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Safari Mzuri

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Time for the transition, from months of lurking and learning safari secrets from the experienced, to finally posting my own safari journal!!!

After comparing and checking prices and dates with several operators, I kept connecting with Journey to Africa, a company represented by an agent who loves her home country, Tanzania. During our correspondence, I found willingness to match the safari to our needs and ended up with a private safari. We mixed some cultural interaction with touring of the parks. The friendliness and helpfulness of the operator just made the planning such fun, and it took a bit of time to realize that although she had been born and raised in Arusha, her office was here in the States in Houston. Mefi's enthusiasm sold me, and I took the chance with a lesser known operator.

For me, there has always been a draw or attraction to Africa, dating way back to an old James Michener book. My friend came along just because she loves to travel and this was a place she hadn't been yet.

July 6 - we boarded KLM flights to Amsterdam and then on to JRO, lovely flights, food and drink galore. We discovered Cointreau, and kept enjoying it, much to the chagrin of the senior attendant. Despite our excitement, we then were able to catch a bit of shuteye. Upon arrival in Arusha, a quick glance at our passports, we were out the one airport door and there was our Journey to Africa driver with our names on his sign board. As first timers, this was the beginning of a great adventure for us.

In the evening light we drove to Moivaro Coffee Lodge, outside of Arusha. Everywhere we saw people walking, walking even in the dim light. As we turned off the paved road, the driver mentioned that it would be bumpy for a bit, our introduction to traveling Tanzania-style. The darkness just heightened the adventure as we jostled along a windy road uphill and stopped at the gates of the Moivaro. There we were welcomed graciously, taken down a lovely path to our bungalow and then invited back to the dining room for a late dinner. After all the KLM dining, a bowl of warm soup was the best we could do. The lodge was a charming way to meet Africa and we slept well.

Up and out to breakfast, our first buffet of breads and jams, assorted fruits and the omelet station. Our driver was ready and waiting and away we went to Arusha National Park, a small place to begin.

As we entered the park, Mohamed, the driver, asked what we were most interested in seeing. Faye answered, "Giraffes," and I "Flamingoes." Within minutes the car had wound its way uphill into the park and giraffes were grazing on hillside leaves. Coloubus monkeys scampered in the trees, we encountered baboons, zebra and more giraffes. The diversity of the park setting surprised us, forestlike then hillside, then open ranges. For lunch, the driver approached Large Momella Lake picnic area to find it occupied and we motored on towards Small Momella Lake. I quipped "Wouldn't it be grand if a flock of flamingoes flew in?" and we rounded the bend and there were thousands and thousands of flamingoes scattered over the entire lake. We could have both gone home happy that first day!! Our first day in Africa, giraffes galore and lunch with the flamingoes.

Back at the Moivaro, we toured the garden paths, glad to stretch our legs. Cold Kilimanjaros tasted good out on the porch of the lodge. Jet lag must have kicked in, that or the malarone squashed my appetite, for dinner involved a lot of pushing food around the plate. Later at the bar, the bartender tried to teach us how to play Bao, a game similar to the Mancala the kids play at school. We chitchatted with a traveler getting ready to climb Kili. What an introduction to Africa.

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    Fine report so far ... we keep skipping Arusha NP and heading for Manyara or Tarangire the first afternoon game drive, but it sounds like a day at Arusha might be a good idea after all ... would love to photograph the Coloubus monkeys ...

    Keep it coming ...

    Bill

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    Once you've created your album on Kodak, use the "share album" feature and send the album to yourself. Then when you access this email, scroll down to the bottom where you will find the link that you can cut and paste into your trip report.

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    Which is more fun - reading the trip reports of others and planning new travels or just reliving the joys of your own travel as you write up the report??

    Safari Mzuri some more...

    Day 3 - The Journey to Africa contractor wanted us to stop in town and go over the itinerary. Into Arusha we went, stopping to do a money exchange on the way. What a cacaphony of noise and color, sidewalk vendors displaying wares, carts, bicycles, buses, cars all honking horns and making their way through the congestion. As touts started toward the car, our driver would send them off. At the office, the itinerary was just as arranged, we were pleased so far, so off we went.

    We set off for Tarangire, making a stop at a craft shop. Having read on Fodor's that the airport has great prices and same stock, we shopped lightly, to save lugging the gifts around.

    Passing through the Maasai grazing land was fascinating and Mohamed, a Maasai himself, patiently answered all the questions we peppered him with. Next time I'm thinking a parking space is a bit too far from the store, I'll think of the Maasai women walking 2 days to get to town.

    As we entered Tarangire, Mohamed introduced us to the acacia and amarula trees. We got a good laugh out of the idea of an elephant eating the amarula fruit and then conking out, leaning up against some tree.

    Later we met a driver friend of Mohamed's, named Amarula. Seemed the guy's parents enjoyed the fruit juice as well... We just liked calling his name whenever we crossed paths. Mostly we will remember the day he saved lunchtime. Our driver had inadvertently left lunchboxes at the camp, remembering too late to turn around. A quick call to Amarula and we had set up a place to meet for lunch, him bringing the forgotten boxes. What did we do without cell phones, even in the Serengeti?

    Within 5-10 minutes of entering Tarangire, our driver had taken a road less traveled and we were out of sight of any other cars, enjoying the elephants and baobab trees. We eyed birds of every color, a delightful surprise and when we weren't sure what Mohammed was telling us, he would turn to a well worn copy of Birds of East Africa and point it out. We began to get good at zooming our Canon S2 and S3 IS lenses. What a thrill it was to stand in the pop top and turn every which way to watch 23-24 zebra crossing in front of you, falling into a line, the young tucked among the old.
    As we drove further into the park, Faye and I oohed, aahed and oohed some more as the landscape changed from deep grasses, to tree dotted plains to tropical oasis lushness. We were introduced to dik diks, impala, gazelles, the monstrous anthills, elephants everywhere.

