After a lifetime of traveling solo, Honor Moore tackles the ultimate adventure — a safari through Tanzania with friends.
“I’ll go if you go,” my friend Diane said.
She was recently widowed. Our friends Kathryn and Dena, sisters who’d been to Africa many times, had suggested we join them on a safari to Tanzania in two years’ time. How amazing, I reflected. Four women in their seventies, traveling alone, together. The price was steep, but I had time to save up.
I was 20 when I first traveled by myself, the trip to Europe a gift from my parents. In my room beneath the eaves in Paris, breakfasts consisted of café au lait and croissants, then it was off to the Louvre to see paintings I knew from postcards (or not at all). Supper was a solo affair at a café.
My high school French got me through the first part of the trip. But Italy was next, and my Italian was barely good enough to shout “Basta!” when a gorgeous Italian soldier helped with my suitcase, then swept me into an unwanted kiss. In Florence, it felt as if the paintings were waiting especially for me: Fra Angelico nativities vibrated with color, and quattrocento Tuscans in strange hats and cloaks gazed out from the very streets I’d just walked.
In the decades since, travel never failed me. While I remember details of Havana (vintage cars, waves crashing on the Malecón) and the amazement of the gold domes of St. Petersburg in the 1970s, what returns to me first is an aura—that life-changing surge of possibility travel always delivers.
I have come to relish solo travel. I’ve learned that the hit of anxiety I get in a brand-new city is actually excitement, a kind of secret superpower. I think of the poet Hilda Doolittle (known by her initials, H. D.) traveling in the 1920s with her pen-named partner, Bryher. A gentleman asked them in Greece, “Are you two women alone?” Alone meaning without spouse or children. In Tanzania, I’d be alone, but with company.
“Are we really doing this?” Diane said. I was terrified I’d bring the wrong clothes. “No worries!” wrote Kathryn and Dena. “August is winter that side of the equator, so bring a light down jacket, long sleeves, jeans, and a hat to protect against the sun.” Images of canopied beds, herds of elephants, families, and couples crowded my inbox, followed by stern emails about visas, vaccinations, travel insurance, and reminders that there were no pharmacies in the bush. Another panic: we were allowed to take duffel bags only. Hard-framed suitcases with wheels wouldn’t fit on the small planes we needed to take from camp to camp. How would I carry 33 pounds on those endless airport walks? With airport assistance, of course—a wheelchair or cart. (Where was the twentysomething who thought nothing of flying to Paris in heels?)
At Kilimanjaro we were met by Nomad Tanzania, the company that planned our trip. At our first camp, in Tarangire National Park, I learned that our “tents” were actually canvas cabins with dreamy beds and full plumbing. After meeting with our guides around a bonfire under the stars, we dined on delicious Swahili curry at a single long table. I fell asleep to the sounds of birds and low mysterious purrs.
Before dawn came a soft knock at my door and a French press of smooth Tanzanian coffee. Equipped with binoculars and iPhones-as-cameras, we were off by first light. I was settling into the beauty of limitless space when our vehicle jerked to a stop. We leaped up, heads and shoulders through openings in the cruiser roof. “Zebra!” shouted Kathryn. Our first sighting: black and white stripes like Pop art in a green meadow. First one, then a group, officially called a dazzle.
That first day we saw impossibly huge elephants with small babies, vultures perched on bare trees, tiny dik-diks and leaping gazelles—and, at dusk, our first lions. I shot 20 photos of the pride, as if repeatedly tapping my phone would bring these beautiful beasts close enough to touch. It bent my mind to see them uncaged. And to witness elephants—which until then I had only ever seen walking sad circles under a circus big top—in majestic possession of themselves and their herd.
No sooner had zebras, gazelles, and elephants become familiar than I heard Diane shout from next door before supper. A giraffe was munching the tops of the small trees near our shared deck.
The next day, we saw baboons, ostriches, and more big cats. Through binoculars, I could barely see the leopard. Then his black spots broke camouflage. “Were you scared?” asked a friend later. “Not at all,” I said, trying to explain the calming effect of seeing the animal’s languid, deliberate stride.
The next day, we saw our first kill. “This is how the lions eat,” our guide, Mollel, explained. Through our binoculars, we watched a lion gnaw its prey, an unfortunate wildebeest. Jackals and vultures followed, then the hyenas, who would eventually scatter the bones. Mollel’s somber mini-lecture was interrupted by the arrival of a small bird whose colors—a purply neck and azure underbelly—stunned us. “A lilac-breasted roller,” we were told.
"All was quiet. Then a shock of splashing, a flash of fighting limbs. We were watching an attempted kill, as a massive crocodile climbed onto the bank."
By the time we reached the Serengeti, our final stop, I’d become adept at observing. Even before raising my binoculars, I’d know the tiny black dots moving in line along a golden ridge were wildebeests. We’d timed our trip to coincide with their Great Migration: 2 million creatures traversing miles of bush, crossing rivers, dodging predators.
We paused within view of a massive herd that had stopped in hesitation on a steep riverbank. “They have no leader,” Ali Kea, another guide, explained. “They cross on instinct.” Even he, a safari veteran of decades, didn’t know when they’d surge. The twitchy creatures held our attention as he pulled the jeep to another angle, and soon, in the strange silence, a young female, then an older male, stepped into the water. All was quiet. Then a shock of splashing, a flash of fighting limbs. We were watching an attempted kill, as a massive crocodile climbed onto the bank. The herd magically vanished. We’d see a crossing later, a kind of giddy hysteria as hundreds of wildebeests galloped and bucked to leap across the river.
Back in New York City, I picked up my iPad and there on my sofa, the first zebra appeared. Later, as I closed my eyes to sleep, I saw wildebeests and gazelles pass through my mind as if inscribed on my retinas. I was back there. I saw the paintings in Florence when I was 20, at the beginning of my adult life. Now at 77, after 50 years as a writer, it seemed to me that the animals mirrored the human imagination moving across an expanse of experience—a reminder that nothing ever stands still.
A version of this story first appeared in the September 2023 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Alone, Together."
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