Beyond the Lions and Elephants in Arusha

I don’t want to claim that our first few days in Tanzania were tops among GAPers, but I challenge any location in the world to compete with the awe-inspiring Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Seeing huge horizon-to-horizon herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle followed by pools of massive floating families of hippos and, of course, the fierce predators lurking in the bush was an amazing experience. Although, in our case, the predators were either trotting along the dirt road, looking like cuddly creatures, or lounging in the shade of ubiquitous acacias. We were lucky enough to see the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino). Despite its dire history, this term was coined by the big-game hunters looking for the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. For us, it meant that we had an extremely lucky three and a half days. It’s amazing where you can end up just 72-hours after your last presentation of the semester.

The terrifying, deadly leopard...taking a nap.
The terrifying, deadly lion...taking a nap.

Despite the grandeur and breath-taking beauty of these areas, I think it’s safe to say that our team was just as pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome we received from the people of Arusha who serve the major nature reserves nearby. Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, is also nearby, but located in the opposite direction of the Serengeti. Understandably, touristic hubs cannot provide for countrywide generalizations. In these areas, tourism is king and positions like a safari leader are highly coveted and diligently studied for. Still, the warm welcome we received from locals during our walks. and the selfless nature of our bed and breakfast staff was touching. For a little insight, one team member lost his wallet the first night during a taxi transfer. Charles, the bed and breakfast manager, took it upon himself to track the taxi down and ensure that the contents remained untouched  – hours after the initial loss. Needless to say, the wallet was returned immediately upon our return from the safari in pristine condition. Continuing to go above and beyond, the other employees taught us Swahili every night, while we dined in the communal outdoor dining room with the B&B’s other guests. Coming with little more than the essentials (jambo, asante, kwa heri) we tried our best amidst the friendly laughter of our teachers.

Our fearless leader, Salum, and the GWI team on safari.
Our fearless leader, Salum, and the GWI team on safari.

Tanzania and its people certainly have not disappointed. We can’t wait to see what lies beyond Arusha as we continue on to Dodoma, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

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