My wandering journey is coming to close, a bit sooner than originally planned, but at the exact moment that it needs to. My journey has unfolded over five months, 22 intense weeks of exploration and revelations. I have visited 8 countries, some at depth, others just a city for a few days. Some destinations captured my heart, others my respect for their beauty, and still, others transformed me at a deep level. Just a few days ago, I completed a seven-day safari with Sababu Safaris, through Tanzania’s greatest national parks, including Tarangire, Ndutu, the southern part of the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, and Ngorongoro Crater. My safari wasn’t just about seeing wild animals, I also had the opportunity to experience a rescue center for women and abandoned babies, walk through a village and explore a market with a local farmer, and stay in a hut in a Maasai village filled with singing and dancing and the most compassionate, kind people I have ever met. I have dreamed of going on a safari for years and the magic was evident from the first day. I was dead tired from traveling after missing my flight in Nairobi and getting 3 hours of the sleep the night before, but I was quickly energized as we did a leisurely stroll through Arusha National Park and I saw zebras, giraffes, and baboons up close. “This is just a teaser”, Robert my guide, and co-owner of the safari company said, as we drove through the park. The “real action” starts tomorrow he would go on to say. Real action would indeed reveal itself as the days continued.
Something else was revealed that is not easily detected through photographs or writings, the magic of the wild. Animals behave as nature intended. They show up every day as their true selves, no improvisation at work, no zebras pretending to be lions. Watching their behavior in groups, stalking prey, or wiggling in the dirt to scratch their backs or clean themselves, you realize that they are doing these things because that is what they are hardwired to do. As humans, we influence that behavior by intruding on their space, but I realized that they really did not seem too concerned about the vehicles stopped with numerous cameras aimed at them. I knew that seeing animals in their natural habitat was going to be powerful, but watching a large group of giraffes parade gracefully in a line across a ridge while the sun quietly receded behind the hills unleashed something in me that I can only describe as pure joy. A zebra lying peacefully in the grass, having died of some other reason than being attacked by prey, and then within two hours, eyeing a hyena and a jackal ravenously digging into the animal for sustenance. Only to have bigger species on the food chain, five lions, chase them away where they stayed at a distance awaiting their turn after the lions took what they needed. Meanwhile, the vultures stayed off to another spot, trying at times to swoop in for a chunk of the action. All of this took place within about 30-45 minutes and occurred with the natural pace of life for animals living in the Ngorongoro Crater. Another time, spotting a leopard in a tree seeking refuge from baboons that had chased him up the tree. I watched through binoculars as the leopard remained perfectly still stretched out over branches as baboons of different sizes moved throughout the tree positioning themselves on various branches, while the male baboons barked loudly with their mouths wide open annoyed that their prey was not cooperating. Just another day at Lake Manyara for those that call it home.
Each of these interactions and all the others I witnessed during my time on safari wasn’t the only time where living in the wild became evident. The act of driving and navigating through the parks takes extreme skill and knowledge. The first evening of our stay in the southern Serengeti, hard rains came down throughout the night. The next morning the roads were filled with water and thick mud, making crossing a swollen creek a very tricky situation. That day, while exploring the vast park, we found ourselves stuck three times. I watched Robert dig into the hard volcanic soil shoveling out mud to get the vehicle unstuck, it was evident that this was part of being in a wild habitat. There are no trail leveling trucks roaming through the Serengeti and you must rely on your own skills and sometimes the help of others in your tribe to come to your rescue to pull you out.
Much time on a safari is spent driving, driving in the parks and driving between locations. These drives while sometimes on a paved road and others through gravel roads across vast landscapes of peaks, sharp turns, and remote Maasai villages visible off the road, are filled with the natural essence of how diverse and rich, wonderous and mystical being on this planet of ours really is. Standing at the entrance of the Ngorongoro Crater and seeing with your own eyes the impact and influence of millions of years of geological changes. Even the awe and wild of a man-made paved road leading out of the crater with its sharp inclines and hairpin turns makes you ponder the reality of what you are experiencing.
My time on safari exceeded my expectations and my imagination. Not only was I seeing so many beautiful things, but I was also learning so much about the animals, their environment and the people of Tanzania. I even got to drive the hefty, right-hand drive Land Cruiser up to one of our lodges where Robert wanted to play a trick on those he knew would be meeting our arrival. There was an emotional component of my experience that has presented itself on only a few other occasions during my extended time traveling. The purpose of my journey has always been to reveal and embrace my true self. The experiences of my African safari tied this true self to embracing the wild within myself. Embracing my wild woman. Stop trying to bend and shape myself to what I think I’m supposed to do or be and just letting my true self be. Stop letting fear rule desires and opportunities. Stop thinking that I can do it all, without help or even the notion that doing it all is really necessary in the first place.
As I sit here in Arusha, Tanzania with all the thoughts, observations, experiences, learnings, struggles, elation, revelations, and magic that I have witnessed over the last five months, swirling through my mind, I have a calmness in my soul that wasn’t present when I left. I know my wild woman, I watched her reveal herself to me. She is capable. She is curious. She is determined. She is loving. She is approachable. She is resilient. She is feisty. She is intelligent. She is vulnerable and she is coming home. Coming home profoundly changed, filled with memories, new friends across the globe, 6,000 photos, and a suitcase full of really dirty clothes. Coming home to love and be loved. Coming home to wander in the possibility of what was right in front of her the whole time.