I really can’t think of a better way to see all of my favourite animals than bouncing around on the top of an old safari van while holding on for dear life, but still trying to take that millionth photo of a giraffe. I’m sore, sunburned, bruised, and bug-bitten but it was all worth it.
Our four-day adventure started off at a rhino sanctuary. We were being briefed on what would happen when all of a sudden he ends the speech with the following, “and if one charges, hide behind a big tree.” UHHHHHH. What? At that point I had no idea that leaving our safari van in the sanctuary was even an option, nor that it could be required. We climbed back into the van, now with this new guide who claimed he knew everything that rhinos were about to do. Okay, bud.
We drove a short distance before stopping at an intersection on the dirt road. Our guide hopped out and off we went, trailing behind him. Many things ran through my mind, like snakes, ticks, other things that bite, and now finding a large tree within sprinting distance. We walked through the brush for a few minutes when he suddenly stopped and pointed at who knows what. For the life of me I could not see what our rhino whisperer was so insistent on. Then, I saw it. An actual living, breathing rhino no more than 50 feet in front of us, sleeping in the bush. “Let’s go.” He whispered. “You sure about that?” My survival instinct replied. Regardless, in we went.
We were now incredibly close to the sleeping rhino, and noticed she had a young baby with her. We watched them for a while, peacefully snoring away. Our guide informed us that they don’t move much in the heat and I respect that. However, the baby was hungry and made a few noises at the mom who obliged and started moving so the baby could feed. I took a step back when she rose and we could really see how big she was, but her adorable chubby unicorn-self did not concern herself with us. It was amazing to see the two interact, which is something I doubt I will get to experience again. After a short time, we left them in peace and made our way back to the safety of the van. Our rhino encounter was a small taste of what was to come in the next few days.
We continued our journey out to where we would be staying for the next few days, when all of a sudden our driver said the most terrifying sentence for someone with a fear of primates, “Close your windows, the baboons are coming.” Oh god. We passed many, walking around on the road, hanging out in the trees, one tiny one was even riding a larger one like a horse. Which is definitely something you don’t see every day. Eventually we passed through baboon territory and made it to our new temporary home.
The cabin was something that would be listed for rent as ‘cozy’ and ‘rustic’. And by that I mean it was tiny and the shower only kind of worked. But there was enough room for two tiny beds cloaked in bed nets, which we seem to think are way more protective than they actually are. Hear a weird noise at night? It’s fine, I’m under a net. While I don’t think it really works that way, it does offer some comfort at least.
The next day started early, with a morning game drive. My advice to anyone going to spend hours bouncing around on the top of a roof is for the love of god, bring cushions. During our travels we even acquired a new friend when a tiny gecko decided he should make our van his new home. We named him Gary and continued on our way. We drove past so many animals, I could hardly believe it. Elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, warthogs, hippos, antelopes, and the list goes on. However, like many safari goers I had my heart set on the big cats.
We took a ferry across the Nile to another area where we were on the lookout for lions. After driving for a little while we stopped in a little parking lot area and were told to follow a path to a waterfall. Seeing as we were just looking for lions, I was a little suspicious of meandering through the jungle with my probably tasty-self exposed, but okay. The waterfall was stunning. It is the area where the Nile is the most powerful and you can hear it roaring for some distance.
After exploring that area for a bit we made our way back to the ferry but we had just missed it, and had to wait a while for the next one. I was peacefully napping in the car when I was woken up by the deep “ahh ahh ahh” of a nearby hippo. Oh, Africa. Our evening game drive was just as spectacular, but there we heard word there was a fresh kill by a nearby lion pride. Luckily, we were able to find them, and watch them briefly as they ate their prize, and even the babies joined in.
The next day was filled with more animals, excitement, and roof bruises. We took a river tour up the Nile, to see some more of the animals along the banks. I honestly had no idea so many hippos existed. My advice is maybe don’t go swimming in the Nile. Between the crocodiles and hippos, you would probably not make it back out. At this point we were starting to worry about Gary. We had not seen him since he first darted into the van. I am not sure what happened to Gary, but wherever he is, I hope he is happy.
After our boat tour, we took one last drive around the park in search of the big cats. All of a sudden we took off, holding on for dear life wondering where on earth our driver was going. Then there he was, in the distance – an absolutely gorgeous lion with a mane in all its Mufasa glory. We kept going, closer. I was now very aware of the fact that I was on the roof and nothing stood between me and this lion. We made eye contact. It was one of the most amazing and absolutely terrifying experiences I have had to date. Thankfully he was very relaxed and seemed to watch us like we were watching him. He was everything I hoped to see on this adventure, and more.
We continued the drive, and were lucky enough to see a leopard sleeping in a tree with its adorable limbs dangling down. We savoured the last drive out, passing still more elephants and giraffes as we went. It was truly an experience like no other.
At dinner that night, we asked our driver about the lion, both a little surprised we had gotten so close. He said that the lions don’t mind the people, it’s the cheetahs you have to look out for. He then told us a story of how a few years ago a cheetah ate a women on safari and finished the story with, and I quote, “Yeah, it probably ruined the trip”. YES, it probably did.
In conclusion, safaris are amazing and if you are considering one I would absolutely recommend it. I have never seen so many incredible animals in my entire life and am unlikely to again. They are truly beautiful creatures. Just remember the sunscreen. Even SPF 100 could not protect me from the sun at the equator.
We are now back to work with the research, finishing up this coming week and flying back to London on Wednesday. I have since discovered a tiny gecko in my room. Gary, is that you? While this has been an adventure to say the least, I am ready to go back and finish out the summer in the UK. Africa will be an experience I never forget, and will never want to.