It always starts so innocently.
Reminiscing over travels past, flicking through photos on the computer. Stopping at a giraffe in Kenya, delicate neck arching down to tear leaves from low branches. Remembering how much I like giraffes. A few clicks later; a hippo gazes back at me from shallow waters. I can't believe I missed getting a picture of one yawning. I've always wanted a yawning hippo picture.
"What do you think about going on another safari...?"
I looked at a few options, priced out some itineraries and worked out how many days we could spare. South Africa was a serious contender, but there were just too many places I wanted to squeeze into a ten day trip - we'd be unable to do justice to each aspect. To devote the time we wanted to animal watching, it would need to be safari only. After some further deliberation, we settled on Tanzania - it was a country we were both keen to visit, had an amazing reputation for safari and the distances enabled us to experience several national parks without rushing. We listed up the parks we were most interested in and began contacting companies.
Last time we visited East Africa, we booked with an overland provider for a month, camping within parks in the company of twelve other travellers. The experience was amazing and we made some firm friends, but there were drawbacks. Catering for the needs of fourteen people, each with different priorities, meant that compromises were central to the trip. If enough of the group wanted to move on or not stop at another zebra, the majority vote was respected. This wasn't a huge problem - it was a first safari for many of us so we were all eager to squeeze in as much as possible. However, as I'd already seen many of the classic safari animals (with a couple of key exceptions), I was keen to slow down and observe the animals over longer periods of time.
Assuming that a private safari would likely be out of our budget, I tentatively sent out emails nonetheless. To my surprise, the prices quoted were not as bad as I'd anticipated and we could have total flexibility over our itinerary and accommodation choices. I narrowed down the options until we found the perfect company for us (locally run, a small and independent enterprise, all costs included, good reviews online, prompt and informative replies to emails) and booked.
Arriving in Tanzania, we had a day in Arusha before setting off with our driver to our first national park, Tarangire. We'd barely driven through the gates when we spotted our first giraffes and zebra, munching grass and leaves next to the path. A little further and a herd of elephants appeared in the distance, half hidden by trees, the first of well over a hundred we saw during our trip. Warthogs scurried between bushes, miniature versions of the adults desperately trying to keep up the pace. We watched mongoose peering curiously out of their holes, several incredibly beautiful birds flocking overhead and eagles stoically staring across the landscape from the tops of trees. It was an amazing introduction to the wildlife Tanzania had to offer.
Driving until the sun set, we spent the night in a lodge deep in the park before rising early and spending the day continuing our game drive. We then moved onto Lake Manyara, an elephant-packed day where we watched for hours as babies were taught how to drink in shallow waters using their trunks and cool themselves down with splashes of mud. One adolescent was obviously feeling particularly mischievous, spraying the herd with muddy water and dancing away as he was bellowed at in response.
Being late October, every animal we saw seemed to have a tiny shadow, but the lion cubs were especially gorgeous - tufts of fluffy fur surrounding their small bodies as they crept closer to the stationary car before darting back to the safety of their parents who lounged in the sun. At the beginning of our trip, we'd mentioned to our driver how excited we were at the prospect of lions - we had seen some in Kenya and Uganda but they had been too far away to observe properly. He laughed and warned us that by the end of this holiday we'd likely be sick of them as they frequently sought shade in the shadow of cars and generally took no notice of passing safari vehicles. I had thought he was joking, until a large male flopped down in front of us to escape the hot midday sun during our third day.
Barely a few days into our trip, we'd already seen a multitude of different animals, but were keeping our fingers tightly crossed for cheetahs or leopards - the only two we'd missed in the past. It was time to head into the Serengeti...