4 Stories from My Safari to Inspire Yours

Written by Clark Gudas

clark enjoying a sundowner in serengeti

Good stories make great travel souvenirs. They’re portable, personal and even the smallest details can evoke strong memories of our journeys, when exciting discoveries awaited beyond every hill.

My name’s Clark. I’m a staff writer at Thomson, and I just got back from an incredible two-week safari in Tanzania. “Inspirational” hardly describes it–I’m not sure any word can. But the adventure has nourished my soul and given me stories I’ll cherish forever.

I’ve told my friends all my favorites. I’ve told my family. Now I’d like to tell you too! Here are four of my favorite stories from my safari to inspire your next adventure.


1. The Hot Air Balloon Adventure

Sunrise peeked over the northern Serengeti hills when I strapped into my hot air balloon, and to be honest, I was nervous. I’d heard amazing things about the ride, but would it live up to the hype?

Then the balloon’s burner roared–fwoosh–and away I lifted.

Cloudless blue skies opened around me as the balloon rose over the acacias. The breeze was crisp. I rested my hand over the basket’s edge and nothing pushed back but sky, sky, sky.

Golden tufts of grass peppered broad green plains, and enormous, moody shadows slanted across them. The Mara River looked like a stream, the kopjes pebbles. Wildebeest scattered as the balloon swept low over the earth, their hooves thundering on the grass.

When we climbed high enough, I saw the best part: the Serengeti hills rolling in endless gold. They stretched to the shortgrass plains of the Lamai Wedge and across the border, to Kenya’s Ololol Escarpment and beyond.

To float in silence and watch this world waking up…a memory that will stay with me forever.


2. Freddy and the Cheetah

My guide, Freddy, earned the nickname “Wizard” during my wildlife drive in the Central Serengeti. This was big cat country, and one of my fellow guests said what everyone was thinking: “I hope we see a cheetah!”

Ten seconds later, Freddy stopped our Land Rover. He pointed deep into a field of tall, golden grass.

“Found one,” he said.

guide freddy spots a cheetah in the distance

I squinted. That small, black dot, a quarter mile away? Nah, he must be talking about something else. Impossible that Freddy could have spotted that.

I pulled out my binoculars, and sure enough, that black dot was the cheetah: stunningly camouflaged, low in the grass, stalking prey.

cheetah in serengeti as seen through binoculars

How he saw it, I don’t know. Freddy constantly spotted wildlife like this. He was exceptionally sharp, patient and seemed to have that magic touch that willed incredible sightings into being.

cheetah close to thomson land rover

To our delight, the cheetah spent the next twenty minutes walking closer, and closer, and closer. No longer a black dot, its easily visible spots shifted as it skulked. It walked all the way from the distant bush to a dirt mound right next to us. It even used our vehicle as cover!


3. Freddy and the River Crossing

It’s like the wildebeest were waiting for Freddy. No sooner did he drive to the Mara River, site of the Great Migration’s river crossings, than one dived into the water. Then another. Tens followed, then hundreds took the plunge.

Kicking against strong currents, splashing and mooing with a great ruckus, the wildebeest swam in moblike hordes. I felt lucky to see a crossing at all, let alone one like this–but you never know what you might happen on safari. Their frenzy painted a portrait of nature at its most raw: they battled turbulent waters and the threat of crocodiles as they surged forward for greener pastures.

Wildebeest have crossed the Mara like this for thousands of years, if not thousands of thousands. To see them now was to get a glimpse into earth’s ancient past.


4. Looking for Leopards in Tarangire

My group’s last safari destination was Tarangire. By then, we had seen so many incredible things, but we still hadn’t seen a leopard resting in a tree. We knew it was unlikely we’d find one, but we started looking anyway.

During our search, we saw a family of twenty-seven elephants marching through the shallows of Silale Swamp. Some stopped to bathe, some grazed and the babies slung mud at each other. The youngest didn’t know how to control their trunks, so they were flailing the little things like out-of-control toys.

We saw lions lounging in the shade of a massive tree. We saw another napping with its kill, flies swarming both. We saw goliath baobabs and lilac-breasted rollers and pelicans in the thousands. But no leopards.

lions sleeping under baobab tree

“Now you have a reason to come back,” Freddy joked.

The next morning, he was driving us out of Tarangire. Our safari was over. I was already thinking about the future: the flight home, the time change and my return to normal life. Then Freddy stopped the vehicle on the side of a road and pointed at a tall acacia across a river. “There’s a leopard up there,” he said.

I scrambled for my binoculars. Freddy had done it again: the leopard slept high in an acacia tree with one paw hanging off the branch, its tail curling around the bark. Shadows of higher branches landed on its spotted fur. We couldn’t believe it!

My guide Freddy helped me fall in love with Tarangire. I loved the park’s abundance and the bittersweet feeling I carried through it, knowing soon I would have to leave.

I’m home now, and I’m back to my normal routines: going into the Thomson office, waiting half an hour for the bus. But there’s a part of me that will always be in Tarangire’s red clay lands.

clark in tarangire tanzania safari