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Serengeti Safari, Tanzania

By: Adam Roy
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Serengeti Safari, Tanzania Witnessing the Great Migration

As the sun began to climb over Serengeti National Park, I took stock of the evidence before me. I had Wildebeestwoken up to find my bathroom, a tiny canvas-walled cubicle behind my tent, in ruins. The shredded remains of what had once been my spare roll of toilet paper littered the ground. My soap lay in one corner, gnawed down into a misshapen hunk.

I shivered in the early morning chill and drew my windbreaker tighter around my torso. Looking over the damage, I couldn't stop thinking about the pair of hyenas that had watched us from the roadside brush the afternoon before, tongues lolling out of their stubby snouts in the searing heat. To imagine one of them chewing on my toiletries just feet away from the tent where I was sleeping was less than comforting.

Every year, thousands of visitors flock to northern Tanzania to see the legendary wildlife that has made the Serengeti a household name. As many of them discover, some of the wildlife is more than happy to return the favor. For adventure-seekers of all ages, the Serengeti offers the chance to explore one of Earth's most iconic and mesmerizing wildernesses, a world where lions still rule supreme and nature doesn't close after business hours.

The Serengeti's harsh dry season is the backdrop for one of nature's largest journeys, a migration in which over a million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles meander north towards the Kenyan border in search of new grazing grounds. The massive herds literally transform the landscape as they pass through, stripping the savanna straight down to its parched soil. Although they are not especially frightened of safari vehicles, sudden noises, movements or even a single jittery animal often send entire herds erupting into stampedes that settle down as quickly as they begin.

Zebra MigrationWhile it is possible to tour Serengeti National Park from a permanent lodge, travelers looking to get right in the thick of the action should consider staying at a mobile tented camp. These camps follow the annual wildebeest migration, moving every month or so to stay near the herds. As a result, they are both well-placed for game drives and somewhat more time-consuming to find, since they don't have a single fixed location.

The abundance of prey that the herds provide draws out the carnivorous population of the Serengeti in force. Packs of spotted hyenas are a common sight during the twilight hours, as they lope off to begin their nightly hunt. While certainly present and active, cheetahs and leopards are much more elusive, as they rely on stealth to hunt and protect their kills from stronger predators.

Then there are the lions. They have a way of commanding visitors' attention, and it's not unusual to see several safari groups crowding on the side of the trail just to catch a glimpse of one of the big cats. The lions seem well aware that they're the center of interest, and are so confident that they will often wander over to give a personal welcome to safari groups. Many will even stretch out next to parked cars and nap in their shade, a behavior that inevitably sends some visitors reaching for their cameras while others frantically roll up their windows.

Perhaps the most distinctive features in the Serengeti's landscape are the simba kopjes, scattered stone outcroppings that tower over the surrounding savanna. In addition to providing a much-needed source of shade, these cliffs are the habitat of one of the Serengeti's more unusual mammals, the hyrax. Through some twist of evolution, hyraxes, which look more or less like giant, agile guinea pigs but are actually relatives of the elephant, Birdsmake their homes in the acacia trees and kopjes that dot the savanna, perching on top of them to sunbathe in the midday heat.

Life on safari has a certain rhythm to it, one centered around sunsets and mealtimes instead of clocks or timetables. Though mobile camps may lack some of the frills common to high-end game lodges (don't expect any in-ground pools or gift shops), accommodations are surprisingly comfortable. Visitors generally stay in cabin-style tents, complete with cot and mosquito netting. In addition, each tent usually has its own adjoining bathroom, complete with camp toilet and a gravity shower which camp staff will fill with hot water on request.

Meals vary greatly in content and quality, but are almost always cooked by the staff and served communally in the dining tent. In addition, most of the mobile camps have generators for their kitchen equipment, and staff members are usually happy to recharge cameras or other battery-powered devices for guests.

Tanzania's extreme climate leads many groups to plan their game drives for the early morning and late afternoon hours. This strategy keeps most activity to the hours when temperatures fall within a bearable middle ground, leaving the harshest parts of the day for eating, napping or just admiring the scenery. While Africa is not a continent that's generally associated with cold weather, a sweatshirt or jacket is a great accessory to have during the surprisingly nippy Serengeti mornings, and makes it that much easier to get up ready for a day of exploration and new encounters.

An extra bar of soap might come in handy too. You never know, after all.

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