlands and forests” in a one and a half ton, 7 passenger Land Rover with the canvas top rolled back for maximum viewing. We stood and looked out over the top whenever we could, and I became one with my hat very early on. There were just two of us on our own private safari, and I’m glad it was just us – it would have made “nature breaks” all the more challenging. Foolishly, in about hour 6 of the first day, I asked if I could just get out and take a little walk to stretch my legs. Clearly, I’d already lost my mind; no, I couldn’t go out for a little walk – I was in one of the world’s largest playgrounds with some of the world’s fiercest animals. So for the next nine days, I took my walk between the other 6 seats in the vehicle.
- spotted the “big 5” – leopards, rhinos, lions, cape buffalos, elephants in just 3 days;
- witnessed tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra, in a single line that extended to forever, creating a shadow where the earth met the sky;
- laughed at a pool of 200 hippos enjoying their early morning play;
- smiled as the giraffes munched on the trees next to our tent;
- chuckled when mama elephant gave her calf a gentle nudge to get back in line;
- admired the gentle and swift leaps of the Thompson gazelle and the Grant gazelle and prided ourselves in being able to tell the difference;
- marveled at the “step in time” movements of flamingos as they searched for food;
- escorted a lioness to a nearby rock as she took the road and forced us to the side;
- witnessed mother leopards and cheetahs teaching their young cubs the art of survival;
- studied how an ostrich body can be supported by such scrawny legs;
- watched in amazement at the effortless synchronized swimming of pelicans;
- giggled like 12 year olds the first time we spotted the blue balled monkeys;
- observed the taunts of lion cubs as they played with each other, mother watching from a distance
Probably as memorable as the sights were the sounds we heard. The loud crunch of teeth on bones and laughing cackle of hyenas as they completely and recklessly devoured a fresh kill; the mating roars of both the male and female lions – 3 times in 20 minutes, 20 feet from the truck; the movement of tiny legs as the dung beetles rolled their new home; the muffled hoof beats of running wildebeests as they crossed the road in front of us; the flap of the vulture’s wings as they challenged hyenas for carcass remains; the gentle swish of water as the giant crocodile took an early morning glide; the snorts, grunts and groans from the warthogs, wildebeests, and hippos; the rhythmic breathing and munching of the elephants who nibbled on the grass alongside our tent in the middle of the night, and the knock knock of their tusks along our tent posts; but my favorite – the zebra that mimicked a pesky barking dog;
Alex was fabulous and could predict the movement of animals, so to position us for maximum viewing. He could spot the bat eared fox and mongoose when we only saw grass. And when he saw a cheetah laying atop a termite hill a good couple of hundred meters away, off we tore over the bumpy earth, creating our own path amidst the dust, bugs and branches.
We took this trip when we did to follow the great migration, and we weren’t disappointed. This annual migratory movement of more than 2 million wildebeest, zebra and Thompson’s gazelles is considered one of the greatest shows in nature. And for nine days, they let us be a part of it. It took a while, but the bruises and bites healed, the sandy coating finally left my teeth, the dust no longer lingered in my lungs, the sunburn faded, and I stopped swabbing dirt from my ears within two weeks. It was the trip of a lifetime.