The summer before my final year in nursing school I decided I wanted to get a tasteof foreign medicine and use my skill set for a charitable cause. I chose to spend 6 weeks in Tanzania, Africa volunteering in an ER or “casualty unit” as they call it. I’ll get into those six weeks and my time spent there at a later date. For now, I will tell you about my week BEFORE those six weeks which I spent on a camping safari through the Northern safari gateway which included the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. I mean, you can’t go to Africa and not go on a safari. I couldn’t let my inner child down and skip out on seeing Simba.
I booked my safari through Good Earth Tours. While they do offer luxury lodging, I opted for the camping Safari. 1. Because I thought it would be amazing to sleep under the stars in the Serengeti and 2. Because at the time I was 23 and it was way cheaper to rough it.
Camping in the Serengeti
My Safari included all meals, camping equipment and came with a personal tour guide/driver and a cook. The vehicle provided was a 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop-up roof which permitted you to stand up and look out at the animals and scenery for a better view. If you don’t absolutely love camping I wouldn’t recommend a camping safari for you. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, Good Earth Tours did warn me that this type of safari was not for the faint of heart. In an email they sent to me before I officially booked my trip they stated, “Camping safaris in Tanzania are adventurous and rudimental. No showers. Outdoor bathrooms. The camping safari experience is very intense as you are right in the middle of the jungle and not there for just the day.” Obviously, that email only heightened my excitement and I went ahead and booked it.
Sunset in the Serengeti
I, along with two other people who happened to be going on this safari at the same time, were picked up by our driver, Benedict and our cook. We then began the 3-hour trek to Ngorongoro Crater, our first stop. On the way there, we made stops in rural villages for the cook to gather food for our trip. During these stops we were swarmed by the villages’ inhabitants trying to get a look at the “mzungus.” Mzungu is a Bantu term for tourist which loosely translated means “one who wanders in circles.”
During our trek, down one of the long, desolate dirt roads we were stopped by men with machine guns. While still trying to gather my bearings in this foreign land, I was not prepared for this. I don’t think the other two people were either as we all fell silent. Our driver, Benedict, told us to keep quiet as he showed these men his license and paid them. After being paid, the men stepped to the side of the road and let us pass. To this day, I am unsure of who the men were or worked for, but something tells me they weren’t park rangers or police officers.
Once we arrived at Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we stopped on the rim of the crater to set up camp in one of the most aesthetically stunning places I have ever seen. On the rim was lush grass and big baobab trees, one of which we camped under. Stepping to the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater you can look down and see the largest unbroken caldera in the world. This is home to and one of the only places in the world you can find every member of the “big five” (rhinoceros, lion, cheetah, leopard and elephant) on a single game drive. For the record we did, we saw every single one.
Circle of life
We spent two days exploring Ngorongoro. Along with the big five, we saw droves of wildebeest, cape buffalo, zebras and warthogs. While I spent my days exploring and taking pictures, the nights were just as interesting. Our first night camping at Ngorongoro Crater, I was woken up at about 2:00 in the morning by my tent mate quietly hissing my name and saying, “do you hear that?” At which point I heard a loud crunching sound right outside of our tent. I immediately panicked and we stayed extremely quiet, lying as still as stone, heads covered by sleeping bags staring at each other, eyes as big as saucers. I half expected a T-rex to stick its head through the doorway of our tent. For the next four hours, every possibility of what that could have been ran through my head and I ultimately decided that Benedict and the cook had been mauled by lions and that the crunching sound I so clearly heard was Simba chewing on their bones. Of course, I didn’t sleep a wink.
At first sunlight we ran out of our tent to find that everyone was still alive. When we asked Benedict about the noise he reported that it was just an elephant passing through camp. At that moment I learned two things. 1. that elephants do not know how to tip toe and 2. Africa came with a huge learning curve and I needed to be prepared to reevaluate everything I have ever known.
This lioness snuck up behind us
As much as I loved Ngorongoro Crater, my three days spent in the Serengeti were my favorite. For three days, I gained insight into a side of the Animal Kingdom I only ever dreamed of. I watched lions stalk and kill, hippos splash around, crocodiles bask in the sun and giraffes lazily look for leaves. I came entirely too close for my liking to baboons, lions, cheetahs and killer bees. I was astonished at Benedict’s knowledge and his ability to spot a jaguar’s tail lolling from a tree branch 150 yards away. I had some of the most amazing times and also the most frightening times out there but I loved every second of it.
The evenings in the Serengeti hold some of my most beloved memories. While the lantern cast shadows of rats and packs of mongoose scurrying by, I spent those hours practicing my Swahili and swapping stories with Benedict. The stars shone brilliantly out there in no man’s land. When it was time for bed it was almost hard to fall asleep as the sounds of the jungle came to life and were nearly deafening. If we kept the light on in the tent you could see the silhouette of the hyenas walk by and hear them cackle as if they knew something we didn’t. Those were more of the frightening times, but what a rush.
Even with the dirt, scorching sun and moments of imminent danger, that safari will always be one of my most treasured adventures. For a moment, I got to experience life without all the materialistic perks and just be an animal on the food chain, in our natural habitat. And that, well that was everything.
As always, if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to contact me. For more travel tips and stories subscribe to my site and follow my page on Facebook. Happy travels to you all and don’t forget to stay fickle in flight.