Daily Archives: June 13, 2011

What to Expect on Safari

Let’s assume you’ve already made the decision to go to Africa, and have figured out how you’re going to pay for the trip.  Let’s assume you’re in the process of getting the required visas and inoculations.  You’re excited about seeing magnificent animals in their natural habitat, but at some point, three basic existential questions occur to you about the safari experience:  1)  Where will I sleep?  2)  What will I eat?  3)  What happens when I need to go to the bathroom?

Chances are good that while on safari you will either sleep in a lodge or a tent camp.  The lodges are essentially small hotels, and vary from fairly basic to pretty darn nice.

The tents are not nearly as primitive as that name suggests.  They do have canvas sides and roof, and the front entrance zips, but the interiors are quite nice, with a shower and flush toilet.  In most of them you sleep in a king-sized bed, and not on a cot.  It’s a good idea to keep your tent zipped up at all times, incidentally — monkeys have been known to go in and trash places that are left unattended.

You probably won’t return from Africa raving about the cuisine, but you won’t go hungry, either.  There are things to eat that are recognizable as being in the food spectrum.  Dining rooms at the lodges and tent camps try to appeal to western tastes, but bear in mind that menus are much more limited than they would be in a city.

For example, one night in Kenya’s Masai Mara we had three options for dinner:  salmon, lamb, or chickpea curry.  Since any other restaurant is many, many miles away and the only way to get there is by walking across vast expanses of wilderness, you would become food before you would find food.  My advice, if you don’t like the entree selections, is to fill up on bread and hang on until breakfast, which is almost always good.

Since the game drives can last for several hours at a time, inevitably you and others in your group will need to use a toilet.  Some of the national parks and game reserves have shacks for that purpose, but none are what you’d call immaculate.  The restrooms at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania are among the world’s stinkiest.

But, you may wonder, what if the need arises while you’re far from anything that even approximates civilization?  Hey, it happens.  The driver will stop the vehicle and the passengers take turns going behind the vehicle, and — you know, going.  Make a note to keep some toilet tissue and hand sanitizer in your safari vest, as well as a Ziploc bag to dispose of the tissue.

But let me get off that topic and emphasize how spectacular the safari experience is.  Some days are better than others, of course, but I always found it exhilarating to drive across the savanna in search of beautiful animals. 

Sometimes the Land Cruiser will be on a dirt track, but sometimes you are in territory where there literally are no roads.  The driver scans the horizon and starts off in whatever direction seems promising.  Soon enough you’re seeing various kinds of antelope and zebras… then giraffes… elephants… lions.  Yes — they are right there, within a few feet of your vehicle!

Oh, and if you’re wondering, the driver keeps the motor running, just in case a quick escape is necessary.  He knows that if you get mauled, it could affect how generously you tip at the end of the safari.