A trip to Tanzania is a wildlife lover’s dream come true. Aside from seeing some of Africa’s most legendary animals up close and personal, you’ll also experience one of the friendliest cultures and see some of the most breathtaking sights that will be etched into your brain forever.
Catie and I visited Tanzania with expectations that we would encounter wildlife, but as much as we had built this trip up in our heads, nothing could prepare us for some of the experiences we would ultimately have.
Flying, By Big Plane and Small
Once we landed in Dar es Salaam, we stayed the night in a hotel in the city and boarded a little 10 passenger plane to the Selous Game Reserve the next morning. Floating in the air on the smallest plane I’ve ever been on my life was both exhilarating and terrifying. You can feel every jolt and gust of wind, and if you're sitting in the front row, you have a literally breathtaking view through the front windshield. The only thing that kept my mind occupied was watching the landscape below us morph from stacked buildings and houses to wide open plains.
After we landed, we took a jeep ride through the reserve to get to our camp site. Our driver, Gerard, was incredibly friendly and although we were only riding for around twenty minutes, we felt like we had just spent the day conversing with an old friend.
Then, the animals arrived.
At first, we heard the unmistakable trumpeting of elephants. We stopped and gawked at a family of elephants making their way through the brush, unfazed by our jeep and excited chatter. Elephants hardly make a sound when they walk, which is impressive given their massive size. Once you sit in stillness among them, all you can hear is the swishing of their tails and the flapping of their ears as they gracefully saunter by.
Further down the road, we spotted giraffes, baboon, and warthogs. We couldn't believe how much we saw, and this was just the drive in.
We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
As soon as we got to camp, we were greeted by Selous Impala Camp's insanely hospitable staff and served some of the best fruit we've ever had. Sitting in the bush, surrounded by chattering birds and monkeys, it was clear we had finally landed in wildlife paradise. Not twenty minutes later, we were told to get ready for our boat safari on the Rufiji River. When they say you’ll see wildlife, they aren’t messing around.
We were the only boat that traversed through the river, making our way through countless birds, crocodiles, and hippos. We took the time to quietly sit with each group, and the guides described the behavior we observed. If you're an animal nerd, you need to visit Tanzania! The highlight was watching a gorgeous elephant cross through the river during sunset. Only half of her body was stained darker from the water, and it made for an unforgettable picture that I will always treasure.
Whenever we walked through the camp, we were accompanied by a personally assigned Maasai.
The members of this group are commonly hired for protection, as they grew up in the bush and have an intimate knowledge of both the wildlife and landscape. They exhibit no fear of any of the dangerous animals they encounter, and also exude an inviting and friendly energy. During our 4-day stay, we formed a joking relationship with our Maasai, Elias, even though we only spoke a handful of words in each other’s language. Sometimes, I think a communication barrier can form a tighter bond as you rely on feelings, patience, and perspective to relay what you’re trying to say rather than muddle it up with words.
A Wild World
Over the next few days we went out on safari and shared some incredible moments with both Gerard and the wildlife he took us to see. Our mornings started early, around 5:30am, but waking up early was easy, as each morning drive was filled with so much fervor for what the day would bring us. Each safari drive was different: the first morning we were the only car around and spent thirty minutes alone with a leopard mother and her cubs – a rare experience. The next day we spent nearly an hour alone with a lion couple as they stalked some prey and basked in the sun. We also experienced a charging wildebeest herd, dozens of zebra stripes, more elephant encounters, and an afternoon with lazing hyenas.
At night, we saw stars that I didn’t even know existed. It took me until our second night in camp to realize that the cloudy figure I saw in the sky wasn’t a patch of fog or rain, but an unobstructed and vibrant view of the Milky Way that I had never seen before. The beauty of Africa is endless, and I suppose that’s what makes it such a mystical and magical place. Every night after being able to process all that I’d seen throughout the day, I would come back to one repeating thought, “am I really here right now?”
While wildlife sightings were the most photogenic moments of the trip, the aspects that will stay with me forever are the conversations with Gerard. We discussed cultural differences, spiritual beliefs, and the differences in nature between his home and ours. Gerard is one of the best examples of the Tanzanian spirit and love of life. Absent from his worldview is a desire for status and material abundance. By the end of our short trip, we had seen what we expected to see: incredible wildlife and a beautiful culture, but the one thing we left with that was not expected was a relationship with a complete stranger that turned into a brotherhood. We still talk to Gerard to this day, and we are counting down the days until we are fortunate enough to visit the magical land of Tanzania once more.
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