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Tanzania Safari Synopsis -- Feb/March 07

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We just got back Saturday night from our trip to Tanzania, and since I couldn’t sleep anyway I thought I would start to try to “give back” to the Fodor’s Africa Forum from which I learned so much. After a while, however, I succumbed to the slumber monster, so this entry is a few days later. This first effort will be the “Cliff’s Notes” version, with mostly just the basics and not too much “fluff,” which I will try to follow up at a later date with the expanded/only slightly expurgated version, hopefully eventually with reference to my strictly amateur pictures and maybe even videos. There isn’t really a Fodor’s “template” to follow, so I’ll just dive in.

This comes with my usual caveats:
1. 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.
2. Historical data is not necessarily an indication of future performance.

Itinerary:
Feb. 19-20 – KLM from Houston/Amsterdam/Kilimanjaro
Feb. 20-21 – Kia Lodge near airport
Feb. 22-23 – Sinya/West Kili area, Kambi Ya Tembo - Elephant Camp
Feb. 24 – Arusha National Park; stay at Kigongoni Lodge near Arusha
Feb. 25 – Tarangire, Treetops Lodge
Feb. 26-27 -- Manyara, Serena Lodge
Feb. 28 -- Ngorongoro Crater, Serena Lodge
Mar. 1-3 – Nduta area, Olakira Tented Camp (located in Ngorongoro Conservation Area)
Mar. 4-5 – Seronera area, Serena Lodge
Mar. 6-8 – Zanzibar, Matemwe Bungalows
Mar. 9-10 (and almost 11), KLM/Continental from Zanzibar/Dar Es Salaam/ (eventually)AMS/Houston

Our merry band – Dear Wife of 33 years and game-spotter extraordinaire, whom I have dubbed “Cheetah Girl”; Dear Friend, a lovely woman and intrepid traveler who, along with DW, put her trip entirely in my hands (an admittedly questionable decision that turned out OK); and Self

Safari Operator – Ally at Sunny Safaris (based in Arusha) arranged the trip, and our excellent guide was Gerald. Other than some plane delays, which was certainly not Sunny’s responsibility, we had essentially no problems on our Hakuna Matata trip. Ally was responsive during the planning process, although I pretty much knew (thanks to this forum) what we wanted when I first contacted operators. Sunny was among the most economical (if you can use that term when discussing the cost of a safari) of the operators I polled. Gerald was a wonderful guide – professional, friendly, careful, prompt, knowledgeable, accommodating, and an amazing game-spotter with 10 years of guiding experience. His nice, large Land Cruiser was a roomy, comfortable (if you can use that term when discussing roads in the bush), and reliable vehicle. The most often seen vehicles were clearly those with Leopard Tours (probably about 40 of them), followed by Ranger Safaris (~30), then Roys and Sunny (~20 each), and then a host of others, including Good Earth, CCAfrica, Africa Under Canvas, Bobby Tours, etc. Most of the vehicles appeared to be in pretty good shape, at least on the outside. Everyone we talked to seem to like their guide just fine.

