Debra (right) and her friend, Marilyn, outside their tent in the morning, enjoying coffee, brought to the tent early with warm milk, a biscuit and cheery good morning during their safari in the world-famous Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. (Photo by Debra Malinics)

by Debra Malinics

When my friend, Marilyn, asked if I would like to join her on a photographic safari to Tanzania, I said yes, not knowing what to expect. I had read “West with the Night” and seen “Out of Africa,” so I felt I was ready. Marilyn, however, pointed out that this was a photographic safari, NOT “Out of Africa,” and regardless of what I read or saw, the first thing I needed to do was upgrade my 5s phone. Next was to eliminate linen shirts as there were no irons on safaris, buy a comfortable pair of walking boots and get some safari clothes. This was a bit radical for me, but I did upgrade my iPhone to an XR. Now I felt I was really ready.

Arriving in Tanzania, we were driven to the Mr. Meru Game Lodge, got our rooms, had a light dinner and fell fast asleep. Morning arrived quickly, and I was in awe of everything I saw! The sky was a mesmerizing blue with clouds unlike anything I had ever seen before. The blue sky was endless; its beauty continuing across vast miles above me. In the morning light, clouds cascaded over the mountains, resembling snow rolling down a mountainside. The drama of the sky, the uninterrupted expanse of clouds, the morning light. I was lost in its beauty and mesmerized by the canopy of drama above me.

The group was meeting to go over the itinerary, meet the guides and the others on the safari. We learned that we would be moving every second day to a new location, staying within the Serengeti at pre-assembled camp sites. After our stay at Mt. Meru Game Lodge, we would travel to the Serengeti National Park and Conservancy, home to a large array of wild animals – zebras, elephants, leopards, giraffes, antelopes – and slowly we would move north to south over the next 10 days.

After breakfast, we got into our vans to see more beauty. Hippos and rhinos in their natural state. antelope, giraffe and wildebeest, grazing together in the Ngorongoro Crater. When we stopped for lunch, the rawness was contrasted with a formally set table complete with candelabra, linen napkins, bottled wines, a chef and men bearing delicious food assortments. I was in love.

After lunch, we drove through the area, seeing more game and the natural beauty around us. We drove back to the lodge for dinner and to get ready for the next day’s adventure. In the Serengeti, the night is very, very dark and utterly, completely quiet without car, traffic or urban noise. I was hooked.

The Serengeti covers 12,000 square miles of protected land and is a vast ecosystem, attracting large numbers of wild animals from throughout Tanzania. The southern part has open plains with highly nutritious grasses that attract animals throughout the year.

Our accommodations were changing to tents, which were quite comfortable with double beds, flush toilets and running water. The bath, however, was a new experience. A bucket of warm water was hoisted up the side of the tent with rope and pulley, and when ready you yelled “Ready!” An outside attendant hoisted the bucket of warm water to the top of the tent wall, and down the water came over your entire body. You would wash and shampoo and then yell whether or not you needed another bucket to be hoisted for a rinse! These basic, simple accommodations would be ours for almost two weeks – and when I returned home, I actually kissed my shower door.

The wildlife gathers from all over Tanzania to graze in harmony on the abundant grasses and plants that grow on the crater floor. The elephant that charged Debra and her fellow travelers was not in this group. (Photo by Debra Malinics)

One day, we saw a mother elephant with her young calf. As we scrambled eagerly for a photo, talking excitedly and wishing she would turn toward us, she did. And when she did, she began to walk rapidly, moving in our direction, picking up speed. Our driver exclaimed, “We’ve got to get out of here now!” and he floored the gas pedal. The elephant began running after the van, and as we yelled “faster, faster,” we realized we were being charged by the elephant, running full speed alongside the van, which bounced wildly on the road.

Finally getting enough distance between us and the elephant, we stopped. Catching our breath, the guide told us he had seen elephants tip over vans with their trunks and tusks, so we were lucky to get away. We took a deep breath, and when someone asked if anybody got a photo. we realized we did not. No one wanted to go back and try again.

One day, I found I myself face to face with an elephant grazing outside the tent and blocking my path. “Well, well,” I said calmly, my voice trembling with fear as he looked at me intently. “It’s so nice to see you” I said encouragingly, while I slowly backed away.

“How are the kids? Is everyone well?”

My heart was beating faster and faster. We had been told to never turn and run from an animal, so I continued talking calmly, watching his eyes on me the entire time.

“Yes, please, tell everyone hello for me, and next time you come, bring the kids,” I said backing down the path, running behind the tents.

It was then off to the main tent.

“Elephant blocking tent nine, elephant blocking tent nine” I gasped to the woman at the desk.

Putting her pen down, she said calmly, “that is wonderful, isn’t that why you came to Africa, to be close to the animals?”

The days went by with an array of delights – animals and sensations that excited every sense. We actually saw a dotted zebra, a malformation that has attracted global attention, and one day, there it was, standing right before us with her baby zebra – also bearing spots! No other zebras seemed to notice the difference, and all continued to graze peacefully together.

Marilyn and I decided to end our vacation with a hot air balloon ride. We saw as much beauty from above as we did from below, and we finished the ride with beautiful images of this magical land. Soon, however, it was time to go. There were tears in our eyes as we hugged and said good bye, exchanged contact info and promised to stay in touch. It was the end of a beautiful journey and a memory that we would carry with us always.

I am changed by what I saw and experienced and only hope that one day, I will return and see it all again. Few things could compare to the beauty and the experience. It was grand.

Debra Malinics, a longtime Chestnut Hill resident, is the founder and president of Advertising/701 Creative, formerly Debra Malinics Advertising, in center city. She has won countless awards, including Advertising Woman of the Year. More details are available online.