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Tanzania Safari Diary -- Feb/March 2007

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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.

Itinerary:

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.”

Tour operator:
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.

Accommodations:
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.

Weather:
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.

Preparation:
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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    Keep writing Tom I'm enjoying this!
    Did you have dinner when you arrived at Kia Lodge or just drinks? Hope you will be posting your photo's/ pictures?!
    Well keep it coming I can cope with your TMI!!!

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    Very cool you saw gerenuk in West Kili. I've heard they can be found in this area as well as Amboseli and Tsavo in Kenya but not seen any myself. Looking forward to the next installment and your photos.

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    keaho5,
    We didn't get to Kia Lodge until about 9:30 p.m., and we were pretty tired, so really didn't care about any dinner, and it may not have even still been open. I think it was included, but we had plenty to eat on the airplanes anyway.

    Patti,
    The gerenuks didn't stick around long enough for me to get a picture of them. My pictures are going to be mediocre at best anyway, but I will post some of them somewhere sometime. I do wish I could have gotten a fleeting shot of the gerenuks, but I guess I'm too slow.

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    OK, look out, here comes Installment 2, Days 3 and 4, where we finally actually get into the bush.

    Day 3 – Back to the Bush at Last -- Kambi Ya Tembo – Elephant Camp (a Tanganyika Adventures camp)

    Ally had called me on Day 2 (it is unclear why he had just then found this out) and told me that Kambi Ya Tembo (Elephant Camp) refused to let Sunny do the transfer to KYT and so it would be a KYT (actually Kibo Safaris, an affiliated company) guide who would be picking us up and driving us to the camp in the Sinya/West Kili area. No problem, I had already known that KYT insisted that you use their guides while at the camp, and I had actually wondered by Ally had planned on the Sunny guide going with us. We were later to find out that Gerald, our Sunny guide, had never even been to KYT, since this area is off the beaten northern Tanzanian circuit.

    At 8:00, Michael, a nice young Maasai man with 5 years guiding experience, was waiting for us. We piled in and drove for about 2-3 hours, through towns and villages. We were amazed at how the women can walk for miles carrying a 20-liter (having been back only a few days, I sometimes revert to speaking “metric,” albeit with a Texas accent) bucket of water balanced on top of their head, or a 40-kilo bundle of wood attached by a strap wrapped around their forehead. Along the way, as we got closer to the camp, we enjoyed our first game viewing -- some ostriches, zebras, wildebeests, and Grants gazelles. KYT and its twelve tents sit on a ridge near the top of a high hill facing west (sunrise photo op tomorrow!) out over a beautiful vista of savannah, with Mt. Kili rising up to the east (sunset photo op tomorrow!) behind the tents. Sylvester, the wonderfully warm and personable Maasai manager, and his staff of about twelve men, mostly Maasai, greeted us (again with a plethoro of jambo’s, as would be the case the entire trip), introduced themselves, provided us with cool washcloths and fruit juice, and took our bags to our tents. The tents were not fancy, but quite comfortable and functional, with an outdoor sitting area with a great view. Our newbie, DF, despite her tent’s simplicity (but with a flush toilet), was excited by this new experience.

    We had arrived – we were actually on safari, and we were loving it.

    We had a nice lunch, with beer and wine, in the common/dining area overlooking the savannah. When asked what kind of spices he used in the tasty food, Sylvester proclaimed, “I hate spices. I was a camp cook before I became a camp manager, and I insist that all of my staff learn to cook, as well as do various other assignments. Instead of spices, we use things like garlic, pepper, cumin, herbs, Tabasco sauce, to season our foods.” He also told us that all of the food was cooked over a wood fire. The food was indeed quite good, enhanced by the company, the service, the location, and the ambience.

    KYT would be one of the only areas where we could do a game walk (especially since Oliver’s Camp had closed and we had changed to Tarangire Treetops), so later that afternoon we decided to take a walk with Michael and the camp-assigned guide, a very young Maasai man nicknamed “Nyoka” (Swahili for “snake”). Nyoka spoke very little English, but he was from the area and knew every rock, tree, bush, footprint, and animal dropping. We walked for a couple of hours up and down and around the hilly area, and by the time we returned to camp we were tired and ready for a rest, a G&T, and a nice dinner.

    After the G&T but before dinner, we had a pleasant surprise when Sylvester and his entire staff came marching up the hill dressed in their shukas and singing native songs, and with the sun setting behind them they gave us a dancing-and-jumping exhibition. I busied myself with both camera and camcorder, even in the dark, so as not to be invited to join in the frivolity. My dancing-and-jumping days are long behind me. It was heart-warming and thoroughly enjoyable pre-dinner entertainment, and added yet even more to our fond thoughts of KYT (you never forget your first, you know). After the show, the staff passed around champagne and then we had a lovely lantern-light dinner, with cold beer and wine (hmmmm, it seems that is becoming a common theme) and good food cooked with wonderful flavors -- but no spices. A cool breeze coming off of Mt. Kili made for some deep slumber and sweet dreams while we were safely tucked under the mosquito nets in our tightly zipped tents.

    Tomorrow – a Maasai experience

    Day 4 – “Elephant Chicken” and Boma Visit -- Kambi Ya Tembo

    Bright and early the next morning – up at 6:00, with coffee and tea having magically appeared outside our tent door (pause for sunrise pictures), full breakfast at 6:30, off by 7:00 -- we went out for our first and only full game drive at KYT. That afternoon we planned on going to a nearby (as it later turned out, not all that nearby) Maasai boma for a visit. Michael and Nyoka and the three of us climbed into a rather beat-up open-sided vehicle (but with a sunshade) they had nicknamed “The Warthog” because it was so ugly. It was a bit of a rough ride, but very functional. We headed out in search of big game, and small game as well. This area is known for its large tuskers (elephants, not the beer, cut me some slack), but not in February because it is the dry season (West Kili has not had the rain so prevalent west of Arusha the last few months) when the herds have generally migrated north into Amboseli in Kenya. We did see two gerenuks, which are interesting looking long-necked antelopes, along with a variety of other animals. We drove around from west of Kili to north of Kili, and even went a little way into Kenya, where we saw a huge lone tusker in a patch of trees. Michael drove right up close to the ele, who was calmly eating large clumps of brush. We watched quite intently and intensely for several minutes, while I clicked away with the cameras. When the ele walked around a tree and came a little too close to her side of the vehicle, so close we could hear it burp, DF almost climbed into DW’s lap. If I had been in her position, I would have done the same. After a while the big tusker ambled off towards Kili, and we followed, with me of course taking several “Ele in Front of Kilimanjaro” pictures. A little later we stopped for a “pit stop” at the Kenya border, which is marked by a small concrete pylon with the latitude and longitude marked on it. I’ve seen pictures of people standing with one foot on each side of the border, but I declined to take any pictures of our activities there. As he and I stood there, Michael pointed out a Maasai ranger on top of a faraway hill to the south, and while looking at him through the binoculars I saw more elephants at the base of the hill. We climbed back in the Warthog and made our way south towards them, while they were also making their way northwards towards us. Michael said these might be the last six elephants in Tanzania, the rest were already in Kenya. After following alongside the six big eles for a while, Michael drove to a point right in their path and stopped the vehicle, involving us in a little game of “Elephant Chicken” – who would blink first? I was ready to blink immediately, but fortunately the eles soon veered off (apparently intimidated by our Warthog), lumbered around us, and continued on their way to the greener grass on the other side of the fence (there isn’t really a fence at the border, it’s just an expression). Thus endeth the exciting part of the morning game drive, although we did drive through an interesting but ugly area where there used to be a clay strip mining operation.

    After a nice lunch, a shower, and a nap, about16:00 we climbed back into the Warthog and began what Michael said was a 15 minute drive to one of the real live Maasai villages that the camp helps support. Forty-five bone-jarring minutes later, we arrived at the boma, where the villagers, clearly not very accustomed to visitors, seemed a little wary. We saw the 70 year old head of the village, and one of his sons showed us around the thorn-encompassed kraal where they keep the cattle at night (watch your step). I think it was Michael (who else could it have been?) who told us, “He is a very wealthy man – he has 250 head of cattle – but his children have no shoes.” The elder’s ten wives and about 15 of his 30 or so daughters entertained us with some songs and dances, and then we were taken into one of the small cow-dung huts, which although pitch dark inside, was truly enlightening. Wife #9 and her three children live inside this small, five foot high, dark, smoky single room (along with the young sheep and goats in a separate section, to protect them from hyenas, we were told). Two very small sleeping areas are cut into the sides of the hut, one for the women and children and one for visiting warriors. The embers of a tiny cooking fire glowed in the center of the sole “living” area, which was probably about 8 feet long by 5 feet wide. The only “window” was a small hole in the wall. I will never complain again about poor air conditioning. After squatting and sitting in the hut for a few minutes while Michael explained the living arrangements, we exited to find that the women of the village had laid out blankets with various wares for us to see. DW and DF walked around (shopping is far outside my area of competency) and looked at the bracelets, necklaces, wooden items, etc. for a few minutes, after which we bought two of the large decorative bead necklaces. These were not tourist-prepared items, they were authentic and well-used. We could not even begin to bring ourselves to haggle over the proffered price, we were delighted to contribute a small amount of money that Michael said would be enough to allow the village to eat for a few days. As we drove away, with the cattle starting to come back into the kraal, the children ran after us for quite some distance, waving and shouting. The visit was an enlightening and humbling experience, and we were extremely impressed that the villagers, despite what is a very meager existence, were almost always smiling and seemed happy and satisfied with their life.

    As the sun was setting we jostled our way back to camp, arriving in time for another nice dinner, a shower, and a good final night’s sleep at KYT. However, I, being the first of our group to wimpily succumb to a touch of stomach disruption, did not partake in the sumptuous repast, but instead dined on dry toast and Coca Cola brought to our tent by Sylvester and Nyoka.

    Note: One thing I couldn’t help but notice while we were at KYT was the seeming incongruity of the handsome young Maasai men, dressed in their fine looking shukas and with great bearing and dignity, walking to the tents with rubber gloves, buckets, scrub brushes, mops, and brooms. The entire staff was male, and despite the reputation that Maasai women do all of the work, these guys were certainly working hard and doing their part. Sylvester seemed to be a firm but benevolent boss, and he ran a tight ship, but each and every one of his staff were friendly and professional and made us feel most welcome. We would hate to leave them the next morning, but more adventures awaited us.

    Tomorrow – Row the Boat Ashore

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    Regarding the first installment only, you 3 are off to a roaring start with the Cheetah girl in her jungle love silk scarf and the contraband eye drops!

    Glad the Kili and the sun kept you entertained on Day 1, along with planes taking off and some lizards.

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    Now I know what elephant chicken means! You saw gerenuk, if even for a brief moment! How lucky.

    I chuckled at the description of the Maasai housekeepers. Very incongruent indeed!

    Very entertaining and waiting for some more.

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    Very amusing very descriptive and very interesting.I too enjoyed the description of the Maasai housekeepers.
    I can't wait for our safari in june.
    Eagerly waiting the next instalment

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    I'm trying to stay on task so I can get this report finished before it all fades into oblivion. Here's what I remember from Days 5 and 6.

    Day 5 – Canoeing on Small Momella Lake in Arusha National Park – to Kigongoni Lodge

    The next morning we said our goodbyes and took group pictures with the staff at KYT, and then Michael drove us back almost to Arusha, where we rendezvoused (that spelling doesn’t look right, but Spell-Check says it is) with our Sunny Safaris guide for the next ten days, Gerald. Gerald is a member of the Chaga tribe, has a wife and three children in Arusha, and has been guiding for ten years, all of them with Sunny. He was in the promised green Land Cruiser, which proved to be a roomy, comfortable (if you can use that term in connection with driving on the rough roads in the bush), and reliable vehicle. We transferred the luggage, and then transferred ourselves. DF permanently self-assigned herself the seat behind Gerald, where she sat the rest of the trip; DW took the second-row seat across from DF; and I claimed the remainder of the two rows and five seats for myself and my gear. I assumed my usual position for the next ten days of standing with my head poking up through the pop-up roof and my hands holding onto a rail on either side of the roof of the jeep. We headed up the road for the short drive to Arusha National Park.

    Gerald checked us in (i.e., paid the entrance fees) at the Ngongongare gate, and within about two minutes of entering the park we were parked next to a large giraffe that was browsing just about three meters off the road. Being on a raised road and standing up, we were just about eyeball to eyeball with this very tall and somewhat goofy-looking animal. As we drove further around the park we saw many more animals, particularly at a place Gerald said they call “Little Serengeti,” where impalas, giraffes, warthogs, buffaloes, and zebras were all hanging out together. As advertised in the park brochures, we did see a white colobus monkey (a single one, high up in a tree) and a blue monkey (a single one, high up in a tree). After an hour or two we headed for lunch at Momella Wildlife Lodge (John Wayne’s house in the movie “Hatari”). Just before we got there we saw two more giraffes off to the side of the road, and Gerald said (I don’t know how he could tell at that point), “It looks like they are mating.” Huh? But sure enough, about a minute later the male indeed did have “jungle love” on his mind, but the female demurely declined. We didn’t want to be too voyeuristic, so we headed on to lunch.

