The Serengeti is the Trip of a Lifetime!
Have you been dreaming of going on a safari in Africa? Do you want to see hundreds of animals up close? If so, the Serengeti will not disappoint you. We saw hundreds of elephants, zebras, wildebeest, diks diks, hippos, lions, antelopes, flamingos and baboons. We also saw leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, warthogs, a sable cat, a rhino, a huge white owl, 25 secretariat birds, and at least 25 giraffes. This was a trip of a lifetime! However, it does take some planning. Here is what it was like for us in July of 2017.
What Do You Wear?
I remember googling what to wear on a safari and this one gal recommended getting cargo pants from Nordstrom’s for $368. Now, you can go buy $368 cargo pants and arrive decked out in designer clothes, but with that money you could also donate to a school or purchase a safe water maker for 9 families. Our money can do so much good in this poor country.
They tell you not to wear black or blue colors because they attract the bites of tsetse flies. So you should stick to khaki, light green, and brown. Some sites tell you no white or bright colors, but many of our travelers wore very colorful outfits.
Make sure you dress in layers–the mornings are cool and by the afternoon you’ll get hot. I usually wore a tank-top, a short-sleeved top, a lightweight jacket, and long pants. For shoes, I wore my hiking boots and orthotic sandals. I mainly wore my hiking boots just to stay stable and keep bugs off of me. For bottoms, I wore long pants and a couple of times I wore a skort.
Before the trip, I went to GoodWill and got several pairs of pants in khaki, green, and light brown colors, and then I bought tops and jackets to match. Over a 6-month period, I probably bought 20 items at about $4 each, and then narrowed it down to just a few items for the trip. GoodWill makes it easy by separating clothing by colors.
I did bring a couple of nice things to accessorize with my clothes. At the end of my tent camp, I folded up ¾ of the clothes I did not want to take home with me and left them for the tent attendants who were quite pleased. They were going to take it to their wives or sisters.
The last night, we stayed in a coffee lodge where we had a dinner in someone’s home. I packed up most of my hats and clothes and gave it to the woman who hosted us for dinner. She promised me she would send me a picture of her kids every year. She sent me an African blessing through What’s App that I really loved. She cooks outside on the ground, yet she has What’s App on her phone?
Definitely Bring a Hat–Hats are Essential
Polarized sunglasses are also a must, along with a small scarf to wear around your nose and mouth during dusty drives. In addition, you should always wear sunscreen and spray your feet and shoes with a bug repellent.
Try and be respectful and stay somewhat covered. Short shorts and short dresses are really frowned upon. In one home we visited, the host asked one of the ladies to cover up her legs with fabric because she was not properly dressed. Be respectful. I did go sleeveless at times in the jeep on game drives, but I always had a long-sleeved shirt to cover up in markets and in towns.
You can wear some makeup, but keep in mind you get up at 5:30am when it’s still dark and you have one little mirror in your tent. I used a head lamp on a hanger to shine some light on the little mirror so I could get ready every morning. There is no electricity in your tent, but you do have a light bulb that works off of solar power. You’re not going to get to blow dry your hair or roll it for 4 days. That is why I suggest you bring a hat and scrunchies too.
Game Drives–What Really Happens
For game drives, you usually get up and go by 6 a.m. The roads are awful. I’m not saying bumpy, I’m saying GOD awful. I held onto the handrail so tightly during these rides, I felt like I was pulling my wires out of my pacemaker.
Honestly, my pacemaker started to hurt during the ride so I switched sides in the jeep to give that arm a rest. I had bruises on my arms from hitting the sides of the jeep. My husband had little cuts on his head from hitting the top of the van, yet we would not trade a minute of the game drives. One day my husband announced that this was the best day of his life, even after repeatedly hitting his head on the top of the jeep.
You are Going to Eat Dust!
Not only are the roads beyond bumpy, but there is a drought going on in Tanzania and the dust just rolls in the windows. You can feel it in your teeth and your face will be covered in dust.
Our guide told us that your memories will last a lot longer than the road. He was right. Usually you are back for late lunch and then go out again for a couple hours before dinner. Everyone has to be back in their camps by dusk by Serengeti rules. Then you spend some time around the campfire, take your showers, eat, and are escorted back to your tent where you stay until they wake you up in the morning with JAMBO.
The sun rises very quickly and sets very quickly. The stars are amazing and you can see the Milky Way. It was difficult for me to recognize any stars because they are upside down from the states.
At night, I would awake to munching outside my window. I could not see who it was but grass eaters are always welcome. When I shined my flashlight, it was just little dik diks, and then I saw the eyes of the hyenas. I also was awakened by the roar of the antelope right next to my tent while a whole family of baboons were crawling over the tree next to me.
I felt like a little prairie dog because I am a light sleeper, and I would wake up and pop my head up at any noise. We kept our windows unzipped all the way so we could experience all the sounds.
There was no food allowed the tents unless you wanted unwanted visitors. The two twin beds were very comfortable, and they cleaned our tent everyday. They gave us fresh towels but no washcloths.
If you take your shoes off and walk around the tent, your feet are going to be black.
Yes, you should do a balloon ride. You will be surprised how therapeutic it is to see the morning this way. 16 people in each basket and stunning views!
What is a Tent Camp Like?
The tent camp was nicer than I expected, but you are going to get dirty. Let me just say it is impossible to get squeaky clean.My husband kept teasing me before we got there that we were going to have a talking shower. Well he was right in some ways. When you want a shower, you have to tell one of the attendants and then he loads up a hot 5 gallon bucket and hoists it up in the air. Then, you shower under water flow that is a little better than a heavy trickle.
