My Top Ten Tanzanian Safari Moments

Cradling my camera carefully as we bounce along the corrugated dirt track, wishing I’d worn a serious sports bra, getting painful bruises under my arms where I am standing up and clinging to bits of the open roof of the 4-wheel drive, coated in a potent mix of suntan lotion, dust and sweat, and grinning maniacally as we lurch to a stop, we spot a family of elephants just emerging to our left. Tanzania is a world-class spot for seriously impressive animal spotting, which is why we are all standing upright and clinging on for hours on end in the heat – we don’t want to risk missing a second by sitting down.
Lake Manyara hippo pool

On my previous visit to Tanzania in 1992 I traveled through the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, and Mikumi national parks. This time I am visiting Tarangire, Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara, and it strikes me that animal numbers in the national parks appear to have increased dramatically in the intervening years, which is very encouraging. We have quickly determined a pecking order of what gets our attention. We have seen so many monkeys, antelope and wildebeest that we barely stop any more – it’s the elephants and giraffes and any big cat, hippos and rhinos that get us excited now. Here are a few of my favourite moments.

  1. The Hippo Pool at Lake Manyara. We are pinning our hopes on the promisingly named Hippo Pool in Lake Manyara, and boy does it deliver. Dozens upon dozens of hippos resting into a series of shallow pools, climbing in and out of the pools, lolling around in the mud, with a backdrop of hills and zebras and great colonies of storks. And then one right in front of me does a huge yawn and I am as happy as a hippo watcher can be.
  2. The large herds of Elephants in Tarangire. We are awestruck watching a column of elephants come towards us through the tree line, 50 or 60 in number, about a third of them young ones, striding three or four abreast. They tower over us as they cross the track just in front of us, ignoring us. Over the next hour we see at least three more herds of similar size, all within a few km of each other. One herd is running, stampeding (luckily not in our direction), and we watch them steer and protect their babies as they thunder by.
    Tarangire elephants
  3. Spotting a Leopard in Tarangire. Just on dusk, on our first evening drive in Tarangire, Peter pulls up and points to a large acacia tree, two or three hundred metres away, and says “leopard” . At first we can’t see a thing in the waning light, but as I extend my zoom lens and follow his direction – up to the first large horizontal branch sticking out to the left, pan along it, suddenly it comes into view. Magnificent, stretched out along the branch. We joke that it’s a stuffed toy planted by the guides to fool us, as the leopard hasn’t moved. Right on cue, it stands up, stretches, moves a couple of metres further out on the branch, and lies down again. It’s a small spot in the distance, but as we assess the size of the tree and the relative size of the leopard, we start to realise it is indeed big, it has to be at least two metres in length, and we stay there and stare at it till it is just too dark to see any more.
  4. The very self satisfied teenage lions in Ngorongoro Crater. The epitome of self assured adolescence – nine or ten teenage lions and lionesses having an afternoon seista on a sunny hillside. One male sits to the side as a very casual guard, the remaining males are all flat on their backs, limbs spread akimbo, baring their contented bellies to the sun. The lionesses are similarly napping, albeit in a slightly more conservative pose. We get the very strong message that these lions don’t have too many worries at all.
    Ngorongoro lions
  5. The sole Rhino sighting in Ngorongoro. I can’t help wondering is it is still the same rhino that I saw in the same place eighteen years ago, I like the idea that it might be. Last time I saw it a lot closer as it charged our jeep (which had stalled). This time it doesn’t charge anyone, and while I tell myself that is a good thing, I am secretly a little bit disappointed.
  6. The black and white beauty of the zebra. We see what seems like thousands of zebra. We also see  what seems like thousands of wildebeest and quickly get bored with them, but the zebras remain fascinating. Even though they tend to turn away from us when they hear us approaching, so we end up seeing a lot of zebra arses. Its the contrast between their funny donkey-like shape and the graphic beauty of the black and white markings, no two ever the same.
    Ngorongoro zebra
  7. The soda lake pink flamingos and the soaring storks. I’ve never been a bird watcher when I travel, but even I am impressed when there are huge flocks of birds. A solid pink carpet of flamingoes  in a lake in Ngorongoro, or vast flight of storks forming intricate synchronous flying patterns, soaring around in aerial displays by Lake Manyara.
  8. The teenage giraffe argy bargy. It is so hard not to endow animals with human behaviours and motivations. As we do when we see three male teenage giraffes, two of them engaged in a bit of friendly pushing and shoving, for all the world looking like a couple of footy players trying to establish a pecking order, the third giraffe looking like the try-hard hanger-oner
  9. The Masaai village. It’s easy to imagine the Masaai get really annoyed with us for treating them like just another animal sighting – pointing our cameras at them, wanting to capture their ‘colour’, wanting to look into their life’s. Imagine if a horde of tourists descended into your house and workplace every day doing the same to you. Near Ngorongoro, in the Serengeti, there are a number of Masaai villages which have been built specifically for tourists to visit, for a fee. Here we get welcomed with traditional dances, get shown into traditional Masaai huts, visit a school room, and have the opportunity to buy some of their intricately beaded jewellery. And we are allowed, indeed encouraged to take photos of everyone and anyone. That’s because these are ‘theme’ villages, the Masaai only work there during the day, and go home to their real villages in the evening. This is a job for them, and they get paid for it. Some tourists object to paying an entrance fee, object to it not being a real live village. I wonder when we decided we have the right to invade peoples lives and expect them to perform on demand for us for free, in their own homes. Good on them for setting up a cultural performance, of finding a way to manage the interest in them and earn an income off it, while putting a boundary around their real lives.
    Masaai
  10. The monkey that tried to steal my lunch. Sometimes I get a good reminder that I can be a dumb tourist. This was one of those days. After an early start and a full morning in Tarangire I am looking forward to our packed lunch. We’ve stopped in an official picnic spot, sitting at the tables under the trees, a river valley teeming with zebra, wildebeest and giraffe below us. A few cute little monkeys playing on the fence yonder, one a mum with the tiniest baby monkey clinging on to her under her belly. I start pulling out items from my lunch box – sandwich, samosa, juice, chocolate bar – with a big loud “yum”. One of my fellow travellers yells “watch out”, and out of the corner of my eye I see the mother monkey with baby still attached  doing a giant leap through the air from fence towards my unpacked lunch box. My brain flashed ” oh no, you’re not getting my lunch” and I somehow managed to sweep all the contents into the plastic lunchbox and slam the lid on in a split second, just as the monkey’s claw grabbed one corner of the box, about 2 mm from my hand, and yanked hard. I yanked back and pulled it out of her grasp, the plastic breaking off into her claw as it went – she sat back and snarled at me, looked like she was considering attacking me, and then turned and retreated back to her fence. Only then did I remember that I’d decided I wouldn’t need a rabies shot before I came on this trip, that her claws had been only 2mm from me and strong enough to rip a plastic lunchbox and that any sane person would’ve just let her take the sandwich.

