Greetings from Zanzibar, an island (actually several) off the coast of Tanzania. I’m sitting on a table under a sea almond tree, its trunk wrapped in colored lights. If I reach to the left I can almost touch the sand. The Indian Ocean is maybe 30 feet away, the water black and quiet, though I can hear it swishing against the beach further down. It’s hot and humid, still 30C at 10 pm. I could be writing this from our adorable second-floor room in Tembo House hotel, lying under the mosquito net in my four-poster twin bed, but it’s too small to work in. Hope it’s comfortable for sleeping!
Upstairs I’d miss the soft lilt of Swahili from the staff chatting in the lounge area. There’s not much else to do until the end of May, when the rainy season ends and tourists start to pour in from all over the world, drawn in part by the good weather and the Great Migration of wild beasts between Tanzania’s Serengeti plain and the Masai Mara in Kenya.
I can’t believe we were in the Mara just two days ago, looking out over the vast expanse of grassland broken by the occasional flat-topped acacia tree. Our driver and guide, Antony, picked the four of us up in
Nairobi for the six-hour drive to the Serena lodge we’d booked inside the park. The last two hours along the bone-jarring road made us wish we’d taken the plane!
After clearing the gate, Antony raised the top so we could stand up for a 360 view. All those National Geographic documentaries suddenly became real as a herd of majestic elephants strode into view, from 7-month-old babies to grandparents, flapping their massive ears occasionally to keep cool. Such a contrast to the sleek gazelles, abruptly taking off in all directions as if spring-loaded.
It’s easy to love the zebras, whose chic black and white stripes look freshly painted, or the impossibly tall giraffes sporting a geometric pattern straight from the 60s. Harder to love are the fierce warthogs, the hippos rising out of the muddy Mara or the plodding cape buffalo, with a face only a mother could love.
Of course it wouldn’t be a safari without lions, but it took two treks from the hotel before our guide Anthony spotted a few males lounging near a tree over … there! With three pairs of binoculars among the four of us, we were able to follow their
movements back and forth from the tree to a grassy knoll nearby, where one flopped on his back, belly up, exactly like Copper the cat at home. Another put his paws on the trunk for a luxurious stretch then jumped up INTO the bushy tree, disappearing from view. On the other side of the trunk, a skinny tail hung down. Yet another cat peered through the foliage mid-way up, then decided to sprawl along a branch and hang out for awhile.
We never did find out how many lions we were looking at, but we spent a good half-hour following their every move. Later that day, we watched a hyena eating a haunch of something while keeping an eye on the jackal who kept sneaking up and trying to steal a bite, without success. It was quite a day.