The sky is breathtaking here. There are so many stars. There are the main stars you see back home. But beyond that there are so many faint background stars that the sky seems continually lit up with no full darkness. You can even see the milky way! It is like previous generations are looking down and watching over us…just like Mufasa told Simba. The landscape reminds me exactly of the Lion King, with the tall acacia trees and bare plains with grazing animals, and I may be singing “The Circle of Life” in my head as we drive through the wilderness. But I am sane. I am in Africa, in my own real life Lion King, so the connotations and comparisons with the Disney movie are allowed.
This morning I woke up to zebras and wildebeests grazing on my doorstep. We slept in a tented camp site, where the rooms were actually villas on stilts, with hardwood floors, permanent furniture and bathroom facilities, but the walls were completely canvas, like a tent. We were escorted to dinner last night in case we encountered any animals, which we did – a female impala on the footpath to the outdoor restaurant. So far after 2 full days and 3 nights, I am in love with this place. Tanzania is a wonderful country. The people are friendly and kind and very welcoming. “You are most welcome” or “Karibu” are the most common phrases you hear, whether you are arriving at a hotel, being shown your rooms, saying good night or arriving at a museum – they say it before you even have a chance to say “hello” or “thank you”. It is all rather formal but it does transport you back to the time when Hemingway and others came to this country to hunt.
And it is yet to set in that I am even here, in the middle of Africa, in a tent, on a safari trip. Transportation is so easy now, you don’t have time to prepare or transition into your new surroundings. I flew into England at 6am Friday, and left at 6:30pm Saturday. 5:30pm London time on Sunday, 23 hours later, I am in Africa. Even today and yesterday, driving around Manyara and Tarangite National Parks, I feel I will wake up soon and be in bed in New Zealand.
I am not complaining, it is just an odd feeling. Because it is such a different world here. It is fantastic. We have been to Tarangire National Park, my first safari experience, where we drove in a land cruiser with a pop up top, seeing zebras, giraffes and impalas. The first animal we saw were monkeys, which weren’t overly exciting, as they were in the entrance parking area for registration. Then we saw Zebras. Zebras, in the distance, hiding behind a bush. Zebra specks. But still, zebras! One of my favorite African animals. So off I went taking photo after photo. Little did I know, that we would see plenty more, including herds, both up close and in the distance, and little baby zebras. Even after day 2 I no longer squeal “zebra” when I see one due to seeing so many. I do squeal though when I see a baby zebra, because they are adorable. But I am trying to make a conscious decision to be as excited as I was the first time I saw an animal on safari, every time I see another one. Because it is easy to get complacent, and think “oh giraffe, I saw heaps yesterday…keep driving.” I don’t want to get like that.
All the animals, no matter how few or distant, are exquisite. They truly are. Interacting with one another, feeding, resting, fighting. Who knew that wildebeest and zebra always stick together, as zebras are good at spotting predators, and wildebeest can smell water more than 5km away. Further, baboons will eat leopard. Sneak up on them resting and tear them apart. Savage.
So yes on day 1 we saw zebras, elephants, wildebeest, verval monkeys, waterbucks, impalas, cranes and other various birds. We even chased a lion and later on we chased a pumbaa. I saw the warthog in the distance and yelled to Dad, “pumbaa!” Our driver Abdul knew what I meant right away, and started calling out “here pumbaa” and made pumbaa grunting noises. When it started running, and we drove after it, Abdul couldn’t stop laughing, in a very Lion King Pumbaa laugh. Day 2 involved Manyara National Park, a completely different experience altogether. Where Tangire was very dry and open, Manyara began with a rainforest, lush and green.
We saw blue monkeys, baboons and various butterflies. It then suddenly changed to a harsh barren landscape, which was the pattern throughout in Manyara – varying ecosystems, with very rapid transitions. It was not as impressive a park, because so much wildlife was hidden in the forest, but also because it was more distant than our first day. We saw hippos in the hippo pool, bathing in the water then coming up to bake in the sun. Nearby were thousands of birds – pelicans, cranes, Egyptian ducks and others, coming to wash in the fresh water, then dry their wings in the sun. They would then take flight and circle overhead, testing their wings to see if they were dry enough to fly on.
Now we have 2 parks left, Ngorogoro and Serengeti. Then soon it will all come to an end, and I will leave as quickly as we arrived, with my time in San Diego looming ever closer. I will have to find an apartment and prepare for my classes. But until then, I have more animals to look forward to, including leopards cheetahs and rhinos. And of course many more zebras, wildebeests and elephants. Can’t wait!!