Fear & Ecstasy in Tanzania Part 1: What Not to Do on a Budget Safari

A car breaking down in the middle of a national park in Tanzania is different than, say, a car breaking down in the middle of a national park in Vermont. In Tanzania, things eat humans whose cars break down. All that was heard from our Safari driver for the last several hours was that when spotting animals he’d stop long enough for us to take photos but that we should “never stop for too long.” Very encouraging information given the set of events that was about to take place. I suppose the guttural clanking of the engine before its wildly dramatic death should have clued us in that we were about to become Lion finger food. Or at the very least, playthings for the hundreds of baboons that had quietly assembled on the road before us as if they’d been anticipating our arrival and plotting our demise. Our demise happening sometime after their late afternoon butt picking session. (Visual aids below). Luckily for all of us, I’d recently finished the complete Planet of the Apes Box Set Collection, which gave me the confidence to realise that with a bit of humour, understanding and implausible Hollywood plot twists, humans and monkeys really can be best friends.

What I was worried about however, after the car screeched to a halt next to a Hippo watering hole, otherwise known as death’s door, were the words that next came out of my guide’s mouth. They sounded distinctly like “get out of the car and push.” I thought I’d been mistaken, but in fact I had not. Never before had the phrase “you get what you pay for” been so wholly, painfully clear to me. It reminded me of that time I bought a discounted bra at a street market in Kuala Lumpur. It did about as much for holding up my boobs as a sieve does for holding water. Apparently I NEVER LEARN.

After three failed attempts at pushing we took a break, and seeing as though we had the time, we had run out of things to do besides pray for survival, we walked over to inspect an ant hill at the side of the road. This was no ordinary northern hemisphere ant hill the size of your fist. This was the Everest of ant hills. It wasn’t a neighbourhood in there it was an ant universe. It’s size was impressive enough to render us speechless for a few solid minutes and as the ants diligently made their way to and fro I began to wonder if the ant world had it figured out better than the rest of us. Are they happier living in commune with one another and working towards one common goal? Is it insulated enough inside there to keep them warm on a cool evening but airy enough that it doesn’t get too stuffy? And if there’s some sort of ant mutiny rebellion against the establishment do they drive out the ousted leader and appoint a new King ant? Or is it more of a socialist self-governing society? I never saw the movie Antz, so I don’t know. These are the kinds of existential entomological questions that I didn’t know I cared about until I thought I wouldn’t be around to think them any more. Amongst all of this thinking, I began to wonder if the ants, should I meet my fate inside the mouth of a lioness, would carry my lifeless and mangled body into their ant hill for refuge as to spare me from total annihilation by the vultures above. They seemed forgiving and empathetic like that. But one would hopefully never know. Fear of death has a quirky way of turning avoidant defense mechanisms into mildly interesting topics of conversation.

At this point we were beginning to feel quite optimistic about things and a bit lighter about the fact that with no phone service and light falling fast, meaning most of the other safari cars had already turned back, that our chances of having to spend the night in the car were increasing. No problem! It’s fine. So we’re in Lion territory, no big deal! So we’re fresh, vulnerable meat already perfectly seasoned with the salty sweat from a full day in the bush, who cares! It’s all good. Our faux confidence was as pathetic as the engine we road in on. After a last solid attempt to free ourselves and a death defying three quarters of an hour very literally trying to push a 4 x 4 out of a Safari park, the engine decided to return from the dead and reincarnate as a somewhat improved though still incomprehensibly crappy version of itself. As we drove away, the ant hill becoming a speck in the distance, our gratitude and joy quickly metamorphosed into an inexplicable urge to sing the “Circle of Life.”  Apparently, challenging experiences in the wild can make you wiser, but they can’t make you less of a cliche.

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