Anything can happen during an African safari. Animals in general are quite unpredictable, and wild animals are even more so when you’re in their territory.
Now add people and their individuality into an unfamiliar situation and you end up with a large piece of “anything can happen”.
I once read about an English couple who, while on a multiple-day safari, decided to go for a jog one morning through the jungle simply because that’s what they did every morning back home and that’s how they had met. I’m sure you can imagine how that ended.
For many, the safari experience doesn’t start until arriving at the first national park and seeing the first few animals. After all, this IS what a safari is about: seeing animals in their natural habitat, living and roaming around, free.
But my safari experience started even before I was even picked up by my transport.
While waiting, a friend from the hostel made a comment about how I “might get stuck with a group or family, all dressed in hunting gear“…“maybe they’ll sing songs on the way to the park” he said.
This possibility freaked me out, and I kept nervously looking at all SUVs passing near my hostel.
Malaria is no laughing matter. As per the Center of Disease Control malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. Left untreated, they may develop severe complications and die.
Prior to my departure to Tanzania, I cheaply decided to only get vaccinated against yellow fever. I had read about malaria and thought that “the risk was small enough and not worth the cost of the pills”.
Our first park was Tarangire National Park. We arrived at the park close to noon after getting everyone and making some last minute crucial purchases (booze). As the day went by the temperature rose, and when we arrived to the park the temperature in the vehicle must have been of almost 40 degrees C. Thank god for AC.
As we drove our way through the road and looked at the jungle, we saw our first heard of zebras. Excited we finally got to open the roof and all windows for our first pictures of wild animals.
5 minutes later, once we were sure we had at least 50 pictures of the same group of zebras from very much the same angle, we finally continued our journey. We decided to leave the roof and windows open…and it is then that I felt it.
The first mosquito bite
But this wasn’t a small mosquito-back-in-Canada bite. This one felt as if the fly had torn through my first layer of skin and went all the way to the muscle to bite it.
Then again another BITE…and another BITE.
And another BITE.
Here I was trying to swap flies with very much anything within my reach. My camera, my Lonely Planet book, everything was used to spank my own skin so hard it it left bruises!
Then the girls say something that would haunt me for the rest of my Africa trip, “time for a malaria pill”.
At that moment I cursed my cheap South-American background. Why did I not get the pills??? Why do I have to go cheap all the time??? Why could I not just go to the zoo back home and be happy with that???
No, here I was in a foreign continent, with no travel insurance and only a handful of people who knew where I was.
It is then that I remembered…the one thing that could possibly save my life should it come to it. So I turn around and look at the guys, and I asked:
“You guys said you were doctors right? Which type?”.
“We wouldn’t know what to do with these bites bro”.
That’s it…I was going to die.
I am glad to say I survived and I didn’t contract malaria or any other infectious diseases, besides my legs and feet ending full of mosquito bites despite having practically bathed on repellent for 5 days. But this experience alone will make me reconsider any future jungle trips.
Caught in the Act
While out on a game drive, we came face-to-face with a lion and a lioness mating, or “in their honeymoon” as our guide elegantly put it.
We silently and graciously sneaked through the bushes up to the lion’s mating spot. We get close enough to take pictures and witness baby-lions-in-the-making when, all of a sudden, the male lion stops and walks away. We laughed it off as “normal male behavior“.
But suddenly the male lion appears on top of a rock besides the SUV. As we all take out our cameras, the lion stands still looking at us. As we’re clicking our cameras away, the lion finally stands up and takes a striking pose and roars…our guide yells!
– “CLOSE THE ROOF!!!”
– “Just one sec. need some more pictures”
– “CLOSE THE ROOF GUYS!!!”
Lion roars again
– “Just one more Peter this is amaz…”
And then we all feel it.
The SUV suddenly backed up with all of us still on top of the seats. Some held on to the roof as hard as they could, the rest of us fell down to our seats. As we still try to make sense of what was happening, our guide keeps pleading that we close the roof of the car, which we finally do.
If you have ever walked in on someone while “in the act”, whether by accident or on purpose, you know that you need to get the hell out of the room right away. If you don’t, and instead decide to keep looking and take pictures on top of that…well, the odds are that you will get your ass kicked, which is almost what happened to us.
Listen to your guide guys…they’re there for a reason.
Bullied by a Buffalo
The Serengeti National Park is vast, covering almost 15,000 square KM. There are many camping areas available for visitors throughout the park, ours sat at the bottom of a small cliff. The views from the camping site were amazing. A vast array of uncovered and undisturbed green in front going as far as the eye can see, and a beautiful mountain in the back, reminiscent of Pride Rock from The Lion King.
As we arrived to the site we saw two buffaloes roaming not too far away. At that time we did not think much of it…after all, this was a wild safari. Little did we know at that time that one of these buffaloes will terrorize us later in the night.
Night falls as we finish putting up the tents and get ready for supper. Once done eating we put up a fire and open a few bottles of wine, all for the purpose of keeping us warm. Temperatures out in the wild can drop significantly between day and night, and this night was particularly windy and cold.
A couple of bottles of wine later, we hear some rustling nearby. As we try to see what the noise was, our guide tells us in quite the loud tone to “get in the kitchen!!!“. Of course our group knowing how to follow instructions in the worst possible way, we get inside the dining room area, which had zero lightning.
As we try to see what was going on, Peter, our guide, warns us that there is a buffalo near the fire. Perplexed, some of us hesitated between going to see the buffalo up close, while some cowardly retrieved into the dining area and closed the gate…I was part of the latter.
Like children watching something they’re not supposed to, we peeped through the window to try and see what was going on. Then suddenly, as if we were part of a b-horror-movie, it starts to rain, the air gets colder, and the room gets darker.
From then on, all we hear are voices from the guide to the cook as they rev the SUV’s engine hoping to scare the buffalo away. They point the high-beams at it and honk.HONK, HOOONK!
The buffalo finally decides it’s had enough and leaves. That has to have been the most fearless buffalo of all, as the ordeal took about 30 minutes. Concerned, I get out and with the biggest sight of relief, I see that the wine we had left near the fire remained intact.
From then on we continued enjoying the fire, making up stories about how I wrestled the buffalo into submission, and how our badass attitude was enough to tame any animal in Tanzania…
Middle of the night comes with each of us at our individual tent, I suddenly feel breathing outside, and rustling on my tent….the buffalo had come back!!!
I hold my breath as much as I can and try to not piss inside my sleeping bag (it was a rental after all). Hesitating between running for my life or just play dead the second this animal rams into my tent, I impatiently wait for the buffalo’s next move…
I hear the beast walking around, sniffing one tent after the next, and I wonder who from the group will be the first one to freak out.
Surprisingly enough, everyone stands their ground and we all got to live another day.
Travel misadventures are a common occurrence for anyone travelling short or long term. Share some of your craziest stories with us in the comment section 🙂