Safari means travel in Swahili. Safari in Africa is exciting, for the smell of the air beyond the visual feast, for a foot treading soil which has seen continuous human habitation for two million years.
There are smells of passers by, of cars and buses, diesel and modernity. There are also the smells of the antiquity of life, the smells of game, of grasses and dust, of cooking oil and roasting meat.
Our guide Nico met us at Kilimanjaro Airport in his white Toyota Land Cruiser which was to be our transportation for the next five days and one thousand miles. We packed lightly, expedition style as I call it and our bags sat on the seats around us. Driving in Tanzania is done on the left side of the road and while the primary roads in town are paved most roads are dirt and rock. In the mountains and wildlife preserves they become rutted tracks on which we and our luggage happily bounced along and excitedly stuck our cameras out the window or stood hanging out the top of the truck hoping to capture the vivid blankets worn by the Masai or elegant stances of wild game.
Lake Manyara National Park was the first stop on our photo safari and sits adjacent to the Great Rift Valley. A sign at the Visitor Center informed us John Wayne had filmed “Hatari!” near here. The first sighting of an elephant had us scrambling for our cameras but we were assured by Nico there would be many more opportunities for better photographs and there were. Soon we fell into the rhythm of driving, spotting, observing, photographing and driving.
There were several other safari trucks full of tour groups in the Park creating a friendly competition amongst the drivers to get into the best position for their clients to experience the wildlife. While driving along the track a few hours after entering the Park we came upon four or five trucks pulled to the side and partially clogging the road. Nico spoke to another driver and told us there was a Leopard behind a tall bush laying under a tree. The bush was huge and the tree was a good 25 yards away but we had to see that Leopard! Nico found a good spot for us but it was hard to see through the foliage and past all the other people straining this way and that to get a glimpse. Fortunately I’m tall and I have a big lens on my camera so I climbed onto the roof of the Land Cruiser, stood up and managed to capture this photo. My first photo of a big cat in the wild and it was a Leopard! We spent a couple more hours at Lake Manyara before heading off to the E Unoto Retreat for the night.