By Solomon Herring
Ever since I was a young boy, I had a dream of one day embarking on an African safari, and witnessing endless plains flooded with untamed wildlife. I would watch Animal Planet, and National Geographic documentaries, longing to venture to the endless savannas of east Africa. Finally, after waiting for countless years, I had the opportunity to travel deep into the Tanzanian wilderness, and explore some of the most pristine natural scenery in the world. I was lucky enough to spend three days and two nights exploring Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area and witnessing the natural beauty of these two landmarks in person. My time in these two amazing locations exceeded all expectations, as I was able to come face to face with all of the animals in the Big Five.
Thankfully, I did not undertake this quest alone, as I was able to share this amazing experience with four of my good friends, who are also volunteers here at Viva Tanzania. Our adventure started at 7:30 in the morning, when we were picked up by our guide. The drive from Arusha to Serengeti National Park was six hours, however the spectacular natural scenery we witnessed made time fly. We drove past Lake Manyara National Park, and through Ngorongoro Conservation Area, two spectacular natural wonders. Unfortunately, we were unable to see much of the crater throughout this drive, as it was covered by a cloud of thick mist. However, once we made our way away from the crater, we were able to see outside the car windows, and the views were simply breathtaking.
After four hours of nonstop driving, my stomach began to rumble. Thankfully, we stopped for lunch in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and picnicked in the bush. We were not alone for this tasty meal, as we were accompanied by a dazzle of zebras. This was my first time witnessing these lovely animals, and being able to see them in such abundance while eating lunch was truly dreamlike.Once we had finished our meal, we continued our drive through Ngorongoro Conservation Area until we reached Serengeti National Park. We witnessed plains as far as the eyes could see, filled with endless herds of gazelle and zebras. The landscape was a quintessential African savanna, with open fields lying between sparse concentrations of acacia trees. Eventually, as we reached the Serengeti, the tree coverage became sparser and sparser.
Upon our arrival in the Serengeti, nearly all the trees had disappeared.We were surrounded by grassland as far as the eye could see and we truly got to understand why the Maasai refer to this place as the endless plain. At this point, we opened the roof of the car and began our first of many game drives. The Serengeti is home to an abundance of wildlife, and we were immediately greeted by hordes of gazelle and other antelopes, herds of giraffes, and dazzles of zebras. These animals are a common sight when you are in the Serengeti, and you are guaranteed to witness them in abundance while on a safari. However, searching for lions,rhinos, cheetahs, elephants, and leopards requires a high degree of patience, which makes it even more rewarding once you finally come across these majestic beasts.
We were lucky to spot a pride of lions merely one hour into our game drive, and we parked our car less than three meters from them. After years and years of longing to see a lion in its natural habitat, I was finally face to face with the king of the jungle. We had come across a well populated group, as four fully grown lions surrounded our safari vehicle. Despite being large animals that were fully capable of ripping me and my companions into shreds and eating us for lunch, they spent a lot of time lying in the grass.After spending nearly thirty minutes watching the lions, we continued our game drive and eventually made our way to our campsite. Surprisingly, we had the campsite all to ourselves and were completely isolated in the heart of the Serengeti. Once we had set up camp, we started a campfire and had a very nice dinner. Due to the fact that we had to wake up at 5:30 the next morning, we were all in bed by around 21:00.
The next morning, we woke up before the sun rose, and the extreme African heat had completely disappeared. I quickly got out of my tent and poured myself a hot cup of coffee and opted out of taking a cold shower in fifteen degree weather. After a quick breakfast, we embarked on yet another game drive and got to witness the sun rise over the vast plains of the Tanzanian savanna. Unsurprisingly, we continued seeing endless dazzles of zebras and herds of giraffes, wildebeest, and buffalo. The sunrise over the Serengeti was breathtaking, and we watched in awe as the magenta of the morning sky illuminated the endless green plains. There were numerous instances where the natural beauty was so stunning, that I questioned whether or not I had awoken, or was merely still asleep and dreaming.
It was not long before we spotted another pride of lions, and this time we were lucky enough to catch them in the act of eating breakfast. We watched in awe as we saw two lion cubs fight over a dismembered gazelle, as if they were human siblings.
Watching these animals interact was a gripping expose into the intelligence that they possess, and I quickly came to the conclusion that lions were closer to humans than we like to imagine. Lions were not the only big cats that greeted us on this game drive, as we witnessed a cheetah merely five meters from our vehicle.
After spotting several prides of lions, we continued venturing through the endless plains of the Serengeti. The abundance of wildlife was so profound, that we had reached the point where seeing a dazzle of zebras was of little significance. We continued driving down beaten dirt roads, as our driver communicated with other tour guides, attempting to find a spot where we could witness something truly extraordinary.
Finally, after one hour, we found that spot. We were lucky enough to come face to face with a leopard, lounging on the branches of an acacia tree. However, unlike most, who only get to see these untamed creatures from a far distance, we were merely four meters from him. We had truly hit the safari jackpot, as leopards are some of the most elusive animals in all of Africa, and being able to say that you saw one up close is an extraordinary feat. The fact that we saw one this close on merely our second day on safari, showed how truly lucky we were.
By this point in the day, it was getting close to lunch time, and we began making our way back to our campsite to enjoy a mid day feast. On our way back, I was lucky to finally see the animal that I find to be the most fascinating: the African elephant. Merely fifteen minutes from our campsite, we found ourselves in the presence of a herd of more than ten elephants. The creatures were truly massive, dwarfing zebras, lions, or buffalo, and seeing them up close was truly spectacular. Elephants are truly majestic creatures, as they possess a high level of intelligence. Furthermore, they are extremely empathetic animals, and care for each other with extraordinary levels of compassion. We returned to our campsite having seen four of the animals in the big five, and there were still many adventures that were ahead of us.
