Trip Report Tanzania 2015
As per protocol suggested some time ago for posting trip reports, this is our ninth safari to East Africa, April 24-May 5, 2015, with emphasis on the northern circuit preceded by a two night stay near Moshi. Lodging reviews were filed on Trip Advisor for the following:
2 nites –Mt. Kilimanjaro View Lodge, Moshi Area
1 nite—Mt. Meru Game Lodge, Arusha National Park
1 nite—The African Tulip, Arusha
3 nites—Tarangire Safari Lodge, Tarangire National Park
1 nite—Lake Manyara Serena Lodge, Lake Manyara National Park
2 nites—Lake Ndutu Luxury Tented Lodge, Ndutu area, NCA
3 nites—Serengeti Serena Lodge, Serengeti National Park
2 nites—Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, Ngorongoro Crater
Sandi of Africa Serendipity handled arrangements with Roy Safaris and Nicholas would again be our guide. Our youngest daughter, Beth, accompanied us. We pursued getting airline tickets first so we could adjust the safari accordingly. Susan of the State College AAA made flight arrangements. We opted to fly out of Dulles International Airport not using our local airport as the extra leg was quite pricey. Then, Susan discovered by leaving a day early we could save almost $1,000!
Packing was relatively easy given experience from previous trips to East Africa. Standard items included “Birds of East Africa” by Stevenson and Fanshawe, three pairs of binocs, for me a Canon Rebel T1i with a 100-400 mm lens (the 70-300 mm unit as a back-up), a Canon Power Shot S3 camera for general use, extra rechargeable batteries and cards for the Rebel and a pack of regular batteries for the S3, power converter/adapter, charger, 3 flashlights, toiletry items, meds, bug spray, a small alarm clock, wash cloth (critical) and a Nook reader. Beth had her new Rebel T5i with a 70-300 lens and a smaller one. Clothing included light rain jackets. Luggage was soft-sided multi-zippered units with an over the shoulder “back packs for the gals and a small athletic bag for me as our carry-ons for critical items including one change of clothing used to wrap cameras and lens. We also took a couple of bags of individual size PayDay candy bars, note books, gum and breath mints.
We drove to Herndon, Va for garage parking and shuttle service to Dulles airport for the evening KLM flight to Amsterdam, a short layover and then onward to Kilimanjaro International Airport. Flights were uneventful. One flight attendant having a great sense of humor chided me for selecting red wine with my chicken dinner. Then, I reminded her she was serving the red wine with a plastic cup! While purchasing visas we noted the process had changed as one still had to go thru immigration for fingerprinting and photo taking. The lines were not as organized as they could have been and we were one of the last groups to get through the airport. We picked up our bags and proceeded outside the terminal where Nicholas met us.
We had decided on a different approach to unwind from the flights. Our first two nights were at the Mt. Kilimanjaro View Lodge a few miles outside of Moshi. Mfuwe, a good Trip Advisor contact, mentioned enjoying the lodge given his birding interests, trail walks and reasonable accommodations. The idea of sunbirds frequenting feeders also caught my attention. In Moshi, we picked up Calvin, the lodge contact for drivers. However, the several mile drive up, up and up from Moshi on a very slippery road made me wonder as to my choice. Finally, after struggling thru one particularly trying spot with a considerable drop off-on my side of the vehicle, we reached the lodge and as the night was clear had a great view out over Moshi in the distance. Linny, the lodge manager greeted us and escorted us down steep, uneven steps to our two half cottages with Beth (Elephant) in one side and we two in the other (Rhino). Staff also gave us each a small bouquet of beautiful flowers.
Our room with fairly large bed, coat tree, and luggage rack was a bit on the damp and musty side and in some aspects could be considered Spartan. No bottled water and no wash cloth. During the night it rained with considerable wind. I awoke to the sounds of birds. Rain had subsided some but the area was filled with a mist negating any view of the valley below. When I first saw the lounge and dining area my first thought was “what have I gotten ourselves into”. Much of the floor was wet, the entrance door was covered with a sheet, holes were quite noticeable in the ceiling, tables/chairs were wet and a large portion of the floor was covered with a considerable pile of roofing poles! And, it was raining again and we were going to be here for another nite! After a good breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, toast, fruit and hot drink, we learned more about conditions. A major renovation project was underway with the lounge/dining areas to be rebuilt in the next couple of weeks and staff came in just to handle our stay.
As it was raining (sometimes quite heavy) and quite misty we decided against a trail walk and retreated to the cottage porch for reading and visiting. But, birds came to us sometimes within a few feet given the extensive vegetation around. Chats, flycatchers, waxbills, mannikins, sunbirds and others kept us occupied while we were nice and dry on the porch. From the tree line of the adjacent forested area we noted bee-eaters, agur buzzards and others. We never did get a glimpse of Mt Kilimanjaro given the mist/clouds in the distance but had a great view of farmland and gardens below once the sun came out. A beautiful greenish chameleon walked across the wooden deck! Lunch of spaghetti w/vegetable-meat sauce, french fries, mixed veggies and soda was excellent. Finally had to apply sunscreen given the sun for the afternoon. The extensive wooden deck and railing in front of several cottages made for nice viewing and picture taking. We did not walk on the deck as we soon found out the flooring and railing were rotted. I fell thru the porch but managed to extracate my leg with no injury! We did take a short stroll down the access road but all the rain had made it very slippery, so were glad we didn’t attempt the grassy trails. At dinner I had a Kilimanjaro Beer while the gals enjoyed Fanta and Sprite. We had tasty chicken in some type of sauce, fried potatoes, rice, and a mix of eggplant and other veggies in another sauce. Read ‘til about 9 pm.
