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Trip Report Trip Report:: Kenya: Amboseli 1st

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Jan. 26, 2008: Two week flying safari organized by Africa Adventure Company begins...after much worry, daily checkings of Google Alerts on Kenya and Fodor talk updates, landed in Nairobi on a half full flight from Amsterdam on KlM...half expected to see the city in flames as we landed, but all looked normal. Driver from Cheli & Peacock met us for the transfer. Because I wanted to avoid the city centre, we overnighted at House of Waine in Karen...about a 45-50 min. drive...did notice a few police checkpoints along the road. Driver pointed out the Kibera Slums which actually didn't look too far away. House of Waine was beautiful...room was large and stylish,the marble bathroom with a huge tub and shower were put to use at once, and the bed and linens were luxurious...one of the most comfortable rooms I never slept in...should have taken a sleeping pill. They also had fresh cookies and coffe/tee setup in the room. Had a wakeup call at 5:00am to leave by 6:15am...made us a cooked breakfast at that ungodly hour.

Driver took us to Wilson and assisted checking us on in on the Safarilink flight to Amboseli. I was relieved to see we'd past the first weight hurdle...we stayed under the 33 # limit. ALso handed over to the driver a duffle filled with 50# of school supplies...glad to get rid of that...Cheli & Peacock saw that it got delivered to two children's centers/homes for abandoned and special needs children and they later sent an email of thanks. Since you're allowed to check two bags on the international flights, it's a good use for your baggage allowance.

We were pleasantly surprised by the flights we took on small airlines...Safarilink, Air Excel and Regional Air Charters...they were timely, smooth, and showed up at remote airstrips as promised. This first one held about 7 passengers and we were thrilled to see our first "game"...herds of zebras from the plane.

Our driver from Tortilis Camp, Simon, was waiting in an old open Land Rover. We later realized that these open game vehicles, Land Cruisers incl, are the preferred means...the enclosed pop-up types that we had to use at Ngorongoro were too restrictive for viewing, moving around, & photography...not to forget comfort. We picked up 2 women and we were off for a 2 & 1/2 hr game drive back to camp.
Right away, within sight of the airport, we saw two lions, one male, sleeping off the road. He banged on the truck (a no-no) but one just sleepily looked at us and went back to sleep. But, we'd seen our first predator! That am. was very productive, saw dainty little Thomson gazelles, tails flicking constanty, herds of Cape Buffalo looking at us suspiciously with their Dutch-girl horn helmets, huge elephants trailing their babies as they pondered across the road just in front of us as we held our breath, dizzying zebras, spotted hyenas skulking across the grass,, lots of wildebeest, looking rather unattractive with their oddly shaped back and gray whiskers, impala, funny little warthogs, Guinea, Gray Crowned Cranes, a majestic looking bird, Helmeted Guineafowl, pairs of Fish Eagles, Egyptian Guinea Hen, Ostriches, and Hippos...unbelievably huge when they lift their head out of the water...and way in the distance, a few giraffes...which were the animall that we most wanted to see. It was an incredible game drive to welcome us to Africa. As we were soon to find out, it doesn't always happen that way.
I was expecting Amboseli to be one big dust bowl, since it's name means "Land of Dust"..but there'd been some rains recently, and it was green and rather pretty, in a scrubby kind of way. As of now, Kilimanjaro was swathed in clouds, as she frequently in, and a light overcast kept the temperature pleasant in the 70's. We did see some dust devils in the distance, eerily lighted swirling clouds.

Got to Tortilis Camp about 11:30...you enter a lovely dining/lounge complex shaded by a huge conical thatched roof, that's set high up overlooking a watering hole that attracts wildlife, acacia trees, and the mountains of Kilimanjaro and others are on the horizon..stunning!
From there, we walk down a rather steep, winding stone path to the individual tents, nestled privately in the bush. Tent #1 had the best view of Kili...our was #10, which had a partial view of the mtns, but mostly looked at bush vegegation. I loved the tent..set on a stone terrace with outside loungers, wooden floor inside, huge king bed, chest at foot of bed, large bathroom in back with stone shower, flush toilet and 2 sinks...wood paneled wall separating it from sleep area...conical thatched room extended over the canvas walls..and a bottle of champagne congratulating us on our 25th Anniversary! For bookings being down, there seemed to be a fair numner of people here...about 20-24. Lunch was freshly made pasta, carved turkey, salads and chocolate cake. We ate everything because they prepare dished with good water.
After a nap, we were off for the afternoon game drive...the clouds had cleared off Kili and we could see the snow-covered top. But, it was raining lightly, which made for a dreary game drive...and we saw very few animals.
Excellent candlelit dinner in the open restaurant...mushroom risotto, beef steak with sauces, mashed potatoes, veggies, and ice cream...wine is included with your lunch and dinner. Temp was probably in the mid-60's at dinner.Slept like a baby with cool breezes wafting in the open tent flaps.

Wakeup call at 6am with coffe and biscuits(cookies) delivered to your tent. Game drive started at 6:30 with a glowingly pink sunrise and top of Kili visible. We enjoy the 2 women who share these with us...they're alot of fun and want to see "Twiga" (giraffes) too.
Walking up the hill in the semi darkenss, two cute little dik-dik's ran by us.

The am drive was a bit of a bust..just elephants, good hippos, some wildebeest, large herd of cape buffalo, but no giraffes. Did see some new things, a Gerenuk with its lovely long neck, A Reedbuck, similar to our deer, a Waterbuck, similar to our deer but bigger, and a Marabou Stork. But, it was a lovely morning, a bit cool (upper 50's) and we loved just driving around and seeing the scenery. Came back for breakfast at 9am. Nice gift shop and wish I had bought more items...remember the Moscow Rule of Shopping, if you see something you like buy it, because you probably won't find it again. There were some nice necklaces there, but since it was only our first stop, I didn't know prices, or if I'd see something better...never saw them again.
Got hot & sunny in afternoon, and lounged around the pool (which was chilly) after another great lunch.

