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SAFARI REPORT - PART 1

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I’m a little nervous posting my report as I’m not the best writer and I tend to digress and ramble. But I believe I have a sacred duty to post a report and offer my impressions (and opinion, if requested) after all the help and advice I gleaned from fellow Fodorites. So bear with me; here we go.

BACKGROUND: I usually travel with a friend as DH is more of a homebody and does not travel well or easily. There have been numerous posts about “mixed marriages” such as ours; one born with wanderlust, the other not; so I know many of you can empathize with this situation. But being an “animal person” he agreed to accompany me to Africa, which was a mixed blessing as I now had the added responsibility of worrying about his comfort and happiness. And, if DH “ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”. Altho, he knew how important this trip was to me and made a commitment to try to “go with the flow” if things weren’t perfect.

DEPARTURE AT LAST. Our trip began on 2/20; it was so hard to believe the day had finally arrived after all the months of planning and anticipating. But here we were starting a trip in our usual way - with DH wanting to tote every prescription ever prescribed to him and industrial size containers of everything from shampoo to cologne. We managed to get packed and thru security and boarded Swiss Air. I had redeemed 300,000 FF miles so we could fly business class as DH is 6’3” and refused to be folded into an economy seat. My first foray into business class travel. Who knew! Cozy recliners in the sky, access to private lounges, a menu of choices for our dining pleasure, Swiss chocolates! We were pampered and content as we flew to Zurich – step one in our journey to Tanzania.

ZURICH. We spent a night in Zurich to help alleviate jetlag as we had an early morning flight to Nairobi. When we arrived the temperature was a bracing 32 degrees (remember we’re from Miami where we don’t swim unless the water temp is 80 degrees). We spent the night there at the Park Inn, a nondescript airport hotel, but with great bedding and linen (I’m very fussy about bedding and linen). The hotel is owned by McDonalds – the golden arches over the bed and the McDonalds adjacent to the hotel were a clue. Suffering jetlag and fatigue and not wanting to make a long production out of dinner, we ate at McDonalds – something we rarely, and reluctantly, do at home (really). But hey – It gave me an opportunity to order a “cheeseburger royale” parroting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.

ON TO NAIROBI. Early the next morning we’re back in our mile high recliners and heading for Nairobi. Only now we’re experienced business class patrons and look tres cool as we no longer fumble trying to operate the settings on the recliner and our tv screen – unlike the day before. Flying over the Alps and Sahara Desert with good visibility was incredible. We arrive in Nairobi early evening, are met without a glitch by a safari rep and taken to the Serena Hotel for the night. I’m disappointed because Nairobi at night driving from the airport appears as any other western city with bustling traffic and skyscrapers, and the Serena is no different than any upscale hotel in any big city.
As we were flying the next morning to KJO on the plane with weight restrictions, I repacked our bags here. We flew from Miami with two 30” wheeled duffels, but inside the duffels I had smaller wheel-less duffles purchased specifically for the safari as they weighed much less. (I learned this from Fodorites) Then we left the heavy duffles with the winter clothing at the Serena.

During the morning drive to the airport, Nairobi suddenly doesn’t appear as Western – could it be the Maasai dressed in brightly colored garb carrying spears and herding their skeletal cattle thru the middle of the city seeking respite from the terrible drought in Kenya. Haven’t seen anything like that in Miami unless you count a guy with an unlucky Santeria chicken tucked under his arm walking down Calle Ocho.

We almost didn’t clear security at the tiny regional airport (Wilson Field) with the tiny regional airplane we must fly to Tanzania. DH is a health nut and naturally was traveling with a gallon size ziplock full of loose but labeled vitamins. The security woman at Wilson picked up his 5 lb. bag of loose pills and looked puzzled. DH explained, they’re vitamins. Vitamins?? Woman still looked puzzled as vitamins are probably not big sellers here. DH then begins explaining: this is a C for prevention of colds; this is a multiple; this is fish oil. At fish oil her eyes get big and she calls over her co-worker. Holding up a little gel capsule, she says incredulously “oil of fish”. They both then skeptically look at DH and then ask “what kind of fish?” She stumped him there! But DH and his vitamins made it onto the plane.

TANZANIA AT LAST. Fifty five minutes later, we are met at Kilimanjaro Airport by Abraham, our guide, companion and travelmate for the next 14 days. As I had booked a private safari, it was going to be me, DH and Abraham sharing a Land Cruiser for the next two weeks. Luckily, he was fabulous. A former math and geography teacher who found he could earn more working in tourism. So he attended wildlife college for 3 years to train for employment as guide. He was an incredible wealth of knowledge and had a super human ability to spot animals. We used Kibo as our TZ operator and were very pleased with our choice. As this was our first safari, I can’t offer insights and comparisons with other operators. Perhaps this made it easier for our guide since everything we experienced was novel and we were easily impressed.

SINYA WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY. Our first stop for 3 nights was Kambi ya Tembo, a tented camp in a 130,000 acre private wildlife reserve on Maasai land in a remote area in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We were pleasantly surprised at the tent (and I was relieved as I had promised DH this was an upscale trip) The tent was sitting on a platform off the ground, quite spacious, king size bed with excellent bedding, hot and cold running water, shower and flush toilet, nightstands, desk. The veranda had a spectacular view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Plus, a complimentary bottle of wine with 2 glasses. Could it get any better??? Yes, it could have been 10 degrees cooler. Sinya is an arid area and they were suffering from the drought so the first couple of days were very hot and dry and dusty. We’d see “dust devils” constantly, which are like little waterspouts of swirling dust. Luckily, it cooled off at night for sleeping.

We spent the next 3 days being awakened before sunrise by a Maasai warrior outside our tent saying “happy morning”. We’d have a light breakfast and head out for a game drive. As this was a private preserve, we were able to offroad. It was amazing; we’d drive for hours over the savannah and never see another vehicle – only maasai cattle herders. We were blown away by the sheer number of animals we saw and the close proximity. As we were safari novices, we didn’t realize at the time that it would get better and better each day, as the trip was planned with the Serengeti at the end. We’d game drive from dawn to noon, then have lunch and a break from the heat, then meet at 4:30 for another game drive or a walk. We ate at a community dining area with anyone else who was in the camp. The dinners were surprisingly high quality. Usually soup, fresh salad, a meat, 3 or 4 fresh vegetables and fresh fruits and cheeses and desserts. All with first-rate service and linens. Since we were usually up before dawn, we were headed for bed shortly after dinner. That got to be a joke – as the trip wore on in the tented camps we were going to bed earlier and earlier. At one camp we were with 4 doctors in their early 30’s; at 8:15 p.m., one looks at his watch and says we’d better start getting ready for bed. We would be escorted to the tent after dark by a Maasai warrior and were not permitted to venture out til light for obvious reasons.

ANIMALS. Over the next two weeks we saw zebras, gazelle, antelope, elephants, giraffe, impala, monkeys, tons of beautiful multicolored birds, ostrich, wildebeest, dik dik, bat eared fox, baboons, mongoose, eland, reedbuck, cape buffalo, water buffalo, flamingos by the thousands, hippos, blue balled moneys (yes, you read correctly – and make that glow in the dark iridescent blue), rock hyrax, klipspringer, tortoise, turtle, hyena, jackal, wart hogs, lions, leopards, cheetahs, rhino, crocodile, servel, vultures. I’ve just named all the animals I had listed in my journal; altho I may have missed a few. I’m not going to write what we saw each and every day cuz most days we saw hundreds of animals; sometimes thousands like the wildebeest, gazelles and zebras. I’m only going to mention the highlights each day.

To be continued – I work at home and must now do a billable hour or two.

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