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Lolazahra Kenya/Tanzania Trip Report

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Hi all. I am just back from 3 weeks in Africa. Thanks to all of you who helped to make this a trip of a lifetime. Your invaluable advice and humor helped to make this one of the most well-rounded trips I have ever taken. I especially want to thank those who posted about switching from the Western Serengeti to the Southern Serengeti -- my game viewing was awesome and I am happy to be able to report about Olakira Camp. And for those who posted about Lake Eyasi, the Hadzabe tribe and Kisema Ngeda Lodge -- thank you! This was one of the most amazing parts of the trip and I am so happy that we added it on. I feel as if we had a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience in the Lake Eyasi area. Though I spent an amazing week in South Africa prior to Kenya and Tanzania, I am going to start with the latter two countries. I will try my best to be as detailed as possible, but please bare with me. I am suffering from the worst jet-lag of my life. I am up at 3:30AM right now because I cannot sleep and finally said -- let me just start my trip report. But I guarantee while I am writing sleep will come and I will have to sign off. As a reminder I did Kichwa Tembo Bateleur Camp in the Mara, Olakira Camp in the Serengeti, Kisima Ngeda in Lake Eyasi, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in the Crater, and Alfajari Villa, Diani Beach Mombasa. I traveled with my husband for part of the trip, my two kids -- ages 2 1/2 and 4 1/2, my mother, and my aunt took my husband's place when he left after the Mara.

January 3, 2006

We flew from Joburg to NBO and I was happy as soon as we landed. Th sights and smells were as I imagined. It was easy to clear customs, obtain our luggage and meet our fantastic CC Africa rep Rose who took care of us in many ways. On the way to the hotel, we stopped at Giraffe Center. I liked this, but I could have skipped it. Fun for the kids because they were able to feed the giraffes, but having been on safari and about to go again, next time I will do something different. We only stayed about 20 minutes and it was close to the hotel. We stayed at a gem of a place called The House of Waine. And it is just that -- a beautiful manor home in the Karen area converted to small boutique hotel. There are lush beautiful gardens, rolling lawns and a great pool. Each room is different and has great decor, fabulous bathrooms, and are very spacious. The staff is great and the food is very good. It was nice to have such a relaxing environment to relax in prior to departure the next day. That evening we went to Carnivore. Was it worth it? Yes! We had fun -- I have had better food -- but we had fun. It was great to chat with the enthusiastic staff, trying the different meats (alligator, camel, ostrich) was an experience, and it is a nice to chat with the other tourists from around the world. I would highly recommend the restaurant.

