The decision of whether or not to partake in a safari while in East Africa actually proved to be a tough one. It turns out African safaris are nasty expensive. Let me clarify – I’m not the type who needs luxury travel. I wasn’t looking to stay in a swanky hotel, have staff waiting on me hand and foot, or fly by private jet to avoid the ultimate horror of having to witness Tanzania’s vast landscapes from a truck. No, Chris and I were looking to camp, meaning no hotels whatsoever, and in doing so we’d be signing up to also help with general chores like pitching and disassembling our tent, washing dishes and helping clean the truck. This, the cheapest option we could find for the Serengeti, came out to nearly $2,000 per person for what was officially ten days, but in actuality only seven (the reason here is that we were left to our own devices for three days in Zanzibar, which was nice on the one hand, but our expenses during that time were not included in the cost of the trip).
Yes, I understand it’s the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. But I had no idea it would cost that much simply to rough it. Again, I have no problem roughing it – I grew up in Colorado and actually enjoy camping. But anytime I took camping trips in the Rockies, between food, transportation and the camping spot, a weekend trip usually wouldn’t cost more than $30 per person. Why would it, when you’re not staying in an actual building with electricity, plumbing or heating, and when you’re doing your own cooking and cleaning?
So we had a few lengthy discussions as to whether to spend our money on a safari or on something else, like climbing Kilimanjaro or a full week diving in Zanzibar. In the end we decided that we had already hiked the Inca Trail this year, and I had already spent a week diving with my friend Molly in the Seychelles. Not to mention, neither of those options would have saved us much money, because everything in Africa is, well, expensive.
In the end we did decide to go on safari and it was nothing short of amazing. Our trip started with a ferry ride from Dar es Salaam (“Dar” for short) to Zanzibar. While Dar was not one of my favorite cities, to put it mildly – it was crowded, dirty and in no way charming or beautiful – it was at least fascinating to observe the crowds on the ferry out of town.
Zanzibar lived up to its reputation of beauty and Stone Town was one of the more intriguing places I’ve seen. We passed by the house Freddie Mercury grew up in on our way into the narrow streets of souks. We got severely lost, but I used my travel smarts to get us out of it by negotiating a $1 taxi ride back to where we needed to be. From there we took a taxi to Ocean Paradise, a place I had no idea would be so resort-y given that it wasn’t all that pricey.
To be perfectly honest, though, the diving wasn’t as good as the Seychelles. It was still pretty good.
After joining back up with the group (which was technically just us and a German couple since it was the low season – we were only four and a guide in a truck made for 32 people, so we were able to stretch out quite comfortably), we made our way back to Dar for one more night before making the 12-hour journey to Arusha the next day. We would have a day there to see a cattle market, snake and reptile park and Maasai museum.
The museum was a bit uncomfortable for two reasons: first, we were asked about eight times if we enjoyed the tour, while the guide stared at us waiting for a tip. I wasn’t really wowed enough by the “museum” (a few random mannequin-like figures propped up in a dark room) to leave anything, but his stares made things awkward enough to get a few thousand shillings from us.
The somewhat creepier and more disturbing aspect of our tour came when our guide showed us a mannequin scene in which boys and girls – not at birth, but in adolescence – are being circumcised. Apparently this is a practice that the Tanzanian government has outlawed for girls, but the guide had no qualms telling us the Maasai continue to do it, just in secret. I had just finished reading a book called Aman: Story of a Somali Girl, in which the author tells of the girl’s upbringing, including her circumcision and the social norms surrounding the practice, and it was pretty horrifying.
The next day things started to kick off as we said goodbye to our massive truck and climbed into a smaller jeep on route to the Ngorongoro Crater. Simply put, the place was stunning. Few words are needed here.
That night we camped and I was only marginally freaked out by the fact that we were sleeping in a tent with no fences or walls to separate us from the elephants, leopards, rhinos, buffalo, hippos, hyenas, lions, snakes and whatever else could eat, trample and/or kill a person in the Serengeti. At one point in the night I had to get up to use the bathroom and was absolutely terrified by a noise. Upon shining my flashlight on the culprits, I found two adorable (read: murderous) bunnies. Could be worse, I thought to myself.
The following day entailed a drive through the Serengeti – also amazing. Again, few words required.
On our way home we visited a Maasai village and got to jump with some of the locals. I have my doubts as to whether they actually sit around and jump when they’re not entertaining/taking money from safari-goers, but hey – it was really entertaining at the time.
The final couple of days entailed driving to Nairobi, finishing the safari and saying our goodbyes. Two of the highlights there were the Shedrick Elephant Orphanage, which rescues and rehabilitates elephants in an attempt to return them to the wild, and my make-out session with a giraffe at The Giraffe Center (operated by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, Ltd). Chris got some action, too.
All in all, it was an unforgettable trip despite the cost. Certain parts of East Africa (ahem, Dar and Nairobi) were certainly not my favorite locations on the planet, but the animals of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro do not disappoint.
*featured image courtesy of Chris Hale