Tanzania!

This one has been 18 months in the making.

I sent my first email out to Achmed at Base Camp Tanzania on May 30th, 2013.  Since then, I’ve caught myself daydreaming about the upcoming safari at least once a day.

I’m happy to report that Achmed and his team exceeded all my expectations, and that our safari was better than I ever thought it could be.

Here’s how it went.

Day 0 – Arusha and L’Oasis

Rebecca and I arrived at the Arusha airport, descrip The flight was…suspenseful.

where our driver Yuda (derived from the biblical Judah) was waiting. This amicable dude from the Mt. Meru countryside told us that he would be our guide for the trip. It was nice to meet him!

He drove us to our rendezvous point at L’Oasis lodge, where we met our long-awaited buddy from our Shenzhen days — Rachelle: descrip D’aaaaw.

We got to catch up a little bit before Achmed, our safari company’s owner, met up with us to break down our itinerary. He also bought us way, way too many drinks. He can be seen here, scolding a German:

descrip “Amarula ist kaltisch schleim!”

Not much other evidence survived the night.

We went to bed some time later, knowing that our big adventure started in the morning.

Day 1 – Arusha and Tarangire National Park

But since we had to pay for the adventure, we had some work to do in the morning — signing and dating a whole lotta traveller’s checks:

descrip I recommend bringing cash.

That wasn’t terribly fun, but it didn’t take too long. Afterward we hopped into our jeep, driven by Yuda, with Juma, the cook, as the co-pilot: descrip Juma, Yuda.

From Arusha we took off to Tarangire National Park, which Achmed recommended to us for its lushness in the rainy season.

It meant passing up on Lake Manyara, another option in the region, we weren’t disappointed at all.

Right off the bat we saw tons of giraffes, warthogs, ostriches: descrip descrip descrip

But Tarangire’s true highlight was the biggest of the Big 5 (the 5 hardest animals to hunt) — elephants. descrip

We saw hundreds and hundreds of them. 300 at least. Some of them got defensive, especially if there was a baby involved: descrip descrip descrip

At one point we saw whole families of elephants fording a river and climbing the opposite bank together: descrip descrip

Toward the end of the trip, Rachelle thought that an elephant was waving its trunk “Goodbye!” to us, but when she waved back, the startled bull whipped his head and acted like he was going to charge us.

Absolutely terrifying. But Yuda revved the jeep’s engine and the animals ran away.

We also saw smaller creatures like these monkeys: descrip Taken moments before a painful tail-biting.

And these birds: descrip

And some Mongoose: descrip Mongeese?

After a long day’s game drive we camped out in (surprisingly comfortable!) tents.

Day 2 – Serengeti

Most of the next day we spent in transit from Tarangire to the famous plains of the Serengeti.

Yuda took us along the scenic route, skirting the edge of the Great Rift Valley, along with the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater, where we paused for a quick picture:

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We’d be returning there later.

On this route we saw a few of our firsts – zebras, wildebeests, heartbeests.

Along the road a lot of Masai people waved at passing cars to attract the tourists. Yuda stopped just long enough for us to get a picture of this guy:

descrip A Masai

And at the end of the day we caught our first glimpse of another Big 5-er: descrip

Although this one, typical for lions, didn’t do…anything. descrip

Our long road trip brought us to the Nyani Camp site on the Serengeti. Before we went to bed, Yuda warned us about bathroom etiquette in the middle of the night.

You need to come out of your tent with a flashlight in hand, and do a quick sweep of your surroundings. If you see too many green eye-flashes looking back at you, or if you hear anything roaming around in the bush, you should hop back inside and hold it.

In the middle of the night I had to go bad. But in the dark just outside I could see gangs of hyenas roving around, tearing apart the garbage cans on the campsite.

I sat there crosslegged, listening to their cackles for a good half-hour before I felt brave enough to get out. I was relieved to see all the hyenas (7 or 8 of them!) scatter back into the woods.

The next morning, Yuda told us that the hyenas had not been our only guests – a pride of lions stopped by too. I’m very glad I didn’t know that.

Day 3 – Serengeti

The scary night left me a little tired, but the three of us were still pumped for our full day’s game-drive out on the Serengeti. It started auspiciously, with a lot of giraffe sightings, and even a few of another Big 5 species: water buffalo. (Which I can’t find my pictures of!)

It may surprise you to learn that water buffalo are, by far, the deadliest of the Big 5. They get very nasty in isolation.

We also caught several prides of lions in the middle of a late morning nap:

descrip As far as I know, this is all that lions really do.

We had two special sightings that day. First a mama cheetah with her cubs: descrip

I couldn’t believe how lucky we got, since we caught them before they wandered to far from the road.

And another special sighting of our day came at dusk. Yet another Big 5 animal, the leopard!

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These guys are tough to spot because they have secretive, nocturnal habits. Look at all the fuss caused by a single cat:

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Another hour or so of driving around and we returned to camp. The next day was to be  another big transit day.

Day 4 – Serengeti to Ndutu

Yuda took us on a long and bumpy backroad from the Serengeti to Ndutu, where the Great Migration had been for the past few days.

The Great Migration refers to the 3 million or so wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles that roam Tanzania and Kenya together as they follow the rains.

We happened to come at the start of the wildebeest’s calving season, so we got to see a lot of juveniles.

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And not just of herbivores… descrip descrip LOOK AT THE WIDDLE CHEETAHS!!

That family was tucked into the bush, hiding from the heat. Incredible luck to spot it.

The long bumpy ride wore us out, and we were planning to get up at 5:30 the next morning, so we asked Yuda to drop us off a little early at the Ndutu Lodge.

The lodge was lovely, and the drinks were drinky. I had a little too much, but it didn’t throw off my game too much. We went to bed early, and our last day we went to my favorite site of the trip.

Day 5 – Ngorongoro Crater

I loved the crater. The scenery blew me away (although it doesn’t translate to photos all that well):

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We had breakfast on the hood of the jeep early in the morning before our drive:

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And then we wizzed around the crater’s floor, enjoying the best diversity of life we’d seen on the trip. Zebras, gazelles, hyenas, buffalo, warthogs, elephants. The crater had everything! descrip descrip descrip

And in another huge stroke of luck, a very special animal made an appearance: the black rhino! The last of the Big 5 we needed to see on our trip! descrip

Yuda told us that it was quite rare to see one so close to the road.

After that we paid a visit to a hippo pool within the crater, a scenic place for a picnic:

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And we thought that was our last hurrah. But Tanzania had one more surprise in store for us:

descrip A big majestic male lion!

Look at these chompers! descrip Also caught a little moment of tenderness on film:

descrip Simba and Nala, anyone?

Not a bad finale at all!

After seeing those lions Yuda brought us on the 4 hour-ish road trip back to our lodge at Arusha.

As I type we’re sitting back at the lodge in L’Oasis, exhausted but very pleased.

Although it’s slightly premature to say so, I’d be surprised if anything else  dethroned The Safari as the single best experience of our entire trip.