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Launching Our Tanzania Safari

We came rolling out of Luxor a little banged up. Jason’s stomach was still staging a rebellion, and I had gotten a little more sun that one should while hiking the Valley of the Kings. Fortunately we found a cheap upgrade on our overnight flights to Dar Es Salam and were looking forward to being coddled a bit. Normally I’m the guy who spends an extra hour trying to find a way to save $32 on my plane ticket. However, when you can upgrade to First Class on a Qatar Airlines redeye for under $300, even I know that sometimes you just put down the cash and let the world take care of you. Besides, we had to hit the ground running in Tanzania.

A quick transfer between terminals at DAR & we went from the luxury first class cabanas of Qatar to the questionable stability of our ironically named “Precision Air” flight. The fine folks at Precision apparently have a glitch in the online sales program that charges your card, sends you a receipt, but doesn’t actually book your ticket unless you call the office to tell them that the charge is for the flight you chose, not just because you felt generous. The good news was, we could buy another ticket at the counter and then ask for a refund on the first tickets. The bad news is we had to pay in Tanzanian Shillings… and it was 5:30 in the morning. So I raced around the airport, finally found a functional bank machine, traded all of our cash for tickets, and hustled through security just in time to shake James awake, grab our bags, and hop on the plane to Kilimanjaro. Holy shit! We’re on a plane to Kilimanjaro! The things you don’t think about until they’re happening. Crazy.

Shortly after landing, we were having tea with Nick, our contact, fixer, advisor, and new best friend in Tanzania. Nick and his family have a lovely farm outside of Arusha where he is working with his community to bring sustainable land use and farm management practices to this part of the world. He also runs a small self-drive safari outfitting company and has set us up for success for our time in Tanzania by renting us an incredibly capable 79 series Land Cruiser decked out with all the gear we need to survive in the bush… or so we hope.

While we certainly could have spent hours talking story with Nick, we had to hustle on to our first stop in Tarangire National Park. James has never been to Africa and I had promised that we’d find some wildlife. I’m not certain that he really believed we’d find anything worth noting, although I do know that he had a healthy fear of being eaten by a lion in his sleep.

About 8 minutes past the gate to the park we spotted our first elephant. By the time we arrived at Tarangire Safari Lodge we’d had close encounters with multiple Elephants, Giraffes, Springbuck, Gemsbuck, Hornbills, Impalas, Baboons, and at least a dozen species of birds including the elusive Lilac Bellied Roller (A bird that will forever remain on the top of my favorites list due to the sheer joy Jeff Klingel and I found in spotting them in South Africa a few years ago). Now I know that James really didn’t believe me when I told him we’d see all this wildlife because before leaving Atlanta he decided to leave behind the binoculars that we had discussed just prior to my departure from Kauai. Fortunately Tanzania seems to be teeming with charismatic megafauna that all seem drawn to our truck, so the binoculars have gone from "essential equipment"to "I wish we had".

After a comfortable night at the Safari Camp, and a quick swim after breakfast, we were off on our first true safari drive through Tarangire. By the time we drove back out through the gate we had encountered elephants within a few feet of our truck, chatted up giraffes as they dined on nearby trees, watched a community of Baboons sort out some social hierarchy issues, and convinced James that this whole Self-Drive Safari concept wasn’t quite as insane as it sounded.

On the drive to Tarangire, we were pretty much all business. We’d stocked up on a few groceries in Arusha, but basically high tailed it straight to the Park. From Tarangire to Lake Manyara was a different story. We need gas. Which meant we need cash. Which meant we had to find a cash machine. Which is not quite as easy as it sounds. We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere. However, as we approached the turn for our next lodge we found the edge of nowhere - which happened to have both a gas station and a functional ATM (but not the first one we tried). What we weren’t quite prepared for was the determination of the folks trying to sell you a "priceless souvenir" from your journey. As soon as I stopped the truck we were surrounded by a small army of carnival barkers and traders. We had an entourage of craftsmen all the way to the ATM and back. We had dealmakers at the gas station, and when I tried to stop and buy some of the region's famous red bananas I ended up with a Masai cattle club, a couple of pieces of mixed media cloth art, and not a single damn banana.

Now we’re at the Migombani Camp on a mountaintop overlooking Lake Manyara. The view is absolutely stunning, and the beer at the little bar is ice cold. We opted out of the Cruiser's rooftop tents and in to a proper safari tent for the night, and the stars are just starting to decorate the evening sky. We’re on safari in Africa and it’s awesome.


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