A reflection on Adventure Canada’s Tanzania’s Great Migration Safari by Gay Peppin
Photos by Michelle Valberg
It does not matter how many TV programs you’ve watched or National Geographic magazines you’ve read, Africa will amaze you.
When I was young, I would sit spellbound by Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and dream of visiting Africa. In February, that dream came to fruition when Adventure Canada sent me to Tanzania to learn more about our tour in partnership with Thomson Safaris.
I arrived at the Kilimanjaro Airport, the landing spot for those heading west for safaris or east to climb Africa’s tallest mountain.
Tanzania is a country created by tectonic plate movements and volcanic eruptions. The results include the Great Rift Valley, mountains and rainforests, soda lakes, calderas and gorges, dry and dusty expanses, acacia woodlands and seemingly endless grassland plains. In these diverse landscapes, we watched the circle of life unfold as young were born, animals foraged for food, and predators stalked their prey.
The Serengeti is perhaps the best known of Tanzania’s many national parks, conservation areas, and game reserves. Here, we witnessed the migration of hundreds of wildebeest, antelopes, and zebras as they travelled—some single file—to find water and fresh grazing lands. And stalking them: lions, leopards, cheetahs, and the scavenging hyenas and jackals. There were also elephants, giraffes, baboons, warthogs, hippos, and a host of other creatures.
During our travels, we had many up-close moments. Once, a herd of elephants crossed the road just feet from our safari vehicle; another time, we found a leopard lunching on a gazelle in a tree. We stared in wonder as a pride of lions took down a Cape water buffalo. There were also hundreds of bird species, making this a wonderful place for birders to add to their life lists: hornbills, cranes, kingfishers, ostriches, flamingos, and weavers, as well as birds of prey.
Outside the national park, we were introduced to some of the Maasai people, who are the most populous of the more than 120 ethnic groups that live in Tanzania. A semi-nomadic people, they herd their goats, sheep, or cattle during the day and move them inside a protective enclosure called a boma at night to protect them from predators. They live as their ancestors did in mud and stick homes, which they graciously showed us during a visit. We also had a Maasai storyteller come to our camp and a group of young warriors performed a jumping dance. The women make extra money for their families by selling their beadwork or baskets at cooperative workshops.
Though our camps had no electricity or running water, we were not roughing it out in the bush. Solar panels provided lighting at night and hot water was delivered to our tents for washing and showers. We were amazed at the wonderful food the staff created in the camp kitchens. At night, they would light a bonfire and we would sit around it gazing up at the night sky and watching shooting stars. After the lights were out, we could hear the night sounds as various animals came out to hunt. A ranger kept guard outside as we slept. Just before the dawn, the birds would start to sing and chatter, letting us know better than any alarm clock that it was time to rise. Acacia trees were silhouetted against golden hued skies as the dawn broke.
Our trek also took us to Olduvai Gorge, a steep ravine of the Great Rift Valley that stretches for nearly fifty kilometres and is ninety metres deep. Considered one of the most important prehistoric sites, this is where Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey excavated to uncover evidence of early human evolution and where Mary discovered the fossil remains of a man who lived 1.75 million years ago. There is an old museum constructed in the early days of exploration as well as a new and comprehensive one that illustrates the significance of their discoveries.
After leaving the gorge, we headed to the Ngorongoro Crater. The cone of this long extinct volcano collapsed creating a huge caldera of 264 square kilometres, sixteen kilometres wide and over six hundred metres deep. Its elevation of 1,700 to 2,200 metres results in the formation of cloud cover and rain. Protected by the crater walls, this area has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife and—if you are lucky—you can see the black rhino here. We were lucky to see these elusive animals from a distance. During the wet season, the lake fills up and attracts flamingos. This place is a world apart. The views looking down from the crater rim are equally spectacular.
We started our trip at Rivertrees Inn and ended at Gibb’s Farm, both wonderful and relaxing locations.
Though now home, the sights, the sounds and the smells of Africa will linger long in my memory.
At the end of the safari, I had the opportunity to visit a child I have sponsored through World Vision for seven years. After an early morning start and two-hour drive, we arrived at a district office of World Vision, where the director explained the health and education initiatives they were undertaking in the area. We then drove to the school where I met Loombutwa for the first time. He is now twelve years old with a shy smile, and is finishing primary school. His teacher proudly pointed to the board showing his standing as either first or second in his class for the past four grades. We toured the school, which has five classrooms to accommodate over four hundred students. The remaining students take their classes outside. After another long drive to his village, I was greeted by over thirty women singing and dancing. I was sad to learn that Loombutwa’s mother had died two months earlier.
I was taken on a tour of the village and then there were speeches and gifts exchanged. I had brought items for Loombutwa and his family, but was surprised to receive from the villagers a beaded cape, gourd and a necklace that was almost as long as I am tall. A goat had been killed and roasted for the occasion and as I sat with the elders of the village, one of them asked me through the translator if I had any children. I told him I did not. He said that I now have a child in Africa. We escorted Loombuta back to the school because he had an exam the next day and we said our goodbyes. It is unlikely that I will see him again, but it is a day I will always remember.
Gay enjoys travelling the world with notepad and camera in hand and writing stories about her experiences— some of which have been published in a local magazine. She has been to thirty-two countries and her goal is to see fifty and all seven continents. For the last twenty-two years, Gay has been involved in recording and preserving Mississauga’s history through her involvement with various heritage organizations. As a member of the Adventure Canada Client Services team, she helps travellers make their trips truly memorable experiences.