My favorite shot.
I flew out of New York with one layover in Amsterdam, until arriving in Kilimanjaro Airport. It was the longest flight I had ever been on and I am happy to say, that besides watching a couple movies through the flights, I managed to sleep most of the way. (I watched the Notebook and bawled my eyes out.) I don't know why I mentioned that, but its a funny memory now that I'm reflecting. The roads were unpaved and bumpy fun as we got our first taste of our safari from the ride in our Land Rover. The ride to our first accomodation was dark and uneventful, until I opened my big mouth and mistook a donkey for, what I thought to be, my first zebra sighting. Everyone had a great laugh, but I was still yearning to see wildlife.
That wouldn't be happening until the following day. The lodging was surprisingly modern and quaint. There was 3 separate families along on our trip so we each had our own bungalow. By the looks of our first lodge you could imagine you were a Disney dwarf coming home to your little dwarf house. The amenities were a lot more modern than I imagined they would be. We were advised to try not to drink any of the water from the faucets, but we had toilets, sinks, two double beds, a desk with chair, netting to enclose your bed, and an amazing panoramic view outside the windows. I almost felt like I was staying at a major city Hilton Hotel, until I remembered that the bed netting was to keep out large beatles and other night crawling insects.
The following morning we awoke to a warm, sunny day and enjoyed a modest breakfast at the cafeteria located in the main building of our lodge.
No unusual meal items were being served at this time, but I was keeping an eye out for something exotic. After breakfast, everyone gathered around for an introduction to our 3 tour guides, for our group would be traveling with 3 land rovers. Our tour guides were Willie, Abraham, and Leonard. By having the opportunity to choose a different tour guide on any given excursion gave me a more diverse experience of the local culture, wildlife, and customs in Africa. Man - that Willie could spot the tiniest wildlife on the road and above us in the trees. He pulled over while we were driving on one of the few paved highways to save a small tortoise trying to cross. At 50 miles per hour, I don't think I could spot a mongoose in the middle of the road sitting in a chair eating tea and cookies, but that's just me.
I imagined the animals would be difficult to spot, but to my surprise, they were EVERYWHERE. It was truly amazing. People keep telling me that Africa would not be their first choice of vacation destination, but if you love wildlife, camping, photography, and beautiful landscapes this is the destination of a lifetime. Every other day or two we alternated between a modern lodge and living on cots in well-equiped tents. Each tent would have its own shower, bathroom, and sink. For colder locations we were given warm water bottles to sleep with in our cots. Don't look under my blanket, I might have brought that idea home. It was so soothing.
We were taken to several planned stops for shopping; however, you quickly realize that the shop owners are making large profits off of the villager's work.
As tourists, we were told not to support street vendors or villagers trying to sell things at our vehicles, but whenever I could, I bought amazing hand painted prints and beaded jewelry. I would rather support the folks actually producing the art.
During one of our meals overlooking Lake Manyara National Park, a swarm of flying termites invaded our dinner. It would have been weird and sick to watch a large flying insect falling into your soup and salad, if it wasn't so amazing and special. (Did I just say it was special?)We were told that this happens once a year as termites grow wings to migrate to other mounds before losing their wings again.
One particular drive I remember vividly, because as we were keeping our eyes open for lion spottings, we did see something unusual.
A couple with their two young children had parked their cars on the side of the road and were walking off into the distant brush. Do they not remember that there are LIONS lurking around these parts?! Our driver screamed at them to get back into their vehicle. This family obviously chose to get their own rental car and opt out of a tour. They may have saved some money, but not a very bright idea if you don't have common sense. ;)
My absolute favorite memory was on one of the last days of our safari. I was still excited by every creature we came upon and the surreal feeling that I was roaming around this real life Lion King movie. We were approaching another herd of giraffe and my Aunt made the announcement to the three kids in our vehicle. Without even looking up or batting an eye, one of the boys replied, "so, we've already seen a lot of them." Whereas, I could not get enough!