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My First Safari Report

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Africa Trip Report

Departed Fri., June 1 for Amsterdam; arrived Sat., June 2 around 6:00 a.m.

Hotel Fita - Great place, great location, good hot breakfast.
www.fita.nl
Jan Luykenstraat 37
1071 CL Amsterdam

We arrived LONG before our room was ready. The hotel stored our luggage for us; we grabbed a little to eat from the breakfast buffet and went to Vondel Park for a look-see and a little nap (well, we saw others resting, too!!!). Bikes and people everywhere! Great people watching – we saw an older man rollerblading with what looked like a woman’s bikini bathing suit bottom (silver) and small tight sleeveless t-shirt! Soon after that, saw a woman in tight spandex with no undergarment! Welcome to Amsterdam – there’s something for everyone!!! Our room was ready by noon so we crashed for a LONG nap. Enjoyed pizza at ??? near the Concert Gebouw Hall. Realized it doesn’t get dark until very late ~10:00 p.m.! Even after our long nap, we were able to go right to sleep ~1:00 a.m.

Sun., June 3 – Woke ~8:00 a.m., had breakfast, and decided to take a bike tour. Chose Mike’s Bike Tours; Shawn was our guide. The ride was ~18 miles in and around the city and countryside. I was surprised we’d biked that far, but it was all flat road-riding. The city is made for cycling – flat and with designated bike lanes and bike traffic lights! Went to a cheese and wooden shoe factory. At the end of the tour, we were treated to drinks at a bar in the Liedesplein. Most of the bikes in Amsterdam are not in very good condition - the older the bike, the better. I soon learned this was to ward off any theft opportunities as bike theft is very common. Apparently, you spend more for a bike lock than you do for the bike itself.

Grabbed a quick lunch at an outdoor café and then toured around the museum area, did some window shopping, found the Nespresso store!!! My husband LOVES espresso.

Strolled through the museum park on our way back to the hotel and enjoyed seeing so many people out enjoying the beautiful weather, walking, resting and playing soccer. We decided to join the “resting” crowd. After a short rest, we ventured back to the Liedesplein and chose the Paladium for dinner. Food was good, but dessert was scrumptious – cinnamon ice cream with whip cream.

I was convinced that all the bikes in Amsterdam were just parked – no reason, just parked. I saw very few people park a bike or get a bike that had been parked! AND how could they know which bike was theirs – they all looked so much alike. Well, as we ate dinner, the number of parked bikes began to dwindle and I started trying to match the pedestrian to the bike they’d pick. Everyone rides bikes – men in suits, women in skirts or dresses, nice shoes – everyone! If you’re on a date, the girl rides on the back riding sidesaddle.

Mon., June 4 – I had begun to not feel well, sore throat, congestion, etc. Because we were to leave for Africa on Tuesday, I thought it best to get some medicine in case I had an infection. I did not want to have to seek medical attention while in Africa. Our adventure for the day was to find a clinic or hospital. We rode the wonderful tram system to the hospital emergency room and I was seen by a resident doctor within an hour! I was very surprised it was so fast. All’s well – got saline nose spray for the congestion, but did not have an infection. Within a day or two I was feeling much better.

We toured the Rijkmuseum which has been downsized for renovation. The artwork was more colorful than that I had seen in Italy and France, and the silver pieces were beautiful; and I love the building’s architecture.

After the museum we walked a different route back to the hotel and found an indoor swimming pool. As hubby is training for a triathlon, he was anxious to swim. Found that the pool opened at 7:00 a.m., which allowed him enough time to get in a quick swim before we left for the airport on Tuesday. Exercise plans in place, we headed for Olde Kerk (Old Church) near the Red Light District. The District was “interesting” to say the least. “Women” just stand in the window and people just walk by or gawk. The church was having a photojournalist exhibit. Many great photos and many not-so-great photos of very difficult situations (war, natural disasters), interesting people, and even fun events.

