So I have returned from another trip to Africa! What a journey it was – new adventures that have created what feels like a LIFETIME of memories, even though the actual trip was just a few weeks long. Once again I am inspired and humbled by a wilderness that is bigger and grander and more magnificent than anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else in the world, and I’m reminded how Africa truly is a place like no other – full of raw beauty and authentic wilderness. The hot colors and cool breezes stimulate the senses; the tranquil beauty is nourishment to the soul. The animals are amazing to watch as they move about in their daily rhythms, and it is an honor to share a slice of their lives, if only for a short time. There is great joy in the excitement of not knowing WHAT will happen next – each moment carries something new, brilliant, or unexpected – or all of the above! I will share just a few highlights of my safari below.
My first few days on safari were spent in Tarangire National Park. The landscape was green and the Tarangire river swelled with water. We saw many elephants here, flapping their ears underneath the massive baobab trees. I was thrilled to see many giraffe at this park –they coolly gazed at me in a nonchalant manner and blinked their long eyelashes as if to say – “Well it’s about time you came back to Africa!” We saw many impala and other herbivores as well. The key memory that I will take away from Tarangire was when we were charged by an angry matriarch elephant! My heart was racing and I held my breath as she came thrashing through the bushes with her tail high in the air, trumpeting loudly with ears forward. Of course my driver knew exactly how to handle the situation – he turned on the engine and blasted past her – she pursued us for just a few steps and then, satisfied she had won the little battle, she rejoined her herd.
Lake Manyara was quite beautiful as well. We saw many elephants browsing the lush foliage in the heavy forested area of the park. We saw hippos spouting in the lake and a menagerie of different animals (impala, giraffe, zebra, elephant) frolicking on the treeless, grassy shoreline. Some zebra stallions were feeling frisky in the cool morning and playfully jousted for my camera.However, the highlight of the entire day was spotting a beautiful male leopard in a tree less than 15 meters from the road! He seemed to be posing in the dappled sunlight for my camera as I clicked away in delight.I had never seen a leopard so closely and clearly before, and I feel lucky to see one in Lake Manyara. He was stunning.
We also visited the Ndutu area, a wooded landscape that was colored bright with yellow wildflowers that seemed to be thriving in this green season. I got chills each morning as I could always hear lions roaring in distance from my balcony. I was especially awed one morning as we witnessed a giant herd of the wildebeest migration cross Lake Masek. The event was incredible – as morning sunlight streamed through the swirling clouds of dust, hundreds of wildebeest and their calves plunged into the cold salt water to swim across and join the growing numbers of wildebeest on the other side. It was dramatic and humbling to see such huge numbers of animals pulsing through the glittering water The rest our stay was beautiful, and well marked with sightings of many animals – lions, several elephants, impala, giraffe, and monkeys. I will always remember my first cheetah sighting of the trip that occurred in Gol Kopjes – two large cheetah brothers walking towards us together in the middle of the road. Their fur was backlit by the golden light of sunrise, and they looked like a vision.
Near that area we also saw an entire family of lions lounging in the grass not far from the road– two huge male lions, one female and her two young cubs. We watched them romp and play in the cool morning sunshine. At a large granite outcrop of kopjes further up the road, we were delighted to find a mother lion and her three adorable, tiny cubs – they were absolutely exquisite. We watched them play together like ornery kittens– tumbling and biting and scrambling over each other in ornery kitten style. I was honored that the mother lion trusted us enough to let us share this special time with her and her tiny babies. I didn’t know how it could possibly get any better, but shortly thereafter we were able to see a mother cheetah and her two tiny cheetah cubs! The cheetah cubs were impossibly cute, with a crop of long unruly fur cresting the nape of their necks and set below their fuzzy little ears. We watched them play hide and seek in the grass before the mother cheetah finally decided it was time to move on. She left with her two little cubs trailing gracefully behind her. Just moments later we came upon an impossibly adorable Thompson’s gazelle baby, which had just been born within minutes of our arrival. We then went to Barafu Kopjes, and I was mesmerized by the vast open spaces, the endless sea of tawny grasses and the sense of freedom they both inspired in this place. We went back to Gol Kopjes to visit the resident lion pride several times over the next few days, and I never got tired of watching those baby cubs! Throughout our safari, and in various places, we found large migratory herds of wildebeest and zebra. It was magical to be in the middle of them, watch them interact, and listen to their noises. All the wildebeest mothers had little tan baby calves at their side, and the zebra mares had many young foals as well. One day we drove to Simba Kopjes, and saw 18 lions before breakfast! Some posing on kopjes, some were protecting a kill they had just made, others were just relaxing. We also saw a long column of wildebeest and zebra crossing the river – I can still hear their noisy braying and grunting as made their way to join the rest of the migration near Moru Kopjes. Since we saw the direction they were headed, we too went to Moru Kopjes to see the rest of the massive herds. We were rewarded with being able to view thousands and thousands of animals – all gathered together as if conducting some big pre-arranged convention. The sights and sounds of the migration were mesmerizing. We also saw a leopard lounging lazily in a tree, not far from the road. He was further away from our vehicle than the leopard in Lake Manyara was, but he was still very impressive – posing on the limb of a large acacia tree in plain sight.
