We were picked up by a 4WD Jeep and met our driver and guide, a very nice man named Victor. He would prove to be quite an ally. Victor took excellent care of us for the next 5 days.
I am a very poor "car person" after only a few hours I am ready to get out of the car, no matter where we are, but riding in the Jeep was fascinating. As we drove towards the national parks and conservation areas we passed Masai hearding goats and cattle, children in uniforms going to school, people of all ages pushing bikes loaded down with water or using donkeys to accomplish the same task. We saw men hanging out on the side of the road on their shiny motorcycles, public buses with the rapper 50 Cent's photo on the side and buses with Bible verses on them. Buildings covered with washing detergent advertisements, barber shops with paintings of men and women done by artists with drastically varying artistic abilities. Women carrying large bags or buckets on their heads, young people, old people, healthy and sick people. It seemed like all of Tanzania was on parade for us and I was loving every minute.
After driving through one of the major Tanzanian cities (Arusha) and stopping at our favorite Western coffee shop for blended coffees, we arrived at our first destination, Tarangire National Park. The visitor area had animal skulls on many of the posts, it was cool! In the safari Jeeps, the roof lifts up so that you can stand to take pics while also being shaded from the sun. We drove through the park with our roof up, we all stood and looked out over the beautiful, lush terrain, the trees, the magical-looking clouds. It was amazing and we hadn't even seen any animals yet!
Later in the day we say a large group of elephants on the other side of the river. There were elephants of all ages but we could tell one large male was the leader. One of the elephants wanted to go into the river, there was some hesitation amongst the group, but them everyone went in. It was interesting to see that that "leader" did make accommodations and go along with what others wanted. They all ended up crossing in front of our car. The last one was the "leader", he stopped a little ways in front of our car and to demonstrate his prowess, performed both bodily functions at the same time. The volume was quite impressive, and since all the rest of us in the car, even combined, could not compete. We had to resign ourselves to the fact that he won that round and was in fact tougher then we were!
Over the next 5 days we also visited, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, Lake Manyara and the prize jewel, Serengeti National Park. I was sick the entire time and on antibiotics, but regardless, it was a wonderful experience. My birthday was on day 4 and my sister called my Tanzanian phone. While talking with her there were five giraffes right next to our car, she was wondering why I was whispering!
While on safari our group saw wildebeests, giraffes, leopards, hyena, rhinos, hippos, various sorts of monkeys (including one species with robin's egg blue private parts), cheetah, impalas, a lake full of flamingoes, lions mating, warthog families, an ostrich and various sorts of birds.
My favorite were the herds of zebras we got the pleasure of watching. I had never realized how beautiful their markings were, the way they wrap around their voluptuous bodies. The pregnant ones were really incredible! We came across a young male zebra rolling around in the dirt to scratch his back. It was adorable, the kind of thing your family dog might do. After taking some pics I noticed a female zebra across the road, he would roll around, legs in the air, then get up to look in her direction. It occurred to me he was trying to get her attention, to impress her. She didn't act like she knew he was even there. He would lift up a leg and look longingly in her direction. I tried to tell him to "just go over there and talk to her" but he was afraid and I don’t really speak zebra.
I also really enjoyed seeing the hyenas hanging out in knee deep mud. The pregnant momma was both drinking from the mud and peeing as she went. There was something very cool and tough about that. Sort of like those hard outlaw bikers. Intellectually you know they could hurt you, but somehow you are still drawn to them!
The thing that blew my mind was how the Ngorongoro crater was formed. It used to be a large volcano, the size of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Then one day it imploded on itself, creating the crater. We spent the day inside and it is incredibly vast, with even a lake inside. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around how a mountain could implode. The kind of force that is necessary, and what that does to the surrounding areas. But most importantly, what happens to all the rocks and dirt that used to be inside? Mother Nature is powerful and her creatures beautiful, this safari was a great way to experience it. When I was first planning the trip, everyone told me that I had to do a safari but I was unsure. Now, I know that no trip is complete without it. I am glad that I allowed myself to be persuaded.