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Tanzania Report #2

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The flight from Arusha to Grumeti was indeed memorable. As I had gotten my pilot’s license when I was younger (although my wife wouldn’t let me continue after we got married 24 years ago), I felt pretty comfortable in the jump seat. Jeff, a “bush pilot” was a lovely middle age Caucasian from Nairobi who had been doing these charters for years. He had been to the States twice (once to Wichita, KS to the Cessna headquarters and once to Fort Worth, TX). He pointed out the Crater, which was socked in with some dense clouds as well as the Olduvai Gorge. We spotted a few herds of zebra when we reached the Serengeti. Interestingly, he told me that he needed to overfly the Grumeti dirt airstrip to see if there were any animals on the runway.

On arrival at Grumeti, we were met by a half-dozen Land Cruisers from a half-dozen different operators. Tourists were all hugging and kissing their guides, apparently taking their final flights home. Everyone seemed to have had great safaris – a welcome sign. After a few minutes of confusion, we were finally met by Titus Mrema, our guide.

Allow me to digress. My family usually like to be fairly independent travelers, planning our own routes, restaurants and relaxation. The only previous “planned” tour was to the Middle East 5 years ago – it was less than perfect. Specifically, we do not enjoy the long lines at the group buffets and the “canned” local flavor. So we were keeping our collective fingers crossed that our guide Titus would fit our style. He was everything and more. Knowledgeable beyond my wildest expectations, we even had a short lecture on the symbiosis of klaimatogastez (a species of ant) and the whistling-thorn acacia. But I digress – more on Titus later.

After loading up the Land Cruiser (absolutely the best means of transportation as we each had a window seat and the pop-up roof allowed for great photos but not too much sun) we headed out to the Western Serengeti for our short drive to Kirawira. On the way we stopped at the hippo pool with crocodiles and an African fish eagle, then crossed the river (we were allowed to drive through it as the water level was down but if you look at sandi’s pictures from her trip, they had to cross on the foot bridge to meet a vehicle on the other side) and saw a few giraffe on the way to the Lodge.

Kirawira is an absolutely charming place. It reminded me of the type of lodge where you would meet Hemingway, in a pith helmet, relaxing with a cigar and some brandy. We were greeted at the lobby tent with wet towels to freshen up and a glass of cold O.J. The “tents” were incredible, with wood flooring, mahogany furniture, seating area, separate area with separate shower area (great water pressure) and, oh yes, canvas “flaps’ (I imagine that it’s the canvas which allows this to be described as a tent. My wife and I had a king and my two girls (19 & 22) had 2 twin beds in theirs. From our balcony, we looked our over the expanse of the Serengeti, although there were no animals (we were told that because of the dry “wet” season, the migration had started early, and the, because of the late rains, the animals got confused and stopped migrating). Who cares? This place was a far cry from work.

I would prefer not to bore all of you with the details of the mechanics of our drive. Suffice it to say that, like others on this forum, we did an early morning or late morning drive, had lunch at either the lodge (tent) or a picnic, then a late afternoon drive, rest, shower and ready for sundowners at 8:00 followed by dinner.

Back to the trip…
The 2 days around Kirawira was spent with Titus driving around looking for cats. We had seen at least a smattering of many other animals (giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, Koch’s hartebeest, topi, Grant’s gazelle, Thompson gazelle……, etc.) but we hadn’t seen any cats and Titus was determined to find one. Alas, we had 2 great “cat-less” days at Kirawira – but don’t feel sorry for us, we had lots of fun ahead.

As I said, lodging at Kirawira was sumptuous and the food equally so. (I fancy myself as a graduate of La Varenne – a French cooking school – so I sort of know my food). Fruit was fresh and plentiful, with mango, papaya and pineapple. A vodka tonic is a vodka tonic. All meals started with a choice of soup, then a choice of appetizer and a choice of entrée. My wife and I have gotten into the habit of sharing a main course, but the staff could never understand why we would turn down food. Often I preferred the fresh fish – usually a fresh-water flat fillet from Lake Victoria – to the beef, which didn’t have sufficient fat to be tender. Chicken dishes were heavily spiced, using lots of Northern African-type dishes. Interestingly, when I would ask about local dishes, I was told that most people eat a stew made with green bananas and pieces of lamb. We never had it. A rice dish was often offered, as was an endless supply of fresh rolls. Desserts were fun and full of calories.

One of the highlights of Kirawira was that my wife was able to “attend” to her hair. Now, although I have been married almost a quarter century, I would advise all of the men who read this to pay close attention to these details. The electricity for the heavy-duty hair blower (supplied by the camp) was indispensable in creating a successful trip. So it was with such relief on day 2 that she was able to do her hair.

Parting from Kirawira was hard. My girls had befriended Frank and Mwaanasha, two of the staff in the restaurant. It was simply such a comfortable place that we couldn’t imagine anything better. But day three, we set out for the Central Serengeti and our next stop – Mbuzi Mawe.

As we headed toward Seronera, Titus finally found what he was looking for – lions. Not one or 2, mind you, but 3 lions relaxing in a tree. Then we noticed a fourth, then fifth, sixth and seventh coming up through the grass and climbing (one of them was unsuccessful) a tree. We had heard of the tree-climbing lions in Lake Manyara but we found out that there is no unique species in Manyara – just a behavior that is infrequently seen in the Serongeti. We watched these six lions in the trees for what must have been an hour. Zebra, wildebeest and impala were close by, as were several bird species, but they pretty much kept their distance. Then, following a picnic lunch (where another lion was spotted on a rock above the picnic area!) we wandered upon a leopard, resting on a tree branch, with his afternoon snack/kill, a dead wildebeest, lying on the branch below. After watching him sleep for a while, we took a few (what appeared to me to be aimless) turns in the road and found ourselves staring at a line of wildebeests, in a line as long as the eye could see, almost like a line of ants, stampeding over a small stream to a clearing in the plains. Like ants, each one only knew to follow the one ahead – paying no attention to the ultimate destination. Literally, they were as far as the eye could see. And then, as they were crossing the stream about fifty yards ahead of us, one stopped and turned around. So the next one did likewise, as did the next and the next and before you knew it, like a set of dominoes or more like a chain reaction rear-end collision on an interstate, the entire group was coming to a halt. The videos are hilarious, We then knew why it was such an insult in Tanzania to call someone a wildebeest.

It was now mid-afternoon and we were getting a bit tired. We knew that the drive to Mbuzi Mawe was about an hour-and-a-half so we relaxed and set out for what was supposed to be (but which was certainly not) an uneventful ride. While excitedly reviewing the scene of the stampeding wildebeests and talking about seeing that many animals in a single file, while driving up and down small hills with an occasional zebra, or wildebeest, or a small harem of impala (or a bachelor group), reflecting on the great day we had had (and worrying a little bit about Mbuzi Mawe as it had just opened the week before) we came over a small hill and, in front of us, as far as the eye could see, from 50 yards on the left of the road to 50 yards on the right of the road, we saw wildebeest!!! We were driving directly through the Migration…..

To be continued….

view photos at:
http://www.kodakgallery.com/BrowsePhotos.jsp?Urefreshkey=1121552131625&collid=899427851106&page=1&sort_order=0

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