It’s 12am and I am fast asleep in our luxury tent sitting high atop the Terengire valley. The ever-increasing strength of Tarin’s grip on my hand wakes me to a cacophony of animals just outside our canvas tent. I quickly sit up and realize that whatever is making the sound, it’s LARGE and it’s no more than 18 inches from where our heads had just laid. We sit on the bed, hands held tightly, and prepare for the worst; I reach for the aluminum extendo-pole for our GoPro, anticipating that I may have to fend something off. We hear the beast ripping off foliage and chewing, all while a constant “thwack, thwack, thwack” against the canvas of our tent lets us know that it’s definitely on top of us and wouldn’t have much trouble dispatching our tent through the air. Suddenly, a deep and slow rumble from the beast’s throat echoes through the air. We spring from this near-certain death bed and decide that we should hide behind something a little more substantial. The rear of the tent is partially constructed from concrete, so we think we would be safer back there. Shuffling to and fro and convinced that this was it, we ride out a period of about 45 minutes when the animal seems to finally move on. We peer out of the tiny screen windows to find a small family of gazelle appear, almost on queue with the departure of the much larger animal we had just heard. This seems odd, we think – wasn’t there some sort of a snarling beast here only moments ago ready to kill anything nearby? We continued watching the gazelle, in pure amazement of these beautiful animals when in the blink of an eye, they disappear as fast as they had showed up. I continue to look through the window when I see an elephant trunk appear from the left, and grab a tree branch in search of food. It was then that I realized that terrifying collection of sounds which caused our panic was an elephant! The longer we watched, the more elephants we saw. At this point, our fear dissipated and turned to pure wonderment at this rather peaceful looking family of elephants. They exercised their muscle power to snap off tree limbs to feed themselves and eventually moved on. By this time, it’s nearly 3am and we crawl back in to bed in order to catch a couple more hours of sleep. We poked our heads out of the tent at sunrise and waited for our required escort (a man quite a bit smaller than I with a flashlight – watch out one-ton elephants!!!) and make our way to the main lodge to find our safari guide, Mosses, waiting for us. We tell him of our incredible experience and he assures us that we were safe. He then follows this period of reassurance with a real fit of laughter. “Bwahaha…Mzungnu!” he exclaims. He and another guide continue to laugh for a period of several minutes and all we can do is smile and laugh along. Welcome to the safari mzungus (white people).
Our safari was nothing short of amazing. We managed to see nearly all of the big five: elephant, lion, hippo, cape buffalo and the black rhino (never did get to see the rhino!). They are categorized as the “big five” not only because of their large size, but also because of their strong ability to defend themselves and their family members. We witnessed gaggles of grant gazelle, tons of tiny thompsons, lots of lions, zillions of zebras and enumerable elephants, among others (we’ll have plenty more where that came when we get home)!
Perhaps most special were our sightings of the normally shy and elusive cheetah and leopard. It was my birthday morning when we spotted our first cheetah walking along the road seemingly careless to our presence. We continued to follow the cheetah for several minutes when our guide told us that this was an animal on the hunt; not more than two minutes later, the cheetah bolted on a pack of small Thompson gazelles and disappeared over the horizon – all tail and elbows. Later that day, we were bouncing along the dusty road when we noticed a collection of other safari vehicles huddled around a group of acacia trees. We stopped and peered through the binoculars to find a well-muscled male leopard sunning himself on the large branch of an acacia. Not more than a few minutes later a family of unknowing warthogs came just a little too close to this opportunistic cat and we watched as the leopard leapt from the tree and scooped up a days-old warthog! He brought his prize back to the tree and devoured the snack just out of sight, behind the tree from which he was slumbering. We finished the day back at camp where Tarin had organized a small celebration of sorts with the camp staff. I had already enjoyed a few Safari lagers and had no problem joining in with the staff as they sang and danced as their way of saying “Happy Birthday”. *Pictures to come*
The following day, we witnessed something that Tarin and I both agree was the most special part of our trip. We were headed down a well traveled dirt road when a leopard stepped out of the long grass to show itself. As it continued directly in our path, our guide informed us that this was a female. While she sauntered along, she would occasionally let out a deep and short growl – this, we were told, was her call to her young. We followed her for quite a few minutes but eventually lost sight as she stepped back into the camouflage of the grass. Our guide didn’t waste a moment, and pealed out towards the opposite end of the field which the female leopard had disappeared. We continued along this stretch of grass for 10-15 minutes when I shouted to Mosses – “there she is”! We noticed the mother first and not more than a few steps behind her was one of her young she had found in the grass.
She continued along, still calling out. Just beyond a line of acacia, another baby appeared and all three were reunited. They played and rubbed against one another, clearly happy to be in each other’s company. We didn’t get a chance to watch much longer as they quickly made their way out of sight.
We woke before sunrise every day and were treated quite well by all our hosts. Coffee, yogurt, bananas and eggs were made available every day before we would head off into the plains. All said and done, we visited Terengire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorogoro Crater Preservation spread out over five days. It was truly an amazing experience, one that we are grateful to have included in our honeymoon adventure.