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My African Safari - Day 9 (Camping in the Serengeti)

At the entrance to the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

It was my first morning waking up in Tanzania, and I didn't quite know what to expect.

By now I had fully embraced the Pole Pole way of life. I wasn't sure exactly what time I was being collected, or by who, or who I would be with, or where exactly we were going. But it didn't matter. I knew that someone would come, at some point, and that we would go somewhere. And that that somewhere would probably be pretty awesome.

I was picked up after breakfast by a brand new guide. We then swung by three more hotels and picked up three other travelers - all three were American boys in their 20s. Our destination? The wilds of the Serengeti National Park.

As it turns out, I couldn't have hoped for a nicer group to spend my day with. The American boys were chatty, engaging, friendly, and just all-round nice guys. It was genuinely kind of like I had three US brothers for the day.

Hanging with the American boys

After a long drive, made shorter by talking to the Americans, we eventually made it to the famous Serengeti.

Since we were to be camping in the park that night, our road trip turned into a game drive as soon as we crossed the boundaries of the park.

It was late in the day, but we still managed to see the usual zebras and gazelles, a good few lions, and some huge vultures.

By far the most interesting aspect of the day, however, was when we reached the camp site. I quickly realised just how down and dirty we were getting.

The campsite itself was just a piece of land, near two bungalow-sized buildings, literally in the middle of the Serengeti. One building was the kitchen, the other was a sort of dining hall with folding chairs and tables. There was also a small outhouse at the other end. Other than that, the area was entirely exposed. No fence, no wire, nothing to separate the tents, and their occupants, from all the animals of the Serengeti.

The campsite in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

One particularly talkative guide told me the animals come and go from the camp as they please and told me about a time when a lioness came along and sat right on the opening of one person's tent for a while.

He said it wasn't uncommon at all to have lions, hyena, and elephants milling about after dark.

And when it got dark, it got real dark. There was a light on in the two buildings for a few hours, to eat dinner, and that was it. Everywhere else was pitch black.

As you can imagine, the trek from my tent to the outhouse toilet was terrifying. I only went twice after dark, and the trek was only maybe a minute or two in length each way, but each time I was absolutely convinced a lion was only inches away from me, ready to spring from the darkness and tear out my jugular.

With my tent in the Serengeti National Park

It was petrifying.

And, dear reader, I'll let you in on a little secret - I don't scare easily. At all. I've been near dangerous animals before, I've climbed up to crazy heights, bungee jumped, willingly traversed multiple scare houses, subjected myself to the "scariest" of scary movies... and mostly it's just a bit of a thrill. I might get an elevated heart rate, but nothing had ever really frightened me. Clowns? Fine. Saw movies? Fine. Heights, public speaking, tight spaces, all fine.

But this? This did. This felt real. Probably because it was real. A lion could have sprung from the dark and torn my throat out, and there wouldn't really have been anything to be done about it.

I replayed in my mind what a previous guide said to me - they don't like the smell of humans. They know humans are dangerous. The camp ALWAYS smells like humans. You will be safe. The same guide also told me not to be afraid to go to sleep. He said that when you're in the tent you're even safer. Sure, a lion could easily tear the side of a tent as if it were made of tissue paper, but apparently they don't know that. They see a tent and they don't realise it's hollow. They don't know people are inside. Sure, they can smell people, but they still can't tell your inside and they don't know that they can get to you. So you're safe.

I do realise that this advice could be total hogswash, by the way. My guide could easily have made this up just to allay my fears. But I took his word as gospel and not once, either during or since, have I dared to Google what he said to see if it's the truth or not because I want to believe that it is.

Truth or not, it worked. I lay down in my sleeping bag that night, in a tent in the middle of the Serengeti, and I heard the distant trumpeting of elephants and the eerie howls of the hyena. Once, just once, I thought I hear the far away roar of a lion. But I told myself I was safe. They couldn't get me. And so I slept.

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