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Trip Report It's hard NOT to love Africa! (except for some bits)

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Second part of our 'trip of a lifetime' to Egypt and Tanzania.

27 Feb ' not an auspicious start, but we have hope

Flew from Cairo to Nairobi on a flight not to be recommended. Just as you get to sleep, you have to wake up for a landing in Khartoum, wait 45 mins and then take off again. But the really frustrating part of it all was the number of 'Good Mornings' from the flight deck.
The result is you land in Nairobi at about 6.45am not having had any sleep, and knowing that a room is not likely to be ready.

We obtained a visa easily - US$20 each for a transit visa which would allow us to go into Tanzania and return to Kenya, so long as we don't leave the airport the second time. We had been quoted AUD$195 each at home for a multiple entry visa which our TA thought we would need.
Had arranged with the Fairview Hotel for one of their taxi drivers to pick us up (US$19) and we found him quickly. Outside was another sort of traffic madness. One and a quarter hours to the hotel with about 1 hour of it in bumper to bumper traffic to achieve only 2 1/2 kms.
Talked to our driver about the possibility of visiting the Elephant Orphanage and he said it was easily arranged. Our room wasn't ready so we had brekky in the calm and serene atmosphere of the Fairview. With only about 15mins to spare, we scrubbed up a bit, changed some dollars at reception for the entrance fee and set off with Jimmy again.

Some more snail pace traffic for a bit, passing a very large slum area like we had seen on TV ' all tin roofs in a row, narrow dusty walkways between and covering a substantial area. There were also newer estates being built close by. The road into the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was a taste of things to come, we were sure. Potholed and very dusty.

We arrived in time to see the babies come out ' the youngest being 4 months ' and we were immediately captivated, all thoughts of tiredness gone. They drink milk, play in the mud ' particularly 'stacks on', run around occasionally knocking the soccer ball, escape into the crowd for a bit of excitement and generally provide wonderful photographic and entertaining pleasure. The juniors come out next ' slightly older but too boisterous to be put with the babies. It's not to be missed!

Had a nap in the afternoon before dinner in the atrium, which had quite a romantic atmosphere. The Fairview has a sort of 'private club' feel but without the stuffiness or exclusiveness. My husband keeps expecting to see 'Lionel' from 'As time goes by'.
We found the staff incredibly friendly. The difference between the hospitality of Egypt and Kenya could be described as 'I am serving you - appreciate it' compared to 'How can I be of service?'
Organised our private car transfer for 9am the next morning. (We did this partly due to my concerns about flying in a small plane and partly to see some countryside)
Little did we know'

28 Feb ' of all places to be left stranded!

There was a mass protest planned for this day, but had been called off. Instead some dignitaries were flying in so the road to the airport was blocked, creating more chaos elsewhere. A separate driver picked us up and took us the back way to meet our transfer.
This turned out to be a mini van which we promptly rejected, having been assured by email that this would not be the case. To ease matters and make some headway, we settled on staying in the same car but with a new driver for whom we had to wait, meaning that we did not get underway until 10am. There was initially about half an hour of constant traffic on both sides of the road, and because it is being duplicated, there was a lot of dust. Some parts of the road were extremely rocky and bumpy, and the vehicles were mostly large trucks. Things started to improve as we turned off the Mombasa Rd onto the Namanga Rd.

But only briefly - for it was here that we became involved in a four vehicle collision! A learner driver had tried to avoid a donkey and cart and the car behind him braked heavily and hit and we did the same. From then on there was lots of standing around in the middle of the road in the sun for nearly two hours. In fact our driver left us on numerous occasions to chat to the others, without any reassurances to us.

At 11.30am the first two drivers settled their differences, but the one in front of us suggested that our driver had caused the whole thing and was not going anywhere until the police arrived. At 12.15pm they duly arrived, having been summoned by a local on a pushbike who was paid by our driver to get them.

By this stage the number of onlookers had grown and there were about 10 guys standing about 2 metres in front of us. I felt a little uneasy, given the situation in Kenya at the time, but not worryingly so. I did, however, ask the driver to lock the car as all our belongings were in plain sight. At 12.30pm we left after our driver had been charged with careless driving!

The road was not too bad from then on, but certainly there were potholes to be avoided. I even asked that the driver not exceed 100kph ' the cheek of me! (He obviously had no sense of 'clients' in the back and being responsible for our safety)

We travelled through Masai land. This was very real living ' locals tending goats, donkeys and cows. Kids cross the highway like it's not there. Villages in the bush were the typical circular buildings and we passed through small towns stretched out on either side of the road. The clothing is wonderfully colourful.

By 2.45pm we were sitting at the border. The sun was fierce while we walked from one side of the road to the other to complete forms. The road to Tanzania was rougher, but regular on the surface, and with fewer potholes. The shock absorbers had a real workout.

We were delighted to see Kilimanjaro on the way. Arrived at Kibo Palace Hotel in Arusha at 4.30pm, and despite the dramas of the drive, we were glad we did it, but once is enough!

Our representative from Good Earth Safaris and Tours met us at 6pm. We are thrilled to learn that we have Raphael as a guide as we had read nothing but good things about him. (And justifiably so we later learned)

29 Feb ' and now for the safari ' O/N Lake Manyara

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    I will finish this but it will be long. I would like to think that even if it contains one small piece of information to help out someone else, then I will be satisfied.I received so much help from this forum when planning our trip. Any feedback would be appreciated.