After finishing a delicious lunch, we packed our bags and began making our way back to Ngorongoro Crater. The drive back was still breathtaking, even though we were going through spots that we had previously seen countless times. It took us around an hour and a half to reach the border of Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and another hour or so to reach our campsite at the edge of the world’s largest volcanic crater. We were camping high in the mountains, and the view into the crater was truly remarkable, making me feel as if I was in Jurassic Park. Unlike the Serengeti, we were not the only group at our campsite, and we were able to fraternize with other mzungu tourists.
After setting up our tents, we sat down for tea and coffee, and underwent the most exciting experience of our entire safari. While I was sitting down with my group, sipping on coffee and eating ginger cookies, I caught a glance of a large grey figure out of the corner of my eye. I then turned around, and saw an elephant, no more than a meter away from the building in which we resided. I then made everyone aware of our uninvited guest and the entire campsite went into an uproar. It took quite some time to get everyone’s attention, as I was unfazed by our guests’ abrupt arrival. I then ran to the front entrance of our shack, and walked outside. However, I made sure I was no more than a single step away from the door, in case this large tank of an animal felt threatened and began to charge. I was face to face with the world’s largest land animal, who was merely three meters away, with no barrier in between us, and it was truly surreal.
He was the size of an SUV with long tusks of ivory stretching from his head like long, sharp scimitars. I truly felt microscopic in comparison to this colossal behemoth, as if I was a fly on a bedroom wall. I stared at the beast as he stood in front of me and he let out a trumpeting roar that echoed throughout the entire campsite, startling all of those who hadn’t been made aware of his presence. He was no more than one stride away from a group of tents, leading those who were inside to run for their lives. The elephant then began to rummage through our trash can, searching for any morsel of food he could find amongst the endless abyss of glass, paper and plastic. He latched onto the bin with his trunk and began swinging it around, like a toddler playing with a ragdoll, emptying it of its contents. Unsurprisingly, this intelligent creature was able to empty the entire bin, and began scavenging through the bits and pieces of garbage.
The elephant continued snacking for thirty minutes, however, the amount of food he was able to consume was nowhere near enough to satisfy his voracious appetite.
Our encounter with a lone elephant was definitely the highlight of our safari, and it was a major talking point for the rest of the night. Witnessing these animals on foot is quite different than in your safari car, as you are truly made aware of their enormity when standing side by side with them. After endlessly discussing our experiences the past two days, and enjoying another lovely dinner, my group and I finally made our way back to our tents to go to sleep. The night sky was breathtaking, as we were underneath an endless array of stars. Layers and layers of bright lights illuminated the night sky, shining above us like Christmas lights.
Throughout the night, I was constantly awoken by the sounds of buffalo and hyenas, as they made their way through our campsite. After a night of sleeping, we awoke at 5:45 in the morning and I left my tent and entered total darkness. We then had a quick breakfast before making our way into Ngorongoro Crater. Once the sun had risen and we made our way into the crater, we were instantly greeted by countless zebras, gazelle, wildebeest, and buffalo, who were all present in great abundance. The crater was truly breathtaking, as 264 square kilometers of forest and grassland was surrounded by 600 meter high slopes. The inside of the crater was truly its own ecosystem, and I often wondered how all of these animals found their way into such a place.
Unlike the Serengeti, where the hippo population was confined to water during the daytime, the most dangerous animal in the African wilderness was able to roam freely in the sunlight, due to the crater’s cool climate. We gazed upon countless groups of hippos, as they roamed the floors of Ngorongoro Crater munching on grass.
Furthermore, we saw pride after pride of lions, as they rested in the grass plains, bathing in the sunlight.
Despite seeing so many animals in such abundance, there was one that was on my mind throughout our entire safari: the black rhino. Rhinos are some of the most endangered animals in all of Africa, which means that seeing one in person is truly a blessing. We ended up searching for hours, driving through nearly every corner of the crater floor. However, after nearly four hours, we finally had gotten lucky. Our driver abruptly stopped at the edge of a large forest and began to gaze through his pair of binoculars. Eventually, after five minutes of attentive staring, he turned around and told us that he had spotted a rhino. When I stared off into the distance, with nothing more than my bare eyes, the rhino looked like nothing more than a grey spot. Even when looking through the binoculars, I was unable to make out the shape of his horn. In fact, he looked almost identical to a buffalo. However, when I saw a photograph, taken by our group photographer, another workaway volunteer named Kibala, I was certain that the animal that I had just witnessed was a rhino.
After staring at the rhino for half an hour, we made our way back to the campsite, and prepared for our three and a half hour journey back to Arusha. Time flies when you’re on a safari, making it important to cherish every single moment. After making our way back to the campsite, eating lunch, and packing our belongings, we embarked on our long journey home. On our drive from the campsite to the edge of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we stopped at a spectacular viewpoint, which was located at the top of the crater. Fortunately, the skies were quite clear, and we were able to see a panoramic view of the entire crater. I stared out into the distance for more than fifteen minutes, and frankly, I could have stayed in the same spot, and looked at the same view, until the sun set. However, we had to make it back to Arusha before nightfall, meaning that our time spent here had to be brief.
All in all, my three days on safari were some of the most unforgettable moments of my entire life. I saw natural beauty that is unparalleled to almost anywhere else in the world, and I finally got to witness the majestic animals of the African savanna. When travelling to Africa, you will undergo experiences that you will find nowhere else in the entire world, and going on a safari is truly the icing on top of the cake. Visiting the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and other natural wonders in Africa are goals featured on the bucket list of nearly any traveller. I am truly thankful for being able to experience something so magical, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will take these memories with me for the rest of my life.