The Serengeti Is Not A Petting Zoo!

Day 4 – June 15, 2013, Serengeti National Park

Heather and I were standing on the very back seats of the Land Cruiser sticking out of the roof hatch from the waist up. The big bull elephant that was slowly walking up from behind was just about close enough for a pat on the trunk. Just one more step. Mom began offering cautionary driving tips to our guide, “Francis, you might want to pull ahead just a bit!” Her concern met an instantaneous and derisive chorus of, “No Mom! Come On! Let’s see how close he gets!”

Suddenly, the radio crackled in Swahili, the engine erupted and the Land Cruiser bucketed to a safe distance, much to the dismay of elephant and would-be elephant petters alike. Our poor mother was paying for her over-caution with a severe tongue lashing until Francis set us straight. The radio call had come from Ally, another ADS driver some 50 yards up the road advising a look in the side-view mirror. There, Francis had seen the elephant for the first time (objects in mirror are closer than they appear). Hence the speedy retreat. “Elephants are very dangerous”, he scolded. “This car weighs two tons and they can weigh six. They can easily flip us over. The Serengeti is not a petting zoo!”

Oh, but it almost had been. Disappointed, but safe and sound, we drove on. That night we were heading to new accommodations. We were seasoned enough by now to know that where you stay at night is every bit as fun and intriguing as what you do and see during the day. So when we came upon a quasi-military-looking cluster of tents at sunset, we figured it was another utilitarian, ranger outpost that we would pass by on our way to lodgings more distant and more in keeping with the luxury to which we were already accustomed. But the Land Cruiser pulled up and stopped.

“Oh, is this it? Really? What, we’re staying here?” Reluctantly we disembarked at the Seronera Sametu Camp. Our spirits lifted a bit when our host, Jonas greeted us with the customary hot towels and fruit juice. We found more encouragement in the comfortable lounge and fully stocked bar where Jonas delivered the welcome briefing. He cautioned us against any unaccompanied sorties after dark, and it began to hit home how in the wild our little tented camp was.

Our individual tents, despite their inauspicious exteriors, were quite inviting on the inside with carpeted floors, sinks, toilets, hot showers and queen-size beds complete with mosquito netting. But the best part of staying in a tented lodge happened after nightfall. During our two evenings at the Seronera Sametu, separated from the African night by nothing but a zipper, the camp was visited by running zebras, some very vocal hyenas and baboons, various other unidentified rustlers and squawkers and who knows what sort of silent stalkers and slinkers that we never even heard. It turned out that this most spartan of our overnight lodgings became our favorite, because it put us smack in the middle of wild Africa with precious little protective insulation.

Next, we moved on to the Ngorongoro Crater where many theretofore unseen animals awaited us as well as our last two nights in Africa at the luxurious Serena Lodge. If the near elephant petting episode was the most exciting moment of our safari, there were at least a dozen close seconds. We saw cheetahs successfully hunting gazelles, lions successfully hunting zebras and baboons squabbling over troop leadership. We saw a wildebeest spot a lurking crocodile and decide against drinking from that spot in the river. And there was the thrill of each first-time sighting of each new animal.

Robert M. and Family
Wellington, Florida
Safari Dates: June 12, 2013 to June 19, 2013

A word about Francis:  Our ADS driver guide spoke five languages, knew every animal and plant species that we encountered, and knew every twist and turn in the impossible tangle of roads that crisscross the Serengeti National Park.  He also seemed to have the respect and admiration of his peers, because nearly every driver guide passing from the opposite direction would flash his lights – the signal to stop and have a chat.  While the stateside team at ADS did a wonderful job of putting our trip together, here where the rubber met the dusty, bumpy road, Francis made it obvious that we had chosen the right safari outfitter.

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