Vail Daily travel: Where lions roam
Vail, CO Colorado
Early dawn on safari: Adrenaline and excitement stronger than the caffeine from an early cup of coffee at camp, head peering out of the roof of a pop-top Land Rover.
You see the first elephant you’ve seen in the wild, lumbering in the distance. Without fail, everyone is fumbling with their cameras trying to capture this incredible first glimpse and exclaiming to each other, like little kids, in hushed and excited tones.
We were in Tarangire National Park that morning. Named for the Tarangire River that cuts through the 1,000-square-mile park, this river is one of the few sources of water in the savannah during the dry season.
From June until September, hordes of animals flock to the riverbanks: Zebras and wildebeests come to drink, predators come to hunt, and the park thrives with life. Tarangire is best known for its herds of elephants, sometimes as great as 300 in number, and the African pythons, frequently seen hanging from the baobab trees.
Tarangire National Park, located in northern Tanzania between the Ngorongoro Crater and the safari capital of Arusha, is part of the park system that was established in 1959 with the creation of the Serengeti National Park. Since then, 15 national parks have been created in Tanzania, protecting a full third of the country.
Aiming to conserve the wildlife and natural resources of East Africa for future generations, the positive impact of these protected areas has been tremendous. The country is focusing on low-impact, sustainable tourism and involving the local communities, like the Maasai around Tarangire, with protecting the parks.
The result has been substantial revenue for a country that has traditionally been very reliant on aid, sustainable sources of income for local people, increased appreciation of their cultural and natural heritage, profits put into community development and education, and the successful protection of the natural wonders of East Africa.
It was dry season as we cruised slowly along in our Land Rover. The savannah rolled out brown in front of us, spotted with trees. Local legend has it that baobab trees did something to anger the gods.
To punish them, the gods tore them up and planted them again upside down: Branches buried and roots exposed. Now they sit comically, with huge fat trunks, studded with a small crown of thin, root-like branches. Several baobabs have large holes right through the middle of their trunks, gouged out by elephants.
When I had imagined being on safari I had thought of straining my eyes and searching for the occasional sighting of some beautiful animal I had never before seen in the wild. It was nothing like that. We were inundated with animals.
Every few moments someone would exclaim: “Elephant,” “Herd of zebras,” “What is that?” We sat on the edges of our seats, so absorbed that hours flew by while we scanned the horizon for the next sighting.
Over the next few days in Tarangire National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater, we saw herds of zebra and wildebeests, hyenas, cheetahs, the elusive black rhinos, ostriches, giraffes, families of elephants and prides of lions. Three female lions slowly padded along just feet away from the vehicle and lounged in the grass like we didn’t even exist. Hippos slopped in shallow pools, rolling in the mud – occasionally yawning and exposing their gaping pink mouths.
Every day ended with us crawling into our tents for a deep and dream-filled sleep, excited to wake up at dawn and do it all over again. For a few short days, on the other side of the world, we were living a childhood dream.
Britt Basel is a photographer and travel writer focusing on cultural and environmental sustainability. She teaches photography for National Geographic Student Expeditions, leads university semesters abroad, and is a whole systems design consultant. She is a Colorado native living in Summit County. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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