    After a leisurely lunch at the Lodge, we quickly made the short drive to Small Momella Lake, where we were scheduled to take a “canoe safari” with Green Footprint Adventures. Sure enough, there was our charming canoe guide, Herman, and another couple. It was sprinkling slightly, but it stopped after a few minutes – another sign of our continuing good fortune. After a briefing, we donned our life jackets and paddled away, DW with Herman, while DF, a very experienced and able canoeist, took the seat of power and control at the rear of the second canoe while I paddled away in the front. It was a very enjoyable two hours, except that some of us were a little concerned when Herman told us that there were hippos (“the most dangerous animal in Africa,” he said) in the lake. We did indeed see two pairs of hippos, but they (or more likely we) kept their distance. We saw lots of birds, a bushbuck, giraffes, a monkey, a hare, and a small herd of buffaloes (“the meanest animal in Africa,” Herman said) on the banks, while we gently paddled along with the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro on one side and Mount Meru on the other. We recommend Arusha National Park as a nice place to spend a day, with the canoeing as an added highlight.

    After canoeing we rejoined Gerald and drove around the park a little more before heading off to our home for the night, Kigongoni Lodge, just east of Arusha. The road towards Arusha was alive with activity, since it was Saturday night (although at the time I really had no idea what day it was) in the City and everyone seemed to be headed out for a night on the town. Up a small dirt road (aren’t they all?), we arrived at Kigongoni Lodge just before dusk, where we found a large metal security gate and numerous guards (hmmmm). The Lodge is located on the side of a hill on the site of an old coffee plantation, and is quite lovely. Next was more jambo’s, checking in, and having the bags taken to our very large guestroom with a fireplace – and a huge bathtub and a huge shower! DW and DF and Self were all very happy. After long, hot baths, we reconvened at the bar under a tree lit with dozens of sparkling lights, had some G&T’s and wine, and then had a very nice dinner on the veranda, interrupted only by the power going out for a couple of minutes until the generator kicked in. Another wonderful day, a wonderful bath in a tub, another lovely evening, and a restful night.

    Tomorrow – A special place

    Day 6 – Heaven above the earth – to Tarangire Treetops Lodge (an Elewana property)

    We discovered that Kigongoni Lodge actually offered internet service, so early the next morning DF and I took advantage of our first opportunity to tell the folks back home that we had arrived safely, were having a wonderful time, wished they were here. After breakfast Gerald, always punctual, picked us up for our drive into Arusha to meet Ally at the Sunny Safaris office. On the way we stopped by the Anglican Christ Church, where DW and DF were greeted and briefly shown around by one of the parishioners in between services (it was Sunday, I could tell by all the people at church, and since last night had been Saturday). While he and I were waiting in the car, Gerald asked how I had found out about Sunny Safaris and in particular why I had requested him as our guide, so I explained to him all about the Fodor’s Africa forum. We then made a quick stop by an ATM to get some Tanzanian shillings, where we met a nice young Princeton graduate who had been in Tanzania for seven months doing volunteer work. We drove to the Sunny Safaris office and visited with Ally while Gerald gassed up the vehicle. Then on the way out of town we stopped at the Tanzanian Cultural Center for our first shopping expedition, where I made the first of my two Africa purchases – a CD of “The Best of African Songs.”

    We started our drive to Treetops Lodge, near Tarangire National Park, about 3 hours away. The first two hours were fine, but then we turned off the paved road at a little hand-lettered sign that said “Treetops Lodge – 30 km.” This may have been the worst road we were on the entire time (excepting the ascent road at Ngorongoro Crater, which doesn’t really count), with the hour+ trip made even worse by our first plague of tsetse flies. Gerald did his best to soften the bumps, but even he couldn’t do much about the tsetse flies, indeed they seemed to pester him more than the rest of us. We bounced and swatted for a long time, and after what seemed like forever we arrived at Tarangire Treetops Lodge, which is not actually inside the park. We were greeted at the steps by the transplanted South African manager, Glen, and two Maasai in full regalia, one wearing a scary mask. More cool cloths and fruit juice revived us.

    What a place! It was refurbished a couple of years ago when Elewana bought it, and it is spectacular, at least by my simple standards. The reception area up against a huge baobab, there is a very large square tiered seating area around a firepit, a lovely dining area overlooks a waterhole (not occupied during this very wet time) slightly down the hill – but the rooms! After a quick briefing, we were escorted to our treehouses -- raised on platforms among the trees, most with a spiral staircase, huge rooms with double sinks and double showers, a decanter of sherry on a small table, an immense veranda outside an expanse of 15 meters of netted doorways and windows, all nicely appointed. It is so nice it (probably) made it worth the terrible drive to get there.

    After a short respite in our tents (I guess they are made of canvas so they are tents, but only technically), we then had a very nice buffet lunch. Also staying at Treetops was a group of executives and spouses from a Dutch corporation, I presume having some sort of outing. As was the case with most of our meals (excluding breakfast, of course) wherever we were, a delicious cream soup was served at the table. Then DW and I were off on a game drive, but DF could not resist the luxurious temptations of her tree palace, so she stayed behind to indulge in the sherry and decadence.

    Gerald gave us the good news that although one of the back roads into Tarangire National Park was not accessible, there was another way we could go without having to suffer the tsetse infested road again. We had a pretty routine game drive, with the tsetse flies being an annoyance but not really a problem. We saw lots of magnificent baobab trees, but didn’t see any game especially worthy of note, which was not too surprising since not only it is not the best time of the year for Tarangire but also because the grass was literally as high as an elephant’s eye. I have seen pictures of Tarangire during last year’s drought, but it currently bears no resemblance to that parched, yellow land. In many places I could not see over the grass, even while standing up looking out of the top of the jeep, so even Gerald was unlikely to see much game while he was sitting in the driver’s seat. We did see the new Boundary Hill Lodge cascading down the side of a hill – Boundary Hill, I presume. Although it did not rain on us during the game drive, DF experienced one of our only two rainstorms of the trip back at the camp. After an interesting discussion over cocktails with Glen about life in Tanzania and other parts of Africa, we and the Dutch folks had another nice meal. The service was excellent, but somehow seemed to lack the personal warmth we had felt at Kambi Ya Tembo. After we were escorted back to our tents by the Maasai askari, a cool breeze amongst the treetops made for a very pleasant sleep.

    Note: We had originally planned on spending two nights at Oliver’s Camp inside Tarangire and one night at the Manyara Serena. Because of Oliver’s closing because it was inaccessible due to the rains, we instead stayed at the wonderful Treetops one night and the Manyara Serena for two nights. What a fortuitous mandated change of plans that turned out to be, we would have hated to have missed Treetops.

    Tomorrow – a special sighting

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    Wow, I just read Eben's post about his current stay at Ndutu, where he is experiencing heavy rains, massive thunderstorms, very strong winds, inaccessibility because of bad roads, and no wildebeests. I haven't yet gotten to the Ndutu report of our trip, but I continue to thank our lucky stars for our good weather, good timing, and good fortune. What a difference a couple of weeks can make.

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    hugy47,

    Thank you so very much for being as descriptive as you are. I am one of many who thoroughly enjoys a detailed trip report. A synopsis just doesn't cut it for me. As for being verbose, that's the best quality in Fodorites. It helps out newbies like me in the end.

    Cheers,
    Juliet

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    Wow, this thing just keeps longer and longer. Too bad the quality isn't getting any better. Here is my diary for the next two days, from Tarangire through Lake Manyara.

    Day 7 – Lions vs. Hyenas Confrontation – and our first leopards – to Lake Manyara Serena Lodge

    OK, I may have finally piqued some interest among the game drive loving set with the caption for the day. After breakfast we packed our bags into Gerald’s vehicle and again set off for Tarangire NP via the back road, eliminating the need to again endure the terrible road between Treetops and the highway. About half an hour into the game drive we saw a hyena on the road, staring off into the brush on the left. We of course stopped, and I reached for my camera. Gerald, realizing something was up, opened his door and stood up on the floor of the jeep, and said there was something else in the brush. We all stood up higher, and lo and behold, not ten meters from the road, almost totally obscured from view by the high grass, was the carcass of an adult giraffe. Gerald moved the jeep a few meters down the road to where we had a much better view. To make a long story short, there were six lionesses and four cubs nearby, and two hyenas were enviously wanting a seat at the “table.” Alas, the lionesses were not in a sharing mood, and although one hyena did get a quick bite, it was quickly chased away in a flash of a large, tawny lioness, amidst quite a din of growling, howling, and yelping. The lionesses took turns chasing off the hyenas, and some of the cubs even acted like they were helping. Being greatly outnumbered and outweighed, the hyenas’ efforts were clearly going to be fruitless, at least for a long time, but they seemed determined to keep after it. At one point during the confrontation I turned around from my picture taking and, much to my surprise, saw that DF, no longer the apprehensive novice big game seeker, had climbed on top of the jeep to get a better view. As it turned out, this was to be the most exciting game sighting of the trip, but it would have been difficult to top. We stayed there for about 45 minutes, being joined by only one other vehicle in this isolated part of the park.

    The rest of the game drive was, compared to the lion/hyena interaction, relatively tame. The scenery was beautiful, and although the Tarangire River was no longer a raging torrent that it had been a few weeks earlier, the bridge across it had been destroyed so much of the park was inaccessible. Nonetheless, we saw large groups of elephants, ostriches, giraffes, and other animals, so we deemed it a very good drive.

    Around noon we left the park through the main gate to make our way back down the highway, then north up the famous “Japanese road,” through the village of Mto wa Mbu (Swahili for the charming name of “Mosquito Creek”) to the Manyara Serena Lodge, our next way station. We arrived at the Serena, a nice enough place that paled in unfair comparison to Treetops, in time for the typical, adequate buffet lunch. The lodge and the service were fine, but I fear we had been spoiled by our stay at Treetops. Nonetheless, our visit at Manyara National Park would turn out to be quite worthwhile.

    After lunch DW and I headed out on another game drive, but DF, not wanting to go cold turkey from her taste of leisure and luxury at Treetops, decided to stay behind to e-mail back home and get a massage, which she later reported was wonderful (the massage, I mean, although the e-mail was probably swell, too). Lake Manyara NP, perhaps because it is fairly close to Arusha and on the main highway, seems to be something of a “showcase” park, with exhibits, maps, and nice bathrooms at the entrance gate and good roads throughout the park. At the entrance to the park there is a sign that says, “Remove nothing from the park except: Nourishment for the soul, Consolation for the heart, Inspiration for the mind.” Just past the gate there is a small museum, but it was not open, and indeed the area around the museum had been commandeered by a huge troop of very active baboons. During the game drive we saw most of the usual suspects, including flamingoes on the lake, storks in the trees, a group of large elephants up close, and four languid lionesses. We also saw a group of vervet monkeys, but DF was not there to see why they are sometimes called blue-balled monkeys. We saw quite a few beautiful small birds, but my limited photographic firepower and skill didn’t do them digital justice. It was a beautiful day, and we thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful afternoon.

    However, Africa was not yet done with us for the day. As we were driving out of the park on the main road at a fairly rapid pace, Gerald was, as always, still on the lookout for game. If I haven’t said it before, his ability to simultaneously drive and scour the landscape in all directions was amazing. Suddenly, Gerald provided some icing on the game drive cake – he quickly stopped the vehicle, saying “Leopard!” Incredibly, he had seen a leopard high up in a tree, about 100 meters away, up a hill, directly to the left of the road. As I scrambled for binoculars, which I hoped might let me see what Gerald had seen with the naked eye while driving about 40 kph, Gerald urgently says, “They are running, see, they are running.” (When excited, Gerald sometimes used the plural pronoun instead of the singular. It was only one leopard that was running.) We saw the leopard briefly before it settled down in the deep grass. So we continued our way towards the exit, when about four minutes later both Gerald and DW simultaneously say “Leopard.” Sure enough, right there on the road is our second leopard in the last few minutes. It of course quickly left the road and went down near the edge of a bridge over a small ravine. We parked on the bridge and caught one more quick glimpse of leopard #2 as it went across and up and out of the small ravine into the thick brush.

    That was all the icing for the evening’s cake -- other than the vanilla, chocolate, and custard sauce on top of my medley of desserts (no point in holding back now, and besides, I was celebrating Big Cat Day). We went back to the Serena and told DF about the afternoon game drive. She regretted missing the leopards, but there would be more chances to see leopards, and you never know when you might be able to next get a massage. Later we joined up with the mellowed-out DF, and had a quiet, Serena-style buffet dinner. As I recall, there might have been wine involved. That evening at about 22:00 hours the phone rang, which we did not expect, but it was only the laundry telling us that they had converted our dirty clothes to clean clothes and were bringing them to the room. Yea! Clean clothes for tomorrow! And so we went to sleep with visions of big cats dancing in our dreams. As we often say in Texas, any day with lions, hyenas, and leopards is a good day. Good night, John Boy.

    Tomorrow – Just us, the darkness, and an elephant

    Day 8 – A Night to Remember – Manyara Serena Lodge

    Although Manyara isn’t as renowned as some other parks for wild game, we thought the preceding day had been just fine, thank you. Flush with yesterday’s success, we started fairly early this morning on another game drive, and this time DF went along in hopes of replicating our leopard sighting. We were unable to find another leopard on this day, but around 10:00, after going to the hippo pool, taking pictures of more birds, ogling the usual giraffes, eles, impalas, etc., the eagle-eyed DW suddenly and excitedly said, “There’s a lion in that tree!” Sure enough, there she was, a lioness lounging around in the crook of a tree some distance off. Not even Gerald had seen it. Other vehicles stopped to see what in the world we were looking at, and pretty soon word that one of the famous tree-climbing lions of Manyara had been spotted crackled over the radios that comprise the jungle grapevine. After a while with no sign that the lion was going to move anytime soon, we went on our way to see what else might be wandering around the park, which included an elephant seriously scratching itself all over up against a tree. A real action scene like that doesn’t really show up in the still photos, maybe the video will be better. Late in the morning we went by the treed lioness again, and she hadn’t moved, but there were at least two more lionesses in the grass beneath the tree. Remember, the grass was still so long there may have been more, but we couldn’t see them. What we did see, about 50 meters away from the lionesses, was a very young impala, frozen with fear as it watched the lions. Its mother was about another 100 meters away, but neither of the impala knew what to do. We fretfully watched for about ten minutes and none of the animals moved, so we did, back to the Serena for lunch.

