I am sitting on a bench with my eyes closed, caressed by the hot African sun, a slant of wind fills my nostrils with the smell of ripe grass and all I do is take it all in. And suddenly I open my eyes only to find myself in my cold room at home.
During university, hungry for adventure and penniless, an idea came to my mind: volunteering for an animal shelter in Africa. At first glance, it was a perfect experience that would offer me the chance to live the African experience not only in my imagination. At a second thought, it wasn’t so easy and I got defeated and never left.
Needless to say, the thought never left this little mind of mine and the desire to see Africa and, even more, the wild animals grew stronger and stronger with every book I read about the dark continent. But I’m a fortunate cookie and dreams do come true, you just don’t have to give up on them, no matter what life brings or what other people say (or the voices in your head) you can or you cannot do!
Many years after I was sitting in my room scrolling the internet and dreaming with my eyes wide open, early this year, I got the chance to live the incredible experience of a Safari in Selous Game Reserve, the biggest faunal reserves of Tanzania (one of the largest in the world).
Top things to see
Africa and this place, in particular, will always hold a special part in my heart, not only because of the hospitable people but because it is impossibly beautiful and the feeling of being a few inches away from a wild animal is a once in a lifetime experience.
As it is a safari game reserve, there aren’t many additional activities on display but you can always choose to:
- Do a boat safari on the Rufijiriver and just let yourself amazed by the plenty that nature has to offer. The sailing part itself is relaxing and special, but all sorts of animals surprised us with their presence: from monkeys on the river banks to baby crocodiles hiding in the sand, to hippos looking at us with puzzled faces (“what are you looking at humans?”) everything felt perfect.
- Take a village tour – it’s not often that you get to see how people live in the heart of Africa, under the burning sun, in a village located at 5 hours travel time from the nearest city. We took a small walk in the “city center”, visited the small and simple local market, the school, a Masai shop filled with souvenirs and tasted the local dried fish on display at all the stalls.
- The queen of the activities, why you got here in the first place, the Safari Game drive – be prepared for the experience of your life! The adventure starts very early in the morning (around 6 a.m.) and you will understand why when lunch time will come and you won’t be able to breathe well. The national park covers a total area of 54,600 km2 (21,100 sq mi) and you will explore only a very small part of it during your trip in the open 4X4 Land Cruisers, but don’t expect anything less than memorable moments. Nothing in the world (or few things) compare to driving in the savanna along giraffes, zebras and tens of species of antelopes. Imagine stopping by for a coffee break next to a lake and while savouring your coffee observing the zebras drinking water on the other side, the hippos minding their daily business in the middle of the lake, one cheeky monkey making fool of a crocodile right next to you and vultures making fun of you (just kidding, they were actually communicating but looked like laughing).
Once you’ve finished your coffee (or tea of course) with banana cake, hop right back in the car and run straight into a group of lions hiding from the hot sun, in a bush next to the lake. The experience of stopping the car (the engine) in the middle of them and admiring the incredible felines from only a few meters from an open car is beyond belief. Mixed thoughts run through my mind, everything from fear to excitement, from admiration to anxiety, “I never want to leave this place” to “when will you start the engine dude?”. Whether you like animals or not, this is definitely an experience you will never forget, at least I know I will not.
Where to stay
Since we bought the whole package from a travel agency we got the hotel in Zanzibar and the accommodation in the Safari from the same provider, Africa Safari Camp ( getting also a very good price all in all), but there are plenty of places to choose from. Prices might be high if you choose to go there directly but if you do a little bit of planning in advance, you can find a good offer and choose anything from luxury hotels, to lodges, to tents and campsites.
Tips and tricks
- Be careful what you wear: it might be hot outside but there are all kinds of insects and plants that might harm you, therefore be sure to have thin clothes that would cover most part of your body. Closed shoes are also recommended.
- Bring high sunscreen protection – I chose 50 SPF especially for the hands and face
- Choose to cover your head with something, in order to avoid sunstroke
- Bring bathing suits, most of the hotels have swimming pools
- Don’t expect high-speed internet, after all, you are in the middle of nowhere
- Respect nature and don’t throw anything in the park, don’t call animals and don’t try to feed them either and most important of all respect the requests your travel guide has (he has been there longer than you and is trained for this job)
Observe daily life
During the last night of our stay in the safari camp something unthinkable happened: while everyone was deeply asleep when the light generator was down (I have never experienced that deep darkness, having eyes wide open and feeling like they were wide shut), we were visited by a family of friendly elephants. They did not do any damage, just rubbed their backs on our cottage and inspected the surroundings, but it sure was an interesting feeling to know that outside of the bamboo walls of your cottage two wild elephants are having a stroll.