Hard to believe but after six days of travel, we have finally arrived in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Our group of 16 travelers made our way west from Mt. Kilimanjaro through the bustling town of Arusha, past Oldupai Gorge and the Tarangire National Park. While I have been captivated by the diverse landscapes and the exotic species of animal and plant life that we have encountered so far, Africa has not felt entirely real until now.
At this moment, I am sitting in a folding chair that I’ve wedged into a narrow three-foot strip of shade beneath the overhang of my tent. It is time for afternoon siesta. A slight breeze stirs, making it cooler outside than inside the tent where my sister Janie is trying to read, but will actually nap. Her legs and tummy are covered with wet wash cloths that she has scourged and a piece of smart fabric that works by cooling itself when wet.
Our tent is more like a cabin made of canvas than any tent I have ever seen. It is divided into three compartments for sleeping, dressing and a bath area complete with a toilet that actually flushes and a primitive shower. The shower is better than I imagined, that being of an African woman pouring a bucket of cold water over my head. The shower works like this… between the hours of 6 and 7:00 PM one of several young men fetch precisely two liters of hot water that has been heated in large barrels by solar power and pour it into a bucket attached to our shower by a hose. The bucket is raised by a pulley to a height of ten or twelve feet to create water pressure. The men shout “hakuna mitata” which is their way of saying “Have a good shower!” We shower in a quick series of offs and ons, flipping a red lever above our head to distribute water from the bucket that is not the right temperature but wonderful anyway. Dim overhead lights powered by solar panels hang from above. Our twin beds are like deluxe cots with a few inches of mattress on top and layers of lightweight coverings. This is perfect since the temperature can fluctuate from the fifties to nearly 100 degrees in the Serengeti this time of year. Considering we are in the middle of nowhere, our accommodations are really quite luxurious. Before leaving for this trip, my coworkers teased me about “glamping” and I must agree it’s true, although the roar of a lion in the distance reminds me that the adventure part of this experience is very real.
Our campsite is scenic; it sits at the edge of a grassy plain that faces a small mountain range to the west. There are no other campsites or lodges for miles around. Our group of sixteen reside in ten private tents that flank a central common area for dining and evening campfires. A group of eight African men prepare three delicious meals a day, look after all our needs and escort us safely to and from our tents after dark. Their campsite including the “kitchen” is located about fifty yards behind ours in an area dotted with scraggly vegetation and small trees for shade, a clothesline, a precious generator and vast containers for heating and storing water. As I am trying to compose this blog on my tablet, I hear a commotion behind me. Peering around the corner, I see a group of baboons and a large bird squabbling over something, most likely a precious morsel of food that has been foraged from our dinner. The baboons run out of the campsite screaming triumphantly and the bird flies away.
The roads to here are notoriously bad, becoming worse the closer one gets to Serengeti. We are told they will become impassable during the rainy season which begins in another month or so. For most of the day, our land cruiser flew over washboard roads while our “innards” were jostled like a shaken martini. (By the way, did I mention there is like NO ice in Africa? This has become a source of irritation for my dear sister who is accustomed to ice cold coca-cola for breakfast every morning. More on this later… ) Our guides tried to convince us that the ride is smoother if we go fast, so we literally flew over the bumps and pot holes and skid around the curves, leaving a blaze of red dust behind us.
After we stopped to secure the paperwork required for admission to the park, we turned left onto the “main road” towards our section of the park. We did not travel far when wildlife began appearing in vast herds. Thousands of wildebeests and zebras, along with various smaller animals, birds and various species of what appear to be deer-like animals, gazelles and impalas grazed oblivious in the endless flat savannah. Occasionally a group of wildebeests (they do not appear to be very smart) are standing too close to the side of the road. As we roar past, they jump away dramatically, bucking like broncos, shaking their shaggy heads sideways like they are scolding us and they just can’t believe we have the audacity to bother them!
There was a small mishap on the way to our camp site… Our fearless leader Zablon was maneuvering our vehicle around a big mud hole in a low-lying area near the river when we were suddenly inundated with Tse-tse flies. Flies are everywhere and everyone is swatting them like crazy; my sister has taken off a shoe and is beating the hell out of the seats and windows of the vehicle, making loud noises crash- thud. Not to be outdone, I remember my insect repellant! From my days as a trusty Cub Scout Leader at Camp Beverly Hills, I am always prepared. Well, I swear I only made a few tiny little sprays pss-ss-stt when poor Zab stops the vehicle (never mind the flies…) groaning in pain, clutching his left eye. It seems a few drops of my repellent has floated into his eye and I have blinded him. I feel terrible; I apologize profusely and a few of my fellow travelers glare at me as if I should have known better than to spray insect repellant inside a vehicle. I lamely offer Zab some Visine and sit a little lower in my seat.
Once we arrived at our campsite, we were given a whistle in lieu of a room key with instructions not to blow it unless an animal was actually to get inside our tent. This immediately caused a stir throughout the group. “Just how would an animal get inside our tent?” I wonder aloud since our tents have well secured zippers. “What if there is something right outside our tent?” asks another. There are rumblings from more than one of our outspoken middle-aged travelers that this policy seems unreasonable and unsafe. Our leader assures us this is for the best, that if he hears the whistle, he and the other men will descend upon us at warp speed and if the animal is roaming the campsite rather than trying to free itself from our tent, they could be killed. (They fail to mention that we would probably be already dead or scared to death should this happen!) This whole concept sounds fishy to us, how the animal could get into our tent in the first place since the entry has three zippers, how four thin walls of canvas could really keep us from being trampled by a four to six ton elephant or a dangerous buffalo, how we could be rescued in the first place since our guides do not admit to carrying guns.
Ready for our first night of adventure in Serengeti, we anxiously retire to our tents.
My sister Janie and I are travelling with Overseas Adventure Travel throughout northeast Tanzania, Africa. OAT specializes in providing safe, affordable small group excursions to all four corners of the world with emphasis on adventure, cultural encounters and philanthropy. There’s never more than sixteen travelers and single travelers are welcome. Mention Susan Boswell and Code #1910363 to receive $100. discount towards your own adventure.