You know the opening scene from The Lion King, where Rafiki (meaning “friend” in Swahili) steps out onto pride rock to reveal Simba (meaning “Lion” in Swahili) to the kingdom? It’s a symbol of triumph, a moment of glory, and Simba is looking cute as shit. Well, this is exactly how I felt the second my land cruiser entered the Serengeti (meaning “endless plains” in the Maasai language of Maa). Driving with the fresh air blowing in your face, it is easy to feel like you are the king of the world, but in reality you are merely a visitor, a guest in the animal kingdom.
Any animal lover will marvel at the vast array of wildlife that inhabits these grounds. At first it’s exciting, at times it’s overwhelming, and in hindsight – it’s simply fascinating. Everyone will have their own “holy grail” upon arrival, the one animal that has the allure of rosetta’s stone and will be a personal milestone once you’ve seen it with your very own eyes. Mine was a Leopard.
I set out with the same crew I conquered Kilimanjaro with for a 5 day safari which also included a visit to The Ngorongoro crater. Our first glance of the Serengeti plains featured thousands of Zebra, Wildebeest and Gazelle who created a moving horizon that danced around us at all angles. This spectacle is known as The Great Migration, a 3 month journey that starts in January and leads over 2 million animals from Tanzania to Kenya. It is quite the introduction.
A common site is large gathering’s of Elephants and Giraffe’s, who are entertaining due to their sheer mass and goofy awkwardness respectively. At first glance these animals are intriguing, entertaining and eye-opening, but by the end of the trip their attraction begins to fade. It’s a selfish realization when you become aware of this, you have travelled thousands of miles to see these animals grazing just a few feet away from you and yet because they are more common, they lose their appeal. I don’t mean to take any credibility away from these remarkable creatures, there is just something about spotting a predator so rare and mysterious that demands my attention. Now, where is my leopard?
There he is!! Spotted sitting on a branch about 50 yards away, dangling his tail while visually stalking the pray below him. My jaw dropped in awe as I frantically zoomed in trying to capture this magnificent predator, one of the members of “The Big 5” and amongst the rarest seen by humans. There he sat, licking his lips as the sun set. Within thirty seconds he scaled down the backside of the tree and disappeared. The grass below was not very tall, yet amazingly he went unnoticed as he wandered away. It is fascinating to think that you may be surrounded by these creatures even though you cannot see them, but when you do – everything changes. On that note, It is important not to live through your lens, put your camera down every once in a while. Take the moment in and truly experience it, this will create a memory that only you can cherish. So, there I stood in complete bliss as I replayed the encounter over and over in my head repeatedly. My expectations were surpassed…on the very first night.
What can the Serengeti possibly offer me after I have witnessed a leopard jump from a tree first hand? Well, how about Cheetahs, Lions, Buffalo, Jackals and one of my new favourite animals, the African Serval Cat. Plus Hippopotamus’, meerkats (Timon), warthogs (Pumba), and a massive variety of bird species around every corner. In short, a lot. In addition it allows you to gather the knowledge needed to help protect these remarkable creatures. Below is one of the fifteen black rhinoceros left in the Ncgorogoro crater. Fifteen, one – five, less then your fingers and toes combined. There is a large possibility the next generation will not be able to view these prehistoric wonders. I will leave it to you to research poachers and the corrupt authorities that oversee their well being. Hopefully, it will open your eyes and you will become active in their never ending fight for protection.
A Safari is as vibrant experience as any on this planet, it offers surreal wildlife, adrenaline, mystery and a lifetime of “you had to be there” moments. It can be enjoyed via extreme luxury, modest accommodation, or the more budget route that I chose, camping. You simply can’t beat laying in a tent beneath the stars, surrounded by the foreign sounds of the African wilderness, it actually feels as if you are in the core of Mother Nature’s womb. Oh, and you also get to take shots of whiskey around the campfire with your guides.
SO BRACE YOURSELF YOUNG SIMBA, FOR THIS WORLD AWAITS YOU. WITH EVERY RISING SUN IS ANOTHER DAY OF OPPORTUNITY, AND EVERY NIGHT SKY IS A CHANCE TO REFLECT. THERE ARE MANY QUESTIONS WITH NO ANSWERS, MANY LIES WITH NO TRUTHS. HOWEVER, THE WORLD IS NOT TO BE FEARED AND IF YOU CHOOSE TO VENTURE OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOME, THAN AFRICA IS THE OPEN GATES TO YOUR KINGDOM.