What’s up with all the khaki and zips?

Whether you call yourself a tourist or a traveller, whether you are away for a week or a year, I bet you have clothing in your bag that combines khaki and zips. If you are on an ‘adventure’ trip, chances are pretty much your entire wardrobe meets the khaki and zips description. When did this become the uniform to prove you were a hard core traveller – even if you are just on your way to Las Vegas for a weekend? Sure, safari suits were in fashion in the seventies, but have been completely lame ever since, so why is the travel uniform now basically a safari suit with 14 extra pockets and zips? Sure, it makes sense to have fabrics that are comfortable, that are suited for the heat or the cold, but there’s no reason they have to be khaki safari suits with added zips. And its not like other colours and styles aren’t available, so why look like a clone?
60's safari dress

When I first started travelling some 23 years ago, there were plenty of traveler uniforms, worn at different times by various sub-tribes. But everyone else just wore their most comfortable ‘normal’ clothes that suited the climate. There was the tie-dye/hippy look  available in markets worldwide, which we were already deriding as “so last decade” but somehow would end up with bits of in the pack the longer we travelled -but at least it always got thrown away as soon as we got home. 
hippy travel style
There was the ‘track pants teamed with souvenir t-shirts of places we’d been to’ look (or alternatively t-shirts with the logos of beers we had drunk). There was the preppy golf shirt look, preferably a Lacoste knock-off from Istanbul or Kuta. There was even a period (particularly for British travellers) of shiny shell suits in violently clashing colours. All of these were pretty bad looks, but we were unlikely to find every traveler we met wearing the same thing, and it was at least colourful. So when did the “styled by Ralph Lauren’s tasteless cousin with an oversupply of khaki and zips” trend start to creep in, and how did it get so ubiquitous?


khaki shorts
The first time I really noticed it completely taking over was about five years ago in Luang Prabang. It was the same time I noticed two other very disturbing (for me) trends. I realised that well over 50% of the tourists in Luang Prabang at the time were baby boomers – far outnumbering the young backpackers and everyone else in between. I don’t know if it was just a fluke, a random occurance, but it certainly surprised me. And every single one of those baby boomers were wearing expensive “made for travel” khaki trousers, with zip off legs and countless other pockets and zips. And far too many of them were pairing their khaki trousers with crocs. The takeover of khaki zipped trouser + croc wearing baby boomers was painfully obvious as they elbowed their way in every morning so they could shove their camera lens three inches from the faces of the monks as they wound their way around town at dawn collecting alms. It was not a pretty picture of the potential future of travel. It was consistent across at least a dozen nationalities that I could identify. And while it was most obvious on the babyboomers, it was certainly not exclusive to them.