Last game drive here and we're getting mutinous for giraffe (not really!) One of the women buys a Swahili phrase book, so we quickly learn some animal names...chanting Twiga, Twiga. Our guide doens't look promising, as there aren't many trees around here...for the giraffes to feed on. But, he takes off in another direction, asks permission from some park officials, and next thing we know, we're driving and driving across a vast, dried up lake bed...like being on the moon. At the opposide side, in the wooded slopes of Kilimanjaro...very near the Tanzania border, he finds us our target...about 8 lovely Maasai giraffes leisurely munching the tops of Acacia trees. We take picture after picture. Then, they start gliding along past Mt. Kimimanjaro as the sun comes out, the top clears, and we have the snow-capped mountain as the quintessential backdrop! Perfect! One of the highlights of our safari.

After that we watched a troop of baboons playing...tiny babies clutching on to their mom's bottoms, sinister looking males, gliding by never taking his eyes off us.

On the drive back, in the fading light, we had fun watching a herd of elephants wallowing in a muddy swamp, half submerged, joined with huge hippos. After a slow morning, this was truly a grand finale to Amboseli and it was nice seeing a different part of the park. Despite it's scrubbiness, it's still beautiful.

That night, there were just 3 couples in camp...guess yesterday was a one-day small group who came in...this is more typical. They set up our dining table out under the stars, above the campfire, and it was magical...the stars were brilliant! We joined up with the 2 women (from Scotland & England)for dinner...they're much younger than us, but we shared a lot of laughs and great conversation.

Next morning as we were packing, we finally saw the Vervet monkeys...one was on our deck and the others in a tree next to us.

All in all, Amboselli is a greata first park to go to, and Tortilis Camp is the place to stay. Excellent accommodatons, food, staff, driver/guide and scenery.

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    barefootbeach,
    I love the way you've written this. I can feel your experience. Like I, you've included menus, which is interesting -- particularly for those who've not been to Africa.
    Looking for the rest!
    samcat

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    Great start. Amboseli & Tortilis was also my very first park and camp years back.

    Suggest for reading purpose, you keep the entire report under one thread. It'a also easier for our wonderful Fodorite LyndaS who keep the East Africa Index up-to-date, to track your adventures.

    Waiting for next segment.

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    Barefootbeach, thanks for starting your report. I think it’s the first time I’ve heard of gerenuk inside Amboseli NP. Everybody seems to see gerenuk “before the gate”. Was it in an area with bushes close to Tortilis?

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    Glad you're enjoying the report so far. As you can tell, I'm as interested in locale, food, scenery and accommodations as seeing the animals!
    Sandi,
    I thought I'd time out by adding the trip reports to one thread. Maybe I'm misunderstanding "thread"...do I continue with the other parks by replying to my original one on Amboseli? Or start a new trip report on each camp? Also, what's the best way to include photos?
    Right now, you can go to "www.photoshopshowcase.com"
    and see my collection under "Amboseli" under the latest additions. Seems like there should be a better way of moving them from photoshop to here.
    Nyamera,
    I'm sorry but I don't remember where we saw the gerenuk in Amboseli...it was just in my notes. We saw tons more of them in Shaba...the next stop.

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    Happy 25th!

    You had a very attentive and accommodating guide who went the extra mile(s) literally to find the giraffes!

    Lots of other good animal action too!

    How nice you made a school supply delivery.

    From your lack of mention of problems, it appears the tragic events in Kenya did not affect you. That's been the consistent news from everyone coming back. Flying probably helped your cause.

    I'd agree with you about starting in Amboseli and your thumbs up on Tortilis.

    Since you asked about threads, I'd keep everthing here. Your title will hold true throughout your entire report because wherever you went, Amboseli was 1st. It also is helpful to see your whole itinerary at some point.

    Great start and I am wondering if you ended up barefoot on a beach or not.

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    Great report so far!

    Yes, I would add the next installment by replying to this thread instead of starting separate ones on each camp.

    I think this is the direct link to your album http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/ViewAlbum.aspx?AID=95607&AT=3

    After I found your album, I clicked on "Share" at the bottom and emailed myself an invite. At the bottom of the invite was the link I pasted above which should take you directly there.

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    Great report- look forward to reading the next installment. I haven't been to Amboseli since the early 1980's - at that time it was the best place to see lion (and to a lesser degree cheetah) in Kenya. No one seems to mention cat sightings there any more - does anyone know what happened - disease ?

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    Part 2: Shaba Reserve

    Let me backtrack and give you my overall itinerary, beginning with arriving in Nairobi, Jan 26, 2008:

    KENYA
    Nairobi, House of Waine, 1 night
    Amboseli, Tortilis Camp, 2 nights
    Shaba, Joy's Camp, 2 nights
    Maasai Mara, Little Governor's Camp, 2 nights

    TANZANIA
    Arusha, Arusha Coffee Lodge, 1 night
    Lake Manyara, Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, 2 nights
    Serengeti, Kusini Camp, 3 nights
    Ngorongoro Crater, NG Serena Lodge, 2 nights
    Zanzibar, Unguja Resort, 3 nights
    Beyt al Chai (Stonetown Inn) 1 night

    Stopover in Amsterdam at the Canal House Hotel, 2 nights before and 1 night after.

    The US Tour operator is The Africa Adventure Company...their Kenya operator is Cheli & Peacock and their Tanzania operator is CC Africa.

    My Shaba photos can be viewed at:
    http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go.aspx?AID=95738&AT=3&VID=290749&ABID=298965

    Left Amboseli on Safarlink, connecting through Wilson airport in Nairobi. It was a seamless transfer...on arrival, someone met us as we got off the plane, checked our name, gave us new boarding passes, we identified our luggage, and they moved it to a plane nearby. Extremely easy. While waiting to reboard, we saw the local newspaper with stories of more violence that's spreading to new areas and the first news of the murder of 2 German tourists during a robbery at a private villa on the coast. An American couple on the plane with us, who had also been at Tortilis, were met by their tour operator to advise them of a change in plans...instead of driving in a couple of days(to Laikipia, I think) they would fly instead because of the 'trouble'.

