Sunday, 6/1. Arusha, Tanzania.
Tanya, a young actress from Vancouver, is the first fellow trekker I meet. She looks like a cross between Joan Allen and Kirsten Dunst. Chris, an ESL teacher from Toronto, is here. Originally, there were only three of us booked. But Adam and Kelly, a married couple from Vancouver – she’s an engineer, he’s an EMT — are last-minute additions. I’m the only non-Canadian and the only person over 34.
Being five, we’re cramped in the jeep provided by Maasai Wanderings, the tour operator. In front are Godwin, our driver and tour guide, and Jackson, our unflappable cook. Godwin, short and casual and quick to laugh, has a magnificent trained eye and encyclopedic knowledge of birds, beasts, their behavior and genus. He can spot a rhino or a wildebeest at a great distance and he knows, sometimes without binoculars, which bird is singing in a distant acacia tree.
The sky is enormous, the horizon vast. Godwin and Jackson speak Swahili with each other and Jackson loves to make silly falsetto noises and sing pop tunes by Shania Twain or Enrique Iglesias. We see Maasai men herding cows in their shukas (brightly colored cloaks) and walking sticks. We see impala, antelope, families of baboons oblivious to our jeep, ostrich, warthog, Thomson gazelle, topi (reddish-brown antelope with thick, ringed horns), hundreds of zebras.
Random facts, courtesy of Godwin:
- Giraffes are the only animal in the wild that differentiate colors. They can kill a lion with a single kick.
- Every zebra’s stripe pattern is unique, like human fingerprints. Their heads nod as they walk and they can smell the atmosphere to know which direction to go for water.
- The secretary bird has thorns on the back of its legs to protect it from snakes.
We arrive at our first camp site in Serengeti National Forest. Gorgeous red sunset. Unusually dusty here — the result of a rainy season that typically starts in February but was delayed until May. No working showers. We’re dirty, exhausted. The campsite is crowded with groups of South Africans, Irish, Germans, New Zealanders. They party raucously into the wee hours.