Travel with Terri
Story by Terri Marshall
Everyone has a bucket list of some type—even if it’s not written down. An African safari has always been one of my bucket list destinations. I was feeling the call of the wild! So when my husband and six of my girlfriends decided they wanted to experience an African safari too, it was off to the Serengeti in Tanzania. We knew we would see wildlife, but we had no idea how many incredible sights were coming our way—or how wonderful the Tanzanian people would be. This was our adventure.
Making an entrance
As our small plane approached the Kogatende airstrip in Tanzania’s Northern Serengeti, we were all on the edge of our seats. We had just flown over the majestic and active Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano—the only volcano in the world that spews black carbonite lava. And we knew we were about to see more wonders of this part of our planet, the wildlife.
We watched as the scene unfolded outside our windows. Thousands of wildebeest and zebras were seemingly awaiting our arrival. It was the season of the great migration on the Northern Sergenti and it was THE place to be for a front row seat to the wealth of wildlife that thrives in Tanzania.
Adventures with TopGuides Safaris
As we exited the plane we were greeted by our guide, Victor. The founder of Top Guides Safaris, Victor grew up in a village at the edge of the Northern Serengeti. Having spent his youth living in the village and following the animals, Victor is intimately acquainted with life on the Serengeti. His knowledge led us to discoveries we never thought possible. He was accompanied by Frances, known as “Chaba” to his friends, who has been introducing guests to the incredible sights of his country since his teen years. When he’s not working as a guide, Chaba is recording and performing his Hip Hop music in Arusha. To say we were about to be immersed in the local culture is an understatement.
The wildlife parade begins
Already surrounded by zebras and wildebeest, we set out in the safari vehicles for our first drive on the Serengeti plains en route to Kaskaz Mara Camp—our luxury glamping accommodations for the next three nights. We were barely out of the dusty parking lot of the airstrip when we spotted a herd of impalas—a bachelor accompanied by over 20 females. Nearby a troupe of vevet monkeys entertained us with their antics. There was a new discovery everywhere we look.
Further onto the plains, the scene changed. The rotting carcass of an elderly elephant lay exposed to the elements. Mongoose wandered in and out of it feasting on the remaining flesh. And as we drove alongside the Mara River, the stench of the decaying carcasses of wildebeest that perished while crossing the river fiilled our nostrils with a pungent reminder that life isn’t always pleasant in the wild. It’s the circle of life and it would become a recurring theme throughout our safari.
Camps even a city girl can appreciate
After one of the most amazing drives of our lives, we arrived at Kaskaz Mara Camp. We were greeted by the staff, hot towels to wipe away the remnants of the dusty drive and a refreshing beverage. We were briefed on the “rules” of the camp:
- If you’re moving to or from the main tented lodge from your individual tents in the dark, signal via flashlight for an escort…you don’t want to run into a lion in the dark.
- When you’re ready for a hot shower, signal and someone will turn on the hot water.
- Your drinks—alcohol and all—are complimentary, have a good time!
And with that welcome bit of news, we dispersed to check out our accommodations, with a libation in hand, of course.
Even though the outdoor “walls” are made of canvas and heavy-duty zippers serve as doorknobs, our tents represented glamping at its best. The ten tented suites were positioned for optimal viewing of the migration. Stylish furnishings included an oversized king bed, sofa, desk and hardwood double vanities. Cotton curtains danced in the breeze through the large netted windows.
I’ve done a bit of camping in my life and I can say for certain I never dined on three-course meals at any of those camping experiences—unless pork and beans count for two courses and chocolate chip cookies are the third. Our chef at KasKaz Mara Camp was incredibly talented. Over the course of three days and nights we dined on lamb, chicken, fish and steak. His menus were inventive, well-presented and absolutely delicious. And don’t even get me started on the desserts. It’s a wonder our safari jeeps didn’t get stuck in every ravine we tried to cross after stuffing ourselves with all the decadent desserts.
New wonders of nature unfolded every day
We fell into a rhythm during our time on the Serengeti. Typically we’d rise very early (5:00am) before daylight to venture out to see the animals before the throngs of other safari hopefuls arrived. Our lack of sleep was awarded with incredible sights like a pride of lions feasting on its kill from the night before—again, nature isn’t always pretty. We’d explore until lunch and return to the camp in the heat of the day for a rest.
The evenings brought more animal adventures. On one evening just before sunset we came upon a “honeymooning” lion couple. When lions are mating, the “couple” will separate from the pride. For five days they mate every ten minutes—seriously. From our vehicles just a few feet away we watched as the male approached the female and nudged her to get started. She groaned a little before he hopped on and did his duty. Seconds (yes, seconds) later he majestically roared his satisfaction as she flopped over and went back to sleep. OK, so they’re not the most romantic creatures but apparently it works because we saw plenty of playful cubs during our time on the Serengeti.
The theme of unbelievable wildlife encounters continued throughout our trip. At times someone would say “I haven’t seen giraffes today.” And, within minutes the giraffes would appear. It was almost as if we were watching a Broadway play and the director said, “Que the giraffes!”
Exploring beyond the Serengeti
We left behind the Northern Serengeti to continue our explorations through the central and southern portions of the plains. From there we drove a dusty bumpy highway en route to the Ngorongoro Crater.
The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the world’s largest cauldrons formed by a violent volcano eruption millions of years ago. Since its formation, animals have resided at the bottom of the crater. We ventured into the crater early in the morning and found ourselves surrounded by lions. I literally looked into the eyes of a male lion as he strolled past our vehicle. It was chilling and thrilling at the same time.
There’s something about a safari in Tanzania that changes you
It’s not just the interaction with the animals, it’s also the people. From the moment we arrived we knew we were forever altered. We shook our heads in wonder at the sights we were seeing, and we instantly craved more. To be honest, I’m not sure I was prepared for all we witnessed. We don’t always want to think about the “wild” being exactly what it is…wild. Life comes and goes on a regular basis in this wondrous part of our planet. And it’s natural, all of it. If you choose to participate, as we did, you must be prepared for the unpleasant smells and the reality that some animals exist to feed others. You must be prepared to witness up close and personal, the circle of life. And, yes, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!
If You Go
Choosing the right safari company makes all the difference. While there are literally hundreds to choose from, we chose to go with a smaller more personal company—and it was an excellent decision. TopGuides Safaris’ owner, Victor Nyakiriga, was born in a village at the edge of the Serengeti and has been following the animals since he was a toddler. He personally chooses and trains his guides. Trips are completely customizable and, since you’re not dealing with a huge corporate company, the value for the price is outstanding. It was all luxury all the time. And, honestly, these guys are just a lot of fun to travel with!
USA:- 347 403 0424
Tanzania: +255 753 984 925
Where we stayed
The African Tulip is a charming luxury boutique hotel located in the heart of Arusha. The food is fabulous and the hospitality is unsurpassed. It’s the ideal place to begin and end your time in Tanzania before and after your safari experience.
44 / 1 Serengeti Road, Arusha
Phone: +255-27-2543004 /5
Nasikia Safari Camps
The KasKaz Mara Camp and Naona Moru Camp on the Serengeti are part of the Nasikia Safari Camps. Links to the individual camps are noted below.
Phone: (+255) 787 930 833
KasKaz Mara Camp & Naona Moru Camp
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge sits at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater providing delicious cuisine and stellar sunsets. Be sure to keep your room door closed when you leave, otherwise you may pick up a special monkey guest!