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    29 Feb – and now for the safari – O/N Lake Manyara – Kirurumu Tented Lodge

    Raphael is Zulu and he says Arusha is the centre of Africa! We were terribly excited and sooo looking forward to whatever was going to happen.

    Just after leaving town the area became incredibly poor but the richness of the colours of the clothing makes you think that maybe the people don’t feel poor.

    Saw many bomas, heaps of Masai, little towns/tourist traps, coffee plantations and other crops. The countryside is beautiful. The turnoff to Lake Manyara revealed a smooth, 4 year old road. At last!

    Raphael only drives at 80kph which really gives you a chance to see things clearly. Had a 20min stop at a souvenir place where you can check prices and products before returning after the safari and other shopping experiences. Land on the way was very green, flat low bushes and small trees and an undercarpet of green.
    First animals – impala – males, females and lovely young ones. There is usually one male and his ‘harem’. We saw quite a few groups.

    Then the quintessential African experience (for us, anyway) – an elephant decided to cross the road right in front of us. He joined a few others to rip apart some trees to eat. Later on we became a bit blasé about them but that first experience will never be forgotten. We stayed for a while and then it was ‘sawa sawa’. Saw many baboon and monkeys, giggled at their antics and marvelled at the new bird types. The monkey with iridescent blue balls is really something to behold!

    Our first hippo pool was quite magical. Look for long enough and not only do you see the hippos and the geese, ducks and mountains of pelicans, but in the distance zebra, wildebeest, cape buffalo and elephant. Naturally we stayed there for ages – willing a hippo to yawn. 3 of them obliged, but I probably missed them with the camera. When we moved further around the pool, we spied an elephant walking across the plains towards a vehicle, but before we got there, we spotted about ½ dozen giraffe grazing the trees – some even lying down which Raphael said was unusual. Unfortunately, they were best viewed with our binoculars.

    Next sighting, not counting monkeys and baboons, was a group of three elephants rolling in a mud bath and having a fight. Teenagers, Raphael said. We are so completely satisfied with our first day’s viewing, yet can’t wait to see what else there is. Weather is very hot, but standing in the vehicle gives a cooling breeze.

    Driving to Kirurumu Tented Lodge was over the roughest road we have encountered. Boulders and orange dust. Heaps of Masai children appear very quickly calling out ‘Hello. Pen’. It’s a contentious issue we later discovered – whether or not to give them pens. We had some spares but quickly learned that they don’t share. Back at Arusha we had given a few dozen (minus the one the baggage inspector at Cairo insisted on!) to Good Earth to give to a school or orphanage.

    Our tent was a long way down a stone path lit by lanterns. The bed felt comfy, there’s power to charge the camera battery, the shower was hot, water plentiful and the towels the largest we had ever seen. (Lest you think we are soft – we did later stay in a basic tent at Ndutu No. 10 campsite and loved it!) We really didn’t have time to sit on the verandah and admire the view because we arrived at 5.45pm. But maybe we could watch the stars.

    A lovely cool breeze started to come through while we were having our (4 course) dinner. This is our first night in a fortnight without a fan or air con. The bed was indeed comfy but the pillows pitifully thin. The interior was lit by moonlight.

    1 Mar – O/N Central Serengeti – Serena Lodge

    Woke with a bad headache and feeling a bit sick, so I missed brekky. Raphael said it happened to lots of people, and probably due to the altitude.
    Left at 8am for the Serengeti. Smooth tarmac for a while through beautiful countryside. Lots of people out walking along the sides of the road because it was a weekend (was it? – no sense of time!) Fabulous drive up to the Ngorongoro crater rim after very nice toilets at Ngorongoro Gate. (Somebody will want to know that)

    Raphael wanted us to close our eyes so that we would be ‘blind’ and then open our eyes on cue to the spectacular view over the crater. This is really one of the most amazing views in the world. We drove around a portion of the rim before leaving that area. Saw some cape buffalo wallowing in the mud, with water buck watching. Road was not bad, gravel as to expected, a few holes but just bumpy. More fabulous twigas – lots this time.
    Thompson’s gazelle are in abundance. Raphael calls them ‘cheetah chocolate’. Easily recognisable by the brown stripe along their sides. They think the road is a dried river bed and there’s plenty of moisture on the sides and the grass appears greener.

    Saw a few thousand wildebeest and some 4-6 week old young ones. They just kept coming in a long line, interspersed with zebra and the occasional ostrich. Had lunch at Naabi hill Gate, where the toilets were shocking. 3 western of which 2 were locked and the third didn’t flush. Squat toilet was clean but stunk.
    Beautiful superb starlings littered the place. After a while you realise that all the safari companies go to the same places for lunch.

    In central Seronera it is zebra and cat country, so we kept ‘peeling our eyes’ and not blinking. A couple of large Topi antelope created a great silhouette on top of a rock. (Captured that one!)

    SIMBA! 2 females had apparently chased a warthog down a hole and they were stalking it and digging at the hole. We watched for 45 mins but had to leave to reach the lodge by dark. But we did hear them roar. At one stage we counted 20 vehicles, all edging closer as one left. A true spectator sport.

