Gary assures us that the bite of the tsetse fly isn’t all that dangerous. “As long as you don’t swell up,” he says. “Just make sure you don’t swell up.” It is, however, pretty damned painful, and it appears, based on our initial drive into the southern range of Tarangire National Park, that I’m the prime bait in our car. They just can’t seem to get enough of me, to the point where, even while we’re moving through grassland at 30 mph, Gary recommends we just roll the windows up and flip on the Land Cruiser’s air conditioning. And when we stop? They’re thick as… uh, yeah. On the road again, I manage to whack a couple of those that remain inside, but they seem impervious to ordinary swats – it took three sturdy flat-handed slaps (the last being more of a “smoosh”) to knock one of them off the window, and before I could bracket it for the killing blow, the damned thing had recovered enough to flee elsewhere in the vehicle.
But the flies do seem to come in batches, and when we’re clear of them, the views are spectacular. Kids kept gawking out the windows saying “Omigodwe’reinAfrica!” in a way that could be interpreted as either enthusiasm or overwhelmed terror.
We’d spent the morning driving down over backroads from Arusha, stopping in a small Maasai boma where one extended family lived. Our reception at the boma (a semi-permanent encampment for one or more family) was great fun: we were pretty far off the Muzunga (white people) trail, so we we appeared to be as much a novelty for this family as they were for us. We took turns posing for each other and even traded some songs – perhaps, generations from now, some ethnologist is going to be flummoxed by the apparently spontaneous genesis of sea chanteys among the southern Maasai.
A few hours of bad road later, we were in Tarangire itself, and almost as if they knew this was where they were supposed to be, we were surprised by an almost constant parade of elephants, giraffe, wildebeest, hartebeest, zebras, ostriches, dikdiks and more cape buffalo than you could comfortably swish a cape at.
I guess I should back up a step and explain who “we” is. Are. Apparently Karen and Steve, Devon’s parents, had always dreamed of taking their grandchildren to Africa – apparently even before they had actual grandchildren. But the “three generation safari” was a thing for them, and a couple of years ago they decided it was time to belly up to the bar and make it happen. So this has been in the works for a while: Karen and Steve, Devon, me and the kids, and Devon’s brother Colin, his wife Elisa and Eli and Zach, a.k.a. “the boy cousins”.
We’re here for something like 12 days, signed on with a private guide named Gary and his team from Wilderness Explorers, who led a previous safari Karen and Steve had been on a few years back. Very impressive, so far – Steve and Gary are both avid birders, so we’ve pulled over to the side of the road many times for obscure and nearly invisible birds that suddenly spread their wings to become spectacular. Africa, for Gary and Steve, is not just all about what Gary calls “the big, bitey things.”
But we’re back at camp to wait out the heat of the day. Or maybe we’re back at “glamp” – if “glamping” is a verb, shouldn’t “glamp” be the corresponding noun? Luxurious, spacious tents with lovely rugs, fancy four-post beds and full accommodations in back – you could feel guilty for this kind of comfort if it weren’t quite so easy to get used to. In addition to our private tents, there’s the central dining tent with a lounge, bar area and a long antique wooden table on which we’re receiving glorious three-plus course meals. Alas, camping will never, never, never be the same again.