The happy place

Do you have a favorite place you dream of? A memory that, when you close your eyes at the end of of a long week, you dig up from the recesses of your white matter and relive in a brief but joyous fantasy of wishing yourself back into the past? I do.

I know I have a bunch of things I was going to write about this week. This is what happens when I don’t write things down. I’m sure there is something I should be writing or that I thought to myself I would write this week, but when I actually sit down to do it I draw a blank and all I can do is think about chocolate, or Africa, or other such things.

I’m sure some of this has to do with the chaos of the holidays now being behind me, and the looming horror of all the work I need to do on the house looming ahead. Plus the fact that our cash strapped school district dealt with their budget issues by adding on an extra week of vacation- surprise!- and the fact that despite several goes with the saddle soap my favorite shoes still smell like a dog pooped on them, which of course he did. All of these things combined kind of make me look wistfully at my old photos and think to myself, surely someone in Tanzania could use the services of a veterinarian for six months or so, right? Just for a wee bit?

And I still haven’t told you my favorite story from Africa, about Graeme the Disenchanted Disillusioned Disgruntled Imprisoned Scottish Balloon Pilot, but that is a whole-day sort of post so I guess I will add that to my New Year’s Resolutions.

In the meantime, just enjoy some pictures my husband finally got around to editing this week. They are from Tarangire National Park, our last stop on safari. 

It is a dry, brushy sort of park. That makes it nice for tourists, since the animals congregate en masse around the water sources. It is also the first place we saw giraffe aside from the Serengeti fly-by.

But Tarangire is especially renowned for its massive elephant herds.

Tarangire is a bit more rough and tumble than its big sister Serengeti. But I like it that way. When an animal dies, as they do out in the wild, there’s none of this “whisk the tourists away before anyone sees it” sort of thing. No, they leave it on the side of the road. And when the bones are bleached out, they turn it into parking lot decor.

The zebra are everywhere. I still fail to see how this is effective camouflage, but their numbers speak for themselves.

I also got plenty up close with the warthogs, who were all head and no booty.

Despite being one of the smaller parks in the country, you could drive for eons and see nothing but expanses of plain under a surprisingly temperate blue sky. The shady acacias are like something out of a postcard.

The only time our guide left the motor running when we stopped to view animals was when we were close to the elephants. Beautiful, graceful, and a wee bit angry at times. You have to be ready to move if they request it.

This is an elephant tromping through our lodge grounds. As home to one of the only water holes for miles during the dry season, it is very popular with the local herd. But it is also the reason the rooms are all up high in baobab trees. The rule is, if you see an elephant walking by, stop. Let him pass. And if it’s at night, you’re accompanied by an armed Maasai.

On my first night in Tarangire, I overheard someone talking about a near-death experience after all the other guests had retired and I was laying on a couch enjoying the stars. He didn’t know I was there, hidden by pillows. I thought he was discussing a car accident, but I learned from being nosey that he was actually gored by an elephant on a walking safari.

I asked him about it the next day and he laughed and said something to the effect of “Oh, it was a wee toss in the air, no big deal.” And I STILL went on a walking safari that afternoon, because I figured hey, what are the odds?

They were well-prepared with deterrents, though of course the best preparation is just avoiding the elephants entirely, which we did.

After a week hearing about lions, marauding elephants, mambas, and death at every turn, to step into the bush and stand under a towering baobab is an exhilaration I can’t explain. The guide put down his gun to take the picture, which added to the tension, but we had a backup Maasai with a spear ready in case a leopard dropped out of the branches. That can happen, I guess.

I don’t even have pictures of the night drive, but it was the coolest thing ever. They strapped a lawnchair to the hood of the jeep and the Maasai climbed on. He swiveled a floodlight back and forth while we peered into the inky black night looking for the tapetal reflection of nocturnal creatures- here a chameleon, there a herd of wildebeest- that’s a lot of yellow orbs blinking at you in the dark. Up in the trees, the large unblinking Gollum-like peepers of a family of bushbabies. I tried to convince the driver to give me a go on the hood, but he just laughed because he thought I was kidding.

