An African safari was always a dream. Infinite Safari Adventures designed a custom adventure for my family. It began in Arusha, the capital of Tanzania, where Muba, our guide and driver, became part of our family for the next 10 days.
First stop was Tanangire National Park, home to the largest elephant population in northern Tanzania. There is nothing like seeing a parade of elephants under baobab trees. There were hundreds of animals including zebras, giraffes, impalas, dik diks and gazelles. At dusk a lion roared from afar, while we were tucked safely away in Tarangire Safari Lodge's cavernous tents. Maasai are invariably on duty, as the wildlife roam freely; however, one afternoon a few curious vervet monkeys found their way into my parents' tent. Hakuna matata! They scurried away when scolded.
On the way to Lake Eyasi, we visited Lucas Emanyata, a Maasai village named after its 15-wife chief. Lucas' eldest son gave a tour of his circular-shaped village consisting of round mud and wooden huts, as well as a demonstration of how the Maasai warriors use sticks, clubs and spears. Wealth is measured by the number of cows owned, and boys younger than my two sons (11 and 13 years old) tend the cattle. The women craft colourful beaded necklaces and bracelets, and we purchased a few with the aid of Lucas' son, as none of the women spoke English.
At Lake Eyasi's northeastern shore, Kisima Ngeda, a seven-tent camp, is near the Hadzabe, one of the last hunting-gathering East African tribes (only 350 live in the bush today). It began with a fire made by the hand-drill method and freshly cooked dik dik liver; sampled by my husband, father and eldest son. Adorned in newly skinned genet-tailed bandanas (we witnessed the skinning), and armed with wooden bows and arrows, three Hadzabe led us out into the blackthorn bush. The women, children and elders remained at their grass-hut encampment. The hunters moved swiftly and arrowed a speckled mousebird, blue-naped mousebird and a namaqua dove.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a World Heritage Site, is home to the sixth largest caldera in the world. Ngorongoro crater formed over three million years ago when a volcano erupted and then collapsed. A park ranger armed with a submachine gun guided us through the crater highlands to a vista overlooking the 260-square-kilometre caldera floor. Maasai were scattered along the hiking route, and the ranger pointed out the fever tree, known as "Mkalamu" in Swahili, used in treating post-natal ailments, and the clove tree, a flowering evergreen producing an aromatic spice.
Rhino Lodge, 2,200 metres high on the Ngorongoro rim, greeted us with a waterbuck feeding on the surrounding lush montane forest. The next day's adventure was down in the diverse crater floor, with lakes, grasslands and forest. We observed four of the "big five"—lions (hunting and mating), elephants, buffaloes, and a leopard lounging in a tree, as well, hippopotamuses, baboons, warthogs, kudus, and a caracal, a rarely seen catlike mammal that impelled Muba to take out his camera. And birds everywhere—flamingos, ostriches, secretaries and hornbills, bobbing about the multifarious floor.
Near the Kenyan border was our final camp, Nasikia Moveable Camp. It is here in the Serengeti where the wondrous wildebeest migration occurs. More than 1.5 million wildebeests migrate at the end of the rainy season (May/June), and when a river is in their path they cross it. After one wildebeest crosses, the others follow. To watch this natural phenomenon along the Mara River in the shade of Muba's Land Cruiser was mesmerizing. We also saw cheetahs, with their distinctive teardrop shape around the eyes, as well as hyenas, a unique matriarchal species.
My mom refused to partake in the Sunrise Serengeti Balloon Ride. Her vertigo is worse than mine. Take off was a breeze—only the landing had a few bumps. It was worth the brief anxiety, with the golden grassland panorama, an aerial-river view of bathing hippos, and elephants wandering amongst red-thorn acacia trees illuminated by the rising red sun.
It was overcast when we flew back to Arusha. On a clear day, the highest point in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, would have been in sight. The last afternoon experience was of the Arusha market with its colourful fresh fruits, vegetables and dry goods filling the vibrant stalls that clarified why the food along the safari was so delicious.
"Jambo. Jambo Bwana. Mzui sana. Wageni mwakaribishwa. Tanzania yetu. Hakuna matata...Nchi ya maajabu" (beautiful country), played in my head, while we packed the ebony woodcarving from a Mto Wa Mbu artisan. This Tree of Life carving comprised of a single tree trunk has many human figures holding each other up, symbolizing the human ancestor heritage shared by the over 120 Tanzanian tribes, a metaphor not only for Tanzania, but for the world.
For more of Cathy's writing, go to www.cathyfedoruk.com and on Instagram @cathyfedoruk.