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Trip Report Trip report - January 08 - Good Earth

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This is a trip report on our safari in Tanzania of ten days starting January 18, 2008. I will try to cover items that would have been helpful to me as I planned the trip. In short, it was an awesome adventure. We give the highest recommendation to our outfitter, Good Earth Tours, and our guide, Paul Nyalusi.

(1) I’ll start with Itinerary and lodging, making a few comments, but my listing of animals and activities is illustrative, not all-inclusive:
Our guide met us at Kilimanjaro Airport late Friday and took us to Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge (see http://www.thengurdotomountainlodge.com/); we had a large 2-room suite with jacuzzi and separate shower. The only price anomaly occurred at this lodge: we had to pay extra for the set dinner on the 19th.
January 19, drove to Arusha Nat’l Park, great views of Ngurdoto Crater, giraffe, Cape buffalo, many types of monkeys, and other wildlife.
January 20, drove through Arusha to Tarangire Nat’l Park, stopping at a curio shop on the way. Many elephants close to the road to the lodge. Got to Tarangire Sopa Lodge about 5 pm (see http://www.sopalodges.com/tarangire/home.html). Water in the swimming pool was too cold to enter beyond my ankles. (Our space qualified as a suite only because it had a small sitting room providing nothing more than chairs.)
January 21, were awakened, as requested, by a knock on the door – no phone in room. Set out east through woodlands. Daylight appeared suddenly. Many elephants, giraffe, zebra, several flocks of ostrich. After picnic breakfast, spotted a leopard in a tree with its warthog meal. Saw impala, gazelles, and more. Ran across a small pride of lions with one stalking a warthog. (A bird scared the warthog off before the lion was close enough to charge it.)
January 22, viewed game on our way out of the park. Then drove to Lake Manyara Nat’l Park. Beyond the usual baboons, elephants, and monkeys, found 2 hippos in the river. At one stop, watched 3 wildebeest going crazy. Spent time at the designated hippo pool, with hundreds of birds. A band of banded mongoose was near the road. Drove up the steep road out of the park to the top of the Rift wall and Serena Manyara Lodge (see http://www.serenahotels.com/tanzania/lakemanyara/home.asp). We had a balcony with a beautiful view of Lake Manyara. Swimming pool too cold for me, but not for my wife. Live entertainment and music before and during dinner.
January 23, drove west, stopping at the viewpoint on the rim of Ngornongorno Crater, then down to the Oldavai Gorge and the Leakey museum. We paid the optional price to visit a Maasai village (with photo privileges), going into a hut and the school house. As we entered the grassland of the Serengeti, encountered many wildebeest and zebra. After crossing the plain, reentering woodland, found impala, giraffe and elephant once more. Approaching the lodge, found 7 lions at a kill. Reached Serena Serengeti Lodge about 5 pm (see http://www.serenahotels.com/tanzania/serengeti/home.asp). Huts of 3 or 4 rooms run along a ridge. Receptionist warned us that, after dark, because of roaming elephants, we need an escort to be outside, e.g., to go to dinner.
January 24, went back onto the plain. Among other sights, watched as gazelle watched a cheetah then - in a short drama - a hartebeest chased the cheetah away. At the Serengeti Visitors’ Center, took their display-walk around a kopje. Back to the lodge for a hot lunch then off again at 3:30. Walked to the edge of a hippo pool – hippos 20 yards away, grunting and roaring. Found a leopard in a sausage tree, stomach distended. Watched an elephant calf nursing. Back to the lodge about 6:30 pm.
January 25, drove south then east into the Gol Kopje area. Animals at most kopjes - hyena, lions, cheetah. Not needing a compass, Paul would often take off cross country; the roads were not all that good. Then west, going through the wildebeest migration. Surprised by how loud the wildebeest were, vocalizing and in chomping the grass. Found the Simiyu Mobile Camp near Lake Ndutu (see http://africawilderness.com/simiyu.htm). Luxury tenting. We asked for hot water for a shower in our tent, which arrived by bucket in ten minutes. Flush toilet next to the shower. Chef announced the menu before dinner, for our approval; it included Crepes Suzette for dessert. Returned to our tent to find hot-water bottles in bed.
January 26, awoke to hear lions growling. Staff brought coffee and tea into our tent in preparation for an early game drive. At Lake Ndutu, found beautiful flocks of reflected flamingos. Watched a cheetah with 6 kittens and returned to camp for brunch. Out again at 3:30 after heavy rain, into the middle of the wildebeest migration. After spotting a wildebeest carcass hanging in a tree, Paul found the responsible leopard for us.
January 27, after hot breakfast in the mess tent, drove across the plains to the Ngornongorno Highlands (in about 2 hours). The descent road into the famous crater is one way, dropping 600 meters in elevation. Found a high concentration of animals, as advertised. Major sighting was two black rhino. Bull elephants, many lions, baby jackal with mother. Wildebeest and zebra (not migratory) let us get closer than the animals on the plain. Then up to the rim and the Serena Lodge (see http://www.serenahotels.com/tanzania/ngorongoro/home.asp). Private patio outside our room overlooked the crater.
January 28, after breakfast and check-out, back into the crater. More, close animals. One lioness right by the road was calling/coughing as we watched. Retracing steps, we got back to Arusha and the Impala Hotel about 2:30. The “day room” allowed us to shower and re-pack in preparation for return flight in the evening.

