In the thick dark of a Serengeti night, our tracker spotted a leopard perched in a thorny branch. We heard bones crunch as the cat devoured his prey. “He’s eating a mongoose,” our guide whispered. Moments later he added, “We’re not alone.” A red spotlight used to see — but not disturb — animals at night shifted to the base of the tree, where a trio of hyenas paced impatiently, waiting for scraps to fall from above.
Near the gates of Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park, an elephant kicked up dust while crossing the road in front of us. She moved in slow motion, cracking brush beneath her feet, eventually passing so close to our vehicle that I could see her eyelashes.
I reached for my husband and squeezed his shoulder, unsure of what to say, overwhelmed to be there with him, realizing that this was the beginning of a trip — our honeymoon — that would change us.
We tied the knot in the fall eight months earlier on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. I wrote our vows, and we said them among live oaks and limestone, a familiar setting close to home. My husband wanted to keep it simple. No wedding planner, no caterers. With the help of our friends and family, we’d do it all ourselves.
He built a bar. We picked out colorful Mexican manteles for the picnic tables where our guests dined on fajitas and wedding cake prepared by my brothers-in-law. The dance floor was decorated with starlight and cactus we brought from home where it grew in our backyard during our engagement.
I knew we’d have the perfect day if my husband was in charge. But in letting him have it his way, I saw an opportunity. “You handle the wedding and I’ll handle the honeymoon,” I told him. He agreed.
I’d been on a Backroads trip before — cycling in Costa Rica — and always knew I’d travel that way again. The bliss that came from pushing myself physically in beautiful surroundings and then unwinding in spectacular digs is next-level.
More importantly, I trusted Backroads with the responsibility that comes with traveling to Africa to see its wildlife. I knew my husband, a habitat manager and conservation biologist, would rather stay home than feel we’d been intrusive or disruptive to the animals.
I booked Backroads’ Tanzania Active Safari Tour, confident that we’d have the best possible itinerary for our African honeymoon. But I had no idea how wonderful it would be — or that the Backroads crew and our local hosts had a few surprises in store along the way.
A New Perspective
I still don’t know how the staff at the &Beyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge knew we were newlyweds, but they welcomed us in our treehouse suite with a handwritten note of congratulations on our marriage, a bottle of champagne and bathtub overflowing with bubbles and flower petals.
When we stepped off the plane at an airstrip in the middle of the Serengeti, a baggage handler pointed to the endless stream of zebras that lurked by the runway and said, “Great Migration.”
The next morning, as we set off into the savanna, the safari vehicle felt like a vessel adrift in a sea of grass. All around us in every direction, blue wildebeests, more zebras, gazelle, eland, topi and other ungulates moved across the endless plains on a march for survival.
This place, I thought, is so beautiful, so violent, so in balance.
It changed the way I see myself. It made me question my life back home. Tanzania gave my new husband and me a chance to set our intention, to start our marriage and a life together with new perspective and unified purpose.
We spent a final afternoon relaxing in our cottage at Klein’s Camp, a safari lodge in the hills on a private concession next to Serengeti National Park. I was reading West with the Night on the veranda when my husband emerged with a cocktail. He pointed at the view in the distance.
“There,” he said. “Can you see them?”
Two giraffes were making their way across the valley below. We’d seen dozens of these fascinating giants during our time in Africa. But setting eyes on this pair, as they trekked together across a vast and verdant landscape, felt like a reminder.
I turned to my husband and said, “I’m so grateful to be here with you.”