Dinner at L’Opera. We were in a very busy area of Amsterdam, Rembrandtplein, and I just loved being able to people watch.

Tues., June 5 – Driver picked us up at 8:00 for our direct flight to Arusha, Tanzania. I had misread our itinerary and thought we were to arrive ~5:00 p.m., but we didn’t arrive until 8:00 p.m. It was a very, very long flight in the middle seat! It seemed as though everyone on the flight needed a visa, and of course, we get in the line that took the longest. When we finally got through our luggage was the last to be picked up. We met our driver Hezron and we’re in AFRICA!

Arumera River Lodge – very nice accommodations, excellent food. It is my understanding that this lodge is run by two chefs from Germany. The lodge has separate bungalows (2 rooms to each bungalow). Our room had twin beds with mosquito netting, a nice size bathroom and very decent shower (good shower spray/pressure is important to us.) The pool was nice and relaxing. I must admit with this being my first time in Africa, I was very satisfied with the accommodations. I don’t know what I expected, but I don’t think I expected everything to be so nice and clean.

Wed., June 6 – Our driver picked us up ~9:30 a.m. for the drive to Ngorongoro Crater. We stopped by the Heritage Center on our way out of town and picked up a few souvenirs. No need to do much shopping as my husband has been twice before with the kids. I have no idea how long it took us to get the Crater, but somewhere along the way we began to smell smoke (and smoke started coming in the car!) and Hezron determined we were having brake problems - something about the emergency brake had somehow popped on. Normally in this type of situation I would start freaking out, but because our driver was so cool and under control, I figured he knew what to do. He poured some water on the brakes and we were off again. I had no fear of becoming stranded on the side of the road (something I fear in my own hometown!). He knew we would be stopping for lunch soon and knew of a mechanic in that village that could work on the brakes. He dropped us off at Crater View B&B in Karatu for lunch and he went to get the brakes fixed. We had just finished eating when Hezron returned with the brakes fixed. YEA-we could go down in the crater now without worrying about the brakes.

Soon after lunch we entered Ngorongoro Crater park and began what our driver dubbed as the “African Massage.” He wasn’t kidding! This was the worst bumpy road I had ever been on. We immediately saw a family of baboons on the side of the road and even had a leopard run across the road in front of the vehicle. He went into the dense brush and I was not able to get a picture of him. After our first experience of an African Massage, we had a good laugh as we drove up to the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge when we saw a Speed Hump sign. Like they needed to tell us after all we’d driven over!!! The food at the lodge was good, nice variety; the shower was moderate.

Thurs., June 7 – We’re off by 8:00 a.m. and our first crater critters are the zebras. That day we saw the grand gazelles, wildebeest, warthogs, Thompson gazelles, ostrich, hippos, hyena, flamingo, elephant, buffalo (but he was really far away), African spoonbill, golden jackal, blackfaced vervet monkey, crown crane (crested), kori bustard, sacred ibis, and lions. We never really encountered many other vehicles, and even if we did, I was so focused on looking at the critters that it didn’t matter who else was around. We had lunch at the Ngoitoktok lake (pond?) and I could not believe how pretty and green everything was. It was so quiet in the crater – only the sound of the grass rustling under the animals’ feet as they lazily graze. We saw a kill, although not actually a kill. Apparently a wildebeest had died of natural causes and the vultures were having lunch . The hyenas were hanging around waiting for their turn – they seemed very patient. We had a beautiful weather day, great temps and a few clouds in the sky. Returned to the lodge around 5:00 p.m.

Fri., June 8 – We’re off early to head to the Oldupai Gorge and the Serengeti. It was misting heavily as we left; I didn’t give the rain much thought until we started slipping and sliding along the road. I was amazed at what a good driver Hezron was and at how calm he seemed. Normally, I would have been a nervous wreck, but he remained calm so I just did my usual backseat driving under my breath!! After we past the viewpoint, the rain let up and the roads became somewhat drier. A little further down the road, our driver noticed that the brakes are acting up again. We stop off at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge for a midmorning break, while Hezron heads to the mechanic’s shop to see if they could fix the brakes. The brakes were smoking when we got out of the car! We were there long enough to get a short little nap and have some coffee.

