Amit and Priyanka are two medical students who traveled to Tanzania to work in a rural clinic for the summer. Read as they describe their weekend safari trip with four other friends into the Serengeti!
By Amit Gupta and Priyanka Rao
riday, 8:30 AM. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of our already half-an-hour late vehicle, we begin to wonder if we have crossed the threshold of African Standard Time. Urged to call our agent, Amit reluctantly agrees to drop 300 of his remaining 600 shillings in order to call and find out the ETA of our driver, Vincent, and cook, Bosco. Minutes later, the souped-up excursion-sized Landcruiser arrives – massive tires, three rows of paired captain seats, a built-in fully powered mini-fridge, electrical outlets that don’t work, and best of all, the type of sun-roof that would make a convertible jealous. Stocked with M&Ms, our saving grace, we’re off!
Crossing the gates into the western Serengeti, the landscape quickly changes from rows of Coca-Cola and Sprite faced buildings to endless straw shaded fields. We are all excited by our first sightings of zebras, wildebeest, and gazelles, but soon grow anxious to see the rarer animals. Priyanka’s wish list: 1. baby elephant, 2. male lion, 3. lots of giraffes. The landscapes are incredible. Herds of wildebeest are everywhere, as the timing of our safari happens to coincide with their annual migration through the western Serengeti. Interestingly, just like humans trying to escape the heat, they often cluster in groups in the shade of some of the bigger trees that happen to spring from the occasional lush spot in the otherwise dry, flat plains. Midday, they group directly under the trees, but as the sun looks sideways in the late afternoon, the groups slowly seep out from under the branches in pursuit of the slowly elongating shadows.
Only three hours past the western gate, we happen across a water source, and with it, a gathering of animals. In dry season, the dwindling number of rivers and streams funnel the herds in – the perfect bait for hungry lions. For us, just seeing the lions is a gift, but Vincent believes they may be preparing for an attack, so the engine is turned off and we become part of the scene. A female lion and her cub arise from their slumber; with ears pointed and shoulders tense, the lion’s head lowers. What a contrast the calm and confident lion was from the six of us, as we looked all around trying to grasp a sense of what was going on. We click away with our cameras, knowing something is amiss. Suddenly, she shoots out from under the tree, through the brush and around towards the back of the car! Within seconds her jaws are clenched around the neck of a wildebeest, and she is joined by the regal male lion. It happened so quickly that all of us had failed to even notice. The sight is astounding. Just ten yards away from our vehicle stand the male, female, and cub with a dead wildebeest.
We were more than spoiled on our first day of the safari, but nonetheless continued to be awed by the beauty of the landscapes throughout the rest of the weekend. The grandeur of fifty plus elephants controlling their stomping ground and families of giraffes careening their necks to enjoy their balcony view over all the action were only a couple of the memorable sights. And of course the lion spottings, which were interspersed throughout the weekend, never failed to spike our adrenaline.
On our last night, we even enjoyed a special visit from the neighborhood elephant. Tired from a long day, we had gathered at our campsite expecting only a mix of tents, tired safari goers, and a peaceful evening. Instead we found a crowd gathering near the fenced-in cooking stations. Apparently one of the older, wiser elephants had figured out where the humans keep their water year round. Having departed from the toil of finding water in ever-changing streams, he had made it a habit to just take a stroll to our campsite for a daily sip from the communal reservoir!
Amit Gupta and Priyanka Rao entered the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, respectively, in 2009. In the summer of 2010, they travelled to Tanzania as interns with International Health Partners to work in the Nyakato Health Center.