    Our plane with 7 passengers, stopped first at Samburu, where the other American couple got out, and we continued to Shaba. From the air, Samburu looked pretty nice and I was wondering if we'd made the right choice for Shaba instead. As we approached the Shaba airstrip, which is nothing but a strip in the ground, we saw a lone Range Rover waiting...Newton, our driver/guide from Joy's Camp was waiting. We're starting to feel like true explorers!
    The drive to Camp took about 20 minutes, and although Shaba is a semi-arid region, it looked much more lush than Amboseli, more trees and bushes, and grasses and hills & rocks...and hotter too, probably upper 80's.
    Joy's Camp is set on the former residence of Joy Abramson, of "Born Free" fame. She was actually murdered her, believed to be by a former employee rather than a lion, as initially reported.
    The camp's inspiration evoked a Moorish/Arabian fantasy, instead of neutral African decor. Very chic and colorful with curving whitewashed walls, arched niches, hanging beads, exotic sconces, and arched windows.
    The scenery looked out at five different mountains across a meadow with a watering hole.

    We were led to the farthest, most private tent...#1, The Chief's Tent. This was the favorite tent of one of two partners who built the camp, who tragically died a month after completion.
    It is amazing...large, colorful, exotic. During the day, the tent's flaps are always open to a large wooden raised deck with a wide open meadow view to the mountains.
    The bed is masssive with a colorful fabric and Arabic hanging lights. The huge bathroom has 2 sinks, a glassed wall shower, with an arched window that looks outside. The only problem was the atmospheric lighting was not bright enough to be practical...like putting in contacts or applying makeup.
    A great 3 course lunch was served in a tented, half-white pavilion...overlooking the mountains, the watering hole and the free-form swimming pool, which was a more comfortable temperature than Tortilis. It appeared that there were only 2 other couples staying here, about a 25% occupancy.

    At 4:00, our first game drive with Newton, which happened to be private. To my delight,we soon saw a bunch of reticulated giraffes, only found in this area of Kenya, and I believe much prettier than their Maasi cousins. Also, it was antelope heaven with lots of Grant's gazelles, gerenuk with their long skinny necks, impala, and jittery little Dik Diks...I had trouble photographing them because they seemed extremely skittish and ran away too quickly. The Grevy's zebras, again only found in this area, was especially stiking and more attractive than the Plains Zebra...it's stripes wiere thinner and closer together and had more of a mane. Also watched a male and female Masai ostrich run by.
    Newton drove us up into the hills and we enjoyed a sundowner as the sun was setting. Newton is extremely knowledgeable and seemed a warehouse of facts about the animals, topography and flora...he talked the most of any of our guides.
    Got back to camp late, 7:20p so had to shower fast and let hair air-dry before dinner. ( I didn't even pack a hair dryer) We couldn't walk in the evening without a Samburu guide, who lit the way with his torch...pointing out a little scorpion on the path that I had just missed in my thong sandals.

    Dinner was set up under the stars, very elegant, overlooking a bonfire. Stars were crystal clear although it was difficult to identify constellations in the southern hemisphere. Food was excellent: Cream of Leek soup, Sauteed breaded eggplant, Baked Tilapia in a delicous sauce, roasted potatoes & green beans, but bad ice cream for dessert. Again, wine was included with the meals.

    By the way, we loved the local soda, Krest Bitter Lemon, which we always had for lunch. Very refreshing.

    Very comfortable bed and temperture for sleeping...all the side flaps were open.

    Next morning 6:30am game drive started out cool, but what a beautiful morning. Drove into some lovely, green and lush areas near the river, but didn't see many animals. Some zebra, gazelles, a secretary bird, a rock hydrax, ostrich...wanted to see Simba (lions) but no luck. After driving for a couple of hours, Newton asked if we were ready for our picnic breakfast...after our strong affirmative, he said the camp had forgotten to put in the food! We were annoyed, but didn't say anything too negative, and I pulled out boxes of raisins for all of us to tide us over. Then, he drove near the river and he spotted someone had set up a camp down there...turns out it was a surprise Bush Breakfast, right on the banks of the Ewaso Ngiro river. The tables had colorful tablecloths, the chef was making eggs to order, and another couple from camp joined us. The beauty of the area made up for the lack of animals.
    As an aside, before we reached the bush breakfast, I experienced my first bush loo break behind the Range Rover...for you women out there, the Urinelle product (a paper type funnel)works great!

    The game drive back to camp was uneventful again. Guess we saw all the animals yesterday. Newton said that the rains they had gotten recently had sent the animals over to the Samburu side.

    After another delightful lunch: 3 bean salad, chicken drumsticks in curry sauce, asparagus risotto and fruit salad, it was time for some relaxation with a 30 min. back massage for both me and my husband...Jane, the masseuse, set up the table on our deck, and it felt heavenly with the warm breezes caressing your body.
    We are loving Africa! The people are so warm and gracious, and it's so sad and frustrating that the two greedy, power-hungry politicians are ruining Kenya and killing all those people over the sake of politics. The future doesn't look good. When we checked in yesterday the manager informed us that now a parliament member had been murdered.

    4:30 game drive...Newton said he'd drive us to Penny's Falls, named after one of Joy Abramson's leopards, but we wouldn't see many animals. He was right. My husband got concerned when we saw 2 men wearing camouflage fatigues, walking along the road carrying rifles...but Newton assured us they were park rangers on patrol.

    On the way home, I spotted a striped hyena, mom, but didn't see the 2 cubs.

    Newton surprised us again, by taking us to a hilltop for the view...and the camp had set up a bar for sundowners, with the other 2 couples in camp (one from Nairobi, one from England). We're getting to like these Gin & Tonics...very colonial!

