I heard the Gnus today, Oh Boy… A Tanzania Safari Story
(I recently organized a safari and Kilimanjaro climb for a group of people. One of the participants published this great story on his safari in Tarangire and the Ngoro Crater. If you are thinking about going on safari, this is exactly what you can expect.)
The 3-day safari was included as a part of our Kilimanjaro climb, so the morning after returning from Kili Bob, Julie, Kristen and I all piled back into the landcruiser and set off for the Tarangire National Park. This safari was organized by BootsnAll Travel Network. The plan was to camp at a campground just outside the park, and we arrived at the campground in the early afternoon. We stopped long enough to drop off our cook, Hamisi, and unload our gear, and then headed off into the park for a few hours of game viewing. Once inside the park it wasn’t long before we saw our first wildlife, spotting some zebras and elephants at a watering hole off in the distance. We were excited to find these animals so quickly, but little did we know that this was just the beginning.
We continued on into the park, and the wildlife just kept coming. We saw Wildebeest (also called Gnus, and Bob and I spent the next three days coming up with as many bad “gnus/news” puns as we could. Evening Gnus, Breaking Gnus, No Gnus is Good Gnus, etc, etc, etc…), Impala, and a variety of birds. Almost everywhere we looked we found wildlife. But we were in search of the Big Five, and really wanted to see them up close and personal. Our best prospects in Tarangire were the elephants, and it wasn’t too long before we spotted a herd of elephants feeding across a river. We drove around to where they were, and were able to get within about 20 meters of them. We stopped to watch and take photos, and it wasn’t long before mama and her baby were right in front of us. Mama came over to check us out, and walked right up to the vehicle. Elephants will charge a vehicle, so our driver, Michael, kept one hand on the ignition and one eye on the side view mirror the whole time. After we’d had our fill of the elephants, we continued on around the park but didn’t see much more that evening. But the elephants were a great start, so we headed back to camp for dinner.
Once again, the food that was provided was amazing, and Hamisi cooked up a great dinner. After dinner, a group of local young guys who worked at the camp came out to the dining area and performed for us. Dressed in matching outfits that were a cross between an NBA uniform and a breakdancing costume, they played drums and another instrument similar to a small marimba, sang songs, and performed acrobatics. It was pretty fun, and interesting to say the least.
We were up early the next morning for another trip through the park. The early morning viewing got off to an even better start than the day before when we spotted a group of giraffes feeding on the roadside trees. Further into the park, we saw some vultures circling above and eventually came upon the site of a recent lion’s kill, but the lions had since wandered off (we could barely make them out in the distance) and the kill was left for a jackal to scavenge what he could off of it. We continued on driving, seeing several more zebra and wildebeest (the morning gnus), and another herd of elephants. But mostly we just enjoyed the park and it’s scenery. After a few hours we went back to camp for lunch, then packed up and headed off to the Ngorogoro Conservation Area where we camped that night before heading down into the Ngorogoro Crater the next morning.
The Ngorogoro Crater is the world’s largest caldera (A caldera is a large depression at the top of a volcano, caused by the collapse of a volcano into itself), and home to hundreds of animals. It was here where we hoped to find the rest of the Big Five. It wasn’t long before we were rewarded, coming upon another lion’s kill, this time a little closer up and with the lions still in attendance. Waiting for the lions to finish were a pack of hyena and a few jackals as well. We parked and watched and waited. Eventually, the lions had eaten their fill, and it wasn’t long before they decided to move on. We held our breath as they slowly started coming our way, and soon they were right in front of us. It was awesome and amazing.
After seeing the lions up close, we were pretty jacked since a lion spotting isn’t an everyday occurence. Lions only feed every three days or so, and so seeing a kill is pretty lucky. We watched the hyenas fight over the remains for a while, and then set off to see what else we could find. We stopped by the hippo pool and saw several hippo sleeping in the cool pond. (The hippo photos turned out great, highlighting a spectacular contrast of colors between the pool and the surrounding landscape.) Shortly after visiting the hippos, we heard word of a rhino in the park and went off to try and get a look. We spotted the rhino in the distance, and decided to drive around to opposite road to try and get a better look. There were a few other vehicles there when we arrived, and it wasn’t long before there were 20-30 trucks there all angling for a look. The rhino was still aways off in the distance, and we al tried to get some photos. Unfortunately, my camera is too old and has very limited range, but Bob told me about a trick with the binoculars where I could take the picture through the lens of the binoculars and use the binoculars to zoom in the subject. I tried this a couple of times and it actually worked quite well. However, it turned out to be unneccesary after all, as once again our patience paid off and soon the rhino was heading right for us, and crossed the road right between the long line of vehicles.
After the rhino sighting we kept driving to the far edge of the park, and it wasn’t long before we came upon even more lions who had just finished breakfast. This spotting was even more exciting, however, because by now the morning clouds had cleared and it was getting quite hot in the crater. The lions had attracted yet another large line of vehicles, and since these vehicles provided shade, the lions would waltz right up to the side of the vehicles and lay down in the shade. If a vehicle a lion was laying by drove off, the lion would simply get up and move to the next vehicle in line. It was absolutely amazing.
After getting our turn with the lions, we drove off toward the picnic area for lunch. On the way we saw some buffalo, and more elephants off in the distance, resulting in us seeing four of the Big Five in a single morning. Unfortunately, no leopards were around in the crater that day to complete the group, but we were still extremely happy with the morning’s sightings. After lunch, it was time head back to camp and pack up for the trip home. We drove all afternoon, stopping on the way at a Masai Cultural Center for a tour and some souvenirs, and arrived back in Moshi late that evening where we checked back into the Zebra Hotel for a hot shower and good night’s sleep on the final evening of our adventure.