    After lunch we went shopping, or rather some of us went shopping and some of us went along just for fun, to the small group of “shops” just outside the gate of the Serena Lodge. DF, although an expert shopper, like me doesn’t like high pressure sales tactics nor haggling over prices, so after repeatedly telling the merchants she wasn’t interested, she went back to her room. DW, herself not a haggler but on the trail of a shuka (the traditional Maasai all-purpose mostly red clothing), perservered, and purchased a red (of course) and black shuka for only 80% of the original highly inflated asking price. We probably looked like we had “sucker” printed on our foreheads, but believed that any further haggling would be unseemly. Our plans for the rest of the afternoon consisted primarily of hanging around the famous infinity pool at the Serena, soaking while we looked out over the vastness of the Great Rift Valley. However, it clouded up quickly and started to rain pretty hard, so we retired to our rooms for a nap, which we deemed an acceptable option. This was to be the last rain we would see on our trip, and this rain even came at a good time, so we once again felt very lucky.

    The reason we were taking it easy this afternoon was because we had signed up for another Green Footprints activity for the evening. At 19:00, after cocktails around the pool (which we never got to use) while watching an acrobat show we met Godfrey and his sidekick Solomon at the front of the Serena. They loaded us into an open-sided, open-topped vehicle to go to a bush dinner in the park, which would then be followed by a night game drive. As it turned out, we were the only people who had signed up for this particular night, so we had the park to ourselves. Near the side of the aforementioned museum just inside the park, which had been abandoned by baboons since the day before, a lavish barbecue dinner had been set up, with enough food for a small army. But the only diners were us, at a lovely candlelit table for three under the growing, now half-full, moon and a sky full of stars. Edgar served us elegantly, giving us his undivided attention like we were his only customers – oh, yeah, we were. The chef in his toque offered us our choice of grilled beef, chicken, or fish, along with a full buffet offering of fruits, vegetables, bread, and dessert. We cracked open a bottle of white wine (at this point, none of you readers should be surprised about that), and couldn’t have felt any more special if we were dining at Buckingham Palace.

    After a truly magical dinner, with only a brief minor mishap on the way to visit the dark bathrooms (is that too much of a subtle tease?), we climbed back into the vehicle, tucked under our warm shukas to ward off the chill, and picked up a park ranger who was packing a very large rifle. Godfrey was driving and Solomon was sitting on a small seat attached to the front of the “bonnet” of the vehicle, from where he brandished a powerful spotlight. We drove slowly through the park, while Solomon flashed the light up and down and from side to side. We saw a couple of tiny bush babies flitting through the trees, then went to the hippo pool where hundreds of shining eyes greeted us from just above the top of the water. A little further on Solomon said something and Godfrey stopped the vehicle. The light shone on a small tree about 40 meters away, but where the guides saw a genet, the tourists saw only darkness. Eventually the genet moved and we got a pretty good look at it as the ringed tail slinked away in the dark. Very cool.

    But the biggest thrill was yet to come. We soon came upon a huge elephant walking away from us down the road. Godfrey turned off the engine and Solomon put a red filter on the light so as not to disturb the big fellow, but too late, he had already noticed the intruders. The ele turned and started walking, ever so slowly it seemed, back up the road right towards us. It came within just a very few, like two or three, meters from the front of the vehicle. It seemed so close we could almost feel its breath, but remember, Solomon was sitting in a tiny seat on the very front edge of the vehicle, so he could probably have told you what the elephant had for dinner. We all sat there absolutely silently, except for the park ranger who was ever so quietly whispering instructions to Godfrey. After an eon the elephant slowly moved over ever so slightly, grunted, and walked over near the side of the vehicle (like the previous ele at KYT, he moved to DF’s side of the vehicle, whereupon she again slid over into DW’s lap). At that point Godfrey let off the brake and, since we thankfully were pointed on a slightly downhill slope, we gently and stealthily glided past the elephant, just before it crashed noisily off into the thick brush. Godfrey started the engine and we drove away, with a lot of nervous laughter and chatter emanating from the vehicle, especially the rear (that’s where I was sitting). For some reason we all seemed to shiver a little bit, but I don’t think it was from the chilly air. We drove back to the park entrance, dropped of the ranger after thanking him profusely, and drove back to the Serena. Thus ended another routine day at the park.

    Note: When we told Gerald the next morning about the ele face-off in the darkness, he told us that when close to elephants he always likes to have the vehicle pointed away from the eles. Thanks, good advice, but a little late.

    Tomorrow – The “groaning board” and the famous crater

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    Thanks for the latest installment. Still enjoying very much. Did your guide mention if it was unusual for lions to take down an adult giraffe (assuming that's what happened)?

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    You're a good writer Tom :) Keep it coming.

    You were lucky to see leopards at Manyara, our guide is there often and told us he typically spots them maybe once a year.

    I take it you felt the night drive at Manyara was worthwhile? If so we might try it next year ourselves ...

    Looking forward to your report on the Ndutu area.

    Bill

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    Thanks to all for the encouraging words, I find that I am enjoying reliving the trip. But be careful what you wish for, there will be more to comem I'm only about half-way through the trip.

    Patty,
    We assumed that the giraffe had been brought down by the lions, but couldn't really be certain. Maybe old age (I mean the giraffe, not me)?

    Bill H,
    We enjoyed the night dinner and game drive at Lake Manyara NP. Our operator, Sunny Safaris, at my request had prearranged it with Green Footprint Adventures, but the GF local office is at the Serena and you can arrange this and other activities (bike ride, village tour, etc.) there. Reasons we liked it so much may have been that it was our first nighttime activity in the bush, it was a beautiful cool moonlit night, we were the only three people to have signed up for that night so we had the whole deal to ourselves, and the added thrill of the close ele encounter.

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    You have a wonderfully written report here.

    So Manyara really produced for you!

    The lion and hyena interaction would be very exciting and I can understand why it would remain a trip highlight.

    Glad you saw the leopards, and as it turned out maybe Gerald was right that they were running. I always enjoy how English comes out when spoken as a second language. The guides have put some great twists on standard English.

    Your night time close encounter of the elephant kind must have gotten the adrenaline going. I recall some similar experiences in the day, but at night they'd take on an added dimension.

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    I'm trying to stay ahead of the curve. Day 9 was to be another good day, albeit not one of the most exciting.

    Day 9 – Ngorongoro Crater, at last – to Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

    The next morning we arose at a reasonable hour, had our usual breakfasts (coffee, fruit, juice, eggs, bacon, and bread for DW and Self; coffee and toast, maybe an egg, for DF). After a brief re-visit at the shops just outside the Serena gate to purchase a soapstone nativity scene DW had coveted from the day before, we departed en route to visit a school. We had told Gerald early in the trip that at some point we would like to visit a school or orphanage to donate the school supplies and toys we had brought. Gerald said he knew of such a place, and so today he drove us to Kibaoni Primary School, which is actually a nice school, with about 400 students. We met the principal, gave her the bag of goodies, and then she asked if we wanted to visit a classroom. DW and DF were concerned about interrupting the class, but the teacher said it would be fine. She took us to a large classroom with probably about 60 students in it, all of whom stood when we entered. The dignified male teacher, whose hands were covered with chalk dust, graciously extended his fist for a Howie Mandel-like “fist bump.” He then said something to the students in Swahile, and they sang a song for us – the catchy and oft-heard “Jambo, Bwana.” We thanked them, told them we were greatly enjoying their beautiful country and beautiful people, and then left them to their lessons. It was a very nice experience.

    After leaving the school, we continued up the road towards the town of Karatu and our scheduled visit to Gibbs Farm for a walk and lunch. A man named Gilbert met us as we alighted from the jeep, and took us on an interesting hike. We saw a wood-carver working on a large three-month project, a painter (the artist kind), dairy cows, the pig barn, beautiful flower gardens, the brick-makers, the furniture-makers, a small but lovely waterfall, and the expansive vegetable gardens from which the restaurant gets all of its delicious vegetables. On the way back, which was quite uphill, Gilbert shortened the route by taking us up an animal trail, where he warned us to watch our step because the buffalo had used the trail the night before. Self was the only one to make a misstep, and as a result I spent some time later cleaning up my right shoe.

    We got back to the Gibbs Farm lodge area around 11:00, where we intended to have an early lunch so that we could get to the Ngorongoro Crater fairly early in the afternoon for a game drive. Alas, lunch was not to be served until 12:30, so my meticulously planned timetable was disrupted! As our sons might say, and as DW gently implied, I should “take a chill pill,” and of course she was right. We had a lovely time sitting on the grassy hill looking out over the valley while sipping excellent home-grown coffee, looking at the beautiful flowers, and visiting with other tourists. Gerald, in the meantime and unbeknownst to us, had noticed a leak in one of the tires and used the time very beneficially to get the tire fixed in Karatu. DF also used the time beneficially to select and purchase an oil painting from the artist-in-residence.

    And then lunch was ready, and what a lunch it was, especially when accompanied by a fine sauvignon blanc. If “groaning board” ever applied, this was the time. An expansive, beautiful, and delicious spread covered a large two-tiered table, and that doesn’t even count the well-stocked dessert table. Gerald, back from his tire-patching expedition, joined us, and we all, again as our sons would say, “pigged out” on the wonderful food. The vegetables were especially favored, fresh from the gardens only a hundred meters away. We overindulged, and loved every bite of it. I especially liked the rice pudding, which was different and better than any rice pudding I had ever had before. DF especially liked the eggplant casserole, which she had as an appetizer, main course, and dessert.

    After struggling up from the table and waddling to the jeep, we continued on the short drive to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO world heritage site and biosphere reserve, or so it said on the sign at the Loduare Gate. As always, Gerald took care of the paperwork and the fees, while the rest of us looked around the small exhibit area. Then, with great anticipation of what awaited us at the top, we climbed the rest of the way to the crater rim and were rewarded with the oft-photographed view from the overlook point at the top of the rim. What a sight it is, it has to be seen to be appreciated, so I won’t even try to describe it. We took the obligatory “Here we are at the Ngorongoro Crater” group photograph, and continued westward on our way around the rim, past the Wildlife Lodge, past the fantasmagorical Crater Lodge, and to the Serena for our one night on the rim. We only had about three hours to tour the Crater floor, so after a quick check in we drove onward to the Seneto Gate, passing many brightly-dressed and highly accessorized Maasai women waiting at various “bus-stops” along the road. Then it was down the one-way descent (and fairly decent) road onto the floor of the world famous, largest-complete-caldera-in-the-world Ngorongoro Crater. Just after reaching the floor there was a large (or so I thought at the time) group of wildebeests, zebras, Thompson’s gazelles, warthogs, even a couple of buffaloes, so I of course took some pictures. As people who have been there before can attest, this was a tiny sampling of what was to come. Suffice it to say, that afternoon we saw lots and lots of lots and lots of animals, including but not limited to two lounging male lions, an African python in the grass (I actually never saw it, but others did), and a lone, distant cheetah and a lone, distant rhino.

    I had heard horror stories about the ascent road up the south part of the crater wall, which was the road we had to take to exit the crater floor. Well, let me tell you, that road lived up to its frightening reputation, especially after what the traffic had done to it after all the recent rains. The roads on the crater floor, although with lots of ruts after the rain in December and January, weren’t actually too bad, or at least there were alternate routes around the worst spots. Such is not the case with the ascent road -- there are no alternate routes. But Gerald and the jeep gamely and carefully made our way up the road, while we tried not to look too closely over the precipice that was the edge of the road. After 45 nervous minutes we made it to the top, breathed collective sighs of relief, arrived safely back at the Serena Lodge, and happily went to our rooms to regain our equilibrium. A hot shower, or rather a cold and then hot and then cold and then hot and then cold shower, helped get us back to normal, after which we went down to the bar, had drinks with a Kiwi and his fiancée Sarah, watched some different but pretty much the same acrobats as the night before, and had another satisfactory Serena buffet dinner. Although we were in a first floor room at the Serena, the view of the Crater from our balcony was spectacular.

    Off to bed, it would be an early wake-up call for the crater in the morning.

    Tomorrow – Long-awaited Day

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    Day 10 would be one of the better days of the trip, but since it included the Crater and our first exposure to the migration, how could it not be.