    A rush to clean up for dinner and tonight's menu: Green Pea soup, Smoked Trout on Savory pancakes with caper sauce, Filet of Beef, Mash Potatoes & Squash, and Chocolate nut torte...withh a South African merlot. Excellent!

    Back to tent and found mosquitoes all over the ceiling, despite my husband had duct taped some screen holes earlier. Used the emergency walkie talkie to request Doom, since our can was empty. Took awhile, but the Samburu guard came back and sprayed for us...he had trouble finding a full can also. With the tent flaps open, the fresh air helped dissipate the spray.

    Apparently, the guards heard a lion near our tent in the wee hours, but we slept through it.

    Next morning,tThe staff turned out to wave us good bye...we really loved the personal attention here and enjoyed seeing the difference of more arabic features on some of the people up here. Shaba is quite lovely, even if the animals prefer Samburu right now, and Newton is a sweetheart.
    On the way to the airstrip, we saw the hyena cubs. It's amazing to watch a small plane approach and land on an airstrip just to pick us up.

    Stopped at Samburu again enroute to the Maasai Mara, and that American couple got on. Their plans had changed again because of the violence, and were now going to the Maasi Mara instead of Laikipia.

    Next: Maasai Mara, Little Governor's Camp


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    Hi barefootbeach,

    What an awesome discription of your travels in Amboseli. I love the photo of the two Twiga's with Kilimanjaro in the distance. George looked pretty enthralled while in the Land Rover. Such a grand way to celebrate your 25 years of marriage. Happy Anniversary!

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    Simbakubwa,
    That's a tough one, but we'd have to give the nod to Kenya. We saw the most interesting animals there, the scenery was a bit better, generally preferred the camps, and they seem to be a notch up on the service...ways things work scale. In retrospect, I think I would've preferred to do a week in South Africa around Capetown (not in the game parks because it's their rainy season now) instead of Tanzania, just for the variety of experiences. I know this is heresy, but we were getting tired of game drives after 2 weeks of it. Initially though, I just couldn't choose between the two.

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    Thanks for posting your Shaba installment and photos! We stopped for breakfast at the same spot along the river (only ours was a packed picnic). Wasn't it gorgeous?

    I think your hornbill is an eastern yellow-billed (do others agree?). The Von der Decken's has red on the bill and a red patch near the throat on males and a grey/black bill on the female and white stripes instead of spots on the wings. We started calling every hornbill we saw an eastern red-billed Von der Jackson's just to cover all bases ;)

    And the ostrich is a Somali ostrich which are only found in the northern areas like Samburu, Shaba, Meru. The males have a blueish neck and legs, very distinctive and beautiful.

    Looking forward to the next installment and photos!

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    Thanks for you quickly posted new instalment!
    I agree with Patty about the photos. And, the first picture is an impala. I very much enjoyed seeing your reticulated giraffes and Grevy’s zebras.

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    "the camp forgot to put the food in the vehicle" - think I've heard that one before. A sure sign they have something planned. But so wonderful that they do.

    No heresy saying you're "game-drived out." Some visitors can't have enough game drives, others are fine with twice daily, and I'm fine with afternoon only. It's your holiday, go with what works best for you.

    Great report so far. Waiting for more.

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    THanks for correcting my animal tags...it's so hard for a first timer to tell all the antelope apart (and I'm cheating by refering to the Nat'l Audubon Field Guide to African Wildlife...though it's hard to tell from some pictures)
    And as for birds, I have to laugh that I'm even looking them up, or took photos in the first place since I have a bird phobia from as long as I can remember! This made for an interesting time on our game drives at Lake Manyara since we were paired with two birders! More on that later.
    Some of you may recall I earlier mentioned bringing a toy yellow see-thru water pistol to scare the birds away if they bothered us during meals. Well, I was upfront and showed it to security...made it from the US after some gentle persuasion...made it through the first pass in Amsterdam, but the TSA guy came back and said he was overrulled because I could paint it black and it would look real! My husband's was in his carryon, didn't show it to them, and was able to keep it. Never used it though and hope housekeeping in Zanzibar had a child to give it to.
    And as for Africa, I think you could carry a bazooka in your carry-on and it would pass.
    Still waking at 2:30 am...helps to edit the photos and get the trip reports written.

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    Part 3: Maasai Mara, Little Governor's Camp, 1/31/-2/2/08

    You can view my photos from here at http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go.aspx?AID=96197&AT=3&VID=291896&ABID=298965

    Safarilink flight from Shaba got us into Musiara about 11:30a. Am amazed at how smooth those little planes are. That American couple whose tour operator had changed their itinerary from driving to flying were on our plane again, and now the operator had changed the venue to the Maasai Mara (from Laikipia?) because of the continuing violence. They also said they'd seen a lot of animals at Samburu, especially elephants, so that's where the Shaba animals must have gone.

    Samuel the elder was there to pick us up, along with another couple from Britain. We had requested him as our guide, based on the recommendation of another Fodorite, but the camp wasn't sure he'd be back from leave, so I was glad to see him.

    Right away, the difference between Shaba and the Mara in terms of animals was remarkable. We saw many giraffes, buffalo, and gazelles just during the short drive to camp. One of the fun parts of Little Governor's is the arrival. You get let off and walk down steep stone steps, with a rope railing, to a small, flat boat, and the boatsman uses a rope pulley to get you across a narrow part of the Mara River. If he let go, you'd go down a small rapids. Then, you climb up steep steps on the other side.

    We and the other couple were greeted with the customary fruit juice and given our tent assignments, #14 for us and #17 for them. For the first time, I noticed on the voucher I handed over that our tour operator was requesting some special treatment for us because it was our 25th Anniversary...that was nice, I thought.

