1 – How safe is it to camp without fence protection on a Safari?
I am not going to lie, I was nervous.
In a I’m-about-to-sleep-in-the-middle-of-lions kind of nervous. You know?
As it turns out, I slept like a rock. In fact on my first night camping, I fell asleep to the sound of giggling hyenas, happily scrutinizing through our dinner’s left overs. I entered dreamland completely oblivious that about an hour later, lion’s roars were heard nearby the campsite. Probably trying to shush the hyenas away and claim back territory.
But, no seriously, it is VERY SAFE!
On my first day I bombed my guide with questions, questions, questions. It is all about understanding how the animals behave, how they see us and where are we. Here is what put my mind at ease…
How do predators behave?
I saw lions chilling out on top of tree branches while hundreds of wildebeests roam with head down munching on grass, just 100 meters away from that said tree. The lions couldn’t be less interested in them. Crazy right?!
Two zebras, followed by a crowd of wildebeests, want to cross the field to the other side of a tree that had a leopard hiding in the branches. They could have gone the longer way around, instead we spent way over an hour watching them giving 2 steps forward and 3 steps back, until we figured we should move on and never actually witnessed if they succeeded to cross. The said leopard could have attacked, but he didn’t.
These predators like the chase and they only hunt if they are hungry. They will attack human kind if they feel threatened, like approaching cubs, or if we get too close, but other than that, they aren’t at all interested in us.
How do Predators see us?
To start with, big predators don’t go hunting for humans because we are an easy prey. It is actually the other way around. A tribe called Maasai, still living in the outskirts of the National Parks, hunted lions for thousands of years as a cultural practice. It was a symbolical rite of passage rather than a hobby; it was a sign of bravery and personal achievement during the warrior stage of young Maasai. Nowadays this practice has been banned and considered illegal in East Africa, but they occasionally still kill lions if they feel threatened and to protect their livestock.
Most National Parks don’t have fences that prevent lions, cheetahs or leopards to walk away. The only times predators are known to approach villages and attack mankind are when their own food is scarce. This doesn’t usually happen in the protected areas. It is certainly more common in the Central and South of Tanzania, when out of the protected areas, the number of preys (impalas, zebras, wildebeests reduces during dry season and lions starving wander to villages looking for bush pigs and livestock.
A predator’s sight is not like a person’s sight. The animals don’t look at a tent and see it as a fragile sort of material, but more like a bush. The same way they look at a safari car and see a block, rather than the number of people inside. However, go against the rules and stand up in an open safari vehicle and they start to take interest. Wander out of the vehicle and you will be seen in a very distinctive light. Run and you are on their menu!
Where are we camping?
We stayed in permanent campsites within the National Parks. When the campsite is permanent, the animals are more likely to stay away from it, as lights, fires, smoke, noise… all of it will scare most wildlife. But during the quiet hours of the night, wild animals are more likely to come wandering around, not because they know people are there sleeping, but because it is quiet. We were instructed to use a torch to check the entire surroundings before leaving the tents or the building where we ate. And we were entirely discouraged to walk out of the tent at night to go to the toilet. Doing it on the side of the tent was our best option if we couldn’t avoid it at all.
I must admit, there was a sort of adrenaline rush at the fingertips as soon as we stepped out of the jeep to set up our tent. It was all very exciting and when inside the tent I felt very safe.
So here are some camping rules to stay safe and make the most of your Safari experience:
1 – No shoes outside the tent (as hyenas are known to lift them and you are more likely to find a spider making shelter of your shoe if you do);
2 – Keep the tent closed at all times to keep mosquitoes out and prevent animals from crawling in;
3 – Don’t take food inside the tent as this can attract all sort of animals, especially elephants, they love fruit and they will pick up your tent and shake it like a bush until that apple falls out;
4 – Carry a torch at all times and if you see an animal, remain calm and flash the torch straight at their eyes, this will blind them and make them go away.