But seriously, you can take your fancy hotels and your museums and all of that, because to me, there was no greater vacation in the world than standing in the middle of nowhere with my ratty hair in a ponytail, swatting off black flies and playing “guess whose dung this is” while smelling random wild herbs. Surprisingly, I was not the best poop-identifier, considering my long and storied history with the stuff.

My parents still think I’m insane and are not entirely sure whose kid I am – I think my mother’s exact words on Christmas were, “Stop asking me to go back with you, that is really not my thing;” Vanne Goodall she is not- but that was the greatest time ever.

An outdoor candlelit dinner in a boma- a wooden structure meant to keep out the elephants- while you look up and gaze at the endless stars of the Southern Hemisphere. That is perfection. I hope it is a sight I will see again someday.

Filed: Adventures, Blog, On Safari, Photography Tagged: , , ,
  • Sue W.

    Wow. Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing because vicariously is the only way I’ll ever be able to visit Africa. I owe you one.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      Aw, I’m glad you are enjoying them. They make me happy.

  • Maggie L.

    I spent a month in Africa – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia – almost 40 yrs. ago and it is still one of the highlights of my life and a trip I revisit often in my mind. The wonder I felt at what I saw and did hasn’t faded one bit in all these years.
    Truly magical!

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      I’m glad to hear the magic remains. I hope it does for me as well!

  • Tamara

    What an amazing memory! Thank you for sharing :)

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      Thank you Tamara!

  • Tamara

    One question: had your safari driver not heard of Indiana Bones and the Capybara? Didn’t he know who he was driving? Shame on him! But, kudos to Mr. V for some really beautiful photos :)

  • Laura

    reading this made me feel calm and relaxed. I went to Tanzania and Kenya on safari many years ago and still remember being amazed that ordinary people like me could go to such places – I grew up watching “Born Free”. love the photos. sigh

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      Isn’t it funny, reading about fear of death in the bush is relaxing? But it really is.

  • Anonymous

    I was going to say something but then I saw a real life Pumbaa and I forgot everything in my head.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      That happened to me too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1209375425 Susan Shields Montgomery

    What a fabulous experience! I can see why that is a ‘happy place’ for you. Mine would be either our honeymoon trip to Scotland, where we rode horseback over the mountains for a week, or galloping my horse Shadow through the hunt trails jumping all the jumps.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      That sounds pretty amazing too.

  • Bsmiranda1

    I’ll go back with you!!!

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      We should do a field trip. WC Retro!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363015727 Michelle Cotton

    Elephants! Baby elephants! Such an awe inspiring adventure. *sigh* I need to win the lotto.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      :D If you do let me know!

      • JaneK

        crap, it won’t let me post new comment…. but what I was going to say…. that sounds like complete perfection and I’m totally jealous of the experience but am glad you share it through pictures and your woderful narration! and judging by the pictures you’ve posted of yourself….. your hair is not ever ratty….. you’ve got great hair and I’m jealous of that, too as mine is thin, frizzy and ratty

  • BeauGarreth

    Thank you for sharing this! I was fortunate to be on a trip to the Serengeti in 2006. Zebra stripes hide them at night in the bush–it looks like starlight reflecting in the grasses, not like a meal, since most of the big animals hunt at night (lion, cheetah, etc). I love the photos! SUCH WONDERFUL MEMORIES! You reminded me of the experience of standing by a vehicle in my rain poncho (Camp Diki-Diki) watching the storm across the plains and the mountains in the distance. Assante Sana (Swahili for THANK YOU VERY MUCH!) I dream of returning to the people, to the land!

    • Sue W.

      OH! I always wondered about the zebra stripes and now, thanks to you BeauGarreth, I do. And now so obvious. Total Duh. :)

  • http://greeneggsandhamlet.wordpress.com/ Greeneggshamlet

    I’ve only been to Morocco and I’m DYING to go on safari. Everyone should have a vacation of a lifetime-type experience. If nothing else, it’s so wonderful to daydream and reminisce.