August 4, 2014: Tarangire
After a successful climb of Mount Kilimanjaro and a good night’s sleep, I met Swai, my safari guide in Arusha. We then got supplies and headed out to Tarangire National Park. I was the only person in the group, so it was a solo safari. Tarangire was home to 3,000 elephants. We saw about 50 of them as well as zebras, wildebeast, giraffes, monkeys, and the elusive cheetah. The baobab studded landscape was exactly how I imagined Africa to look like. Being the only person in the jeep, I was able to call all the shots and direct Swai to drive up to the animals so I could take the perfect picture. Swai was fantastic at finding the animals.
We then drove to our campsite near Ngorogoro in the town of Karatu.
August 5, 2014: Masai Village and Olduvai Gorge
We got a late start because we had to buy more supplies and prep for the wilderness of Serengeti. We then drove through the Ngorogoro Conservation Area where we ran into the Korean family from Kilimanjaro.
Eventually, we reached a Masai cultural village. Due to the steep $50 entrance fee, I told Swai I didn’t want to go but he took me anyways although he negotiated the price down to $25. Suddenly, I was led into the village where about 30 Masai men and women performed a welcome dance. They invited me to jump with them. I then got a mediocre tour of a house and the “school” where they kept asking for donations. I ended up buying a beaded marriage stick for about $35. They originally asked me for $160 so I feel pretty good with the purchase even though I still know I got somewhat ripped off (they were selling the same items in Olduvai Gorge for an initial asking price of $30). While I did not regret giving them money, I don’t think that this type of cultural tourism should be promoted and wouldn’t recommend that other safari-goers visit a Masai village.
After the village, we went to Olduvai Gorge one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites. They charged $20/person which gave admission to the museum and a view of the gorge (again, a horrible value since we weren’t allowed to actually enter the gorge). The small museum was actually quite informative about the discoveries at the site, preservation techniques, and the Leakeys. The museum also contained the original casts of the world famous Laetoli footprints discovered about 45km away. We ate lunch overlooking the gorge.
In the afternoon, we finally made it to Serengeti, the Endless Plains. It looked similar to Kansas except there were elephants and other African animals. At the entrance gate, we met a French couple whose jeep broke down. I invited them to join me for the afternoon as we drove through the park looking for animals. On the 3 hour drive, we saw elephants, gazelles, and 3 lions! I found it strange that the wildlife was just hanging out in the grass seemingly in the middle of nothing. I expected the lions to be hidden on the many Pride Rock-like structures scattered throughout the Savannah, but the lions were sleeping in a open field. We arrived at the camp just in time for a spectacular sunset. As much as I disliked many of the events that happened during the day, driving through the Serengeti at sunset with the safari jeep roof open was sublime- perhaps one of the best experiences of the trip.
August 6, 2014: Serengeti
I woke up at 7:30 but Swai was nowhere to be seen. At 8, I finally found him and he handed me a breakfast of a loaf of bread and 3 red bananas. He then went to do some other stuff until 9. At this point I had mixed feelings about the trip. As long as Swai was driving the jeep and we were looking at animals, everything was good but when that wasn’t happening, the safari was not so great. He was not friendly to me and tried to cut costs wherever he can. Luckily, the purpose of the safari was to see the animals and I would be able to survive by living on bread and bananas for 6 days. Since our campsite had 60 people, I saw that most of the safaris are eating well with friendly staff and they paid less than me.
In the morning, we drove out to see the big cats! We saw 3 prides of lions, although the highlight of the day was watching a cheetah kill a gazelle on the run. We also saw hippos, zebras, gazelles, and warthogs. At around 12:30, we got lunch at a restaurant in the park center. There were actually 2 restaurants but Swai took me to the cheap “local” restaurant which had subpar food- the options were chicken or beef with rice. After eating the first plate of food, I was still hungry so we ordered a second plate. After eating half of the second plate, I was full. Swai angrily told me that I shouldn’t waste food because it costs him money. Considering how much I paid for the safari, I found that ridiculous. However, since I was in no position to say anything or get angry because I was at Swai’s mercy, I smiled and said sorry.