Quiet. Slept well.
Awoke to rain but w/o the wind. Yes, sunbirds were utilizing the feeders (like the ones for hummingbirds here in the US). Another tasty breakfast. While we ate, Linny and Calvin worked on spreadsheets on a pc. Staff of 4 plus manager for our stay. When up and running a staff of 13. Our 6 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 3 dinners, 8 sodas and 1 beer cost $101.00. After an early lunch and group photo we headed down the road dropping off Calvin and Linny in Moshi. It was only then we realized what an interesting drive we had had two nights early. Doubtful two vehicles could pass much of the length, incredibly steep, very slippery, considerable erosion, but we made it. Numerous people were out working small plots of corn, beans, and other vegetables plus stands of banana plants. Nicholas pointed out the elephant grass planted along roadside to reduce soil erosion. And, I sighted a silvery-cheeked hornbill that although questioned by the gals was confirmed by Nicholas.
The Mt. Kilimanjaro View Lodge did accomplish one main thing—provided the means for us to “unwind” following two lengthy flights. And, we added yellow-bellied waxbills and a red-backed shrike to our bird list. The best “home cooked” meals of the trip. Not the fanciness of other lodges but the food reminded us of what someone would cook at home. Very good!
Once in Moshi we hit the bypass and were soon on the way towards Arusha noting the variety of vehicles on the road. Swerving in and out of traffic to pick up and drop off passengers the minibuses or dala-dalas continued to amaze me. Sometimes with a passenger hanging out the side door they provide a major means of transportation. Nicholas said the color of the line on the side indicated the route so one could plan a trip accordingly.
We arrived at the Mt Meru Game Lodge about mid-afternoon and found we were the only guests for the night although several people were dining or simply strolling around looking at the wildlife. Seemed like many people taking graduation type photos. Located not too far outside Arusha the place started as a sanctuary for injured or “abandoned” wildlife. Now, with a small pond and several acres fenced off for wildlife (including zebra, eland, ostrich, and various birds plus a few pens for porcupine and others), the lodge has cottages and a main building with dining facilities and a lounge. We had room #2, one half of the cottage closest to the wildlife area and offering the best views of the lodge. Numerous small birds (including nesting grosbeak weavers on the island) frequented the area as well as monkeys who jumped from roof to roof. Towards evening larger birds including grey-crowned cranes and hadada ibis flew in to roost in the taller trees. Staff was delighted to serve us dinner at a table on the patio near a fancy woodburner. Green vegetable creamed soup, fresh rolls and breadsticks, veg salad, rice, carrots/green beans, thick fried potatoes and either a chicken schnitzel w/mustard sauce or a steak in pepper sauce, and then home-made ice cream or a banana frittata for desert. Beth thought “the best green beans ever.” The gals got numerous mosquito and other bug bites during the meal so we were glad for the netting around the beds and the taking of Malerone tablets. Had a very good breakfast outside on the patio. Rowmaldo was our server and kept an eye on a couple of monkeys who wanted to join us for breakfast.
At 8 am Nicholas arrived and we were off for a short drive to Arusha NP one of the smaller parks in Tanzania but one offering a mix of habitats including small lakes, Mt. Meru, moist savanna, the Ngurdoto crater and lush montane rainforest. First time visit for Beth. At a distance the large artificial elephant at the entrance seemed real and about to attack the attendant at the gift shop. During our stay in the park periodic rainfall forced us to close the roof on occasion. We ate box lunches at the rather new picnic site overlooking one of the Momella Lakes. Near the stairway to the restrooms the gals encountered a young bushbuck that approached them. Apparently it was an orphan. Lake levels were down quite a bit due to lack of rain but numerous flamingoes and other waterbirds could be seen here and there. We enjoyed seeing numerous cape buffalo, giraffe, zebra, warthog, waterbuck, black-and-white colobus and the occasional bushbuck. And, yes, the variety of birdlife kept us busy. Recall seeing more vehicles in the park than on previous trips. We enjoyed the view at the overlook at the 3 km wide, 400m-deep volcanic caldera Ngurdoto Crater. We saw what Mfuwe later identified as a striped-cheeked greenbul another new bird for us. Highlights of our visit to Arusha National Park included: a beautiful Hartlaub’s Turaco, sighting of 5 different red duiker (2 singles and one group of 3), seeing Mt Kilimanjaro in the distance, and a flight of 6 silvery-cheeked hornbills.
Heading into Arusha, traffic was hectic and the density of dala-dalas increased. I was still impressed with all the seedlings and other nursery stock for sale along streets. Then, we turned off onto Serengeti Road where the offices of Roy Safari are located. Right next to that is the African Tulip owned by Roy Safari and our home for the night. Beth had never stayed there but we knew she would enjoy what is called a “boutique” hotel with its various amenities and decor. We were greeted like old friends. I am sure the fact that we stayed there before contributed to how we were treated but Darla noticed all guests were handled in a cordial, friendly manor. But, when we checked into our room and saw the bottle of wine, glasses and sweets I knew the hotel appreciated our return! Dinner was included in our stay. I had the pork chops, fries, carrots/green beans, rolls and a coke. The gals had Fanta orange and passion soda, beef filets w/pepper sauce, fries, and green beans/carrots - a tasty meal. Our room offered all the amenities one would expect from an “up scale” hotel. We slept well and enjoyed a fine breakfast from the buffet as well as the personalized omelet station.