    Day 10 – Greatest Concentration of Wildlife, indeed – Ngorongoro Crater to Olakira Camp (an Asilia property)

    Despite the urgings of many experts to get to the crater floor very early, at the more immediate (and I dare say more important to me) urgings of DW and DF, I agreed to delay our departure the next morning until 7:00. That was actually fine with me, too, I’m not all that crazy about pre-dawn wake-up calls either. As it turns out, it didn’t matter to DF what time we left, since she decided to sleep in, stay back, and take care of some e-mail business, and just have us pick her up when we passed by the Serena that afternoon on the way to the Ndutu area. DW and I indeed did see the alleged “greatest concentration of diverse wildlife in the world” in the crater that morning, but others have described the crater tour better than I could do, so I will just summarize the relative highlights: four distant rhinos; two impressive sleeping male lions; two lionesses and three cubs seeking shade under a crowd of about a dozen safari vehicles; a group of about 8 very large tuskers; four more lionesses gently wrestling for a share of one small baby warthog; lots and lots of zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, and buffaloes (including one very large, very muddy daga boy); numerous other miscellaneous mammals and birds. I know this sounds pretty jaded, but maybe it was just too much over-stimulation for me to adequately distinguish between all the various viewings. There were many vehicles, and that may have detracted somewhat from the experience, but we had been warned to expect the crowds and it really wasn’t a terrible problem for us. We did have our first flat tire that morning, but Gerald stoically changed it in about 20 minutes. Since he had loaned his large “Simba” jack to another Sunny driver the day before I had a moment’s pause, but fortunately he had a spare (get it – a “spare” jack?).

    Around 13:00 we had our first box lunches at the picnic area. Here we did witness, as I had read about, the large black kites swooping around seeking to steal food (pursuant to Gerald’s wise instructions, we ate inside the jeep), but I found two things not to be as I had expected. First, there are what must be fairly new bathrooms here, since we didn’t think they were “the world’s worst” (those would be the ones at Olduvai Gorge) as I thought I had read somewhere. Secondly, despite dire warnings, we thought the Serena box lunches (which we would have two more times in the Serengeti) were actually pretty good. They certainly contained a lot – crackers and cheese, a piece of chicken (where do they find such scrawny birds?), a sandwich, two apples, a juicebox, a bottle of water, a piece of “cake,” and a small candy bar. It may not have been gourmet food, but it was OK, and we hadn’t exactly been building up too much of an appetite riding around in the jeep, so we were well sated by our lunch.

    After lunch it was time to head back up the ascent road, an inevitable prospect which we were not relishing. (Note: they were not enforcing the rule that you had to be out of the crater by 13:00 hours.) Nonetheless, we had places to go, and Gerald said that the bridge around the side of the lake towards the ascent road was out, so we had to drive all the way around the lake, so away we went, pausing only for one more rhino sighting, this time three of them in the distance. It was probably just as well that DF was not with us, because the climb up the road was even more exciting than the day before. About half-way up the steep, rocky, bumpy, did I already say steep, narrow road, Gerald was having a little trouble getting past one particularly dicey spot. He stopped the jeep, got out with a somewhat perplexed expression, and walked around the jeep looking at the tires, thereby eliciting perplexed expressions from DW and Self. This would be neither a good time nor a good place to have a flat tire. After kicking the right rear tire, he got back in, rolled back a couple of meters, and forged ahead again, this time getting past the obstacle and roaring on up the road. He wasn’t going fast, it’s just that the grade of the road required some roaring from the jeep. DW and I once again breathed sighs of relief, and after completing the thrill ride the rest of the trip back to the Serena was uneventful, at least relatively so. We stopped at the Serena to collect DF, and were on our way to the Serengeti, at least the Ndutu region in the southern part of the famous ecosystem, where we hoped another magnificent spectacle awaited us.

    Along the way we made the common tourist stop at Olduvai Gorge. I would agree with other commentators that it isn’t all that and a bag of chips, but it’s only a five kilometer side trip and we found the exhibits interesting and worth a brief visit. The deservedly much-maligned bathrooms also lived up to their reputation, and I was the only one who elected to take advantage (somehow, that doesn’t sound quite right) of them.

    Our next scheduled lodging was at Olakira Camp, located in the Ndutu region. We had scheduled this to be our longest safari accommodations, three days, since February is supposed to be the time of the year when it is most likely that we would here find the Great Migration (recently voted to be one of the new seven wonders of the world, along with the other diverse and eclectic choices of Jerusalem, the polar ice caps, Potala Palace in Tibet, the Mayan (but not Egyptian) pyramids, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, and most curiously to me, the internet. Please excuse this aside, I just find the list intriguing). Gerald had told me the day before that Olakira, which is a semi-permanent camp that periodically moves to follow the migration, would be in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area part of the Ndutu area, instead of across the “border” inside the Serengeti National Park. The significance of this is that you can only be in one area or the other area, but not both, without paying the fairly significant daily fees for both of the areas. But Gerald assured me that the camp’s being in the NCA was a good thing, since he had it on good authority that that was where the migration was currently located. He hadn’t disappointed us yet, so we felt confident with Gerald’s seal of approval.

    Boy, was he right. The Great Migration, as so many others have said, is an amazing spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. About an hour or so after we left Olduvai, our first contact with the migration was when suddenly Gerald just veered off the road towards the left and took off cross-country (which you can do in the NCA part of the Ndutu area, but not inside the Serengeti NP, another benefit of Olakira currently being in the NCA). He had seen something on the horizon and was headed towards it. As we bounded across the grass towards what turned out to be a huge throng of wildebeests, I was tempted to yell “Yee-haa!” (after all, we are from Texas) while standing up in the jeep with the wind blowing through my remaining hair. I knowingly said to DW and DF, “That’s the Great Migration,” whereupon Gerald simply said, “That is part of the migration.” It was a truly wondrous sight, where what appeared in the distance to be a dark line stretching across the horizon, as we got closer turned out to be what must have been several jillion individual animals surrounding us as far as the eye can see in all directions. Once we reached them, we were engulfed by wildebeests on all sides as we drove pole pole [slowly] through them for what must have been ten minutes. Like Moses and the Red Sea, as we approached they would part to make a narrow path between them. Gerald estimated that there were probably not a jillion but more like about 400,000 wildebeests in that particular group, and we would see many, many more, as well as huge numbers of zebras and many antelopes, in the next two days. Although we would spend much time during the next two days in the midst of different parts of the migration, neither words nor pictures, at least not mine, can adequately describe the sights or feelings of being there, so (much to everyone’ surprise, no doubt) I will limit my efforts as per the above.

    We eventually left the herd, which is a word that is woefully inadequate to describe the huge mass of animals, and headed onwards towards Olakira Camp. At this point there were actually two parallel dirt roads (all of the roads had been dirt since we had reached the crater yesterday, and would remain so for the rest of the safari), one of which runs near the edge of the NCA and one of which is in the Serengeti NP. As we were getting fairly close to the camp, with Gerald being careful to stay on our side of the invisible boundary line, he once again amazed us, stopping the jeep quickly as he said “Leopard!” (pardon the exclamation point, but even Gerald got excited when he saw big cats). Sure enough, off to the right a fair distance away, was another leopard in a tree. Unfortunately, it was on the other side of the invisible line, so we could not get a closer look, and it was getting late anyway, and we had cold washcloths and fruit juice awaiting us down the road.

    Shortly thereafter we arrived at Olakira Camp, which was currently located in a beautiful grove of acacia trees. Manager Ishmael, his assistant Mark, and several other staff members warmly greeted us with the anticipated washcloths and juice when we disembarked. That they were all wearing tall rubber boots was only mildly disconcerting. As we were being escorted to our tents, #4 and #5, I was chuckling quietly to myself (but only in the nicest possible way) waiting to see the ladies’ reaction to the accommodations. Not wanting to alarm them, but wanting to have the “If forewarned, then no whining” policy be applicable, I had mentioned offhandedly to the ladies that these tents would not be quite like the others we had stayed in (certainly not like Treetops), but I wasn’t sure that they had completely understood, or at least appreciated, my subtle warnings. The guy who took DW and me to our tent gave us the briefing, which went something like this:

    Barrak: “Here is a torch for you to use. The tents only have battery power, and only when it is dark, and it is limited, and it doesn’t always work.” (At dusk, they would place a car-type battery outside of each tent and connect some wires to it.)
    Us: “OK, asante sana.”
    Barrak: “This is the bucket shower. When you want to take a hot shower, let us know and we will come and put five liters of hot water in this bucket. Pull on this chain to start the water; pull on this other chain to stop it.”
    Us: “Hmmmm, interesting. OK.”
    Barrak: “This is your chemical toilet. This is how it works. [Demonstration].”
    Us: “Even more interesting. Well, OK.”
    Barrak: This is your emergency whistle. If you think you are in danger from an animal, blow on this whistle and we will come.” [Note: I blew on the small wooden whistle, and it is doubtful that it could be heard more than 50 feet away.]
    Us: “What? Well, Oookaaay, I guess.”
    Barrak: “But if it is an elephant that is bothering you, don’t blow the whistle, it just makes them mad.”
    Us: “What?!!!!! Then what should we do?”
    Barrak: [Shrug.] “Don’t worry, it will be OK. Hakuna matata.”
    Us: “Oooooookaaaaaaay, thaaaaanks.”
    Barrak, as he exits stage left: “Oh, and be sure to use your mosquito netting. And be sure to zip the tent completely closed, because when the monkeys get in they really make a mess.”
    Us: [Mouths agape, speechless.]

    And that was just in our tent #4, I can only imagine what was transpiring in DF’s tent #5, where she would soon be alone, in the dark, almost on the end of the row of tents and thus closer to the perceived “danger zone," and armed with only a flashlight and a whistle (and of course her flatiron, but it was useless without electricity). I could visualize her eyes growing slightly larger as the guy was explaining the bucket shower and the chemical toilet, much less during the Q&A regarding the whistle and the potential tent intruders.

    Note: At this point some clarification and expansion from me is probably in order. First, it is possible that the foregoing conversation may have been somewhat embellished, or at least colored by how much fun we were having. The Olakira tents and facilities were actually fine and added to the uniqueness and isolation of the remote wilderness experience. In our hearts we knew that the professionals would not let us be in a situation that put us in any danger (and I think the ladies thought that I wouldn’t do so either, at least not on purpose). Most importantly, it should be made perfectly clear that both DW and DF, as always, were real troopers and adapted with grace and style to whatever “hardships” we encountered. Although sometimes slightly taken aback, they remained undaunted and inevitably accepted with good humor the fate which Ally and I had bestowed upon them. Nonetheless, when we got together with DF for dinner a short while later, I thought I did detect – how should I put it -- just the least bit of uncertainty about the situation. Her facial expression hinted at a little concern, and her voice had something of a nervous giggle to it (or was that me?).

    Point of clarification provided by DF: “My ‘orientator’ did not speak English very well. Hence, my momentary consternation arose from the fact that I thought there was NO hot water to be had at all, even for washing one's face, much less for a shower!” DF [and, we were going to be there for three days! The Author]

    We were only the third through fifth current residents of the camp, the other couple being Brits Julian and Val, who were leaving the next morning after having spent four nights at Olakira Camp. After cleaning up we joined them around an intimate campfire in a small cleared area (otherwise, the grass was about two feet high) near the dining/lounge tent. As the smoke rose from the fire and Mark delivered our glasses of wine and a G&T in this beautiful setting with the bright moon shining through the trees above, our growing feelings of comfort, serenity, and delightful isolation were almost palpable. After tasty snacks around the fire with the guides, discussing the day, the world, and life in general, we retreated to the open dining tent for a wonderful candle-lit dinner, enhanced by a bottle of “Good Earth” white wine. [Quote from label?] They actually had a gas oven and stove here, and the food was excellent (I do not mean to imply that good food cannot be cooked without a gas oven, nor that having a gas oven guarantees good food). Glasses of amarula back around the campfire after dinner finished off a wonderful day and helped us to “warm” to the camp even more (“No hot showers? So What? Monkeys in the tent, elephants in the loo? Who cares! May I have another amarula, tafadhali?”). We retired to our canvas bastions of luxury and security, looking forward to a peaceful night’s sleep.

    Note: Wow, look how long today’s diary entry is, but how could it not be?

    Tomorrow – Promises kept

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    I have finished up the Ndutu segment of my diary, so I will post it now. Preview -- some more good sightings, and a wonderful camp experience.

    Day 11 – Wildies, and zebras, and leopards, oh my! – Olakira Camp

    The peaceful night’s sleep we were longing for was not all that peaceful. Maybe it was being in a tent again, isolated in the bush, or maybe it was the hyenas howling from about 2:00 until 4:00, getting ever closer, that made for a little tossing and turning. Mark said he also heard lions roaring, but I must have missed them. My imagination did run a little wild when, in the middle of the night, I went to the toilet section of our tent. After I had been there about a minute, suddenly there was this loud buzzing sort of noise, and something was banging directly against the tent! Surely the hyenas weren’t buzzing (I thought they laughed?) and trying to get into our tent! As DW discovered when she went into the toilet section of the tent with a flashlight, it turns out it was only a three-inch long beetle that had become trapped between the inner and outer walls of the tent, but it made quite a racket when it would fly around trying to get out. OK, I admit it, I’m a wuss, but it’s interesting how your imagination can run wild in the middle of the night in the dark in the loo in a tent in the jungle.

    But the sun came up the next morning, and all was crisp and cool and bright and shining again. Coffee and tea miraculously appeared outside our tent very early, which was a nice touch. Shortly after that we had a wonderful breakfast with eggs and omelets and toast cooked over a charcoal fire next to the dining tent, plus all the usual adjunct breakfast offerings. We went off on a game drive, with the migration, leopards, cheetahs, and lions all included on our wish list. As usual, Gerald and Ndutu would come through again, and we would see almost all of our targets today, or at least by tomorrow.

