I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to see and I kept telling myself it had to be better than those monkeys on the van picking out the caulking around my dad’s sunroof at African Lion Safari. Some 30 years later, I may be able update that safari story as I am planning to spot the big five on the Serengeti, and not some caulking deprived monkeys. For those of you that have never been on a real safari, the big five are Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Buffalo.

Our group gathers in the hotel’s front driveway after breakfast and anxiously awaits the arrival of our safari vehicles. The rumble gets louder as they approach the gate of the hotel, and as these large 4X4 Toyota land cruisers drive up, they do not disappoint. We are going on Safari! We randomly pick a truck, throw our gear in the back, and jump in. Our drivers Edwin, Rashidi and Murtaza turn the keys and we are off to the Serengeti. We head out of Arusha towards our first stop, and this leg of our journey has about three hours of paved highway before we arrive at the main gate of the Lake Manyara National Park. Our drivers head inside to check us in and guess who’s waiting for me, perched on a tree branch just above our land rover? Cue the caulking deprived monkey. The furry menace and I mutually agree to behave and our group escapes with caulking intact. We then head off into the park with cameras ready for an encounter with the big five.

As our Land Rovers roared to top speed, and kicked up large clouds of dust, we wondered exactly when and what would be our first big animal sighting. After a safari lunch, we are eager to photograph some animals, and as we round a corner and slow down, we see the bushes rustling. We are amazed when we spot an elephant having lunch off a bush right beside us. We try to sit still and be quiet not wanting to draw attention from the very large animal. The vehicle is filled with excited whispers and the continuous click of camera shutters. Murtaza, our experienced safari driver, keeps telling us just wait and save our film. Given how close we were to this elephant, how much better could it really get? Murtaza was right; it gets much better as we encounter other large animals. We headed around another corner and spied some giraffes about 50 metres away. This day was definitely looking up we headed out of the park and to our campsite for the evening. Arriving at out campsite, we were pleasantly surprised to find it equipped with a pool, toilets, showers and a bar; extreme luxury after 7 days climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Our group was up early and ready after a refreshingly cold shower. It was time to set off into the Serengeti again. We had furry felines and rhinos on the radar for today. Shortly after arriving into the park we see one of our Land Rovers veer right and take a different path, we soon spot them slowing to a stop and wonder what they have sighted. We head over to take a look, and as we pull in beside them, we spot a lion family sleeping soundly under a tree. Again, the keep calm and quite rule seems to have gone out the window and we succeed in waking the male lion. The newly risen lion then decides that if he’s awake, then his mate might as well be awake too. So he generally becomes incredibly annoying, pawing and licking her, until he succeeds in waking her. We decide it’s time to leave and are not disappointed as we spot a mother and her lion cubs lazing, playing and eating a short distance away. For our next sighting, we spot 3 cheetahs under a tree. The cheetahs are scouting the

horizon eagerly. Suddenly, they leap into action and we are all a little apprehensive about the impending National Geographic moment. The cheetahs are unsuccessful in running down their prey and we are sparred having to witness a potentially gruesome scene. That’s when one of the eagle eyed in our bunch tell us to look at the tree again. Then we all spy it, tail and legs’ hanging over a very tall branch, a leopard is sound asleep with not a care in the world. The debate is now on as to who’s zoom lens will get the best shot.

We drive past countless zebras, buffalo, wildebeest herds, gazelles, impalas, birds, wart hogs, jekylls, giraffes and too many more to mention. Our day ends with a trip to the hippo pond. Not much excitement watching these creatures laze around and yawn spontaneously but their gaping mouths are truly huge. Our safari group is at a much more rustic campsite this evening, and as we head over for tea time, we spot giraffes and wildebeests roaming in the field behind us. Life doesn’t get much better than this. It was still pointed out at dinner, despite all the animals we had seen, that the last of the big five, the elusive rhino, was still on our list. Our last day on safari in the Ngorongo crater was known to be their neighbourhood and would be our last chance to photograph them. As we all dozed off with visions of rhinos in our head, we heard the distant sounds of hyenas laughing.

Venturing out of our tents the next morning, we notice the scattered hyena prints around the campsite. We head out on our last day hoping to see the rhino. After spotting a little bit of everything again this morning, we have all but given up as we are approaching the exit out of the crater. Then the binoculars are pulled out and trained on a small black blob on the horizon as we slow to a stop. All eyes are on the distant blob. Binoculars confirm that not only is it our rhino, but after staring a few more seconds, we notice a baby beside it. It’s not close, but we can tell it’s a rhino and that is all we need to check off the big five. Heading down the road and out of the park, our caravan is slowed by a large roadblock. This proves to be our most up close and personal moment with an elephant as he saunters over to our safari vehicle. There is no need for the zoom lens as most of us have to lean back to actually get a good shot. He’s so close and, oddly enough this time, everyone seems to remember the rules about no loud noises or fast movements. In awe and a little frightened at how close he really is, it reminds us of the two elephants that sauntered into the middle of our campsite last night, during dinner, for a drink from the camp water supply. As they had sucked several gallons with every trunkful, the poor girl trapped in the bathroom didn’t look quite as impressed as we did watching from behind a line of safari vehicles. You realize the vehicles are but a small barrier between us and these large and powerful animals. As water is so very costly, two elephants stopping by for a drink every day were not ideal and they decided to cover the top of the storage tower to prevent further water loss. When the elephants went for another drink, they realized this they weren’t happy. In response, one elephant flipped a safari vehicle over like a toy car due to his dismay. The lid was quickly removed and the elephants went back to their daily visit for a drink. I’m just glad I wasn’t the girl walking out of the bathroom as the elephant sauntered by. There’s still so much more to tell from this adventure; there are many more stories to share, like the one about the coffee eating bush pig outside my tent on the last night. Join us next month as our travel in Africa continues climbing up Mt Kilimanjaro. If you can’t wait until then, check out some of the incredible close-up photographs from this adventure on the Bucket List Travel Adventures website at www.bucketlisttraveladventures.com.

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