(2) Our Guide: It now seems evident, as many sources report, that the guide is responsible for the success of a safari. We feel very lucky to have been assigned to Paul. First, if you are spending 10 days with someone, he should be likable: Paul is. More, in his professional traits, I cannot imagine better qualifications. Paul had an amazing knowledge of the wildlife and an incredible ability to find it. Within the limits of our reservations for lodging, Paul was quite willing to do what we wanted; but we soon learned to trust his suggestions.

(3) Good Earth: See www.goodearthtours.com/. We were promised no more than four people in the vehicle, and my wife and I were the only clients in the Toyota Land Cruiser. The Land Cruiser was in good condition, and the pop top made it easy to take photos. It was easy to work with the US representative of Good Earth, and I feel that we got good value for our money. They let us make some changes to the set itinerary with no hassle. Without doing comparative research, I also believe that Good Earth treats its guides relatively well. They provide insurance for their full-time staff and “education insurance,” meaning that they promise to take care of the education of children if anything happens to the father. We met a couple traveling with Good Earth who had been scheduled for a trip in both Tanzania and Kenya. The political unrest began in Kenya just a couple of weeks before their trip was to begin. Good Earth was able to revise the itinerary and reservations in that short period, allowing the trip to continue at the desired time but fully within Tanzania.

(4) Time: Ten days seems like a good length to me. We were not worn out but saw the parks I wanted. In retrospect, I could do fine-tuning on the time of year: I had wanted to be there during the calving of the wildebeest but arrived a little early. Generally, my idea of scheduling our travel when the migration is in the southeast seems sound – it minimized the drive time (and avoided the need for flying in the country). The weather was good to us. The temperature varied widely, approximating 100 in Arusha (with low humidity), but multiple layers were welcome on morning drives. The only time we were too hot for too long was in the airport waiting areas, leaving.

(5) Photography: I used a Canon Rebel XTi (10 Mpixels) with two zoom lenses. Almost all the time I kept on my Sigma 70-300 mm telephoto. When I knew I would be close, e.g., in the Maasai village, I put on my Sigma 28-200 mm zoom. There were only a couple of times when I wished I had a longer focal length. To see what that lens gives you, you can look at a few shots that are on my website, http://mysite.verizon.net/montlewis/. Please look at Dave’s Doings and “vacation shots.” I kept one spare, charged battery pack in my camera case, recharging both packs at two lodges. (If you do not have the right electrical plug adapter, you can borrow one at the lodges. Contrary to what I had read, the plug configuration in lodge rooms is the flat 3-pin type, as, _ | _ ) My wife is a classic B&W photographer, using a Canon EOS 620. Most of her pictures were taken with her 70-210 mm lens. She carried both B&W and color film (and airport security insisted on x-raying it). We had our old digital Olympus D-40 as back-up.

(6) What we did not use: Our head nets stayed in the bag. (These were invaluable on a previous trip with a high density of flies, but the Tanzanian flies were quite manageable without.) Our travel insurance was with STA (www.statravel.com). We signed on with AMREF Flying Doctors to get us from the plains to Nairobi if needed. We also paid for a hospital evacuation provision (to return to the US) with MedJetAssist (www.medjetassist.com). Our overly cautious doctor gave us a battery of pre-trip medications including yellow-fever inoculations which I feel went overboard.

(7) What we took that was not obvious: “Wet ones” (or other single-use hand wipes) may have helped keep us healthy, cleaning up before lunches on the road. A stack of one-dollar bills in my money belt went for tipping. Since only some hotels provided wash cloths, we were glad to have our own, carried in a plastic bag. My wife took an Imodium pill just once. (We carried Cipro for more serious G-I problems but did not open the bottle.)

(8) General conclusions: We value seeing the “Big 5" in situ plus so many other animals that not all visitors encounter, e.g., cheetah kittens and leopard with its prey in the tree. My wife especially liked all the giraffes. We were pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of the staff at each lodging; prepare to say, “Jambo,” at every encounter. Although you will read that it is possible to get your Tanzania visa as you enter the country, the chaotic scene at the airport made us very glad that we already had ours. All of the overnight lodging and dining was luxury, differing in details, not level. So I think one can go with the outfitter’s choice and not need to worry about decisions between Sopa and Serena. I do advise staying under canvas at least one night, a unique experience. We paid KLM extra to break the travel from the US to Tanzania, giving us two nights in Amsterdam in order to reduce jet lag, a good idea in retrospect.

Good luck in your own adventure.

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