Our first safari in Africa in the Ngorongoro Crater with andBeyond spoiled us silly. We had no idea what to expect when it came to actually “going on safari.” In fact, Lindsay even looked up the literal definition to make sure we knew what we were doing.
The meaning? An expedition to observe animals in their natural habitat. But where the word comes from is much more romantic. “Safari” entered the English language in the late 19th century, but originates from the Arabic word “safarīyah” meaning “journey” and ultimately the Swahili word “safari” meaning “long journey.”
We both had romantic fantasies about our first safari. Movies like the Robert Redford classic “Out of Africa” had us in a stupor over the lions we’d see, elephants we’d follow, and on and on. The little planes and clunky Land Rovers we took to get to get out to the middle of nowhere turned the initial parts of that dream into a reality that far exceeded our expectations.
To see the most in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, we started the game drive at 6 am. We wish we could say we were pepped up and ready to go but the truth is the only pep in our system was some Peptol Bismol as we both made the rookie mistake of taking our malaria meds on an empty stomach after a night with little sleep. The high altitude and over indulgence in sherry the night before didn’t help matters. So needless to say, we were feeling (and looking) pretty green as we headed out on safari.
Lanee didn’t make it more than five minutes outside the Lodge property before she had to kindly ask our safari ranger Vicky to pull over to expel the vicious Malaria meds. Lindsay said the only reason she was able to get through the day was seeing such incredible sights.
It was a brisk and chilly morning, but within ten minutes of arriving on the Ngorongoro Crater floor, we saw a lion and lioness sauntering across the plain. They came within two feet of our vehicle and we were hooked! LIONS!!!! We looked on, grabbed our cameras, and squealed with the kind of excitement a child might have when they go to Disneyland for the first time.
The day continued with sighting after sighting. Zebras, pumbaas (nickname for warthogs), flamingos, buffalo, gazelle, elephants, wildebeest, tons of gorgeous birds, a cheetah on the hunt, more and more lions and lionesses, and even three baby lion cubs — you can hear one crying out to his siblings in the video below!
Eleven hours later we were back at the lodge for a hot shower and another superb dinner at andBeyond’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. We’re not going to play this down – it’s extreme luxury and we were completely spoiled. Both of us felt like the Laura Linney character in “Love Actually” when she goes around the corner from the man of her dreams, Karl, and does a little happy dance of joy, except for us we were doing the happy dance over the destination and its out-of-this-world accommodations.
Literally every detail was thought of and taken to the next level – from hot towels to wash our hands upon arrival back at the Lodge, to the serenade welcome, to the rose petal bath that awaited when we returned from our game drive, to the staff remembering what kind of wine or spirit you prefer, to the electric blanket being turned on while you’re at dinner so you can climb into a warm bed when you return to your hut.
Our favorite part of each night, however, was the staff singing – setting the joyous mood for the evening. The Crater Lodge has its own band with a CD to boot! Yes, Lindsay couldn’t resist buying one so she can recreate the magic at home whenever she wants. Everyone would sit around the fire, have a drink, upload photos or get on WiFi to check email from home, as we shared and compared our stories from the day – the sightings, the spectacular beauty, the nature in action.
The setting is intimate. It’s small. It’s quiet. It feels special. YOU feel special. The reason is no doubt that there were never more than 14 guests around us. The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge has three separate “camps” and the guests and staff at each are separate. All are equally luxurious and amazing, but they do this so the guests DO feel a more personal, intimate experience. And you do.
At one of the other camps one night however, we heard what sounded like chanting, a riot, or some kind of chaos we couldn’t quite identify. “Is that a bunch of hyenas or animals in a fight?” Lindsay asked. We later learned it was a tribe of more than 100 Maasai warriors singing and dancing to celebrate a guest’s 50th birthday celebration, which andBeyond had arranged for the guest in advance. Oh how we wished we’d gotten an escort to take us over to see the celebration.
“Ok, it’s set then,” Lindsay said. “We’re coming back here sometime with 14 of our favorite people for a milestone birthday celebration because that is a sight we need to see.” If the goosebumps we felt just hearing the celebration from a mile away was any indication, experiencing something like that would truly be one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments of bliss that you never forget.
*Note on the music in the video: We fell in love with Tanzanian hip hop (aka Bongo Flava, which mixes elements from hip hop, dancehall and Tanzanian coastal music) while in Africa. The ones in the above video are: “Alikufa Kwa Ngoma” by Mwana FA featuring Lady JD and “Mtzamo” by Afande Sele featuring Solo Thang and Prof. J. The other song in the video (second song) is “Jambo Africa” by the African Tribal Orchestra.