    We were never going to make it by 6pm. Saw more ellies and their babies and had to stop of course. Raphael was a really good driver – how he watched and drove was amazing. We had heard on the radio that there was a leopard in a tree. He knew exactly which tree and where to look as she was so well camouflaged and in an out-of-the-way place. More twigas on the way to the lodge. Arrived at 6.45pm after nearly 11 hours. Fabulous day, tiring but memorable.

    Serena Lodge is spread out very widely and you have to have an escort take you to and from the restaurant in the dark, because of the animals. They only carry a torch!
    Our room was on the bottom, but there really wasn’t any time to look at the view so it’s not worth worrying about IMHO. Another buffet dinner, followed tomorrow by another boxed lunch. (Little variation from – egg, cheese, yoghurt, apple, drink, chocolate, peanuts, bread and butter or sandwich, chicken – but never all of those things) And you’re in the bush – right!

    More to come… (too much detail?)

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    2 Mar – let’s do it all again but with warthogs! - O/N Serengeti Serena Lodge

    ‘Mind your computer’ means mind your head when getting in the safari vehicle, and was just another of Raphael’s sayings, like speed humps are ‘sleeping police’, going to the loo is ‘marking your territory’ and donkeys are ‘Masai land rovers’. Corny but cute. The best one is ‘peel your eyes’ for keep your eyes peeled.

    Left at 8am and very quickly saw 2 Dik Dik, the smallest antelope. More twigas, lots of interesting birds and a small hippo pool and a bit later a larger one with a loo that has never been connected to water. Yuk! However, nothing, but nothing beats the foul, rank smell of a hippo pool. They defecate in the pool and right in the faces of others! Pulease!
    A little later on, Raphael thought that he had run over a chameleon, but he found it in the bush and we got out to photograph it. Then he spotted a 3inch long baby chameleon on the road. It was brilliant green. Raphael’s eyes are everywhere.

    More impala and crocs in another hippo pool. Saw a heron catch a frog and systematically beat it to death. By 11.30am it was mostly hippo, antelope, cape buffalo, giraffe and warthog. (Oh, how quickly we gloss over them now!)

    The central Seronera has a large variety of vegetation and eco-systems – palm trees around the rivers, grasslands and heavily wooded areas. Raphael points out many unseen birds and we learned that the Masai giraffe has frilly spots. Lots of cloud and humidity today. So many roads and tracks that there is mostly a sense of isolation until something big is seen. Like two female lions and a cub. They appeared to be looking for food. It was difficult to photograph the cub in the long grass.

    A huge herd of elephants with many families and the tiniest babies walked across the road in front of us. The babies were only 1-2 weeks old because they could still pass underneath their mother. And so close! I really appreciated having the second camera with a 2 GB card mostly for video of just this sort of occurrence.

    Had lunch at the Visitor’s Centre and as we were waiting for Raphael we saw some warthogs cross a road and head for us, causing us to run to the safety of the verandah. But then they kept coming!!! OMG! The guides were telling us to stand still because the warthogs had a hole under the verandah and that’s where they were heading. But my husband didn’t hear this, so when they were about 1m away, he thought they would come through the bars of the fence and he jumped a mile. The guides laughed themselves silly. Then a really sill thing happened. A young boy asked his guide (!) if he could have a closer look, so he went to the front of the hole and started peering in. There were quite a lot of us who were horrified, even though the guide did go and join him. A really stupid moment.

    Later on we stalked (I am trying to be poetic!) a leopard for about 500 metres or so, with about 10 other vehicles leapfrogging to follow its progress as it casually walked through the grass. More ellies crossing the road and one distressed youngster trumpeting for help until he was reunited with his family. Plenty of zebra, impala and twiga (or is that twigas?)

    Left early to be home by 5pm so that we could enjoy a little of the accommodation surrounds.
    The weather started to cool off a bit with many rain clouds appearing. Hopefully the rain will hold off because the roads would be a nightmare (but also another experience I suspect!)

    A few reflections – saw every safari company. Most vehicles look the same – maybe the difference might be the condition of the seat covers. But after a while you realise that you could end up standing on them at a really exciting moment. We soon came to the conclusion that you need a work horse, not a pretty or necessarily modern vehicle.
    The most critical feature we thought was to have a private safari if possible. Ours was only US$150 each for this and worth every penny. I have just been reading the posting about ‘safari etiquette’ and the majority of the issues concern shared vehicles. Plus, you need to bend down and pick up the binoculars or change cameras or get a drink or shift to get a better position – all of which would be nigh impossible with 6 of you in a vehicle. Lunch boxes are OK – everyone has them. You would waste precious viewing time going back to your accommodation just to have another buffet! Gentlemen look away – ladies take a zip lock bag to put the tissue in after you have ‘marked your territory’ and dispose of it back at your accommodation. It’s no drama.

    Funny thing throughout the safari for us was the feeling that we were driving through the Australian bush – whether it be wheat country or the forest – but with the bonus of all the animals. Somehow I imagined it as more exotic. Back at the lodge we sat on the far deck past the swimming pool and had a G&T (my better half had a Serengeti beer), with our feet up, overlooking the vast Serengeti. So this is Africa!

    Still more….