    I could probably go on and on about the game we saw at Ndutu, but then I would have to add a second volume to this diary. I am going to endeavor to keep it to a single tome. For the first hour, it was eagle day -- we saw tawny, bataleur, and martial eagles. We didn’t keep count, but we saw at least 50 giraffes during the day. We saw one lone hyena carrying in its mouth a baby wildie drumstick. We saw two beautiful black-maned lions sleeping on the sandy flats of a dry riverbed. We even saw a pair of dung beetles rolling a ball of, well, you know, dung, larger than a tennis ball down the road. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I wish I had taken a video of the scene – not just the fascinating cooperative efforts of the two beetles, one pushing and one pulling, but also of the four human beings bending over observing the activity in sheer wonderment. We also repeatedly encountered parts of the migration, enormous numbers of wildebeests, including thousands of new babies since it was calving season. There were also many, many zebras among the wildies, as well as various other types of antelopes even including a handful of elands. It was difficult to estimate the number of wildebeests we saw, but Gerald said they totaled probably close to a million in the three days we were there. I’m not sure how he came up with that number, but I'm glad he did, otherwise I would just have had to say that they were countless. Since the grass was so high it was not possible to use the Texas cattleman’s method of counting the legs and dividing by four, so Gerald may have just counted the ears and divided by two. I’m also not sure how Gerald could tell the different herds apart. At any rate, they were legion. At one point while we were down in a dry part of a riverbed, we saw thousands of wildebeests take off running up the embankment in the direction of a tented camp perched on the bluff overlooking the low area, and we later saw a few thousand more running back down another bank. Crazy animals.

    We eventually went back to camp for lunch and a nap. As we were walking to our tents to deposit our gear, we saw two big elephants browsing on trees only about a hundred yards away. DW and DF inquired if that was a problem, and I told them, with false bravado, that I was sure it was OK (meanwhile, I was remembering that I should not use my wooden whistle, it just made elephants mad). Not content with my amateur assessment and sensing my feigned confidence, the ladies insisted that I have the professionals confirm the alleged safety of the situation. After my original assessment was indeed confirmed (Yes!) by Gerald, we zipped ourselves into the tents until lunch (yeah, like that was going to help). One of the elephants eventually passed by just beyond tent #6 (we were in tents # 4 and 5), the other passed between tents #1 and 2, and only then did we venture out. I of course had to compose a photo of a Tusker beer bottle in the foreground and the real tusker in the background. This required that I drink the Tusker, but I will make almost any sacrifice to get a corny photo.

    After eating and resting, we ventured back out in quest of wild animals around 15:30. DF had missed the leopards at Lake Manyara, and although Gerald hadn’t exactly promised to find this most elusive of big cats, he was intent on finding us a good leopard sighting. We trolled through the woodlands where it is more likely to encounter leopards, but without success. As he did from time to time during our drives, Gerald eventually stopped and talked (in Swahili, of course, so we never knew if they were talking about animal sightings, their families, or the score of last night’s ball game) to the guide in one of the very few other vehicles we had seen, and then he turned the jeep around and took off driving far faster than game-viewing speed. Obviously something was up. We held on and after a while came upon three other jeeps that were clearly searching for something, but no one found whatever it was they were looking for. Then Gerald again raced off, turning around to simply say, “Four leopards together.” Unlike me, Gerald was a man of few words.

    We soon encountered four other vehicles circling a thick clump of brush. There was some serious “glass,” as you real photographers say, extending out of several of the jeeps. The alleged cats were well concealed, but eventually a female and two leopard cubs could be distinguished in the brush. But where was the fourth leopard? Gerald again saw, or sensed, something, I’m not sure how he does it, and zoomed towards a tree about two hundred meters away, and even I could see there was something brown up in the tree. However, it was not a leopard, but rather three carcasses that a leopard (the female, Gerald thought) had stashed in the tree. A few seconds of looking at the carcasses (I didn’t even have time to take a single picture – not that I ever take only one picture), and Gerald was off again towards another tree another hundred meters away. Other vehicles were following us from bush to tree to tree, but Gerald was a man on a mission. He stopped under the next targeted tree, and peered into the branches. “Do you see it?” Well, no, as a matter of fact, I didn’t. But then I did see it – a large male leopard (Gerald said it was the male, I really couldn’t determine gender) well concealed in the tree, quite close (like maybe four meters) to where Gerald had parked – he had seen the notorious tell-tale tail. There was also a baby wildie carcass nearby up in the tree. I was furiously alternating between camera and camcorder, burning up digital memory as fast as I could. The big male was very relaxed, just sitting there while about half a dozen jeepfuls of people took lots of pictures. But his relaxation apparently had its limits, because when I leaned out of the jeep a little to get a better angle I must have invaded his personal space, because he showed me his teeth and uttered a low growl. Oooookay, that’s enough pictures. We went back for another quick look at the female and the cubs, and then had to race back to distant Olakira Camp before dark. Not only could DF now check “leopard” off of her sighting list, she could put a gold star beside it.

    After a nice bucket shower (I was getting pretty good at controlling the flow so that I could actually get all the soap off before I ran out of hot water), we repeated the previous night’s routine of G&T’s and wine around the campfire, wonderful candlelit dinner, and amarula back around the campfire. During dinner Ishmael got a call on his cell phone (surprisingly to me, there was cell phone service almost everywhere we went – heck, I can’t always get reception in the kitchen), and had to drive off to rescue two incoming guests whose vehicle had broken down. Just as we were finishing dinner he returned with two tired but happy people and their guide. We sat around the campfire for a while, with me yearning for s’mores, or at least marshmallows. Just before one of the staff escorted us back to our tent, Ishmael told us that there had been three hyenas near camp, not exactly what DW and DF and Self wanted to hear. Although we heard the hyenas during the night, all was hakuna matata.

    Tomorrow – Another promise kept

    Day 12 – Cheetah morning, Wildebeest sunset -- Olakira Camp

    Although DF had not been all that chipper the night before, this morning she was up-and-at-‘em, ready to go at 7:00. We had another good breakfast, and then headed off towards the long grass plains and the wildebeest herds, which we hoped (or at least Self hoped, I’m not too sure about the ladies) might attract some hungry cats. Gerald said he thought we might see some cats today. We soon again encountered the countless wildebeests with countless babies (we were once again lucky, being in the right place at the right time, in the middle of calving season). We also saw what was left of numerous carcasses, mostly baby wildebeests, giving witness to the fact that there were indeed cats in the area. We stopped to visit briefly with another vehicle, and while Gerald was conversing with the guide the occupants happily told us that they had just finished breakfast under a nearby acacia tree, during which the migration had almost engulfed them. We parted company and drove on, but only a couple of hundred yards (I appear to be reverting back from the metric system) away DW suddenly says, “Cat!”, and a mili-second later Gerald says, “Cheetah!” Just off to the left, the small head of an adult cheetah was poking up out of a clump of bushes, only a short distance from the other people’s breakfast acacia tree. They did not have their radio on, so I’m not sure they ever found out how close they were to possibly being breakfast instead of just eating it. We watched the cheetah for a while, but it had become bored with us and it, along with a baby wildie carcass, was pretty well obscured by the brush anyway. Leaving several other jeeps that had come to assess the situation, we soon found cheetahs number two through four of the morning, this time a mother and two cubs. After much oohing and aahing and some more pictures, we moved on and shortly found cheetah number 5, which Gerald somehow recognized as the one who likes to jump up on the bonnet of vehicles to get a better view. We would have been delighted to see it jump on the bonnet of someone else’s vehicle, but it never did. During the course of the morning we saw several hyenas and a jackal with kills, along with lots of vultures and marabou storks, but no more cats.

    An incident of momentary concern did occur this morning, but ultimately our good luck continued to hold. As we were slowly driving across the short grass plains (which weren’t all that short) in between cheetah sightings, the car suddenly lurched as the right front tire fell into a deep hole. After briefly but unsuccessfully trying to move the jeep, Gerald, in his usual calm manner, got out with a frown and walked all around the vehicle examining each tire, especially the one that was submerged in the hole. I surveyed the vast, empty landscape, and became a little less thrilled with the solitude we had enjoyed by rarely seeing another vehicle. There was nothing to be seen in any direction but grass, some low bushes, and the occasional tree. But once again Gerald came through, and after some rocking and rolling and roaring he was able to extricate the jeep from the hole. We applauded, very thankful that we had been released, and even Gerald seemed relieved. He got out and stood in the deep hole so that I could take a picture to memorialize our escape.

    We fortunately had no more excitement on the way back to camp for lunch. Today there were no elephants in camp, but a steady stream of wildebeests and zebras was passing by about a hundred yards behind the tents. We could clearly hear the grunting of the wildebeests and the barking (it’s amazing how much they sound like dogs) of the zebras as the migration continued it inexorable march

    The afternoon game drive was relatively tame. DF stayed “home,” but she didn’t miss too much except a great sunset experience. DW and I saw some flamingoes and hippos in Lake Ndutu (or was it Lake Eyasi?) and a small herd of elephants. The highlight was that Gerald had brought Tuskers and Serengetis for sundowners, and we drank them while we were parked in the middle of a large herd of wildies and zebras, watching hundreds of them run by for about fifteen minutes in one of those inexplicable continuous single-file lines in front of the setting sun. Very cool, indeed.

    That evening we once again repeated our campfire with cocktails/dinner with wine/campfire with amarula routine (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), this time joined by the two rescued guests from the previous evening. They were Hilton and Wendy, a nice young couple (South African, if I remember correctly) who run an exclusive resort, Anjajavy l’Hotel, reachable only by plane or boat, on the northwest coast of Madagascar. Maybe we’ll go there after our next safari.

    Tomorrow – The real Serengeti

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    Tom, your report is wonderful :)

    As you know you were at Ndutu about 3 weeks after we left and I can "see" the same lions in the dry riverbed and the flamingos at the lake. The big difference is that you saw so many wildebeest calves and we saw none (and you saw 4 leopards!).

    Keep it coming ... enjoying your report very much.

    Bill

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    That’s nice you made a visit to the school and dropped off some supplies. So Gibb’s reputation of fine food continues. Glad your first floor Serena view was a good one. Do you recall the Room #, since many people have said they had no view from 1st floor?

    Is the spare Jack for Jack Sparrow (ha ha) or is it some mechanical tool reference that must be explained to me? The crater can be blamed for sensory overload. Better a flat tire on the flat surface than the access road, especially with the obstacles you encountered.

    I found your “Wonderful” aside intriguing as well. Yee-haa is a good way to describe the migration, or part of the migration, regardless of where you are from. Four leopards and you found them all along with all the other game. No buzzing hyenas, though.

    Your excellent writing style continues.

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    I appreciate the kind words, I am having fun writing my "diary." But DW might say "Stop it, you're just encouraging him!"

    Bill H, one thing that amazed me about the baby wildies is that they seemed to be able to run almost as fast as the adults not too long after being born. But I guess they have to, or else. I saw recently that someone said (probably on this forum since that is where I get most of my information now) that it is the mothers' swerving to elude predators that bumps the babies and gets them into trouble.

    Lynn, I don't remember the room number at the Ngorongoro Serena, but it was the very first room after we turned left at the bottom of the stairs from the reception area. So it was not so far down to the left that the view was totally blocked by the bushes. If you go to my Tanzania Safari Diary Pictures thread I posted earlier today, you can see the view we had ("Ng Room View"). It could have been better, so I downgraded it from "magnificent" to only "specatacular."

    As for the "spare jack" -- jack is indeed the mechanical tool that is used to lift the car so that the "spare" tire (no relation to Jack Spare-row) can be put on. Or are you just putting me on? And the "spare" jack would be the extra one, of course, since Gerald had loaned away the other one. Is this too confusing, or just too silly? I thought you were American and therefore would have known about the term "jack" (car jacks, not Union Jacks), but if so you must have led a sheltered life.

    All I have left to write is the Seronera piece (with the balloon ride), and that will be the end of the safari portion of the trip. But then we'll always have Zanzibar (and the flight home from hell).

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    Sorry, I just realized that the picture of our view from our Ngorongoro Serena room balcony did not survive the brutal culling I had to do to make the number of pictures in the online album manageable. We could see from the middle of the lake and to the right. Wonderful description, isn't it.

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    I know the terms jack, tire, spare and so would most Americans. I am just mechanically challenged, that's all. Since my nephew loves pirates at constantly plays Pirates of the "Care-bean" I have Jack Sparrow on the brain.

    You could send that Serena picture, and any other accommodations pictures to Julian and he will put them in a lodging photo album for all to see. His email is on the forum but I don't have it off hand. It will pop up.

    Your wife should add a comment or two to your Diary. It could become a he said she said account.

    With all the amazing wildlife you've seen, the real Serengeti is still yet to come!

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    Lynn,

    Re sending the pix to Julian -- good idea, I intend to do that, and have already sent him the ones of the Matemwe Retreat.

    Re offering my wife the chance to embarass me on the internet -- not such a good idea, I do not intend to do that.

    Re the Real Serengeti -- unfortunately it did not offer animal highlights to match some of the great ones we had already experienced. But the balloon ride was fun.

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    In this installment we go from Olakira Camp in Ndutu to the Seronera for a couple of days. The balloon trip was fun.

    Day 13 – The endless plains – Serengeti Serena

    This morning it was DF’s turn to experience a touch of “slight stomach disturbance,” so she elected to remain close to the tent. Gerald, DW, and I went back to the woodlands looking for leopards, but no luck there today. Gerald did, with great effort and skill and instinct, find a lion under a tree almost completely hidden in a clump of thick brush (the lion was hidden, not the tree – please excuse my dangling participle, or whatever grammatical error that is). Suspecting she was part of a larger pride, Gerald proceeded from one clump of brush under a tree to the next seemingly identical clump of brush under a seemingly identical tree until he found another lioness, this time with two small cubs. I took some pictures, but what we saw was mostly grass. Then we drove on and made another incursion into the migration, a sight and experience of which I would never tire. After a final lunch at Olakira Camp, we headed towards the famous Serengeti National Park, not too far away.

