Wednesday, April 19, 2006

We Got Game

This morning as I lay in bed still half in a dream, I heard a BBC World broadcast about bombs going off in the suburbs of Istanbul. Two countries back, Turkey already seems like a distant memory. Last night we arrived home in Dar Es Salaam from our Safari (which in Swahili simply means “journey.”) For the last week we drove a few hundred kilometers a day, through three of the most incredible game parks on the planet. Sierra’s father generously treated us to a five star package tour, so we traveled and lodged in style while visiting the dense and tremendously varied animal populations.

After an eight hour drive North, past the impressive Mt. Kilimanjaro, our first stop was Lake Manyara where we were immediately greeted by an assembly of baboons.

Sierra later befriended a baby elephant.

Late on the first day, our friendly Masaai driver Leiza spotted a pride of lions lazing in the high branches of a tree. Their hanging perch looked rather uncomfortable, but the lions seemed restful and well-fed.

On our way to the Serengeti, as we entered the vast savannah lands we followed the wildebeest migration. Intertwining zebras, impala and wildebeests, the horizon in all directions was blacked out by four legged animals.

Reaching the Serengeti, we were taken to our tented camp where massive canvas structures made up an entire luxury complex, from hotel lobby to sprawling bedrooms. The fenceless grounds allow game to wander freely past our tent. That night I was awakened by the sound of child crying and the deep growl of a rather large feline in close proximity to our bed.

The hippos got a little excited when Sierra expressed her affection for me in the back seat of the Land Cruiser.

During the daytime, I was pounding back water to stave off dehydration, so I constantly needing to relieve myself. I could clearly imagine the headlines: “Another Stupid White Tourist Killed While Urinating” and I spent many a weary moment with an unzipped fly, scanning the bush for one of the multitude of predators potentially priming themselves to pounce.

The next morning a line of over a dozen Safari vehicles formed a traffic jam while waiting for a leopard to bring a recent kill up into a tree.

Driving South again we headed towards the Ngorogoro Crater where an overabundance of animals are virtually trapped by the steep slopes. On our way down into the crater we encountered a group of Masaai Warriors, and I purchased a dauntingly sharp spear.

In order to become initiated as a warrior, a young Masaai must first kill a lion, but when I saw the furry creatures lazing in the mud an hour later, I left my spear in the trunk.

From the comfort and security of our Land Rover we watched as a pair of pint sized jackals chased a large mixed heard of impala and zebras around the grassy landscape. Then later in the day we witnessed a hyena mother carrying her infant out of their resting hole just a few feet away from our vehicle.

It felt like a real gift to be able to see all of these incredible creatures in their natural habitat, and to catch a glimpse of what our world was like when our ancestors couldn’t quite stand up straight yet.


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