A little less than two weeks after I arrived in Tanzania, I left Dar es Salaam for the interior. I was going on a safari!
Up until the point where the safari actually started, I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like. I had made all of the arrangements while I was still back in Jamaica, using a guide company that was highly recommended and previously used by my Tanzania host. I would be travelling about the wilderness with a guide in a safari van for four days, staying at a different accommodation each night. (No, I wasn’t worried about being a single female travelling alone for four days with a strange man because I chose to trust the integrity of the company. If I let that stop me, I’d never go anywhere. And eventually this was the same company that I used for my Kilimajaro trek; they treated me like I was their little sister.) I had zero expectations for the safari and was just open to whatever experiences would come.
On Monday, July 6, 2015, I flew from Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro airport. It was while we were driving from Kilimanjaro airport to Arusha, from where my safari would begin the next day, that the idea of climbing the mountain first occurred to me. The day happened to be quite clear and the peak had unshrouded itself so I saw it clearly for the first time, and the desire was born in my heart. I discreetly peppered my driver with questions about climbing the mountain and what it would take to accomplish that; I even wondered if I should have arranged to do it on that trip but I set that idea aside because somehow I knew that there needed to be some kind of preparation. But I never fully put the idea away and within six months, I would be heading back to realise that dream, though I didn’t know that yet.
I spent that first afternoon and night at a hotel in Arusha, with a tantalising view of Mount Meru not too far away. The next morning, my safari driver and I hit the road. His name was Dearson and we spent the next four days together in that van. He was the perfect guide because he was a fount of information, and he knew just when to talk and when to be silent – there were many such moments as I tried to absorb all that I was experiencing – plus he knew where all the cool animals hung out. My safari wasn’t during the migration season, which is when it’s easy to see the big five – lions, buffaloes, rhinos, elephants and cheetah – but through much effort and knowledge, Dearson ensured that I saw them all.
By the way, the van had multiple gas tanks because, well, gas stations aren’t on every corner out in the wilderness.
Our first stop was Tarangire (pronounced Tah-ran-gee-reh, with a hard “g”) National Park a couple of hours away from Arusha. The sharp beauty of the landscape on our way there started to work on my heart immediately.
By the time we got to Tarangire, I was already quietly joyful, and just plain happy, that I had decided to do this. While Dearson got us checked in at the gate, I used the bathroom, wandered around and smiled like a fool at the monkeys that loitered, waiting to grab any available food. Then we hopped back into the van and set off into the park. And promptly came across…
There were zebras…
…wild boar, monkeys and gazelle.
We stopped for about an hour and had the packed lunch that Dearson had picked up somewhere that morning…
…then we got back on the trail, driving here and there all over the Park and encountering herds of animals along the way. Whenever we came across them, we would stop, Dearson would shut down the engine (for gas conservation) and silence would descend, save for the sounds of nature around us. It was peaceful and exhilarating all at once.
In the late afternoon, we left Tarangire headed to Maramboi, where we would spend the night. I remember falling asleep that night with praise in my heart, a gigantic smile on my face, and the sound of a wild boar snuffling around right outside my cabin. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better day and I was so full of gratitude. I was grateful that I had come on this adventure and the wonder of all that I had seen that day – animals I had never expected in my life to lay my eyes on outside of a zoo – almost overwhelmed me.
Could this adventure possibly get better? Oh, yes. Yes, it certainly could.