Looking around the table, listening to the stories of Borneo, gorillas in Rwanda and other exotic spots, I felt a bit out of place. This was ironic. While I grew up in California, I work in International Development which had taken me to Peshwar, Jalalabad, Bogota, Banda Aceh, Tegucigalpa….just to name a few distant outposts. However, this trip was different…my dad and I were sitting in an elegant tent in the middle of the Serengeti as the wildebeest migration wandered through camp.
It all started when my dad mentioned his retirement dream of seeing the migration and going on safari. My mom, a more artistic than adventurous soul, said she’d rather not go, and my dad generously asked if I’d like to join him. This sparked a year-long research project of finding the right safari….did we want to stay in tents? Five star hotels? Did we want our own guide? What country, what animals, what cultures? We finally narrowed it down to the Serengeti in Tanzania, with a multiple-day stay in a camp following the migration.
Arriving from two continents, me from Italy and dad from California, we stayed one night in Arusha before meeting our gregarious and knowledgeable guide, Cornelius. Our trusty Land Cruiser was packed the next morning with luggage and treats, and off we went. The drive quickly went from hot, noisy, dusty Arusha to the wide-open spaces of the rift valley.
Our first stop not on the printed itinerary as we were quick to learn was the “way of Cornelius” was a lone Baobab tree. Here Cornelius hopped out, jumped a fence of thorns and begin our education on the amazing array of birds living in the micro-habitat around the Balboa. Birds with long tails, yellow coloring, delicate features opened a new world of African safaris was opened to us as we stood looking up. We would learn that the “big five” (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) were only a fraction of the life on in the Tanzanian savannah.
As we arrived at our next destination, Lake Manyara National Park, dad and I were like kids in a candy store. As our first true “safari” spot, it lived up to our dreams, with a baboon family welcoming us at the gate, rhino rib trees displaying spectacular lines and angles, and our first glimpse of a cheetah. Next was Gibbs Farm, one of the first guest houses in Tanzania, sitting on acres of organic coffee and produce. More than 70 percent of the items on the menu are products of the farm. Our first night’s meal, cooked by a professional chef included a peanut and eggplant soup and fresh herb soufflé…not items I had anticipated eating on safari!
The next day brought elephants chasing away lions, thousands of pink flamingos, a rare black rhino sighting, and frolicking baby zebras on our drive into and through the Ngorongoro Crater. Driving down the other side of the crater, we entered the hot, dusty backside of the conservation area. Umbrella trees went from a rarity to the predominant life-form on the landscape. From green to brown the landscape changed as we lazily neared camp. As we neared, a storm descended upon us, sloshing the Land Cruiser about, giving Cornelius the chance to demonstrate his talent at taming the “Land Cruiser in mud beast.” Watching other Land Cruisers in the distance not move with us, we appreciated Cornelius’ driving skills more than at any other point along the trip.
Upon arrival, we joined the small group of other hardy storm survivors who had reached our intimate camp on this vast plain. Sitting at dinner that night, I realized how special the moment was in this place … sounds of wildebeest grunting in the background, stories of travels far and wide circling the table, and my dad sitting at my side, smiling and laughing as he fulfilled his retirement dream.
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