By Jennifer Schlueter
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A few days ago, I took off to a house sitting gig in Tanzania, but before starting it, I went on a 4-day safari to Lake Natron with GM Expeditions, their co-owner Elizabeth and her friend Linda. We camped at Ngare Sero Lake Natron Camp for 3 nights and took part in the daily activities they offered. We were always guided by a Maasai named Saringe.
Now here are my 7 unforgettable highlights of this adventure, a schedule of what we did and what you can expect if you choose to go on this safari yourself, and packing essentials:
1. My first night
We had arrived at camp in the dark and I had no idea what was awaiting me. After a Maasai showed me around my luxurious tent (bed, running water, toilet, fan, etc.), I was left alone. Angry winds blew through the curtains of my tent and when I laid down I heard all kinds of other things: frogs quaking, steps, indefinable, mysterious animal noises. I finally manage to kind of fall asleep, but then woke up from several alarming screams.
I didn’t know what it was, but later I found out that it was a hyena’s scream. “They don’t come near your tent,” said Saringe. “Only the zebras and wildebeests may.” Yup, I knew that – simply because I had stepped into zebra shit last night in the dark on our way to the tents. But hey – it’s zebra shit! How cool is that?! The only thing that could have topped stepping into zebra shit for me would be elephant or tiger shit. Why? Because that would have meant they’d come super close to my tent! Unfortunately, this wasn’t a habitat for the latter species, so that wasn’t going to happen.
The rest of the night was definitely not filled with a lot of deep sleep, but as soon as the sun came up, I looked out of the mosquito netted windows and was in awe. In front of me was a majestic plateau, bushes, and a wide, open landscape. It hit me. I was in Africa. In Tanzania. On a safari. I wanted to pinch myself. The sunrise after this questionable night was so perfect that I had to sneak in some staged pictures for Instagram, obviously, you know – #travelbloggerproblems.
2. Seeing wild giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, camels, flamingos, and more
One of the best moments in my life happened when Linda yelled out: “Look, a giraffe!” I had never seen a wild giraffe before (zoo giraffes do NOT count!) and then there she was… A freaking wild giraffe. First checking out our jeep, then running away from it seemingly in slow motion. So much grace. I did not expect to feel so excited, so happy, so close to tears, and so grateful – all at the same time. Wow… What a feeling.
Shortly after, the sun started setting and we drove through a landscape which I’d like to compare to The Lion King movie: endless grassland full of zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, storks and other birds. I had never seen such beauty before and I was in awe. Yes, this is a completely emotional paragraph, but that’s how I felt. And I’m putting it out there. You go there, and tell me you didn’t feel as emotional…! Several times, we had to stop for zebras, donkeys, giraffes, other animals, or a whole Maasai herd to cross the road.
At the camp, zebras crossed my path to lunch, and another time, camels and zebras were drinking out of the small river running through the camp. We also saw thousands of flamingos, storks, ibises, and other birds.
3. Being pulled downstream during our waterfall hike
After our first breakfast at camp, we took the car and headed towards the Ngare Sero gorge through which we then proceeded to hike and climb. Several times, we crossed through the river, climbed vertical rocks, and burned our hands on them because the sun was just relentless. More than an hour later, we arrived at the waterfall. Saringe showed us that it was possible to climb up a few slippery rocks, you can stand underneath it with the water pouring on you. In order to help us, our butts had to be grabbed and pushed up the rocks.
When it was Linda’s turn, I went back through the river to grab her phone and take a picture of her. In the moment I wanted to reach for it, I slipped and fell; the current dragged me down another 3 m tall waterfall. I hit rocks left and right, tried to prevent my head from getting hurt and keep it over water, and was not able to hold and stop myself from being carried away. My legs and knees took the worst blows. I already saw myself hitting my head, drowning, and being carried down the river. I tried to remember if we had passed a big waterfall, which, in case I was dragged further by the current I had underestimated, I wouldn’t manage to survive without taking hits to my head. I quickly changed my thoughts and only a few seconds later, I managed to cling myself onto a slippery rock. By that time, Saringe had already made his way over to me and pulled me out. I was barely able to stand because my legs were shaking so much. I thanked the universe for not letting anything worse happen to me. I really did!