January 4, 2007

I used to work for UNICEF and am still in the non-profit world, so I always add a NGO component to all of my trips when applicable. Before we took our charter to the Mara, we had UNICEF reps take us to meet two families in the Kibera slums, one of the most horrible, poverty-stricken, crowded slums in Africa. If anybody saw Christiane Amanpour's peice on Aids in Kenya last month, we were in the same area that most of it was filmed and were taken around by the same UNICEF people. My heart broke a thousand times during the visit and it was very difficult. Calling the shelter shacks seems too nice, because I spent time with 6 orphaned brothers who lived in metal box smaller than my SUV with 5 other people. We learned that those who live in Kibera and can find work, walk there for less than $1 a day. There is no minimum wage and the situation is dire. I will tell you more and post pictures (when I learn how to -- lessons needed!!!!!)later. I met with the UNICEF folks again at the end of the trip to find out ways to help from the states. We also went to the Nyambani Orphanage for orphaned children with HIV/AIDS. CC Africa recommended this place and financially supports it. It was a beautiful experience. The kids are excited for visitors, they sang for us, and we gave them loads of gifts I had shipped over from the states. My children enjoyed this visit very much. I drill into their heads "to whom much is given, much is expected." By sharing these types of visits with them, they can get a first-hand experience of seeing those in poverty and their responsibility to help. Nyambani is a lively, bright place that is providing a nourishing home for some really great kids. They have a great website too. If an NGO visit is something anyone wants to add on, just ask your outfitter. CC Africa was great when I asked them to help me set something up this trip and the last one in South Africa. We skipped the Daphne Sheldrick (sp?) because of time, but did go to a great art gallery that a Fodorite recommended -- Gallery Watatu --- www.gallerywatatu.com. We bought 4 wonderful paintings. The gallery represents artists from all over Africa and has an impressive selection. And they sent them to us UPS which only took a few days with no customs hassels. It was also fun to walk in downtown Nairobi. After the gallery, we walked to a camera store because my camera bag strap broke, and then to a McDonald's like place to grab something to eat because we ran out of time to have a sit-down lunch. I would not need to stay for days in Nairobi if I did not have business there, but I am glad that we switched some stuff and took in the city and the people. It is a large urban African city with a lot of experiences to offer if you want them. I feel like all of the guide books talk it down and say it is just good for a pit stop. After getting our food, we went straight to Wilson Airport for our charter to the Mara. We used Boskovic Air Charters to the Mara and had a great pilot named Dean. After an easy hour-long flight, we landed in the Mara and were greeted by our lodge manager -- a wonderful Masai women who no longer leads that tradtional life, our butler for the next three days, and our guide. A gorgeous table of goodies and champagne was set up just off the landing strip and it was nice to relax, have a drink and soak it all in. I have very fond memories of this welcome and of how amazing it felt to be back in the bush. We went on a short game drive on the way to Kichwa Tembo Bateluer Camp. There was a large herd of girafee at the airstrip and on the way, we saw lots of antelope, zebra, and warthogs. I want to stop and recommend a fantastic book "African Safari Journal" by Mark W. Nolting. This is a great book that is an animal guide, plant-life guide, journal, fact book, language translator, trip report,and has loads of advice. I cannot say enough about it. I wrote useful information in it prior to leaving, used the journal pages each day, and tracked all of the animals I saw with it each day. It made the trip so much fun to check off sightings as we saw them. We arrived at the lodge in time for a late lunch. We were hungry and sat doen right away, as the staff took our bags to the right rooms. Gorgeous is not a strong enough word to describe the wonderful table set up in the grass right in the Mara. We ate a wonderful meal as we watched a family of resident warthog and monkeys frolick around us and zebras and giraffe graze right in front of us. Each meal at Bataluer includes a wonderful soup, great veggies, great choices of meat and good, good wine. The service is immpecable and the ambiance is just wonderful. After lunch, we went to our rooms to relax. The luxury tents are really nice. They are set on wooden platforms with a great deck with big comfortable leather chairs and an awesome view. There is a great writing table, loads of amenities, and what I personally need, a fabulous bathroom. The showers are large stone showers with great soaps and scrubs, double sinks with lots of space and a separate toilet area. The water is hot and strong and great. Another plus is there is lots of plugs in the room. 5 sets in one tent, so we never had trouble keeping cameras, DVD players (we watched 24 each night) video Ipods (this is how my kids survived the 18 hour trip to SA and the downtime when there were not swimming, and video cameras charged. After napping, we went to dinner and had a lovely time. We started with drinks by the fire in the common room and went to our table about 20 minutes after that. I am not going to describe each meal at each camp because I would be writing forever. But if food is important to you, the chef at this camp is wonderful and imaginative. I also love how they come to the table each meal in advance to tell you about your choices and to just chat with you. There were two other big groups when we were there. We became friends with the group from Denver of about 4 couples once someone pulled out a blackberry and my husband realized he could get service. Yes folks, there was blackberry service in the Mara. If you want it, your email and phone can work. I only used this when needing to confirm details with CC Africa and when I realized I would need extra pull-ups and one video Ipod blew up. I was able to get a new one fed-exed to Nairobi for the long flight home. Anything to keep the kids busy and quiet. I always get "you have such amazing children when we fly -- barbie, books, and a video ipods is how I do it. Anyway, we became fast friends and before I knew it, my 4 year old was on someone's lap and my 2 year old was doing the hair of one of the women. It was nice to bond like this with fellow travelers and we talked each time we saw eachother at meals and at sightings. One woman in the group had a birthday and they gave her the most amazing party with great food and a Masai extravaganza with music and dancing. I am going to sign off now. I can get an hour and a half of sleep. Next time, I will post on the Mara and traveling to the Serengeti. And if anyone will tell me how to post pictures, I would be grateful to know. I use Kodak Easy Share. Until next time...

