Charlatan Magazine

African Safari

Girls Night on the Serengeti Plain

Considered the origin of human beings, Africa is today a mecca for adventure and safari luring an estimated 500 Million visitors annually from every walk of life. Food editor KIM GREEN takes us along to the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania to discover why the world is taking the “long journey” home.

Prepare the cabin for landing was being announced as the ‘fasten your seatbelt’ sign chimed overhead.  This was after thousands of well-deserved flier miles and multiple time zones transporting me half way around the world.  What a relief for my weary eyes could not bare to watch another in-flight movie. 

“This is crazy!  I can’t believe we’re here,” I quietly mumbled to mother who was seated next to me.  No longer could I contain my emotions as tears slowly rolled down my cheeks.  I took a moment concentrating on humble appreciation and focus for the days to follow promising myself not to take a single moment for granted.  I was determined to absorb every bit of what Africa had to offer not missing a thing all the while being a gracious and mindful guest. 

My deep connection to Africa is almost unexplainable.  Perhaps it is a combination of the animal activist in me, love of travel, longing to experience new cultures and all of the other wonderful characteristics that come with being a Sagittarian.  Conceivably it was sparked in the 70’s by Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, in the 80’s by Born Free and Out of Africa or in the 90’s with my introduction to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee founded in 1995 by Carol Buckley and Scott Blais.  Regardless, I was finally there!

I was in Tanzania, East Africa, exclusively on safari with what turned out to be the premier safari company in my mind Africa Dream Safaris.  The name says it all.  Tanzania is home to Africa’s tallest mountain Kilimanjaro , the Serengeti’s “Big Five” (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino), the annual wildebeest migration and the highest concentration of wildlife and National Parks the continent has to offer including Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater.  From the minute I hit the ground, my senses were on overdrive and my curiosity was endless.  The untouched scenic but often brutal landscape instantly ignited that spirit of adventure within me.  The bush operated seamlessly like a well seasoned symphony.  The animals worked together in their respective sections both dependently and inter-dependently creating a unique rhythm, pitch and tempo all under the direction of Mother Nature.

Like any good foodie, it did not take long for a bit of this curiosity to be centered on food.  How could I come all of this way and not inquire about the regional cuisine?  I took every opportunity that presented itself.  Omary Mkamba, our 15 year veteran driver/guide for the week, assured me I would soon get a taste.  Day four and five of the safari was spent at a private campsite.  In my mind this was the quintessential African safari experience that the Danish baroness Karen Blixen so beautifully penned in Out of Africa.  This mobile outdoor hotel came complete with separate dining tent, stocked bar, kitchen area, generator, sleeping tent for mother and I and camp crew.  All provisions were driven in via trucks the day before our arrival from neighboring town Arusha.  These by far were the best two meals I had while on holiday.  It was on the second day of our private camping that I finally got to experience traditional East Africa with my taste buds.

After a long day of game driving we were greeted at the truck by Kevin (his American name), our Maasai waiter.  He escorted us to our tent.  Wash basins that flanked the outside of our tent were filled with hot water.  While we freshened up, Kevin brought us warm cashews and the cocktail of our choice.  We relaxed for a bit before joining Omary and Kevin by the roaring campfire the crew had prepared for us.  We briefly shared with Kevin a bit of our day as the sun set then headed into the dining tent.  Good conversation becomes imperative on a trip like this.  It is all you have.  There are no televisions, cell phones, iPads or laptops.  Entertainment comes the old fashioned way which was perfectly fine by me.

We started with pumpkin soup.  You would not think after a day in the sun that hot soup would hit the spot but it sure did.  We ate buffet style for this special occasion.  Food was arranged on a long table just outside the dining tent allowing us to help ourselves.  Chef Tamimu offered so many choices.  Where was I to begin?  There was grilled chicken and pork.  It was grilled to perfection in just a bit of vinegar.  The African chickens seemed a bit anorexic to me but then again they probably were not injected with hormones and water like I am accustomed to.  Also on the menu was green banana stew.  Savory chunks of stew meat swimming in a scrumptious pale yellow base.  Bananas acted both as a natural thickening agent and sweetener.  Okra with stewed tomatoes was the first of three side dishes.  Pilao or pilaf in my country was perfectly seasoned with a hint of yellow curry.  Indian spices are widely used in East African cuisine due to India’s proximity and the spice trade.  Ugali, Omary’s favorite dish and one I requested, is a polenta-like side dish made from cornmeal.  Traditionally it is rolled into a ball with the right hand then dipped into a sauce or stew.  Kachumbari is East Africa’s coleslaw.  Ours consisted of shredded cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and avocado bound together with a touch of mayonnaise.  It was a perfect balance of crunch and freshness.  Before retiring for the evening, the crew began singing and dancing around our dining table.  They offered us a glass of bubbly and presented us with a cake that read “Welcome Again”.  My only regret was that I wish I had eaten less as several hours later a herd of curious elephants passed through camp to eat and stay a while.  The only thing that separated us was a flimsy tent wall.  At this point, running was not an option given how much I had just eaten.

I am by no stretch of the imagination Meryl Streep and by no means did my Robert Redford miraculously appear out of the bush luring me into a seductive love affair.  What I did find were lovely hospitable Tanzanians that are no different than you and I.  Citizens concerned about education, healthcare and high unemployment rates.  Citizens hopeful their newest political party, Chadema, will rise to power and eradicate corruption. They remain positive and hopeful that a better future lies ahead.  Hakuna Matata is what they say with a smile.  Nothing captures the true essence of the African spirit better than that!

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