4. Spending a night with a scorpion inside my tent
Let me say this first: I’m a huge believer in Law of Attraction, meaning your thoughts create your reality. So when I heard that scorpions inhabited our camp and come out at night, I thought I thought (yes, you’re reading this correctly) that I didn’t want to see one; however, subconsciously, I think I thought I wanted to see one because I’m obsessed with danger and adventure and the stories I get to tell after living through them. I caught myself several times a day thinking about the scorpions and certainly, on the last night, as I was escorted to my tent, a scorpion ran across our path, right in front of the Maasai’s feet. He just laughed it off: “Oh look, a scorpion. Haha.” Yikes! But alas, my scorpion encounters were not done yet. As I entered my tent, I saw a baby scorpion crawling across my floor. I did attempt to take a picture, which didn’t work because I was kind of freaking out, admittedly, and so I chose to save my life first rather than a social media post. I grabbed a water cup standing on my tent’s desk and put it over the scorpion. Phew, crisis averted! Now I went off to sleep hoping it wouldn’t be able to lift the cup.
Researching the scorpion later, I found out it was probably a red bark scorpion, venomous, but not as much as other species.
5. Interacting with Maasai
The image that burned itself into my head on our way back from the safari was a Maasai in his traditional clothing taking his herd of cows across the street, with a wooden stick in one hand, while being on his cell phone with his other hand. Unfortunately, this happened a bit further away, so I wasn’t able to snap a great picture. But that shows you the transformation of societies by technology.
As soon as we left the Arusha airport in our car towards our camp, I saw hundreds of Maasai at the side of the road herding their cattle, sheep, or goats. Even small children at the age of 7 or 8 took care of herds. Some moved their animals, others played in the shade or just sat under a tree. Maasai are a semi-nomadic people locating their animals from place to place to feed them. The men take care of this, the women build the houses and feed the kids. In touristy areas, they sell beautiful jewelry and other things with beads. They’re dressed in a vibrant red, purple, or blue often times, their jewelry is colorful, and their ears are often pierced. Sometimes, the holes in their ears are stretched out. Some of their cheeks are scarred with circles. When you get closer to them, they all have a distinctive odor and not the best teeth: Few may be missing, the rest are stained with brown.
The Maasai speak Maa, their own language, Swahili, and sometimes English. Their first marriage may still be arranged by their parents, some will then look for more wives. Others, such as Christian Maasai may stick to one. One wife is worth ten cows.
It’s incredible to think about how their lives are. Some live in huts out of clay and straw, some in more structured but very simple houses, also depending on whether they live in a city or village. Those who live in the city still set themselves apart by wearing their traditional clothes. Also, the majority don’t take office jobs, for example, but rather guard jobs because these require courage.
Whenever they saw our jeep, they’d either wave, come up to us with their handcrafted goods in hope we’d buy them, or simply stop and look at us passing. Some with a smile on their faces, others with no expressions. If our car stopped, ten of them – they wait at spots where tourists are likely to stop – surrounded us, peeked into our windows, and asked for pens, change, or offered jewelry. If they didn’t get what they wanted, some would try puppy eyes and ask three more times, but they were never angry. Even children at the age of three or four knew how to ask for things or sell something. They learned whatever English words were necessary.
What stunned me at our campsite also, was that the tents had no way to be locked. And even though the Maasai may not have the electronic gadgets and other things us “Westerners” call riches, I was never for a single moment scared that anyone would steal from me. All I have experienced from them was kindness. And because of that I do wish to go back and interact with more of them.
6. The non-flushing toilet
I have squatted in nature and used porta potties but never a wooden box with a wooden toilet lid that didn’t flush and that – surprisingly – didn’t stink. The odorlessness resulted from a kind of dirt that you threw down into the hole. That was a mentionable experience for me and hopefully not tmi for you!
7. The nature
Just visuals here because my words wouldn’t do justice to it.
Our safari schedule:
– Arrival in Arusha
– 2-2.5 hour drive to Lake Manyara National Park
– 1 hour treetop walk
– 2.5 hour drive to the various camps at Lake Natron
Day 1 and 2 can vary, but they include the following activities
– waterfall hike (3-4 hours)
– flamingo spotting (1-2 hours)
– 120,000 year-old footprint (according to a Nat Geo article only 5,000-19,000 years old) (30 min)
– sundowner on a hill with snacks (1 hour)
– drive to hot springs and more bird wildlife (4-5 hours)
– bathe in pool with fish nibbling on your skin (as long as you want)
– climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano (12 hours runtrip with sunrise at top)
plan in 4-5 hours to get to the airport
– Good, comfortable hiking boots that can get wet
– Gloves (because rocks can get super hot)
– Sunscreen, especially if you have a Caspar-like appearance like me
– Bathing suit
– Insect repellent
In the comments, let me know about your safari experience or if you’re planning on one 🙂
For more of Jennifer’s adventures, visit her blog.