Since I was pre-school I’d always wanted to go on a safari in east Africa. My dad raised me on wildlife programmes and his love of the natural world obviously rubbed off on me because I went on to study zoology at university.
During a volunteer placement in a school in northern Tanzania, the opportunity arose to fulfill this ambition. I opted for a 4 day/3 night trip with African Scenic Safaris to Lake Manyara, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. My group consisted of myself, a friend Ally from my hostel, a Swedish girl, Sara, and two sisters from Scotland.
On the road to Lake Manyara national park, we spotted our first big game. Giraffes strode out in front of our jeep, almost becoming road kill! There were also zebras in the distance, and this little taster reignited our excitement following the long drive.
Arriving at our first campsite, we tucked into a packed lunch. I was impressed with the food for the duration of the trip. The lunches included a wide variety of food to please even the pickiest of eaters (that would be me). Most importantly, they gave us sweets to take with us in case we got hungry in the reserve.
The sleeping facilities on the campsite were more than adequate. Ok, so it was no 5-star retreat, but the beds were more comfortable than in the hostel and they were inside permanent tents we could easily stand in. It was a relief to have a few nights away from my top bunk and the usual malaria tablet-induced ramblings of my dorm mates.
The toilet block on the other hand left a lot to be desired. I have never seen such a high concentration of bugs, and trying to wash your face as cockroaches jump at you from the sink is far from a pleasant experience!
At about 2pm, we piled back into the jeep and drove down to Lake Manyara national park. On the way, there was a viewpoint with incredible views of the Rift Valley and Lake Manyara. Ernest Hemingway once described this as the ‘loveliest’ lake and it’s clear why he was so moved.
Only a couple of minutes inside the park, we came across a family of baboons and a warthog. Our guide pointed it out excitedly while shouting ‘Pumbaa! Pumbaa!’ He explained that Pumbaa was the Swahili word for foolish, or weak-minded. This was the first of many lessons on the reasons behind each of the Lion King characters’ names. While I appreciated the effort our guide was going to, an unfortunate side effect was that we spent the next three days humming ‘Circle of Life’…
Other animals that we encountered included impala, dikdiks, more monkey species, giraffes, zebras, water buffaloes and pelicans. The lake itself creates a different habitat from the arid plains of the nearby Serengeti savannah and attracts many thirsty animals.
It was here that they first allowed us out of the van to stretch our legs and take photos. It was also here that I received my first tsetse fly bite. Take it from me – these are nasty! Tsetse fly bites hurt like hell, and, to make matters much worse, they spread sleeping sickness. Apparently, they are attracted to blue and black so, if you’re planning an African safari, remember to pack different coloured clothes.
Back in the trees, there was a herd of elephants and, a little further along the track, some hippos frolicking in the mud. Best of all, there was a crazy bird that would hover in the air, do a little dance and then bomb dive the pools for food. Against our better judgement, we left the jeep again and approached cautiously to take photos. I was surprised, given the hippo’s reputation as the most dangerous animal, that we were encouraged to do this.
Back at the campsite, high on adrenaline from such an incredible day, we tucked into African safari-style fish and chips (fried fish and roast potatoes) and exchanged stories with other tour groups about what we’d seen. I’d have liked to have stayed up later, but with a 7 am start and a day’s safari in the Serengeti to prepare for, we were tucked up and snoring happily by midnight.