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The Accidental Safari – Rocco’s Tanzania Adventure - Trip Report

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THE ACCIDENTAL SAFARI – ROCCO’S TANZANIA ADVENTURE

PRE-SAFARI OVERTHINKING (PART I)

This safari was truly the result of self-deprivation gone awry. It was July, 2005, and I was 13 months removed from my last safari. Despite the fact that my next safari was less than two months away--a three week holiday to South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi, Cape Town and the Sabi Sand—I obviously cannot be trusted with internet access, a credit card and way too much knowledge about different safari destinations…a very volatile combination!

With Zambia and South Africa long since booked, and my agent telling me he will kill me if I change my itinerary any further, what else could I possibly do last July but start planning another safari? It started out innocently enough…after all, I had done plenty of planning before that did not necessarily result in immediate bookings.

One thing I knew, however, was that I was not going to space out my next safari by 15 months, the amount of time that was scheduled to elapse between my June 2004 Zambian safari and my September 2005 safari. Another thing, as much as I love Zambia, I knew that it was time to see somewhere new.

My first choice for my next safari was Botswana. A combination of Kwando and Wilderness Camps would be great, I thought. However, from my time on Fodors, I knew that it was a bit risky to go to Botswana during my originally desired time of April – May. If the rains were too heavy, I was risking not only too many insects, but also shrubs that were eye-high, making the wildlife very hard to see. Then there was also the concern that if I waited until late May/early June that I would freeze, as I am not a fan of cold weather safaris. Born, raised and living my entire life in Los Angeles, I am not quite adept at weathering temperatures under 60 degrees. Driving around in the early morning and at night with temperatures dipping into the 40’s is not for me.

Furthermore, at the time I had a complete misconception that Botswana was too expensive. At the time of planning, I had no idea that shoulder season in Botswana was actually about the same price as high season Zambia.

During this time of planning, I received an e-mail from one East Africa company advising me about the Kiliminjaro Marathon. Always in self-denial that I am nothing more than a couch potato, I thought it would be great to run the Kiliminjaro Marathon. After all, I have completed four marathons, even if they were all like fifty years ago (actually four years ago, but they may as well have been fifty years ago). Best of all, I thought, Tanzania was a MUCH less expensive option than Botswana.

Well, in reality, as I would quickly learn, post 9/11 Tanzania, which I priced out extensively, may have been much cheaper than Botswana, but Tanzania was enjoying quite a resurgence. Whatever…it did not matter…the seed was in my head and there was no removing it…not only would I run the Kiliminjaro Marathon but I would then have the opportunity to see the Great Migration and the Ngorongoro Crater.

My time was very limited, as I knew that space was filling quickly for late February / early March. Without much time to shop around, I priced out my itinerary with companies from the USA and the UK. Prices were all within the same ballpark, but wanting to experience the Serengeti with Nomad, I selected the operator of the three who offered Nomad sent off my deposit and counted the days until I left for Zambia and South Africa. As quick as an e-mail with my credit card authorization, Tanzania was a done deal. What started out as just fiddling around with an idea for my next safari, culminated, within about 10 days, into the most expensive holiday I had ever booked…never mind that I had not yet even made my final payment on South Africa and Zambia yet.


SECOND THOUGHTS

After returning home in late September from an amazing safari, the last thing on my mind was my next safari. I was still basking in the afterglow from Zambia and South Africa to think much about going on another safari in about five months time. No problem…I had ample time before I had to make a decision whether I was going to go through with it or not. Worst case scenario, I thought, I would forfeit 25% of my $3,000 deposit…losing $750 was not the end of the world.

Instead, I started looking at each Argentina and India as possible destinations for my next holiday. Also, about this time I decided to launch my own tour operation, and thought that perhaps I would force in a December or early January safari to Botswana. But, Tanzania? It was the last thing on my mind…just biding my time to see what else developed, but there was no way that I was going to be able to come up with about $15,000 in the next three months.