Before Nicholas arrived we wandered around the pool/patio area and saw variable sunbird, common bulbul, and weavers. Sodas were 2,000 tsh each. The Tulip offers a currency exchange but I used the Barclay’s Bank just down the street. For higher denomination currency the exchange rate was 1,900 tsh per US$1. With 573,000 tsh in 10,000 tsh bills I had a huge wad of currency! Morning traffic wasn’t too bad. Nicholas mentioned Arusha now has 5 or 6 traffic lights!
The two hour or so drive to Tarangire NP was uneventful. Noted the countryside was greener with recent rains. Herds of cattle, sheep and goats with occasional donkeys tended by various age boys and men. Added more and more birds to our list. I was looking forward to stopping at the entrance to Tarangire NP for birding while Nicholas handled paperwork for our visit. Trees and bushes at the entrance provide excellent habitat for a variety of birds that are somewhat used to people. Upon exiting the vehicle, I was asked to participate in a survey being conducted by the Parks Department as to user interests and opinions. Was a very good survey and similar to ones we used with the Pa Fish Commission to get user input. Noted the stairway up and around the one baobab tree was being rebuilt. And, we saw a number of birds including ashy starlings, woodpeckers, woodland kingfisher, spotted morning thrush, and weavers.
Instead of the main entrance road Nicholas took another route and it would seem we saw something different just about every 50 yards or so. Cuckoos, weavers, spurfowl, Augur buzzards, baboons, giraffe, rollers, jackals, monitor lizard, dung beetle, dik-dik, and secretary birds were seen before we had traveled more than a mile or so! We arrived at Tarangire Safari Lodge about 2 pm just in time to enjoy a tasty lunch. I did not see a couple of the servers/cooks we had met on previous trips. Lunch was buffet style. Darla and I had tent #22 our preference, furthest from the lodge while Beth had #21. I think the lodge gave her a tent due to low occupancy. Before the afternoon game drive while the gals relaxed on the tent porch I ventured around looking for birds. I stayed close to the tents and did not venture into the bush given the possibility of larger critters and the likelihood of ticks. Yes, ticks, not surprising given the number of impala in the area. I returned to the tent with one tick crawling on my trousers and my wife’s look of “I told you so”. Saw Von der Deckens hornbill, blue-capped cordon bleu, and African orange-bellied parrots. Right behind our tent a beautiful pearl-spotted owlet allowed me to literally walk right up to it!
For the afternoon game drive, we saw maybe a couple dozen species of birds, groups of elephants, and a variety of other wildlife. Tsetse flies seemed more abundant than on previous trips and even in open area where before were mostly in brushy thickets. And, they seemed tougher to kill. As we turned off the main road onto the lodge access road, Nicholas spotted maybe 10 lions in a thicket a couple hundred yards from the lodge water tower! They were intently watching a small group of approaching waterbuck which soon saw the big cats and veered away.
It rained all night. We heard lions at one time or another. Up at 5 am for early game drive with breakfast box. Noted redwinged starlings roosting in the high lounge ceiling. Birds, birds, birds (thick-knees, crested francolin, rollers, hamerkop, ruppell’s griffin vultures, spurfowl, kingfishers, hoopoes, ostrich and more), plus waterbuck, spotted hyena, jackals, and impala. The river was very high and muddy from the rain.
Had breakfast at a relatively new picnic area on a high place with huge boulders all around and bathrooms! Great view of the countryside and Nicholas had us taste seeds of the baobab tree. Not bad but not quite ripe yet. Noted honey bees had a hive in the tree trunk. More and more bird species including wattled starlings, little bee-eaters, knob-billed duck, fish eagle, cattle egrets, weavers, barbets and gray hornbill. And, elephants galore! Various ages including very young ones. Back at the lodge for lunch of cucumber soup, garden salad, hot steamed cauliflower, hot glazed carrots, rice, lamb in sauce, Nile perch, fruit cup, and a passion crumble with sauce. And of course, that AWESOME view from the patio overlook!
Darla spied the head and part of body of large lizard peeking out from under our tent porch. Beth noted what turned out to be a pair of eastern violet-backed sunbirds enjoying flowers along the path to the massage tent. The afternoon game drive was much the same as the morning one with numerous birds seen. Shortly after watch a warthog back into its burrow, we spied a honey badger running across the trail! Nicholas said only time he has ever seen one during the daytime. Saw numerous cape buffalo, jackals, hartebeest and more dwarf mongoose. Back at the lodge while sitting in the lounge I felt something hit my knee and looked down to see a gecko. It had fallen many feet from the high ceiling above and before anyone could photo it, off it scampered. Snacked on popcorn and soda while enjoying the wood fire on the patio.
Enjoyed a fine supper, used charging station in the lounge, and retired for the night. The TSL provided a solar powered reading lamp for each bed. Unit had adjustable arm for positioning and staff placed the battery outside for recharging each morning.
Buffet breakfast with personalized omelet and crepe station. Game drive saw big herd (maybe couple hundred) of cape buffalo with old bachelors hanging around in the distance, numerous birds (including great-spotted cuckoo, hartlaub’s bustard, black-faced sandgrouse, laughing dove, ground hornbill, and cardinal woodpecker), warthog, banded mongoose (20-30 in one group), and loads of elephants. Got stuck in the black gooey mud a long ways from the lodge. Nicholas did a great job jockeying the vehicle free and then backing up for maybe a half mile to another road.