If still, this sort of camping is not your style, Safari companies offer all sorts of options. If you like the idea of camping, but not the rough facilities and want more luxury, there are taller tents with actual beds inside and even private toilets. And of course, there are Lodges for all kind of wallets.
2 – Where did we eat while camping?
As I was on a Safari organized tour, we had a Chef travelling with us and cooking for us all the time, a warm breakfast, a packed lunch, or warm brunch and a three courses dinner.
The campsites without fences had a designated building for the Chef prepare our delicious food and another building where the guide sets up a table for us to hang out and eat breakfast and dinner. The buildings have doors and I felt safe inside and worry free to enjoy my meals.
During lunchtime, while we were on the go, we stopped at designated areas for picnic and we were given packed lunches. At these places we were instructed to not wander far away and we were to stay aware at the eventuality of the approach of curious animals.
3 – What other things to expect?
It can happen. The bumpy dirty roads while on safari are more than an African massage to your backs, but a rough path even to the 4×4 vehicles. Our jeep broke down twice actually.
(A little note to any car’s knowledgeable person reading this: forbid me for any wrong spelling, but I’m not into mechanics and this is what was explained to me)
The first time, some metal bar that links the back breaks of the jeep fell off and was dragging on the floor. We could hear it. Luckily we had 2 vehicles and we were able to move all the food and sleeping gear to the broken vehicle and fit everyone, the African way, inside one car and continue the Safari. Our first driver had to take the broken jeep to a Maasai village nearby to arrange a quick fix: where they tied it up with some tree branches, then drive over 100km so that the next day he could take the car to a garage inside the Serengeti National Park and get it fixed properly.
Later that day, we saw a car that broke down due to an unscrewed tire and the people from the vehicle had to look for the screws scattered across the fields. I will always remember how our guide explained that our breakdown was an easy problem and these people had a serious problem.
Through all the countries I travelled in Africa, the tipping culture was very instigated. I am Portuguese, I only tip when the service has been outstanding and more than was expected (or is it just me?!). So I am not going to give any tips on how much you should give. But get some research done as there are tons of websites with information on what is acceptable and ultimately, I do think it is up to each person to decide how much they are comfortable to give.
IT IS COLD IN THE SAVANNAH!
Somehow, Africa comes across as a hot continent all year round. But this is actually not true and even the African Savannahs wake up to a chilled dawn light. And when you get in the open roof jeep to hit the road before Sun does, you will appreciate the multi-layers of clothing topped up with a very warm coat, scarf, winter hat and even gloves! Trust me, I felt it!
Also, at the top of the Ngorongoro Crater, at Simba Campsite, the temperatures drop to 8 degrees at night, all year around. So, if you are camping, make sure you have an appropriate sleeping bag or sleep with extra clothing.
You see it blooming like a suspense cloud slowly dissipating behind every passing vehicle on the dirty roads. You close the windows when driving by and yet, you rub your forehead every so often and you discover you aren’t getting any tanner; it’s your tissue that is brown! Dust is everywhere. I would encourage keeping the cameras properly covered. It is actually insane! But you know, it is part of a Safari!
But dust also has a positive side! (Really?! Really.) It is the dust that floats in the air that gives the sun that burning color when it is at it’s lowest: at sunrise and sunset. Just like that perfect Safari photo with acacia trees and giraffes silhouettes against an orange filled sky! I was not lucky enough to get that picture perfect burning sun and only got pink cloudy skies!
OUT OF CURIOSITY:
Which animal kills the higher number of people in Africa?
Hippopotamus. Not on a Safari though. This is because in the remote African lands, where locals go fetch water from the river in the early cooler hours of the day. People end up coming face to face with a hippo returning to the water. Hippopotamus are herbivorous and have to walk inland to eat, done mostly during the night. They feel incredibly vulnerable out of the water and get very anxious when someone stands between them and their safest place. So they attack out of fear and it is said that very few have survived a furious hippo attack.