    Our favorite elephant encounter was along a creekbed, a family of ellies was crowded around a baby taking a nap. Mohamed cut the motor and we coasted nearer. Papa Ellie wasn't going to take chances and did his ear flap, fake charge thing towards us. We were a tad nervous, but the driver assured us that as long as the baby was safe, so were we. Indeed, the Papa was just posturing, so we sat and enjoyed the ellies protecting the little one. When Baby finally awoke, they all just ambled off. As we headed to our lodge we saw so many more ellies, including a large crashing, smashing male storming across the road behind us.

    As if to wish us good night, herds of all kinds had assembled near the roads, leaving us with the picture of the wildlife all around us as we headed down the drive to the Tarangire Safari Lodge.

    The Tarangire Lodge was a great way to meet the wildlife of Africa - the patio offered an expansive view of the plains below, quite breathtaking. Cold glasses of Tamarind juice were offered and enjoyed as we eyed the plains below. Tent #10 offered an open view as lovely as the one from the patio, only we could enjoy it from the solitude of our own porch. As this was our first tent, and our primitive camping days are long past (we have been there and have done that, but some grace is due to those who make it this far...), we checked out the plumbing conditions and were delighted to find attached flushing!

    As we enjoyed cold Kilis on the porch, a blue monkey krept into the back door of the kitchen and stole a hard-boiled egg. What entertainment. The cook came out shooing and chasing him away. In the course of things, the monkey dropped the egg, and the screaming began. You would have thought the life of its first born was at stake, such wailing and screeching. The cook kept shooing and the monkey kept squawking. The cook shooed, the monkey finally backed up a tad, but when the cook let down his guard, the monkey zipped in and captured his egg. What a hoot - off he ran.

    Dinner was buffet style in the large dining room, a blend of languages from many countries. The night stars came out and we were escorted back to our tent, the flashlight catching the glint of several pairs of eyes next to the path - several dik diks. The tent beds were plain and comfortable, and the loo was just a quick zip away, so we slept fitfully.

    As we breakfasted, we heard the story of 2 lionesses roaming the parking lot that morning, causing the entrapment of a couple of drivers as they waited for them to pass. A young wife next to us nudged her husband and said, "See that snuffling outside our tent was real. And you didn't believe me about those pawprints either." From then on, I kept the flashlight close at hand at night....

    The day's drive in the park was amazing, herds and herds and herds. We saw more of everything, just in larger numbers - gazelles, wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, ellies, magnificent birds, ostriches. The park land changed every 10 minutes, tree dotted savannah, mixed grass and palm trees, baobabs towering here and there. My tracking skills were improving, I could almost hold the binoculars still. During lunch at a ridgetop picnic area I was able to spot a faroff saddleback stork wading in the river and a herd of waterbucks coming down for a drink. Before we left, a family of elephants came down for a drink and entertained us with their spraying and splashing.

    By afternoon, when the herds of wildebeest and zebra were becoming almost anticlimactic, we came upon a herd of vehicles watching a cheetah enjoy its lunch. Mohamed found us a prime viewing spot, and there curled under a bush, with its spots blending into the branches, was the cheetah and its meaty meal. What a way to end the morning drive.

    Lunch at the lodge was light, and Faye was delighted to find the people dining next to us were her seatmates from the KLM flight. The couple on the other side of us had lived 10 minutes away from me in Ohio, what a small world.

    During the afternoon, as gorgeous as the pool was, I chose to sit on the escarpment ridge patio, occasionally writing, but mostly enjoying the vista. In a short time, 2 large groups of elephants, a herd of impalas, several zebras, an ostrich pair, and an army of baboons, hundreds of them popping out of the grass to race up the hillside into the trees on either side of the lodge. Seems the lure of the sugar bowls and bread baskets is a regular temptation. The waitress said they often come in and make a tremendous mess. I watched them crowd into the trees around the patio, and then scoot back a tad when the boy with the stick came to shoo them off.

    The afternoon drive was as wild as the morning, adding a leopard sighting. It was slinking down a tree into tall grass and I got a quick glimpse. Mohamed tried to find us some cats, I guess the driver's goal is to locate the big 5 each day. As I said, we were thrilled with giraffe and flamingoes. Big cat hunters, we aren't. A cheetah and leopard were what I'd call enough cats for one day!

    Dinner was quiet and peaceful atop the ridge. Later that night in the tent, the cries and cheers of the World Cup games could be heard from the driver's room. Like I said, my tracking skills are growing...

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    Wildebeestus: Love the name :-)

    Great report so far, and I really enjoyed your pictures! I had to go looking for the baby ele - soo cute!

    "A cheetah and leopard were what I'd call enough cats for one day!" Oooh - never enough! :-)

    Re: tracking skills: I got quite adept at spotting balloons!

    Can't wait to read more - thanks for sharing.

    Cyn

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    Great name and photos. The link worked fine. You certainly did get your wish of a flock of flamingos. What a nice welcome to Arusha.

    You learned Bao too. I think I lost every game I played.

    Tarangire has really been producing the cats! How nice to have diks diks nearby your tent. I recall how relaxed those adorable little antelope were in Tarangire.

    Blue monkeys are somewhat rare and you had one up close stealing eggs.

    Glad you've moved from lurking to contributing.

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    Wildebeestus... reading and planning your next trip and writing up your trip report are both equally good. And contributing is always better than lurking - it's a really nice report too.

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    Deb, great report! Enjoyed the pictures, appreciated the diversity you shared with us. Gotta add Arusha NP to our list next time we get back to Tanzania. Looking forward to next chapter.
    Dick

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    Thank you all for the kind words and for bearing with a first timer's meanderings. The acceptance is sooo encouraging.

    Bill H - definately would recommend Arusha NP - small and sweet, highlands as well as plains. We also stopped at an orphanage on the road to Arusha NP, so immediately began experiencing life in Tanzania beyond park borders. Faye probably has emptied the pockets of all friends and family by now, in a frenzied effort to sponsor all 42 children, possibly financing the building of an extra room or two.

    Matnikstym - the ellies have their own special wrinkly charm, eh?

    Cyn - thanks for the photo comments -makes the trip come right back to life having someone else enjoy it as well! Is there more to the tracking the balloons story??

