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  • Megan Zavaglia

What not to do when your safari jeep breaks down – Part 2

1-2-3 push!

I put my shoulder into the back panel of the jeep and dug my feet in.

1-2-3 push!

I pushed again, harder. I maybe even grunted a little, very lady like.

1-2-3 push!

I ground my teeth and pushed with all my might. I thought the jeep had moved a little bit.

Muridy and I stepped back. We looked at the Jeep and then each other. He wiped his brow and looked around. I know I was out of breath.

“Let’s give it one more try.”

I smiled, nodded and sank back into my “pushing pose.”

We’d been at this for a while, we’d made a little progress, maybe two feet and had managed to get the jeep up and over a small bump just to have it rest in a depression.

Safari jeeps weren’t made for pushing. They were made to be strong and heavy - to protect you. So, really this was a futile effort, but one we had to make.

Muridy and I had been stranded in the Serengeti for about 2 hours now, out of cell/radio range and no one around us. Two hours may not sound like a lot, but when it’s just the two of you, without communication and no way to “pack out” if needed, it was pretty overwhelming.

My previous watch for lions, while Muridy had checked under the hood, had thankfully been fruitless. However, we were still here. Once Muridy had stepped back, slammed the hood of the jeep, calmly gotten into the jeep with a smile that said, “we got this”, I was reassured. That lasted until he turned the key and the jeep remained silent. He sighed, dropped his head a little and then wiped his mouth as he looked around. We kept watch for a bit, to see if another jeep might come along. After a while he turned in his seat and said with an up-beat tone, “I think I might try pushing the jeep”.

Now, I’m not the kind of person to sit inside of any car while someone tries to push it, even in Africa. I’m a step forward take charge kind of person so, I took a deep breath and said, “Let’s do it.”

Muridy looked at me and said, “You don’t have to help.” I just smiled at him and moved toward the car door. I’d only met Muridy about 9 days earlier but already considered him to be a friend, and one I wanted to stay in touch with for the rest of my life.

There is something about Muridy that you can feel the minute you meet him. A patient, dependable trustworthiness. He loves the land he lives in. He knows the birds, the animals, the landscape and plants. He’s proud to be there, to teach you and to educate you. If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he will find the answer and be sure to pass it on. One of the most telling things - he was well liked by everyone that we met on our safari. From shop keepers, to other guides and staff, he was someone greeted and had comradery with. I was proud to have him with me on this adventure and I think he was excited to have a client that was so excited and passionate about being in his homeland.

Since I was a child, I’ve had an obsession with Africa in general, but with lions specifically. This safari was one of my dreams and the top item on my bucket list. I’d been through a good portion of Europe, the Caribbean, Australia and Mexico at that point, but nothing could compare to AFRICA. So far, this trip had been everything I wanted and more. Lions, elephants, hippos, even rhinos, more bugs and birds than I could count, and a landscape that just wouldn’t quit. I was in my happy place.

So, I took a deep breath scooted over to the right side of the jeep and opened the door. You may remember from the last blog post that opening the door is cause for alarm. Outside of the jeep you are considered lunch by a multitude of animals. But I opened the door, and for the first time away from the camp, set foot on the savannah.

There’s not anything like it. The grass is very tall and it’s easy to see how a lion can disappear moments after walking in. The landscape is broken by acacia trees but other than that, there’s no shade. It was hot, and dusty and wild. It may seem cliché, but there isn’t another word that fits it better. The land has been left to itself, the bugs and birds are living life with no interference. The animals and landscape rule here. We are intruders - travelers on little ships with wheels, sailing through the grasslands that are owned by something we cannot match. The animals have even taken the human aspect, the safari jeeps, and turned them to their use; they become shade when parked and lions will lay down for a rest, occasionally even crawling under the jeeps for a siesta. It’s “too bad” for those in the jeep, until the lion moves. They are stuck – it’s the animals who dictate when you come and go. Even at the resorts, it’s up to the animals. Later in this trip I was to meet up with someone taking a group to a hot air balloon ride, he was 20 minutes late because there was a leopard by his car when he went out that morning.

As I climbed out of the jeep, I realized that it wasn’t just the need to put my feet on the ground, to become a true part of the land that drove me…. I also really had to pee. By now we would have been close to a car park area with bathrooms, but that wasn’t an option anymore.

Muridy gallantly kept watch from the back of the jeep as I clung to the front, squatting and KNOWING that this is when the lion attack would come. Or hyenas. I could see the newspaper article back home – Woman dies from hyena attack while peeing in the Serengeti. What not to do in Tanzania when your safari jeep breaks down? Stop for a potty break with your back to the grass – you don’t know what’s out there….

Once I’d tidied up, Muridy and I proceeded to push the jeep over and over and over again. We knew after a few tries that we really weren’t going to get anywhere, but what other recourse did we have? At one point the fact that I was out in the Serengeti pushing a jeep really hit me, and I started to giggle. Again, WHO gets to do this? I wasn’t just a passenger; I was a participant. I was solidifying a story that made me a part of the land and the adventure. This was more happiness than I could handle and it spilled out of me in smiles and small giggles as we pushed. I’m sure Muridy thought I was nuts, but it’s hard to contain joy.

Finally, we called it quits. We were both tired, thirsty, and not willing to risk it outside the car any longer. There wasn’t a lion watch happening now and we’d been making enough noise to rouse interest, I’m sure.

As we downed a couple of bottles of water in the jeep, we kept watch for any sign of a car. Finally, we saw one at the intersection about a mile away from us. I jumped up out of the top of the jeep and waved with all my might, Muridy tried the radio to see if he could get them, but they moved on. We didn’t talk a whole lot while we hung out, just small talk and then a comfortable, yet tense silence while we watched.

Eventually, another jeep did come by, their driver and Muridy tinkered under the hood and managed to get the jeep going. We were up, mobile, running. It is impressive, the feeling of safety one working car can give you.

We spent the rest of the day driving around seeing zebra, giraffe and a thousand other cool things. But nothing compared to those two hours, and really nothing ever will. This story is one of the three or four that I will inevitably start reminiscing about, which leads to the other stories and experiences until I realize that my audience is starting to glaze over. I pocket the rest of them for some time in the future when I can’t contain the stories anymore.

When we made it back to camp that night, I took my shower and settled in by the campfire. Saleh made dinner and Muridy took time for himself after a day out in the savannah. Robbie, our go to guy for the camp and car, took a look at the engine in order to ensure we didn’t have any further problems. I spent my time talking to Pius and Victor about the day and learning a little more about the camp staff.

Here’s where I should explain how I came to be the only guest with a staff of 5 on safari in Tanzania….

Or, maybe I’ll save that for the next blog.

Next up: What not to do when your guided trip for ten becomes a solo adventure.

Travel tip #2: What to do when your safari jeep breaks down in the Serengeti?

Answer: Help your guide push if necessary. Make sure you take the time to go to the bathroom at breakfast and lunch. Enjoy the moment…. Who else gets to be a part of a true African adventure?

Travel tip #3: Do yourself a favor and check my resource page for information on how to book your own travel safari. Both Muridy and Robbie's information is posted there.

Language: Swahili

Break down = kuvunja

Mechanic = fundi

Water = maji

Radio = redio

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