    Educational Note: The Serengeti is not just an officially designated national park in northern Tanzania, it is also an entire ecosystem which extends northward into Kenya, where it is called the Masai Mara. In Swahili, Serengeti means “endless plains,” certainly an apt moniker.

    Naabi Hill grew closer as we approached this southern entrance to the Serengeti National Park. While Gerald checked us in at the entrance to the park, DF and I climbed the rest of the way to the top of the hill and took “Here we are in the Serengeti” pictures, with the endless plains vista behind us. There was what I think they call an “overland safari” bus in the parking lot, which was carrying (the bus, not the parking lot) about 40 safari enthusiasts. They certainly must have been enthusiasts, because it looked like it would be pretty rough traveling and camping, and I admired them for their fortitude. We passed under the literal Naabi Hill Gate and drove northwest on what appeared to be pretty much the only road to the Seronera (central-ish Serengeti) area. After a while, up ahead we saw a large lorrie that was pulled over on the left side (that’s the side they drive on in Africa) of the road with a flat tire, but no one was out changing the tire. As we got closer, we saw the reason for the lack of activity – four lionesses were sleeping in the grass not far from the truck. The lionesses appeared to be well fed and not at all interested, but nonetheless the three guys sitting in the cab of the truck were understandably reluctant to be working outside the truck in such close company.

    We drove past the Simba kopjes and lots more endless plains for probably close to an hour before we arrived at a small bridge beside a pool where maybe 20 hippos were mostly submerged. We could see several vehicles about a mile to the east, so Gerald, always anxious to find more game for us to see, drove in that direction. When we got there we could barely see, even with binoculars (although Gerald could of course see it with his naked eye), a leopard in a tree, far up and far away. The occupants of the other vehicles were all peering intently at the cat through their binoculars, and we suddenly realized how lucky we had been with our previous leopard sightings, because after watching for only a minute we metaphorically yawned and continued on our way. Shortly down the road we came upon a slight traffic jam, which we soon discovered was caused by a young caracal (a pleasant and unexpected surprise, especially during daylight) trotting right down the middle of the road.

    Note: Although I had read that the Serengeti was so large that we would rarely encounter another vehicle, that was not the case. Maybe my standards had been skewed by the relative isolation of Ndutu, but we saw many other safari vehicles in the Seronera area. It wasn’t really a problem, but they all sure stirred up a lot of dust as we drove by them. They probably said the same thing about us.

    It took us almost another hour to reach the Serena Serengeti Lodge at around 18:00, having stopped a few times to observe several very pretty birds (I’ll have to check DW and DF’s sighting lists to see what they were). Our rooms each had three single beds, and DF reported that the guy who took her bags to her room perhaps was thinking that she was going to be entertaining guests (although that certainly was not the case). Our room, but not DF’s, also had an oscillating fan, which was very helpful in keeping things cool during the still night inside the mosquito nets. Gerald had told us that we were supposed to meet with the hot air balloon people at 19:00 for a briefing (and of course to sign a waiver of liability), so we cleaned up quickly and I performed my nightly activity of taking pictures of the sunset from our window (actually I had to stand on a chair on our balcony, since we had a lower floor room for the second straight Serena, which of course I had to whine about). Then we went to the bar area (not our idea, that is just where they held the meeting) to see the balloon people, were briefed, signed away all of our legal rights and perhaps our firstborn son (we didn’t bother to read the fine print, it wasn’t going to matter anyway), and had a nice dinner outside on the lovely veranda. After dinner DW and I stuck around for a while to see four men and four women perform a few native dances, and then we went to bed. That 4:00 wake-up call was going to come very quickly.

    Tomorrow – Up, up, and away – Fair winds and blue skies

    Day 14 – Sunrise over the Serengeti – Serena Serengeti Lodge

    “Sunrise over the Serengeti” -- That just sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it. And indeed it was pretty cool.

    A minute or two, or so it seemed, after closing our eyes, our alarm clock went off and the phone rang with our 4:00 wake-up call. We struggled into our clothes, which we had laid out the night before to save a couple of precious minutes this morning. A cup of coffee helped get our eyes open, and we dutifully albeit sleepily went to the lobby to meet up with our intrepid band of pre-dawn balloon riders. We piled into a couple of vehicles for the one-hour drive to the launch site. Even in the dark of the early morning it was a game drive, as we soon came across about six lions, including a young male and a couple of cubs, lying along the side of the road. One of the other people in the vehicle told us that this was probably part of a large pride that his group had seen the previous day at a buffalo kill in the area (How did he know where he was, anyway, I wanted to know – I was totally lost almost the entire trip.). A short while later we encountered a bat-eared fox walking along the side of the road, another unexpected nocturnal sighting.

    Eventually we could see some lights in the distance, it was the balloon crew readying for launch. As we approached we could see two very large forms on the ground, which of course were the two hot air balloons, the only two in the Serengeti (as opposed to, we were later told, 28 of them that fly in the Masai Mara). Each of the two balloons would this morning carry a full complement of sixteen passengers up into the sky over the Endless Plains. Captain Nick, the dashing commander of our balloon, explained the plan. Tembo, our balloon, is the third largest in the world (the largest being in either Sweden or the Netherlands, I can’t exactly remember which), weighs xxx metric tons empty, displaces yyy metric tons when fully loaded with zzz cubic meters of air and sixteen people, etc. While his ground crew blew air into the balloon with two very large and powerful fans, Nick explained that we would load into the basket while it was lying on its side, which eliminated the need to climb over the walls of the basket but would make for some interesting gymnastics. DW and I were assigned the “top left corner” of the eight passenger compartments, and DF and Carl (a nice incredibly organized old fellow from, of all places, Katy, Texas) were assigned the “bottom left corner” compartment. DF and Carl would soon become BF’s (Best Friends), which was pretty much inevitable since they were essentially going to be cozily piled one on top of the other in the small compartment. Nick gave us the safety instructions, to which we all listened very carefully, especially since we had signed the waivers the night before.

    On Captain Nick’s command, the sixteen of us, which included two Swedes as well as two Russian couples (who would feign that they did not speak much English when it suited them), climbed and contorted ourselves into the compartments, amazingly efficiently if I do say so myself. The “upper deck” loaded first, so as to not step on the folks who would be in the bottom compartments. I’m not sure, but I think that after they loaded we may have heard Carl giggling and snickering, or perhaps it was DF. While we huddled on our backs in the cramped compartments, Nick fired up the powerful burners and ever so slowly Tembo lifted up, the basket turned vertical, and we gently floated up into the dawning sky. [“Up, Up, and Away” playing in the background] There was a gentle wind, and Captain Nick was able somewhat to control the direction of flight by igniting the burners and causing the balloon to go up or down. We were fortunate that the prevailing winds and/or Nick’s skill allowed us to float right along the Seronera River, near which we could see some wildlife from time to time. We reached a maximum altitude of only about 100 feet so that we could see the game, although I would have liked to have gone higher just for the view. We floated over the tops of trees, with vultures, a secretary bird, baboons, and monkeys looking up to see who was invading their lofty domain. There was no sound other than the occasional blast of the burners (which, by the way, raised the temperature in the basket several degrees), Captain Nick’s narrative, the excited chatter of the passengers, and the almost incessant clicking of camera shutters.

    DF, who had been a little apprehensive prior to her first-ever balloon flight, was enjoying herself immensely, as was everyone else. Having bonded, DF and Carl were carrying on a lively conversation as we all peered over the side of the basket. After about an hour of wonderfully serene Serengeti soaring (is that just a little too much alliteration?), Captain Nick told us to sit back down, tuck in our heads, and kiss our butts goodbye. Just kidding about that last part. He expertly accomplished a gentle landing, and after about six mild bumps that he had warned us to expect, we came to a halt, vertical even, and only about ten meters from a road down which the chase vehicles quickly approached. Nick had ordered that no one get out of the balloon yet, or else it would take off again. The ground crew grabbed the lines trailing from the balloon, tethered us down, and we all climbed out. What fun! Out of one of the trucks came a small table, then a large crate, and out of the crate came bottles of chilled champagne. Corks were popped, the traditional connection between ballooning and drinking champagne was explained, and then we all happily engaged in the tradition. As DF might (and did) say, “Yippee, yippee.”

    But the fun was not yet over. We all loaded back into the vehicles for a fifteen minute drive, at which time we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed, where waiters dressed in Arabic clothing awaited (What else would they be doing but awaiting?) beside a single very long table under a large acacia tree. They presented pitchers of water to wash our hands, and pointed out the two “bush toilets” that had been set up a discrete distance away. We chose seats at the table (I found it humorous that there was a sign on the table that said “Reserved Balloon” – who else did they think was going to be out there?), more champagne was poured (with orange juice if you preferred a mimosa), and a delicious full English breakfast was served by the waiters. I imagined it was just like this back in the colonial days. Lively conversation ensued, with DW being seated next to a Cirque du Soleil roadie – what an interesting life he must have. The following paragraph is a story he told to DW and she later relayed on to DF and me.

    [The Cirque roadie story:
    There is a strapping young Danish man that works for the Cirque, who has long flowing blond hair and often dresses, as many young European men do, in a tight t-shirt and tight shorts. When one of the horses from the show gets loose and runs away, it is the Dane’s job to get on his bicycle and pedal around the countryside looking for the horse. He doesn’t speak much English, and so he would sometimes get unusual looks from people when he would pedal up to them in his Euro-outfit and ask, “Have you seen my pony?” (In certain parts of Houston that inquiry might elicit an unintended response.) OK, back to the real story.]

    After a delightful, leisurely breakfast and appropriate toasts, we were given our “Survivor Certificates” and loaded back into the vehicles for the ride back to the Seronera Wildlife Lodge where we were to meet up with our regular guides. Much to our surprise, Gerald was not there, but a few minutes later he drove up. As it turns out, the jeep had suffered another flat tire, and after having put the lone remaining good tire on the jeep Gerald had taken the two bad ones to get them repaired. We went to the petrol station to pick up the tires, and I was surprised to see one of the workers wearing a Houston Astros cap. When I commented to him that we were Astros fans from Houston, he did not seem to fully understand the magnitude or significance of the coincidence.

    When I had inquired the previous day about going to the Gol kopjes in a quest for a “Lion King moment” (i.e., Simba regally sitting on top of Pride Rock, surveying his endless domain), Gerald had mentioned that the kopjes were far away. Nonetheless, once again wanting to do everything he could to make us happy, Gerald said that today we were going to the Gol kopjes. We had to drive all the way back to the Naabi Hill Gate where, incredibly to Gerald, he had to pay more fees to go out the gate a few meters to access the road to the kopjes. We took the long drive to the kopjes, and indeed we did see reasonable facsimiles of Pride Rock, and indeed we did see some lions at the kopjes, but in the heat of the afternoon, instead of regally surveying his domain Simba was sleeping in the shade of the rocks and trees. Along the way we saw a young male and a female lion sleeping under a bush right beside the road, three lionesses one by one walking down a drainage ditch and lying down almost right beside our jeep, about 15 hyenas cooling off around a muddy waterhole, and few other miscellaneous animals. We made the long, hot, dusty drive back to Naabi Hill Gate and then back to the Serena, for our last night on safari. We had a couple of hours to lounge around the lovely pool area (“Thumbs up,” DF said) before we had cocktails and dinner at our usual table on the veranda, and then we forewent the opportunity at a third chance to see acrobats repeat an act similar to those we had already seen twice before that week at the other Serena lodges, electing instead to hit the hay.

    Tomorrow – Airplane, not the Movie

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    I have finally finished my Diary, so I am going to post the last few days and call it quits. However, apparently my verbosity precludes me from posting the rest in one post, because I have tried twice and nothing happens. So I am going to attempt to do it in two installments. This one will cover our last very brief morning in the Serengeti, the flight to Zanzibar, and our getting to Matemwe Bungalows. The real safari purists can stop after the first couple of paragraphs, if you haven't stopped already. I have finally uploaded my videos, but they are going to take some serious editing before they are fit for human consumption.

    Day 15 -- This is your captain speaking – fly to Zanzibar, Matemwe Bungalows

    Of all the items on our itinerary -- more than the balloon ride, more than the bumpy roads, more than wearing beige everyday, more than bugs, more than bucket showers and chemical toilets, maybe even more than elephants in her tent -- DF was probably most apprehensive about our flight in a small plane (we didn’t know exactly how small) from the Serengeti to Zanzibar, with at least one stop along the way. She had flown in a private jet before, but this little plane would have only a propeller! Nonetheless, she was prepared to screw up her courage and board the plane anyway.

    But before he dropped us off at the airport, Gerald could not forego the opportunity to surprise us one more time. We had a few extra minutes before we had to be at the airstrip, so he took a detour off the main road and took us on one more very brief but highly productive mini game drive. He almost immediately found yet another leopard in a tree, and after he generously broadcast his find over the radio, within three minutes another dozen vehicles had convened on the two roads on either side of the tree. I don’t know where they all came from so fast, but cat sightings draw them like bees to honey (or is it “like flies to honey”?). Not having a whole lot of time, we soon drove on, but after just another few minutes Gerald found our second tree-climbing lion of the trip, lounging around in the crook of an acacia tree. “Last game,” Gerald announced, since we really needed to get to the airstrip. On the way there, we passed by the leopard tree again (which was now surrounded by almost 20 vehicles) just in time to see the leopard slink down out of the tree into the tall grass. Two treed cats, not a bad critter count for a half-hour game drive.

