a girl is up close and personal with a giraffe

Can a Safari Take You Back to Your Childhood?

Remember the animal projects you did as a child on creatures that lived out in the wild? A safari is an opportunity to bring those memories to life.

When Rebecka Calderwood starts talking about the elephants she saw on her recent safari tour in Tarangire National Park, her eyes begin to glisten with a secret only those who have seen this beast in the wild can understand. Despite being close to them, Tarangire National Park does not have the same star power as the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater, but the park rewards those that visit anyway.

Against a backdrop of towering baobab trees and acacia woodlands, large herds of elephants roam the golden-brown plains and marshy grasslands. And this precious wildlife spectacle found in Tarangire has a way of bringing up the past — in a good way.

“I did a project on elephants in grade two or three and seeing elephants in this park, which is renowned for being home to them was like entering that childhood state again. You stand back and think: I fell in love with this when I was younger and now I finally get to experience it.” Calderwood goes onto explain that “Seeing how they move and interact is the most interesting part. Witnessing this creature go from something you once saw in an issue of National Geographic to a moving breathing thing — it’s hard to explain. Until you see an elephant’s eyelash up close, you don’t really understand how magnificent they are.”

a number of elephants graze in tall grasses beside trees
Tarangire National Park is renowned for its large elephant herds | © Rebecka Calderwood

Calderwood explored the wilderness of Africa’s national parks on an overland trip with Dragoman, which is an exciting experience in itself. Dragoman has been in the business of overlanding since 1981. The point of this self-reliant adventure, where travellers are responsible for managing things like setting up camp and cooking, is for the journey to have as much meaning as the destination, and to take the road less travelled.

Overland vehicles usually travel off-road, for long distances, and to remote areas that would be hard to come by otherwise. This style of holiday piques the interest of explorers looking to go that extra mile and eventually return home with an unusual and fulfilling experience. Commercial overlanding first began in the 1960s, and it won’t come as a surprise that Africa is where it really took off in those early days. With seemingly endless landscapes and wildlife, it’s the perfect setting for overlanding.

a large orange truck is in the forefront of a landscape with a beautiful solo mountain in the background
Africa is the perfect destination for overlanding | © Rebecka Calderwood

After a documentary on the Masaai people sparked an interest in this region of Africa for Calderwood, hoping to learn more about their culture she started looking into tours and chose overlanding for a more immersive experience. “Overlanding makes you feel more involved, and like you’re part of something, and with Dragoman specifically, that experience is shared with a community. You start the trip off with strangers, but by the end, it feels more like a family road trip.”

Throughout Calderwood’s time in Africa, she found the group bonding through their discovery of animals, exchange of knowledge and shared responsibility of managing the shifting campsites. “People know things which you can learn from and that gives you insight into them. There was this one guy who was a vet, but he knew a lot about vegetation and plants. He knew what certain trees were and what plants could heal, but he read a lot as well and would tell me about those books. These little things would spark conversations. You’ll be driving along for hours, something will resonate with someone, they’ll make a comment, and it becomes a discussion. Africa’s incredible environment gave us an opportunity to stop feeling like strangers.”

Elephants were not the only species Calderwood saw in their natural habitat. Many of the creatures she had contemplated doing a project on during childhood leapt to life as their overland truck wove its way across a landscape that changed from dusty flat plains to rainforests, modern cities and woodlands. Memorable scenes from Disney’s The Lion King manifested at Amboseli National Park (the incredible view of the freestanding mountain of Kilimanjaro) and at Ngorongoro Crater where Calderwood’s group was surrounded by hundreds of wildebeest and their little ones. But even she was surprised by what made her most curious during the trip: birds!

“There are so many bird species in Africa. So many different kinds, both big and small and they are literally everywhere. Flying above you, flying across the horizon, or hovering by your truck, resting in trees or on the backs of elephants and rhinos, they really are everywhere! I kept muddling up the names, but I loved the little starlings that would always be around. It’s one of the things I think about now back at home.”

a small fluffy brown and beige yellow bird sits in a tree
Calderwood was surprised by how fascinated she was by all the birds during her trip | © Rebecka Calderwood

The other thing Calderwood discovered back at home was her increased patience. “To overland in Africa and enjoy it, you need an open mind. There are things out of your control. I’m not going to get upset because I only saw a rhino two miles away and didn’t get to see one up close because that animal has its own priorities. You can put things in motion that will allow you to see that rhino, but it’s not guaranteed. You can apply these lessons back at home.”

“My safari experience gave me chance to learn how to be in the moment and mindful. It gave me a chance to reconnect with my inner child again and be bewildered at things without restraint. I didn’t really get to be with the Masaai people as much as I would have liked, but in the end, it didn’t matter. When you see baby elephants play in the mud in Tarangire National Park, nothing else really matters. I’d forgotten how much I loved them as a kid.”

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