The Serengeti, Tanzania
With a whole lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do so, we hit the pothole ridden road running. Flying into Arusha from Cape Town, we had a luxurious three-flight trip from down south spanning from 4am to 10pm – hell on aeroplane wheels, let me tell you.
A popular safari starting point, Arusha is a big, lively city with a heck of a lot of personality. We opted to stay at the Blue Elephant Hostel, a cheap and wholesomely cheerful accommodation option a smidge out of town. A real feeling of home, the housekeeper Mandy is a big bag of fun and love. With a free breakfast included and the option to eat every delicious African meal on-site (homemade by the gorgeous Mandy, of course), you’d be a big, stinky fool not to.
Unfortunately for me and my Arusha plans, I was struck down by a nasty case of African belly and found it hard to function in any human capacity during my stay. There are some beautiful hot springs just outside of Arusha if you have time, and of course, umm capacity.
We booked our Serengeti safari experience online, vying for the three-day option. Prior to departure I fretted over the length of our tour, wondering if it was a cheapskate’s way out and would leave us feeling less than impressed, but let me and my imbalanced stomach flora tell you, three days was plentiful. There’s an old African saying that sitting your lazy tooch on a bus for 12 hours a day is the hardest day’s work you’ll ever do.
We booked our safari via this website a few months before scooting off, as we heard it can be a real arm wrestle (against an iron pumping giant with five hands) to organise a safari on African shores. We arrived in Arusha a day before safari lift off meaning our operator was able to visit, brief us on all of the things and relieve us of a big, hefty wad of cash (preferred payment method for many operators).
A quick word for the wise – if you book with this operator, I would seriously recommend not booking accomodation with them. Find a roof elsewhere with locking doors and internet and warm water and power points and windows.
We rose not-so-bright, but certainly early the following morning and were picked up by our gentlemanly tour guide Mucky – the kind of legendary people person I have always dreamt of being. After picking up the other members of our animal spotting crew, all from varying corners of the world, we began our day-long journey to the first camp. It is here that I will pay homage to the specky wizard who created anti-nausea drugs and thank them for their very tangible service to human kind.
Feeling a touch brighter than the past 24 hours but still willing to milk my illness for everything it had (mainly just for sympathetic back rubs and a good spot in the van), we dropped our bulkier luggage at a site outside the park – rather apprehensively, might I add, but we needn’t have worried – and we set sail for the big kingdom of the Serengeti.
We drove for hours through the park, spotting a healthy number of zebras, wildebeest, a few giraffes and plenty of other safari crews. The rain deterred no creature with the eternal quest to spot the big five – lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhino – proving us quite the adventure. We found a herd of buffalo and a very sexy, sleek looking pregnant leopard by the end of our day. Arriving at camp my prejudiced mind expected rather shabby accommodation options reminiscent of year four camp, instead we were offered lockers to charge all of our electronics, our tents were erected for us and we were encouraged to laze until our chef had prepared a three course supper for us – truly awful.
I slept soulfully and deeply until a pack of hyenas (apparently beautiful little cowards you can scare away with a squinted eye or stern stamp of your converse) converged upon camp at 4am. I was forced to stick my butt out of the tent to pee for a 5am wee, losing the respect of both my boyfriend and the hyenas, yet potentially gaining a few of admirers amongst my fellow campers.
Coinciding with the rainy season, our safari was a little different to a dry season trek with longer grass, more manageable temperatures and significantly less bugs – although they didn’t seem too shy throughout the duration of ours. Although the pros of a dry season safari mean you are able to see more animals with shorter grass and drier conditions, no sunglass tans are to be had in the rainy season.
Day two bought about a tonne more zebras, a herd of hungry giraffes feeding on tree tops and a dead lion roadside – a casualty of a domestic with a fellow male Simba. We stopped by a Maasai village, experiencing a traditional welcome dance where the males jump to attract wives and were given tours of their cosy living quarters.
A total fan girl highlight for me, this was a wild experience as these deeply spiritual people live entirely independently with multiple wives, defending their territory against wild animals and adopting their own warrior traditions, did someone say drinking the blood of a live cow? The most incredible experience, well ever, and something I can’t recommend enough. They do of course, encourage you to purchase their wares and donate while you are there, so don’t be left without a few dollarydoos.
Our whole safari consisted of three, three course meals each day lovingly prepared by the wonderfully sweet chef on board. He slaved over the hot pans for hours delivering us with the greatest carrot soup I have ever inhaled, pastas, abundant curries and a bounty of fruit. My favourite man by the end of the trip, sincerest of apologies to Obama and Dad.
The third and final day of our trip started in the Ngorongoro Crater, a flat nestled among mountain ranges created by a volcanic explosion millions of years prior. It is now a spectacular ground for animals to gather, drink and feed – although densely populated by safari vehicles by full sun.
It was here we laid eyes on two majestic elephants, one of who spent the best part of half an hour scratching her hiney on a tree (what a woman), an eager lioness unsuccessfully stalking some gazelles, a bunch of hangry hyenas fighting over a buffalo carcass and a wildebeest giving birth to their junior. An incredible morning, just stinkin’ incredible. Goosebump kind of am.
We were forced to call it a day before we found the fifth and final member of the big five, the rhino but we were nevertheless filled with the kind of ecstasy that only furry cuteness can provide. Rolling on out adrenaline, we floored the four-hour drive back to collect our bags and were dropped at our respective accommodations back in Arusha. We were able to collect a monetary thank you package for our badass driver Mucky, who steered us through some wet and wild mud and our friendly chef, who had a booooootiful two-week old son to get home to.
My camping adventure has left me with far fonder memories than all of my school camps combined and a new found appreciation for safe passage to a bathroom at 4am.