Our safari days in Kenya had ended. We were flying southwesterly into Tanzania. Our destination was the Four Seasons Safari Lodge in the Serengeti National Park. I wondered if anything could surpass our experiences of watching dawn break in a hot air balloon over the Maasai Mara or witnessing the Great Migration. I soon learned that Tanzania and the Serengeti also would provide unique and unforgettable experiences.
When we entered the Serengeti, we became immersed in a park with over three million animals. Our game drives were filled with sightings almost at every turn of the head or bend in the road. Birds seemed to be everywhere, offering a paradise for bird watchers. I remember seeing one with feathers the colors of sapphires and emeralds that glistened in the sun. For the first time during the safari, we saw large and small rocks clumped together and forming hills of all sizes.
Vegetation, including trees, grew from cracks in the rocks. We learned from our guide that these ancient formations, called kopjes, provide habitats for some animals. Kopjes are composed of granite that has been exposed by the slow, evolving process of erosion. One of my photos captured two dikdiks sitting high atop one of the kopjes in perfect poses with an ideal vantage point for seeing the surroundings. One was facing east and the other west. Another photo showed a family of hyraxes with their squirrel-like faces peering out from a crack between two large rocks.
The Four Seasons Lodge, located somewhere in the midst of the park, appeared unexpectedly in the vast bush environment, like an oasis, without warning or fanfare. It quickly gave a new meaning to “resort.” The sprawling complex provided every amenity the sophisticated world has to offer. The decor was pure, exquisite African style: handwoven baskets, woodcarvings, and paintings. Our suite had a small infinity pool on the balcony which looked out on a never ending African savannah and a nearby watering hole where a group of elephants came in the early morning and late afternoon to drink and bathe. We watched and were entertained by that twice daily parade of elephants, coming and going, moving in response to a silent internal voice.
We were looked after, cared for, and sufficiently spoiled during our two days in that haven where every need of the weary traveler was met. Our two days at the Four Seasons passed quickly, and soon it was time to move again—to our last Safari destination: the Ngorongoro Crater.
Long before our safari, I had heard about the Ngorongora Crater Lodge that is built on the rim of an extinct volcano with accommodations that look down into a caldera measuring approximately nine miles in diameter and 2500 feet deep. I knew that staying in the Crater Lodge would be a must for any safari I made.The crater or caldera is home to many of Africa`s animals and birds.
When we stopped at the visitors` center near the crater entrance, we were greeted by baboons roaming freely and looking for handouts of food from infatuated, innocent travelers or—in the absence of charity—to take food from unsuspecting pilgrims.
After settling in at the lodge, our routine began. Daily game drives took us down into the crater where, again, there seemed to be no end to wild life sightings—zebras, hippos, wildebeests, gazelles, hyenas, water buffalos. An interesting topic for discussion was considering how the hippopotami made their way into the caldera.
A memorable experience for me was seeing a gigantic, unending cloud atop the crater rim that looked like the white crest of a tsunami-sized wave rolling in. My photos captured the enormous height and width of that unbroken cloud from both the crater rim and the crater floor. It seemed like a special gift from heaven. Our guide remarked that he had never before seen a cloud formation like the one we saw.
Our cottage at the lodge was built in a rounded hut design. The decor was called Versailles-Maasai—a combination of satins, silks, velvets, antiques, and crystal mixed with rustic stucco walls, thatched ceilings, and tree-trunk support beams. Our deck provided a view of the lake and crater floor below. It was all that I imagined it would be.
Our last two nights together as a group seemed filled with an abundance of warmth and camaraderie. We all knew this special, God-given time was coming to an end. We would never see each other again. We had shared a journey into God`s animal kingdom, and He had given us many unforgettable moments that would become cherished memories.
During my first trip to Africa , I remarked to a native that I had accomplished a dream by making a trip to his land. His knowing response was, “No one is satisfied with one visit to Africa. Have you been to the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti? Have you seen the Great Migration? Have you stayed on the rim of the Ngorongora Crater? You will come again.”
I didn't understand then what I now know. There is something about Africa that draws the spirit and makes many of us want to return again and again for so many reasons—the mystery, vastness, and beauty of earth`s second largest continent—the history that still lives and is felt in the present day where a native, primitive land coexists with a cosmopolitan culture —the animals that somehow prevail in the midst of an ever-changing world—and the authenticity of the people with their humility and openness to strangers, qualities we saw in our guide; in the young man who wore a bone cross; and in the Pintos, who own Micato and who greeted us when we arrived, invited us to lunch, said good-bye when we left, and had handcrafted gifts waiting for us upon arrival, at each camp, and at departure. It`s all of these and so much more.
My first trip included Cape Town, the wine country of South Africa, a Rovos train ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg, a safari in Botswana, and Victoria Falls. I wanted to go again; and I did, exploring the east coast of southern Africa. After the second trip, I wanted to go yet again to experience the Maasai Mara, the Serengeti, the Great Migration, and the Ngorongoro Crater; and I did.
And I would go again.
Edrie Royals is a Northsider who enjoys sharing her travels