They tell you to soap up first, turn the water on to rinse, and then turn it off. Then you repeat this when you lather and rinse your hair, all while you are standing on a wood pallet in your tent. Don’t worry, the tent zips-up so you can have privacy.
You would be surprised at how far a 5-gallon bucket will go. Really, it could be enough for 2 showers if needed. At our camp, they would do showers right before dinner, but not after, because all water sources have to be put-up before dark. I missed my shower the first night because I thought I could do it after dinner.
They also had two little tent baskets in the front where you could clothes wash in one and rinse in the other and then hang them up to dry on a clothesline. Everything including the chairs had to be put up out of sight at night, even your clothes had to be put up in your zippered tent.
Why, you ask? Because the animals are all around you at night. Our tents had only been up for two weeks, so many animals lived in the area and were hardly afraid of us. At night, we could see hyenas’ eyes. After watching them crack bones and eat the leftovers of lions during the day you learned to be afraid of these guys. One even tried to push a zipper open on one of our tents, but failed and ended up eating soap that was left outside.
Another woman got a rat in her tent. They give you a whistle and tell you to blow if there is a problem, but you should never leave the tent without an escort. Just whistle and stay in your tent. So, this gal whistles and one of the tent attendants comes and he steps on the rat and kills it and takes it out of the tent. She then made him clean up the blood.
The next morning, I saw the tent attendant and said, “I hear you are the best rat killer around.” He told me, “No, I just stepped on the rat and lifted him by his tail and threw him outside.” I said, “Really? Because that’s not what the gal told me.” Then he asked if I was going to report him. He said that it’s against the law to kill any animal in the Serengeti, even a rat. So what if a lion is in my tent?
The tour leader told us how they handle encounters with animals. One time, a whole heard of elephants surrounded this guy’s tent to drink out of his buckets of water. So, 5 helpers and 3 tour guides got into their jeeps and surrounded the tent and told him to stay inside. Eventually, the elephants moved away. Another time, a lion was going in front of each tent and drinking the washing water. Once again, they drove their cars down and told everyone to stay in their tents. After that, they made it a policy to always put up every bit of water before bed.
The food was fabulous in the tented camp, even though hyenas were constantly around. I don’t know if it was the thrill of seeing animals all day or if camping food just always tastes better, but our food was the best we had the whole trip! Every night was a feast.
We had a toilet on a wood pedestal that worked, but it was very hard to flush anything down. It has its own little zippered compartment too but it was in a tent, so if you are short like me then it will be a little difficult to get up on the pedestal. But I was glad it was there.
Malaria Pills Have Side Effects
Our tour guide told us that Malaria pills cause problems on 4-6 day of taking them. Well he was right–I had a problem with diarrhea and so did 4 other people out of the 15. The good thing is that it’s over quickly. Usually just one full day of sickness and then you are better.
One great tip is to bring toast with you. Every morning before you go on a game drive, they will serve breakfast and toast is always on the menu. Pack up 4 pieces of toast and put them in a ziplock bag with your backpack. That way if you start to feel queasy the toast will help.
Of course, you do not want to get Malaria so you’ll need to take the pills 2 days before your trip and 7 days after you get home. You will be thrilled once you stop them because they may give you wild dreams, stomachaches, and bad headaches.
Make sure you bring plenty of your favorite stomach pain medicine because you will not be able to get it there.
We went to a pharmacy in Arusha and they did not have any Tums or anything for the stomach except one pill, but when we read the instructions, it was for ulcers. No pain medication was available at the pharmacy, it was really just a little room with very few pills to choose from. I did see women in the market selling lumps of clay that they said was for stomach aches, but are you going to chew on some block of clay?
Headaches were almost round the clock. Yes you can get rid of them with even just one aspirin or Advil, but you will do this almost every day!
The schools need everything. The kids did not even know where USA was on a map. Our guide even asked them if they had heard of Obama land, but no one in the class knew about the world or geography. Bring maps for each classroom, or any school supplies really. They need everything.
Albinos: Witch doctors in Africa say that if you want to be wealthy or have good luck you should cut off a body part from a live albino. Little albino kids cannot go to school because they are afraid of someone chopping off a hand. The woman on my left started this place called Albino Peacemakers in Arusha, Tanzania. Albino Peacemakers is a safe place for these women to work and make money.
A boy is circumcised at 13-16 years old in front of his tribe. He cannot make a sound or even grimace. Once the circumcision is done, he wears white paint on his face to let everyone know he is now a man.
Female genital circumcision has been against the law for 7 years. This was generally preformed on girls about 12-years-old. Many women have trouble delivering babies later on in life from that surgery.
Items I Found Helpful
- Oil of Olay
- Little hydrating masks for nighttime
- Head lamp
- A scarf to cover your nose and mouth
- Wet wipes
- Toast in a baggie every morning to help with motion sickness
- Little oatmeal and chocolate cookies that they sell in most markets in Tanzania
- Pepcid AC and tons of Advil
- Tylenol PM
- Cell phone for pictures
- My hat
- Vaseline for lips
- My cloth fold-up bag for game drives to hold cameras, jackets, wet ones, cookies, toast, pills, fan, toilet paper, and scarf. Keeps your purse clean and can be washed and used for a second carry-on bag
- Ear plugs for fellow travelers who are in your jeep and think they need to talk continuously
- Ginger ale when you could find it
- Duct tape for when my suitcase ripped at the airport coming home
- Extra straps to hold suitcase together
- Suitcase locks
- Good lightweight binoculars such as Nikon 8 x 25 travelight–I used them a lot
- Packing cubes and 2 gallon baggies for clothes and organization
- Nose spray and eye drops
Your trip of a lifetime is right around the corner. Have a great time!
The marketplace is where you go to shop for all your food.