    This camp has a more "authentic, Hemingway-style" feel than Joy's Camp and Tortilis. No electricity, just kerosene lamps in your tent, basic green canvas roofs, plain wood furnishings, but you're on a raised wood deck with 2 camp chairs overlooking a large waterhole, no fencing, so elephants, baboons, warthogs, etc. roam freely. The bathroom does have a flush toilet, open tile shower, sink and even a bidet! Although I knew this wouldn't be luxurious, I was still under-whelmed by the tent. It could definately use some decorating update.

    The camp itself is sited well...it's in a forested part of the Mara up above a large water-hole, so it was very green and refreshing. At this camp, you must be escorted by a guard at all times and that felt a little restrictive to me. Walking to lunch, a group of warthogs ran close by us. The tables are set up so you look out over the water hole and we watched a family of baboons playing. Lunch was a buffet but very good...moussaka, lentil salads, soup, and a great chocolate banana pie. While eating, a warthog ran right up to me, and I jumped up. We also got an offer we couldn't refuse. Captain David, who pilots the famed hot air balloon rides that take off from Little Governor's, came up and offered a 2 for 1 special on the next mornings's flight due to the lack of tourists....so that turned out to be $415 for both of us and included a champagne bush breakfast. When booking the safari, we had decided against the ride because of the cost, but a 1/2 off sale is worth it.

    After lunch, a family of elephants were munching in the wetlands right in front of our tent. While shooting photos of the baby, he looked like he was going to come over so I ran in the tent because I didn't want Mama to follow just as a guard ran over to warn me. It was pretty exciting to have these huge elephants so close.

    3:30 game drive: On our walk to the game drive we ran into the other couple who checked in with us. They were laughing that they'd been given the honeymoon tent and they didn't know what to do with it! When we got across the river, there were several Range Rovers, and we were assigned to a different guide, Fred, while the British couple got Samuel, all to themselves! This annoyed me since we had requested him in advance. But, we set off, along with another British couple, for our first game drive.

    Fred was young, reckless and didn't say much, but we did see more animals than any other place. First, after spraying my husband with mud while grinding his wheels, we basically drove off-road through a vast, boring savannah. However, there are animals everywhere you look....herds of waterbuck, topi (a first for us), Grant's and Thompson's gazelles, Impala, Maasai Giraffes, Plains Zebras, Baboons, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, all peacefully co-existing side-by-side. Watched male giraffes "necking", a play form of fighting, and saw them splay their legs so they could bend over far enough to drink.

    We drove by 2 sleeping lionesses, our first close-up enounter with lions. They opened their eyes but that was about it.

    I got very nervous when Fred parked the Range Rover right in the path of an approaching mom elephant with her baby. She kept coming right at us and I got afraid and said "move", while the lady in the back seat said "Oh, no!" But, Fred pulled ahead and they passed behind us. This is the problem with sharing a game vehicle: we have conflicting ideas of what's dangerous, but it didn't seem to make sense to position the vehicle right in their path.

    Then, we spotted "Duma"...2 half-grown cheetah cubs playing and their mother, sitting erect on a rock. Beautiful! I hadn't realized how black and definative the teardrop marking on their faces were. Her coat was lovely...she looked so regal and elegant perched there impassively surveying the plains. Then, I was trying to figure out a temporary camera misfunction, so missed the excitement when the cubs took off after a Topi, but didn't catch it. Then, the three of them cuddled on their rock perch...I think cheetahs are rivaling giraffes as my favorite.
    After that, we spotted another lioness, but she was walking around. We pulled up right next to her, and I have to admit, I'm still nervous around them, since we're in an open game vehicle without windows. But, you do get a sense of security inside the vehicle.

    On the way back, the Grand Finale....leopards! A half-grown cub was up a tree with his antelope kill...exciting! It was hard to photograph him through the leaves and it was getting dark outside. Then, we spotted the mother in the bushes on the ground. She eventually started to get irritated so we left. The other woman said she'd been on 5 safaris before she ever saw a leopard. So, now we've seen 4 of the Big 5...Lion (but no male or cubs yet), Water buffalo, elephants, leopard (or cheetah), but no rhino yet.

    This is going to sound really heretical, but despite seeing more game in 2 hours in the Mara than Shaba and Amboseli combined, I really didn't enjoy the game drive as much. It almost was like riding through a zoo...there was no challenge to finding the animals. I could really notice the difference in the herds of antelopes. At the other parks it was difficult to photograph them because they were so skittish. Here, they didn't run away as quickly or often. And, there are so many more game vehicles around...and this is with about 25% occupancy due to the violence...I can't imagine how crowded it must get during normal peak times. And, I didn't like the scenery...it was flat and boring...also overcast, which makes everything look worse....and I didn't like Fred, who didn't provide much information about the animals like the other guides did.

    I had a hunch that the camp had mixed us up with the other couple at check-in...since they got the driver we requested and were given the honeymoon tent, which would've gone along with the special treatment request. We didn't care about the tent...actually glad we weren't at the very end of the camp where it was located...but we didn't want another game drive with Fred. So, my husband planned to talk to the mgr about it at dinner, but we were told he wasn't available to speak with until the next am.

    Dinner was lovely. The tables were set up under the stars, our waiter was very good (you usually have the same waiter the whole visit), the food delicous: Garlic cream of tomato soup, red snapper starter, roast pork and potato croquettes, green beans and cheesecake for dessert. Here we had to pay for wine and soft drinks. But laundry is free, as at the other camps.

    With the balloon ride, we had to have a 5:15am wake up call (with hot chocolate and bisuits) to get to the site by 5:45am..a short walk away in the dark (all the while thinking that it's prime leopard/ lion feeding time).
    Heard the safety lecture about how the landing could be like a controlled car crash, the basket could turn over and be dragged...and how you have to climb over to get inside the basket pretty quickly, and started worrying if this was going to be a mistake with my knee ( had torn the miniscus a month earlier and delayed surgery until after Africa).

