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Trip Report Tanzanian Safari, trip report

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We recently returned from a 2 week trip to Rwanda and Tanzania. I wrote a separate report detailing our gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda; this one is about the Tanzania portion of our trip. We booked our entire trip as a private trip through Deeper Africa out of Boulder CO.
Following our visit to Rwanda for gorilla trekking, we continued on to Tanzania for a safari. We left the Kigali, Rwanda airport on a 6am Coastal Aviation flight to Kogatende airstrip in the northern Serengeti area of Tanzania. The flight is on a Cessna caravan which seats 12 (if I recall correctly) but we were the only 2 scheduled so the pilot let me sit up front in the co-pilot's seat. There is no mechanism in place for processing visitors through immigration at Kogatende, so we first made a stop at the airport in Mwanza for immigration paperwork. This is where we purchased our visas, $100 USD in cash per person. Very easy! We got back on the plan and pilot told us we would be stopping at the Lamai airstrip to pick up some more people, and then across river to Kogatende where we got off. That last section was literally only about 5 minutes in the air.
Although we'd booked a private trip, the northern Serengeti is a pretty remote area, so Deeper Africa said it really wasn't practical to use a private driver guide for that portion of our stay. Instead, a Sayari resident guide picked us up at the airstrip and we went on additional game drives with another resident guide from Sayari Camp, where we stayed the first 3 nights. Sayari is a permanent tented camp, but the word "tent" is used very liberally. There is a raised wood floor and the back wall is wood as well, there are glass doors and of course an ensuite bathroom with all of the expected amenities. The tent has power outlets and there was a hair dryer and a safe, as well as robes and wifi in our tent.
Wake-up calls are, as in all camps and lodges where we stayed, a knock on the door to deliver coffee or tea, whichever you request, and cookies. Breakfast is a continental buffet style, with eggs/bacon on request. Lunch is also a light buffet. Dinner included a couple of different entree options and was served at one of 2 big communal tables which invites conversation among guests. John and Olivia join their guests for dinner, and a selected guide often joins the guests for dinner as well. "Askari" or security staff escort your to and from your tent when it's dark. The first night I had trouble sleeping, I guess due to the excitement of the trip, and lay awake in the dark listening to all kinds of animal noises very close by. I felt perfectly safe in the tent, but had fun trying to figure out what animals were making the various noises!
While at Sayari, we did a balloon ride one morning and the balloon company puts on a champagne bush breakfast by the river afterward, where we were able to watch and listen to a huge group of hippos. That afternoon, our guide Kivuyo (or "Kiv") surprised us with sundowners on top of a huge boulder. He pretended to be lost as we headed back to camp after our drive, and had us all (us and another couple sharing the drive) looking around til we spotted the picnic blanket and beverages/snacks that had been set up on the rock by another staffer.
We had seen a rhino with her baby from the hot air balloon but I didn't get a good look and really wanted to see them again, so the next day Kiv suggested we leave early, at 6am, for the longer drive to the area where that particular rhino is known to hang out. We did indeed see her again with her baby, along with tons of other animals, and all in all we were gone for 7 hours for a "morning" drive that day. Kiv had packed a bush breakfast which we enjoyed mid-morning. On our final drive that afternoon we were really hoping to spot a cheetah, as that's the only significant animal we hadn't seen. We didn't have any luck, but we did see a serval cat which Kiv said is also rare so that made up for not seeing a cheetah. The night before we had a great sighting of a leopard in a tree, eating part of a wildebeest, and got to watch it for about 30 minutes until the occupants of another land cruiser started talking too loudly and spooked it and it ran off. We also saw a wildebeest crossing which was another highlight of our time in the Serengeti!
One note about wildebeest crossings: The wildebeest are very fickle, and don't cross right away when they reach the river. Sometimes they wait hours, and sometimes they wait til the next day. Sometimes they start to cross but turn back. Our first day we saw a small herd waiting to cross so we waited about 30 minutes. Suddenly our driver said "They're going, hold on!" and she wasn't kidding. The drivers park a ways up or down the river while waiting, because if they're too close to the crossing site the wildebeest often won't cross. When they do cross though, the drivers all race each other to get closer. It's often a few dozen vehicles so it gets kind of crazy and it's a wonder they don't crash into each other. Quite an adrenaline rush though! That said, we felt lucky that we saw one after only waiting 30 min. We heard stories from people who waited 3-4+ hours and still didn't get to see a crossing. We also saw a caravan of vehicles coming up from the central Serengeti one day. Our driver said it's about 3 hours each way, plus waiting time, so if you stay in the central Serengeti and want to see a crossing, you'll basically spend and entire day and may or may not see one. If seeing a crossing is on your list, definitely stay in the northern Serengeti, not the central part!