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    Your trip report is fabulous. There is no such thing as too much information in my opinion. My hubby and I went to Cairo for a week on the way home from Europe 18 months ago. We had been planning to go to South Africa for a week after holidays next year but after reading the trip reports on this forum we have decided to make Africa the main holiday and singapore the stop off on the way home instead. (Home is Australia).Sounds like Africa definitely deserves more than a week!

    Lookin forward to the rest of your report.
    Thanks again for the detail.

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    oneday -

    It's a long long trip from OZ, for only 1/week in Africa, regardless north (Egypt), south or east. To appreciate, and not feel all that rushed, try to arrange at minimum 10/days... better would be a full 2/weeks.

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    Lucky your accident was not severe. The details are great. You never know what reader is looking for what.

    I love the title "Let's do it all again but with warthogs."

    Mind your computer is cute.

    Abundant wildlife action.

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    Many thanks for the report (s). Relished the idea of the warthogs holing up under the veranda at the visitor's center. If I recall, we saw several skinks along and in the stone wall there. Keep the report coming, please!
    Dick

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    3 Mar – We’ve heard so much about Ndutu

    Unlike coming to the central Seronera we took back tracks to return to the southern Serengeti through wooded country, then long grasses. Not much seen in the first hour – impala, cape buffalo, twiga, ostrich, birds like the Dark Chanting Goshawk. Obvious signs of rain overnight – some quite slippery, deep rutted areas. Saw a female lion hiding in the grass, and then within 5 mins we glanced up to see a leopard leaving a tree to hide from us. Its kill – a reed buck – was hanging over a branch high in the tree, with its legs dangling down. What magnificent strength these animals must possess.

    Saw a pride of 7 lions walking to a tree to lie down. They looked lean. It’s brilliant to be going south by a different route. We passed a lake with flamingos and then the rocky Moro Kopjes. Saw a large herd of migrating zebra but no cheetah yet. Raphael found me my silhouette shot of a line of giraffe in the distance. He called them ‘moving trees’. Then we came upon an African Serval cat. Very small and with quite distinct markings. We originally thought it may have been a baby leopard. More herds of zebra and more and more – not so much migrating as moving around.

    In case I forget – take binoculars each! You’ll need them and how on earth do you expect the guide to find things in the distance for you if you are using his.

    After about 4 hours , when it wasn’t even lunchtime, we had a real feeling of time passing so quickly. We drove through the Simiya forest. The roads were a bit wet but not too bad. We were heading for the river. Lots of short, very green grass, but no water in the river.

    Lots more zebra and so lovely the way they put their heads on each other’s backs. In the middle of the forest there were plenty more as well as wildebeest with many calves. Two loo stops out the back of the vehicle. Quite special watching the wildies in mid squat!
    Raphael spotted a lioness on a large rock, stretched out and snoozing, but by now Raphael had seen some vultures circling so we drove through the middle of the plains to investigate. THERE! 8-9 lions all resting at the base of a tree with their kill just feet away, buzzing with flies. This was quite a heart stopping moment because the closest one was only about 5 feet away. My window was open and I was taking photos rapidly when one of them rose on its haunches. Gosh! I thought its paw would come through the window in one quick swipe.
    NO, THIS is Africa! Got some great close ups of the face of one of them.

    Shortly down the track we met another vehicle which had been out since 6am and not seen a thing. Boy do we feel privileged!
    We directed him towards the vultures – it’s all very well to tell your guide not to share any information, but wouldn’t you like to hear of something special close by. It works both ways!

    Drove through endless plains (!) and didn’t see any cheetah or the huge herds of migrating wildebeest (hundreds of thousands) others had seen. How you hide that many animals is a mystery.
    Close to the Ndutu Ranger Station was a group of Maribou stork. They are huge. Took a tour of Lake Ndutu by driving through it because it was almost empty. Saw a lonely hartebeest sitting down all by itself, miles from anywhere it seemed.
    Drove into the Savannah Serengeti Campsite (Ndutu No.10) and saw all the tents lined up. Ours is an outside one!

    How magical is this place? Had a bush shower (15-20 litres which, surprisingly, is ample) and prepared for dinner in the mess tent a short walk away. Dinner was a wonderful experience and I can only urge any potential safarees to give this a go – you can stay at a lodge anywhere in the world! 20 people around a large table lit by solar light and entertained by bugs, stimulating conversation and the pleasure of meeting new people. After dinner we all stood around the dying embers of the campfire and watched a lightning show while gazing at the Milky Way. Quite embarrassing to discover that we couldn’t find our own Southern Cross!

    And yet still more if you are interested…

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    4 Mar – 10 cheetah in one day!

    5.30am wake up call, a quick cup of coffee and off before light. Because we had travelled to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, there was no requirement to stay on any tracks. So we just followed our noses across the plains. Didn’t see much for a while, but shortly after the sun rose we found a cheetah and her 3 cubs about 4-6 weeks old. They looked like little balls of fluff and were very playful tumbling over each other and mum. Another excuse for the video. We stayed for quite a while feeling very special witnessing this.