Things that worked out well (in no particular order) --
 Good mix of locations, activities, and camps and lodges. We moved more often than some people like to do, but we really enjoy seeing different camps and parks. The trade-off between tented camps and large lodges, as many have said before, is the intimacy and warmth of the camps versus the lower cost and sometimes location and convenience of the lodges. Our stays were arranged so that we could get laundry done at least once every three days.
 Using Fodor’s packing advice and lists. We still probably took too much.
 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 those 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.
 Nice people and wonderful service. The only ones I felt were not quite as friendly were the people at the reception at all three Serena lodges.
 Going to the Sinya/West Kili area for a couple of days. This area is off the beaten path, but Kambi Ya Tembo, although a simple camp, gave us what I feel is a bit more of an authentic experience. The boma we visited was definitely not a “tourist” destination, and seeing the Maasai in their natural environment was quite enlightening. Sylvester and his mostly Maasai staff at KYT were very warm and friendly, and made for a great start to our safari.
 At least adequate food everywhere, very good at some places. Better prices for cokes ($1) and beer ($2) than I expected, at least everywhere except the Serenas.
 Not too many bugs. Tsetse flies were really an annoyance only at Tarangire, and the mosquitoes were manageable.
 Good, but not spectacular, game viewing (I know this would be the first factor to consider for most serious Africa-philes). The migration, as others have said, is an amazing spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. Our first contact with it was on the road from the Ngorongoro Crater to Ndutu, when suddenly Gerald just veered to the left and took off cross-country (which you can do in Ndutu). He had seen the long dark line on the horizon, and was headed towards it. As we bounded across the grass towards a huge throng of wildebeests, I was tempted to yell “Yee-haa!” (after all, we are from Texas). I knowingly said to the ladies, “That is the great migration,” whereupon Gerald simply said, “That is part of the migration.” He estimated about 400,000 in that particular group, and we would see many more in the next two days. Once we reached them, we were surrounded by wildebeests on all sides as we slowly drove straight through them for at least 5 minutes. Other than that, we saw just about all the various animals we expected to see, plus a few we didn’t necessarily expect to see (gerenuks, bat-eared fox, caracal, genets). We saw 2-3 dozen lions (mostly just lazing around), about 10 cheetahs, and about 8 leopards (although most, but not all, of the leopard sightings were pretty brief and/or distant). We did have an exciting viewing at Tarangire of 6 lionesses and 4 cubs at a giraffe kill, with 2 envious hyenas trying unsuccessfully to gain a seat at the “table.” Fortunately (for us, not the giraffe nor the hyenas), the action took place about 10 meters (I am still speaking “metric,” albeit with a Texas accent) from the road, so we had front row seats for the show. The best leopard sighting was a mother and two cubs in and around some pretty thick brush in Ndutu, but Gerald then found the male (saw that tell-tale tail) in a tree not far away. We got pretty close, so close that the male took minor offense when I leaned out too far to get a picture.
 Flying back from the Serengeti – As we were driving the long, bumpy, dusty roads from Ngorongoro to Ndutu to the Seronera, I kept thanking my lucky stars that I had taken Fodorites’ advice to fly back east, especially since we were going all the way to Zanzibar.
 Starting the trip with a day of rest at Kia Lodge, an oasis only five minutes from Kili airport with a view of both Kili’s (the airport and the mountain), and ending the trip with three restful days at Matemwe Bungalows, an isolated but beautiful small resort (12 bungalows and three brand new villas) on the very tidal northeast coast of Zanzibar across from Mnemba Island.
 Not having to use either the travel insurance nor Flying Doctors memberships we had purchased, nor hardly any of the medicines and such that we took “just in case.”
 Taking along a Tekkeon supplemental battery pack for those times when I ran low of power (batteries, not personal energy). It is fairly large and heavy, and I only needed it a couple of times, but I would have hated to have run out of juice in the middle of an exciting sighting.

Things that were less than optimal:

• One of my requirements for a camera is that it fit in my pocket (I know, that is blasphemy among many Fodorites). As a result, my pictures will be mediocre at best, and terrible by the standards set by Bill H., Julian, and others, but they will serve my purpose of providing memories of our trip.
• A minor issue, but each of us had a little bit of fairly mild stomach issues. We drank only bottled beverages (other than coffee and tea and ice, which we were assured were made with good water), but two of us were pretty liberal in what we ate (i.e., we did not abide by the “eat only fruit that you have peeled yourself” advice). The third of us was more careful, and that person may have had the most “unease.” On balance, I am satisfied by our decisions regarding this issue and the results of our choices.
• Hot air balloon ride – DF loved it (it was her first balloon ride and she had been pretty apprehensive) and was ready to go again. Although I enjoyed it and am glad we did it, like some other Fodorites I think once was probably enough.
• Arriving at DAR from Zanzibar expecting a 6-hour layover, during which we planned to get a day room at a hotel to clean up and have dinner before our long flight home, only to find out that our KLM plane was still on the ground in Amsterdam. In other words, our flight from DAR back to Amsterdam was not going to leave for at least 12 hours, so of course we would miss our connection at AMS. It’s a fairly long story, but the bottom line is that amazingly it wasn’t all that bad. KLM paid for rooms and dinner at a nice hotel, so we actually got on the plane (a Continental Airlines flight since we had clearly missed the KLM flight) clean and well fed and even after a couple of hours sleep in a comfortable bed. Getting up at 1:00 a.m. to go back to the airport and then spending almost 5 hours in a fairly warm and dark airport wasn’t all that much fun (and in the cruelest cut of all, the duty free shops were all closed), but a little Ambien on the first flight helped me catch up on my sleep.

As you can see, the “good” items greatly outnumber and outweigh the “not so good” items. All in all, I think we had a great trip, I have little to complain about, and I would do it again in a minute. I may have some of the detailed trip report to post soon, but be careful what you wish for. Just think, if this is the “highlights” package, what is the full report going to be like?

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