    Patty, Kimburu, Shaytay, Dick - appreciate the kind words and encouragement. It does the trick - now I'll get going on the next installment.

    Safari Mzuri - on to Lake Eyasi and some tribal visits, 7/10/06

    For those of you who love the animal sightings, you may want to skip this part.

    First stop out of Tarangire was a local Primary School. Even though it was first day back after break, the principal and staff were gracious and welcomed our intrusion on their day. After recovering from the size of the classes, 75 children to 1 teacher, and the primitiveness of the classroom furniture (3-4 students to each wooden desk, an ancient chalkboard), I went on to ask what particular challenges were front and center. The principal explained that some children walked as far as 17 miles to school and keeping them in school was the most critical concern. Not all children in a family attend and the school tries to make the best opportunity for those who do. Each child was responsible for carrying a stick of wood for fuel. (Think of that as you are in line at Staples or Office Max scrounging up that buggy full of school supplies.) The class sang a couple of songs with gusto and huge enthusiasm, and it was clear that reciting and singing were joyful alternatives to notebooks or workbooks!

    Back on the road, we headed up that nicely paved Japanese sponsored highway to a turnoff for Lake Eyasi. The road became a red dusty rusty crevice and gully dodge'em. Mohamed expertly maneuvered the Land Cruiser back and forth from crater to pothole to smooth patch. We passed field workers irrigating and tending lavish plantings. The only traffic on the road appeared to be an occasional missionary and heavy duty lorries making deliveries from the onion fields. We traveled up through the Ngorongoro highlands, passing Iraqwi schoolchildren running home on their lunch break, passing Iraqwi villagers walking, walking, carrying bundles on the head or large loads fastened to the back of a bicycle. At last we pulled into an Iraqwi village and connected with the guide who would take us to meet the Hadzabe and Datoga tribes the next day.

    Mission accomplished, on to the little turn off road for Ksima Ngeda, a small tented camp. The dry dusty bumpy road changed into a path that was meandering into tropical palms and lush greenery, and all of a sudden we were in the tropical paradise that is Ksima Ngeda on the shore of Lake Eyasi. The manager welcomed us warmly with cold juice and a tour of the fishpond/swimming pool and paths that take you into the private cabanas and lushly hidden wooden "relaxing spot." On we went to our tent, quickly changing for an afternoon swim. While enjoying the pool, cold Kilis were delivered to the cabana, followed by another knock on the door, a bowl of crispy chips!

    As we headed back to dress for dinner, we were stopped for a warm welcome by the owner, Chris. No sooner were we in our tent, when Noni, wife of Chris, yoo hooed us and came up with another warm welcome. What a lovely couple, making each guest feel special and at ease. Dinner was delicious, a quiet affair in the main tent, only 4 tables of guests, impeccable service. Small world, again, as one of the guests was a photo safari leader from a town 20 minutes from where I work! Sunset was a pink glowing extravanganza, with palm trees silhouetted against the waning light.

    Up before dawn next day for our hunting and gathering interaction with the Hadzabe, one of the remaining bush tribes. Mohamed picked up the Iraqwi guide who would interpret for us and find the camp of the Hadzabe.

    In the twilight we meandered through paths and dusty trails until we came upon a small clearing next to a dry riverbed. We parked and walked over to the small group of shivering men in shorts trying to rub sticks against a metal blade to get the morning fire going. At another small gathering, several women shivered and huddled and tried to gain body heat from one another as they worked at starting their morning fire. Little by little tribe members would leave their small hut shelters made of loose twigs and join the group for morning warmth.

    As kindling ignited from the sparks made by the rubbing of the stick on metal, the fire came to life. Soon arrows were being made from sticks pulled straight in the heat of the fire. Each hunter carried 3 arrows, 3 different size tips for different size game. The poison from a nearby bush was smeared beneath the metal tip meant for the larger animals. Once the tip sunk in, the poison would finish the job. A pipe full of a mixture of leaves and seeds was passed around the men's fire, men and boys alike inhaling deeply from the bowl. Soon eyes glazed over and the shivering seemed to cease. (Yes, it is what you think... a very potent mixture.)

    As the first wave of hunters prepared to take off on the morning search for food, a deeply wrinkled woman called to the Iraqwi guide. In a torrent of rapidly fired words, she gave the men's camp that "look" - that universal look that says "headed for trouble, beware..."

    The young hunters, clad in shorts and tire tread sandals, took off down the dry riverbed and we set off to follow. My curiosity got the best of me and I asked the guide what the Hadzabe woman was going on about. He smiled a sheepish smile, and said that she had asked him to make sure that whatever the men find in the bush, big or small, to bring some back for the women and children. I would understand this soon enough.

    With 20 minutes, we were standing at the edge of the riverbed downstream, several of the hunters gathering to share their bounty. Arrows had pierced the hearts of several small birds. A few of the hunters had birds stuffed in their pockets. Kindling was quickly gathered, a small fire ignited with the rubbing sticks against metal blade. Bird feathers were torn off the bodies and when the fire was hot enough, the birds were roasted right there in the bush and devoured. One hunter offered us the bird brain, which we declined without a second thought. He then proceeded to enjoy it with a crunching delight. The birds were shared among all the hunters and the tone of the conversation seemed as all were satisfied.

    As the hunters rose, I expected they would move on to capture more. To my surprise, they turned and headed back to camp. I told the guide that the women and children back at camp wanted food and we had said we'd make sure they brought food back. He smiled. Indignation overflowed and I said, "Well, I'm telling the women what happened." The guide didn't miss a minute and said, "Well, I'll have to tell the men that you're planning on telling."

    Back at camp, Mohamed fished out our lunch box leftovers for the women and children. Each person got something or shared until everyone had a bite to eat.

    (From then on, each lunch ended with a save box and a throw away box, and our driver would make sure the food went to someone who could use a bite.)

    Before we left, the group made a circle and sang and danced for us. An older tribesman offered to let us try shooting the bow and arrow. We again were too girly and said no, but both guides had a good time trying to show their marksman skill.

