When most people think of Tanzania, they conjure up images of iconic sights like Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti plains and the Ngorongoro Crater. But, as Indagare’s Eliza Scott Harris discovers, it’s the little things the country reveals that leave you feeling incredibly alive and connected.
So many experiences glide through my memory when I think of Tanzania: watching a jackal streak in and try to snatch a baby warthog in its jaws before being chased off by the mother in a loud scuffle and plume of dust; learning from a Masai warrior how to make a fire using tufts of grass and two sticks; seeing a lioness with three cubs rolling and tumbling over each other; flying over hundreds of elephants and thousands of wildebeest in a helicopter, then swooping through a canyon past a hidden waterfall before stopping for sundowners atop a mountain ridge. But when I close my eyes and think of East Africa, what I miss most is what it felt like to sit outside with my husband in the morning. Each day, we would wake before dawn and watch the sunrise from bucket chairs, with cups of strong local coffee in our hands. The air hummed with sounds at all frequencies, made by hundreds of birds, grasshoppers and other insects. There was the earthy smell of long grasses. Our eyes scanned the horizon as zebras and wildebeests slowly moved from the grazing area to the lake for a drink and then back again.
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Part of Tanzania’s appeal for visitors is surely the lifestyle of being on safari. We spent entire days watching and listening, by our tent, on foot, in the vehicle. On bush walks, we paid careful attention to the direction of the wind and the behavior of the game; when the animals stop grazing and stare fixedly in one direction, it is a sign a predator is near. You are alive, alert and present on safari—entirely in sync with your environment. On foot, our guide taught us the magic of smaller creatures, like the dung beetle patiently rolling a ball ten times its own weight on the dirt and stopping periodically to climb atop and navigate by the stars, using the Southern Cross and the polarization patterns in moonlight. We watched the sunset every night, sundowner in hand, and admired the graphic silhouettes of the acacias against the dimming sky.
A huge part of our experience was the wonderful people we befriended. The Masai warrior with the wicked sense of humor who loved to catch scorpions. Our safari guide, who had the most contagious laugh and knew everything about everything. The helicopter pilot who told us about having trouble in high school but then finding a job he does for the sheer joy of it and of seeing the plains from above.
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Like most safari goers, we started our trip craving the thrill of big game. We saw herds of elephants, a duo of cheetahs, lions napping in trees and thousands of wildebeests running in unison. We walked with giraffes and zebras. Then we became obsessed with birds, their bright colors flitting through the tawny landscape: iridescent blue starlings, yellow weavers and lilac-breasted rollers with yellow crowns, pink breasts, royal blue wings and teal tails. They are prettiest in flight and almost impossible to photograph on the wing—too small and fast. You must let go and just watch, knowing they will disappear in a moment, an evanescent joy.
Then we began to learn and appreciate the stories and relationships behind everything. Zebras and wildebeests like to travel together because zebras are great at spotting predators and warning the group, while wildebeests, able to smell the rain, have a knack for finding water. By the end we were just so grateful for the wide-open plains of the Serengeti, the feeling of freedom and possibility, the rawness of it all, the sound of birdcalls heard from our tent and the occasional roar of a lion or hyena.
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Spending a week or two unplugged from civilization and its discontents and plugged in to the Serengeti was a gift that awed, inspired, thrilled, moved and graced us. Immersed in the wilderness, in the words of John Muir, we washed our spirits clean.
African Safari Packing Tips
Get the most out of your once-in-a-lifetime trip with these helpful hints for what to bring in your suitcase. Contact Indagare for a full, itemized packing list.
- Pack a soft duffle bag rather than a hard case with wheels. It will fit better in small bush planes and, because it’s comparatively light, will help keep your luggage under the maximum weight limit.
- Bring what you will need for full days spent on game drives, including a day pack to carry on the truck.
- Bring a durable jacket that doesn’t show dust, has lots of pockets for gloves, sunscreen and bug spray and is easy to layer. In warmer months, you may prefer a vest to a full jacket.
- Dark khakis are better than light ones. You might want to consider purchasing pants that zip off into shorts or taking a few pairs of safari shorts.
- Some camps have pools. Check your itinerary to see if you need a swimsuit.
- Bring individual laundry detergent packets. Although most camps offer laundry service, many will not wash women’s underwear, so bring a small bottle to do your lingerie yourself.