That time a lion roamed into our campsite and we got charged at by a rhino.
Where? Serengeti, Tanzania
When? July 2009
With whom? Alone
This is a very special experience for me because it was the first time I went travelling by myself when I was 19 years old. I fell in love with new people, new experiences and I haven’t once looked back since I caught the “travel bug”.
I was doing a lot of charity work as that is something quite close to my heart, and in this instance I was staying in a town called Arusha and working with local schools. On the weekends we were free to explore the country, which was amazing. I spent time with a Masai tribe and ended up sacrificing a goat, but that is perhaps another post. This one will focus on the safari I went on with other volunteers in the Serengeti, a place rumoured to be the best safari in the world. Having been on a few, I’m yet to find one that rivals it.
We were collected from our volunteer house and taken in a jeep to the entrance of the Serengeti National Park. As teenagers on our first solo trip, we had exhausted every song from the Lion King, not that we generalised. It was shameful that we each knew every lyric.
Given the long drive, once we had entered the national park, we headed directly to camp. Interesting. We were on a safari plane and we were camping. A tent is hardly going to keep out the predators. When the four of us set up our camp mats and sleeping bags, I was sure to be in the middle.
Then came dinner. It was the most luxurious (and quite honestly excessive) meal I had ever had on a safari plane. And perhaps ever. It was three courses of flavourful, good quality food cooked over a campfire!
When it came to sleeping, we brushed our teeth and used our water to rinse our brushes, then giggled with excitement in the tent with what tomorrow might hold. Sleep came quickly, then went just as quickly as I woke up needing a wee. Before coming, we had been warned about the hyenas. They’re vicious animals that come with terrifying horror stories. One I vividly remember being told was about a couple who went camping in the Serengeti. Woman went to the toilet and left her tent open, woman returned tent to find hyena had made its way inside tent. Hyena had ripped husband apart, did same to woman.
So as you can imagine, when I woke up and could hear the hyenas “laughing” very close to the tent, I found myself in quite a predicament. As I wriggled in discomfort, the two volunteers either side of me woke up. I shared my issue, waking up my 4th tent buddy. The girls were very sympathetic, telling me I couldn’t leave the tent because the hyenas were patently right outside. The guy, on the other hand, chucked me an empty bottle, grunted “use this” before rolling over and going back to sleep.
There was an empty bottle and a tent porch or a wealth of hyenas outside waiting for dinner. I had always wondered whether women can pee in a bottle, and here I was with no other option but to try. So it turns out women can’t pee in bottles. At least not accurately.
The next morning we awoke to the clattering of pots and pans that was the sound of breakfast being made. We rose, bleary eyed from our hyena drama and began to roam our camp like zombies. We sat at breakfast silently chomping on whatever food had been placed in front of us. Only our safari guide with a rifle whipped us out of our trance with a shriek, followed by “Look out! There’s a LION in the campsite!” We all simultaneously looked up to see the most beautiful and powerful looking simba lion roaming about the campsite like he owned the place. We were so mesmerised by his presence and tired from last night that none of us even thought to move as the beast made its way towards us. Our guide clocked his rifle, and that seemed to be enough to scare the lion off. He looked even more terrifying as he ran with his muscular legs.
Safari day. Our guide drove us around the safari plane and showed us the wildlife, from gazelle (there were many of these) to prides of lions to a solitary leopard in a tree, we were fascinated by the African animals. We got out of the jeep to stand next to some giraffes and got really close to a herd of elephants.
Day 3 of our safari was in the Ngorongoro crater, which is exactly that: a crater. A huge crater that had a completely different climate to the planes we had been driving around so far, and as a result, we could see how the animals had evolved differently. It was fascinating to see the lions stalk their prey slightly differently or the thicker coats on the zebra and gazelle (it was a lot colder in the crater).
We stopped at a loo block and went in our respective cubicles. Alec and I were waiting outside for the other two girls once we had finished, and our guide was a couple of hundred yards away waiting for us in the jeep. We were nattering away when we shouts and cries. We whipped our heads round to where everyone was pointing to see a rhino getting ready to charge.
What to do. The jeep was far enough away that we wouldn’t definitely make it, and it was unlikely but what if the rhino went into the loo? Instead, we climbed up on top of the toilet building, helping the remaining two from our group to jump up too. This was cool; we were on top of a building to escape a rhino charging at us! The novelty quickly wore off as we were stuck up there until the rhino decided there was nothing interesting around here, and that took a while. We played games, sang songs, sun bathed..
As my first safari experience, this was pretty eventful and one that I remember very fondly.
Info: The company I used has stopped trading, which came locally recommended and the cheapest one we could find at the time. There are loads of other options and ones that I have found that look good are Kuoni and Serengeti Safaris. There were various options for the length of the safari, but I would 100% recommend including the Ngorongoro crater. It was amazing to see how the animals have evolved in such different ways when the distance between them was quite small! There are “luxury” options if you don’t fancy the risk of being eaten by a hyena, but I think all that means is a hut over a tent. There are other safaris nearby like the Masai Mara in Kenya and Tsavo West, but they really don’t hold a candle to the Serengeti.
Tip of the week: If it’s your first time travelling by yourself then keep a diary. As with your first anything, the first time travelling alone is really special and one that you will want to remember. As people left their mark on my experience, I asked them to write me something in the book as a memento of them as well as my time and the activities I was doing. Reading it back for this post has made me smile so much!
Product of the week: BABY WIPES! The heat in that part of Tanzania was very dry, so it’s not that you feel very dirty, it’s that everywhere is so dusty. It gets all over your face and body so the odd baby wipe every so often cleans the dust off your face and armpits, leaving you feeling incredibly clean (Everything is relative!). I would recommend Wet Ones, coming in all kinds of flavours to remind you of what using shower gel was like.