    While we were quite taken with the step into another culture, our itinerary called for meeting yet with another group, the Datoga. We drove to their camp, a more permanent fenced in structure. There a blacksmith smelted scrap metal, using an animal skin bellow and red hot coal fire. The assistant would then hammer the metal into useful tools, arrowhead, and bracelets. The wife, a charming and gracious women wearing a deerskin skirt with excessive fringe and beads (a sign of being married) welcomed us into her boma, where goats were tethered to the inside wall and a pot of beans simmered in a pot in the fire at the corner of the room. Several beds made of sticks tied together and covered with an animal hide were tucked between walls of the shelter. Outside, the family members, several young adults and a couple of small ones, gathered to sing for us, banging on an animal skin and rubbing armfuls of metal bangle bracelets against one another to produce musical melody. The littlest ones danced and kept the beat with feet stamping on the ground. The older boys and our guides shouldered their long sticks and did the jumping high in the air jumping dance.

    Upon return to Ksima Ngeda, we were chatting with Noni about the skills of the hunters and their great accuracy. She shared the story of a local tribesman who was well known for his expertise with an arrow, so much so that several people wanted to sponsor him as a Tanzanian entrant to the Olympics. He left his village and began training in Arusha, but within three weeks, he gave it all up and said, "Not for me," and returned home.

    So many lessons learned in just one day...

    We had a wonderful lunch, hugged Noni and sadly said goodbye to her lovely staff. We headed back down the rusty, dusty red road through all of the fertile fields and back to the paved road.

    After a little craft shop stop we headed to the Ngorongoro Farm House, situated on a hillside 10 minutes from the entrance to the park.

    Again, every day different in Africa - this lodge was large, manicured and lush with colorful gardens. We were met with cold juice and wet towels to freshen up. Who could believe the red dirt being wiped off was that thick?? The porters beat our dufflebags with a brush to remove some of the dust, and then led us to our room - a LONG walk from the main area. Next time we'll want to be a little closer in, as the hike was a bit much. Of course, because we were so far out, we needed to have someone come spray the bees nest in our chimney (I'm highly allergic, so it was a must), and I had to make the hike a few extra times.

    A couple cold Kilis by the pool, a nice shower and we were ready for dinner. A tour group had scheduled some entertainment, I believe someone here has already described as an African Circque de Soleil acrobatic troup. Mohamed joined us and we had a lovely meal, trying to digest not only delicious dinner, but all of the events of the day.








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    Crater Day

    Met Mohamed for breakfast, but wasn't eating much (at first thought loss of appetite was excitement of finally getting to Africa, later began to realize it was the Malarone.... hmmm, how long can one continue taking Malarone after being home.... the new Safari Diet???)

    Up the narrow windy road to the Crater we went. Around and around, zig and zag, passing wild fig trees and trees dripping with vines in the mist of the morning cloud cover. Then it was the descent into the crater, driving by the Maasai herders taking the cattle into the crater for water. Off in a Maasai village Mohamed spotted the Big Yellow African Elephant, what was that? A big old Caterpillar earth mover!! (fell for it hook line and sinker...)

    Then the cloud covering was above us and we could see the beauty that is the Crater, herds of water buffalo, wildebeest, zebra - so many and so strong looking. There was a greater degree of energy, much more frolicking and running, more activity. If we could give days a name, this was the Day of the Cats. First it was a large lion with his pride of 4 females and cubs, having a lovely day of it, lounging, mating, lounging, mating, lounging. Then it was a magnificent lion with the Don King wild mane sunning on a rock. Then it was a pair of lionesses resting by a creekbed. As we drove down the road, vehicles were stopped to let a lion family walk by - right outside the car window went their tails, swish, swish. By lunch time, we had seen lions over 9 different times!! Even Mohamed was a bit wowed. The afternoon passed quickly, hippo pool, Egyptian geese, water birds of all kinds - storks, ibex, more hyenas and cats, herds and herds of zebra and water buffalo.

    As the afternoon waned, we headed up the curvy narrow ascent road, thankfully confident in Mohamed's driving skill. The looks back into the Crater were wistful, what a gorgeous place. As we twisted by the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, I decided that there is where I will begin my retirement life - getting a job making beds, gazing out on the beauty of the Crater each morning.

    Back at the Ngorongoro Farm House, we again washed and washed off the red dirt, then relaxed by the pool, writing and enjoying a cold Kili. Showers were full force water in a large walk-in tiled shower, each bungalow supplied with a solar water tank - what an appreciated extravagance!! Dinner looked delicious, but the appetite was still a bit off. After we were escorted back down the long path to our bungalow, we lounged like lions in the comfy chairs and lit the fire that was laid out in the fireplace. Out in the distance an elephant trumpeted. (Here is where I need one of those wonderful quotes about the beauty that is Africa.)

    Off to the Serengeti

    Mohamed met us next morning with a washed off car. What a sweetie he was to keep up with the layers of dust, and we were off to the Serengeti.

    We stopped at a Maasai Village, which was definately a tourist business. The Chief's Son (I'm noticing that many of the village stops are conducted by the Chief's Son - hmmmm, an honor position, a job for a leader or maybe .....) The Son took us into a boma, sat us on the rickety bed and gave us a talk on the life of the Maasaii. His English was remarkable, school in Arusha, he explained. What did the group do with the money brought in by tourism we asked. Why it was used to buy water and medicine for the cows. We were taken to the "school" - several 3-4 year olds sitting by a blackboard against a tree, with the English vowels written on it. They sang us the A B C song and we were then offered the opportunity to contribute to the box for the building of the new school. We were again ushered through the village, urged again to shop for Maasai beadwares. After some high-priced haggling, during which Faye learned how to bargain quickly, we went to settle up. The blanket opened up and out came the wallet and ledgerbook. The marketing is an economic solution to a problem created by the loss of land to the parks, I know, and the income helps the group pay their bills, but it still felt a bit voyeuristic.

    Back on the road to the Serengeti, we stopped by Oldupai Gorge and ate our box lunches in the Visitor's Center overlook. The view was lovely, and we got great bird pics - they were so tame waiting for our crumbs that they didn't fly away while we fumbled with our cameras!

