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Africa Blog entry - Trip report on Kenya / Tanzania Safari May 2008

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We have been from our 17 day safari for over 2 month now, but still wanted to post a trip report, as we learned so much from this forum in the preparation of our trip; so hopefully you'll find this report helpful.

Itinerary:
May 4th, 2008: Arrival Nairobi, Kenya
May 4 -5: Nairobi - Nairobi Serena Hotel
May 6~7: Samburu - Samburu Serena Lodge
May 8: Sweetwaters -Sweetwaters Tented Camp
May 9~11: Masai Mara - Little Governors Camp
May 12: fly to Nairobi / Kilimanjaro, then drive to Lake
Manyara - Gibbs Farm May 13: Lake Manyara - Ngorogoro Farm House
May 14~15: Ngorongoro -Serena Lodge
May 16: Ngorongoro to Serengeti -Serengeti Serena Lodge
May 17: Serengeti - Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp
May 18~19: Serengeti - Kirawira Tented Camp
May 20: Serengeti - fly to Arusha / departure from
Kilimanjaro in the evening.

Preparation:

Everything was done on-line; this forum was one of the most helpful source of information, upon the forum, we shortlisted a hand full of companies, of which both Good Earth and Africa Serendipity offered us an attractive itinerary for a private safari within our travel budget. At the end we went with Good Earth - mostly due to the price/value ratio - but we really enjoyed working with Serendipity too.

Our travel dates were predefined by our flights (KLM from SFO via AMS), the limited choices of using frequent flyer miles scheduled our safari for the month of May, normally falling right into the raining season. As it turned out, we didn't hit very much of it - combined raining time was less than one hour; and other than our 2nd day in the Ngorongoro crater, every day was sunny and blue sky. Also, the scenery was still green, and often very colorful due to the wild flowers in bloom. But it's also harder to spot animals in the long grass; in particular in Masai and the Serengeti; and since it's the low tourist season, the guides really need to spot the animals themselves, while in high season its good enough just to look out for other vehicles grouping around spotted animals. Overall, we would recommend the raining season, as it's less crowded (and cheaper), although we realize we may just have been lucky with the weather.

We also decided to fly within Kenya and Tanzania; mainly because it saved so much travel time; with up to 4 games drives per day (in Masaii Mara) we spent over 70 hours in total on game drives, while our total other driving time (non game drives) was less than 20 hours. We ended up with 5 inland flights, which. of course, added to the overall cost of the safari.
In addition, the inland flight iimpose a 15 kg weight restriction (combined checked and hand luggage) - however, in spite of the need to carry photo equipment, 2 pairs of binoculars, and even a small notebook computer, we stayed under the
limit.


Lodges (refer above to locations)

Nairobi Serena Hotel (2 nights) - more of a city hotel; nice but not really a Safari lodging; staff pretty nice; nice pool & dining area

Samburu Serena Lodge (2 nights) - very nice lodge; large, well-appointed rooms; beautiful dining area, great pool; right on the river so you could hear animals all night - staff was wonderful and very accomodating -food very good - wine/beer expensive (this was typical of almost every Serena we visited - seems a bit overkill, given how expensive the stay is).

Sweetwaters Tented Camp (1 night) - very nice tented camp; not quite as luxurious as some of the others we stayed at - but it was a great first tent experience; Sweetwaters is a lovely place -especially for your first safari -- the watering hole is right by the tents and so many animals come up very close; good food; nice staff; very expensive wine/beer.

Little Governors Camp (3 nights) - we were upgraded from the regular Governors Camp to Little Governors because Kenya tourism was so low - what a treat. Little Governors is a very magical place - from taking the boat across to get to the camp, the the animals wondering around the campground, to the gourmet meals and absolutely wonderful staff. We fell in love with this place!

Gibbs Farm (1 night) - we'd read mixed reviews about Gibbs Farm so didn't know what to expect. This place far exceeded our xpectations. Unfortunately we got there late (long drive) and had to leave early the next morning - but would highly recommend staying there a few nights. The newer rooms -which are really plush apartments - are incredible - totally luxurious. The staff was delightful and food amazing (and actually reasonable wine and beer prices). The grounds are gorgeous.

