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Tanzania trip report -- Sept 07

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We've been back a couple of days and are mostly well rested. I wanted to get this together before the memory faded too much...

Planned Itinerary:

Sept. 7: overnight in Dar Es Salaam
Sept. 8: Loliondo Camp (by Klein’s airstrip), just outside the Serengeti
Sept. 9: Loliondo
Sept. 10: game drive to Serengeti Safari Camp
Sept. 11 Serengeti Safari camp
Sept. 12 Serengeti Safari camp
Sept. 13-16 Sand Rivers Lodge w/ 2 nights planned fly camping

Our trip was planned by Uncharted Outposts in the US using Nomads Tanzania as the ground operator. Nomads owns all the camps and lodges we stayed at and was responsible for us every step of the way.

And the report….

Sept. 5 and we’re leaving for our trip. Our flights take us from SFO to LHR (on Virgin), then Heathrow to Dubai and Dubai to Dar Es Salaam. We had many hours of layovers but all went smoothly. Our challenge was fitting all of our belongings in one carry-on each, including our camera equipment and binoculars. Virgin informed us they had a 6kg weight limit (which we exceeded) but they let us slide. Phew. We really didn’t want to deal with customs at Heathrow.

We arrive at Dar Es Salaam after 36 hours of travel. A nice man from Nomads was waiting for us and brought us to the Holiday Inn. We showered and went down to dinner. Realized we were exhausted as we fell asleep at the dinner table, but… off to a good night’s sleep and then pick up bright and early the next night for our flight to Klein’s airstrip.

Sat. The flights go through Arusha and a change of planes, but we make it to Klein’s airstrip on time. From the air we can see our first zebras. Our guide is waiting at the airstrip; he’ll be our guide for our first two camps. On our drive to Loliondo camp we see wildebeests, giraffes, and thompson’s gazelle. We arrive at Loliondo. The camp is beautiful; the mobile tents are now huge round yurts. The cook is a local masai. We didn’t do a good job of stressing to our guide that we wanted to spend as much time as possible on game drives, so we kinda wasted the rest of the day. We did make plans to start early the next morning to hike to find some wild dogs.

Sun.: We’re joined by the other couple staying in the camp (we managed to pick a week when the camp was virtually empty which was a pleasant surprise). We’re still in separate cars with our individual guides. We drive to the local masai village to pick up the “dog scout”. So we have the 4 of us, our 2 guides, the masai scout from our camp (he’s the guy with the gun) and the masai dog tracker. We hike a bit up hill, then move very very quietly. We found the den! 3 adult dogs are catching our attention so we almost missed the 2 dozen puppies that go streaking past us. This was an amazing sight and a great way to start our trip.
We head out later for a night drive. Our guide knows we really want to see some elephants so he’s pretty focused on getting us to where the may be some. I look out the window and see a big cat running alongside the car. “It’s a leopard” I shout. The guide looks and says excitedly, “No, it’s a cheetah”. We track the cheetah for a while. She’s beautiful and seems happy enough to have us around. I still think this is one of my favorite parts of the trip. We continue on as it’s getting darker and find the elephants, as well as hyena. A great day.

Monday: we pack a picnic lunch and begin the drive to and across the Serengeti. Here we see our first lions, some aribi and baboons. We stop and sit outside for a picnic lunch, then notice as we’re about to leave there are elephants nearby. We visited with them for a while; there are some huge bulls as well as some teeny babies. They’re all eating and drinking and are just beautiful to watch.
The drive is incredible; we see so much along the way. We arrive at Serengeti Safari Camp. The first reaction is disappointment; the tents are much more rustic after the luxury of Loliondo. This reaction is very short-lived; though. Sure it’s rustic but we still have the same bathrooms and bucket showers. A nice mess tent and bar and the same attentive service of the Nomads staff. And we can hear lions roaring and hyenas at night and see wildebeests from our tent. We meet another guest who has visited Serengeti Safari camp before but at their spring location. He returned to see the wildebeest migration; specifically to see a crossing of the Mara River.

