It's midnight. A relatively peaceful night so far. As I turn over sleepily, absent-mindedly rolling out of my safe perimeter of flimsy mosquito net (supposedly protecting me from the dreaded tsi tsi fly), the silence is interrupted by a knock. Someone at the door? Who could possibly need me at this hour? Plus, nobody knows me here at Seronera Wildlife Lodge. I drag myself to the large window and peer out "“ there he was. The culprit. The window-knocker who rudely disturbed my sleep. A handsome giraffe, happily helping himself to his dinner — a few of the freshest, greenest leaves, on a two-story high tree just outside my window.
'Jumbo, jumbo' (hello, hello) I whisper softly, staring at this majestic creature. He blinks, and I wink back, overwhelmed by the beauty of this unique encounter. Sadly, in a flash my new friend is gone, back into the starry Serengeti wilderness.
Azizi, our tour guide, did promise that our Tanzanian Safari would ensure "being as close to nature as possible," but I didn't take him this seriously! What I had envisaged was hours of monotonous binocular-gazing, neck stretching out of a jeep, in the hope of spotting a least one of the 'Big Five'.
"Today I show you Simba," promises Azizi, as we climb into our jeep and cruise through the hot, dry, never-ending plains of the Serengeti the next morning. True to his word, we are soon jolted to a complete standstill by a hot and bothered lion, who seems to be in dire need of some shelter from the scorching African sun, and strategically positions himself in front of our jeep for a good hour or so, until time for a juicy, meaty lunch.
Zebras and wildebeests co-exist harmoniously in the Serengeti, and we are lucky to spot massive herds strolling along the plains, monitored closely by their predators, hyenas, leopards and cheetahs, ready to pounce on, and devour these peaceful creatures.
Stretching along the Rift Valley escarpment, the incredibly scenic Lake Manyara presents us with another feast of close encounters. "When sun go down, animal come out," explains Azizi , and sure enough, venturing out at sunset, when the sweltering heat is replaced by cooler, more comfortable temperatures, I get to closely observe families of impressively-tusked elephants plodding along the lush forest, agile blue monkeys swinging across the mahogany trees and dainty impalas grazing in the grassy plains.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, with its magical setting and breathtaking crater, is a natural sanctuary for thousands of species, and Azizi enthusiastically drives us through thousands of Thompson gazelles, hippos, water buffalos and flamingos. In the distance, a group of voracious vultures feast on the remnants of a giraffe carcass, the fleshiest, meatiest parts having been already devoured by a pack of greedy hyenas. Such is the circle of life.
As the burnt-orange African sets over the Baobab trees, I step forward to shake Azizi's big tough-skinned hand and, admiring the endless passion and enthusiasm he has for his job, I say:
"Asante (thank you), Azizi, for this wonderful experience."
"Karibu (you're welcome)," he replies, "See you next time."