    Soon after we saw a big pack of vultures squabbling over a left over kill. There were various types pointed out to us as well as a silver backed jackal and a hyena skulking away with a bone. Then there was another huge pack of vultures, some of them right inside the carcass, while others pecked at them. There was a huge amount of fighting and noise, while those majestic Marabou stork (I’ve now learned the spelling) just stand back and wait because they are unable to tear up anything. The whole scene was disgusting but strangely riveting.

    Spied a herd of wildies on the horizon, so we continued bush bashing (an Aussie term – being off-road) towards them. Got close to a really long, but thin line of them returning to where we had been yesterday. Again, they were accompanied by zebra and Thompson’s gazelle. Just a long, long line – sometimes all running, sometimes all walking and an occasional one breaking away from the pack and galloping off. They had all moved into the woodland area yesterday when we were looking and were back on the plains today, just for us!

    Cross country is great – you get so close to the animals. We stopped to look through the binoculars and about 260 degrees there were huge eland, zebra and wildebeest. Sometimes groups were going in different directions. Saw a honey badger – the baby cheetah looked very similar – black on the under half. These are very aggressive animals we heard, with no enemies.

    When we saw our next huge herd of eland we spotted a baby wildie about 1 day old. The young look like they are born ready to run because they have to. We drove right through the centre of the herd (but respectfully so). 360 degrees of animals and so many babies! On the way back we had to swerve a couple of times to avoid aardvark holes.

    Throughout our morning’s drive Raphael’s theory was ‘let us lost’. So instead of parking somewhere and treating the herd as a ‘view’, we just drove through the middle so that we were completely surrounded. Very special! And please don’t think we were being careless or endangering any animal, it just wasn’t like that.
    Then we did the same thing through a wooded area – driving over small bushes and around trees looking for more cats. We went through herds and herds of zebra and their young. Saw a few more ellies and giraffe. Drove down to another lake with many flamingos and dead, trapped wildebeest that had been fleeing lion. More circling vultures, and came upon a fresher kill, with 3 vultures nearby, not willing to touch it because the lion would have been nearby.
    We did not see the owner of the kill, despite peering carefully, but did see one lying on the sand on the opposite bank further away.

    Back home by 11am, and hungry, for a big brunch and a rest with another game drive at 4pm. Gave the staff my battery to charge last night and it came back dead. Will try again this afternoon, but quell horreur!!! (Turned out OK just wasn’t pushed in enough)

    After a nap and some down time we headed out again, this occasion driving along the lake edge looking for lions in the reeds, but no luck so back to the short grass plains.

    Had another driver flash his lights at us to indicate something worth seeing – and it was – a cheetah just lying in the grass. Had you been 20 metres or so to one side or another, you wouldn’t have seen it. Spent some time there, then continued cross country until Raphael’s fabulous eyes found us a family of 5 – mother and four, 18 month old cheetah cubs. They were still cleaning the blood from their faces after the last meal. Spent a long time watching them as there were gazelle nearby, and the mother still appeared interested. In the end we decided that nothing was going to happen (just as well I think – we really didn’t come to see a kill – and I don’t know how we would have felt about it).

    On our way home we stumbled upon an aardvark, learning that there are very, very few indeed. What a peculiar animal. (says she who comes from the land of kangaroos and platypus!)

    Dinner was a smaller number of guests and included the guides – more lightning shows later on. This was probably our most favourite experience. In fact we were wakened in the night by rain and by the sounds of a hyena walking through the camp. You’d swear it was right outside the tent. I did however, want to be frightened to death by hearing a lion roar, but it was not to be!
    Maybe next time…

    Next installment soon!

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    Hi mazj,

    I'm loving your report so please keep going.

    As a fellow Aussie, can you please tell me who you booked your holiday through. I don't know of any particular Africa specailists. We have a great travel agent who did a fantastic job for our Europe and UK holidays but she hasn't been to Africa herself so I'm not sure she would be the best person for a safari.
    Thanks again.

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    Hello oneday,

    I decided, after reading heaps of other people's experiences, to go with Good Earth safaris and Tours.
    www.goodearthtours.com
    They are a local Tanzanian company with a US office.
    I emailed Narry Ernest in the US about last August and put some preliminary things to him. He came back with a costing and some other suggestions and we just kept exchanging ideas until I felt I had it right. And believe me I changed my mind heaps of times. They have a range of programs and costings.
    We did a private tour (a must IMHO) and couldn't recommend our guide, Raphael, highly enough. Please ask anything you like.

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    5 Mar – Once will be quite enough thank you! – O/N Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

    Went out with the express purpose of finding a male lion that had been spotted earlier. Drove around the entire Lake Ndutu, seeing plenty of vultures and some kill, but alas, no lion. More impala, twiga, grand gazelle and zebra.
    It was a cooler day after the overnight rain. Our fleecies were still on at 10.30am. Went back to the Seronera. Lots of Thompson’s gazelle, more ostrich.

    Chatted to Raphael about the various tour companies. Ranger safaris, whom we saw everywhere, is the largest in Arusha, followed by Leopard. Both are owned by Indians. Good Earth is a small company by comparison, but locally owned and Raphael said the guides were treated extremely well. Since returning home, I have been in touch with Narry Ernest in the USA (his brother-in-law runs the Arusha office) and really appreciated the personal, yet professional approach from this company. I could not recommend them highly enough.
    The Serena chain, as well as some expensive camp sites, is owned by the Aga Khan.


