Guest post by AC passenger Johanna Hickey. Photos by David Simmonds, Karen Simmonds, and Clayton Anderson.
Jet-lagged, disheveled, and clutching my visa-stamped passport, I searched the row of smiling faces at Kilimanjaro Airport. Suddenly the sign appeared: “Adventure Canada”, held welcomingly by Cunio, my driver. The long journey had ended. I had finally arrived in Tanzania, that magic place which we all dreamed about as children—but had difficulty spelling.
As we exited into the warm, moist air the sounds and smells of the country enveloped us. This was east Africa, and we were here to witness one of the most phenomenal natural occurrences in the world—the migration of over three million wildebeests and over two hundred thousand zebras in search of water.
As we drove towards our luxurious accommodation at Raintrees Country Inn, near Arusha, the first of these exotic animals darted across the road, a black-and-white blur. Was it a bush baby? mongoose? “What it?” I excitedly asked Cunio. He replied, with a perfectly straight face, “That, Madame, is a domestic cat.” Thus was my introduction to the marvelous deadpan Tanzanian sense of humour which we all grew to love and appreciate during the rest of our trip.
On the first day of our trip we were comfortably flown by Excel Air to the Serengeti, where we were introduced to our amazing guides. Robert and John became our source of all knowledge for the next ten days. There was absolutely nothing that these two gentlemen did not know, and their patience and expertise as well—as their dry wit—greatly enhanced our safari experience. No question was too trivial, nor too complex for them.
Our safari days took on a luxurious and comfortable rhythm. The Thompson Africa tents—in fact, it would be a disservice to call them tents—came with every luxury, from custom showers at any time of day or night to gourmet meals which—although cooked without electricity—included excellent local produce and inevitably included a vegetarian and lactose-free option.
Each morning after a “Jambo” (Swahili for “Hello”) wake up and a hearty breakfast with locally sourced coffee, we set off with our guides. As there were only twelve of us, including our wonderful and energetic guide and photographer par excellence Clayton Anderson of Adventure Canada, six of us fit comfortably into each of the customized, four-wheel-drive safari vehicles. As many of the group were serious photographers, this allowed everyone a window seat, as well as access to the open roof for more serious viewing. We usually spent the morning spotting and photographing the various animals which became more numerous as the days progressed. On day one, our excitement was enormous when we saw our first giraffe; John and Robert just laughed. By day seven, we realized just how many giraffes called Tanzania home—not to mention the lions, elephants, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, every kind of gazelle imaginable, pools of hippos, and even the elusive white rhino.) Then after a substantial lunch either back at the safari camp or as a huge picnic out on the plain in a prearranged spot, it was more excellent wildlife viewing in the afternoon. The days passed leisurely with adequate time for photo-taking or with time just to observe the animals in their natural habitat at such a close distance. The day concluded with drinks, (occasionally around a campfire) and a very generous dinner with lots of choice together with much animated conversation and the sharing of photos or videos about the day’s viewing.
However, the purpose of our trip was to witness the great migration of the wildebeest and the great migration of the zebras. And see them we did! Day after day, thousands of wildebeest and thousands of zebras stretched across the horizon as far as the eye could see. We stopped the safari wagons and watched and watched and watched and still they came. It was the most amazing sight that most of us had ever seen. Clouds of these powerful animals appeared accompanied by their zebra friends, walking, running, jumping or just standing watching us.
The days flew by far too quickly. We moved to three different Nyumba Camps, all with the same high level of service, two at various locations in the Serengeti and one in the the Ngorongoro in order to give us access to the various locations of the animals. The rim of the Ngorongoro crater and the crater floor was magnificent—far more lush than the previous areas, and, consequently, absolutely filled with animals, including the perpetual wildebeests and zebras who still kept coming in droves.
Although the purpose of out trip was to view wildlife, (and did we ever view wildlife!), we also learned about the life of the Maasai people who populate the area. Because Thompson Africa has worked hard to improve the lives of the Maasai people and the lives of the other tribes in the area (through the payment of fair wages and through providing good working conditions), we were invited to visit one of the local schools. The school itself was built by the government, but the houses for the teachers were all built by Thompson. We also had the privilege of visiting a medical clinic and we met with some of the Maasai women who who have started a crafts co-op through which they sell their wares with the currency going to improve their quality of life as well as providing school uniforms so that their children, both girls and boys, can attend school.
The lovely Gibb’s Farm was our final destination. Voted the most beautiful hotel in Africa, we luxuriated in the magnificent views and relished the gourmet food which we watched being harvested for our supper. Here we learned more about the local way of life from traditional story tellers we and visited a local village which specialized in local crafts such as wood carving.
As we headed to the airport with a brief stop in Arusha for a final substantial lunch and to refresh ourselves before our long journey home, it was with a note of real sadness that we passed our last giraffe and said goodbye to our last zebra.
I still think of those wildebeest and zebras on their great migration. They are probably still migrating as I write. I hope that one day I too might migrate back to Tanzania and see them again.
Join the migration in 2018! With two possible mid-winter departures, Adventure Canada’s Tanzania safaris are the perfect way to see more wildlife than you ever thought possible!