Highlight of the afternoon game drive was finding a black maned lion with a buffalo kill. Several jackals hung around but did not venture in for a meal. Nicholas was looking forward to visiting relatively new ponds made by the Park Department to enhance watering areas for game. Several groups of elephants were moving thru the area each taking a turn at the larger pond with some individuals “bathing”. One teenage bull was really having a good time as if showing off for us. He was splashing and really carrying on even to the point of charging our vehicle with water flying as he came into the shallows and then onto dry land. Then, he simply turned away and began feeding. Numerous water birds added to our list. A green wood-hoopoe moved from tree to tree eluding my efforts to photograph it. It would have been great to spend more time near the ponds as a wide variety of mammals and birds were around.
Last morning at TSL, paid bar bill (sodas $1, wine $5, and specialty mixed drink $10), left tip in camp box and began game drive to park gate. Enjoyed seeing oxpeckers on giraffe, vultures drying wings in trees, and several dwarf mongoose on larger termite mound. At site of yesterday’s lion kill, lions had moved the buffalo carcass a few feet where it was being enjoyed by black-sided jackals. Then, we saw three maned lions resting maybe 200 feet away. More elephants, water buck and then we were at the park gate.
Another thing to note about TSL, the staff was great. Our main server, John, was fantastic and liked us so much that our dining table was “reserved” for the entire visit even though lodge occupancy was quite low. Also, at the front desk, they had a “baby baobab” tree in a pot. And, the presence of wildlife was always appreciated. The one evening upon return to the lodge, we saw a herd of probably 30 impala all around our tents. The well maintained pool looked quite inviting and merits attention on our next trip.
Once again on the macadam road, we motored to Makuyuni turning left for the relatively short drive to Mto wa Mbu and Manyara National Park. It was raining again and when we had proceeded just a short distance we noted what appeared to be a traffic jam. Dala-dalas, safari vehicles, lorries, a herd of cattle, and several people were on and along the road. Thru the rain splattered windshield we could see a major stream of muddy water crossing the road. Extremely heavy rains in the hills to the east caused major runoff overwhelming roadside ditches. And, a bus attempting to cross the torrent was overturned and laid on its side. We saw no victims nor learned the fate of driver/passengers. I am not sure I would have attempted to cross the torrent but Nicholas seeing another safari car go thru, proceeded. Further down the road we encountered an even deeper “flood” but make it across safely. Later, from fellow travelers we met in Lake Manyara NP, the road was closed as flood levels exceeded the height of vehicle tires and they had to wait a couple of hours until the run off subsided. It is no wonder rains cause major issues in the area. Soils there are not that fertile and overgrazing has greatly reduced means to absorb and hold rainfall.
In Mto wa Mbu rain began to subside and already venders had art work along walls of their stalls. I wondered how the paintings held up with the humidity and dust and the collections seemed like the ones I saw on the last trip.
Arriving at the gate to Lake Manyara NP I did another survey for the parks Department. During the first couple of miles into the rainforest habitat I began to get disappointed as we were seeing very little and then common sense took hold and I reminded myself “to let Africa surprise me” and not fall victim to the expectations game. Sure enough, as we drove past the next intersection, a flock of crested guineafowl was drying off along the road. What a nice sighting as these birds are more secretive but wet conditions caused them to move out into the open. This was only the second time we had seen this species despite several other trips in the park.
Our bird list continued to grow particularly whenever we were near water. Near the elevated observation walkway a common moorhen swam towards us. Although not an uncommon bird, a new species for us. Adult hippos and one fairly small youngster were still out grazing. Soon a busload of locals, maybe from Arusha stopped and all enjoyed sights from the walkway. Nicholas said today was a holiday and some businesses provide trips for employees to enjoy various aspects of the country. Ate our box lunches there. Blue monkeys, zebra, elephant, baboons, Cape buffalo, wildebeest, turtles/terrapins, and oodles of birds made for an enjoyable game drive. At one point while driving thru the rainforest area I spotted something glistening along a tree trunk and realized it was a snake. Never got a look at head let alone much of the body. Nicholas thought it was a boomslang, a poisonous tree snake , and mentioned the sighting to the vehicle immediately behind us. I think he gave me credit for the sighting as I heard the word “mzungu” (white person) in his comment to the other driver. Drove up to the one picnic area where we recalled talking with a young couple from Israel on previous trip. Saw many flamingoes in the distance. Pelicans, red-chested cuckoo, African paradise flycatcher, black crake, straw-tailed whydah and more were seen. As we crossed over several streams we were reminded of the power of storm runoff from the mountain given the huge piles of boulders and debris. Just before the final grade to the park exit several silvery-cheeked hornbills got our attention and provided a great ending for the drive.
Then, up the escarpment turning right past the airstrip to the Lake Manyara Serena Lodge. We opted to try that lodge over the Kirurumu Tented Lodge as we thought the Serena landscaping with small ponds might provide a different birding experience. Given that travelers use area lodges for a one night stays as they transition from Arusha to the Serengeti area, we expected to see more guests. The Serena with attractive rondawels provides a nice view of Lake Manyara in the distance, good food and comfortable rooms. All the amenities one might expect of a hotel/motel here in the states. We had room #37 one of the closest to the reception area and certainly were not disappointed with the room. We appreciated the 24 hour power and an in-room fan to overcome outside noise while sleeping. Good size tilapia were seen in the attractively landscaped small ponds and flowing stream areas. Prior to eating we enjoyed singing and acts by locals at the pool. Food was good although service seemed a bit slow. Beth thought “the best steak” of the trip! The manager focused much attention on one particularly large party but ignored the other guests. Typical buffet breakfast. Checking out and vehicle loading was a bit chaotic with several large groups commanding two or more vehicles each. We had plenty of time so we strolled around the grounds. Saw a pair of green-winged pytila, not an uncommon bird, but only time we saw it on the trip. Soda 3,000 tsh, . Noted laundry service (trousers 2,700/2,800 tsh, polo shirts 2,000, and socks 1,400tsh per pair) included underwear. If on the northern circuit again would probably favor the Kirurumu Tented Lodge as the Serena simply was too busy for us.
