Mikumi National Park

Since my bedtime is now 9:30, Matt and I thought a great way to celebrate New Years was to go camping…on a safari.  No one stays up late when they’re camping.   The sun goes down.  There might be a fire.  You eat.  You head to the tent around 9pm.  We chose Mikumi National Park because it is a good location for a virgin game drive.  It’s only about 4 hours from Dar and perfect for a long weekend.

Just driving to our camp, we saw tons of animals.  The gazelles especially were out in abundance.  By the time we had arrived at our campsite, we had seen zebras, elephants, monkeys, giraffes, warthogs, and wildebeasts (the latter, I assure you, are not the handsomest of God’s creatures).  The first thing that I noticed about encountering wild animals was that they tend to stare.  Having only seen these types of animals in a zoo, my previous interactions involved me, curiously observing, and the animal completely ignoring me.  Out in the game park, it seemed backwards.  I felt a little uncomfortable, as if I were the zoo animal.

"Hey Bill, check out those homo sapiens at 3 o'clock."

The camp grounds were nicer than I had imagined in many respects.  The tents were situated at the base of a large hill, facing outward over the park.  At the top of the hill was a large open-air banda where meals were provided and also where guests hung out during the day.  The view from there was incredible, and with the breeze, it was significantly cooler than Dar.  Sitting here, I could not have been more content.

While posh compared to the camping we did growing up, the tents were a little more rustic than I had imagined.  Our tent had running water and electricity, a toilet, sinks and a shower.  There were two beds, a desk, hardwood floors, and most of what you would expect from a hotel room.  However, with canvas for walls and no temperature control, it was decidedly “camping.”

The first night would have been perfect, if not for 3 rookie mistakes:

  1. Our first mistake was to leave the lights on while we ate dinner.  When we returned, several hundred gnats, just small enough to get in through the window mesh, swarmed around inside our tent.
  2. The second mistake was to  read the brochure entitled “Encountering Wildlife at Camp” right before getting into bed.  The brochure instructs guests how to evade snakes in the event that one finds its way into your tent.  The instructions were complicated and involved identifying the snake species before choosing the correct course of action.
  3. And the third mistake was neglecting to open the tent flaps for air circulation.  Even though it was cooler than Dar, it was still pretty hot and we diplomats like our air conditioner.

On top of that, Maasai warriors (hired by the camp) sang tribal songs every hour, on the hour until midnight to ring in the new year. Between that, the heat, the gnats landing on my face, and the fear of snakes below the bed, we might have slept 3 hours.

But all was erased when in the morning, I opened the flaps of our tent, looked out onto the plain, and watched as giraffes and zebras grazed in front of us.  I was thankful just to witness God’s creation, living as intended.

A view from our tent.

We took two game drives on our second day.  Many of the animals came quiet close to the car.  The most impressive had to be the elephants (I think, just due to their size), but I am convinced that the zebra is the most beautiful of all.  We did not see any predator cats, but we were far from disappointed.

We determined that this kind of staring (especially from the dude on the right) was not healthy for us, so we moved on.

A friendlier, more curious type of stare.

The hippos tried the stealth stare, but we weren't fooled.

Thankfully, our second night’s stay was much more successful than the first.  We ended our game drives with a photograph standing below a rainbow.  Not a bad way to finish.

On our way home, we paused to consider two scenes:

Two baboons, sitting by the road and eating from a snack baggie.

A dala dala on a less-than-holy mission. Despite appearances, this vehicle presents no real danger, but we did find his decorations entertaining.

All in all, a great trip.  We will definitely go on safari again soon.