    Mohamed took us down the road to show us the phenomena known as the Shifting Sand, the pile that moves en mass. We took a few pics and marveled and off we went.

    As we ventured down a less traveled sandy road, we got bogged down in the deep sand and came to an abrupt stop. The wheel well was in sand up past the axle. Mohamed tried digging us out a couple times, but the sand shifted right back into the well. Shifting sand of a different variety... The driver took off to get help and directed us to stay in the car, he'd be back soon. Sitting still lasted about 4 minutes and out we jumped to the shade of nearby acacia trees. Stranded. An adventure. A few wild donkeys meandered by. Then I heard what sounded like children's voices singing. Out in the middle of what seemed like nowhere came 5 young Maasai children. They looked at us, our sinking car and chattered away. We chattered back. The the eldest girl opened her robe to reveal a collection of bracelets, "Dollar??" she asked. We laughed and had to buy one each - now we could go home and tell the story of being stranded in the sand, but finding a way to still go shopping for jewelry!!! Deb and Faye on safari!!!

    Within 5 minutes, other cars had stopped to help, Mohamed returned with several other cars and with incredible kindness and good spirit, everyone helped us out of the sand. What wonderful people - the safari crowd and their drivers - the guy digging the hardest to get us out was a fellow tourist from North Carolina!! One girl laughed at our shopping story and said they'd been bogged down in the muck in the Mara and everyone came to their rescue, so they were glad to pass the help along!

    At the Serengeti gate we ran into several of our new friends and again thanked them for our rescue.

    The Serengeti, just like the IMAX movie, just like the Discovery channel shows, just like the National Geographic photos, only more beautiful.
    And we were here!!!

    The afternoon game drive was abundant with sitings: a couple of lion groups, herds of zebra, wildebeest, Thomson's gazelles, water buffalo, ellies, storks, hippos, crocs, water buck, hartebeest. As we headed to the Seronera Wildlife Lodge, that late hour of the afternoon, we kept seeing one herd after another. What a welcome.

    The Seronera Wildlife Lodge was an open structure built around and into the rocks and kopjes. Lizards and hyraxes scampered in and out. The bar patio faced west, a lovely sundowner spot.

    As we watched the glory of the sun setting, I glanced down the rocks and spotted the slithering stripes of something, very yellow and very black, very big. Later that night I read that there is a resident ball python in the bar area. Mohamed told me the next day it was most likely a lizard. As I am not a fan of anything that slithers, I will watch where I sit for sundown!!

    Our room was exactly what was pictured on the website, but what wasn't pictured was the baboon frenzy outside in the trees. The plumbing left a lot to be desired - it seems to be time for a bit of updating for the Seronera.

    The dining room was enormous, the buffet delicious. There were wonderful choices for everything - soups, salads, entrees, desserts.

    Splendor in the Serengeti

    Up at 5 for the Balloon Safari. What a time for the flashlight batteries to go out - the darkness before dawn in an open area lodge. We made our way to the desk area to wait for our car to pick us up, just the two of us and the desk clerk.

    Then the roaring began. Close by. Closer and moving. Loud roaring. The desk clerk left and there were the two of us. Faye was unfazed. The roaring continued to move around us. I looked for places to get to should his or her highness come padding in. Like I said, open area design - there was nowhere. Now I knew why my mom feared a bit for her daughter going on safari - there was a bit of danger here....

    After frantic searching, I found a set of washrooms with doors that we could get behind, if needed. I felt much better. I really felt truly better when the Balloon Safari vehicle arrived and we were inside.

    Up Up and Away

    The balloon safari was what I'd imagined - quiet beauty from a different perspective. The morning was lovely, chilly at first, but exciting. The crew prepared for launch and the passengers chit chatted, a friendly bunch off for a common adventure.

    Although I promised Faye, "What happens in the Serengeti, stays in the Serengeti," I do have to say it was pretty hilarious to have 2 middle aged ladies of (how does Alexander McCall Smith describe Precious Ramotswe - "of traditional build") well, you get the idea, the two of us squeezing into one of the basket compartments, tucking in for the take-off. A husband and wife in the next compartment were having the same situation, he apologizing profusely for not dieting as well as he could have. Once tucked in, off went the balloon, towed for a minute or two by the car, then up we went, a few blasts of hot air, a bump or two lightly on the ground and we were sailing along above the Serengeti.

    The views were lovely, very serene, very calm. The whoosh of the hot air was the only sound, that and cameras clicking away. The sunrise brought audible gasps from many of us - a memory to return to as a moment of incredible beauty. From above, we watched gazelles galore, hippos in and out of the pool, hyenas and zebras. The hour passed quickly and then it was time to return to the ground with barely a whoomp. A lovely landing was toasted with champagne or OJ for all, a delightful celebration.

    The crew packed up the balloons, we hopped into the assorted waiting vehicles and off we were driven to the breakfast spot.

    Welcome to the Kasbah

    Under an acacia tree a long table was set up, linen, china, champagne buckets, flowers. A wash table was set up - a gentleman in a turban welcomed us to breakfast in the bush. Loos ("with a view" signs attached) were set up beyond the dining area. The breakfast was enchanting, delightful company, wonderful safari stories, a full course meal served with champagne. (If I don't get a job at the Ngorongoro Lodge, maybe I can wash dishes for the balloon safari guys....) Then it was over soon enough and time to head back to the Seronera Wildlife Lodge. For more safari adventures, if you can imagine....

    On the way to lodge we happened upon a pair on lions resting on a rock. The day's game drive had already begun.

    Mohamed was ready and waiting for us, the Serengeti being his favorite of the parks. By now I was learning some of his tracking tricks. He was "Hawkeye" and I "Ostricheye." He could spot wildlife miles away - I was getting good at least at finding where he was pointing to.

    In giving days an identity, this became "Balloon and Baby Day." Within minutes of the beginning of our game drive, we'd spotted a large warthog group with lots of little ones, a giraffe group with several young ones and zebra herds with countless little ones. Then it was a lioness with her cubs. We spotted a leopard sleeping in a tree, lots of ellies in the grass and at the waterhole, waterbucks, hartebeests, topi, more giraffes, a mama lion heavy with child stalking a gazelle. On the way to the Lodge for lunch, we came upon a cheetah under a bush, having her lunch, a small Tommy. We were close enough to hear the crunching.