On the drive towards the main road a young lad along the side road had a stick with a chameleon on it. He wanted travelers to either stop and buy it or pay him for photo taking. Nicholas scolded the boy saying the chameleon would die being out of its natural habitat. A bit further down the road we saw another chameleon crossing the road. Slowly!
As we motored thru Karatu we pointed out to Beth turnoffs to N. Farmhouse and Gibbs Farm where we had stayed on previous trips. The countryside was very green given recent rains. And, soon, mist and rainfall greeted us as we approached the gate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. While Nicholas did the normal paperwork, we visited the info center, little store and restrooms. A variety of safari vehicles were present both exiting and preparing to enter the NCA. A heavy rain was falling and I appreciated the difficulty the one worker was having in attempting to keep the steps into the center clean. Vehicles exiting the NCA were very obvious with mud-splattered sides and tires from the muddy unpaved road. Anticipating birds in the trees adjacent to the building I had my camera and was rewarded in sighting a male tropical boubou. Starting up the road, memories of previous trips were triggered as we saw piles of elephant dung, tusk gouges made in steep bank for loosening soils for minerals, game trails in lush vegetation, and cape buffalo along the road. Rain continued up and around the crater rim with mist obscuring views into the crater at the overlook.
As we proceed past turn-offs to the various lodges and began to descend from the rim, the mist cleared off and Nicholas pulled over at the overlook near the crater descend access road. There we had our box lunch while enjoying a nice view of the crater. The chicken was excellent along with bananas, 2 sandwiches, cake, apple, bottle of water, a juice box, candy bar and a small pack of peanuts. Added a white-naped ravin to our bird list. The ground was well decorated with dung from Maasai cattle and goats going to and from watering areas in the crater. I remember the three travelers, one a lady with brightly painted toenails and flip flops, as they strolled around viewing the crater and then climbing back into the safari vehicle taking considerable dung with them!
Moving further along, we began the descent along the long curve of the green valley home to several Maasai bomas (family enclosures) and where we began to see wildlife including zebra, wildebeest, and others in the same vicinity of herds of cattle, goats, and donkeys. Numerous trails from daily use by Maasai herds were carved into the landscape and in some cases resulted in major erosion. As we continued, the landscape became more arid with dry stream beds. Here and there stood Maasai along the road in all their finery so travelers would stop and pay for photographs. One group had a couple of camels they used for transporting items. Not only did they want money for picture taking but also offered jars of honey (Nicholas was pretty sure it wasn’t honey at all) from stingless bees (nest in the ground). Thomson gazelle, jackals, Grant’s gazelle, Augur buzzards, giraffe, and kori bustards greeted us on the way to the Serengeti National Park sign arched across the road. We turned off onto a dusty road paralleling the park boundary (between the Serengeti proper and the Ndutu area). A double rainbow made Darla’s day.
From around Lakes Masek and Ndutu we added numerous waterbirds to our list. Four bat-eared foxes, 3 lionesses, reed buck, steenbok, and 3 hyena provided great photo opportunities. Long columns of wildebeest and zebra from horizon to horizon indicated the migration was well underway. At times we were the only vehicle around and the sight of so many mammals was breathtaking. Sharp-eyed Nicholas spotted a cheetah mom and a 2-3 week old cub along the edge of the marsh. Mom was calling for 1 or 2 other cubs lions killed according to what Nicholas learned from fellow guides. Beth had been looking forward to seeing cat babies and was not disappointed with the sighting. In the distance we saw Lake Ndutu Luxury Tented Lodge, our home for the next two nights, nicely blended into the landscape of acres and acres of green plants with extensive white flowers.
A fairly new lodge overlooking Lake Ndutu the lodge consists of elevated tents on permanent platforms with thatched roofs and walkways to the main building of lounge/dining area also connected to an observation deck. Ground vegetation was right up to tents and walkways giving a more natural. Upon entering our tent we discovered plates of fresh fruits for us. After settling in we enjoyed cold drinks on the observation tower with an excellent view of the area. The lodge has a nice bonfire area in a bush setting and a beautiful high-platform area to see out for long distances with a telescope to use. One dinner was cream of cauliflower soup (very spicey), vegetable salad, warm rolls, chicken with giblet gravy, sauteed potatoes, peas/carrots, followed a desert of raspberry mouse or fruitcup or pineapple fritala and tea/coffee.
We were taken back with the size of the tent particularly the bathroom. I think the bathroom area was large enough to have accommodated the entire tent we enjoyed at Tarangire Safari Lodge! Electricity was available 24-7, lighting was great and the ceiling fan was a great way to cool the sleeping room.
Had one tire with what turned out to be a 6” nail in it. Nicholas changed tires upon arriving at Ndutu the first night.