    Finally got to Ngorongoro Crater. It’s a fairly steep and slow 4WD descent. Only one way traffic is allowed. Quite rough and potholed in places, but it only lasts for 600 metres or so. Very quickly saw 2 male simba, but not adults – we’re after the mane!

    The crater is deceptively large and part of it is in a rain shadow area so there’s rain almost every afternoon. Drove to the lake to see the flamingos and spotted some vehicles close together. There was the last of the BIG 5 – the rhino! Just standing by himself and looking a little weather beaten I thought.

    After a while it began to rain heavily in the rhino territory so we moved to the other side of the lake. Where we had stopped for the rhino was only about the middle of the crater, which was difficult to take in. We had to leave the main track for a bit due to road repairs and it was very muddy and slippery. I’m so pleased we visited at this time of the year. There are so many mini eco-systems in here – short grass plains, wooded areas, swamp, tall grass, rivers, lakes and uninhabited areas.

    Just by luck we were on this particular side of the crater (the wet side) when we finally saw ‘my request’. 3 adult male lions in the grass! What made this such an amazing and different experience was the rain becoming heavier and heavier until it hailed. I got drenched taking photos out the window. During any brief respite from the torrent, they would shake their manes like any dog and the water would flare out. Now that’s something you don’t see every day!
    When the storm passed, they continued shaking and yawning and then 2 of them started grooming each other in the most gentle and caring way, while the third started stalking a wildebeest. He would keep so still, for so long in mid-stride, but then gave up eventually. My only regret (if you can really call it thus) was the difficulty getting really clear shots. I was on full zoom (12X optical), but the rain haze and lack of sun meant they weren’t as spectacular as I would have liked. But then, mine will be different from everyone else’s!

    Heading back towards the ascent road was very wet and slushy as the rain seemed to have spread over the entire crater that day. We were stopped in the middle of our tracks by a mother hyena and 6 cubs. They all walked up to the vehicle to investigate and say ‘Jambo’.
    It’s things like that, that make a safari so unpredictable and so amazing. Just when you think you won’t see anything else, a surprise awaits you.
    Bang on cue we saw a congregation of vehicles (well, 4) which always means something good. And it was! Two cheetahs eating their prey, blood covering their faces. They were fairly well hidden in the grass, but every now and then they would lift the meat up and reveal the bright red carcass. This was the only time where we saw another vehicle off the road (not allowed here) and right up close to the action. Did they pay more, did they bribe the guide, or were they official photographers? Don’t know.

    For me (strictly personally speaking and not meant to put anyone else off!), the drive back on the ascent road was horrendous. It was a switch back road that seemed to perch perilously close to the edge. My worst nightmare! (To do with my vertigo, I would suggest) Needless to say, I could not summon the nerve to repeat it again the next morning, but Brian did, at 7am.

    The Serena at the crater is great. Rooms are OK, view however, is over the entire crater – even from the bed. The bathroom is huge.
    Saw the Masai Show just before dinner and this was fabulous. Only 15 mins long, but a great opportunity to see them jumping and singing. The lodge has a wonderful atmosphere. Thick, chunky carved wood outside and in, bars, a telescope for more viewing, and friendly staff. In fact, the staff everywhere have been lovely. James was a stand out – training for the tourism industry. They all have the same mantra – Hakuna matata! (and now it’s on my fridge).

    Nearly finished….

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    mazj, glad to hear someone else saw both the honey badger and aardvark at Ndutu (we were there at almost the same time)!

    The real nightmare on the crater ascent road is running into elephants who are heading down :)

    Great report, keep it coming.

    Bill

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    Oh Bill,

    I didn't think it would be possible to get any worse!

    Thank you for your feedback, I feel very privileged having you read it. I've read lots of your posts!

    Marilyn

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    Patty,

    I have over 2000 photos, including the trip to Egypt prior to the safari, but I have been so busy writing trip reports (for Trip Advisor as well)that I haven't even downloaded them from the cameras yet! That's my next big job and I can't wait.

    Any suggestions about free photo sharing sites gratefully received.

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    Hi Mazj,

    I'm really enjoying your report, thanks for sharing such wonderful game viewing experiences.

    I use Picasa which is available through Google for free photo sharing, its very user friendly.

    Oneday - I too am based in Australia (Hobart) and am just finalising my 2nd safari with Good Earth.

    Dealing with Narry on email is great from Oz - he replies very quickly, often overnight. A real bonus is that GE accept credit cards for deposits which means there is only one fee for the final payment via wire transfer.

    Cheers,


    Pol

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    I've really enjoyed your report. The advice to bring your own binocs because if you use the guide's, how can you expect him to find animals is a good one. The cheetah family had to be a great find. I liked the idea of getting lost in the herds. You got your male lion wish three times over. Lions and hail is an odd combo, though.

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    Mazj,

    thanks for the info re booking from Oz. I was also good to hear from Treepol (thankyou too Pol). Good Earth seems to be the way to go.

    I'll be looking forward to the seeing the photos in the future.

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    Some photos...

    I am having a little break from writing for a day!I have only uploaded 2 memory cards from one camera and just picked out 50. I am not a photographer at all, just a happy snapper, but I really love the one of the lion in the bushes - my screensaver now!

