Sometimes you have those days that remind you exactly why you gave everything up to travel. For me, one of those days was this past January 28th in Tanzania. The day sure didn’t start off too well when I woke up, opened my bag and realized that my new camera was broken. But the day immediately improved from there. During our 4-month overland trip through Africa (Cairo to Cape Town), we often had the option to take private safaris to spot wildlife. Not far from Mount Kilimanjaro, we had the option to take a 3-day safari through Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. It was pricey but how can you go to Africa and turn down the opportunity to visit the legendary Serengeti?
Most people have heard of the Serengeti, but the nearby Ngorongoro Crater is another gem of a place. There are really no words that fully describe the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s like the Garden of Eden, or a real life Lion King movie. The 100 square mile crater boasts one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the world; an estimated 25,000 large animals live in the crater. There are animals as far as the eye can see. We could poke out of the top of our Land Rover and see a long list of species at the same time, mingling together in the bright green grassy plains of the deep crater. Lions, elephants, wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, ostriches, hyenas, and Cape buffalo roamed the plains, and flamingos and hippos filled the many water holes where the animals drank. There were two female lioness’ with their young cubs that had just taken down a wildebeest. They were still breathing heavily from the chase and making sure their babies had plenty of meat before they ate. We had an enormous bull elephant with one large tusk pass between the safari trucks. Two male lions with thick manes nearly brushed against our truck in pursuit of a female. I was in the back of the safari truck with two of our Japanese travel companions Emiko and Ko (both in their 50’s). When the lions came near, Emiko quickly closed the window (to keep the lions out) and Ko watched in awe repeating breathlessly in his thick accent, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Unbelievable.”
Those few hours in the “Garden of Eden” would have been more than enough to make that day one for the record books, but our time in Ngorongoro Crater was only the beginning. The day wasn’t just amazing because of the animals. We drove for about an hour to the infamous and vast plains of the Serengeti. Our group’s Land Rover was pulling a small, rickety trailer filled with our tents and other belongings for those few days. From the beginning, Bryan said that the trailer looked rough and probably wasn’t going to make it on the rutted African roads during our trip. So as we bumped along the dirt roads to the Serengeti, Bryan wasn’t the least surprised when he saw our trailer tire fly past us. “Oh, there goes the tire,” he calmly announced. At that moment we just happened to be passing by a remote Maasai village. For a little background, the Maasai are a large group of semi-nomadic people that live in the Great Rift Valley in parts of Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They are easy to identify because they are extremely tall and muscular, with very dark skin. They usually wear a red plaid wrap and carry a tall spear, along with a large field knife and a wooden club. They traditionally live off eating meat, blood, and milk. These Maasai warriors are no joke. They are seriously tough. When the Maasai boys reach puberty they are circumcised without an aesthetic. During the excruciatingly painful procedure, they are forbidden to show any emotion or they will face dishonor. The boys dress in black, paint their faces with white designs, and live out in the bush away from their families as they heal. We saw several groups of these boys during our time in Africa. But anyways, our tire flew off and rolled down a long hill past the Maasai village. In an instant, the several tall, muscular Maasai warriors (clothed in red plaid cloth with their spears in hand) took off in a full sprint after our tire. What a sight to see. They caught the wayward tire and rolled it back up the hill to us. “We run very far. We run very fast. Can we have money?” they asked as they returned our tire. Meanwhile, other Maasai were gathered around our truck asking if we wanted to trade our watches for knives or jewelry. Luckily, our Safari guide spoke their language and was able to communicate with them.
After arranging to leave our trailer at the Maasai village until the tire could be repaired, we finally made it to the Serengeti. During our earlier close-up lion encounter that day, Bryan’s camera got bumped into the wrong mode and none of his photos turned out quite right. He was not happy about this to say the least. So we were all relieved when our driver stopped the truck in the pouring rain and pointed out another large male lion only a few feet from our truck. He crouched among the tall grass and watched us. The rain finally stopped for a bit and he shook off like a big, wet dog and sauntered around. Bryan was finally able to get his lion photo, which made him very happy (and finally shut him up for awhile). 🙂
Driving through the Serengeti that afternoon, we continued to encounter wildlife. The vast, seemingly endless plains of the Serengeti don’t have the high density of wildlife in a relatively small area like Ngorongoro Crater does. But the animal encounters are equally as impressive. You may actually appreciate them more because you have to try harder to spot the animals. Along with the regal male lions, there were herds of zebras, elephants, and wildebeests. And we finally spotted the elusive leopard in a tree eating his prey. The leopard was the last of the African “Big Five” that we needed to see (lions, rhino, elephants, and Cape buffalo are the others). That night we camped and continued to hear the crashing of nearby elephant families and other sounds of the wildlife in the dark woods surrounding us.
And as for my camera, I realized I didn’t need it after all. Bryan is the photographer anyways, so my pictures always ended up being a poorer version of whatever Bryan took a picture of. And I was able to really see things we encountered up close and not behind the view finder of a camera.
So for some of you who wonder why we love to travel so much and why we would give up so much to do so, I think this account of one of my favorite travel days may explain a bit why we are “Happy To Be Homeless” right now. Someday we will have jobs, responsibilities, and a home again, but we will always cherish these unforgettable experiences.