“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Africa

 
An African safari was never at the top of my bucket list. In fact, it was not even ON my bucket list. The thought of it really intimidated me. What if an elephant or lion charged me? Or a huge wildebeest, whatever that was! Could I move fast enough to get out of the way? Or would I be trampled to death or eaten? And tent camping?? Oh no—not for me! After almost 25 years of first class travel with my late husband, my idea of camping was staying at Motel 6. Yes, I’d been spoiled. And the flight!  28 hours! In coach? Many reasons not to go. Africa? 
But my friend, Cyndi, really wanted to go on safari in Tanzania. It was on the tip top of her bucket list. A lifelong dream to see the Serengeti and the amazing wildlife there. She asked me to make the arrangements for two people. As time drew close, she still couldn’t find anyone to go with her. So, against my better judgment, I agreed to go. Africa.
 
I had contacted a well-known safari tour operator, Uncharted Outposts. They were great and walked me through everything—from the gear we would need for our enjoyment, health and safety to the shots we would each have to get. Shots?? Have I mentioned I am a wimp when it comes to needles? Hate them. But, really, the shots weren’t bad.
 
So, after all our research, instruction, and shots, we found ourselves at the airport on July 29, 2008 to start our big adventure. It took a long time to get there, 28 hours in flight and three overnight stays—Orlando to New York to Dubai to Dar Es Salam to Arusha and finally to Lobo Valley in the Serengeti. And at last, Africa! 
 
We finally flew into the Lobo Valley airstrip. Notice I did not say airport—there is no airport—just a dirt runway. Our plane was a 12-passenger plane. Wow! As we flew across the airstrip, we could already see wildebeest and zebra, animals I had only seen in zoos. Wait! Had I ever even seen a live wildebeest? Maybe not!  
When we got off the plane, we were greeted by a wonderful young man named Roland, who was to be our guide for most of our experience. And what a guide he would turn out to be! The only thing at the airstrip was one concrete building, which we would learn was the bathroom. Actually, inside the structure was a hole in the ground.  That’s it! And no toilet paper! Welcome to the African safari! This is where I learned to pee safari-style—pee and then just shake it dry! Africa! 
 
 
Our vehicle for the safari would be a 1975 Land Cruiser. And then the true fun began—with a safari into camp, which was about 45 minutes away from the airstrip. Four and a half hours la ter, we rolled into camp, having had our first glimpse of the wildlife that would amaze us for the next two weeks. We were the last ones to arrive, because Roland made this mundane drive into our first adventure. We saw a pride of lions, a troop of baboons, herds of zebras and elephants and giraffes, and lots of elands, topi, impala, giraffe, warthog, rock hyrax, waterbuck, and klipspringer. And I finally saw the wildebeest—so many that I couldn’t even count them. Such beautiful animals—my head was on a swivel! Yes, Roland was an excellent guide. What a perfect way to start our safari. Africa! 
I needn’t have worried about camping. This “tent” was not like any tent I had ever been in! It had twin beds, nightstands, and even vanities. It was beautifully decorated with woven rugs, a lovely bedspread, and accessories. I was amazed at how comfortable it was! 
 
Now, granted, the bathroom was still a hole in the ground, but it had a platform with a polished wooden toilet seat over it. There was a bucket with dirt and a scoop in it next to the toilet. After you did your business, you took a scoop of dirt and threw it into the toilet. Africa! 
 
Another thing I was concerned about was the “bucket shower.” I love a nice long, hot shower in the morning. Well, I will admit my days of taking luxurious showers came to an end for a while, but it was a lot better than I had imagined. There was a shower head and they put 20 liters of hot water into a container, which created a surprisingly strong flow. And, really, there was plenty of water since after the first person got her shower, they refilled the container. Whew! Another worry put to rest! 
 