Left the lodge around 6AM for an early game drive around the lake. Saw nightjars, banded courser on “nest” of 1 egg, reedbuck, steenbok, zebra, bat-eared foxes, guineafowl, and 3 running hyena. Then, long lines of wildebeest and zebra. Coming from another direction we saw a lone young-of-this season wildebeest that apparently got separated from its mom. It would bawl and run a ways and then repeat the process. We were “pulling” for it to at least join up with other wildebeest but it headed in the wrong direction from the oncoming herds. Spied a mom cheetah with two cubs maybe 6 months old. They were lounging around so we ate our box breakfast right out in the open area. Thought the one youngster was going to climb on top of our vehicle but maybe wet paws prevented such. Then, a hyena came thru perhaps scenting the motherless wildebeest only to be scared off by the mom cheetah which maybe was attempting to divert the hyena from her babies.
We continued on and spotted a pair of serval cats about the same time they spotted us. Saw them moving from one patch of low bushes to another. Using the camera’s sports mode I was able to get quick shots of these small cats as they quickly moved from one patch of low bushes to another in an effort to sneak away from us! In the afternoon we headed to the Lake Masek area and found a lioness chewing on a recently killed zebra. Took a road paralleling a small stream and saw several elephant, brubru, white-headed vulture, grey woodpecker, steppe eagle, and others. When we drove by the zebra carcass about an hour later the lioness was gone and the carcass was clean to the bone.
Next morning after a buffet breakfast I settled up on our bar bill (sodas were $2 each and glass of house wine $5) and we headed up onto the plains exiting the Ndutu area towards the Serengeti. Saw black and white cuckoo, more vultures, numerous crowned plovers (one on nest of 2 eggs), spotted thick-knee on nest, usambiro barbets, long-crested eagle, Namaqua doves, small herd of eland, flock of yellow-throated sandgrouse and more. When we got to the shortgrass area, lines of wildebeest went on forever. And, some columns were going in the reverse direction from yesterday! A spotted hyena was cooling off in a roadside drainage ditch and ignored vehicles stopping for a look.
As we began the incline to Naabi Hill we saw safari cars stopping ahead and soon saw a male cheetah. It was occasionally called for a brother. While Nicholas processed papers at the park office we took the opportunity to climb the trail behind the restrooms, picnic area and office/store seeing agama lizards, sunbirds, firefinches, both superb and Hildebrandt starlings, rock martins, and a long-crested eagle. Loads of wildebeest could be seen in the distance. Met a nice couple from Belgium/France. Enjoyed visiting with them at the Serengeti Serena Lodge.
Just a couple of miles past the entrance gate we spotted a single lion atop a mound made when material was excavated for the road. The “borrow” area formed a small pond especially during the rainy season and zebra and wildebeest were headed there for a drink. But, they shied away having seen the lioness. Then, we turned off the main road and headed out across miles and miles of grassland seeing wildebeest, hartebeest, elephants and then some 6 lions including 2 young cubs. The lions were simply taking it easy so, it being lunch time, we pulled over and enjoyed a box lunch of chicken leg/thigh, hardboiled egg, apple muffin, biscuits (okay cookies), candy bar, apple, small bananas and a juice box. Entering the Seronera River watershed we saw gray-crowned cranes, male and female saddle-billed stork, reedbuck, scarlet-chested sunbird, red-billed teal, hippos, and more birds. At this time, another safari vehicle passed us with 2 tourists sitting on the back roof section of the vehicle, which is illegal. Not only is it dangerous as one major bump or sudden stop could send the tourists flying through the air, the safari guide could be fined or even banned for allowing the unsafe riding. Frustrating to see tourists not respecting their driver/guide or the park! Further down the river we saw some 10 or so lions in a large tree! Once Nicholas oriented me I tried to picture the route to the Serena Lodge but time since our last stay there caused me to under estimate distance and forget key turnoffs. Another reason for a guide! The last section of the road up to the Serengeti Serena was terrible with tsetse flies!
As we pulled into the unloading area of the Serena I recalled parts of our 2007 stay there with guide/driver Zoya, our second floor room in the rondawel where we saw and heard herds of wildebeest and zebra in the valley below, the game drive where we met Godfrey our guide in 2002/2004, a small family group of elephant coming down the access road as we motored up, and the French lady who shared our umbrella as we walked to the main building during a rain.
High points of our stay at the Serena include: the bushbaby on a limb near us at the outer lounge area, the patio area next to the pool providing the best views of sunsets, a Cape Buffalo bull near our balcony, the incredible aromas at the meat station in the buffet area, and a humorous walk with our staff escort back to the room one night.
Left the lodge at 6pm with breakfast box. Took road past the ranger station thru what would have been heavy tsetse fly habitat but flies were still inactive given time of day. Noted a large number of hyena, 2 young male lions, jackals and two hot-air balloons which had just taken off. Nicholas felt noise from gas burners scared off game so was glad they were headed away from our intended route. Hippos were still out of the water. More hyena, fish eagles, Cape buffalo, giraffe, hartebeest, and various birds including a goliath heron were seen. Heading to the Masaai Kopje we sighted elephant, ostrich, numerous hyrax on the kopje, blackbellied and white bellied bustards, red-neck spurfowl, and then a beautiful large male leopard on a kopje. Soon it came to ground and crossed the road in front of the car so close that the telephoto lens was too much! It seemed like it was in hunting mode and once it neared a clump of willow or similar low brush a reedbuck bounded away. So, the leopard just hung out there for a while. Seemed like a good time to eat our box breakfast (hot tea/coffee, juice box, yogurt, hardboiled egg, peanuts, sausage, cake, croissant, and a butter sandwich.
