Two weekends ago we packed up the saloon car and headed for the hills to experience our first safari! Arusha is at the heart of the northern safari circuit with Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater all within a few hours drive of town. A less popular national park called Arusha National Park is only 30km away and less crowded so we started there. About 10 min after turning off the main road, we began our adventure by navigating a mine field aka the 15 km of dirt road that leads from the highway to the park. The condition of the dirt roads is not too bad but our saloon car could've used about an addition 12 inches of clearance and some heavier tires which would've made for less white-knuckle gripping of the steering wheel. But, on the bright side, the bumping and bottoming out made for some quality nap time for Miss Millie which is really all that matters nowadays, right?
Upon entrance at the national park we saw a ton of zebras, buffalos and warthogs. Then we cruised along and were greeted by our evolutionary next-of-kin, the baboons, who were crossing the road and causing mischief. We traveled about 6 km to the other side of the park where we exited and then arrived at Hatari Lodge, our outpost for the next 24 hours.
Hatari Lodge is named after the 1960's John Wayne movie of the same name (Hatari - means 'danger' in swahili) filmed on location in parts of Arusha city and what is now the national park. The land the lodge sits on was formerly owned by Hardy Kruger who costarred in the film with John Wayne and fell in love with the area while filming. He built a house there which eventually became the main building of the lodge. Kruger no longer owns the property, but the decor was very eclectic and in the spirit of the decade in which the movie was filmed.
The accommodations at the lodge were top-notch! Although we didn't request it, Roger, Millie and I had one of the honeymoon suites which had a huge window that overlooks the plains and the snow-capped (yes, snow in Africa, just south of the equator, can you believe it?) peaks of Kilimanjaro in the distance. This was the view from the gigantic bed which was buried under hundreds of pillows (the same pillows that we later learned swallowed one of Millie's books!). That particular weekend marked nearly two weeks without hot water at our house in Arusha so the spa-like showers/tubs were a sight for sore eyes! Melba's room was equally enjoyable (in fact with a BETTER view of Kili) but with fewer pillows.
After a tasty lunch and yet another nap for Millie, we departed Hatari for our personal safari in one of their jeeps with a very knowledgeable guide named Godsend (I'm sure my brother could think of a witty remark here, but I'm coming up empty). Godsend was an excellent guide and he expertly described and explained the animal kingdom we were able to enjoy, such as giraffes, baboons, flamingos, buffalo, zebra and antelope. We were unable to see hippos or elephants but they do reside in this particular park. Seeing these animals in the wild was really exciting and an incredible experience. While Millie may be too young to have appreciated it (she slept through most of it... those darn bumpy roads!), when she goes on her first school trip to the zoo she can carry around the picture of her in her car seat amidst the giraffes (been there, done that!).
Upon return to the lodge, we dined family style with the rest of the guests at the lodge who hailed mostly from Europe. As the lodge sits right on the edge of the national park, we had to be escorted by armed Masai guards from our rooms to the main hall in the event a feisty buffalo was looking to cross our path. A yummy dinner later we were tucked into bed and serenaded by the sound of monkeys clamoring over the tin roof.
And to think this was just a couple hours in one of the smaller national parks! There are many more animals to see and parks to visit, so what are you waiting for? Get over here!!