    Hope this works
    http://picasaweb.google.com.au/mazj50/MazjSafariTanzaniaMar08

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    Some photos...

    I am having a rest for a day from typing to learn how to put photos on. I have only uploaded 2 memory cards from one camera so far and I picked out 50. I am not a photographer, just a happy snapper, but I do love the one of the lion in the bushes - it's now my screensaver!



    Marilyn

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    6 and 7 Mar – I really don’t want this to be over! – O/N Kibo Palace Hotel Arusha

    What a good decision that was! There was not much game seen at all on their morning visit. An old elephant with tusks nearly on the ground and a few monkeys (or maybe baboon). They are obviously all out there, but safari viewing is incredibly unpredictable. And it also shows the value of having two opportunities in the crater.

    We took Raphael to lunch at the Lake Manyara Serena Hotel perched right on the rim looking down over Lake Manyara. Gave him a Kangaroos (North Melbourne) footy scarf, which is our favourite AFL team and a couple of caps for his kids. Later on we gave him a tip – just hope it was adequate for his wonderful work.

    Checked out the souvenir places and bought our Masai mask and a couple of other bits and pieces but they are ridiculously expensive. They wouldn’t go lower than 30% off, but some places later wouldn’t even match that. Prices vary widely.

    It’s a long drive back to Arusha at the end of your safari when all the anticipation has faded – not so wide-eyed any more. We didn’t arrive back at the hotel until 6pm and again, someone from Good Earth will visit us tomorrow for a de-brief, and to organise our transfer to another hotel closer to the airport for our last night.
    The rooms here are lovely. Remembered to bring our leads to connect the camera to the TV for a look at some of our photos and relive some special moments. I think I’ve counted over 2000 so far, including Egypt, but no serious culling has taken place yet!

    There was real traffic jam when returning to Arusha around the Central Market area affording us a grand opportunity to absorb all the colour and activity. And it is indeed brightly coloured from the Khangas of the African women and the fruit and vegetables laid out in view.
    One thing we have been really impressed with is the quality of the fruit and veges everywhere in Tz. Very fresh and usually lightly cooked – not mush unless in a sauce.

    Laundry, also, is relatively cheap and easily obtained – even in camps. Our suitcases – medium (62cm) each – still contained many unworn items. Everyone tries to say not to take too much, and it’s true. Maybe fewer ordinary and safari T-shirts and a couple more ‘nicer’ ones for the likes of dining in the Marriott in Cairo, where we still had 3 more days to go.
    On the safari – anything goes. Some people go to dinner straight from the safari vehicle, others change. It really doesn’t matter at all.

    I had read where someone had suggested taking index cards with the day’s date and place, to photograph each morning. This was such an easy an effective idea so that you don’t mix photos from different areas, and much easier to match with your notes. After a while you try to get creative and a bit of local flavour involved with the cards – like beside a kerosene lantern in your tent.

    I have been trying to think of words to describe Raphael and so far have come up with, warm friendly, funny, caring, knowledgeable, informative, safe, charming, respectful, sharp eyed, punctual, a good listener, professional and courteous. What more could you ask for!


    Next morning the representative from Good Earth booked us into KIA Lodge for 8 Mar, at our request and even offered us a free transfer there (which turned out to be more of hitching a ride with a Kili guide – but free is free so we won’t complain!)

    Went for a wander down to Arusha town for more souvenir hunting. First stop was only about 100 metres from the hotel, but down a laneway and you could actually watch the women doing the beading. (Afri Hope Handicrafts I think) There was no hassle here which would return in spades we subsequently learned.

    While walking, Brian had one of his ‘turns’, which is ‘dumping syndrome’(complete loss of energy, hunger, thirst and very big sweats) following major surgery, (for those who know about this), right in the middle of some hassling. It was incredibly difficult being polite when all he needed was to be left alone, eat something and wait for it to pass. We escaped to a local café and the waiter there was much more sympathetic and understanding of our need for peace. I only mention this as turns, or similar illness related symptoms, might hinder some people from travel, but you can find a way through and this has been our biggest test so far. It was hard for me dealing with people who were asking me why I wasn’t being happy with them and wanting to look at their goods or even taking my husband to hospital. We came away to experience a different culture and we did!

    Found a bank to buy more US dollars and poked in a few more shops. All the same really. I should have done a bit more homework (more!!) on finding out some recommendations.
    Discovered a little laneway where a guy claimed he was the artist of some Masai paintings – to support his family – but as we continued through the alleyway, we found a little bar/restaurant called Jambo which we instantly liked. It had an open air feel with wooden furniture, paintings on the walls and African print tablecloths. There were customers here from a variety of backgrounds.
    The felafel was the best I have ever had – chunky, spicy, tasty and fresh. We really liked the décor and ambience – it’s an oasis from the clamour outside.

    A Rastafarian looking guy, who had gently hassled us in a shop before lunch, spotted us from down the laneway and produced a black “Hakuna Matata’ T-shirt which we had been looking for over ½ hour ago. What a giggle! Brian wandered over and became absorbed in a ‘negotiating’ session. He even drew a crowd. (I don’t think it was him personally – I think this is how it goes.) Funny thing is, he is the brother of the Masai artist and wants to take us to his shop which has plenty more paintings and T-shirts. Oh, why not!
    He waited while we finished lunch. Bit much of a ‘hard sell’ from this guy, and not enough discount, so we only bought a couple of things.

