The last morning of our safari was undoubtedly the highlight in terms of game viewing. While it was still early, and the morning fog hadn’t lifted, we left the Simba campsite in Ngorongoro and started to make our way down to the Crater. This area was nicknamed the Garden of Eden of East Africa, because aside from it being breathtakingly beautiful, it is also one of the few places you can see hyenas, lions, zebras and other antelopes dwell together within a short proximity of each other. The night before, we camped at the Simba public campsite, located on the Crater’s rim—an area that is roughly 7,500 feet high. Because of its impressive altitude, the low temperature made that night another particularly cold one. And I was reminded again how I should’ve done my due diligence when traveling to a foreign place, and not to rely on my foolish assumptions—that “Africa should always be hot.”
(This is us with our morning ritual outside of our dome tent)
As we descended towards the Crater’s floor, we drove on what seemed to be a frighteningly winding and narrow, “two-way” road. Other incoming safari jeeps would zoom past us, and for the first ten minutes ago, I’d let out a small gasp as I held on to my dear life. But the group’s spirits were high, and I eventually just learned to laugh about the boldness of it all and braced myself for this very bumpy ride ahead.
I’m not sure how many of my readers have any interest in wild animals, or if they’d ever want to go on a wildlife safari. But here’s a truth that I’ve come to learn that I’d like to share. And that is, no matter how indifferent you are to nature, once you are in the very core of it, in this awesomely raw environment that forces you to stare at it in the eyes, I can almost guarantee that you will find yourself mesmerized, humbled, and awestruck by its beauty and overwhelming presence. Before this trip, I hadn’t a slightest clue about the African savannah, let alone how big a lion really was. I couldn’t tell you that the soil was of a red color, and that even the air smelled wild and ferociously untamed. I couldn’t explain what a delight it was to hear hyenas make their territorial call in the middle of the night, and how insightful it was to see a dung beetle do its job under the scorching African sun. And yet, as I stood on my seat, craning my neck to get a better view of a female lion stride past our safari jeep, I felt as though I knew this place all along. And all these things that I’m witnessing for the first time felt like a reminiscence from long ago.
If you’re rolling your eyes, I know exactly what you’re thinking. What a cliché, right? Because we all came from Africa, the mother land, where history all begun. But honestly, this was exactly what it felt like—coming home. And what a funny, and simultaneously moving experience this was. As I watched the lioness move and admired the muscles on this fearsome cat, seeing it so close I can count her whiskers, I felt not only a tinge of excitement, but a nostalgic feeling of belonging. Okay, I thought to myself. This is the travel bug talking, obviously; perhaps I was simply spellbound by the African savannah and falling prey to its irresistible charms. Three years ago, I was in Japan, almost certain that I wanted to stay there forever, to make a home for myself there. Despite the fact that I loved Japan and its rich history and culture, my teaching placement, my students, and the friends that I made in Dazaifu city, I still packed up and returned to Canada. But why, having only been in this place for less than a week, did I feel such an inclination to linger?
(My first lioness on safari, look at happy Jeff was)
Later that day, we stopped at a picnic site for a lunch break. It was right by a “hippo’s pool”, and not only can you see them peering at you with their beady eyes poking out from the water, you can also smell them. Their pungent smell wasn’t pleasant, but the sight of them, and the wondrous feeling of being so immersed in nature, well, there was no better lunch spot than this. It was also here that Sam warned us to watch for the black-shouldered kites that would often swoop down to snatch food right out of safari goers’ hands. We took his warning half-heartedly, and sat in large circles, enjoying our lunchboxes while chatting. As I would later find out, Sam’s instincts and wildlife knowledge is accurate 99% of the time. So sure enough, as Greg was about to take another bite from his sandwich, a kite flew right at him, and I’m pretty sure he screamed.
After lunch, the volunteers started to take group pictures (And before I get into details about what happened next, I can already see Sam flash one of his knowing grins, as he liked to tell people that I made the first move. But I’ll let you be the judge of that as we go into further into the development of our relationship). Seeing that Sam was our guide, and in a way, our friend now, I approached him and asked if he’d like to take a picture together (Is this making a move? I don’t think so. But Sam disagrees. I’ll let the readers decide). He happily acquiesced and I forgot who ended up taking the picture for us, but Sam also handed his camera to the photographer, and he put his arm around my shoulder, posing for the photo (This, I argue, was the first move). Afterwards, I told him I’d send him the picture, but I would need to take down his e-mail. And, naturally, whenever I told my very accurate version of our story, Sam always chimed in and point out that I was very forward with my intentions. Let’s just say that I didn’t mind keeping in touch. Who knows if I would return for a second safari, right? In any case, we exchanged emails and phone numbers, and got back to the safari jeep, getting ready to return to Arusha city, where our volunteer base was.
When Sam dropped us off at the volunteer house, Greg and Jeff (Jeff, I know you’re reading, so maybe you remember this better than I do – so let me know if I’m missing anything!), they mentioned that the volunteers were all getting together in two days at a local pub called Via Via to watch the Ghana game. The invitation was casual, and Sam didn’t respond with a definitive yes, and since all of us were busy getting our bags out of the jeep, I didn’t even recall saying good-bye.
Later that night, as I texted one of my best friends, Karen, I also sent her the picture of Sam and I from earlier that day. I don’t have the messages anymore, but it went something like this:
Me: “Here’s my cute safari guide, Sam and I!”
Karen: “Oh my gosh, are you going to marry Sam and have cute babies?”
Me: “Hahahaha. Let’s see!”
Little did I know, the joke serendipitously morphed into a reality that I had never expected. Life, as it turns out, had a lot in store for me than the future I was envisioning for myself.
Stay tuned for the next day. Yes, the story goes on beyond the actual safari!