    Last night we'd had a hard rainfall and wondered if the flight would be cancelled. However, the rain had stopped but now it was too calm. There was hardly any wind, poor visibility, and we were drifting the wrong direction. We crossed the Mara River, where we scared lots of hippos running out of the water, saw giraffes and baboons, but we were losing altitude and it looked like we were going to put down in a swamp. Not good! The captain said this was not going to work, and we had to put down in an entirely different area than planned...we made it to drier ground, thank God, but it was on Maasai land...not good again!

    A lone Maasai approached and negotiated landing fees, and while we were waiting to get picked up, another Maasai came over out of nowhere with trinkets to sell. How did he get there so quickly? Anyway, my husband bought a beaded stick with the tail of a wildebeest on it...yuk! and I got a beaded bracelet...figure we should buy something.
    That brings up the Maasai village visits, that are an option around here. We heard so many negative reports about the high pressure selling tactics, the lack of authenticity, etc. that we chose not to go to one.
    We headed back and had our champagne breakfast at the balloon field at Little Governor's and Captain David said we could all go again tomorrow am. so we could have a good experience. We were concerned that we'd get back in time for our 11:00am flight but he assured us we would. So why not? Four flights for the price of one!

    My husband had a talk with the staff about our driver situation, and found out that they had indeed mixed us up at checkin. So, on the 10:30a game drive, we went with Samuel, the other British couple, and another guy...three in a row is too crowded though. Didn't really enjoy the game drive...saw all the usual suspects but we spent way too much time waiting to see if the leoparad would come out of the bushes (didn't). I was getting bored, had gone to the same area again and I was very tired.

    After lunch, we headed back to our tent for a much needed nap. However, the baby and big elephant were literally 10ft in front of our tent. Our guard motioned for us to come around the other side of the tent, but as we approached the front, the large one got very agitated and we raced back behind the tent. Again, the guard tried to get us to go to the front, but first he had to scare away another big elephant who was approaching from the other side. We shook our heads "no", but he kept motioning to keep quiet, stay low (which is hard with my knee), and while the elephant's back was turned, we raced up, unzipped the tent and ran in. Then, the elephant turned and seemed mad, and I swear was staring in the tent. We had run to the back where the bathroom was, and kept peering out to see if he had left. We were both scared and made no noise because it seemed like he could trample our tent with no problem while we were trapped in the bathroom. I told my husband to get his knife in case we had to cut through the canvas to get out. But,we waited about 10 minutes and he finally moved on.
    I could finally get my nap, and decided to skip the 3:30 game drive.
    My husband went, and saw a male lion and two more leopards, but I was happy with some alone time sitting on the deck, enjoying the scenery and catching up on housekeeping chores.
    At dinner, sat around the campfire with a drink, before some raindrops sent us under cover in the bar. Tonight they set up the dinner tables in the tented dining area, and we did have some rain. Excellent dinner again...smoked salmon, beef filet, roasted potatoes, red cabbage.
    Then, we heard chanting and about 10 Maasai warriors with their spears, dressed in red, came out preceded by the chef carrying a lighted cake. Must be someone's birthday, we thought. Well, they came up to our table and presented a lovely cake with our names and 25th anniversary on it! We were shocked! Then, they grabbed my hand and led me around the room for awhile...then it was my husband's turn to try the jumping that they do. It was very special and a lovely touch!
    The bed and linens are so comfortable here and the temperature is perfect for sleeping. Heard hyenas and hippos munching outside the tent but slept well.
    Another early wake up call for our second balloon try. This time we drifted off immediately in the right direction, the sun rose, and the scenery was much prettier...skimming over the treetops with the baboons below...giraffes and elephants watching us...scattering herds of gazelles..and more hippos in the Mara River. We sat down gently right in front of a hyena den, but no animals came out. Then, we were whisked off to a lovely spot high above the banks of the Mara River for our champagne breakfast. What a difference a day makes! The flight was lovely and Captain David is charming. Others took a game drive back to camp, but we went straight back to catch our flight.

    Next: Tanzania: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge












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    My goodness this all sounds incredible.

    The food makes my mouth water (Garlic cream of tomato soup, red snapper starter, roast pork and potato croquettes, smoked salmon, beef filet, roasted potatoes, red cabbage.)

    Your photos are wonderful! I think this is the first time I have actually looked at photos of this Little Governor's that I hear so much about.

    Your elephant encounter at the tent was just a bit scary for me.

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    Thanks Wayne for the nice comments. It was scary and I thought it's because I'm a first-timer, but the manager said it always takes your breath away when you're that close to such a large, possibly dangerous animal.

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    Hey BFB-
    Sorry there was such a mess-up with Samuel but that you finally got it straightened out. And that you had 5 people in your jeep on your last drive. Management should have known better. Samuel is just so knowledgeable though.

    I went out with the "British couple" the morning after you guys left and they told me you and your husband sent your regards. Though after that, I had the jeep to myself for my five days. Yay!

    I can't believe the leopard sightings you had. I only saw one during my five day stay. Oh well, luck of the draw.

    And glad you enjoyed your balloon rides and Captain David. He is a really nice guy. Darrell, the "fill-in" camp manager, adopted me for meals during my stay so I got to know David and Steve, the other pilot, at mealtimes and happy hours. They are hilarious to hang around with. A bunch of screwballs!

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    Hi Divewop,
    You are so lucky to have had Samuel to yourselves for 5 days...am surprised about the lack of leopards...the way the guides seemed to know which trees to look in made me think they were a permament attraction.

    We really liked Darrell, the fill-in manager too...he was very personable....more so than the usual manager, whom we just spoke with a bit.

    Did the "British couple" ever figure out what to do with the honeymoon tent?

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    How funny! The couple never mentioned what tent they were staying in! I guess if you don't know what to do with the honeymoon tent, you shouldn't be in it!

    If there was a cute, single guy around, I would have gladly switched with them! ;-)

    I kind of developed a school-girl crush on Darrell after he adopted me, so he would have been a prime candidate. :D And he was both cute and single, and also so sweet and generous to me during my stay, like letting me have Samuel to myself. Then again, being a repeat customer and the camps not being full, I'm sure, helped some too.

