I have just returned home from a “mobile” tented camp safari in Tanzania. This type of safari is unique in that the safari company hauls all of the camping gear, including tents, to the campsites at the national parks and game reserves listed on your safari itinerary. By the time you arrive, everything is set up and the camp looks like it has been there forever! The tents, each with enough space between them to be private, are spread around a large mess tent and a fire pit for evening campfires. The staff and cooking tents are in the back of the campsite.
Most tented camps in Africa are permanent. Their tents, or “permatents” as they are sometimes called, are placed over slabs of concrete or wood, and usually have a deck out front. They also have built-in showers, toilets, and sinks. A mobile tented camp, however, is constructed on little plots of land, temporarily, at a campsite selected by the safari company. In our case, Kibo Guides. The big difference between mobile tents and permanent tents is the shower setup. The showers in permanent tents have hot and cold running water and are usually surrounded by tile. The showers in mobile tents (bucket showers) have canvas walls and an overhead bucket or bag on top. A camp staff member heats the water outside, pours it into the container above your shower, and then lets you know when you can pull the chord. At the beginning of our camp experience, I needed two buckets of water. It took more time than I thought to get all the soap off. By the time our safari ended, I had it down to one bucket. Also standard in most mobile tents are portable flush toilets, which look like regular toilets. We also had a sink with a mirror in the bathroom area, real beds with linen sheets and warm blankets, colorful rugs, and a desk with a mirror and a chair. It was great, after a long day, to fall asleep in our comfortable beds with the sounds of Africa all around us.
Tanzania is one of East Africa’s top travel destinations. It is also the largest country in East Africa. What sets Tanzania apart, however, is that it has some of the largest wildlife herds anywhere in Africa. The annual “Great Migration” of wildebeest and other grazing herbivores is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth. From the breathtaking beauty of Ngorongoro Crater and Mt. Kilimanjaro, to the wild savannahs of the Serengeti, Tanzania’s beauty is unparalleled. I was happy to be visiting this incredible country again. My group consisted of 11 people who had never been to Africa. Most had never stayed in tents before. One day, while at our campsite in the Serengeti, a small herd of zebra ran through our camp while we were having lunch!
My safari group arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, the day before we were scheduled to drive to Tanzania. I had arrived in Kenya a few days earlier. The plan was to spend our first night in Nairobi and then leave for Tanzania the following morning. After a restful night and a delicious breakfast, we boarded our 4 x 4 safari vehicles and began our drive to the East African country of Tanzania. Our first safari destination was Kambi ya Tembo, a permanent tented camp located in Sinya, a private concession of more than 600 sq. km. bordering Kenya at Amboseli National Park. Sinya is one of the few areas in Africa where huge elephant bulls, more than 50 years old, are regularly seen. Another great feature of Sinya is that approximately 2,000 Maasai live in the area. It is the Maasai people, more than any other tribe, who have become the definitive symbol of “tribal” East Africa. The camp itself has incredible views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru. After we arrived and had lunch, we visited a Massai school house and village, and then took a long game drive back to camp. Right before dusk, we took a bush walk to a mountain peak close to camp that had incredible views of the valley below. And when it came time for sundowners, drinks served when the sun sets, the local Maasai danced for us as we sat around the campfire. It was a day we will never forget!
The next morning we headed to Tarangire National Park. This park is famous for its large population of elephants, baobab trees, and tree-climbing lions. As we headed to our first ready-made campsite, we passed zebra, wildebeest, and buffalo. By lunchtime, we were at our camp, where we would be spending the next two nights. Two camp staff members greeted us with cold fruit drinks. The camp manager took us to our designated tents. After unpacking and getting used to our new surroundings, we all gathered in the mess tent for homemade spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and garlic bread. What a surprise! Here we were, in the middle of the African bush, and we were served a hot, delicious lunch! After a short rest, we got ready for the evening game drive. What I remember most about that day was the lioness we saw sitting on top of a large termite mound. The day had begun to cool and dusk was approaching. The silhouette of the lion against the pink and crimson sky was stunning. What a lovely way to begin our stay in Tarangire!