    The afternoon game drive was as wonderful - so much to see in the high grass. At waterholes we found an abundance of birdlife, hippos, crocs, more ellies, more giraffes. As we watched herds travel across the roads in front of and behind us, I became quite impressed with their communications, the zebras nodding their heads, "Let's go, let's go." I took lots of pictures of these organized lines, no pushing or shoving, to show my 3rd graders back at school. If the wild animals can do it, certainly a few boys and girls can do it.

    The day flew - animals again of every kind: gazelle, impala, water buffalo, a flock of lovebirds in a tree near a kopje. As the park closed, we made our way back to the Seroronera Wildlife Lodge, hoping to get there in time for the sundown. What a spectacle that was - the pink and orange glow behind the mountains, everything seeming to be on fire.

    Late that night, after we turned out the lights, I heard the roars that had started the day. I hopped up and looked out the window in time to see two young lions come flying out of the bush, followed by a few cubs, all chasing something with loud roars. The outside light of the area made it easy to watch - it was like looking out your back window to watch the lions. Within minutes everyone was at their windows and the cameras clicked and you could hear the words "four lions" in several languages. Fortunately, whatever they were after went to the other side of the building, and I for one was relieved not to see the ending. Chase and stalk, I'm OK with, the capture not so much...

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    Patty,
    We were the only visitors to the Hadzabe that morning, at least in the early hours. The other guests of Ksima Ngeda were also meeting tribes and we shared stories at lunch. A family went with their guide to a different Hadzabe camp, where breakfast was one mouse, shared. The photo safari guys visited the Datoga on their own, but no one was working the blacksmith fire. As we shared stories, Noni, the owner, smiled at our different experiences and said that guides have their own favorite camps and people to work with, so it varies.

    Ngorongoro Farm House was a lovely place to stay, a good base for the Crater if wildlife viewing is not critical. The only wildlife we encountered were the bees in the nest in the chimney that swarmed down into our room. It seems to have recently been expanded, our bungalow was one of several new additions, the gardens being very newly planted, and of course, a very l-o-n-g walk from the main area. Each evening there's a walk/talk about coffee plantation business. Nice, very pleasant, lovely dining room and gorgeous pool, yes. On the edge of the Crater viewing spectacular wildlife, no.

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    Thanks for reading, Bat. Don't ever tell Faye I shared the basket story!!

    Patty, I just finished reading jasher's Botswana report, so I will not be getting back to the Crater next! I'll have to head to the Okavango! Just dreaming....

    I don't know what to say about staying on the crater rim or outside. Both have their beauties.

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    To continue the Safari Mzuri report -

    The morning drive was a survey of the Serengeti - lots of giraffe, antelope, gazelles, hartebeest, warthogs, zebra and a stop at the hippo pool - lazy, lounging, snorting, splashing and a few floating crocs.

    The driver spotted a lioness, very heavy with child and we parked for a while and watched her decide if she had the energy to stalk lunch or not. After a few false starts, the gazelle escaped and Mama Lioness returned to the shade of the tree to breathe heavily. We returned to the Seronera Wildlife Lodge for a warm lunch, enjoyed the birds flitting around as we ate and then headed off towards the Northern Serengeti.

    This drive was the quietest - we were already beginning to miss our driver, dreading the leaving, and so sad that our days were dwindling down. Around us the rangers had begun the "controlled burning" needed to keep the grasses low, and the air was filled with nasty acrid smoke remnants. Many baboon troups and a few warthog families ventured out into the cooling barrens and hunted down the emergent grasses, so game viewing was melancholic - a testament to the strength of survival and renewal, but ugly to the eye. Thankfully, the surrounding hills provided the beautiful background that is Africa - every day different.

    And then we were at the sign for Ikoma Bush Camp. Down the road we drove, passing more burnt fields and then some grassy savannas and then into the camp.

    Ikoma seemed the most primitive so far, a basic thatched tent for welcoming, a few tables for game playing, a cooler behing the counter for cold drinks. We were taken to our tent, quite a hike down the paths to the furthest outreaches of the camp. The wooden furniture of the tent created a "you-are-in-the-depths-of-the-African-savanna" feeling, again very primitive. The view from the verandah of our tent let us know that we were definately out in the depths of the African savanna - high grasses dotted with trees, a few birds perched in the highest branches.

    The call for Kili got us hiking back to the main tent. A couple of drivers were playing checkers, but left when we sat down at a table with our beers. Ladies at leisure is still a bit unsettling for some of the gents of Tanzania. Faye reached into her backpack and pulled out a deck of cards she had rescued from the depths of her desk at work. This was a mighty old deck of cards, telling us how often Faye cleans her desk or how often she feels the chance to play cards... the cards portrayed the 1980s Chippendale Dancers. Right now you're guessing it was a good thing the drivers took off, because we had ourselves a hoot of a time, not so much playing cards as enjoying the 80s version of "supposedly sexy...."

    A few families checked into Ikoma, but spoke other languages, so we headed back to our tent to clean up for dinner. We took a Kili along to enjoy the sundown.

    While the shower was cold and hissing air, (seems water supply is waning if you're at the far ends of the camp?)the sundown was one of the most spectacular of our week in Africa. We audibly gasped and oohed and aahhed in the glory of it. Sunlight leaked and glowed behind the acacia trees, with the birds silhouetted, a view appreciated only by those who have experienced it. When it finally quieted to twilight, we were able to make our way down the paths to dinner.

    A campfire with chairs set round welcomed us to dinner. Behind the campfire were set up linen covered tables, candles glowing on each. Chit-chat around the fire was a delightful beginning to the evening.

    Darkness descended and we all made our way to the tables set with heavy silver and glowing candlelight. Dinner was a buffet set out in the grasses of Ikoma, select what you like in the flickering night light. It seemed Dennys Finch Hatton could come stalking into camp at any minute.

