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Tanzania Report #1

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It has been just over three weeks since we left Africa. As a courtesy to those who helped put this amazing trip together as well as offering some insights into those planning their own trips, I will re-count the many highlights and the few dark spots on our recent Tanzanian safari. Also, I better start to put things to paper before I forget everything.

Our red eye Kenya Airways flight from London to Nairobi was delayed about 1 1/2 hours while they were locating a spare pressure gauge from Air Canada. Being in a fairly old plane, this did little to inspire confidence in our mode of travel. But, after the delay, the flight departed and safely arrived at Nairobi the next morning. We had the 2 hour layover in the Nairobi airport (a fairly Spartan facility) before the hour long flight to Kiliminjaro. As we touched down, we looked at each other and realized….oh my God, we’re in Africa!!! Clearing customs and immigration was a breeze (we had secured Tanzanian visas through a commercial service from San Francisco – probably a waste of money but, given our general caution, just one less worry.)

This is where the rubber meets the road. You spend all of this money and are really given over lots of control to others and so when you wind up on the other side of customs, it’s like a newborn hoping to be caught by someone before it drops to the floor…and then a nicely dressed man from Ranger’s Safari (Hillary) and his driver (Jacob) step forward to welcome the Levys to Tanzania. Whew, we survived the first hurdle! In spite of the KLM agent assuring us that we should buy a lock and say a prayer if we hope to ever see our bags after Nairobi, we watch as our 4 bags (3-24 inch and 1-31inch (from ebags.com as suggested in this forum) drop down the chute, get packed into the back of the van and head for the 1-hour drive through the “suburbs” and town of Arusha to our first destination – the Arusha Coffee Lodge. Like many of you, I have seen the TV shots of “village” life in Africa and my worst nightmares came true. Women balancing water in buckets on their head, others grilling corn by the side of the road, mules with straw…all of the vivid images of poverty in Africa. It was 11o’clock on a Monday morning and nobody was really doing anything but milling around. After several near-collisions with bicycles and other two- and four-legged modes of travel, we arrived at our first oasis – the Arusha Coffee Lodge. This place was everything that we had imagined – and it was only our first stop!!! After a quick lunch where, either through exhaustion, stupidity or just being timid, we ordered nothing that sounded good and were presented with a fairly sizable bill for lunch. Being a seasoned traveler, I wasn’t certain if this was going to be the first of innumerable confrontations and negotiations or a simple “the customer is always right”. I opted for honey instead of vinegar, pointing out that I understood that we were on full board. “We are very, very sorry for this misunderstanding Dr. Levy – yes, you are on full board. Would you like to order something else – a pizza perchance?” Timothy, the manager in charge, was as sweet as could be. And I knew that we were in for a great time.

That day we recovered from jet lag, slept, read, got washed. While many choose to start their safari visit to the bush early the next morning, the four of us opted instead for a “R&R” day in Arusha. As this wasn’t part of our pre-planned trip, we “negotiated” (I use the words in quotes because I did no negotiations at all but merely accepted his offer to take us to the Arusha National Park for the day) a fixed all-inclusive price. I could have sworn that he said $400 – cash - for all of us for the whole day (including park fees). As I brought some US cash but didn’t want to part with such a big chunk on day one, Hillary suggested that we head into the “town” of Arusha to Barclays bank where they had an ATM and I could withdraw some funds. This was quite a scene. A line of 10-12 Caucasians lined up against a wall inside a guarded compound (the Bank) with an equal number of black Tanzanian guides and their Range Rovers, waiting in the parking lot. The fact that the largest Tanzanian denomination is the equivalent of $10 didn’t help move the line through very fast. After forking over the wad of 10,000 Tanzanian schilling notes, we were off to the park. The last 7 kilometer dirt “road” was harrowing, with potholes outnumbering smooth spots 10 to 1, and little kids (children, that is) with little kids (goats, that is) mesmerized by the site of the Land Cruiser with the funny looking people (us) inside. Hillary dropped a slight bombshell when he told us that we had to pay the $100 entrance fee in cash with greenbacks. (I had negotiated that as part of the price, hadn’t I?)

Fortunately, 20 seconds into the park and I forgot all about how much I was ripped off. I saw giraffe. And I saw zebra. And Sykes monkeys. And baboons. And I remembered why I wanted to come on this trip after all. Thousands of flamingoes barking and squawking a deafening roar – now, this was Africa. We spent the day wandering through the park, running into baboons, giraffe, Sykes monkeys, enjoying our first African picnic lunch and then meandering through the flamingoes before heading back to the Arusha Coffee Lodge of for sundowners and a lovely dinner (the chocolate medley was the best!) And we hadn’t even started our safari yet!

After a great night sleep under the mossie netting, we ate breakfast, said our goodbyes and took the 10-minute ride to the Arusha Airrport for our trip to the Grumeti air strip. On arrival at the airport and standing in a short but chaotic line, trying to pretend that my 30 pound carry-on was no heavier than a box of cereal, I found myself face-to-face with the Precision Airways agent.

“Your vouchers, please.” ”What vouchers? We don’t have any vouchers.” “What do you mean, you don’t have any vouchers?” “What do you mean, what do you mean we don’t have any vouchers? We were never given any vouchers.” At this point, my ability to understand a bit of Swahili actually came in handy as our Rangers’ guide was discussing this situation with the agent. I looked down on her manifest (of course, all entirely written by hand and noticed our 4 names in plane English – with a big “X” through it.

Luckily, only a few seconds later, I was approach by another agent, “I’m sorry sir, you are not on this flight. You have a private charter.” And so 3 porters carried our four bags over to our Cessna where Jeff was readying our flight. I got to fly in the jumpseat.

To be continued….

to view photos, go to-
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=pbtz0f6.6gstj0oy&x=1&y=-rzj1cu

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