Our safari started on a Monday morning, as the two enormous jeeps whirled into our hotel to collect us. We were on our way and were all very excited. It was about a four hour drive to the Ngorongoro Crater, and along the way, we saw many small Tanzanian towns and were able to observe the people. There were modernly dressed women carrying enormous loads on their heads, traditionally dressed women, tribespeople and more. We even managed to see a group of 15 year old boys dressed all in black with skeleton masks, indicating that they were getting ready for their circumcision ceremony and their entry into adulthood. And there was this boy who tried to get Yehuda to pay him $2 after taking his picture.
The Ngorongoro Crater was an astonishingly beautiful backdrop where we found almost every animal imaginable.
Topping off an amazing afternoon there, we retired to the Rhino Lodge where a cozy fire was blazing in the dining hall and views of the lush green landscape were everywhere.
We were told that after dinner we should return to our rooms and not wander far, since baboons, elephants and water buffalo are known to wander in the area. They even said that they had originally planned to build a pool at the lodge, but decided not to since they figured the elephants would play in it! We awoke the next morning to the “Hooo hoo” and “squak squak” of all sorts of animals in the trees behind our rooms and reveled in the sounds as we davened and ate breakfast.
We headed to the Serengeti early and saw many animals along the way. A dust storm started to kick up by about 9 or 10 am, and by the time we got to the Maasai village for a stop, the storm was in full force. We were blown this way and that, covering our eyes and trying to enjoy the village dance being put on for us. Despite the sands (or maybe it added to the authenticity?) we heard about their lives and culture and had a very interesting experience.
Then, it was back to the jeep for a number of jumpy hours to the Serengeti and an amazing day of animal observation.
By the end of the day, I was definitely in need of some pampering. We were tired, wind-blown, sand-covered and hungry. I was looking forward to another night in a place like the Rhino Lodge where I could take a hot shower, put my feet in front of the fire and admire the cozy view.
We were destined, however, for a bit more of an adventure.
I heard the guides talking at some point in the day about the water allotment at our next lodging, but I put it out of my mind. Well, until we pulled up…to our tents. We had chosen the medium package out of three choices for our safari, and had certainly been incredibly pleased the first night with our accommodations. Now, at 6:30pm after an 11 hour day in a sand storm, I was trying to process that we were staying, um, here. In tents.
But it gets better. Over each tent was a thick canvas ‘bucket’ that they filled, once a day, when we were ready, with a specific allotment of (sort of) hot water. We could then shower (in the back of each tent was a separate area that had a shower section and a toilet of sorts with a manual flush) but we had only the water in that bag to use.
We were staying on the set of M*A*S*H for two days!
Now, to be fair, it was a really terrific place and we came to love it. The staff was accommodating, making food with our pots and pans, equipping the rooms with nice beds and cozy bedding and making sure that we were comfortable.
It was just the initial shock after a sandstorm day that threw me off momentarily.
On that first night, we set out to get everyone bathed, trying to use as little water as humanly possible since we really didn’t know what 20 liters looked like or how quickly we would find ourselves soapy, waterless messes. We all giggled as we showered, trying to rush through the process while saying “Please water don’t turn off. Please water don’t turn off.” Turns out, when it only comes out at a drip, you can shower for quite awhile on 20 liters.
When we were finally bathed and fed, the workers gently informed us that we should zip ourselves into our tents for the night and not, under any circumstances, come out because we were camping, you know, in the Serengeti and while Klinger or Hawkeye Pierce weren’t there, wild animals just might saunter by in the night. I said goodnight to the kids who were all staying in two tents on either side of us, hoping that Amichai wouldn’t sleep walk in the night; and that Yakir, who owns the most fluorescent green winter jacket you’ve ever seen specially so that we can find him when he wanders off, wouldn’t be, you know, Yakir.
And while we slept that night, we heard many sounds. In the morning, we got up at 5:30 am so that we could jump in the jeeps by 6 and try to find animals just awakening. It was still dark, and I had my head flashlight on as I unzipped our tent, praying that nothing living would be starring back at me when I went to wake the kids. Nothing was – but the gorgeous vast landscape as the sun slowly rose definitely gave me pause.
A bit later in the morning, I asked the guides about the nighttime sounds we had heard, assuming they were foxes, wildebeest, hyenas.
“Oh no,” they informed me. “Those were hippos.”
“HIPPOS????? Like big, enormous, cut you in half with their teeth if you get in the way Hippos?”
“Yeah,” they said. “Right behind our tents. See that area. Yeah, the hippos enjoy looking for food there.”
Right, of course.
“Hakuna Matata! No worries. They won’t hurt you. Just stay in your tent tonight like we told you.”
Well then. Good morning Serengeti, as day three of the safari began!