I was reminded of it when I read “Brick Lane” by Monica Ali – its a book about immigrants, not travel. But I laughed when I read a paragraph where one of her characters made the following observation:
The white people wore trousers with pockets all over them. They had pockets at the thigh, the knee, down on their shins. All their clothes had little tabs and toggles, zips and flaps and fasteners. It was as if they had dressed themselves in tents and to settle for the night they would simply insert a few poles and lay down.


safari jacket
On a recent flight, after being on safari in Tanzania, I was reading the inflight magazine ‘Tailwind” and came across a like minded article by Anthea Rowan, who also has a really interesting blog ReluctantMemsahib. Here’s some quotes from her article, confirming that I am not the only person perplexed by the khaki and zips uniform.
Why have tourists visiting Africa developed such a zealous fondness for Khaki? And zips? And multitudes of pockets? Yes, I can understand why a soldier wears khaki during battle – mainly so he’s not seen  – by his similarly khaki clad enemy – and shot. But it doesn’t explain why tourists feel the need to look like a commando squad on active duty when they come to look at out wildlife.

Most of them will tell you it’s because they’re going for a game drive and want to creep up on the wildlife unseen.  How? In their black and white mini van with a dozen camera shutters clicking paparazzi-style? Even if their khaki uniforms rendered them magically invisible to the animals, I reckon there’s a pretty good chance the pride of lion/herd of elephant/cheetah and cubs might spot the fleet of 4×4’s surrounding them, get up and slope off out of sight.

Is your bag full of khaki and zips? Be adventurous, try a different color, a different style, or even clothes you’d be seen dead in at home!
Disclaimer: the author has been known to wear cargo pants on urban adventures (to the local cafes), and has even travelled with them once or twice, but has never owned (and never will) a pair of zip-off khaki trouser/shorts. Or a matching shirt. Unless they go out of fashion and everyone stops wearing them – then she may reconsider.

Tall Tales of Twiga in Tanzania

Doesn’t Swahili has the best animal names of any language ?  Twiga for giraffe, Simba for lion, Tembo for elephant – to me these swahili words sound exactly like the animals look! Especially ‘Twiga’, which somehow manages to convey the tallness, the awkwardness and the beauty of a giraffe in one short punchy word.
 Twiga (giraffe) in Tarangire, Tanzania

Twiga were in every park we went to in Tanzania, we saw plenty of them, and each one looked so individual – even before they started pulling faces! And they certainly have expressive faces, even slightly absurd faces, I could watch them all day.


Twiga (giraffe)  in The Ngorongoro Conservation area


Twiga (giraffe)  in The Ngorongoro Conservation area


Twiga (giraffe) in Lake Manyara, Tanzania

We saw some interesting behaviour from three teenage male giraffes. Like any teenage boys, two of them were enjoying a bit of pushing and shoving, a bit of argy-bargy, and the third one was hanging back and looking like he wished that he got to play too – it was fascinating to watch – playground behaviour of the twiga.
Twiga (giraffe) in Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Can I play too?
Twiga (giraffe) in Lake Manyara, Tanzania


Twiga (giraffe) in Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Lions vs Zebra – the Tarangire soap opera ( a pictorial)

Once upon a time, in a far away Tanzanian National Park, as evening fell, two lionesses rested under a large baobab tree.
Lions in Tarangire


Lions in Tarangire
One just lies on her back and stretches, the other moves to the front of the tree to show off to the landrover load of tourists who have just arrived.


Lions in Tarangire


Lions in Tarangire
Lioness A continues to pose like a professional, changing expressions and poses regularly.


Lions in Tarangire


Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B starts to wonder if there is anything of interest around.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B is now alert, something has attracted her attention.
Lions in Tarangire

Both lions are now alert, as a herd of zebra wanders across the landscape upwind from them.
Lions in Tarangire

As the zebra continue on their course towards the lions, both are now alert, tensed and ready to move.
Lions in Tarangire

The lead zebra, walking ahead of the herd, has not sensed any danger and leads them onwards towards the lions.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B moves through the grass low & fast, approaching the zebra.
Lions in Tarangire

The lead zebra is only about 30m away now. A low whisper of “kill, kill” arises from the landrover as the intrepid explorers encourage the lions to go for a great photo opportunity.
Lions in Tarangire

A small wind change, a gust, and the lead zebra senses danger and stamps its feet loudly and repeatedly as a warning.
Lions in Tarangire

The herd gets the warning and without panic, turns around and heads off purposefully in another direction.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B comes out of hiding and watches the zebra moving away.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B stretches with a large yawn.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B casually and openly follows the lead zebra, now protecting the rear of the herd.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B stops to take a dump, unconcerned that her dinner is trotting away.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B lays down to rest in the last rays of the days sun.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness A stops watching and takes a stretch.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness A saunters after Lioness B.
Lions in Tarangire

The lions re-unite.
Lions in Tarangire

The lions casually stroll off after the zebras, as though they are heading out for dinner and entertainment, and have all night. Pretentious photographer with massive zoom lens mourns the loss of her National Geo moment.
Lions in Tarangire