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    An excellent start to your trip! Jet lag is your loss and our gain since you've decided to start your report in the wee hours.

    I am sure your fellow passengers appreciated the effort to get that Ipod sent to Nairobi for your return flight.
    What a smart move.

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    Thanks for starting your report! Many of us use www.kodakgallery.com to upload pictures. It's pretty easy and self explanatory but if you need help along the way, just ask. Once you've uploaded your pics, you can rearrange and add captions to them. When you're ready to share, go to Share Photos, select the album and send it to your own email address. At the bottom of the email you receive will be a link which you can copy and paste here. There are a lot of other photo sharing sites too if you want to use something else.

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    January 7 - 10

    We flew Regional Air Charter for our flight from the Mara to the Serengeti. We had to go through Wilson Airport in Nairobi and clear customs in Kilamanjaro Airport. We picked up some more DVD's and a few gifts at the airport. We flew to the Ndutu Airstrip, which was totally dry by the time we arrived on January 7. We stayed at Olakira Camp, a luxury mobile tented camp which moves with the migration and is run by Asilia Lodges. We were picked by by our guide Raul of Ranger Safaris and by Ishmeal, the camp manager. They welcomed us at the airstrip with big hugs and a very warm reception. There were huge herds of zebra at the airstrip which was a great welcome as well. We were amazed by how different the Serengeti looked from the air and once we landed from the Mara. It was so nice to experience both areas. Olakira Camp is about 20 minutes from the strip. During our drive, we saw giraffe, springbok, more zebra, eagles, wonderful birds, and a large herd of elephant crossing a river. Once we arrived at the camp, we were initially surprised at what it looked like. I do not know what we expected, but we had just come from Bateluer and we were a little shocked to see numerous green tents in a row and nothing else. We really felt our adventure was starting. We were greeting by about 10 young men who gave us cold towels, drinks and started to take our bags. We had 3 tents and were each given someone to show us around. The tents are very nice. They are spacious, have a tented shelf to fold clothes, a nice comfortable bed with good and warm bedding. It is a mobie camp, however, so there are no flush toilets or running water. I am a city girl, so this was so funny to me as I was being shown how everything worked. Even though I knew it when I booked, I still started to crack up. The chemical toilet was fine with me, but the bucket shower made me pause. My 4 year old daughter loved everything. She really loved the sink, where you had a bucket underneath it and you filled a pitcher with water to wash your hands. She thought that was soooo cool! When I took a shower the first night, I had only soaped up and began to shave my legs before my water ran out. I had to scream for more and about 5 minutes later, I was able to rinse off, but did not finish shaving. I did this at the sink the next morning. By the second night, I had it down by getting wet, turning it off, soaping up, and then turning it on again to rinse off. I will say that the water was piping hot. The towels were nice a fluffy and it was a really comfortable living space. There has nice books waiting as gifts and stuffed animals for the kids. After settling in, we went to the camp fire and had a nice glass of wine and talked to a group from Russia, including 1 girl about 8 years old. This was nice for Lola and they talked as her mother translated. They were after a Cheetah sighting and talked about looking for them the next day. Dinner was really good. As a matter of fact, the food is fantastic at this camp. Each meal started with a great soup and there were fresh veggies and two meats. It was served by friendly young men who were fun to talk to. The camp only employs men because of the hard work in breaking down and moving the camp. However, they are very good at serving dinner, choosing wines, and making your tent very comfortable as well. We ate all of our meals with Ishmael, the camp manager and our ranger Raul. We came to love these guys. My aunt adopted Ishmael as her son. He is a young guy, but highly professional with an engaging personality. Raul is a pro -- having been a guide for 20 years. He knows Tanzania and the Serengeti like the back of his hand and quickly learned our individual goals and catered to us all -- including the children. If anyone is using Ranger Safaris, I highly recommend him. After dinner, we went right to sleep. However, sleep was hard to come by. I was unprepared for the sounds I would