    At first, I was disappointed George, the usual manager, wasn't there but after spending time with Darrell, David, and Steve, I was glad he was on holiday.

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    divewop & bfb -

    Darrell - is he originally from Zimbabwe?

    I'm sure not an unusual name, but sounds like the guy who had spent a few years (5) at Cottar's, also at Richard's (1+).

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    Sandi-
    Yep, that's him. Darrell, originally from Zimbabwe. He told me he used to work at Cottars before coming over to Governor's.

    He's over at L.G.'s for the next few months while George is on holiday. Said he's been working over at Governor's private camp. Don't know where he's going next.

    He was such a sweetheart. And loved his accent.

    What's your take on him?

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    Sandy -

    Darrell Black - that's him. He met us at Keekorok ('05) for drive to Cottar's and our guide for our 2/days here. Also our transfer to Talek gate. He was so gracious (along with Calvin Cotter) to provide us with the toilet cover for use at the Talek loo and Darrel carried it to the loo door for us. :)

    Then next year, met up with him at Richard's Camp where he was also guide.

    And, now he's at Little Governor's. Folks move about... small world isn't all that small!

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    My comments are only on Shaba. I agree that iit’s hard to get a good shot of those shy little dik dik antelopes. You had a good view of the other northern species as well. Your scorpion incident points to the importance of keeping your feet covered when walking. Everyone always raves about the beauty of Shaba, and you seem to have had a similar experience.

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    On to Little Gov's. A 2 for 1 balloon special!!? Things are not good for an offer like that to be made. Has anyone ever been given such a deal? I've heard of $25-$50 off if you book from home, but never 2 for 1!

    The Biritsh couple in the honeymoon tent seem to be a hit! How funny.

    Welcome to the cheetah loving crowd.

    Happy 25th!

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    thanks Atravelyn,
    I was most thrilled to get the giraffes and Kili...that was the picture of Africa that I dreamed about before we went.

    With the balloon special, I felt bad that Capt David was taking a loss on the next day's flight with the re-do. But, he truly didn't want us walking away remembering a less than optimal experience.

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    Trip Report: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge

    2/3/08-2/5/08
    Staying here was one of our most enchanting experiences in Africa, but first we had to get there. You can view our photos at: http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go.aspx?AID=97846&AT=3&VID=297383&ABID=298563

    Flights from Kenya (Masai Mara- transferring at Wilson Airport-Nairobi) to Tanzania (Kilimanjaro Airport) went smoothly. Baggage handlers helped us through passport control (we already had our visas) and the health desk to check for Yellow Fever vaccinations. I expected to see a CC Africa rep, with a sign for our names, but instead, the baggage guys walked outside of the terminal and started heading to the parking lot. There a rep from CC Africa waited with the mini-van.

    In about 40 minutes, we reached Arusha, and it was fascinating to see all the colorfully and well-dressed women and children. Apparently many dressed up to go to church on Saturday. We arrived at the Arusha Coffee Lodge, for a one-night stay to break up the trip to Lake Manyara.

    This lodge did not meet our expectations. The room and grounds were nice enough, but things weren’t well taken care of. They sprayed the room with Doom at night, but you couldn’t open the windows because there were no screens so I didn’t like inhaling all that DEET. We thought we’d eat lightly since we’d had so many big meals, but I had to return the Thai chicken burger as it was inedible. My standard hamburger substitution took an hour to get!

    So we were glad to check out the next morning, when we found the bill was more than expected. We found an extra charge for a beer, and when that was removed, the total came down much more than the cost of the beer, as it should have been

    The woman from CC Africa who transferred us to the Arusha airport did a great job of expediting our check in and had them waive weighing our luggage. We were off on a Regional Air flight to Lake Manyara airport.

    Things started looking up the minute we met Vitalis, our driver/guide from Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, and his good-looking Land Cruiser game vehicle. He set up a coffe/tea welcome with the best chocolate cookies we’ve had in Africa (for some reason the usual ‘biscuits’ you get with coffee/tea with wake-up calls were pretty hard and tasteless). Two sisters from South Africa joined us, and we all set off about 9am for a game drive on the way back to the lodge. He said we’d be there by 1:00pm, but it was a very long driving morning and, unfortunately (I have a bird phobia), the women were avid birders. So we spent a LOT of time on little birds, as well as trying to find the STAR birds, those rare or unique to the Lake Manyara area.

    However, the scenery was lush and wonderfully fresh along the edge of the Rift escarpment, nice contrast to the Masai Mara.

    First, we went to the Hippo Pools, where we saw, well, hippos, and an amazing number and variety of birds…white and great pelicans, lesser and greater flamingoes, storks and too many others to name. Thousands of them. The birders were enthusiastically impressed, especially about them riding the thermals.

    We saw many troops of baboons, going about their business in the middle of the road, babies riding on mother’s backs, and a few blue and vervet monkeys in the trees.
    Also saw a lot of Maasai giraffe, who are much darker in color here. More plains zebras and impalas…a few dik diks, (but no Thomson’s or Grant’s antelopes), and elephants crashing through the bushes.


    Then, Vitalis heard of a tree-climbing lion sighting…these are unique to the Lake Manyara area. So, we back-tracked until we came to a giant fig tree with a lion perched in it, surrounded by 6 other vehicles. However, it was pretty far away from us and you could barely make out her face. It took some maneuvering to get out of the lion-jam. It was now late morning and Vitalis said we still had a long drive to the end of the park where the Tree Lodge is located. There’s only one road in and out, and a lot of birds to be examined along the way.

    We really liked Vitalis…he supplied very interesting tidbits about the animals, plants and geology of the area and was very nice. We got a kick out of the sisters too…they chattered away like magpies, talking over each other and were a lot of fun. But, I can now understand some previous advice on this site that birders should be in there own game vehicles. The other negative of sharing a game vehicle is that just as you’re about to shoot a photo, someone is moving which shakes the vehicle.

