I am very familiar with the saying “expect the unexpected”. Yet, not one little part of me expected to be on a plane alone to Tanzania, Africa. Come on, it was AFRICA, 38 hours of travel time from my Northern California home and a completely different culture from any place I had ever been to. I was scared. But, when the opportunity came to go on a four-day safari with Shadows of Africa, I just had to say yes to a once-in-a-lifetime experience that kind of made me want to poop my pants.
I had to conquer 5 fears before I even started the African safari journey. Every one of them worth the anxiety involved.
Fear 1 – Flying
Yep, I am one of those world travelers who is actually afraid of flying and the anticipation of 2o hours in the air wasn’t doing me any favors. But, none of my planes on the way to Africa crashed, the wine on KLM was free and I safely arrived at Kilimanjaro airport.
Fear 2 – Vaccinations
I hate shots. Who doesn’t? But, I had heard a rumor that you could be stopped at the airport and asked to submit proof of your yellow fever vaccination. If you weren’t able to provide one, they’d administer it to you right on the spot. And that’s why I got all my vaccinations prior to leaving.
Upon landing, I was immediately stopped at the Kilimanjaro airport by security requesting vaccination records. I happily pulled out my record book. You ain’t taking me in no back room to poke me with a needle.
Fear 3 – Getting My Checked Luggage
With my new $100 Tanzania visa in hand, a requirement for US citizens, I went to pick up my luggage…and it was actually there. This bag went from SFO > DTW > LHR > NBO > JRO. Even the check-in attendant in San Francisco said that that flight pattern would test the skills of the luggage handlers.
Fear 4 – No One Would Be at the Airport to Pick Me Up
I had programed every contact number and email into my phone just in case this fear came to fruition. But, even though my flight was an hour delayed, the Shadows of Africa driver patiently stood at the exit holding a sign boasting my name.
Fear 5 – I’d be Traveling with Douchebags
I would be on this African safari with two other travel bloggers whom I had never met, Jonny from Don’t Stop Living & Raymond from Man on the Lam. What if they were total douchebags? They weren’t. Actually, just the opposite. Between Raymond’s witty sense of humor, Jonny’s inquisitive mind and all the travel stories between us, I was entertained the entire trip.
Together we would be taking Shadows of Africa’s 4-day Tanzania Express tour. This trip would bring us to Tarangire, Serengeti National Park And Ngorongoro Crater.
Me and three complete strangers (including our trusty guide), on the road for four days. Let this journey begin…
After a three hour drive from the town of Arusha, we arrived at Tarangire National Park to start our very first game drive on safari.
Tarangire is 1,096 squares miles with an abundant mishmash of animals, including 550 species of birds.
We didn’t have to wait long after entering the park to see the very first animal, an Impala. And dozens of others followed; wildebeest, wart hogs, elephants, baboons, etc. One of my favorite sights of the day was the “hugging” zebras, that were in this position as a form of protection. Sweet.
After a few hours driving the bumpy roads on the game drive, it was time for the typical safari afternoon meal, a box lunch. Most safari drivers and their guests will gather at a local “safe” spot to eat lunch, but ours wanted to enhance the experience even more by choosing remote locations. And even though we had to eat in the car for safety, today our view would be that of a riverbed, elephants and colorful birds. Much better than a tourist infested picnic bench at the parks gates.
Lunch this day was peanuts, green beans, a muffin, an apple and a beef sandwich. A nice and abundant selection. All of the afternoon meals were too much food, so we got into the habit of saving our uneaten portion for the sweet children of the Maasai, a colorfully dressed ethnic group, on the side of the road who all graciously accepted our offerings.
We continued on our game drive until 5:30, then we were taken to Osupuko Lodge, a paradise amongst the paradise we had already witnessed. I had assumed I’d be peeing in the woods every night of this African safari and to my pleasant surprise tonight I would be staying in a fully equipped, luxury room with a stunning view of Tarangire and majestic elephants as greeters. Pure heaven.
Plus the Maasai staff seemed to always be ready to help. They even walked each visitor to and from their rooms, transporting the luggage, but also as a security in the evening.
We were in lion and hyena land after all.
The delicious mutton dinner at Osupuko’s outdoor restaurant was accompanied by a welcome dance show featuring the Maasai people. Just to make the evening more memorable, they brought me into the mix and taught me their traditional dance which featured neck rings, chanting and a bouncing motion. I officially still have no rhythm, but no one seemed to mind.
The hotel is run on a generator, so there was no electricity after ten, but you won’t mind at all because the best time is in the peaceful night listening to the animal calls.
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
The next days game drive was in the famous Serengeti National Park. Over 90,000 travelers visit this park and there is no doubt why; it is stunning with its seemingly endless dusty plains that are spotted with wildlife.
Serengeti is blessed with an abundance of animals, leopards, ostrich and buffalos. And this is where we not only spotted our first hyena, but also saw the largest flying bird in the world, the Kori Bustard.
After spending a long day with cheetahs, gazelles and lions we headed to our lodging for the night, Osupuko Camp, tented camping at its finest. This is a mobile campsite where the wild animals are residents too. I typically don’t enjoy camping, it just seems like too much work. But, this was different. Staff prepared all the meals, set up the campsite and cleaned your living quarters. And my tent had a flushing toilet.
This is the kind of glamorous camping I can do, glamping.
On the last day of safari, we made the steep drive down into Ngorongoro Crater, a caldera with more than 120 species of mammals. Though it is densely populated with animals, there was one we would not see, the elusive Rhino. We searched hours, but not one of the estimated 21 were to be found. Bummer.
Though, the slew of flamingos in lake Magadi and clusters of wildebeest may have made up for that. Maybe.
At the end of the four days the species of animal count was a whopping 67, some varieties that I ever even knew existed.
The safari was an incredible adventure, but what I realized is that your driver/guide is the one who can truly enhance your experience by being knowledgeable, patient and safe. Our Shadows of Africa driver, Timo, was all that and more. Though all safari guides must go to school, so they are well educated in safari and Tanzania, there was something extra special about him. We couldn’t stump him with the thousands of questions thrown his way. Never. Okay, Jonny may have stumped him with the question “if a lion drinks vodka what would happen?” Apparently that answer was never given in a text book.
SAFARI TIPS The companies website had a great list of what to bring on safari, but here’s a few personal suggestions:
- Bring toilet paper, 50% of the time you will need it.
- Big breasted ladies, unlike me, wear a sports bra. The roads are beyond bumpy and your girls will be bouncing uncontrollably.
- Photographers, don’t forget to bring your longest zoom lens. Many good finds, especially the birds, are from afar.
- Layer your clothing, the weather can vary depending on the park and time of day.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Shadows of Africa on this safari, but all the words I write come straight from my, sometimes distorted, mind. Just as it should be.