    Dining under the African stars - how can it be described? Staff attended to our whims and wishes, we enjoyed the delicious meal, interrupted often by a skyward gaze at the beauty of the night star show. It was difficult to find even the most familiar constellations in the millions of stars on display before us.

    The "armed" Maasai escort led us back to our tent, which again, was a long walk out to the edges of the camp. We sat for another hour on our verandah, enjoying the solitude and spectacular star viewing of the evening. When we finally retired, it was hard to get right to sleep, as the snorting and snuffling nearby was quite nearby.

    Onward to the western Serengeti

    Next day we were up and out, back across the burning fields into the more central Serengeti. We again saw the baboons and warthogs scavenging across the scorched landscape. Plumes of smoke billowed above the hills around us.

    By late morning we were again seeing herds of zebra and elephants, a few giraffe. For lunch, we stopped at the Serengeti Visitors Center, took the educational walk, snapped some pics along the learning stations and sampled the offerings of our box lunches.

    Late afternoon and a long drive slowly uphill found us in the western Serengeti, concluding our trip as the operator had promised, "finishing with a bang at Mbalageti." We were driving along, almost immune to the herds and herds of zebra and wildebeest, when all of a sudden, the numbers in each herd magnified to countless amounts. Everywhere we looked were thousands and thousands of wildebeest and zebra. We had caught up with the Great Migration!!! They snorted, they snuffled, they ran and kicked up dust galore. Life in the herd was on prominent display - nursing, mating, challenging, snoozing, walking... it was the Great Migration!! First, thousands of wildebeest, then thousands of zebra. We crossed the dried Grumeti and made our way uphill to Mbalageti.

    At the top of the hill, Mbalageti rested, a large welcome center decorated with the wildlife theme of the Serengeti - a great python skin, assorted African artifacts, heads of water buffalo, a coffee/tea station, fancy cookies.

    Our bags were toted to our chalet, a tent built on a raised platform that faced both sides of the hillside - a valley on one side and a plains on the other. Herds of wildebeest and zebra snorted and snuffled below us. The chalet's varnished wooden floors were so highly polished, they glistened in the waning sunlight. We climbed up and left our own sets of dusty tracks, pausing to admire the sunken tub in the deck of our chalet. Around us were the branched and trees surrounding the chalet, making it private and seeming to be on the hillside by itself. It was one of those places where you stop and say "I'm certain God lives right here."

    Mbalageti Serengeti was a delicious camp, a place you'd want to spend a honeymoon. The lounge area offered vista views of the migration, all around. The pool had an ifinity view of the landscape beyond. Not only was the view spectacular, the service was stellar - a cold beer with warm nibblies, and then some more warm nibblies. Mbalageti offered a shower with full force water, a hair dryer and even a remote for a TV should we desire(we didn't).

    For dinner, we met up with our driver for our last evening together. The meal was scrumptious, too bad getting there involved such a long flight or we'd return on a frequent basis. We appreciated that Mohamed had kept the specialness of this place as a surprise for the end of the trip, merely saying we'd be in "tents" for the last couple nights.

    After the Maasai guide escorted us back to the chalet, and after responding to the query of whether he'd used the pointed spear with a "Yes, four times, four lions," we were still game for an evening soak in the sunken tub on the deck of the chalet. We filled it with bubbles and had ourselves a star saturated, wildebeest serenaded last evening in the Serengeti. Every day different in Africa.

    Sniff, Sniff

    Next morning, after a quick stop at the noisy hippo pool, we headed to the Grumeti air strip. There we said a hold-back-the-waterworks goodbye to our driver, waited for the rangers to clear the wildebeests off the runways, and took off for Arusha. Our driver, kind as always, somehow picked up a soul at the airstrip in need of a ride, and had found some company for the long drive back.

    Next time, the end, the Zanzibar wrap up.....

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    Wildebeestus, I've finally caught up with you!!! (your report that is!). It sounds fantastic! Those 80's chippendales ... I laughed out loud! Definately a good thing those guys had left by then! And that last evening in the tub under the stars above sounds just out of this world. I am only started on your photos as I have a veerrryyy sllooowww dial up but that those Ellies protecting the baby are precious.... (I have a bit of an Elephant 'thing').
    Thank you so much for posting!

    Imelda

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    I'm only halfway thru your report and must stop now and get some work done!

    I just wanted to let you know how much I'm enjoying your report and look forward to reading more.

    Cindy

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    Zanzibar Wrap Up

    Doing this last part of the report means it's really over.... but I do already have plans for the next "trip of a lifetime" .... this site keeps you ready to run back to Africa!

    The Zanair flight to Zanzibar was tightly packed, everything had to be stowed in the cargo cubbies. Faye was busy taking pictures and stepped on the plane to all seats taken. The pilot merely motioned for her to come sit next to him in the co-pilot seat, so she got to view the flight into Zanzibar from the front of the plane.

    The Zanzibar airport was crowded with taxis and people everywhere. We spotted our Journey to Africa contact and piled into our first African vehicle with AC. Chilled air - ahhhhhhh. ICE COLD water, too.

    Stonetown is an experience, overcrowded, bustling, mayhem, throngs of people everywhere, horns honking, ancient buildings decaying next to scaffold laced new construction. The car parked in a lot near the water and our bags were toted through narrow, not so fragrant alleys, past street vendors and stalls of colorful crafts to the Emerson & Green hotel. As shown on the website, it's dark and Turkish in flavor, an experience to try, but maybe not to return to for creature comforts. We had to climb seriously steep and narrow high risered stairs to our room, pausing to regain breath at each landing. The room itself was cavernous, a tepid AC unit blew stuffy air around, the walls adorned with not one, but 3 portraits of Queen Elizabeth, the furnishings very dark and antique-flavored. Kitschy, very kitschy... Windows were covered in bars and screen, but you could hear the conversations in neighboring buildings and the chatter in the street below, definately a midcity accomodation.