Meeting the other guests around the campfire was really great! Over drinks and popcorn that first night, we met a woman from India (Nina), her 16 year old son (Ahmet), 22 year old daughter (Nisha) who was attending George Washington University, and Nina’s sister (Sucriti or Criti as she was called) and her son (Vyrun), who was 17. 
Nina’s family owned hotels in Bombay. They would be with us for a good part of our experience and we would spend a lot of time talking with them around the firepit. Over the course of the next two weeks, we would meet people from many different places at each camp. Learning about them and their cultures was always fascinating for us.  
After a great night’s sleep, it was off to the Mara River, about four hours away, where we would view the spectacle that was why we came to the Serengeti at this time of year—the migration of nearly two million wildebeest and zebra across the plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara. This is one of the oldest and last great land migrations on the planet. The movements are dictated solely by the rains and grasses, with zebras eating the long grasses, while wildebeests follow to feast on fresh shoots. While often unpredictable and not a perfect science, we were pretty sure we would hit it if we were there in early August. But it wasn’t like we were making a beeline for the river, along the way we were on another game drive, viewing more giraffe, Thomson gazelle, wildebeest, zebra, warthog and baboon, as well as lots of army ants and birds such as HUGE vultures! 
The migration was amazing—definitely worth the plane ride from Orlando to the Serengeti! After we had been on the banks of the Mara about a half hour, the wildebeest decided it was safe and started across mostly single file. The sheer numbers of these great animals crossing this small river, was breathtaking! As our guide, Roland, told us, many times the animals don’t make it across the river. There are predators such as crocodiles and lions waiting to take them out. But I was thankful that there were no casualties during this crossing. We did see crocodiles after that (about ten of them) and twenty or so hippos, which was an incredible sight! I didn’t even know they were hippos because they were mostly submerged. They looked like rocks! I was in awe the whole time, because I was actually seeing all this in person! 
And how many people get to say they picnicked on the Serengeti? Well, Cyndi and I can! And a great lunch it was too—beef, pasta salad, chick pea and fava bean salad, coleslaw, and fruit. Even though at that time I was a really picky eater, it was delicious! Our guide even provided a little table with a cloth, directors chairs, cloth napkins and stainless cutlery. First class all the way. Africa! 
 After lunch, it was time for another game drive. Woo hoo! The first thing we saw was a huge Cape Buffalo, who was very obliging and allowed us to take lots of pictures. Then came a beautiful male lion about 6 years old. We watched him for quite some time. On the way back to camp, we stopped for, of all things, afternoon tea! Africa? 
 
Then it started to rain, which made the roads (such as they were—really just tire tacks) very slippery, When we were almost back to camp, we came upon a wildebeest that had slipped and fallen into a small gully and couldn’t get out. We knew if we left him there, he would be prey for one of the many predators. Cyndi and I implored Roland to help him and Roland, of course, obliged. But how to get him out? Because, of course, we had not planned for this and had no tools to get him righted. Aha! We tie a rope with a slip knot around his leg (not an easy task, took about 10 tries to get it around his leg) and the other end around the bumper of the jeep and slowly pull back. It worked! We did it! He managed to get the rope off his leg and ran off! So wonderful! That day we saved a wildebeest from sure death! 
 
When we got back to camp, we found that a herd of elephants had apparently come through our camp and knocked down the trees in front of our tent and the one next door! We were really wishing we had been there to see it, but later, at dinner, we found out the camp staff had felled those trees to give the people in the tent next to us more privacy. Darn! And it made such a great story! 
But the next morning, the commotion outside our tent turned out to be a genuine elephant coming through the camp! He just leisurely walked through, eating the palms—right there in our camp! Wow! Talk about an up close and personal experience! This is what you hope for on an African safari! Of course, we were crouched in our tent in our pajamas, peering from behind the “door,” praying he would stay far enough away not to damage the tent (or us!) but close enough that we could watch!  
 
That day would turn out to be one of our best because we saw a cheetah! Roland told us it’s not a sure thing that you will see all the most sought animals and the cheetah is one of the hardest to find. So far, we had seen all the important animals in this area except the cheetah, leopard, and hyena. Then, Roland spotted her. The cheetah was magnificent! She was so playful. She looked like a domesticated kitten the way she rolled stretched and played! We watched her for about an hour, hoping she would get hungry and go for a kill. Roland said it was not unusual for a cheetah to play around for three or four hours, lulling their prey into a state of complacency and relaxation before striking. Since we had other animals to find, we decided to move on in search of the leopard and hyena.  Despite staying out until after 6:00 p.m., we did not see either.  
 
That evening, we were happy to learn that, like us, Nina and her family, were trekking to Nduara Loliondo so we would be with this charming group for two more nights. Tradition around the campfire is to share the story of what you saw and what happened that day. That evening, we laughed with Nina, who doesn’t like animals and is a very genteel lady who wore traditional sari even in the bush. That day, when we were watching the cheetah, everyone was up with their heads out of the jeep, with their binoculars and cameras trained on the cheetah, while Nina was sitting in the jeep reading a book! The family did tell us that she had come to like the lions and when they saw some, she told the guide to “make them come closer!” She was a very good sport and we thoroughly enjoyed being with them. 
As we walked from the campfire to our tent, lions started roaring! We were scared to death! But one of the Maasai warriors, who accompanied us everywhere, told us not to worry, it happens all the time. 
Then we relaxed and enjoyed the concert. There must have been a half dozen and they roared for at least fifteen minutes and then abruptly— stopped. The way the sound carries over the plains, they could have been a mile away or just outside the campsite. When will I ever hear that sound again? Unless I come back to Africa, which I just might do. Africa!  
 
My idea of Africa certainly had changed. It was no longer a strange and frightening place. It had become a wonderful and magical setting for adventures. This is what I hope you’ll think when you have a chance to travel to a place you’ve never been, maybe a place that scares you a little. This journey made a huge difference for me in my future wanderings. I’ll tell you more about my African adventure later but for now, I want to leave you with one thought . . . 
 
AFRICA! 
 
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