hear on that first night and how close the sounds were to the tents. They warned us that cats and hyenas came close to the tents and of course not to leave out at night. The sounds were thrilling and intoxicating, but I was a little scared too. Luckily my daughter slept right through it, so she did not have to see Mommy with big eyes and a flashlight pointed to the front of the tent. The next morning, Raul confirmed that it was hyena that I was hearing so close to my tent. The dining tent at Olakira is nice. There are about 3 large tables for dining and 2 comfortable couches and a couple of comfy chairs on the floor. There is a table with a bar and a fridge with cold drinks. It is also where you charge your stuff. The generator comes on at 4pm to charge batteries and comes back on when it gets dark. It goes off at bedtime. When it is on, there is plenty of light in the tents. After having all of the plugs I wanted in the Mara, this was the only part I did not care for, but it was fine. I might not have had instant gratification in charging my stuff, but it always got charged by the time we went on a drive, so I cannot complain. The next morning we set out for a drive to a Masai Village. We had been to one in the Mara, but were looking forward to seeing the difference in Tanzania. Our experience in the Mara was wonderful. Our guide was friendly and funny, we had a comprehensive tour and watched lovely dance and took lots of pictures. Even though I had heard the Masai were pushy when selling their wares, this village was fine. I was happy to peruse their beautiful crafts and did not feel pressured to buy anything. On the way to the village in the Serengeti, 20 minutes after leaving, we saw our first lion sighting. It was so exciting! It was a beautiful male surrounded by 4 females eating a wildebeest kill. There were at least 30 vultures surrounding the lions and the kill. We were the only vehicle and were so close I felt like I could touch the lions if I tried. When we first arrived they were laying down with their stomachs full of meat. They were panting so hard we could hear it. The wildebeest was about 1 foot away. At one point a brave vulture tried to come up from behind and start eating and the male lion rose, roared and chased after the vulture. It was so fast and so amazing to see. Then the lion laid right next to his kill to ensure it was left alone until he was ready to abandon it. When a female lion came over to feast, he scared her a way as well. On our way to the village, we also saw the start of the migration heading to the Ndutu area. It was thrilling and the reason why I chose Olakira. There were so many Zebra when you looked across the plains, it looked like a blur and you could not even see their strips. The lines of thousands of wildebeest was a sight to behold. They are such curious looking creatures. We really felt like we were experiencing the most magical time of our life. I am going to skip the village visit until next time, to tell you about my first cheetah kill. Yes, cheetah kill!!!! On our way back, out of the blue, our guide said look at that cheetah. She was right in front of us. Then he said and she has 3 cubs. And there they were right behind her. And then he said shhhh, look at that Thompson's gazelle by himself. He is in trouble. Before he could get the words out of his mouth, the cheetah took off. In seconds, she had the gazelle's neck in her mouth. She injured it, but did not kill it. The most amazing thing is that she went and got her cubs and taught them how to kill. Each one took turns trying to finish the kill. They were so small that it took them a while and it was sad to see the gazelle suffer a prolonged death, but so interesting to see a Mom teach her kids how to hunt. They finally killed it, but had a hard time biting into it to get the first taste. Finally, the Mom came and ripped it open. But she backed off and let the cubs eat first. It was a great first day in the Serengeti. Even though I will talk more about Olakira, let me say that I highly recommend it. The staff is first rate, the tents are comfortable, the game viewing was phenominal, and the food was superb. I would stay here again. Until next time...

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    Yes, it was pretty easy flying to the Ndutu airstrip, even though we had to go back to Nairobi and clear through Kilanmanjaro. There was no real waiting, lines were quick, and we were back on the plane in no time. I was so happy that the strip was dry. The Southern Serengeti in general was pretty dry. There was only one hour of one day that we were in a muddy area to the point of letting the top down and rolling the windows up. More on drive to Lake Eyasi through Oldivai Gorge. The most interesting drive of my life!!!! Some pics coming too. You all must see the bushmen.

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