My very first visit to Tanzania in 2003 included a safari through Tarangire National Park, and since then I have been through Ngorongoro Crater once, and have had safaris through the Serengeti National Park over nine times and that doesn’t include the three times I have simply driven straight through the park to get to Arusha (still have to pay the fees, though). In all of those safaris, I have never stayed in a lodge but always camped out in tents. This is not the safest way to do things, but it has been exciting on more than one occasion. One time, an older gentleman was with us who had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (I now know this problem myself). He didn’t take his glasses and walked away from the tent until he ran straight into a tree. As he felt the trunk of the tree, the tree walked away from him. He had had a close encounter with an elephant who just wanted to get away from this crazy man hugging his leg. The gentleman no longer needed the restroom, as you might expect.
Since I have severe sleep apnea and sleep with a CPAP machine, I don’t get any sleep in a tent in the Serengeti (no place to plug it in). I usually just get a chair and sit up in my tent peering out the little window to watch the hyenas come and rummage through the trash and whatever other nighttime visitors we might have. Once I heard some chuffing behind me and turned and saw some animal whose nose was sliding along the outside of my tent. I then heard the guides from the next tent saying, “Chui!” which is Swahili for leopard. That was one time I was very glad I had left all my food in the car. We, and those traveling with us, have gotten hundreds of great pictures of the animals and birds in that great park. Elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, leopards, cheetahs, baboons, kori bustards (huge birds), and just about everything else except tigers (no tigers in Africa, folks).
Probably my closest encounter with a big cat didn’t get photographed. I was sitting up in the car in the middle of the campsite since I couldn’t sleep and had several hyenas to watch. All of sudden the hyenas ran away like their tails were on fire. Then I heard that chuffing noise I had heard years before. I felt before I saw a furry back level with the bottom of the car window as a magnificent leopard walked past. He or she stopped a few feet from the car, sat down and just looked straight at me. I had a flash camera and thought about taking a picture. Then I thought about how the cat might react. Then I thought about just how thin the glass in my car window was. I then decided that people would either have to believe me or not, but there would be no flash picture of a leopard for me to prove what I was seeing. After a few minutes, that beautiful cat slowly walked away. The guides believed me the next day because the paw prints were there that they could see. You may or may not believe me, but I just don’t recommend taking flash pictures of leopards at night when they are very near you. Just sayin’.
American author, Jodi Picoult summed up my feelings (and my late wife's) for where I live thusly, “Africa—You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the Hand of God. You watch the slow lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. You marvel at the tripod of a giraffe bent to water. In Africa, there are iridescent blues on the wings of birds that you do not see anywhere else in nature. In Africa, in the midday heat, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.” Amen. And here John and I remain.