Bunker Door


Wildlife and Luxury:  On Safari with CC Africa

The imposing buffalo glared, his angry eyes and horns lit by the Maasai escort’s flashlight. “Yi-yi-yi!” shouted the Maasai, shaking his flashlight violently. The buffalo stood motionless. “Yi-yi-yi!” The buffalo lunged in our direction and stopped. Again, the Maasai shouted, waving his flashlight, and the buffalo sauntered off into the night. It was now safe to enter our room at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.

During our safari sojourn in Tanzania, we had been provided with a Maasai tribesman, equipped with a flashlight and a spear, to escort us during darkness for our safety. In five previous nights, we had encountered nothing larger than a lizard, but this time, the escort’s purpose had become clear…we were in the animal’s domain.

Our adventure began at Grumeti River Camp, one of Conservation Corps Africa’s luxury safari lodges providing superb accommodations, knowledgeable, courteous staff, and spellbinding game viewing. On arrival, we were greeted with a friendly “jambo” (hello) as we met our genial guide, Waziri, and checked into a giant thatched A-frame tent facing the river, with a king sized bed flanked by intricate beaded light fixtures. At the rear were an enclosed commode and a fanciful open-air shower, with doors to keep out mischievous monkeys. The resident hippos made their presence known with much bellowing and splashing.

Our afternoon game drive began at the river, among a group of storks and huge Nile crocodiles. We bounded through the grassy terrain, as herds of impala, giraffe, zebra and wildebeest passively watched our progress, and families of elephant strode purposefully. Waziri spotted a group of lions in a thicket, and we pulled up for a closer look, careful not to make sudden movements. One by one, the lions emerged and gathered just feet from our vehicle, undisturbed by our presence.

As the setting sun slanted through darkening clouds, Waziri set up a table for the traditional “sundowner” drink as we toasted the occasion with photos. We arrived in moonlight for a superb five-course dinner, served in a courtyard area framed by timbers and ringed with hurricane lamps, reminiscent of “Survivor.” Afterwards, we retired to our tent, falling asleep to a symphony of wildlife sounds.

After predawn coffee in our tent, we were ready for the next day’s game drive. An early highlight was a huge gathering of buzzards attacking a wildebeest carcass, with much squawking and jostling for position. Soon afterward, I spotted a lone buffalo in a thicket. Next to her was a newborn calf, perhaps five minutes old, glistening in the morning light and struggling to stand. The umbilical cord still trailed from the mother, who whirled to defend her calf, nostrils flaring. We knew that we had stumbled into a very intimate moment and held our breath, entranced by the event unfolding before us. Soon she realized there was no danger, and as soon as the calf could walk, they rejoined the herd, which quickly encircled the new family, guarding them shoulder to shoulder in a vivid display of solidarity.

The next day’s flight to Klein’s Camp traversed gently rolling hills studded with Maasai menyattas, as tree-lined rivers threaded their way between ridges. A delegation of giraffe greeted us at the landing strip, where our guide Rabin charted a path through the forested bush, threading our way between large trees, and simply driving over smaller ones. Rabin admitted he wasn’t sure where we were, but managed to deliver us intact.

Klein’s Camp enjoys a serene ridgetop setting overlooking undulating valleys. Its circular stone huts with thatched roofs were furnished with white stucco walls, vintage-style paneled windows, antique furniture, throw rugs, even a bidet. A brandy decanter was a welcome touch. We enjoyed lunch in the open-air dining hall, and met our afternoon drive companions in the clubby, comfortable bar with its sweeping views.

Soon we were graced with photogenic groups of giraffe, elephant, impala and baboons, until a radio report of a lion sighting led us to a male and female enjoying a siesta. Rabin explained that lions rest most of the time when they aren’t hunting, digesting their latest kill and conserving energy. As he was speaking, the male mounted the female, shuddered once and dismounted as she let out a cry. It all took perhaps five seconds. Apparently foreplay is not part of the lion’s mating ritual.

We sighted several cheetahs later in the drive, and after a feast of steak and mushrooms, we retired to discover two thoughtfully-provided hot water bottles to counter the night’s chill.