Ngorogoro Farm House (1 night) - this was a substution from the tented camp where we were suppose to stay (which we only found out about from our guide when he picked us up at the airport). It was okay - newish - nice lodge and rooms were large, but very bad accoustics and just didn't seem that substantial. Food was okay and staff okay - there were several large groups there at the time, so that may have colored our perception - but overall not our favorite place.

Ngorongoro Serena Lodge (2 nights) - large lodge, pretty crowded compared to other places we stayed; rooms fairly small and had small deck but not very usable because they didn't get the sun; staff was okay in general, but the waitress we had each night (they gave assigned eating and we were stuck in a corner for every meal) was actually unfriendly and almost surly. If we were to do it again, we would most likely try to use Gibbs Farm as the basis to explore Ngorongor Crater (even with the longer drive gettring to the crater) and skip both the Farm House and Serena.

Serengeti Serena Lodge (1 night) - This was a great place - very cool little rooms with great views. Dining area and grounds were very nice, as was the staff.

Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp (1 night) - Very nice tented camp - large tents with all the little luxeries. Common rooms, bar and dining area very nice - food was great and staff was super friendly.

Kirawira Tented Camp (2 nights) - The most luxurious tented camp we stayed in - although this was managed by the Serena chain, it didn't feel like a Serena at all. The tents were really more like canvas covered cabins - built up with wonderful balconies, incredible views and filled with antique furniture, bathrooms were beautiful. Bar and common area was also gorgeous and the food was exceptional. This place was very special.


Guides:


We had 3 different guides during out trip. Two in Kenya (in Masai Mara we use the local guide as it is too difficult for the tour operator to have thier guide drive into Masai Mara, i nparticular during the raining season) and one in Tanzania. All of our guides were great. Here is a quick overview.

Kenya (all except Masai Mara) - - from Safariline (they were sub-contracted from Good Earth for the Kenya part of the tour. Eliud was excellent - very professional, knowledgeable and easy to be with. Safariline tour company was very very good in general - they are highly detailed and professional. Definitely recommend both the company and Eliud.

Kenya - Masai Mara - Peter was one of the regular guides at Little Governors. We say tons of animals there and it really helped to have a guide that only does Masai Mara - they really know the area. Peter wsa very friendly and laid back, but also good about spotting animals.

Tanzania - Kevin was our guide from Good Earth. We were with him for 8 days and he was great. Not only was he a good guide and very knowledgeable about all kinds of wildlife, but he also gave us a lot of interesting information about Tanzania, its history, politics, etc. Would highly recommend asking for Kevin if you book through Good Earth.


Animals and other things seen:


Please check our our photo site below to see the many, many animals and more we saw. In addition, if you are interested in the details of what animal, plants, birds, etc we saw were, the following link leads to a spreadsheet that charts out what was seenwhere by camps:
http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=psXV2rYsPez9HZSs_-CK6SQ&gid=0


Photography:

Never underestimate the amount of photos you take; we ended up with over 3,500, a subset we posted on http://schampus.smugmug.com/Travel/521107

We have tried to organize the photos into chunks that are easier to digest. You will see that there are a number of galleries – mostly categorized by animal type, etc. The first gallery is what we are
calling the Best of Africa – these are photos that we think best represent a good cross-section of what we saw in Africa – and the best photos from each category.

All photos are taken with a Nikon D300 camera with 18-200 VR lens; both purchased for this trip. Of course, many photographers recommend a longer lens than 200mm (and agreed, the 80 - 400 VR would be a good addition), but for this first safari trip the single lens proved to be sufficient - the 12M+ pixel of the D300 gives more than enough resolution for post processing the digital image and cropping it to 50% (or less), resulting into an equivalent 400mm images with still 6M pixels resolution, good enough to still print it poster size! Also, with only one lens, there is no need to switch lenses, so no danger of getting dust into the camera and it helps keep things under the to 15kg weight limit for in land flights.

Otherwise, the D300 worked well with high ISO setting (almost no increase in image noise); typical set to 2000 ISO , but often up to 3200 and, very importantly, it allowed shooting without the need for tripod or bean bag.

And another advantage of a private safari is the fact that the vehicle is not being shaken up by other group members moving around trying to get into the best photo position.

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