When you go on safari the second question people ask (after “what animals did you see?”) is “where did you stay?” When you reply that your trip was a tented safari you watch their eyes get wide and prepare for the third question, “like, on the ground?”
I have to say it’s at this point my well-honed skills as a storyteller from years of fishing takes over, and let’s just say some of what I recall is embellished a bit. The chance to make my friends think we carried our packs across the wild savanna and slept with only a think piece of canvas between us and the wild man-eaters of Africa is one that can’t be resisted, and it’s actually (partially) true.
For the benefit of our readers who want a more realistic account of our accommodations I will now switch off my BS and give you the truth.
We did spend almost every night under canvas during our trip, but it was far from roughing it. Our packs were lugged across Tanzania, just not by us. They were either in the back of the safari vehicle or in the hands of porters or bellmen at each campsite. Not that we’re unable to carry our bags, but that’s how the porters make their money and we didn’t want to deprive them or appear rude.
We spent our first night at a hotel in Arusha. The Mount Maru Hotel is modern business-class hotel, and I think is booked more for convenience for people arriving in the middle of the night (like us) than anything else. It was a comfortable place to begin and end our adventure with a long (long), hot shower.
The second place we stayed was the Maramboi Permanent Tented Camp. The campsite is defined by tents, erected on raised platforms, with a lodge and facilities such as a pool. The tents were complete tents with four canvas walls and a canvas roof. Inside were two twin beds with foam mattresses, a writing desk, electricity, flushing toilet, a sink and a shower. The canopy beds and mosquito netting gave it a real romantic feel. But for all the trappings of civilization it was still not advised we leave our tents at night. When and if we needed to leave after the sun went down a guide with a flashlight and big stick would escort us to the main lodge, mainly because there are no fences permitted around the national parks in Tanzania. My sister swears that a warthog was rooting around under her tent a good portion of our first night. I have to say for a tent it was nicer than some pensions I’ve visited.
The second place we stayed, the Ngorongoro Farm House, is classified as a lodge, and that means no tents. These accommodations are actual rooms or bungalows with running water, roofs, dining facilities, pools, gates and no need for escorts. The Farm House is a working coffee plantation and farm with a real colonial feel. The rooms were spacious bungalows, with poured concrete floors and large showers. The cathedral ceilings were beautiful and the room even had a sitting area near a romantic fireplace. We would have loved to request a fire in our room, but when it’s 80°F you don’t need a fireplace (no matter how romantic it is). I really enjoyed these rooms, they reminded me of a beach vacation rental in a resort town, like Playa del Carmen, and could hardly be described as “roughing it”.
Our third home on our safari was Serengeti Katikati Camp, the closest we ever came to my home-spun “truth” about our adventure. Katikati is a mobile tented camp, meaning it’s packed up and moved periodically, so no pool or great house to hang out in. The only place to really spend your down time (if you have any) is on the canvas floor of your canvas-covered porch. The door of the tent even zips, something you do as fast as you can so you don’t let any bugs into your sanctuary. We still had real beds with foam mattresses, but there was a real rustic feel with the only light being provided by a weak LED lightbulb on a pull string. We still had running water, so to speak. The toilet looked like your average commode but was filled by a reservoir tank outside of the tent and a had a collection tank, the sink was the same way. The shower was another story.
When we got to the camp for the first time (after a day visiting a Masaai village, the Oldupai Gorge and a game drive through the Ndutu area), the camp staff asked when we wanted to take our showers. We imagined it had something to do with when they were going to make dinner, but it didn’t. We were sitting in our tent when we heard a voice through the screen telling us that shower one was ready. You see, the shower is gravity powered; they take a five-gallon bucket filled with solar-heated water and run it up a flag pole outside your tent. You then turn on the overhead spicket in the shower and the water runs down over you. It may sound a little rustic, but it was actually quite pleasant and very efficient. The staff came back and asked if the first shower was finished and if so would fill up the bucket for the second shower, and so on.
We were told that the animals might come sniffing around the tent at night but there was no cause for alarm; they wouldn’t want to get in. If for some reason they did appear to want to get in, the staff gave us a whistle to call for help. I took this to heart and didn’t panic as the hyena sniffed around our tent one night. We could even see their tracks in the soft dirt near the tent door the next morning. I may have worried for the briefest moment, but knew they were just curious and we would be too much work for a snack.
So, there you have the truth of our safari accommodations. You may say they were kind of cushy, and we’ll admit that they were nice. But no internet, no TV and no air conditioning would kill some travelers today. I have to say it was nice to get away from modern society for a bit, but we sure were happy to check our email when we got home.