    After a while, you see a lot of some things everywhere, and occasionally some really nice things in only one or two places, so if you don’t buy what you like and want there and then, you run the risk of not seeing it again. Conversely, you might come across something you have already purchased, at a much cheaper price. C’est la vie!

    Went into the (New?) Arusha Hotel for a sticky beak and had the best cup of coffee in a speciality shop. Looks like a nice place to stay and right in the middle of town.

    One more chapter to go…

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    8 Mar – One last night – O/N KIA Lodge

    KIA Lodge is only one kilometre from the airport and the perfect place to stay if you have a morning flight the next day. Having seen a couple of breakdowns on our (nearly) one hour drive here, you just know that you don’t want that to happen to you. That said, it’s a long way from anything else as were many of the lodges/hotels we saw on the way here.
    The gardens are extensive, a mixture of cactus and tropical plants in full bloom, and they even have a bird identification list in each room. The bar is very pleasant and the pool is on a high point overlooking the countryside and the airport. Nothing about it says ‘just for the convenience of the airport’. Having a drink under one of the umbrellas poolside is very restful.

    If you stand out in the sun, the heat is intense, but in the shade is always better and there often seems to be a breeze. We think we’ve picked an excellent time of the year weather wise. From now on there will be more rain.

    The biggest downside of this place was the condition of the pool. Despite a few people taking a chance, there were lots of bits and pieces in it and it looked like it hasn’t been cleaned for a while. Apart from the barman, service staff wasn’t really attuned to basic needs. Tables were frequently incompletely set. Dinner was a set menu with no pricing or much information. I suppose they figured you were a captive audience. However, these issues did not spoil our time there. For the first time, we forgot to apply bug juice before dining in the outdoor area. This proved disastrous as we become covered on mossie bites around the ankles.

    9 Mar – We’re really going now – O/N Nairobi to Cairo flight

    Up at 6am, brekky and convenient shuttle to the airport. I really should have read the check in information a little more closely and had an extra half hour lie in! Nice outdoor area at the airport to escape the heat inside! Took a half a tablet to calm the nerves as I had been dreading this next flight since before we left home. Wasn’t all that bad, except for a few little bumps and drops. I think it was a 72 seater rather than the 42 I had been anticipating – or dreading.

    The flight was late leaving but still seemed to arrive on time so we had the next 7 hours to pass away at NBO. Our luggage could only be checked to Nairobi so the customs officer wanted to hold our passports while we went to collect our bags. Then he managed to call over someone to do it for us. This was all because we only had transit visas and could not leave the airport. Went to the transit lounge for a bit, and read a newspaper, but it was a very depressing place. Back downstairs to wander along the Duty Free shops and eventually find some lunch.

    Walked all the way to Gate 14 where there is a bar and Java coffee lounge. Cricket on the TV and a nicer place to relax and spend another couple of hours. Seriously good chocolate brownie, too!. Timed our left over Kenyan shillings well.

    Never seen anything like the Nairobi airport. A small plane pulled in at our gate which left everyone bemused and the after a 20 min delay we all walked to the next gate, down the stairs outside and in and out of a range of vehicles to board the plane. From the top of the stairs there looked like people walking willy-nilly all over the tarmac. Full flight, not much room for carry on luggage which ended up 6 seats in front.
    Quite a squashy, smelly and noisy flight.
    Lots of people got off at Khartoum and so we had an extra seat between us, affording a little extra room. Back to the madness of Cairo traffic and then the relative tranquillity of the Marriott for a couple of days (which is detailed in the Egypt report).

    Thus endeth the trip report!

    Again many, many thanks to Fodors and Trip Advisor readers for invaluable assistance, advice, support, reassurance and recommendations. Thanks to Good Earth Safaris and Tours and Raphael in particular, for organising the experience of a lifetime. We loved every second of it.

    Asante sana.

    Maz J

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    Wow, lots of cheetahs. I don't think I've seen lions in the rain ever--interesting. Beautiful shot of Kili, your screen saver is awesome, good to see a leopard doing something other than resting. Thanks for sharing both your report and your photos. Raphael sounds great.

    Asante sana to you both!

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    Hi Marilyn,

    I really enjoyed your trip report. It sounds like you had a marvelous safari and all those cheetahs at Ndutu!! We enjoyed talking with you and your husband and sharing a bit of our KWAHERI cake at Serengeti Serena. We still do not know the reason for the cake and the entertainment other than it was our second visit. We went on to Ndutu and then Tarangire.

    Cheers,
    cj

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    Ndutu (4 nights)was great.Three mother cheetah with cubs of various ages and several kills. We also got to see tree climbing lions, serval and aardwolf plus all the usual. We did miss the huge migration herd which had moved into the woodlands and spread out - too late this year.

    cj

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    mazj,

    Your trip report was a throughly enjoyable read. We are eagerly awaiting our( mostly) August safari planned with Good Earth. Thanks for the shopping tips!
    This forum is a terrific resource. I've mined a wealth of useful information from the Africa veterans here. But the "OhWOWLookatThat!!!" enthusiasm of first timers is so much fun to read. I figure that'll be us!

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