I did, however, want to avoid the cruel Los Angeles winter and go somewhere. With that I began pricing out each Argentina and India, where even the most fantastic itinerary would be a fraction of the price of Tanzania, especially since I knew that I would need to splurge on properties such as Lake Manyara Tree Lodge and the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, if I were to do Tanzania the way I wanted.

Putting together a beautiful itinerary to India, featuring mostly Oberoi properties, I was satisfied that Africa could wait…possibly I would go to Botswana and Zimbabwe in August, after they had time to warm up just enough.

With those thoughts in mind, and not knowing how I was going to pay for Tanzania with so little time remaining, I put in an e-mail to my tour operator, advising that regrettably I would need to cancel Tanzania, and for them to please credit 75%, $2,250, of my deposit back to my credit card. The next day I received a response from my tour operator…unfortunately, there would be no refund, as the cancellation fee is actually for 25% of my INVOICE. What this meant was that I was not only looking at a cancellation fee of my entire $3,000 deposit, but I was also on the hook for about another $750, since the price of my itinerary had grown to $15,000 by the time I changed to the Crater Lodge!


FATE?

Now I was in the hot seat. Lose $3,750 or somehow come up with another $12,000 within the next few weeks. I wasn’t in shoulder season Zambia anymore, where I could just cough up the necessary money to pay for a safari. This was the big leagues…reserve your safari eight months in advance, pay big time money for luxury lodges and pay up big when you dared to cancel.

Just as this was happening, I had to take my Land Rover in for scheduled maintenance or brakes or something (just what I needed, another $1,000 spent that could possibly be going towards my safari). So, meanwhile, I was relegated to driving around in my little Porsche Boxster, that had not seen much action in the last couple years since I picked up the newly designed 2003 Range Rover. The Boxster is a great little car, and after plodding around in my big SUV, it was quite liberating to be zipping around in the Boxster.

Returning back to my office from lunch, in a three lane street that converged into two lanes shortly after the intersection, I was timing the approaching Green Light so that I could comfortably get ahead of the vehicles in the two left lanes and take pole position. ;)

After my light turned green, I gave it a little gas, and then next thing I know, before I can even take my foot off the accelator, while going about 30 mph, I SMASH into a latent vehicle driven by an unlicensed 19 year old woman who thought it would be a good idea to run through a red light! I have been in a couple accidents before—smashing my new sportscar as a 16 year old, head on into a Toyota Land Cruiser, smashing my mom’s car as an 18 year old while I was distracted looking at quite an eye-catching pedestrian, and a couple minor accidents—but I have never smashed into a car as hard as I did this time.

The accident left us side by side in the middle of the intersection, close enough for us to exchange pleasantries, before seeing smoke, I decided it would be a good idea to climb across the passengers seat, all 250 pounds of me acting as a Chinese acrobat and squeezing out of a vehicle that is better suited to the opposite sex half my size.

Fortunately, neither of us was seriously injured, at least not at the scene. It seems that the vehicle the other driver was in belonged to her mom’s boyfriend, who was about my age and trying to act like a tough guy after arriving at the scene. Fortunately, after being in a canoe with hippos erupting from the water nearby and in doorless vehicles with full grown lionesses walking within touching distance, I don’t worry about humans who I outweigh by 50 pounds very easily. ;)

Goodbye Porsche…a total loss it was ruled by the insurance adjustor. Oh well, I thought…I had been considering selling it anyhow, but given that I would only get a certain amount for it, I was not pushing the issue. However, even a five year old Porsche still has considerable value, as I was to learn by the insurance settlement that paid me about 25% more than I was expecting. The insurance settlement, alone, was enough to pay for Tanzania. Problem solved and in quite an unexpected way.

(PART II TO FOLLOW)

(In case anybody has not yet seen them, my photo gallery is already up at

www.kodakgallery.com/rocco/tanzania

I have added about a dozen photos since I originally posted and will try to add another couple dozen photos this coming weekend)

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