OK, here goes.
I did a “synopsis” of our 18-day trip to Tanzania in an earlier thread, which kind of hit the high spots and summarized the good and the bad (actually we had very little bad, and no ugly at all) parts of the trip. I will not repeat all of that here, since I know Fodorites have many threads to read and much advice to give. Although I am just starting this more detailed report, I have a reputation (well earned, I’m afraid) for being verbose, so be prepared for TMI (“too much information”). However, I ascribe to the “If you are forewarned, then you can’t whine about it later” policy, so proceed at your own risk. If you choose to accept this assignment, be prepared for one man’s sometimes serious, sometimes not-so-serious impressions of a wonderful safari. Truth be told, I am writing this primarily as a diary to remind me of our trip, since each year I seem to remember a little less. You will find this somewhat stream-of-consciousness story to be replete with parentheticals, notes, and other irrelevancies, just my way of jogging the old memory.
Feb. 19-20 – KLM from Houston/Amsterdam/Kilimanjaro
Feb. 20-21 – Kia Lodge
Feb. 22-23 – West Kili area, Kambi Ya Tembo - Elephant Camp
Feb. 24 – Arusha National Park, overnight at Kigongoni Lodge near Arusha
Feb. 25 – Tarangire, Treetops Lodge
Feb. 26-27 -- Lake Manyara, Serena Lodge
Feb. 28 -- Ngorongoro Crater, Serena Lodge
Mar. 1-3 -- Ndutu area, Olakira Tented Camp (located in Ngorongoro Conservation Area)
Mar. 4-5 – Serengeti Seronera area, Serena Lodge
Mar. 6-8 – fly to Zanzibar, Matemwe Bungalows
Mar. 9-10 (and almost 11), KLM/Continental Zanzibar/Dar Es Salaam/AMS/Houston
Our merry band:
• Myself -- Africa-phile, trip planner, and early retiree (hence lots of time to spend reading Fodors, obsessing over itinerary, and writing an excessively long trip report)
• Dear Wife -- an intrepid soul (after all, she has been married to me for 33 years) and a game-spotter extraordinaire. On our previous safari, to Botswana in 2004, I unwisely dubbed her “The Warthog Queen” because she was always the first to see warthogs. On this trip, I wisely and appropriately upgraded her Africa appellation to the much sexier “Cheetah Girl,” since she was the first to spot a cheetah poking its little head up from a bush amongst the migration at Ndutu (as well as the first to spot our first tree-climbing lion at Lake Manyara).
• Dear Friend -- a bigger-than-life (personality-wise, not physically) vivacious woman and a frequent and enthusiastic traveler, although this was her first trip to Africa (Europe is probably more her style). She was a little apprehensive about: bumpy roads; her first flights in small planes and hot air balloons; elephants walking amongst and hyenas howling near the tents at Olakira Camp; snorkeling in deep water; tsetse flies and malaria-carrying mosquitoes; sunburn; chemical toilets; bucket showers; and bugs, spiders, lizards, crabs, and other wee beasties in her living quarters -- but she persevered through all of this and more, and professes to have had a wonderful time. DF can, and on some nights when I was just plumb worn out did, carry on a lively and entertaining conversation with little or no participation by anyone else. She staunchly adhered to my “If forewarned, no whining” policy.
Each of us came armed with our best attributes and our favorite tools. DW came prepared with patience (see 33 year reference above), faith, safari experience, binoculars, and a new bible. DF came with an open mind, enthusiasm, a flat-iron, credit cards, an eye for a good buy, and a prayer book (primarily for take-offs and landings). Self brought along great expectations, cameras, batteries, Sudoku puzzles, and some actual knowledge of our plans. Thankfully, we all came with a sense of humor, a sense of adventure, and just plain old common sense.
