Large elephant walking towards camera
Animals,  Friendly Friday,  Tanzania

Elephant encounter: flashback to our first safari

The bull elephant seemed to glower at us from just a short distance away. Reginald eased the jeep door open a few inches, not for the first time. The elephant stomped his feet and advanced a little, and Reginald hurriedly shut the door again. Clearly the elephant was not going to let him out of the vehicle without charging.

Sitting in the back seat Chris and I looked at each other nervously. Would the first day of our first ever safari end in disaster?

The day had started so well. After a comfortable first night’s stay at our simple hotel near the airport in Arusha, we had been picked up by Reginald to set off on a week’s safari visiting Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire national parks in Tanzania. But first we were to make a short visit to Lake Manyara.

We drove along dusty roads and into the park. Immediately we were charmed to see a troop of baboons by the roadside and a couple of giraffe eating from nearby bushes. Then as we drove further into the park Reginald suddenly pulled up and reversed a few yards. His sharp eyes had spotted what we had missed, a large elephant among the trees to our right.

By reversing he had placed us in the perfect spot from which to get some great photos. But he had also managed to let one of the rear tyres slip off the road into a small ditch; and when he tried to pull away the jeep wouldn’t move! He had a jack in the boot so knew he could easily raise the vehicle enough to be able to get going again – if only the elephant would let him. But each time he tried the bull came a little closer and looked ever more threatening.

Fortunately help was at hand. Reginald radioed a fellow guide he knew to be in the vicinity. That guide drove over to our location; and while he and the tourists with him provided distraction for the elephant (and no doubt those tourists got some great photos of their own), Reginald was able to quickly get out, lift the jeep a little, and drive out of the ditch. Thanks were radioed across to our saviour and we were able to continue our drive.

After that eventful start our first safari went smoothly and was an excellent experience. We loved the setting of our lodge on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater and our explorations of the crater floor. And we had a wonderful stay in Tarangire, in a camp on the edge of an escarpment overlooking the river where elephants came to drink and bathe. We also visited a Maasai village and a local school.

At the end of the week Reginald saw us off at Arusha Airport, from where we flew to spend the second half of our holiday on Zanzibar Island. But that is a story for another post perhaps.

Meanwhile here is a small gallery of images from that first safari to share for the second week of Sandy’s Flashback Friendly Friday challenge. They are scanned from 35 mm slides so the quality isn’t of the best, but they conjure up great memories of the trip when I first fell for the safari experience – and for elephants!

I visited Tanzania in 1999


  • Marsha

    I’ve never been there, Sarah, but your pictures make me feel like I’ve been on a virtual safari. Thanks for the trip. 🙂

  • Reija Kime

    What an amazing experience to see the animals so close. Safari is definitely on my travel list!

  • leightontravels

    A very cool experience. I have never seen an angry elephant, only the most charming, gentle creatures in India, Thailand and Cambodia. But what an adventure and your photos are fantastic, despite wishing you’d had a better camera.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I know, they always seem so gentle, don’t they?! But like any animal, they can be angry if they feel threatened, e.g. if you invade their territory or get too close. I think the issue with the photos isn’t so much the camera as the quality of our slide scanner 🙁

  • Heyjude

    A great story and yes, those bull elephants are huge! They do make you feel quite vulnerable. Love the images. I was in southern Africa at the end of 2000 and have similar photos from a small Fuji instamatic camera. Oh, how I’d love to do that trip again now. Twenty years have flown by!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Jude 🙂 I know what you mean about going back, and especially to take photos with a better camera and the freedom that digital brings to take many more shots! But there are so many new places to be explored too. It’s such a dilemma!

  • Girl in Niagara

    Wow, what a fascinating experience. Thankfully it all turned out well. I do love your storytelling. Definitely gripping. And those images, remember slides and paper photos. Gosh how things have changed.

  • wetanddustyroads

    That was quite a way to start your first safari 😲 … but wow, all those beautiful photo’s of the wild animals – just love it! And your sunset photo – stunning Sarah!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much – that sunset photo is a bit of a favourite of mine, although I do wish I’d been able to take it on a better camera and ideally digital 🙂

  • Natalie

    Sarah, I enjoy reading your first safari story and your photos. Every trip brings new experiences and that’s what attract many of us to travel.

  • Rose

    Sarah, you and your husband sound like excellent travelers, always staying calm no matter the possible chaos, trusting your guides, and always holding a great adventurous attitude. I love the photo of the large tree at the end! Apologies for this, but what caught my attention more than a possible charging bull elephant was… 35 mm slides!… Librarians and travelers of a ‘certain age’ can appreciate their value, and the skill/time it takes to scan them into another format. 😊

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Rose – I wish I could claim to ‘always’ stay calm but I take most travelling hiccups in my stride – probably more so than I do hiccups at home 😆

      We used 35mm for many years and always slides as a) it was fun to do slide shows on our return, but mainly b) they were far more affordable than colour prints, especially as we learned to develop them ourselves. I used to think we took a lot of photos and we did, compared to many other people, but back then using a 36 shot roll on average every other day felt like a lot. Today I can take 36 shots in an hour!!

  • Tracey

    We had some close calls on our safari, but not like this elephant! Pretty exciting. Isn’t the ecosystem in the crater fabulous!

  • SandyL

    What an exciting story Sarah! There’s something to be said about going on guided safaris. I know of someone who’s father had lived in Botswana years ago and confidently said he would act as safari guide for a recent trip. Such was the beginning of a truly disasterous African holiday.

    Your pictures are wonderful and makes me want to go too. Well, almost 🙂 Can’t say that safaris have ever been on my bucket list, but maybe one day.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Glad you enjoyed this Sandy! Yes, you really do need an experienced guide for a safari I think. Even in places where it’s safe to explore on your own, you see much more with a guide who knows where to look, what to look for (droppings, tracks etc) and is in constant touch with other guides in the area. I really do recommend a good safari holiday at least once in your life – it’s unlike any other sort of trip 🙂

  • maristravels

    I, took, liked the system the safari guides had of contacting each other when danger threatened, or when they needed help. We had a similar problem in Kenya and again, on the Pai River in Thailand. On the latter occasion an elderly American couple shared our boat and they were convinced we were going to either drown or be eaten by crocodiles. Their fear, unnecessary, spoiled what could have been an enjoyable drift on the Pai, made worse when they threatened to sue the company, the navigator and the tourist board of Thailand! We only had to wait about an hour for help to come along.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh, I can just imagine the situation with that couple and how annoying that must have been! We had something similar once in Cairo. We were on a morning tour with one other couple, after which we were due to get the overnight train to Luxor. We’d been told we’d be given our train tickets by the guide when he picked us up at the hotel that morning but when he arrived he said we’d get them later at the station. We took that at face value but the other couple said we had to have our tickets BEFORE they could relax and enjoy the city tour. We ended up wasting half the morning hanging around the tour company office for someone to produce the tickets (made worse by the fact that it was a Saturday) and saw only a fraction of what we might have done 😡

    • Sarah Wilkie

      We were a bit nervous at one point. I think if we’d been more used to such trips we’d have taken it in our stride but on the first morning of your first ever safari this sort of thing seems more scary! Still, we trusted Reginald to resolve the situation and he did 🙂 And it makes a good story!

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