We were in Tanzania. My mom had planned this incredible family safari in Tanzania, picking out amazing camps to stay in. While she was excited about them all, she was most anticipating the three nights at our last camp of the trip, Serengeti Migration Camp. And as soon as we arrived there, I knew why.

On a family safari in Tanzania, Claire spotted a hyrax perched in a tree.We got out of our Land Cruiser, which we named Elsie (LC, get it?) and looked around. There were beautiful trees everywhere, and out in the distance, a small mountain on which you could see wildebeest, cape buffalo, hippo, and more. Possibly the best part were the adorable hyraxes, chubby and sleek, shimmying up trees and staring at us with amazing eye contact. We followed our greeters with amazed expressions. They probably got this a lot.

As we entered the lounge-type thing, we were greeted by Robyn, the head of the camp. She smiled and welcomed us, beginning the usual talk we had gotten before about how showers worked, mealtimes, etc. However, this time we got, “Now, there are many animals living around camp. You may come across a giraffe, baboon, or warthog in your path.” Wait, what? “Also,” she continued, “at night, hippos and cape buffalo come out to graze. They are very dangerous, so be cautious.” I looked at Grace and grinned. This was so cool! We didn’t even register the word “dangerous” in her sentence.

On a family safari in Tanzania, Claire spotted a giraffe.We got to our tent (after indeed coming across a warthog and a couple baboons, not to mention the hundreds of hyraxes) and it just got better. The luxury tent was nestled into the trees, raised from the ground a few yards, with a deck in the back. I went out there and saw a giraffe, just hangin’ out. This was pretty amazing.

Now that you have an idea of this camp, I’m going to skip to the third day. After coming back from an amazing safari drive, we were chilling out on the deck with drinks, watching hippos on the hill. (That’s a normal sentence when you’re in Africa!) Then Robyn, who was so nice and hilarious with her near-death incidents with animals, came up. “There’s a giraffe by the office if you’re interested.” Interested? Duh! Grace and I scrambled up excitedly and headed to the office.

We walked quietly up the deck by the office and saw a giraffe casually eating leaves off an acacia tree. I sucked in air and sat down on the floor. I stared at the giraffe, and she stared back. I wondered at how exotic she looked, almost prehistoric with her small horns and angular face. Her huge, warm eyes bore into mine. I held my breath in silence. After what felt like an eternity in a minute, she decided we weren’t too threatening and went back to gracefully separating leaves from thorns. The camera hung from around my neck, but I didn’t think of using it, didn’t think of breaking the still of the wondrous moment.

We finally left when our rumbling tummies told us to do so. After an amazing meal, my dad and I were exhausted. We decided to head up to the tents before my mom and Grace. We walked down the wide, winding stone stairs lit by rosy lamps and the hyraxes’ glittering eyes. At the bottom, there are always several guides with flashlights to take you to your tents (we tourists couldn’t be trusted to get ourselves there without being eaten by something or other). My dad and I held hands as we cheerfully walked down to our tents. I waved a greeting to a nearby baboon about halfway to our tents. We kept walking along the sandy path, enjoying the sound of nighttime animals calling to each other.

Suddenly, two tents away from mine, our guide stopped and hissed in his heavy accent, “Shhh.” I froze, excitement bubbling inside of me; I knew that an animal must be nearby if we had stopped. Our guide robotically moved his flashlight to the right, illuminating a hulking figure.

On a family safari in Tanzania, Claire spotted a hippo.

“Buffalo,” he whispered. I looked at my dad, eyes wide. I knew that cape buffalos were the most dangerous animals in all of Africa because they were so unpredictable. I had heard stories of buffalos trampling people for no apparent reason. And here we were, thirty feet away from one snorting and snuffling in the tall grass. My dad squeezed my hand. Just when I thought things were okay, the buffalo wasn’t going to charge, and we would make it to the tent, the guide swung his flashlight out to the left. “Hippo,” he breathed. He said it like “Heepo” and I would’ve laughed if I hadn’t known that a hippo was – guess what? –  the second most dangerous animal in Africa. My heart felt like it was trying to escape as I stared at the gray tank yanking up grass outside of a tent.

He turned to the right, casting a light over he buffalo. “Buffalo,” he said again, raising his eyebrows to make sure we knew it was there. We got it the first time, I thought. “Heepo,” he said with his flashlight out to the left again. Yes, I know, I thought. Buffalo, heepo, buffalo, heepo. The two most dangerous animals in Africa, hanging out on either side of us.

On a family safari in Tanzania, Claire spotted hippos at play. Or something.Suddenly, as I accepted the fact that I could very well die this very minute, I felt more exhilarated than scared (though there was still a large part of me that was terrified). This was the animals’ home, and – for the meantime, at least – they were letting me experience it. I saw the beauty in the buffalo and the heepo – um, I mean, the hippo – and a strange calm washed over me. I looked up at my dad and smiled, a bit nervously. He smiled back with the same expression. And looking at the buffalo, the hippo, the beautiful savannah around us, the friendly guide, and my dad smiling in wonder, I had one thought running through my head. I was in Africa.

by Claire Callahan, age 12

Claire’s story about her family safari in Tanzania is part of our “Views from the Backseat” series of travel writing (and drawing and photography and video) by kids. If you are a kid and you want to submit something for us to post here, please click on the contact tab and get in touch!