Note: This was the second safari for DW and me, and we love going on game drives. This was the first safari for DF, and she was somewhat less enamored of spending almost every waking moment bouncing around standing in a vehicle peering into the distance looking for a leopard’s tail hanging down from a tree. This report is from only my perspective -- DW’s and DF’s might be (might be?!) different. As I have said before, “The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of management. My experience, opinions, and memory may, and often do, differ from those of others.”
Our tour operator was Sunny Safaris out of Arusha, with Ally and I having corresponded frequently for several months to plan and arrange the perfect trip. Our guide was Gerald (recommended to me by another Fodorite), and he was driving, as we had been guaranteed, his relatively new green Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop-up roof (hereinafter sometimes inaccurately referred to as “the jeep.”) Gerald was a wonderful guide – professional, friendly, careful, prompt, knowledgeable, accommodating, and an amazing game-spotter with 10 years of guiding experience.
Game sightings reporting policy:
We, or at least some of us, went on game drives as often as possible. We saw most of the game that we expected to see, and that everyone else sees, so I will not enumerate each of them in this report unless there is something about them that I thought noteworthy. We did see a few animals that are a little less often sighted, such as a generuk (in the West Kili area), two genets, a bat-eared fox, and a young caracal. We of course saw many birds, most of which I can neither remember nor identify any more.
We (that’s pretty much the royal “we”) chose our itinerary to give us a good mix of location, topography, vegetation, game, levels and types of accommodations (lodges and tented camps), and levels of convenience, with sensible routing. Our only non-negotiable requirement was ensuite facilities, which we always had but of various types and to various degrees.
Good weather! After all of the problems people had experienced in the previous couple of months, I was quite concerned about rain. Everything was indeed very green and lush, and the grass was very tall in some places, but we had only two rains, and even then they were non-events. Once was at Treetops Lodge near Tarangire, but we were on a game drive in the park at the time and it didn’t rain on us. The other time was on the afternoon when we were resting in the Serena Manyara Lodge prior to our bush dinner and night game drive in the park later that evening. We felt very lucky.
DW and I had resurrected all of our safari clothes from our previous trip. DW steeled herself to once again wear clothes that she had threatened to burn when we returned from our previous safari. DF had burned up the internet acquiring a mostly “Buzz Off” wardrobe. In accordance with my suggestion but with a heavy heart, she had pretty much limited herself to a few shades of khaki, beige, tan, and chardonnay, but with a few more colorful items for evening dining.
I dusted off my trusty point-and-shoot 10x optical zoom Olympus camera that I had acquired for our previous safari, for which it had suited me fine, and I added a couple of more memory cards. I had also decided that some scenes just begged for action shots, so I had bought a brand new (“How do you turn this thing on anyway?”) point-and-shoot 25x optical zoom Canon camcorder. As you can tell, I am strictly a functional, very amateur picture taker (I can’t even call myself a photographer). I took what I thought was enough battery power; however, the only shortcoming was that I could only charge my camcorder batteries in the camcorder, which was to prove a problem in a couple of camps when the only time the power was on was when we were out on game drives. Fortunately, I had also brought a Tekkeon battery pack which would serve as a back-up for all of my battery needs (FYI, it also works for cell phones, Blackberries, laptop computers, etc.).
Armed, but not very dangerous except to ourselves, we were ready for action.
Day 1 – Jambo! -- arrival at Kia Lodge (an Asilia property)
We left Houston on a Monday afternoon (but I’m not counting that as one of our days), but not before DF had settled her nerves (despite being a frequent traveler, she is still a bit nervous on planes) with a couple of pre-takeoff glasses of white wine. Fortified by a couple of more glasses on the plane, we had a happily uneventful couple of flights, with the only notable exception being DF’s succumbing to the siren’s call of the duty free shops at AMS and purchasing a beautiful Hermes scarf entitled “Jungle Love.” (It is only by virtue of some serious literary lip-biting that I am able to refrain from any further comment). With two leopards and other lovely designs in gold and black, it goes very well with her beige wardrobe. (I also succumbed on behalf of DW and bought a $9 tiny bottle of eyedrops, which they sealed in a huge plastic bag and told me I couldn’t open it until we got on the plane. Since DW needed the eyedrops right then, we scoffed at the law and opened the bag anyway. I expect the Dutch police to show up on our doorstep any day now.)