The following morning was our 30th anniversary, and after a celebratory kiss, we embarked on an entrancing morning game drive, followed by an imaginative meal of lamb kabobs on rosemary spears. After lunch, our drive was highlighted by a cheetah next to our vehicle, providing exciting close-ups before bounding into the brush. As sundowner time approached, another vehicle approached to spirit us away to an unknown destination. As the moon rose over the bush, we plunged into the long grass with only faint tracks marking our way. For miles, we watched the grass disappear under the vehicle for 45 minutes, finally noticing a group of hurricane lamps in a clearing framed by trees. Two giant bonfires burned in the center, and a smiling group of Klein’s staff stood next to a candlelit table for two. Needing a rest stop, we were led to a small clearing where more candles led discreetly to a portable commode. Very classy.

Seated at an elegantly set table with surprisingly good champagne, we were served a bountiful feast of soup, salad and lamb curry. Chocolate mousse capped the meal perfectly, as a group of Maasai performers danced into the clearing, harmonizing sweetly. Our chef couldn’t resist joining in, his white smock contrasting with the others’ crimson shukas. We couldn’t stop saying “asante sana” (thank you very much) as the bush dinner enveloped us in its romantic glow.

The next morning, we departed for the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, perched on the rim of a 10-mile-diameter crater, 7000 feet above sea level. Arriving at the Lodge was like entering Middle Earth…rows of salmon-colored thatched huts with medieval chimneys cascaded down a gentle slope, as zebra grazed nonchalantly.

Our hut was an eclectic mix of materials and architectural styles described as “Maasai meets Versailles.” Two soaring palapa roofs with crystal chandeliers rose above the expansive bedroom and bath areas. Elaborately carved wood adorned window frames, closets, and wall paneling, and numerous cubbyholes opened to the outside. The huge bath area featured an antique soaking tub (accompanied by two dozen fresh roses) a spacious stone shower, and twin pedestal sinks. A desk with a Bose iPod player sat next to floor-to-ceiling glass windows framing the vast crater, opposite an enormous woodburning fireplace with two leather chairs, a reading lamp, and a crystal sherry decanter. Looming over our bed, a giant panel of crimson silk was framed by intricate carving.

On our afternoon drive, the afternoon light shone through the wildebeests’ beards, making them look almost beautiful. We sighted a few elephant and lions, thousands of pink flamingoes at a soda lake, and a rare black rhino. Even at a distance, its horned profile was impressive.

After a luxurious bubble bath, we entered the sumptuous dining room for dinner. Rows of embroidered wingback chairs marched towards a roaring fireplace, away from an opulent bar with crushed velvet chairs, and intimate alcoves recessed into the walls. The snapper with passionfruit sauce was delectable, and soon we were dialing up the twin electric blankets in our bed.

The next morning, a friendly “helloooo” signaled the arrival of coffee. We dressed warmly, as the chilly pre-dawn was shrouded in fog, but at the bottom, visibility was excellent under the thick layer of clouds. Our guide Timothy had packed breakfast, and we stopped at a hippo pool to munch on frittata with coffee as the hippos skirmished and colorful ibis, starlings and weaverbirds flitted about.

As the clouds receded, we encountered a frenzied herd of wildebeest jumping back and forth across a river. Soon we spotted a hyena, then another, until there were four, closing in on the herd and causing them to reverse direction. The hyenas engaged in a fascinating tag-team attack, trying to isolate a weak animal from the herd. A large wildebeest courageously charged a hyena, momentarily backing it away, but they kept the wildebeest scrambling, raising a huge cloud of dust, until eventually leaving in frustration. By mid-afternoon we were ready for lunch and we ascended to the rim.

After lunching on a rustic veranda overlooking the expansive crater, with the sun approaching the rim, we lit a fire in the room. African harmonies poured from our iPod as sherry disappeared from our glasses. Another splendid dinner ended with a heavenly coffee brulee, and when we were ready to call it a night, we left with our Maasai escort, only to encounter the surly buffalo. Once safely inside, we bedded down for our final night on safari, wistful that it was ending, but enriched by a singularly spectacular wildlife and luxury experience.

If You Go:
Conservation Corps Africa Safaris
EU +49 211 22 97 54 40/41
US 1 888 882 3742
Johannesburg +27 11 809 4300
Per night: $540-1115 depending on season and lodge; less if booking more than one CC Africa lodge per trip
Open year-round except April 16-May 15 (Grumeti River Camp and Klein’s Camp)