Ever seen The Lion King? Ever felt like you were on scene, just waiting for Timon and Pumba to pop out from behind any bush? No? Me either, until this past weekend! This weekend our group packed into two safari cars and traveled down long, bumpy dirt roads to Ruaha National Park for our much-anticipated safari weekend.
Having grown up in rural Michigan, getting to spend a weekend in a huge national park with natural wildlife stretching out far beyond what my eyes could see felt somewhat like coming home. Well, minus the times we turned a corner to find a herd of elephants or small pride of sleeping lions. While we say “Watch for deer!,” driving in Michigan, this weekend we had to say, “Watch for giraffe!” because yes- a giraffe literally ran out in front of our safari car at one point; a sight I will never forget.
We arrived Friday evening just in time to drive through the park at sunset to our small village of “bandas” we stayed in, which are little one room huts. We were instructed by our guides to stay quiet when we saw animals so that we wouldn’t scare them away, but as soon I saw my first elephant, I let out a loud gasp and had to immediately cover my mouth with my hand. I can’t describe the feeling of seeing a huge animal just hanging out in their natural habitat- all I can say is I was overwhelmed by the beauty. After this first encounter, I knew it was going to be a great weekend.
Saturday morning, we were up and out early to catch the sunrise and to see what animals were out and about! We were pleasantly surprised throughout the day as we stood up with our heads out the roofs of our cars while riding down dirt paths. Turn by turn, we were able to see everything we had hoped to and more: elephants, giraffes, hippos, ostriches, zebras, gazelles, meerkats, baboons, eagles, and an owl, as well as another beautiful sunset. It was so entertaining and exciting to see animals interacting with each other in their natural habitats, and we took lots of stops for our guides to explain different behaviors of animals and some characteristics of the natural wildlife to us.
After a long day of exploring, we arrived back to our village of bandas with wind blown hair and bragging rights of who got the closest to certain animals and who took the coolest pictures. The nice guard who carried a gun and had to escort us everywhere (just in case any unexpected animal guests showed up!) built a campfire for us to enjoy. As our group took turns telling spooky campfire stories, we realized we were living in one when we suddenly heard a lion making what I only know how to describe as “RAWR” noises from what sounded way too close for comfort. Our guard jumped up and shined his flashlight toward it; thankfully, the lion was on the other side of a river from us and much further away than he sounded. Needless to say, our campfire didn’t last much longer and our guard safely escorted us back to our individual bandas where we continued to hear lions in the distance and formulated our next campfire story about the time we heard lions at night on our safari, while studying abroad in Tanzania.
We spent Sunday morning in the park scouting out any last animals that wanted to bless us with their presence, and then began to head back home to Iringa. As our cars pulled into Iringa and we awoke from our naps and lifted our heads, my friend Ellie whispered, “home sweet home,”- and home it has become. How grateful and humbled I am to have a new home where I can travel just a few hours North and experience what I imagined I’d only experience via Disney.