Okay, I’ll admit it, I am a truly lucky girl.  In addition to a wonderful backpacking honeymoon in the Aspen / Snowmass wilderness, Todd and I took the Life Bus on a second honeymoon to Tanzania where we tackled Kilimanjaro and took a safari to the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti.  Given that fellow Life Buser Pam was with us on the honeymoon backpacking trek we figured we all had to go together to Tanzania as well.  What can I say, we’re really close on the Bus!!

As a self-confessed animal lover, I had high expectations for the safari.  The experience went so far beyond what I could ever have imagined.  On this portion of the trip, luck was truly on our side.  The relentless rain we experienced on our ascent of Kili had a positive effect on the Serengeti, turning the vast area into a lush sea of green grass teaming with animals.   Another lucky stroke for us was that we happened to be on the Serengeti during the wildebeest migration.  This is truly a sight to behold.  As far as the eye could see, in every direction, were literally a million wildebeest, zebras, gazelle, and impale … each one driven by the same ancient rhythm to fulfill this migration cycle.

We spent one day in the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the rest camping on the Serengeti.  Driving down the steep, heavily forested walls into the Crater was a fun adventure in and of itself.

To give you a sense of this area, it’s important to know that the Crater is the world’s largest caldera and is a completely enclosed bio system.   The Crater measures approximately ten to twelve miles across and encompasses approximately 102 square miles.  This area is home to globally threatened species such as the black Rhino and has a tremendous density of other wildlife.  It is estimated that some 30,000 animals all co-exist in this enclosed environment.  The beauty of the landscape, combined with the denseness of exotic wildlife, make this a must stop for anyone taking their Life Bus to Tanzania.

Camping on the Serengeti was an equally breath-taking experience and one I will never forget.  The first night’s camp felt like a scene from the movie Out of Africa. Our guides had set up tents for us with turkish rugs in side, actual cots and mattresses, nightstands, individual wash basins in front of the tents, and a lovely dining hall replete with candles and turkish rugs as well.  At dusk, a massive elephant cruised through our camp right in front of our tents.  It was a surreal sight.

Camping the next few nights felt a bit more like being in a refugee camp.  Our “Out of Africa” style tent and campground were replaced by 2 person backpacking tents jammed into a small area with no less than 100 other campers.  Due to the rains, trucks were not able to refill the water reservoirs in the pit toilets and so all of us happy campers got to share 2 pit toilets.  None of this mattered, however.  We were camping on the Seregnetti!!

Tooling around the vast expanses of the Serengeti, keeping your eyes peeled for animals is an experience that is hard to capture in words.  Wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye could see.  We managed to see jaguars, lions, cheetah, fox, Cape buffalo, giraffe, gazelle, and so many other beautiful creatures.

One day we were treated to a particularly magnificent experience.  We spotted a lion far out in the tall grass.  We turned off our Land Rover engine and sat there waiting to see what the lion might do.  After careful observation, we realized it was actually a whole pride of lions, cubs, and lionesses.  Finally, after about an hour, our patience payed off.  The whole pride walked from the horizon straight towards us, passing within feet of the front of our Rover.  The pride walked right past us and straight up into a nearby kopje to find some shade.  The proximity of these creatures to our vehicle was so close that we could literally hear their heavy breathing.  You could almost feel the heat from their breath.

Imagine waking to the sound of deep snorting, grunting, and burping coming from the brush surrounding your tent.  (I can confirm that these noises were not being produced by Todd.)  One night heeding the call of nature, I awoke Todd to brave the camp at night and walk with me to the pit toilet.  On our way back, we heard low, deep grunting, burping, and snorting coming from the brush very near our tent.  Having a strong sense of self-preservation I quickly sprinted into my tent and zipped it up.  Wondering where Todd was, I poked my head back out the tent.  There he was, shining a light into the bush, trying to figure out what kind of beast was making these noises.  Turns out, it was Cape buffalo, some of the least friendly critters out there.  That same night, another member of our group was chased back to his tent in the middle of the night buy an animal that still remains a mystery.  All he saw was the glowing of the eyes in the dark.

I share these stories not to scare anyone off from a Tanzanian safari but rather to share just how raw and up close your experience with these animals can be on a safari.

Needless to say, everyone has to drive their Life Bus to the Serengeti if at all possible.  Neither words nor pictures really do this place or the animals justice.  The majesty, beauty, and biodiversity must be protected for future generations.