I Took My Mother-in-law on Safari in Tanzania

Bibi with Maasai woman at her home in Tanzania. Tab Hauser photos.
Bibi with Maasai woman at her home in Tanzania. Tab Hauser photos.

Life's Rich Rewards for Being a Good Son-in-law

By Tab Hauser

I made “most favorite” son-in-law status by fulfilling my 84-year-old mother-in-law, Marlene’s dream trip to Africa.

Elephant ignoring 4X4 crossing the road in Tanzania.
Elephant ignoring 4X4 crossing the road in Tanzania.

Going on Safari can be a family affair for people of all ages if properly prepared. The only requirement is that you be in reasonably good health, show up with a positive attitude and find the type of safari that works for you.

During our visit, Marlene was constantly welcomed with the Swahili word, Bibi and always offered an extra hand by anyone we met. Bibi is an affectionate term for grandmother.

Lion on Serengeti plains
Lion on Serengeti plains

To full fill Bibi’s bucket list adventure I negotiated directly with Francisca of the Nature Responsible Safari Company, (www.natureresponsiblesafari.com) a woman’s owned safari company based in Tanzania.

She responded to email quickly to my many questions and also priced out better as a private tour. Dealing with people direct can cut a layer of commission out.

Why Tanzania?

A big advantage of visiting Northern Tanzania is that we could be driven to all the parks within a few hours of each other. Our Land Cruiser was comfortable on the road and very durable off-road.  It had a pop-up top for maximum game viewing.

Starting a safari from Kilimanjaro International Airport is a bonus as it is served by many major airlines. It was easier than the safari we did in South Africa and Botswana where we were dropped in via bush plane to the different lodges.  Easy is important for seniors and children.

Five Parks and Lots of Animals

A Hadzabe hunter with his bowed bird in Tanzania.
A Hadzabe hunter with his bowed bird in Tanzania.

During our time in Africa, we saw lots of animals.  Many of these were up close and personal (that included the lions mating 10 feet away).  When it came to finding animals, our guide Heriel either knew where to look, had a sixth sense on where to be or would hear on the radio what animals were about.

When we spotted them we would pull over to the side of the road and then stand up viewing them through the open top. Bibi had her mouth open and did not blink when she saw her first family of elephants, her favorite animal,  pass within ten feet of our 4X4

The Maramboi Tented Lodge infinity pool complete with wildebeests and local lager
The Maramboi Tented Lodge infinity pool complete with wildebeests and local lager.

During our 11 days, we visited five parks.  In order, they were Arusha National Park (one day), Tarangire National Park (two days), Lake Manyara National Park (one day), Lake Eyasi (one day), Serengeti National Park (three days) and Ngorongoro Crater (one day).

Each park had something special to offer and between all of them we did see the “big five”.  Arusha had the lowest animal sightings but had an interesting terrain. Here we took a walk to waterfalls and had a picnic on a bluff.  Tarangire was literally an elephant city.

We hung out by a watering hole and watched elephants, zebras and wildebeests walk together to get an afternoon drink.  On the other side of the park, we saw a mother elephant teach her baby how to dig through the sandy river bed for fresh water.

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Our guide here found a pride of young lions sunning themselves in the morning and in the afternoon I took the classic leopard in the tree photo. The ride through Lake Manyara Park was special with its windy road and changes in vegetation.

We would never know if there were elephants or giraffes on the next turn.  The stroll on the long dock there had us spot hippos too. Staying in Lake Eyasi was about being away from it all and seeing the local tribes. Serengeti is as large as it is famous.

Spending three days had us cover three sections of the park. Here we saw mating lions, a mini-migration of thousands of zebras and wildebeests. The ponds had crocodiles next to growling hippos. We even spotted a three-foot dinosaur looking lizard.

My favorite photo in Serengeti was the lion resting in the tree. Ngorongoro Crater was unique as we spent the day in a crater 2000 feet deep and 10 to 12 miles across. It has been called the world’s most unchanged wildlife sanctuary.  Driving around its roads with its views is like no place else.

Baobao tree and zebras passing by in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Baobao tree and zebras passing by in the Serengeti, Tanzania.

At the parks, we viewed thousands of antelopes, hundreds of warthogs, troops of baboons, dozens of hippos, schools of mongoose, several rhinos and termite mounds as high as 15 feet.

Mixing in Culture

During our visit, we arranged to meet some of the people in Tanzania.  The most unusual encounter was with a community of 25 members of the Hadzabe tribe at 6 AM in a remote area for their morning hunt. Hadzabe is the last of the hunter/gatherers with less than 1000 members left.

Hadzabe don't use matches so they are teaching me to start a fire
Hadzabe don't use matches so they are teaching me to start a fire.

After introductions over a morning fire, I had to keep up with the fast pace of several young men wearing baboon skin jackets, old shorts and worn flip flops along their dogs.

Using bows they were going after birds for breakfast.  At camp, Bibi and my wife took part in some bead making. The community lives off the grid in small tents using skins over the floor to sit and sleep on.

The next tribe to visit was the Datooga, We got to view a typical stick and mud home where my wife ground down corn.  When not herding cattle they produce jewelry made from junk brass and other metals.

My job was to push the goatskin bladders to force air on the coal fire so the metal melted in the molds.

At the Maasai village, we were introduced to their jumping dance and went into a home. We also visited their school shack put together with sticks and partially covered with straw.

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Children under 12 were crowded on benches using a board as the sole teaching implement. Education stops around 12 so the children can tend to the goats and cows.

To see an agricultural town we visited Mto Wa Mbu. We learned all about rice production and then crossed town to see a banana plantation and the back-breaking work that goes into it.

Afterward, we went to a café that sells banana beer served in a social setting where friends sip out of one large cup.

To learn about man’s first known steps go the Olduvai Gorge Museum (www.ngorongorocrater.org/oldupai.html). This is an anthropology museum about the earliest hominoids that lived here. On display is a cast of footprints from 3.7 million years ago along with 1.9 million-year-old hominoid fossils.

Sleeping in the Lodge

No roughing it in this tented camp in Tanzania.
No roughing it in this tented camp.

Our overnights were a mix of tented lodges and rooms at the Serena Hotels. (www.serenahotels.com). Our tented lodges were four-star rated having bathrooms with large showers, charging stations, fans, and refrigerator. One camp did our laundry. There was no roughing it here.

Hunters make their way to the hunting grounds.
Hunters make their way to the hunting grounds.

The Maramboi Tented Lodge (www.twctanzania.com) was located between two parks and would have animals go through the grounds. At night, escorts were required to take you to and from the main buildings.  While floating in their infinity pool we enjoyed a cold Kilimanjaro Lager while watching the wildebeests and the Rift Valley in the background.

The Kisima Ngeda Lodge (www.kisimangeda.com) is remotely tucked into the forest. This small camp adopted Bibi, going out of their way to make sure she was happy.  As for hotels, the Serengeti Serena had spacious rooms with a nice bar that had a dance show.

Their pool overlooked the vastness of the park and included some baboons that needed to be shooed away from time to time.  The Serena Ngorongoro room had a balcony with sweeping views of the crater. The bar had a pre-dinner show with a good buffet upstairs.

Senior and Disability Notice

When traveling here you do not need to walk long distances but you do need to take steps into and around the hotels.  Climbing into the 4X4 was made easy with a portable step.  At the airports, we ordered a wheelchair which made moving about the terminals efficient.