On safari in Tanzania: a 'unique, amazing place'
Ngorongoro, once an active volcano a few million years ago, is the world's largest intact caldera. Nearly 2,000 feet deep, it is a virtual Garden of Eden sheltering one of the most dramatic wildlife havens on Earth. (Mary Ann Anderson, MCT / October 15, 2011)
As he drove through Selous National Park, gazing at the verdant treetops for an elusive leopard, I glanced at him. Mtambo, of the Ndengereko tribe, was of an indeterminate age. He could have been 40 or 70, but this much is known: He can identify every African critter or bird that crosses his path.
He pointed out an ebony tree, all gray and gnarled and not black as I thought it would be.
"It is black inside," he said in a pure and simple declarative statement before driving on.
A few minutes later we stopped in a clearing framed by acacias and baobabs. Mtambo shut the engine, and for long minutes we just listened to the sounds of Africa: the softest of winds whirling around as rhythmic as iambic pentameter, the high pitch of a bazillion insects, and birds. A bazillion of those, too.
All around us was an avian orchestra of calls, songs, whistles, and tweets. Above the crazy din, a hornbill trumpeted "wah-wah-ned!" I thought it was a baby's cry.
But no leopard, at least not on that day.
Leopards don't come out on cue, and neither does any other African wildlife. But on safari, there are always surprises and elements of danger, plenty enough to satisfy a sense of adventure and curiosity and develop a healthy respect for the natural world.
Tanzania, in East Africa and surrounded by geographical treasures of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, the Indian Ocean, Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi, is a melding together of Tanganyika and Zanzibar and is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence from the British on Dec. 9.
Anniversaries, whether of a nation or your own, are perfect times for safari, and Tanzania, a peaceful, visually stunning nation, beckons like a beautiful siren.
A safari in Tanzania should always begin in the Serengeti. Our journey took us to Singita Grumeti Reserve in the heart of the Serengeti, a Maasai word meaning "open plain."
Only three camps are located in the reserve, which means you practically have 340,000 acres to yourself. OK, you have to share it with the Big Five of lions, leopards, elephant, rhinos and buffalo, as well as cheetah, kudu, ostriches and untold numbers of zebras and wildebeest.
Our ranger's name was Arnold Swai, of the Chagga tribe from the Kilimanjaro region. On the first day there, near Singita Sabora Tented Camp, Arnold superior tracking skills found the most beautiful pride of lionesses I've ever seen. They moved through the grass gracefully and fluidly, their golden coats catching the late afternoon sun.
Just moments after driving away from the pride, the Land Rover hit a thorny acacia. Pop! Ssizzzzz! went a tire. As Arnold quickly changed it, I watched closely for the lions as to not become their entree for the evening.
Sabora Camp borders a windswept plain where you can see forever. Evening brings all sorts of animals close to camp, and all night buffalo snorted, lions roared, and hyenas barked just steps away. These are merely the sounds of Africa and I am unafraid.
On our drive to Faru Faru, the next camp in the Singita reserve, the hunt was on again for leopard but they remained hidden that day, too. "It's not easy to find them," Arnold said. "Never is."
We hunted for cheetah instead, finding a pair of young males resting in the shade of an acacia, their colors blending in easily with the warm notes of Tanzanian earth. I snapped nearly 100 photos in a few moments' time.
We were greeted at Faru Faru with big glasses of sweet iced tea and a lunch of fried fish. Who knew you could get touches of Georgia it in the heart of the Serengeti?