The Oldupai Gorge was okay, but they really need to do something about the pit latrines!! With the number of tourists that stop there, the pits need a little (well, a lot) of updating!! The talk was informative but we had difficulty hearing the speaker. Bought a few small animals masks to use as Christmas tree decorations. Oh, the roads are SO rough!!

As were entered the Serengeti, we saw several new critters. We saw the superb starling, hardebeest, and agama lizards (both male and female), and the usual wildebeest and zebra. I really like the kopje and the “texture” it brings to the Serengeti. Really makes a nice backdrop for photos.

With the little bit of car trouble we had had, we were never inconvenienced. Our driver kept our safety and comfort as his main concern. So, when we came upon two other vehicles trying to maneuver through a mud pit, we weren’t concerned. The first vehicle went through with some difficulty, stopping (or getting stuck) midway through to put on (turn on?) his 4-wheel drive. Our driver said this was a little strange in that you would normally turn on the 4-wheel drive before you navigate such an obstruction. He ultimately made it through. We went through with no problem at all. The third vehicle wasn’t so lucky. He got stuck midway through – had not turned on his 4-wheel drive; subsequently turned it on, but it did not help at all. The first vehicle through tried to push the other vehicle out of the pit, but couldn’t. The winch on the vehicle was not functional; our driver and the other driver tried to push the vehicle out, but to no avail. Our driver suggested that the clients of the stuck vehicle go to the other vehicle and make their way to the campground. (They were both with the same company, although not traveling together, and were staying at the same camp.) We went on our way as we could be of no further assistance. As we found out later, the clients who were stuck did not want to leave their luggage and so they were content to stay put. The other vehicle went on to camp. It was 9:30 p.m. that evening before the rangers were able to “rescue” them – they had been stuck for 6 hours!!! Okay, so we had a little chuckle at their expense, but we just could not understand why they would be willing to sit there for so long when they had the option of going on to camp and letting their driver take care of the vehicle and their luggage.

We finally made it to the Serengeti Sopa and loved our room. The view was breathtaking, and the bathroom was huge. The shower was marginally okay – not enough hot water.

Sat., June 9 – The new critters for today were the topi, Egyptian geese and hammerkop bird. At the Serengeti Visitor Center for lunch, we took the nature walk and saw the cute hyrax and dwarf mongoose. I wanted to take them home so bad, but didn’t think my rabbit would like the invasion. My notes got a bit thin about this time as it was impossible to write in the vehicle and we were seeing a lot of the same critters. I only wrote down the new ones we saw. Today was cheetah day! I had to laugh at our driver as we jockeyed for position for best view of the cheetah. He did great!! We watched her walk around and eventually end up on a termite mound to get a better view. I was always amazed that the animals could care less about the vehicles around them. We also saw many lions; I got some of my favorite pictures of a lioness laying near a tree resting her head on it. We also saw a group of three lionesses who became interested in a wildebeest. We watched them begin to stalk the prey, but it was soon too far for them to launch an attack. It was interesting to see how they moved toward the prey. We also saw huge vultures sitting on top of a tree. The tree was large and they seemed to dwarf the tree. I cannot believe the limbs could hold them up.