The game drive continued past more kopjes often with a heightened level of anticipation as one never knows what will be hanging around these interesting structures. Small group of 4 lions, several reedbuck, tawny eagle, blacksmith plovers, black-winged stilts, side-striped jackal, and huge numbers of zebra and wildebeest moving into the area. Yellow oxpeckers were seen taking advantage of so many mammals present with a buffet of bugs, ticks and the like. Cattle egrets were spied feeding on insects stirred up by wildebeest and zebra. Never once did we see another vehicle yet in every direction we looked there were thousands and thousands of migrating grazers. We would no more than drive thru one big herd than we would see another on the horizon. At one time I recalled looking from horizon to horizon in a 360 degree circle filled with herds of wildebeest and zebra. Sometimes the numbers were mostly zebra and other times mostly wildebeest, but wildebeest were the more dominant species. On a nearby termite mound were cheetahs (mom and 3 young ones). In a nearby clump of trees was a great-spotted cuckoo and less than 100 yards away was an African cuckoo.
Another day had box lunch in the midst of huge concentration of wildebeest again, with no other vehicles in sight. An Egyptian mongoose, a long-tailed species, usually a nocturnal one, crossed our path. Small group of elephants were at the one kopje. The male leopard seen the previous day had moved into a tree with a reedbuck killed earlier. We got amazing photos of this leopard! We stopped at the Serengeti visitor’s center for a restroom break. Hyrax, giraffe, impala, dik-dik and various birds were in the immediate area. More lions, hartebeest, water buck and birds encountered on the way back to the lodge.
On one drive Nicholas took us see a major concentration of hippos in river adjacent to a railed observation area next to restrooms and tables. He mentioned a worker there was killed last year by poachers. The thought was that the poachers wanted to know the movements of tourists, so that they could plan their poaching, but the worker would not share any details. So, they beheaded him leaving the machete as well. A couple dozen hippos were seen along with a beautiful large crocodile sunning itself on rocks at the edge of the hippo pool. Nicholas said we needed petrol so we stopped at a gas station near the housing for research workers stationed in the Seronera area. Near the gas station he spied a red-throated tit a new bird for him and us! In the distance spotted a single lion atop a kopje close to the researcher housing. Then we watch a couple families of elephants browsing and then stopping for mud baths in a very small pond. As each bunch exited the area we noted their shiny wet sides. Some could not get into the pond but used their trunks to suck up and spray muddy water over their bodies. In the afternoon, we headed west to look for wild dogs sighted by another group. Before crossing a small stream we came upon a hamerkop attempting to swallow a good size tilapia. The bird worked and worked to get the fish down only to finally give up and leave it on the stream bank. No luck with the wild dogs but enjoyed seeing more elephant and Cape buffalo and sighted steel-blue whydah, pin-tail whydahy, and purple indigo birds in the same general area.
After our last breakfast at the Serengeti Serena I paid our bar bill and headed to the vehicle. I heard someone call my name and turned. It would seem a math error was made in tallying our bill and a lodge employee wanted me to return to the reception area. I was delighted to receive a partial refund due to the error (which obviously I did not catch when checking out). It was great to see such honesty. I put much of the refund in the lodge staff tip box. Then, we headed out seeing army ants crossing the road, numbers of impala, maribou stork, warthog, zebra, grant’s gazelle, spurfowl, and numerous other birds. Nearing a kopje and noting a couple of vehicles there already we knew something special was coming up. Yes, a mother leopard with 2 cubs! As another vehicle approached one of its passengers upon seeing the leopards began pointing and screaming (in a foreign language). Several of us “shushed” that person. There was also a group with an impressive looking video camera that might have been filming for a tv show. While observing the leopards, we heard a hissing sound that was determined to be a tire on our vehicle. So, Nicholas headed to a nearby picnic area with restrooms so he could change the tire. Then, onward to Naabi Hill for exiting the Serengeti.
When we could see Naabi Hill we also saw herds of wildebeest and zebra crossing the road but in opposite directions! Nicholas said such behavior was not unusual as a herd might move in one direction and then for some reason reverse course! Maybe due to smelling rains elsewhere, simply confusion or whatever. And, then, atop the small concrete buildings housing wells for the Naabi Hill gate area, were a pair of lions! I thought “wow” what a wonderful way to exit the Serengeti. Little did I know what Africa had in store for us a bit further down the road. Time at the gate area was uneventful. Not much bird activity. We had proceeded down the grade from the Naabi Hill stop and the road leveled off when someone yelled “serval cat” and sure enough one was walking along the road. Then, maybe a couple of miles further were 7 lions including one manned lion lying along the road having killed and eaten a wildebeest. Three vulture species, a maribou stork and black-backed jackals completed the scene. The male and one lioness took turns having a few more bites before we moved off.
On the way to the crater rim we continued to see a mix of birds and mammals including one group of giraffe with one really small one, probably a few days old. Nicholas arranged for us to have a hot meal at the Crater Serena as we did not have time to reach the Sopa for lunch. Nice opportunity for us to show Beth the Serena. Good lunch in dining room with great view into the crater. Encountered several Cape buffalo on the rim road with 2 sparring. Stopped at the overlook to enjoy the view. An observation deck with railing and other amenities has been constructed. Nice way to stay clear of the stinging nettles I recalled from earlier stops. Checked into the Sopa with room on left side. The rain/mist cleared about 6:30PM.
