We landed in Zanzibar and I made it into the small little terminal and a short while later our bags began to be carried in. I collected mine and headed outside to find my name on a sign held by the person who welcomed me to Zanzibar and gave me my itinerary for the next few days. They had me separate from the other six people that I had been traveling with, and I figured we would meet later, not realizing that I would not see them again, otherwise I would have said my goodbyes. They must have had another itinerary here on the island, and I can only hope that it’s been nice. I was actually thankful to finally have solitude, as it’s been a long time. I’m used to having a lot of personal time, and that just hasn’t existed for the last 8+ months, so a few days on my own on the beautiful island of Zanzibar was just about perfect.
My final safari stop in Africa was Tarangire National Park in northeast Tanzania. It is notorious for its massive baobab trees that dot the landscape, giants of the land, and also has the highest concentration of elephants in Tanzania. Our stop at the park entrance was very long, taking about an hour, a combination of seeming inefficiency and problematic systems, creating a long wait for everyone while all the guides dealt with the challenges of getting everyone through. They have a tough job in so many ways, not the least of which is juggling all the various expectations of all these tourists, and doing it on a continent where things not working is a daily way of life. The whole “make a plan”, and when that fails, “make a[nother] plan” thing is very real. They have a nice display about the park at the entrance, as well as an elevated platform built around a huge baobab tree, so there were ways to pass the time, including just relaxing a bit. Even a nearby vervet monkey took the opportunity to catch some sleep.
The drives between places are often just as pretty as the places themselves. I’ve had a life long love of road trips, and always enjoy the journey. To the guides, a sign of their driving skills is that everyone falls asleep, but not me — I prefer to soak it all in, and enjoy the trip. I’ve never understood how people come to places like this and sleep through it, yet I saw it happen in various vehicles along the way, people asleep in the middle of all of this grandeur, having travelled from all corners of the earth. Stay at home and watch TV, sleepy people. Places like this are for those who want to savor it all — the sight, the sound, the smell, and feel of each place.
We were up early the next day to get an early start on a full day in the park. It would be my only full day here, so I was glad that we were going to make the most of it by taking packed lunches and staying out all day, even in the heat, which was no joke. The ideal game drive set-up is to split the day, like we did in the Mara, but given the massive expanse of the Serengeti, having to come back to camp midday would have cut down on how much we were able to see, so it was an easy choice. Our camp was in the central Serengeti, so it was the perfect location, and that meant the game drive started right outside camp, with the ever-so-photogenic giraffe first up in the morning light. There was a mother and two young giraffes, perhaps a year apart, the youngest one of which wanted to nurse, but only manage a couple seconds before the mother moved away; all part of the process of transitioning the young to switch to tree leaves and such. I also spotted a group of elephants, so beautiful in the warm light.
Where we stayed at Lake Victoria was very close to the west entrance to the Serengeti, so we were quickly in the park on Friday morning. The initial area that we drove through had had some controlled burning as park of creating fire breaks, so it wasn’t particularly picturesque for the first part of the drive. The landscape was open plains dotted with acacia and other trees here and there, often with animals huddled beneath them in the little shade that was provided.
Once we were a bit further into the park, we went to an area where lions have often been spotted and came across a female and male, some distance away from each other. The female had picked a shady spot under a single small tree, and she was massive, so much so that with her large belly I wondered if she had either recently gorged herself on meat, or if perhaps she was pregnant and soon to give birth, since she as alone. Females leave the pride when they are about to give birth, chosing a den site and waiting about six weeks to introduce cubs to the pride. She wasn’t in an area with an obvious den, but there could have been one nearby.
We left our camp in the Mara fairly early Wednesday morning, heading southeast through the Masai Mara area, stopping at one point to see two young female lions on a fresh wildebeest kill, which was really incredible to see. I knew the females were not yet fully grown, given their size and the presence of some light spots still on their legs and bodies, so I would estimate that they were around two years of age. I’m not sure where the rest of the pride was, but these two girls were enjoying the feast. Once we left them to their meal, we headed up into the hills and stopped by a Masai village for a tour, complete with the typical tourist touches, such as a dance performance and a big display of their artwork and jewelry for sale by all the ladies of the village. The beadwork done by the Masai is beautifully intricate, and I’ve got a collection of bracelets going, since they are inexpensive and don’t take up any room in my luggage, which is very key at this point of my journey. Once it was time to go, and we said kwaheri and asante to the lovely people, it was time to head out of the park and make our way to the border.
Heartbreak over leaving Zimbabwe, the cubs, and all of the wonderful people I met was somewhat soothed by the excitement about my next adventure of a long-desired safari in Kenya and Tanzania. The last walk with the cubs was tough, and I had a few solo moments to say goodbye to all four of them, with silent words given through the tears, an all-too-brief farewell at the end of so many months of watching them grow and thrive. It was an honor to be part of their young lives, and I have such great hopes for their future.
So here it has arrived — the last week of my internship, and it’s bittersweet to say the least. It has been an amazing experience, full of highs and some lows, much fun and laughter, as well as much introspection and even some sorrow. Such is the case with any complex and richly textured life experience — it’s the combination of these things that make it authentic. I’ve been inspired by all of the humanitarian and environmental work that I’ve seen during my time in Africa, by this organization and others, and at the same time found myself wishing that things could be even better. The whole “TIA” or “This is Africa” phenomenon is very real — things work differently here. It’s not necessarily better or worse, but for anyone from an industrialized place, it can sometimes seem like you’ve stepped back in time. If you’re really paying attention, however, you’ll see an ingenuity in the approach to things, with people using the tools, materials, and resources that are available, often until they are quite literally falling apart. It makes you appreciate everything so much more, including what you learn from the people here.
I’m currently in Livingstone, Zambia, spending four weeks here as the third location during my internship with ALERT, after my previous time in both Antelope Park and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I’ll be here until the 25th, and then will return to Vic Falls for a couple weeks. Each location has been unique, with different things to offer, and I’ve glad that I’ve spent time in all three. I’m splitting my time between project management type of duties, mostly helping with coordinating volunteer activities and logistics, and spending time with the lions manager and researchers on the animal management side, as well. It’s been a busy few weeks since my last blog post, so here’s a little of what I’ve been up to lately…
The cubs continue to do really well, expanding their environment day by day, as they explore a bit further into areas of the bush. Liuwa and Lekker just turned seven months old on Friday the 17th, and Lila and Lala are about two and half weeks ahead of them. The river continues to be their favorite place to play, and we go there often. They love the long grass, which gives them cover for stalking and chasing each other, and they go a bit nuts wrestling with tall clumps of grass, as well as having epic wrestling matches with each other. Every now and then they play their version of “you’re it” with each other, where three of them gang up on one of them, and you can see them practice their hunting and take-down skills in the process, where they circle behind the one who is “it” and attack from the back. They are getting more adventurous with wading slightly into the water when they spot something that they want, usually a branch or a clump of plant roots, getting wet and muddy in the process. Liuwa is typically the one to get the dirtiest, and it is somehow perfectly suited to her personality.