The first day of Safari was amazing! We woke early for breakfast at Songota Lodge and our driver, Danny, arrived promptly for an 0830 departure. He had to wait for our sorry slow selves. On safari there is a lot of time spent in the Land Cruiser. It has 4 individual seats; each by a window, plus a bench row across the back. Our first stop was a grocery store in Arusha to buy some bottled water and a couple snacks, but then we all claimed a seat and watched the scenery roll by for a couple hours. We saw the landscape change from jungle on the sides of Mt. Meru where we stayed to scrubland and dry grassy plains full of goat and cow herds free grazing and crossing the road.
At the entrance to Tarangire National Park, we waited and ate our box lunches while Danny stood in the long line to get us entrance permits. This was the first spot we saw a baobab tree! Excitingly there was a stairway and platform around and up one of these trees at the entrance picnic area. The waiting for entrance permits became something we were accustomed to; there were about 20 safari cars waiting in the parking lot and all their tourist occupants were doing exactly what we were: wandering around and eating their box lunches. Some seemed fancier than others, but everyone has to wait.
Once we entered the park, everything changed! Danny popped the roof up: the entire roof pops straight up to allow us to stand on the seats and peer out at animals. It also provided shade, so all those websights recommending you bring hats are off the mark; we never used ours. Riding was comfy…our long pants and sleeves were good for keeping off all the dust, but footwear is pretty irrelevant. In fact, we mostly when in socks so we wouldn’t muck the chairs with our shoes. Avi was able to stand on the top of a chair and hold the railings out the top, while Zoe and I stood on the seats and Bryan just planted himself on the floor. So, just visualize the car rolling down the dusty bumpy dirt roads at high speed with us all standing out the top, wind blowing our hair and drying our eyes. The kids couldn’t be more excited about it!!
Our first animal sightings were funny. We spotted a beautiful iridescent blue bird and asked Danny to stop so we could watch it; he said it was a Starling. Another safari rolled by and the driver seemed to ask Danny what we were watching. After some Swahili back and forth they both laughed, and later we figured out why. These Starlings are everywhere! They are like the blackbirds of Tanzania.
From there, the wildlife got more amazing. First it was a mass group of wildebeest, just like in movies. They are crazy looking! We saw impala’s, and stopped for warthogs, zebra’s, and giraffe! We rolled up on a watering hole with all these animals wandering around together and that’s when it really became real that this is the wild: not a zoo, they aren’t separated. I know it sounds obvious but until you see them all, the hundreds of variety of herds and animals, herbivores and carnivores, all mingling at a watering hole, it just can’t be imagined.
The next watering hole had elephants and we stayed a long time to just watch them wash their babies, roll in the mud, squirt water and play. The animals are so close, too. Many times gazelle and wildebeest or elephants would just walk right past the car.
The day went on in the same way. We would drive and look for animals, spot some and stop for pictures and watching. Danny would ask, “good?” to see when we were ready to move on. He knew where to go. The park is crisscrossed with tons of dirt roads, but he chose a route. He would also stop when a friend drove by and they would exchange gouge on where the animals were, so he’d adjust our plan. Any time we spotted something we wanted to watch longer, we’d just ask him to stop. So, we spent hours perched on seat backs awed by the scenery and the animals. At times there would be no wildlife to look at for a long time, and then they would all appear gathered in clumps. We stopped once at a picnic area to finish off our lunches and take a toilet break. The area was surrounded by crazy monkeys! One even snatched a packet of biscuits right off the table in front of Avi.
By late afternoon Danny began drive back to the entrance gate, but we stopped at the roadside to see what another car had spotted and there were 3 lionesses! They were alert and watching a wildebeest herd from the top of a large dirt mound. Then, one by one, they each slunk off into the tall grass. They were hunting! A row of safari cars lined the road as we watched the scene unfold. The lionesses spread into a wide arc, surrounding the area where the wildebeest were heading. The wildebeest crossed the road in front of the cars and right into the trap. The farthest lioness started them running toward the others and then it was chaos of running wildebeest and attempting to keep track of the other lions. The lion nearest us was hunkered down in the grass just off the road, waiting. She never had the chance to pounce as the wildebeest ran further from the road. Eventually stuff calmed, and the three lions joined each other behind their original dirt mound; nothing for dinner just yet.
With that excitement, we drove out of the park, put down the top, and Danny drove a couple hours to our nights’ lodging near Ngorogoro crater. The drive was long, but we were ready for a bit of a stare out the window at the local village life after a tiring day of balancing and bobbing along out the top of a safari car. Though we are in a vehicle the whole time, there is really no sitting! Along the way Zoe rattled off all the animals we saw: she kept a list every day as we would spot new creatures.
Here is Zoe’s List Day #1 (Tarangire National Park):
- wildebeest migration
- brown eagle
- baby elephants
- water buck
- lilac breasted roller
- snake eagle
- dik dik
- bee tree
- baobab tree
- water buffalo
- lionesses hunting wildebeest
The lodge we are at tonight is called Endoro Lodge and is the opposite of the ‘rustic’ pay range we are in. I can’t imagine what the ‘luxury lodge’ safari accomodations are if this is rustic. We have a large individual casa with 3 bedrooms and a mini kitchen as if we would have time to spend; it would be a lovely place to relax for a couple days. There is even a pretty pool, but we don’t have time for it as darkness was setting in as we arrived. A porter (a masaii man) carried our luggage, which is crazy new for us and dinner was quite fancy in a beautiful glass fronted building. On safari, all meals are included so it’s easy and a bit out-of-mind to forget how much we did actually pay for this service. We booked a budget “5 day rustic safari” via Bobby Tours, which still amounted to a bit over a thousand per each of us (WAAAAYY more than our typical vacation budget). So, I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked at the amazing lodges, but still, ours is budget category! What are the luxury people paying for?! I’m wondering if we couldn’t have gotten away with “basic tented safari” and been impressed.