Sun., June 10 – We’re off to Rwanda. Our driver picks us up around 8:30 to catch our Coastal Air flight at 11:00 to Kilimanjaro. He said the airstrip was about a 2 hour drive and we needed to be there about 45 minutes early. About 20-30 minutes down the road, after a few critter sightings, our truck decided it had done enough – something “popped!” Hezron tinkered around with it for a few minutes, a couple of other drivers stopped to see if they could help, but nothing seemed to work. I was totally oblivious to all that was going on because there was so much to be looking for and looking at. Eventually, he decided the truck could not be fixed and that we would need to get a ride to the airport. Fortunately, a Sunny Safari truck showed up and they were going to the central(?) Serengeti area which was where the airstrip was located. He agreed to take us, and his passengers were happy to oblige, so off we go. We felt bad leaving our driver, but knew he would get everything working in due time and be off on his way. Because there had been a heavy rain the night before, there were a lot of places in the road that were very muddy. The “bridge” near where we had seen hippos the day before had about 8” of water on it. Charles, our new driver, had heard there were leopards in the trees and it was near the airstrip, so he was trying to get us there. When we tried to turn on the road where the leopards were, we got stuck – we got REAL stuck! Okay, it wasn’t too funny now because we had a flight to catch (and at the time I didn’t realize the airstrip was SO close!). Fortunately, many drivers knew of the leopards in the trees and we happened to be blocking the road, so they were more than happy to help pull us out. It took about 15-20 minutes, but we were dislodged, but unfortunately did not have time to see the leopards.

Once at the airstrip, I could not believe I was about to get on one of “those” planes! We went to what looked like the ticket booth, but it was closed; several people were just sitting around and they were also going to Kili, but didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Before our driver passed us over to the new driver, he told us to “talk to the pilot” so we would be sure to get on the correct plane. Okay, so he schleps through the field to where the planes are parked and finds the Coastal Air plane and finds our pilot. When he is sure it’s the right plane, he comes for me and we schlep our luggage through the field – never have I had to do this! One look at the pilot and I just had to know if he was even old enough to have a license – one to fly, that is – so I asked him. His reply: chuckle “Hey, it’s Africa!” They just gave me the warm fuzzies.

So we fly from Seronera to Lake Manyara to pick up a few more passengers, then on to Kili. We stay the night at Arumeru River Lodge.

Mon., June 11 - We have a new driver for the day, Philbut, because Hezron has not yet made it back to Arusha. Apparently, the fuel pump went out on our truck. Philbut did a great job of driving us around Arusha as we had a few errands we needed to run before we went to Kigali. We had a 4:00 p.m. flight from Arusha to Kigali.

RN Explorer – Our driver for Rwanda is Vicky. He meets us at the airport and takes us to the Impala Hotel. We had been booked at the Intercontinental, but because of some governmental meeting/conference, we got bumped to the Impala. It was an adequate hotel, but I’m glad it was for only one night. The staff at the restaurant next door spoke very little English, so we had trouble figuring out what to eat for dinner. We ended up with a pizza that had tuna fish (canned) on it!! I guess we should’ve figured that out by the name “Neptune,” but we didn’t. Won’t have that again.

Tues., June 12 – Vicky arrives at 10:00 (our request – we were SO tired!), and took us to the ALARM compound. This is an organization that we help support for Africa Leadership and Reconciliation Ministry – instructing pastors and teachers in leadership and ministry. Both our kids have done missionary work with this group for the last two summers. We toured their facilities, and then drove to Rwamagana (sp?) to see the girls’ school where my son taught English and computers last summer. We then drove to back to Kigali to view the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. Along the way in some of the small villages, you could see genocide memorials along the highway.

We then made our way to Ruhengeri (which has recently changed its name to Musanzi) for our trek tomorrow to the gorillas. We stayed at the Gorillas Nest.

Wed., June 13 – Off to the gorillas at the crack of dawn! I could not believe that we had to leave the hotel by 6:45 a.m.!!! I am on vacation and I don’t like to get up early. Once at the park headquarters we were placed in the Hirwa group (Francois would be the guide). We were briefed on the gorillas and their behaviors, etc. Then, unbeknownst to me, when we were getting in our cars to go to the drop off point, we learned that we would be visiting the Kwitando (sp?) group. It didn’t really matter to me as long as the trek was not a long or difficult one. The trek took about an hour – 30 minutes through the fields and 30 minutes once we were over the wall. I am amazed that the trackers can find these gorillas, and then how our guides can find the trackers! The forest is SO dense. I slipped a few times and had some difficulty getting over logs (I’m short!), but the guides were right there to help me out. They kept calling me Mama.

