If you think of going on a safari only once in your life (which really isn’t possible, because once you got a taste of it, you’ll definitely wanna do it again!) I cannot strongly enough recommend you to go to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. This place is truly magical and can’t be described in words, but I’ll do my best. What I can say you that you won’t go home the same.
As usual when we were doing game drives we got up early in the morning, driving from our overland camp outside of Arusha. Before entering Serengeti we spent a half day in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) which is also a terrific place connected to Serengeti. Driving up along the crater’s edges in the early morning as the sun is about to rise and you for the first time for about a month feel some cool air is more than exciting, and once at the top you’ll get the most breathtaking view of the crater. Geologists believe it was established around two to three millions ago, from a large volcano which exploded and shattered on itself. With its floor that covers 260 square kilometers it’s now home to roughly 65,000 wild animals. Our guide Susan told us that most of the animals down there are older, since they do not have the strength to walk out of the crater once they’ve gotten a much-needed drink. Also, giraffes cannot be found inside the crater as their long legs prohibit them from making the way down the steep slope.
In the crater we saw tons of impalas, wildebeests, zebras and lions sleeping in the shade right next to the road. In the crater there is several oases where hippos, water buffaloes and elephants could be found. The elephants here are much bigger than the ones we in Maasai Mara (the park in Kenya which is connected to Serengeti in the North) and that is due to the fact the crater once was a volcano. Due to the mineral rich soil, the fauna within the crater is much greener and healthier for the animals and elephants tusks grows like weeds.
After a fantastic morning and afternoon, we climbed up the crater and made our way to Serengeti. I was impressed with the NCA, but once we entered Serengeti I knew I was experiencing the real deal. All around was tall, all dried-up grass moving as the we drove by and as a stood up in the Ranger turning around in a 360 degree spin, I couldn’t see anything else but the savannah. I felt like I just stepped into my favorite childhood film, The Lion King and once the animals started to show I learned I was in heaven. Not ten zebras crossed the road, we’re talking about 150 of them, including another 150 wildebeest, trotting in line, screaming (that’s the only word I can come up with to describe how a zebra sounds) to one another and small foals running and biting each others tails.
Emotionally full and tired after a whole day of game driving, my Ranger took a final detour as we spotted an elephant in the horizon. It was a beautiful elephant, and ENORMOUS. I’m not lying, it was at least 4-4,5 meters tall and must have weight about 6 tons. To give you some perspective it’s about as big as 1.5-2 “regular” African elephants. Another vehicle was following it, which we later learned was a research vehicle. Our driver turned the engine off as usual (this is regular procedure done in order not to stress the animals while observing them) and we all watched this marvelous animal in silence. It was walking calmly towards us and we managed to get some nice close-up photos. Nevertheless, it got really close, I mean really close. Everyone was standing up in the truck at this point, but made him-/herself smaller and slowly returned to a seated position. Then it all happened very fast, but I still remember a trunk pushing against the car window next to the seat I was occupying and a tusk coming towards it. I throw myself onto Sophie (a lovely Australian gall working as a travel agent in Sidney) and pushed her up against wall as the tusked crossed the glass. Our driver managed to start the vehicle, and man did we fly out of there! In shock we all stared at each other in silence but it was quickly broken by me and Kevin (one of the smartest and funniest man on the planet and the only one travelling with me for the whole eight-week trip I did through Africa) getting a nervous attack of laughter. After about 20 minutes of constant laughing my nerves finally got to me and I started to shake and the “What if…” thoughts started to come; “What if that tusk had penetrated me?”, “What if someone had screamed [elephants despite high-pitched sounds]?”, “What if he had got stuck with the tusk or his trunk in the window frame?”, “What if he had flipped the whole Ranger?”. Well, we can all look back at that day and call ourselves lucky but of course things could have been done differently. For instance, the research vehicle could have tried to get in contact with us about the fact that they had just observed him waking up from being sedated because of the fact they wanted to do some test since this particular bull recently had been kicked out of his herd due to being far to aggressive. Also, we should never gotten that close in the first place and should have noticed that one of the tusks were half-broken, which is a sign for either an old elephant or a malignant one. Nevertheless, Susan (our tour guide at ATC) was very proud of us that we did handle the situations like pro:s and appreciated that we all had listen to her talks about elephants before, how much you need to think to keep your voice down when around, as well my fast reflexes.
My near death experience didn’t stop me from bush camping that night or going on a game drive the day after (it never stopped or will stop me from going on another safari again). The day after we’re fortunate to see a lot of cats; three cheetahs after finishing their breakfast, one lioness and male with their many, many cubs eating of a wildebeest and another family resting under an acacia tree, some still nibbling of a zebra-leg trying to keep the vultures out of it. Once again we had an amazing day, that would last to the very end.
At 5 pm we were driving on our way back out of the park. I was looking out the broken window and suddenly I spotted a mane in the distance. I shouted to the driver to stop and got up on my feet. About 60-70 meters away was a lion male walking away from a few more adult lions. He was carrying something in his mouth and I zoomed in with my camera in order to figure out what it was. To my surprise, it was a cub. “How cute!”, I first thought but at a second glance I realised the cub was dead. It got me thinking and while talking to Susan and the driver, we all agreed on that this particular lion must have very recently taken over the other pride. In these cases males do kill the cubs of his predecessor and therefore maximizes his own reproductive success. Some of my friend have problems to watch the pictures I took of this lion and cub, and even though I agree it’s a horrible affair, this was still my favourite event of the trip. I mean, how many people do get the chance to see something like this, something this wild? I asked Susan if she after her 15 years as a tour guide had seen anything like it. She answered that she had not. She also told me that our experience at Serengeti had been one of the most memorable ones to her (not only because of the elephant attack, that lady had a fair share of stories to tell about incidents in other parks, camping grounds etc.). The last thing she said when driving out of the gates was that:
“Today was a very, very good day.”
as she smiled back at me, blinked and then turned her face to the road ahead.