    We soon arrived at Seronera Intergalactic Airport, which is just a small building (although it does contain a postage stamp sized snack bar/curio shop) alongside a dirt landing strip. The weather station (a windsock) indicated a light cross breeze, and the ground crew (several gazelles and a couple of warthogs) was examining the runway. I was relieved to see no scales there to weigh our bags, because despite having loaded my fanny pack and my many pockets with much of my heaviest gear, I wasn’t certain that my bag could pass the 15-kilo test.

    Gerald talked to a guy at the hut/terminal, finding out that our plane was going to be about an hour late. Oh, swell, more time for DF to dwell on her fear of flying. We did find a Kilimanjaro beer in the cooler, and she used this to try to help calm her nerves. You would have thought her stomach might have been a little nervous, but nooooo, she finished off the better part of one of the box lunches Gerald had brought along. We whiled away our time for the hour, only to find out that it would be yet another half-hour before the plane arrived.

    Note: Have I mentioned before how glad I was that we were not going to have to drive back over the same long, hot, bumpy, dusty roads that we had traversed to get from Arusha to the Serengeti? However, the longer we waited for the plane, the more appealing that prospect seemed to become for DF. If the plane had been delayed much longer, she might have opted to have Gerald drive her from the Seronera to Zanzibar (no mean feat since Zanzibar is an island).

    Finally, we heard a distant buzz, and a small 12-seater Cessna flew by the airport (I think the pilot was consulting the weather station to determine wind speed and direction, as well as looking for any animals still gathered on the runway) and circled around for a smooth landing. A single passenger deplaned, and then we walked out to the plane. Gerald helped load our bags into the small luggage compartment, and then stood by to ensure that DF didn’t bolt. Meanwhile, the pilot was making a pit stop (there clearly was no room for a toilet on this aircraft). As it turned out, we in essence had our own private airplane, since no one else was brave enough to fly with us. As we waited for Captain Jack (not his real name) to go over his pre-flight checklist, I commented to DW and DF that the twin-prop plane had twice as many engines as it really needed, but for some reason that bit of gratuitous information didn’t seem to comfort them. When the pilot asked me to change seats so as to relocate my 180 pounds (with my pockets filled, it was probably closer to 190) to better balance the load, I started wondering if I should have paid more attention to the 15-kilo rule.

    But any concerns we might have had proved to be unfounded. The twin props roared and the plane noisily accelerated down the runway (which had been cleared of any game), and although there were a few bumps along the way, ZanAir Flight 54 to Arusha was uneventful. The pilot had told us that he did not know if we would be continuing on to Zanzibar on this same plane, and when we landed we saw a much larger ZanAir plane on the tarmac (yes, there was tarmac at this airport), so when they opened the door and gave us transit passes, we thought for a moment that we would be getting on the larger aircraft. As it turns out, the transit passes were just so we could go to the restroom in the terminal (again, our plane had no lavatory), and both our plane and the larger plane would be needed to handle the heavy load of passengers headed to the beach. As we were waiting in the terminal to reboard our plane, ZanAir first filled up the larger plane with passengers, leaving six more, especially a young Danish woman, who were not all that excited to be joining us in the little Cessna. (I am going to assume that it was the size of the aircraft, not us personally, that caused them to wish they were going in the other plane.)

    Despite the fact that the first leg of the flight had not been all that bad, the thought of going up for another 90 minutes in the small plane was not all that copacetic with DF, and the single Kili beer had been insufficient to assuage her anxiety. She engaged in a little self-medication to calm her nerves, and indeed after that she was very calm (some might even say she was far beyond calm) for the entire flight from Arusha to Zanzibar. We arrived safely and deplaned into the warm, muggy air of the island.

    After collecting our luggage in the small terminal, we once again looked for a sign with our name on it, and quickly found our new escort. “My name is Striker,” he said with a big grin, and took us to his vehicle. He worked for Zanzibar Excursions, the Zanzibar-based affiliate of Sunny Safaris. As we made our way through the streets of Zanzibartown (which is comprised of the very old Arabic quarters of Stonetown and the newer areas of, what else, Newtown), Striker (whose real name was Muhammed, he admitted, but the tourists seemed to like Striker better) gave us lessons on the people, geography, history, politics, culture, and other matters relating to Zanzibar. After about an hour of driving north up the paved main road and seeing the interesting sights of Zanzibar, including women walking down the road covered from head to toe (Zanzibar is about 90% Muslim), roadside fruit and vegetable stands, and the ubiquitous blue plastic bags discarded everywhere, we detoured onto a bumpy, sandy road for about another ten minutes. We drove past small huts in the fishing village of Matemwe on the east coast near the north end of the island, and then pulled up to the entrance of Matemwe Bungalows, our home for the next three nights.

    What a difference ten meters can make! In taking just a few steps through the Matemwe Bungalows gate, with its “Karibuni” welcome sign, we went from a dusty, rustic village into a lush paradise. Exotic tropical plants abounded on all sides, and at the open-air reception desk another Muhammed (a very common name in Zanzibar) was waiting for us with the standard but always much appreciated cold washcloths and fruit drinks, and fragrant leis were placed around our necks. We checked in and then followed as our bags were carried down the flower-surrounded walkway and up the ten or so steps to our bungalows, numbers 3 and 4. You can’t see the beach from the walkway, but once we got to the top of the steps and the doors to our bungalow were opened, we knew we had come to the right place. Bright white walls, colorful furnishings, six large windows with huge plantation shutters, and at the corner of the room facing the beach, two sets of large double doors leading out onto a spacious semi-circular veranda, about 15 yards beyond which was the Indian Ocean. Tropical flowers were strewn about the bed, the table, the couch, and the bathroom. The bungalows are actually on a promontory about twenty feet above the beach, which is really only a “beach” at low tide. When we arrived it was high tide, and waves were rolling in from the beautiful blue and then green waters, crashing on the rocks outside our doors. Off to the left was Mnemba Island, home to a single very exclusive resort. I quickly saw on our veranda what was to become one of my favorite spots for the next couple of days, a large hammock swinging in the brisk ocean breeze. Not that it was ever really lost, but paradise had certainly been found.

    After she was able to pry DW and me away from the view, the brightly-dressed housekeeper showed us around the bungalow and explained everything. There in the corner was a rack with several kangas for DW (or even me, I guess) to use as a wrap when going to the beach. Beside that was a large basket with towels to take to the beach. The king-sized bed was surrounded by the omnipresent mosquito netting. Upstairs (There’s an upstairs?) was another bed and a sitting area with a large desk (I went up the stairs once to take a picture, but otherwise we never had any reason to go upstairs again, everything we needed and more was on the first level). In the bathroom was a huge (I could lie down in it and not reach either end) bathtub, and beside that a huge shower. Turn the other way and there were two sinks, also decorated with flowers. Towels, washcloths, plush robes, candles, and bottles of colorful shampoos and soaps were strategically placed around the room. In a separate room to the side was the loo (a flush one, even), with the edges of the TP being folded (of course) into a little fan. The housekeeper went on to tell us what times meals were served; that tea, coffee, and biscuits would be silently placed on our veranda at 6:00 every morning; that laundry could be washed and returned in only a few hours; where the small safe was located; that snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, kayaking, and other activities could be arranged at the aquatic center; where each of the two pools, the bar, and the restaurant were located; that the bed would be turned down and the mosquito netting let down every evening while we were at dinner; where we could find the free internet computer; and if we needed anything else just call the front desk. After explaining each item, she would liltingly say, “Mmm-hmm,” and we would reply “Mmm-hmm” to acknowledge our understanding. The only question that came to my mind but needed not be spoken was, “How could we possibly need or want anything else?”

    DF, having mostly recovered from her extreme calmness, soon came calling on our veranda, wanting to know if our accommodations were adequate. Although the bungalows are only about 20 feet apart, they are separated by vegetation and one cannot be seen from the adjacent ones. We assured DF that we were satisfied, and she agreed that she too had no complaints. The three of us sat on our veranda for a while (actually the other two sat there while I walked around taking pictures of absolutely everything) enjoying the view, the breeze, the ambience, and the knowledge that we didn’t have to leave for three days. I climbed into the hammock and determined that it would indeed be a good place to spend a few hours during our stay.

    After we utilized our huge showers and tubs (I used the shower, DW used the bathtub, and I believe DF said she used both of hers) to wash off the dust and grime from the morning game drive (Was that really just this morning?), the flights, and the drive up the island, we adjourned to the outdoor bar (everything here is open-air). The very nice sand-floored bar area is decorated with brightly colored couches, chairs, and pillows, old ngalawa outriggers (the small traditional fishing boats), sails, and a large skeleton of a whale that washed up on the beach a few years ago. I just had to have some kind of tropical drink with an umbrella in it, so I ordered a pina colada [What would you guess is playing in the background now?], DW got a Whale Tail, and DF got a glass (actually, I think she ordered a bottle to take for our dinner) of wine. Alas, there were no umbrellas in the drinks, the first and perhaps only shortcoming we were to experience at Matemwe Bungalows.

    When we moved on to dinner, we were delighted to discover that it was Indian Food Night, and we enjoyed a delicious Indian dinner while looking out over the beautiful moonlit Indian Ocean. We realized that we had been in Africa for so long that the moon had grown from a new moon to a full moon, and it seemed to glow over the surf. When we returned to our rooms the mosquito netting had been let down and all of the doors and windows had been closed and the louvers had been shut. Not wanting to let the breeze (which would die down during the night) go to waste, we opened up the louvers, trusting the mosquito netting to protect us from any intruders. After enjoying a few more minutes sitting on our veranda/swinging in the hammock, we retired for the evening.

    Wow, how could today’s diary be so long, we really didn’t do much today.

    Tomorrow – The Sloop John B

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    I loved the reserved for balloon sign. Without it, maybe the truck with 40 would have crashed the party. Gerald was the leopard finder alright. "Last game." What sad words. But you ended big.

    After her Cessna flight has your DF become a convert to the advantages of flying over driving?

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    This will finish up my very long report.

    Day 16 – The green of the ocean, and her eyes, and . . . – Matemwe Bungalows

    I told DW and DF that they had the whole day to do anything or do nothing, but that I intended to take advantage of the opportunity to go snorkeling later that afternoon, and they, to their credit but potentially later regret, said they wanted to go, too. But that wouldn’t be until 15:30, so in the meantime we “busied” ourselves with drinking tea and coffee on our verandas while the fishermen in a variety of boats paddled or poled by northward on their way to work; eating breakfast; walking on the beautiful white sand beach (which was accessible just beyond the restaurant); lounging around the pools; checking e-mails (at least DF and I did, DW never felt the compulsion to use the computer, assuming correctly that if she really needed to know anything someone would have sent me an e-mail about it); having lunch (highlighted by skewers of fish, prawns, calamari, and lamb grilled over a charcoal fire); and lounging around the pools some more. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so sunscreen was applied liberally. It was amazing that after all this exertion we still had the energy to go snorkeling.

    DF did return slightly shaken from a solo walk along the beach in the afternoon. The fishing village is just south of the resort, and is situated right by the beach. I wasn’t there, but as I recall her telling it, when she was walking past the village a large group of small children gathered around her, clamoring for something. When she realized that what they wanted was her bottle of water, she gave it to them, and they then clamored about who was going to get it, spilling most of the water in the process. It sounded like a very brief but disturbing view into another culture. During the afternoons from our veranda we could see women, with their clothing covering them from the neck to the ankle, harvesting seaweed while the tide was low. Other young women walked around in the shallow water looking for crabs, and some boys did some fishing with nets. It seemed a meager, but apparently not an unhappy, existence.

    The east coast of Zanzibar is very tidal, and between about 10:00 and 14:00 hours the water was so low that the reef just offshore was exposed and the boats could not get past it. So going snorkeling was going to have to be either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. We opted for late in the afternoon, not realizing that the seas are much rougher at that time of the day (foreshadowing). At 15:30 we walked down to the Aquatic Center (a small shack on the beach), were issued our snorkels, masks, and fins, and waded out to the dhow. We were in the good care of Londo and another gentleman whose name I didn’t catch, and they weighed anchor and cranked up the motor (we would be going straight into the wind for a while), and we headed up the coast. [“Sloop John B” playing in background] We cruised past our bungalows and eventually our crew raised the sail and turned out to sea. However, the wind changed so they had to use the motor to propel us out past the reef, which was now under water, past Mnemba Island, past the beautiful large catamaran Julie, and past another reef to the prime snorkeling area.

    With little or no instruction (we had all snorkeled before, albeit not recently), we donned our gear and bailed into the Indian Ocean, accompanied by the diver-with-no-name, while Captain Londo stayed behind to man the dhow. We lowered our faces into the beautiful, crystal clear emerald water and flippered our way over the submerged reef. After about half an hour DW was getting a little tired, so we all escorted her back to the boat. DF and I wanted to see more of the multitudes of brightly colored sealife – yellow and black angelfish, parrot fish, ribbon fish, a lion fish, a stingray, a moray eel, colorful starfish, and thousands of others -- so we and the diver/guide swam back away. We snorkeled for about another half hour while DW carried on a conversation with the inquisitive Londo in the boat, and then it was time to head back to shore. Although DF and I had been floating around in the water, DW had been in the boat bobbing up and down with the rough waves during that time, and a touch (easy for me to say just a touch) of mal de mer was setting in. The anchor was again brought in, and now we could sail downwind in the brisk breeze back towards shore. Although DW’s burps and yawns did not develop into anything more, it was clear that she was a pretty sick-feeling puppy. However, always a good sport, DW somehow managed to keep her sense of humor, and on the way in commented, “DF, the green water matches your eyes – and my skin.” What a comedic trooper. We eventually got back to shore and waded out of the surf onto the beach, where DW figuratively kissed the dry land.

