I'm back from my 10 days in Tanzania.. It was a great trip and I hope to go back again!
To those wanting some information, here is a quick debrief:
We departed SFO on 1st Dec on NWA/KLM and reached JRO without much fanfare late evening.. We were greeted by a driver from Roys who took us to Impala Hotel in Arusha.
Our experience with Impala was less than a gratifying one - the rooms werent clean and the staff didnt care. That didnt help our weariness given the long flight.
The next morning we were taken to Roy's HQ. We were greeted by their Operations Director, Sanjay. He was the most understanding and helpful person we met on the tour. He inquired about our stay at Impala and upon hearing our issues, informed us that he would change our itinerary to accomodate us at a much better lodge upon return from our safari. He was concerned that we didnt get a good reception after such an arduous journey. Anyway, he briefed us on the safari, introduced us to our guide, Thomas, and advised us to focus on the bigger picture.. We were also informed that the rains had been delayed and we should expect some areas to be very dusty.
So off we went to the first stop on our trip, Lake Manyara. We stayed at Manyara Serena, a truly wonderful experience. Btw, Sanjay had called ahead and ensured that we got rooms with the best views at each of our pit stops, so we didnt have to be concerned about the remainder of our stays. Manyara was gorgeous - pelicans, elephants, monkeys, giraffes, impalas and ofcourse beautiful landscapes.
The first safari ride out was enough to educate us about merits of staying at a Serena. It was very comforting to come back to attentitive staff, clean rooms, comfortable beds and GREAT food.
Next, we set out for two nights at Ndutu. The drive was quite arduous and the late rains meant that the region was very dry and dusty. It was quite depressing really. The Ndutu lodge is also a minimal facility and the water there is quite soapy (heavy with carbonates). So we were a bit in anguish - two days to follow. Ndutu was supposed to have the best game, but the area was quite depleted of any. Did I mention it was very dry? Anyway, as luck would have it, delayed rains meant that there was very little game to view. We did run into some lions and jackals.. And on an early morning ride, we did see a Cheetah with cubs, the saving grace for this part of our trip. The landscapes were unreal, with the flattened acacias and thickets of thorny bush.. very spectacular against setting sun. It was the image of Africa that you see in movies like Hatari. We also met the owner of the Ndutu lodge - he was telling us that Ndutu is really a great place for game, but "global warming" was causing havoc with predictability. (Infact, there was global warming talk everywhere and how it was hurting Tanzania's agricultural economy).
Our next stop was Serengeti. After a long drive through golden Serengeti plains we arrived at Seregeti Serena and were treated with a room overlooking the plains. We were also presented with a bottle of wine and fruit basket in our room. Thank you Roys! Our morning game drive was easily the best of the lot. The area hadnt had rains either, but was green because of the river and there was lots of game as we drove along the river. Hordes of Zebras.... a pride of lions, variety of birds, and leopard cubs up in a tree. We had a lot of fun, since there was plenty to see.
Next morning we drove to the western corridor of Serengeti. Apparently, this region had started receiving rain.... and it turned out to be the case. Not to long after we left Serena did we start running into wet ground, golden plains turning green.... and finally, Wildebeest! We did see the migration... truly a spectable. Roys also talked to Serena to arrange a hot lunch for us at the Kirawira Luxury tens in the western corridor. At $1200 a night, now that is some luxury. We enjoyed our lunch and the views from the top of the hill on which Kirawira is located. We say a huge herd of elephants - 80-100 in number - wandering in the plains below.
Next day, we were 0n our way to Ngorongoro. Before leaving Serengeti, we ran into a lion and a lioness. Our guide followed the lioness and to our surprise she led us to her cubs that were hidden in some grass right next to the dirt road. What a sight! We had our picnic lunch 5 feet away from that family - I got my best pictures at that location.
I must report that it had started raining the night before. As we left Serengeti, we could see the rain clouds far away drenching what our guide said was Ndutu area.. So apparently we were just 2 weeks too early . The site of rain clouds against the rolling golden plains also was a postcard waiting to be snapped. It was definitely a site to behold. Rains appeared to be rolling in with a great prompt and show.
We arrived at Ngorongoro Serena, again in a room with a view at the edge of the crater. The next morning we drove down the crater and spent half a day looking at the pink flamingos, monstrous bull elephants (with giant tusks, apparently 50+ years old), and other wildlife. No Rhino's though - no one caught the sight of one that day. It was rainy and cloudy as well.
Finally, we were back in Arusha, and on our way to Zanzibar. Unfortunately, Serena Lodge in Arusha was unavailable, and we were put up in another lodge.. I was really getting used to Serena's.. I dont think I wouldve enjoyed the trip as much without the hospitality of these lodges - the roads were quite tough on us first timers. Knowing that there was a great meal waiting for us was a relieving thought each evening! I'm not the one for fancy hotels, but in this case, I have to say, spend more and go to the Serenas...
The final 3 days of our trip were spent at Breeze's in Zanzibar. Before departing, we parted ways with our guide. Roys also took care of flight confirmations etc. Overall, we were very impressed with Roys. Their vehicles appeared to be in the best shape. We say many more vehicles from Ranger Safaris and Leopard Safaris, but they didnt look all that well maintained.. Good Earth appeared to have the newest vehicles though.
Zanzibar was yet another experience.. I dont think I've seen any city where fruits grow on the roadside and you can simply pluck them of the tree instead of visiting a grocery store! The locals can pluck mangoes, jackfruit, breadfruit, pineapples for personal use for free, so we were told.. You see fruit trees the way you see wild bushes in wilderness. You also saw almonds and a myriad of spices (pepper, cinammon, etc.) along the roads. Quite amazing..
Tucked away in Breeze's we were able to was away the safari dirt and relax a bit. I wouldve shortened our stay to 2 nights instead of 3 if I were to do it again. On our way out of Zanzibar we did a tour of the Joshani forests and spice gardens. The gardens were very interesting, since we're Indians and very familiar with those spices.
Finally, we left Tanzania on the 13th.. The wait for a flight in Dar-es-salam was quite long and the flight back even longer.. Tiring, but thanks to the inflight entertainment system in KLM, I wasnt completely bored.
And then we were back. Took me a week to recover from the laid back vacation, with the lavish dinners and extremely sound sleep. And now I'm back at work.. back to reality..
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