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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Serengeti Heritage Luxury Camp, Tanzania

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Serengeti Heritage Luxury Camp is a unique tented camp in one of the most animal rich parks in East Africa. The amazing thing about staying within Tanzania's Serengeti National Park is how surrounded by animals you are. It is so different from staying outside a park in a small village like we'd done the previous few nights. Being in their habitat and territory can be pretty unnerving for us city folk!

 

One of the things we loved about this tented camp was the presence of many fearless Masaai tribespeople who are not intimidated by animals – they've been living near them their whole lives. 'Doctor' is in charge of the camp. He's a very funny guy who had a good-natured way of poking fun of all our fears. When we first arrived and got out of the jeep and walked right past a hyena we were pretty scared (have you ever seen a hyena's teeth?). He said “Scared of a hyena?” “If you take a step toward him or throw a rock he'll run away.” We then peppered him with questions, mostly about how to deal with each species if we happen to walk past them on the way to our tent – which was the very last one at the edge of the camp. We learned not to run away or throw a rock at a lion or it will attack you. Just slowly, casually walk by and it will just think you’re part of the scenery. You aren't their normal prey. The million dollar question is: Can you stroll by a lion late at night without running for your life? Luckily we didn't have to find out as we never saw them that close – even though we heard them roaring near our tent all night long.

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The tents are nice and big, with a large sleeping area and a spacious bathroom so you don't have to go outside at night. There is running water to the sink, toilet and shower – though the hot water to the shower didn't work for us either day, but they say it’s a timing thing as the water is heated by the sun during the day and by wood in the evening during limited hours – so don't wait too late to take your shower. The beds were pretty with big canopies made with large mosquito nets and fresh white linens. In the rooms they had walkie-talkies so you could radio in to the main tent to get an escort. It was considered more dangerous to walk around at night so the rules were you had to call after dark and they would send a Masaai guy who carried a large spear to walk you to dinner. During the day most people walked by themselves, but not us! We usually called for an escort to and from the central canteen.

 

Down at the mess tent you could charge your phone or camera battery for the next day, as there were no outlets in the rooms. There was one fridge at the bar, but it was quite a small bar menu and things like ice were not a possibility given their solar setup for power. The food was served buffet style with several choices and was good, even though it must have been difficult to prepare with the limited facilities.

 

What really set this place apart were the people. Elias (our Masaai protector!), who always had a charismatic smile, Happiness (Yes, that's her name!) who was very happy and also determined to live out her dreams and generally a great person, and of course Doctor with his jokes, hugs, broad grin and a real desire to help us grow past and transform our fears. He even asked my husband (who was definitely the most scared person in the whole camp – or at least the most honest about it) to come stay there for a month and volunteer and he'd help him get over his fear.

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At night it seemed the lions and hyenas had some form of dialogue going – I didn't know there would be any kind of cross species calls like that. The hyenas would go first and the lions would roar back, matching length and cadence, and that went on for hours. It really sounded like they were conversing directly outside of our tent.

 

On our first night walking back to the tent we saw a buffalo just behind the tents and its eyes glowed as it looked right at our flashlight. We were concerned then as buffalo are very territorial and are responsible for the second most deaths of humans in Africa (after only hippos). Us foreigners spend so much time being scared of lions when they actually have very few run ins with humans and these other animals are much more dangerous.

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Another great thing about the camp was the location – since we were inside the park all we had to do is roll out of bed and get in the jeep to see the animals at one of the best times of day – early morning when the sun is rising. The other best time is at dusk and if you're staying outside the park you will probably be gone by then as its difficult to drive at night in the remote areas near the parks without big floodlights.

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Also, getting into the parks generally is a big logistical nightmare, even though you're paying huge park fees to enter, as the people at the park offices will hold you outside the gates until their computer (which may be down and tough luck for you) confirms all the paperwork you have right in your hand stamped by the appropriate people which says you've already paid at the correct office for the correct number of days. By the way, if it’s not all exactly right you can get sent away to some office an hour away in the town to wait until it opens and pay there again. Tanzania was ridiculous in this regard. After going to four parks in Tanzania and probably averaging an hour at the border of each one, I was actually shocked when we went to Kenya and were allowed into a park without paying anything as their system was down and were just told to drive by the other gate at some point in the day and pay there. Perfectly logical. Maybe at some point the Tanzanian officials will start treating the tourists with a little less suspicion and if they have their mounds of paperwork in order actually let them into the park even if their computer happens to be down – which is quite common in these parts. If you want to see the animals when they are most active it’s easier to be inside the park already.

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The first morning we saw cheetahs just after leaving the camp, and cheetahs along with leopards are some of the most difficult animals to see. Actually, Serengeti was the only park where we ended up seeing leopards. We also managed to see the annual migration too. Massive herds of wildebeest along with zebras are on a big tract to their calving areas and back through fertile plains with fresh grazing while also crossing dangerous crocodile filled rivers and being chased by lions and other predators along the way.

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Heritage was one of the more affordable choices for tented camps in the area. Some of the places are unbelievably expensive especially once you add the park fees which are not included.

 

If you're looking for an authentic safari experience with fabulous people and a relatively safe experience (compared to the people camping in small pup tents who have to go out in the night to use the toilet) then look no further and give Doctor and his friends a call.

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©Christina Bolton

 

Serengeti Heritage Luxury Camp, http://serengetiheritagecamp.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 01 March 2018
Christina Bolton

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