One very special highlight of the trip was a beautiful leopard sighted near Lobo. I saw a spotted shadow shifting below the tall grasses. I was sure my eyes were playing tricks on me, but then I saw two yellow eyes peering from beneath the grasses at me! It was a leopard, and he was hiding – well camouflaged in the green-tinted but still tawny grasses. We would drive the land rover slowly towards him, and he would retreat several meters before settling down to watch us beneath the grasses again. We played this hide and seek game over and over again for several minutes before he finally graced us with a short appearance out of cover, just long enough for my camera to capture a few golden shots, before he melted again into the shifting grasses, flipping his white-tipped tail at us before finally disappearing out of reach and sight all-together. During the time we spent time in the Central Serengeti, and we were rewarded with sighting several lions – some were in trees and some were along the roadside or in the grass. In Sametu we found a especially beautiful pride of lions lounging on the kopjes. Each of the two large males – perched high on opposite kopjes – had a few lionesses with him. The males were actually roaring at one another and it seemed to vibrate all the way to my bones! It was a quite loud and dramatic show– I suppose they were just making it very clear to each other to stay away from their respective girlfriends! After leaving the Serengeti National Park, we still had more game drives to look forward to in the Crater. Leaving at 6am sharp, we were indeed the first vehicle in the Crater that last safari morning. Being completely alone in these early hours, we felt like the Crater was an amphitheatre and the animals were the stars of a spectacular show, staged just for us. The first big cat we saw in the Crater that morning was a cheetah! She was obviously pregnant, and although the early morning light was compromised by a filter of thick clouds, her color was quite beautiful . She rolled like a playful kitten in the wildflowers before disappearing out of sight into the long grasses further off the road. It was a moment that was very intimate and very special, as we had this beautiful sighting all to ourselves. The cheetah sighting was a good omen for more fantastic things to come, and we spent the rest of the morning reveling in the presence of many other wonderful animals, especially several lions that were very near the road. We had breakfast with the hippos, and then proceeded with our drive out of the crater. Some baboons decided to say goodbye to us before we left – my driver turned off the engine and it didn’t take long before a mob of baboons climbed onto the hood of our land rover! I turned around, and was a bit alarmed to see 7 more baboons peering at me from the top of the roof behind me! After our vehicle was officially confiscated by baboons, my driver turned the engine back on and the monkeys lost all confidence, clammering back to the safety of nearby bushes. At long last, my safari in Tanzania was officially over. We had seen the great wildebeest & zebra migration thundering through the Serengeti in full force. We had seen so many members of the cat family I lost count – several leopards, lots and LOTS of lions (including cubs!), some exceptionally beautiful cheetahs (including cubs!), and even a couple serval cats! We saw massive families of elephants, lots of giraffe, many MANY gazelle and antelope, funny little warthogs, hundreds of monkeys, and so many more wonderful, beautiful things I don’t have room to mention here. I was so sad to leave; however, I was not leaving empty handed! I had some INCREDIBLE adventures, photographs, and most significantly I had made memories I will treasure forever. Like coming to the end of a long meditation I always leave Africa understanding myself just a little better, and I know that I will certainly be returning to this magical place one day soon!