After a few nights in Nairobi we headed south into Tanzania. We drove the whole day until we reached a campsite just outside of Arusha called the Snake Park. We got up early and were met by Jovin, one of the three safari guides and drivers we’d have taking our group to the Serengeti. Jovin told us we had an eight hour drive ahead of us, six to the Ngorngoro Crater, and another two to the Serengeti. We loaded up our bags and we were off.
After a few hours we stopped at a lookout point and Jovin pointed out a lake far below us. We could see a streak of pink through the large lake where we were told they were tons of flamingos. We drove on a ways further until we were on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. There was a parking lot that we stopped in and looked through a mounted telescope, finding it trained on a group of rhinos next to the water in the bottom of the crater. As excited as we were to see the crater up close we still had hours to drive to see the world famous Serengeti first.
Serengeti National Park is a large flat plain and was a light tan color when we arrived due to huge amounts of dry grass. As we drove in we saw a giraffe here, an impala there until suddenly right next to the road the 4×4 we were in ground to a halt. Sitting under an acacia tree three large male lions were relaxing in the shade. We were a few meters away from these giant wild felines and they looked very imposing. As we drove a bit further down the dirt road we stopped yet again to find a group of three fully grown lionesses. Only 15 minutes into our time in the Serengeti and we were starting to understand why the place is so famous.
A short way down the road we came upon an acacia tree with two tiny lion cubs sitting alone underneath. Jovin explained that the mother was probably off hunting, leaving the cubs relatively defenseless as they were too small to fight off much other than maybe a lizard. As we drove on we saw dozens more lions, our first cheetahs on the trip, elephants up very close to us, and rounding out the big five for us, the elusive leopard. We had seen a good amount of wildlife during our time in Africa so far, however this was a bit different. A large elephant almost ran into our truck and the one behind us, and the lions were the massive beautiful ones you see in National Geographic.
After four hours or so our drive came to an end as the sun set and we headed to our campsite, which was within the park. When we got to the campsite we saw zebras and impala grazing just meters from where we’d be sleeping, and to my delight, no fence around us. I was talking to Sissy, mentioning that I hoped we’d hear some hyenas and maybe even lions during the night when another camper that had stayed the night before told us there had been a pack of hyenas in the camp the night before.
Around 2am I woke up with a bit of a start, hearing something scamper past our tent. As Sissy rubbed the sleep out of her eyes a fully grown hyena ran past our tent, only arm’s length away. We watched excitedly as the hyena ran into the middle of our group of tents, sniffed at the door of one tent, and then ran off. The next morning we learned that quite a few people from our group had woken up and the first animal that ran past us was a baby zebra, which was being chased by the hyena. Our friend had woken up and laid with her head at her tent door to look out, and that was the tent that the hyena had stopped to sniff, putting her inches from the hyena’s face.
We started our second game drive in the Serengeti just after sunrise and came upon a pride of lions with a kill almost immediately after we started. There were hyenas and hippos around the lions, with one hyena getting close, debating on the intelligence of trying to steal a taste of the lion’s breakfast. Later in the drive we noticed a group of zebras trotting slowly around near a group of lionesses, who were crouched down low in a patch of short grass. As three lionesses hid to the left of the zebras, we saw another lioness circling behind them, moving toward their left. Suddenly she took off, running in our direction in an attempt to scare the zebras into running left into the trap. As we all watched excitedly, the zebras ran in our direction, and then broke right, away from the waiting lions and back to safety.
After a few more hours and tons of wildlife, we stopped for lunch before starting the two hour drive to the Ngorongoro crater. On our way out of the Serengeti we stopped by the tree we had seen the two lion cubs in the day before. We were surprised to see one of the two cubs perched high up in the thorny acacia tree, with the other nowhere to be seen. Jovin explained to us that with their mother gone to hunt, the cubs were likely attacked by hyenas, and this cub had probably run up the sharp tree to escape. The poor cub looked very distressed while it tried to test taking a step forward or backward, only to receive the sting of a large spike in its paw. We left the Serengeti with greats memories, but a bit bummed out about the baby lions.
We got into our new campsite on the rim of the crater in the mid afternoon and didn’t expect much wildlife until our drive the next day. After getting settled into camp a few of us were anxious to take a shower since showering everyday hadn’t been an option over the bulk of our time in Africa so far and the camp showers looked nice. As soon as I turned the water on in my shower a friend from our group shouted that there was a massive elephant just outside the shower door. I half expected that it was a ploy to steal the shower as there was a premium on shower space, so I finished my shower and stepped outside, surprised to see a massive bull elephant standing there.
The elephant had his trunk in the large topless water tank that was outside the showers providing water for them and had been drinking for a few minutes. The elephant’s shoulders towered above the nearby land cruiser’s roof, and the large male finished up his drink and headed off, leaving quite a few of us standing with huge grins on our faces. A second elephant would visit later that night as dinner was about to come up and it was doing the same thing, drinking out of the camp’s shower water. Our camp that we assumed would be a quiet place had turned very exciting over a short period of time.
The next morning we hopped in our 4×4 excited to set off on our safari. I was excited to see the crater as I’d watched documentaries on it in the past and had heard from another in our group how great it was. Whether we had been spoiled by the splendor of the Serengeti or we just came in off season, the crater dulled a bit in comparison to the Serengeti. In our time in the crater we saw more lions, tons of wildebeests, and scores of other wildlife, including packs of hyenas, however it seemed a bit more sparse than the wonderful Serengeti.
After our game drive it was time to make the six hour drive back to the Snake Park just outside of Arusha. We decided to keep the top of the 4×4 popped up on the drive back over the crater rim, and we ended up standing on the seats and doing a sort of land surfing all the way down to the outside of the crater. After a long drive back to Arusha Sissy and I decided to see why the camp was called Snake Park and we headed into the snake park portion of the camp. We found snakes ranging from a little garter snake all the way to the notorious black mamba, each caged individually in what appeared to be entirely too small cages. It was feeding day which meant each cage had a baby chick or a gerbil in it, or some of the smaller ones only got insects. A bit dismayed and disturbed by the conditions the snakes were kept in, even though I don’t really enjoy snakes, we headed back to camp for dinner.
Over the next few days we’d drive down to Dar Es Salaam, the large city on the coast of Tanzania where we’d catch a ferry over to Zanzibar. On the way we drove through Moshi, the town where people climbing Kilimanjaro go to start their trek. We took note of a few landmarks as we would be returning to that town a few months later, flying from Capetown, to give climbing the highest mountain on the continent a try ourselves. We stayed at a camp that proudly displayed a large plaque stating that Bill Gates had stayed there in 2009 for a night, and the place looked like five years prior it was likely a very nice camp.
When we finally reached Dar Es Salaam we stayed on the beach not far from the ferry terminal, where we were treated to the sound of the ocean crashing onto the beach as we slept. We wouldn’t get to experience Mikadi Beach the next day as we had an early ferry to catch to head on to the lovely island of Zanzibar!