    That evening, after cleaning up, resting, recovering from our offshore expedition, and enjoying cold drinks on our veranda, we walked down the trellis-covered walkway to the restaurant and had a quiet dinner in the moonlight, and called it day – another good one.

    Tomorrow – Buzz Lightyear never had it so good

    Day 16 – To infinity, and beyond -- Matemwe Bungalows

    This was to be our last full day in Africa (or so we thought), so we wanted to make the most of it. That meant doing whatever we wanted, and if that was doing absolutely nothing, then that was all the better. So that is pretty much what we did. Today’s report should be pretty brief, relatively speaking.

    We once again enjoyed the early morning coffee, tea, and biscuits that miraculously appeared on our veranda around dawn every morning. The bungalows face east, so I was usually awake in time to take a few pictures of the sunrise, as the fishermen in their small nglawas and slightly larger dhows poled, paddled, or motored northwards (upwind) past us every morning. We had our usual breakfasts, checked e-mails, and hung out around the pool located on the top tier of the resort. There is another pool, the older one, which in itself is quite nice, but it is on a lower level so you cannot see the ocean from it nor does it catch much of a breeze. So we opted to lie on the lounge chairs around the upper pool, which is nicely appointed, is surrounded by lovely landscaping, and most fantastically, has an infinity edge looking out into the jewel-like sapphire, turquoise, and emerald waters of the Indian Ocean. Surprisingly, we had the pool almost to ourselves the entire day. The ladies could, and sometimes do, spend whole days at a time around a pool or at the beach. I, on the other hand, am not exactly a pool-and-beach person, although if I were this place would certainly have been a good one to enjoy.

    So I wandered around, and at the invitation of Tracy, the manager, walked down to Matemwe Bungalows' three newly opened (February 1) villas, appropriately called Matemwe Retreat. Although it is a little bit of a walk to get to them (they are to the north past bungalow #12 and up 32 wooden stairs and then a bit more of an uphill walk), they are spectacular, even in comparison to our wonderful bungalows. The first level includes a very large outdoor wooden deck area (with a bar/eating counter) facing the ocean, a large living area/bedroom (with a fully stocked mini-frig), and a large bathroom with a tub that sits beside double doors that open out onto the ocean view and the deck. On the second level, up a narrow spiral staircase, is another large deck with a plunge pool and another very large sitting area, all with a gorgeous high view of the ocean and Mnemba Island. The villas have very nice furnishings and appointments and a few special touches, such as tiny twinkling lights in the black ceilings over the tub and shower. As I said, it requires a little walking and climbing to get to the villas, but once there you can just stay there and enjoy your aerie retreat, since they will bring all of your meals to you. I couldn’t resist asking Tracy how much they rented for, and she told me that right now they are a bargain at only $400 US per person per night, but when they reopen in June after the rainy season the normal rate of $800 per person per night will apply. That’s a little out of my price range.

    Late in the afternoon as the sun was setting, I asked DW and DF if they would mind “posing” around the pool for the requisite pictures of the infinity pool. They were happy to be in the pool, and good sports that they are, even gamely complied with my wishes to take “postcard” pictures of “tourists-gazing-into-turquoise-infinity.” To reward them for again being such good sports, as they had been the whole trip, I ordered cocktails to drink around the pool – a “Spice Island” (rum, ginger, +++) for DW; a “Sparkling Tanzanite” (champagne and a bright blue liqueur called -- no kidding, I couldn’t be making this stuff up – libido) for DF; and a “Miyuni Trip” (mgunyi (a local gin), coconut juice, and about three other ingredients) for me. [“Margaritaville” playing in background] We once again toasted our good fortune and happy days, thoroughly enjoying this fabulous fantasyland beach resort.

    After we rested from the grueling day and cleaned up (it seems we did this almost every night), I escorted the ladies to the “orange room,” which is an Arabian-themed area adjacent to the infinity pool, overlooking the moonlit ocean, furnished with cushions to sit on around low tables. We ordered a bottle of champagne, and the bartender also brought us pieces of delicious fried coconut to munch on. We raised or flutes one last time, or actually a few last times, to celebrate our last evening on safari/beach holiday, relishing every remaining moment of our time here. We had a nice dinner of whole fish and all the extras (I’m pretty sure that wine was one of the extras), and then went back to our bungalows to face the unpleasant task of repacking our bags for the final time, since early the next morning we would leave for our final day excursion before flying back home.

    See, I told you not much happened today, but as our kids might say, it sure didn’t suck.

    Tomorrow – Leaving (eventually) on a jet plane

    Day 17 – Spice Girls, Stonetowners, and Delays – homeward bound

    The day started off well enough, with our new guide Youssef and his driver picking us up at the appointed time of 8:00. We were on schedule for our spice farm tour, to be followed by a walking tour of Stonetown. We drove nearly an hour from the remote northeastern part of Zanzibar where Matemwe Bungalows is located, to the central part of the island where the spice farms are located. We stopped and parked at a sign that said “Duba Spice Farm,” where quite a few young men and boys were standing. Youssef selected a boy of around 12 years old to take us on our tour. We walked for quite a ways, the boy leading the way, until we stopped at a tree. The boy picked some leaves off the tree, crumbled them up and gave some to each of us. After sniffing them, we all correctly guessed, “Cloves” (this was to be about the last one I got right, although DW and DF were both good at the smell-and-tell tests). Youssef, translating for the boy guide, told us that this clove tree was the only one in the area, and was reserved just for the tourists. During the next hour we would also see, frequently smell, and sometimes correctly identify numerous plants, including jackfruit, cardamom, cinnamon, casaba, nutmeg, ginger, and the lipstick tree from which dye is made. During the course of our walk the boy guide disappeared for a couple of minutes, returning with small cone-shaped “purses” for the ladies that he had made from green banana leaves and a thorn pin, to hold all of the spices he was collecting for us. I was only slightly disappointed that I didn’t get a purse, but it wouldn’t have gone with my outfit anyway. He also gave the ladies necklaces that he had made out of some other vegetation.

    After about 75 minutes of walking, we were taken to the Spices Dream Restaurant, a small hut where we were offered, and some of us ate, bananas, pineapple slices (cut by the boy with his 6-inch bladed knife that he carried in his back pocket), and oranges. Another boy was sitting nearby weaving items from fronds about one inch wide. As we were leaving the Restaurant, the two boys came over again with more woven items – new purses, star-shaped rings, more necklaces, and bracelets for the ladies, and for me, a dashing hat and matching necktie, all woven out of the fronds. We were quite impressed with the workmanship, and took pictures of all of us dressed in our new finery. Then we walked over to a grove of coconut trees, where the younger boy tied some rope between his feet and proceeded to lickety-split (that’s Southern for very quickly) shinny up a 75-foot tall coconut tree. When he got to the top he started singing, which is the traditional courtesy, intended not only to warn bystanders that coconuts are going to be coming down but also to alert anyone who might be taking a shower or sunbathing in the nude in their backyard. He then came back down, cut off the top of the coconuts with a machete, and gave them to us to drink the juice. It was certainly fresh, and I liked it, although the ladies didn’t finish theirs. That was the highlight and the end of the tour, except of course for the opportunity to buy some spices. After being confidently assured that we could take them back into the USA, we bought a few packages for souvenirs. As we were leaving, the young boy said goodbye, but in a language we hadn’t expected to hear – “Ciao,” we thought he said. Seeing our surprise, Youssef explained that Zanzibar is a very popular tourist destination for Italians, and indeed quite a few of the accommodations are owned by Italians, so the locals have picked up a few Italian words and phrases.

    After thanking and tipping our Spicetourguides, and telling them “Ciao,” we drove for a short while into Stonetown, where our driver dropped off Youssef and his three charges at the edge of the marketplace. Youssef gave us some information about what was coming next, and we proceeded into the busy, hot, humid, crowded, bustling, narrow aisles of the expansive and fascinating market. One can buy just about whatever one wants (interestingly, sunglasses seemed to be an especially prevalent item) within the several blocks of small stands, carts, and shops. We saw the seafood section of the market from a short distance away, but on Youssef’s wise olfactory recommendation we did not go inside.

    We soon came to the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, the only Protestant church in Stonetown. The church was built in the 1870’s on top of the site of the old slave market, and the high altar is located on the location of the old slave whipping post. The slave trade had been operated by Arabs for many years until, at the urging of famous missionary Dr. David Livingstone and others, slavery was finally abolished by the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1873. Before we entered the church Youssef, a Muslim, took off his hat as a sign of courtesy and respect for Christianity, saying that in Zanzibar everyone respects everyone else’s religion. We sat in one of the pews while Youssef told us some of the history of the slave trade and the church. The church is quite lovely, and visiting it was a moving experience, especially after Youssef led us into one of the nearby small cells where the slavetraders had kept slaves prior to auctioning them off, where he described some of the atrocities that occurred in that past era.

    When we had first entered the church, Youssef had teasingly asked us if we knew what was wrong about the marble columns just inside the entrance. I of course had no clue, but after just a few seconds, DW (who took an architecture class several years ago) said, “They’re upside down.” Well, you would have thought she had just won the lottery, Youssef was absolutely beside himself with surprise and excitement. He said he had been asking tourists that question for twelve years, and DW was the first one to ever answer it correctly, and that he would never forget her. The columns had been imported from Europe in around 1875, but the local African workers literally did not know which end was up, and installed them upside down.

    Our tour proceeded past the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, then down some very narrow streets filled with tiny shops, until Youssef stopped in front of a nondescript building. “This is Freddie Mercury’s house,” he proclaimed. Seeing the blank look on our faces, at least on mine, he added, “The lead singer of the rock band Queen” [born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar in 1946]. Oh, yeah, now we remembered something about him, particularly after we saw some pictures of him on the wall dressed in some of his extravagantly flamboyant outfits. We declined the opportunity to go inside the house, so we then walked on and saw the Queen’s Garden (maybe it was impressive when the Queen dedicated it, but it isn’t much anymore), the old Fort, and the House of Wonders (so called because it was the first building on Zanzibar to have wondrous electricity). As he ushered us into the House of Wonders, which was built around 1880 as a royal palace for the sultan but is now a cultural and historical museum, Youssef said that he knew that Americans liked museums (well, two of us three Americans do, anyway). He apologetically said that since it was midday Friday, if it was OK with us he really needed a few minutes to go pray. We of course told him to take as long as he wanted, we would be happy to wait until whenever he got back. After about 30 minutes (longer than I needed to see the Wonders of the House, but about right for the ladies) Youssef returned, telling us that he had gone to the “express mosque” so he could get back sooner.

    The official part of our tour was over, so Youssef led us to Mercury’s Restaurant (there’s that guy again – not the real guy, he died in 1991). This place clearly caters to the tourists, there were no locals dining there. We sat at a table overlooking the small harbor, ordered some beers and Coca Cola’s and a couple of pizzas (Yes!), and upped our badly lagging grease quotient. Lunch was over pretty soon, and Youssef returned to collect us, asking what we would like to do for the two hours before they took us to the airport. Did we want to go sit in the [dilapidated] Queen’s Garden [in the hot sun]? We said no, thanks, can’t we just drive around in the air conditioned van and see some more sights? Apparently that wasn’t considered within our petrol allocation, so he came up with an even better idea. They drove about two minutes and dropped us off at the Serena Inn, a cool, clean, beautiful oasis, where we whiled away the next hour drinking iced coffee and, for DF to begin her pre-flight preparation, a beer. Refreshed by our respite, we were then driven to the airport where we said our thanks and our goodbyes to Youssef. It had been a very interesting and educational day.

    Our flight to Dar Es Salaam, where we were to connect with our one-stop flight home, was only going to be twenty minutes long, and although the Precision Air (notice the irony in the name?) shuttle flight was going to be late, hakuna matata, we had a six hour layover in Dar anyway. We did a little souvenir and gift shopping at the surprisingly good shops in the Zanzibar airport. I made my second purchase of the trip, a very snazzy (according to me, anyway) and colorful (according to everyone) African shirt. Eventually they called us to board our flight. Happily, this was a large plane, so we didn’t have to suffer Cessna-phobia again. Up we went, down we came, and the flight to DAR was over. As those of you who have read the synopsis version of our trip report may remember (about a month ago!), this is where the fun pretty much ended.

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    Thanks for finishing your report. We, too, enjoyed lounging in Matemwe Bungalows' infinity pool. I could stay on that lip staring at the ocean and the dhows for a very long time.

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    Wonderful report! Thank you for taking the time to make it so detailed.

    Since we are choosing lodging right now for our trip, and I appreciate the great info you posted on my thread, you did like Olakira? Was there another choice you were considering? We are deciding between 3 nights Olakira and 3 nights Ndutu lodge or 4 Olakira (for more tented camp experience) and 2 Ndutu - the feed back i am getting is that it was unusual for Olakira to be in Ndutu. Are there other options you would have considered for 6 nights in the Serengeti?

    Thank you very much - again, great report!

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