The afternoon adventuring was pretty awesome. We saw hippos, hyenas, more elephants, and the elusive leopard. I have now seen every major animal in the park except for the rhino! On the way back to camp, there was another epic sunset.
While I was not happy at all with Swai’s “trip” stuff, he certainly was great at spotting game. At the end of the day I was in a private jeep cruising through the Serengeti, so I couldn’t complain about my living conditions. Nothing was going to change, so there was no reason to get upset.
August 7, 2014: Another Day in Serengeti
Today we went to the far southern part of the park. We saw a leopard in a tree only 20 feet away. On the drive, I talked with Swai about the Bible and evolution. Swai was a practicing Christian who knew very little about other religions or history. For example, he asked me if Christianity or Islam was the first religion, which is funny because both religions accept that Judaism is older. Anyways, he believed in a strict 7-day creation that occurred 6,000 years ago. I found this hilarious since he took every safari to Olduvai Gorge which had archeological evidence for humanoids living millions of years ago. He was shocked to hear that other cultures (such as the Chinese or ancient Greeks) have stories about the creation of the world that are different from the Biblical account. I then showed him an idol of Ganesh that I happened to have in my bag and he laughed at the idea that people could possibly worship an elephant. I really had a fun time talking to him about the diversity of the world even though I can almost guarantee that he is secretly laughing at me behind my back.
We ate lunch on a large rock that looked a lot like Pride Rock from the Lion King. Rocky outcroppings were common in this part of the Serengeti. 2 minutes after leaving the rock, we saw a lion eating a wildebeest carcass in the middle of the road. After he was finished, I could see some hyenas eyeing the carcass, but they ended up staying away because they didn’t want to be attacked by the lion and his friends.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We did see a rhino from a great distance, rounding out the Big 5 (lion, water buffalo, leopard, elephant, rhino). Just like the past 2 days, the sunset was amazing with light beams shooting downward from the sky. The pictures look fake/too epic to be real.
Dinner was actually good-African beef with rice although I was still hungry after dinner.
August 8, 2014: Ngorogoro Crater
I woke up at 6 to leave Serengeti for Ngorogoro Crater. Swai was running on African time, so we left at 8 and got to the crater around 11. The top of the crater was around 6,000 ft above sea level so it was very cold at the top. However, it is 2,000 ft deep so the bottom of the crater was almost hot. We ate lunch at the bottom of the crater near a hippo pool. We spent the rest of the day looking for animals in the mainly treeless crater. We saw wildebeest migrating around the crater as well as a rare rhino! Unlike in Serengeti where it was too far away, I was able to snag a picture this time. We left the crater around 4 through a steep road out followed by a fun drive along the crater rim. I was blasting Muse as we cruised along the dirt road.
We camped in a nice hotel/campground in Mto Wa Mbu in the Great Rift Valley. The hotel had wifi for $5/hr but Facebook was somehow able to be accessed for free. Swai bought two glasses of wine and we drank in the candlelight. I went to bed around 8:30 to prep for the final day of the safari.
While I despised Swai for the first 2-3 days of the trip, I now understood him and his antics. His opinions were considered stereotypical “African” and I found it interesting to talk to him about religion, creation, marriage, sex, homosexuality, family dynamics, foreign cultures and travel. He had far different opinions about all these things than I have ever heard before. Again, while I disagreed about most of his ideas, I respect them and was very glad to hear perspectives/reasoning that you would never hear in West Los Angeles or at college.
August 9, 2014: Lake Manyara
We woke up late today and headed to our final National Park, Lake Manyara. Manyara was known for tree climbing lions, birds, and green landscape in the Great Rift Valley. Unfortunately, we really didn’t see much of any of that. We didn’t see a lion, the birds were very far away, and the landscape was only somewhat green because it was the dry season. Still I enjoyed driving around in the safari jeep. Afterwards, we got lunch in town before heading back to Arusha. I got a room at the YMCA for cheap. The staff was great and it was located right in the middle of town.
The safari was really spectacular. Even though I really did not like Swai for the first few days, I eventually grew to like him. While the food was not good at all, he did a great job at helping me see all the animals. Going solo made me more nimble and allowed me to ask Swai to move the car ever so slightly to get the perfect picture. While I don’t feel the need to do another long solo safari again, I am very thankful to have gone.