After two glorious days filled with game drives, hearty meals, and great conversations with our fellow group members and staff, we headed to the Ngorongoro Farm House. This exclusive lodge faces the Oldeani Volcano and is only a short distance from the Ngorongoro Crater. This was our stopover for the night before heading to the Crater the next morning, after which, we would begin our drive to the world-famous Serengeti. The time we spent at the Farm House was great! We were able to take long walks in the gardens, check our emails from back home, and take real showers, without a voice outside telling us when to pull the chord! It was a beautiful place to regroup and relax before our drive to the Ngorongoro Crater the next morning.
Soon after our adventure-packed game drive in the Crater, which provided us with countless photo opportunities of elephant, lion, cheetah, wildebeest, zebra, among other species, we began our drive to the Serengeti where we were scheduled to spend three nights. We couldn’t wait to see our camp! By the time we arrived, we had enough time to take a shower, freshen up, and have sundowners around the large camp fire before dinner. Bowls of hot, roasted cashews were passed around for everyone to enjoy.
What I love most about Africa, more than anything else, is how alive it becomes at night! It is quite exhilarating to sit around the campfire, wondering where all of the animal sounds are coming from. The roar of a lion sounded really close one night, and we all got very excited, but a lion’s roar can be heard from as far away as five miles. We chose to believe that this particular lion was close by. Other than the campfire, the people sitting around it, and the lanterns in front of the tents, it was impossible to see any further. But it made it that much easier to see the millions of stars, which blinked like Christmas lights, across the black African sky. People have told me over the years that they were surprised how easy it was to fall asleep at night, despite the sounds of wildlife right outside their tents. But after a full day of game drives, and stories told around the campfire, sleep comes easily. There is something so raw and primitive about being right in the middle of nature, which is what makes mobile tented camp safaris so special!
We felt very privileged to be at Serengeti National Park. It is Tanzania’s largest and most famous national park. Tens of thousands of hoofed animals, in search of fresh grassland, roam its vast plains. The Serengeti is also famous for its lions, cheetahs, and large herds of giraffes. It offers unparalleled photo opportunities too. The time we spent there was magical!
A typical day on safari begins when the sun rises. As you are getting ready, steaming hot coffee is brought to your tent. By the time it’s light outside, you are already in your safari vehicle. Game viewing is best in the early morning and late afternoon. After the morning game drive, the drivers take you back to camp. Of course, it all depends on what you see and how long you want to observe. Maybe you will want to spend more time watching a mother cheetah care for her cubs, or see if the lion is successful in taking down the zebra it has been watching all morning. Sometimes picnic lunches are packed so you can spend the entire day out in the bush. Even though I have been on countless safaris over the years, I have discovered that no safari is ever the same. Something amazing always happens, whether it is the birth of a hippo, a cheetah sunning itself on top of your vehicle, or a mother elephant helping her baby get out of a mud hole. There is always something magnificent to see. This safari was no different. On our way back to camp one day, after our late afternoon game drive, we spotted a leopard up in the tree right above our vehicle. She had a dead impala up in the tree with her. We waited and watched until she eventually came down. The interesting thing was that the leopard was only a few kilometers from our camp.
Our mobile tented safari was much more than we ever imagined it would be. The tents were awesome; the game drives were magnificent; our driver/guides were knowledgeable, funny, and full of stories; and the camp staff treated us like family. The meals were fresh and delicious, full of homemade breads, pastries, and desserts. In the early evening, as we sat around the campfire before dinner, we were waited on by staff members whose names we knew by the end of our safari. They made sure our glasses were always full. Here we were, sipping wine, eating appetizers, laughing and sharing stories with our new found friends in front of the campfire, in the middle of the African bush. When we were escorted to the dining tent, the table was set with lanterns and candles, linen table cloths and napkins, and flowers! What a fantastic way to spend time together. Our African mobile tented camp safari was more than just awesome; it was also a time for us to reconnect with ourselves, each other, and to the wonderful world we live in.