Six of us had an amazing expedition to Tanzania for eight nights starting on Christmas Eve 2017.
My husband and I had visited nine years ago, choosing this route to see the great migration of two million creatures. We were returning with our grown daughter and three friends, and worried it couldn’t possibly match up to our marvelous memories. In fact, this trip surpassed the first, with deeper experiences and variety.
We did indeed capture the “Big 5”: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, caped buffalo—and so much more. Here are my top 10 highlights.
No. 10: Close encounters
The first views of elephants or lions, giraffes, antelope or zebras, are thrilling around each bend: sauntering, sleeping, eating, watching us watching them, or completely ignoring us. We could go off road in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to get intimately close, but often creatures just sprung up in front of our 4×4. (No need to fear: they have become accustomed to vehicles–but don’t attract their attention!)
No. 9: The Maasai
There are an estimated 1.5 million Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania, going about their lives as their ancestors did a thousand years ago (though often with cell phone in hand): herding gaunt herds of cattle and goats, dressed in bright traditional robes, living in mud huts. They’re beautiful; and willing to be photographed for money. There is talk of relocating them to preserve the wildlife habitats, which would be daunting.
No. 8: Zebra migration
In the Serengeti, we came across a dizzying dazzle (group!) of zebras enjoying a small river bed, drinking, soaking, frolicking. The next day, they had vanished, following the rains elsewhere, part of the Great Migration.
No. 7: Elephant dust dance
At Lake Masek, we followed a band of elephants snacking and drinking. At one point, they used their feet and trunks to gently filter through the dusty grass seeking nutrients. Their swaying seemed to be a choreographed dance.
No. 6: Lions galore
After the first exciting view of a lioness in a tree, we lost count. Most of the time, they were sleeping, often on their backs in very unflattering poses; some in prides, others alone. Two of the most memorable encounters: Watching a lioness in the Serengeti stalk a zebra pack, bounding after them too early and quickly getting left in the dust. And in the Ngorongoro Crater, we tracked a lioness from grasslands to the road, hoping for a hunt. Instead, she was so comfortable around vehicles, she strolled into the shade of one and plopped down for a snooze.
No. 5: Three leopards and a tail
It’s astonishing how well the guides can spot wildlife in the distance, and how willingly they share “finds” via the radio. We heard about a leopard and went in pursuit. Turned out it was hidden in a tree far, far away and you could just barely see a tail. But we did gape at three of these beautiful beasts: One had dragged a zebra carcass up his tree; another attempted to snag a bird; a third just lazed during the entire hour and a half we watched him, waiting and waiting under his tree for some action. It got so dark we had to leave.
No. 4: Balloon ride over the Serengeti
It was the first hot-air balloon ride for my family and we were enchanted by the quiet and peace, interrupted by gushes of fiery butane to lift us further. We saw the most spectacular sunrise, then were treated to a soaring overview of the migration (mostly wildebeest, accompanied by zebra, often loping single file), plus a cackle of hyenas going after gazelles.
No. 3: Darling babes
Lion cubs, zebra foals, baboon infants, warthog piglets, elephant, giraffe and hippo calves. We were enthralled with kids of all kinds, playing, eating, sleeping, suckling and nuzzling. See the next item!
No. 2: Cheetah cub and mom
Our daughter Regan spotted a distant image under a tree and we went to take a look. It was a beautiful female cheetah. As we oohed and ahhed out the right side of the 4×4, our friend Mary caught sight of a cub right in front of us! We watched the two tussle and snuggle without a care. We returned a few hours later, and found both with blood-stained faces, close to a wildebeest carcass.
And, the Number One highlight: Giraffe Valley
As we drove toward Lake Masek in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (where you can go offroad and do walking safaris), we were captivated by a horizon framed with giraffes, zebras and wildebeests. Our guide let us out and my daughter and I joyfully advanced upon them. Our travel companions drove past us, scattering the creatures over the ridge. So. We followed.
What a sight! There was a tower of 70 plus giraffes clustered in a valley. It was like discovering Jurassic Park: primeval and serene with an underlying hint of danger. We could have happily encamped there forever.
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