A Private Safari in Tanzania
I never thought I’d be able to afford a safari. I’d settled for the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Although cheaper to visit from my home in California and accurate in its approximation of the Serengeti, the Wild Animal Park cannot replace the adventure of travelling to Africa.
After three flights, one luggage delay, and one harrowing taxi ride through unpaved roads in the dark of night, we arrived at Springlands Hotel in Moshi, Tanzania for our adventure with Zara Tours. In my dispensed advice to female travellers, I stress to never arrive after dark, especially while travelling alone. In this case, our late arrival was unavoidable, as only one KLM flight travelled between Amsterdam and Arusha per day. Luckily, Diane and I were travelling together, so it wasn’t so distressing.
As with any slightly risky adventure, I repeated to myself that the relaxed guides are attuned to the wild animals’ habits much more than a visitor to the country, which put my mind at ease.
On the morning of our safari departure, Land Rovers were lined up outside the gates of the hotel, and a staff member was calling names from a booking sheet. I heard my name and we hobbled over to Oscar, who helped us with our bags and exercised great patience as we clambered into the elevated seats of our transport.
“We returned from our Kili climb yesterday,” I explained, and his face relaxed, dismissing the fear that we were greatly injured.
We marveled at our spacious transport as we passed other safari vehicles on the road that were packed with four, six, and sometimes eight tourists. We even encountered the undisclosed safari company that I was considering for the trip, but decided against them on the sole basis of expense.
Oscar stopped when we requested time to photograph an elephant family, sought out the best view of the docile giraffes, and communicated with the other guides via radio when the elusive leopards made an appearance. A lion sighting was also communicated among tour guides, and happened more frequently than sighting the leopards.
Oftentimes, the vehicles congregated, engines off and tourists peeping out of the rooftops. The lions plopped down in the shade of the vehicles and enjoyed the respite from the heat. A young boy in another vehicle dropped his camera near the lion. Luckily, it was disposable, and hopefully biodegradable. The lions sauntered around the vehicles as the tourists held their breath, with the realization that one swift lunge from a lion could be disastrous.
The guides appeared less concerned with the possibilities for disaster. As with any slightly risky adventure, I repeated to myself that the relaxed guides are attuned to the wild animals’ habits much more than a visitor to the country, which put my mind at ease.
Zebras were beautifully viewed at sunset. The waning sun and glow of its gradual disappearance reflected off their striped coats. Their baying signaled sunset for us each evening, and we stopped along an open stretch of the Serengeti, on the way back to Ikoma Wild Camp, where we would settle into our hut. Diane and I stood in silence, torsos popping out of the Land Rover, watching the zebras.
“How long do we have?” we enquired of Oscar.
“As long as you want. You are the only guests in the camp tonight,” he casually replied, as he surveyed the vast, almost treeless plain with obvious pride.
“I just can’t get over how much it looks like the Wild Animal Park,” I mused to Diane.
“Yes, but you’re in the real habitat. Appreciate it,” she advised.
On the last day of our stay at the Springlands Hotel, we wanted to venture into the town of Moshi. As we learned the night of our arrival, the hotel is on the outskirts of town, down a dirt road. We requested a ride into town.
As the van doors were sliding shut, a hand stopped their closure and a local man hopped in. He announced himself as our tour guide for the afternoon. We glanced at the van driver for confirmation, but his expression was stoic.
The driver dropped us off at the town square and said he’d return in two hours. Dula, our unofficial guide, exited with us and insisted on taking us to the choice shops. We humored him and followed his lead, declining the offer to discover the shelters across a field and down near the railroad tracks.
“Next time,” we said, and continued toward the nearest souvenir shop.
Dula collected our bags after each purchase and lined them along his arm. With his other hand, he took mine.
“Sister, are you having a good time?” I nodded and humored him as we strolled through the streets of his hometown hand in hand, to the delight of the local onlookers.
Zebras were beautifully viewed at sunset. The waning sun and glow of its gradual disappearance reflected off their striped coats.
Our driver was right on time and Dula rode back to the hotel with us. We tipped him as we all left the van, watching him disappear through the door of a bar/nightclub next door to the hotel.
With a sense of humor and ease, the authentic personal safari adventure was a meaningful experience.
Photo credit: Anja Pietsch