It was at this camp we saw a snake in our tent (eek!) and had a night as the only guests at the camp. Talk about exclusive! The highlight, though, was eating breakfast in front of lions while waiting in anticipation for the wildebeest crossing.
I don’t think I can describe the thrill of watching this. Each wildebeest that looked like it was going to step in the river, only to be disappointed by them walking another way. We saw 3 zebra begin to cross only to watch 2 of them turn around. The one who made it across fumbled part way through, then completed the journey. We’re convinced it was the trilling of this one that goaded the other two to convince the wildebeests to start the crossing. Ahh, if it were only that simple. We waited. And watched. The wildebeests starting bunching up on the riverbank until one mis-stepped and fell into the river. He turned to head back but it was too late; the others saw one in the water and the crossing was on! Fantastic to watch. Wildebeests EVERYWHERE.

Thursday morning we leave and head to the airstrip. Three lions are by the side of the road to see us off. We get to the airstrip and wait. And wait. And wait. Our plane shows up an hour late. We don’t think it’s a problem until we get to Arusha. Our flight to Selous has left without us and we’re stranded. We ask the airline to call Nomads; they already have someone on the way to pick us up. We’re brought to the Rivertrees lodge but we’re incredibly disappointed. The lodge itself is quite nice but.. Our 5 nights in the bush have been brought to a screeching halt. By the time we reach Rivertrees Nomads has put a contingency plan in place. We’ve visited in a few hours by someone from their head office. We’ll be picked up early the next day to be taken to Kilimanjaro airport. We fly to Dar and are met and brought to the commuter terminal where a charter is waiting for us. Yes, it’s a bummer we miss a day in Selous, but that’s what the trip insurance is for.
We’ve learned our lesson and as soon as our guide picks us up at the airstrip we have a plan in place for game viewing later that day. We also are going fly camping that night are will be taking a boat to the fly camp site.
We get to Sand Rivers and are greeted by one of the hosts of the lodge. This is different for us; the mobile camps bring the entire staff out to greet you and your guide is your main contact for your stay. Here there are hosts that try to corral the guests into a little bit of structure. They meet in the mess to plan the afternoon and next day’s activities. I’m not certain they know what to do with us since we’re pretty self sufficient.
We go to our room and it’s beautiful. An amazing view of the river and hippos. A fantastic bathroom with running water! And 24 hour electricity! Had we come straight from the mobile camps we would have really appreciated this but it was nice regardless. Didn’t matter, tho; we’re leaving this for fly camping.
On to fly camping.. We take a boat – our hosts are anxious for us to get to the location by sunset. It’s a beautiful location with a campfire. Our fly camp tent is a square of mosquito netting that first just our bed. There’s a canvas tent just next door we can use to change, and a separate tent set up with a bathroom. Had we not just spent 5 nights in mobile camps this would be a really unique experience. But we’d had 5 nights of campfires and meals under the stars, so a lot of this was wasted on us. I’d recommend fly camping for those staying in lodges only. For us? It was just OK. And I think we disappointed our hosts by not being overwhelmed by it. This was the only night of the whole vacation we got bug bites and I got slammed. We canceled our next night of fly camping; the lodge was really so beautiful we wanted to stay in our cottage.

We had 3 days here and loved the river trips. Saw TONS of hippos, lots of crococodiles and had hundred of baboons seemingly protecting the shore. The game drives were hot. People may tell you how bumpy the driving is but I snoozed occasionally from the heat.

While I thought Selous was interesting and Sand Rivers was beautiful, I much preferred the landscape of the Serengeti and the intimacy of the mobile tented camps.

What worked:

Nomads and Uncharted Outposts really did a fantastic job taking care of us. The mobile camps were great; they greeted us with drinks at the end of each game drive and sent us away with a picnic lunch our last day. The meals were substantial and the service friendly.

We survived really well with 1 carryon each. My single best purchase was a buzz off safari style hat. It had a drawstring around my neck that kept it on during game drives and boat rides, did a great job with sun protection but really kept the flies away from my head. I noticed it immediately when I wasn’t wearing it.

Other things we packed that were great:
- two pairs each of zip off pants/shorts. These were quick dry material and lightweight, so it never felt too hot in them. They also were “packable” and zipped into their own back pockets. Made them really small and great for packing.
- Facial cleansing wipes: these were great for quick “showers”
- Dove facial cleansing cloths: worked well for lathering up in bucket showers
- A safari style lightweight shirt. Threw this in the bag last minute but wore it daily. Nylon and lightweight it was great sun protection.

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