We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport on time at 20:30 Tuesday night, about 22 hours after leaving Houston. It took us about 30 minutes and three crisp $50 bills in the warm air of the terminal to get our visas, by which time our luggage was waiting for us. We grabbed our bags (one apiece plus an extra one stuffed with toys and supplies to be donated to a school or orphanage, plus my carry-on backpack which rarely left my shoulder since it contained our most critical items – i.e., passports, cash, ________and breathmints). As we exited the glass doors, we were greeted by about three dozen men standing behind a rope, each of them holding a sign with a name on it. We walked down the gauntlet looking for a sign that said “Smith Party” or something like that (but with our name) on it. Right at the end of the line we found Daniel, a young Maasai dressed in his colorful red and purple shuka (and incongruously, white Reeboks) holding a sign that said “Tom X 3.” Being the first Tom to come out with two other people, we claimed Daniel as our own, and took our luggage to the Kia Lodge van.
After a very short drive, maybe five minutes, we arrived at Kia Lodge, where about four more young Maasai, all dressed in shukas (but instead of tennis shoes, they were all wearing the usual Maasai footwear, tire treads with straps) awaited to take our bags. After “Jambo’s” (the universal Swahili greeting) all around, about ten minutes later we were checked in and on our way to our rooms through the curving walkways. Ah-ha! -- on the way we passed a bar area with happy voices emanating from it. Since it was the dark of a new moon we couldn’t really see much, but were to discover the next day that the expansive grounds are very nicely landscaped. Our rooms, #1 and 2 (out of a total of about 38) were quite nice, with the ubiquitous mosquito netting around the bed. The young men who showed us into our room explained that the gekkos were our friends, because they were there to eat the bugs. Intended to be a comforting thought, DW found it otherwise. Although exhausted, we regrouped at the bar where another Daniel served us a Tusker, a Safari, and two more glasses of white wine. Tired but happy, we toasted our safe arrival, drank up, and went to bed.
Tomorrow – a day of rest
Day 2 – Recovery and Discovery -- recharging at Kia Lodge
There isn’t really a whole lot to talk about for this day, since it was really just a day for resting and transitioning to the new 9-hour difference time zone. I awoke the next morning (actually I was so excited and so overly fatigued that I hardly slept at all) just before dawn, anxious to see if Mount Kilimanjaro would be visible. I looked out the window, and what do you know – there are the snows (what little is left anyway) of Kilimanjaro staring me straight in the face. I of course grabbed my camera and went out and took the obligatory few dozen pictures of the mountain (which I had heard you can not always see because of clouds) and the sunrise, my reputation as a sunrise/sunset photo freak being proven once again. I walked around in the bright new day, discovering the lovely grounds and listening to the awakening morning. DW and DF awoke a little later, and we had a lovely buffet breakfast with made-to-order omelets and all the extras.
I spent most of the day, at least until I crashed around mid-afternoon, walking around Kia Lodge and taking pictures of birds, lizards, trees, flowers, and Mt. Kili. I even took a picture of a plane taking off from the airport, which was less than a kilometer away. The ladies rested, sat around the pool with Kili (both the mountain and the airport) as backdrops, visited, and read. I think having that whole day to get over our jet lag and rejuvenate ourselves was a really good idea, although I can not take credit for it. At sundown I took another picture of the sun setting behind Kilimanjaro. (Those of you who have been paying attention might have figured out that Mount Kilimanjaro is northeast of the airport – the Kilimanjaro that the sun was setting behind was the airport, not an especially aesthetic photo op, but I took it anyway.) A little later we enjoyed happy hour cocktails, followed by a pleasant dinner in the open dining area. We went to bed early, because tomorrow we would be ready for some action!
Tomorrow – To the Bush!
To be continued.
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OK, here goes.