Monday, May 13, 2019

Lions, and Zebras, and Rhinos....Oh My!

Last summer my mom texted me asking how much vacation time I had, and how much could I use at one time. I replied with how much I thought I could use at once, and asked why.  Her response was, and I quote, "We're going to Africa and taking you with us. Dad and I want to do it before we're older and more decrepit that we already are." 

We booked our trip through a travel agent for eight days in Tanzania in April. We were on a guided tour, with a driver. The vehicles can accommodate up to 7 customers plus the driver, but there only ended up being one other person besides the three of us.  The trip ended up happening over my birthday, even though it really wasn't planned that way.  But it was one of the best birthday presents ever; maybe second only to Chancie, my first horse that was my 14th birthday present.

Any birthday presents including equines is a good birthday present
Our trip started by flying from the west coast to DC, spending the night in DC, getting woken up in the middle of the night by emergency alerts on our phones of tornadoes in the area, then getting on a plane for 13hr to fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We had a two hour lay over, then another two hour flight into Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Unfortunately there were clouds blocking Mt. Kilimanjaro when we flew in and out so we never got to see the mountain. By the time we got through customs and to our hotel I had been awake for over 24 hours, had no idea what day or time it was, and was so happy to see a bed. We spent our first night in Arusha, a fairly large city, but we didn't venture away from the hotel.

Not your normal, everyday sight

Our first full day in Tanzania was spent driving to and through Tarangire National Park. We saw elephants, zebras, cape buffalos, vervet monkeys, baboons, giraffes, impala, gazelles, and probably more that I'm forgetting.  It honestly didn't feel real. I kept expecting to see fences, or zoo keepers. Like, is this real life? Our hotel was in the middle of the park and at night we had to be escorted from the main reception/dining room of the hotel to our rooms in separate building because the wildlife can wander in.  We did see monkeys and warthogs on the grounds of the hotel. 

The third day was supposed to be a 6-7 hour to the Serengeti National Park, but ended up being almost 12 hours due to stops and wildlife sightings.  Almost as soon as we entered the park we saw a cheetah just chilling on the side of the rode, not 15 feet from us. Dude totally didn't care that we were there snapping pic after pic. Our hotel in Serengeti was once again in the middle of the park with no fences and we had to be escorted back and forth to our rooms.

Pride rock
The fourth day was my birthday and it started off with seeing these guys above. From what we could count, there was about a dozen or so lions here. Again, it was like something out of a zoo, or Disney, not real life. We spent the day driving around the park and came across a huge herd of zebras. There were probably 200-300 of them. And we drove right through and they didn't care at all.  Right before we stopped for lunch we saw another two lions sleeping on a river bank.  We were able to get pretty close to them.  Later in the afternoon we came across a different pride of lions that had just brought down a wildebeest and was having dinner.  The older lions had already eaten and the cubs were staring to eat. We probably spent 45 mins just watching. It was like National Geographic come to life. We also saw more elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, and Nile crocodiles.

Younger male lion by the river bank
Our second full day in Serengeti was spent driving to the western edge of the park. We drove through the wildebeest migration and saw upwards of 200,000 of them.  It was incredible. The morning of our sixth day we woke up early to try and spot a leopard.  We were able to see one asleep in a tree, and another crouching in the brush.  I tried to take pics, but they didn't turn out very well.  We also saw another three cheetahs.  We then drove out of the park and into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, home to the Ngorongoro Crater.  Our hotel was on the edge of the crater.

Our last full day in Tanzania was spent driving down into the crater.  Here we were able to cross the last of the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo) off the list. We were able to see two black rhinos.  We weren't able to get close to them but I was amazed at how big the older one's horn was.  Much, much bigger than anything I've seen in a zoo. We ended the day by having a pregnant lioness walk up to our truck, lie down next to us and take a nap.  She was so close my dad could have reached his hand out of the window and pet her. 

Just using the running board as an arm rest
The whole trip didn't seem real, and being back home for a couple of weeks now makes it seem even more unreal. I've had to ask myself if that really happened, if we really did that.  It was an amazingly incredible trip that I can't thank my parents enough for. I only hope I can go back one day.


  1. These trips are so unreal! I haven't gone, but my dad and step mom did. I made them send me photos of zebras. Your photos are incredible! So glad you were able to take that trip, your parents are awesome!