Our next stop after the Serengeti was Lake Manyara. We had a Regional Air flight (again, on a Cessna caravan) from the Kogatende airstrip to the Manyara airstrip. When we landed at Manyara, we met our driver guide, Martin, who would be with us for the remainder of our trip. We drove to Lake Manyara and spent the better part of the day driving through the park, stopping for a picnic lunch that Martin had brought along. After the openness of the Serengeti, much of the LM park seemed very closed in to us, because it is more forested. There are some open areas nearer the water though, and we still ended up seeing a lot of animals. In particular we saw a lot of birds that we hadn't yet seen, including flamingos, storks and pelicans among others, and tons and tons of baboons. We spent 2 nights at Manyara Tree Lodge, which is like a tree house camp. Each individual tree house is up on stilts. Like Sayari camp, all meals and drinks were included as was laundry, and we again had power outlets, hair dryer, safe, robes and wifi in our tree house. Our tree house was evidently near a well-used elephant path, as late on both afternoons we heard and saw an elephant while sitting on our deck. He was maybe 40 yards away. One night we heard one that sounded like he was right outside out tree house! Buffet breakfast with eggs on request, set menu for lunch and dinner, but quite a few side dishes so even if you don't care for the entree you won't go hungry. We have read where a number of people said you can basically see Lake Manyara in a day and I would agree that that's true, but we wanted to stay at least 2 nights each place we went so we did stay 2 nights. The 2nd afternoon we told Martin we didn't need to do another game drive, and instead I got a massage and we relaxed by the pool, which a couple of monkeys visited too.
Since Manyara Tree Lodge is at the far end of the park from the main entrance, we did essentially have another game drive the next morning as we left. From there we went to Gibbs Farm for 2 nights. The property is beautiful, with coffee fields, large vegetable gardens, beautiful flowers and so forth. I hadn't been feeling well the night before and didn't sleep much, so after we arrived around lunchtime, we went straight to our room and I took a long nap. Later before dinner we walked around the gardens a bit. The next day we visited the Ngorongoro Crater and had a picnic lunch while there. That afternoon one of the Gibbs Farm staffers took us on a walk around the gardens. We had seen a dump truck load of rocks being delivered the day before, and just as we'd been told, the next day there was a group of workers with hammers and chisels making them into square blocks for the foundation of some new stables for the animals. We also saw a huge tree that had been cut down to make room for more gardens, and a worker was cutting the tree into boards with a large chain saw. We were amazed at how well he could do it free-hand, but were told he's been doing it for 20 years! It's a really interesting place and uses sustainable practices where everything possible is reused or recycled. They grow the coffee and roast it on site, the coffee/veggies/fruits/herbs/honey are all used in the kitchen, they make furniture for the guest houses on site by hand, leftover food is composted or fed to the pigs who in turn become bacon etc., the manure from the dairy cows fertilizes the gardens as does the ash from the fireplaces, branches from cut trees become firewood and so on and so on.
Meals are included but drinks are not, nor is laundry. The rooms, which are all individual guest cottages, have power outlets, hair dryers, robes and a safe, but wifi is only available in the main house and even there it is very slow and pretty much limited to email. I tried to post a picture on Facebook and everytime I opened FB I was immediately kicked off the wifi. We were told that they plan to add a few more guest cottages and a swimming pool.
Our last stop was Tarangire, where we spent 2 nights at Little Oliver's camp. It's an offshoot of Oliver's camp which is nearby, but only has 5 tents. A family of 5 were the only other guests the first night we were there, and the next night they were gone and there was just one other new couple, so it was a very quiet, intimate sort of place. The manager is Julie and she and her staff are great. She asked us to join her for lunch the 2nd day and said we'd picnic just a few minutes away. When we got there the staff had set up quite an elaborate bush lunch for us including champagne, and we had a really nice meal with Julie and Martin. We also did a walking safari that morning which was a lot of fun. We had a rather close encounter with a lion, but our guide, Chris, and the park ranger who accompanied us (both armed, by the way) were very professional and handled the situation perfectly. Breakfast is a small continental style buffet, but as with all camps, eggs and bacon are also made on request. Lunch and dinner are a set menu, and there are drinks around a big fire before dinner.
The tents at Little Oliver's have a concrete floor but unlike Sayari camp with its glass doors, the doors and windows at Little Oliver's are all just mesh screens. The door does have a frame though, so it opens and shuts like a regular door, not a zip-up tent door. There's both an indoor shower and an outdoor shower and we only used the outdoor one. Same type wake-up calls as everywhere else, and all food/drinks/laundry included, plus outlets, robes and safes in the room. This was the only place we stayed that had no hair dryer and no wifi. (Not complaining about that, just stating it as a point of information.)
The next day Martin drove us to Arusha, where we had lunch at the Arusha Coffee Lodge, and did some shopping for souvenirs at the SHANGA project shop, which is located there. ( Afterward, Martin dropped us off at Kilimanjaro airport for the beginning of our trip home.
I've tried to give an overview of each place we stayed, and a few trip highlights, but I could go on and on forever. Please feel free to ask specific questions!

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