Natasha Copeland was bleary-eyed when she deplaned at Kilimanjaro airport. She was beginning her second safari with Thomson, but it was late in Tanzania, and the trip didn’t start until the next day. Someone holding a Thomson Safaris sign approached her, said hello with a big smile and introduced himself as Harrison, her guide.
Then, Natasha laughed.
“I know you!” she said. “You were our guide 21 years ago!”
The serendipity was soon confirmed: on Natasha’s first safari in 2001, Harrison really had been one of her guides. In 2022, this sense of connection across decades set a happy tone as Natasha and her family began their adventure.
A Deep Relationship with Tanzania
Natasha has a special connection to East Africa. She was born in Kenya while her father worked in foreign aid for the U.S. government. As he moved for his career, she moved too, growing up all over Africa, including Arusha, Tanzania. She has made it a point to return to the continent a few times throughout her life.
“We always went back to Tanzania because we loved all the places we lived,” she said. “But Tanzania, and the Tanzanian people and wildlife, have such a special place for us.”
When she married her husband, she wanted him to have a sense of her childhood–that’s why she decided to take him to Tanzania for their 2001 safari. As she planned the trip, she knew she wanted to travel with a company that had a strong relationship to the country.
Natasha and Dale on a Thomson safari in 2001
Natasha and Dale on a Thomson safari in 2022
“I really wanted a company that knew Tanzania, and wasn’t just sitting in New York, outsourcing,” Natasha said. “I wanted a company that was giving back to Tanzania, and also had the knowledge base, training and opportunities for its personnel. That’s why I chose Thomson Safaris.”
I always said, ‘If you go to Tanzania, go with Thomson. My experience on this safari solidified that.”
One major difference between her safaris in 2001 and 2022? Her two children, ages 11 and 14.
“It was so beautiful and meaningful to me to see my children relish every moment,” Natasha said. “My son said this was the best vacation ever. I know they will never forget that experience.”
Reuniting with Harrison
Natasha’s photo of Harrison, Charles and Leonard from her safari in 2001
As an assistant guide on Natasha’s first safari in 2001, Harrison’s kindness left a long-lasting impression.
“I do remember the warmth and joy, and always being so helpful,” she said. “Now, having him as our primary guide and our driver, just for the four of us, was incredible.”
The Copelands with Harrison and Tarangire Nyumba Camp staff
With a minimum of 10 years of experience in the field, Thomson guides like Harrison are experts at tracking, spotting and identifying wildlife other guides might easily miss. It’s this expertise that helped make Natasha’s safari so unforgettable.
“Harrison is such a great person. He’s so incredibly knowledgeable about the wildlife and birds. He was so kind, so patient with the kids’ questions.”
Here are a few memorable moments from Natasha’s safari.
Owls in Tarangire
Natasha and her family were eating lunch in Tarangire when Harrison heard a distinct chirping noise. “There are owls around,” he said. But no one saw them.
Later in the day, as they were driving out of the park, Harrison stopped the Land Rover under a tree branch. He pulled out his binoculars. “Look, up there!” he said, after which Natasha and her family held their breaths, peering hopefully in the direction he was looking.
There in the branches was a pearl-spotted owl, looking down at them!
“Harrison just had this sense for wildlife,” Natasha said. “The whole thing was just magical.”
“Not another lion in a tree!”
Natasha and her family were hoping to see some leopards on safari, but everywhere they went, they kept finding lions in trees. A female lion in a tree, then another, then two young males.
“I had to laugh because, in what world do you go, ‘Oh no, not another lion in a tree!’” Natasha said. “It was funny to be so spoiled.”
Harrison ended up finding leopards. Most notably, Natasha’s family saw a leopard that had carried its kill, a zebra, into the tree limbs.
“We felt like we were a part of these animals’ lives,” Natasha said. “We just happened to be bearing witness to the beauty of what they do, which is of course so different from going to a zoo. It’s such a privilege to sit there and watch how they conduct their lives when they’re allowed to do that. It was pure magic.”
Crocodiles at the Hippo Pool
On the last day of her safari, Natasha mentioned, “We’ve seen everything except crocodiles.”
“Well, you have to save something for next time,” Harrison said, joking around.
They took one last wildlife drive to a hippo pool in the Serengeti, and Harrison quickly became attentive, quiet. He pulled out his binoculars. “You see that long, gray shape over there on the riverbank?” he asked. “That’s a crocodile.”
And further down the banks were two additional, well-camouflaged baby crocodiles.
“It was magical,” Natasha said. “We couldn’t believe it.”
She and her family watched the crocodiles while two vehicles from other safari companies pulled up to watch the hippos. None of their guides were using binoculars. In fact, those guides were just sitting, looking bored. Natasha’s son said to someone in those groups, “Hey, there’s a crocodile out there!” In response, the person just laughed, thinking Natasha’s son was joking.
“Their guide hadn’t seemed to notice the crocodiles, or make an effort to look,” Natasha said. “It made us more aware of how special it was to have Harrison. It’s a tribute to Thomson that you hold on to such great people.”
What Did This Safari Mean to Her?
“It was like going home for me in a way, in a particularly special way,” Natasha said. “My father started his work in foreign aid for the U.S. government. He started his career in Nairobi, then went to Arusha, and then we subsequently moved to west Africa and spent a lot of time in the Sahel region. He always held that special place of Tanzania for himself.
“Unfortunately, he passed away from COVID a year ago. It was sort of a tribute to my father to go at this time, and really as a celebration of his life and gratitude. Gratitude that he gave me a childhood in Africa.
“Being constrained for almost three years now with COVID, it just made me feel like now was the time to seize the moment and go. Don’t keep talking about it. Just go and do it.
“My father, hopefully somewhere, knows that I took the children. He would be thrilled.
“I want to express my gratitude to all of you at Thomson Safaris for creating something so special. It was such a joy to reconnect with Harrison. Thank you for being interested in your clients and more importantly, in Tanzania, its people and its wildlife. Thank you so much.”