Number of guests was down quite a bit from earlier visits. Dining room was hardly crowded. Enjoyed rolls, garden salad, cream of celery/potatoes soup, pork chop, potatoes/vegs, carrot cake or fruit cup, and tea. Checked out the gift shop. Books of interest seemed very pricey. The Sopa offers snacks such as cookies and muffins as well as tea/coffee during the afternoon.
The gals enjoyed having hot water bottles in the beds. Noted it was quite windy during the night. Walls are a bit thin in the rooms and conversation from guests next door was annoying. Some travelers simply are ignorant how loud conversations can be. Left on game drive early the next morning, being first at the gate. Saw nightjars, a spotted hyena and Cape buffalo on the access road. Encountered five lions moving down the road. Almost the same scene as last visit in 2012! Numerous bull elephant (including couple of long tuskers) in the ground vegetation with the yellow flowers. Saw excellent cross-section of wildlife in the crater including wildebeest, Thomson gazelle (including one little fellow that could not have been more than an hour old), ostrich, warthog, hippos, jackals, many hyena, grant’s gazelle, cape buffalo, eland, zebra, several rhino, vervet monkeys, and topi. Saw several groups and individual lions. We spend some time watching one group of at least 13 as an adult wildebeest was milling around seemingly ignorant of the group maybe 200 yards away. I kept thinking it might wander just close enough to trigger a movement from the lions but no such luck.
Enjoyed our breakfast box at the rest area in the Lerai Forest.
Saw many different birds including rosy-breasted longclaw, fantailed widowbird, sacred ibis, flamingos, kori bustard, African hoopoe, grey woodpecker, firefinches, africn citral, pink-backed pelicans, hamerkop, weavers, and little bee-eaters. When we drove thru the Lerai forest and crossed over one particular little stream I remembered a stop here years ago when we saw white-headed barbets and other birds. Such is a nice feature of repeat safaris.
Finally, we departed the crater arriving back at the Sopa for an enjoyable hot lunch. Following ministrone soup, Darla had the pasta w/cheese/tomato/veggie sauce while Dick and Beth had James the Chief special pizza. It was excellent! Apple pie w/caramel sauce or brownie w/custard sauce. Then, we enjoyed looking around for birds. The area half way down the right side of rooms near the huge tree overhanging the walk was a great spot with bulbuls, bee-eaters, chats, weavers, sunbirds and more. Saw a turaco in high tree but unable to id.
Great staff and management at the Sopa. The two managers spoke to us several times during our stay and were very personable and friendly. The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is a close tie for Beth’s favorite lodge (tied with Tarangire Safari Lodge).
Next morning after a great buffet breakfast, loaded up and headed towards Arusha. Was rainy ‘til we got past the NCA gate and reached Karatu. Then, cleared off. Stopped at the Heritage Cultural Center for a short session. Seemed pricey and messy. I got off easy as the gals made no purchases! On to the Tulip for use of a day room for showering and changing clothes before a Roy Safari person took us to airport in comfy van. As we were driving to the airport, we had a beautiful, clear view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the perfect send off! Checking in was uneventful. Flight stopped at Kigali before heading to Amsterdam.
A great trip. Saw new species of birds and mammals. Bird list exceeded 225 species. Ate wonderful foods. Met interesting fellow travelers and certainly lodge/camp workers not to forget other guides. Took many, many great photographs.
Weather: being in the rainy season we did experience more rain than on any previous trip. But mostly at night except for time at the Mt. Kilimanjaro View Lodge. Would not hesitate to travel again in late April/early May. Yes, being on the crater rim we did see misty/rainy conditions but such was temporary. With a breeze up there was chilly particularly for early morning drive into the crater. All-in-all weather was wonderful. The rain made for an incredibly green landscape that was amazing to see.
Clothing: The gals said capris and slacks were appropriate. Pants were especially great were tsetse flies were bad. Simple blouses and/or pullovers with maybe a hooded sweatshirt were comfy. Rain jackets were needed a few times. I wore mostly polo shirts with a long sleeve shirt on occasion or as another layer when out early mornings. Usually wore a hat and made a major effort to use sun screen even with the roof up. No special footwear.
Insects and the like: Except for the outside evening meal at Mt. Meru Game Lodge, mosquitoes were not an issue. Most lodges had netting. Tsetse flies seemed to be more abundant in Tarangire and Serengeti than in past visits. And, not just limited to typical brushy habitat in select areas. But, still not a big deal. Only trip I can recall with ticks. For sure, usually would see them on animals but first time I found them on me and one on Nicholas (in all three cases on clothing).
Food: Excellent variety and quality. We ate salads, fruits, eggs, various meats, etc without issue. Made major effort to wash before eating or if game drives used antiseptic wipes. I had minor digestive weirdness for part of one day and simply took it easy regarding foods for a day or so. Afterwards I shied away from yogurt. Darla and I still don’t like lamb. The tilapia and Nile River perch were okay (to me) but am still not crazy about fish (only worked as a fisheries biologist for 35 yrs!). Recall most coffee I had was instant type and usually had major deposit of fines in bottom of cup. Switched to more tea as trip progressed and for life of me cannot see spoiling it by adding milk. Gals continued to enjoy the Fanta orange and passion. Coke products prevail. Think we had pepsi at one location, Tarangire Safari Lodge, because our waiter, John, called me “Peps!”.
Any regrets? Not really. Easy to play the “could have/should have” game. But, with no control over the weather we still had a relaxing time at the Moshi area lodge. Was an excellent opportunity to rest up after the two flights, enjoy great food and see new birds. Was very pleased with the safari Sandi arranged for us and Roy Safaris did a fine job as usual.
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