    A quick freshen up and we descended "the stairs" to meet back up with our guide for a late afternoon tour of Stonetown. We drove over to the Anglican church, toured the former slave market site, toured the markets, sampled lots of fruits we'd never seen, perused the spices markets for packets to take home and even popped into a school still in session at 5:00. Again, the classes were enormous, 60-70 students, 1 teacher. We walked through the winding alleys past craft shops, vendors of everything from shoes to Xbox games to paintings. It seemed we walked for miles, but in reality, the whole area is just a few blocks, tightly packed. At the harborfront, a film director's festival was going on, so people were assembled everywhere, an outdoor festival. The night markets were just beginning to open along the edge of the harbor, and the dhows were sailing people in and around.

    We parted company with the guide and headed back to Emerson & Green. There, the desk clerk urged us to hurry upstairs for the dinner. We had planned on a little R&R, maybe a cold Kili, but his urging made us wash quick and head up the rest of the staircases to the rooftop restaurant. After the huffing and puffing hike, we reached the top level to find an open air dining room, cushions on the edges for seating, low tables near the floor, the appetizer course being served to all. Dinner was served course by course to the small group assembled on the cushions and low tables. The printed menu listed things I would never have ordered or tried, but as each course was served and I sampled each dish, each course became more enjoyable than the last. A violinist serenaded us as we dined, the stars twinkled and the view of the night city below was lovely, prettier in the dark than the congestion viewed during the day. Every day different in Africa - this was an unexpected surprise. Was it a little cheesy, a bit choreographed, yes, did the servers climb steep stairs toting meals and dishes up and down for our dining pleasure, yes. Was it memorable - like nowhere else!

    In the morning, we climbed back up the stairs to the restaurant for breakfast. Tables and chairs had been carried up and a server took our breakfast order. In the morning light, you could see the ships in the harbor, the rusted tin roofs below, laundry drying on some, the tightly packed buildings that had been this city for centuries.

    A driver picked us up for our final destination, a 45 minute drive to Matemwe Beach Village. We passed through the congestion of Stonetown and onto the road northeast, through fields of workers, past moderate homes made of mud or concrete, some finished, some in progress. The fabrics worn began to take on more color, not the black and white worn by so many in town. Traffic checkpoints along the way stopped us, the driver explained, for "papers" - taxes paid, up to date licenses.

    Finally, we arrived in Matemwe Village, took off down a dusty road to the beach edge to the resort, a collection of little bungalow rooms dotted in the palm trees and banana plants. The main building was an open construction, a cushion covered seating area for relaxing, tables for dining, a bar area. Off to the side was a lovely pool. Waving to us from the water was a young guy we'd met at Moivaro who was waiting to climb Kili. Yay, we'd get to hear about his adventure!!

    Off down a sandy path, shadowed with palm trees was the sparkling blue water of the Indian Ocean, snow white sand, a few lounge chairs, some seaweed scattered. A dive boat floated offshore, anchored until its next trip. Hammocks hung from trees here and there. There were a couple people out on lounge chairs, but other than than, sheer beauty and peace of the beach to enjoy by ourselves!!!

    Bathing suits were on within minutes, our bungalow room itself quite plain and spartan, but at the beach, who stays in their room??

    The last hours of our days in Zanzibar were spent lazing in the sun, catching rays that tanned even with SPF 30 on. We watched the dive boat go in and out, walked the sands for hours. The water was quite shallow, due to the outlying reef, but it was cold and wet and still refreshed. Local ladies came and gathered seaweed to dry on racks for commercial vending. Faye scheduled a massage, which she enjoyed immensely. The R & R was a pleasant surprise, we had no idea it would be so peaceful and private and totally relaxing. Dinner was buffet, served quite late, giving us nice evening time to chat with other guests in the cushioned lounge area. We caught up on the climbing Kili adventure.

    In the morning we planned to squeeze a few more hours of sun basking, but we were called back for hotel check out at 11. That was disappointing, as our driver was coming at 3 and that left us with the choice of going to the plane in layers of Coppertone or cleaned up. As if to make it easier, the sun hid behind clouds for a while and a 10 minute shower sprinkled rain, so we cleaned up and relaxed in the lounge to await the driver.

    The rest of the trip home was just the transportation stuff that we all know about, shopping for good deals in the airport gift shop (got some great spiced coffee bags for home and for gifts), navigating the mayhem and chaos that is Dar Eslam airport. After making it through the changing queue areas and the 2 hours it took just to get checked in, we headed up to the restaurant that was giving us a complimentary cold drink while we waited for our 2 hour delayed KLM flight. There we realized we had spent the last of our small bills and shillings, only a $50 bill left between the 2 of us. Then came the announcement of an additional 2 hour delay, where we looked at each other with a gulp - how would we eat without any money. Then they announced another 2 hour delay and we wilted. Where there's a will, there's a way - we scourged our backpacks like crazy until one of us found a spare $10 bill stashed somewhere. And we had a burger to hold us over. Fortunately, the delay announcements were overexxagerated and we were called to our flight within 4 hours, not the estimated 6. The flights home to Amsterdam and then Dulles were what they are - 8 1/2 hours each of sitting and hoping the seatmate will wake up so you can take a brief hike around the aisles. As we drank our coffee and had airline breakfast, we planned and dreamed aloud of our return trip to Africa.

    So, thank you to all of the Fodorites who gave advice, shared safari stories and kept me planning this wonderful adventure. I am already reading your reports and getting ideas for the next time around. Yes, as Kimburu said, reading and posting are equally exciting!!!!

    For those of you who shepherded me through the tse-tse bite reaction, thank you for not telling me what a dip I am and steering me to medical expertise! I ended up having emergency ankle surgery right afterwards, and the anesthesiologist had to contact the Infectious Disease lab for my records to know if we could do a spinal or not. Made for a fun time in the ER!!! AND.... it gave me time to say tse-tse a few more times, a bit more exotic than just mozzie bites....

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    Deb, Nyamera's always one-upping everyone with her Swahili. Dang her. I don't know what she's saying any more. >:) So I'll just repeat what she's said: asante sana kwa ripoti.

    Great description of Stone Town. You must have been there for the Zanzibar International Film Festival--how cool.

    Thanks for finishing, and I'm glad those bites healed up.

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