Because of where the gorillas were, we were able to get incredibly close to them. It felt as though you could almost reach out and touch them. For the most part, they were resting, but the younger ones were playing in the trees and climbing/rolling on the silverback. Two young ones were climbing up and down the trees; one on the ground started pulling on a vine like he was going to climb it; another one climbed up the tree and broke the vine so the other gorilla couldn’t use it to climb. It was so funny to watch their interaction. As the silverback rested, one of the females was picking “stuff” off of him; he had his hands on his head like he had a headache and everyone was bothering him. We were in somewhat tight confines and had to jockey out of each other’s way to get pictures. Everyone was very cooperative and accommodating as we were all photo hogs. In another close location, a mom and her young (~2 mos.) were high up in the bamboo. They eventually came down and we were able to view them up close. It was so sweet to see the little baby’s face and how gentle mom was. Needless to say, the one hour you spend with the gorillas goes much too fast. The others in our group had all been on a trek the day prior. This was our only trek. On our way back through the fields, there were many people working with the plants. There was a very young baby, not even six months old, laying on a blanket while his mom worked. We were so pleased that we could go back to the Gorillas Nest to clean up and have lunch after our trek. We were so tired, hungry, dirty and sweaty.

We left Gorilla’s Nest around 3:00 for Gisenyi (Lake Kivu Serena). It was a 2-hour BUMPY ride. Although the roads are paved, they are still rough. Our “Africa Massage” continues! We arrive around 5:00 and get set for a relaxing evening and following day. For the first time in two weeks we did not have a schedule to be anywhere at any time! The hotel setting is beautiful, the pool and beach were very nice, and the shower was heavenly. We convinced our driver that we would not need him for the remainder of the day or the next day as we wanted to relax and enjoy our last two days in luxury.

Thurs., June 14 - The weather was overcast and it rained a bit throughout the day, but that didn’t bother us as we were staying put. We were able to get in some time at the beach and pool before it started raining. We spent the day reading, relaxing, working on needlepoint, the journal of our trip, etc. I scheduled a real massage for 4:00 p.m.

Fri., June 15 – We had to leave the hotel at 6:00 a.m. in order to get to Kigali by 9:00 for our 11:00 a.m. flight to Kilimanjaro. We arrive at Kili airport around 2:00 to find that our safari driver waiting for us. He came to the airport to give us our final goodbye and buy us lunch. It was so good to see him and needless to say, I was quite surprised. We had a good visit and got updates on the car – it was the fuel pump. After a seven hour layover, we’re off to Amsterdam (10+ hours) where we got off one plane, walked down three gates and immediately reboard another plane for the trip to Detroit. Two hour layover (long enough to get lunch), then we board our last plane for home. The flight home was brutal! If/when I do it again, I will layover a few days in Amsterdam just to break up the monotony of being on the plane. The one upside was the “movies on demand” on KLM Airlines. I had not seen most of them, so that was nice.

All in all, it was a great trip, but at times overwhelming.

Some points that have made a lasting impression on me:
∙ the beautiful landscape of Rwanda – the lush green hills with the red and black dirt
∙ the beauty of all the animals in Tanzania
women with babies on their backs and bundles on their head walking along the road.
∙ very young children tending to their goats along the road with no adult supervision (or I never saw any)
∙ children learning at a very young age to help carry water or produce
∙ men carrying many heavy bags of potatoes or lettuce on bicycles along the road
∙ taxis (minivans) carry 16+ people
∙ homes made of mud and sticks with no electricity or running water
∙ the huge smiles of the children along the road
∙ the friendliness of all the people we encountered

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