    By the time we got to the Lodge, it was 2:20pm and we were starving. We were met by the whole staff, singing and chanting. Scott, the personable manager, escorted us to the dining area…which looked like the open set of a theatrical stage….with multiple levels open on one side to the forest and filled with organic wooden forms of wood as building sculptures. Had an excellent lunch and wine, especially enjoyed the homemade pear ice cream. Met Abdullah, our server and butler, who took care of everything for us…he was very professional, a charmer and had the most beautiful smile.

    We decided we’d had enough traveling for the day and chose to enjoy our tree house instead….and what a fantasy this is! Built on stilts in the middle of the forest, a huge deck with a free form twig railing, an outdoor shower encircled by curvy twigs, a claw-foot bathtub overlooking the forest, and huge bedroom with a mosquito-netting draped bed, good lighting for a change….and gasp, a hairdryer!

    I chose to have a massage on the deck…$60 for an hour…and it was heavenly. At one point, an elephant crashed through the tree branches below the deck. Afterwards, a long soak in the bathtub, and life was great. It’s just a shame to bathe, apply scented body lotion, and then spray DEET over your exposed skin!

    Fully restored, we were escorted by the askari (Maasai guard) to dinner, where we were handed their signature frozen gin & tonics and shown to the lounge, where Vitalis and the sisters were chatting before dinner. Of course, since we skipped the afternoon game drive, they had an amazing experience. Their vehicle was in between a climbing lion and her 2 cubs and a family of elephants…and there was quite an altercation with both posturing for dominance. The sisters said they were afraid…and when we asked Vitalis if he was also, he admitted “a little”. So, it must’ve been something!

    Our dinner was under the stars, surrounded by a semi-circular twig boma, on which a multitude of lit lanterns glowed …with a bon-fire in the center. Magical! Dinner began with an excellent split pea soup, grilled tilapia, coconut mashed potatoes and a veggie. Afterwards, when we heard the chanting, saw the warriors, preceded by a lit cake…we knew what was coming. Another 25th Anniversary celebration! This time, the chef donned a scary mask and danced around. The cake was excellent and was shared with the other guests.

    Abdullah brought great coffee and cookies at 6am as part of the wakeup call.
    Again, the game drive focused on birds, but there aren’t a lot of other animals to see anyway. The sisters, retired school principals, really put Vitalis through his paces, but he was up to the challenge. They’d say, “Is that a chartreuse wattle tick eater?” or something similar and he’d respond, No, it may look like that, but does the chartreuse end at the throat or extend through the body?”, etc. It was amazing how he could identify the smallest bird flitting by while we searched laboriously through binocs to see it more closely. Mid-morning we stopped for a coffee/cookie break on the dried-up shores of Lake Manyara and admired the thousands of flamingoes, pelicans, etc. that stretched across the water as far as you could see. The sisters think they’ve cured me because I actually expressed some interest in the birds…what else is there to do?

    We also saw giraffes lounging on the beach…a first!… a baby elephant giving himself a mud bath and others close up…about 15 hippos emerging from a pond and trudging over to another pond…more baboons…warthogs…and saw our 3rd Star bird…a Pangani Longclaw (the others were the Lesser Flamingoes and a Long-tailed Fiscal) We were out until 11:30am and had brunch when we got back.

    It was very hot in the afternoon so took a dip in their swimming pool. Today tried the outdoor shower, along with the loofah and body scrub that they provided. While shampooing, I did occasionally look up into the overhanging tree branches to ensure that a leopard wasn’t lurking.

    The afternoon game drive wasn’t very productive…and I did get a little tired of traveling back and forth on the same road each time. About 6:30pm, Vitalis and Abdullah surprised us with a bush bar set up on the bank above Lake Manyara and we enjoyed our sundowners there.

    Got back and needed to make a quick change for dinner…but first, there was the little matter of a bat flying in our room that had to be dealt with. My mighty hunter husband picked up his weapon of choice, a fly swatter that we had brought with us for tsetse flies, and with his first smack, hit him. But then he couldn’t find the bat. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a little flutter in the drain of that beautiful claw foot tub. (Thank God, I’d already cleaned up) He threw the bath mat over it, and went on the deck with his torch to signal the Maasai warrior.
    My husband didn’t know if it was stunned or dead, but it was dead and the guard threw it outside. Very handy to have a Maasai warrior at your disposal!

    Another excellent dinner…roasted corn soup, pork and vegetable kebabs….and I forgot to mention the other night…they make Nan bread in a special oven…and a great chocolate dessert.

    Next morning, a 5am wakeup call…served us breakfast at 6am…and we’re off to the airport…about 1 ½ hr drive without a game drive. We were sad to leave Vitalis and Abdullah…our magical tree-house, and also the zany cheerfulness of the sisters.

    Next: Serengeti, Kusini Camp





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    Great report, easy and fun to read. Keep it coming please.
    Lake Manyara area (I think, never been there) is known primarily for its birds. So you may have been seeing the best it has to offer. Somebody who knows better, please enlighten me more on Lake Manyara.

    regards - tom

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    Trip Report #6: Serengeti: Kusini Camp

    2/5-2/8/08

    We had picked Kusini Camp, located in the extreme southwest part of the Serengeti, because it seemed to have the best chance of being near the Migration in early February and was billed as a luxury camp.

    You can view our photos at: http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go.aspx?AID=98152&AT=3&VID=298224&ABID=298563

    Our Air Excel flight from Lake Manyara to Kusini Camp left promptly at 9am, and we were the only two passengers. Made a stop at Seronera in central Serengeti, to pick up more people. It was dramatically cooler here than Lake Manyara, in the upper 50’s, overcast, and had recently rained. On our descent onto the Kusini Camp airstrip, from both sides of the plane, we saw herds of wildebeests as far as the eye could see. Ah, the Migration was here.

    Wolfgang, our guide from Kusini Camp, was waiting in an open Land Cruiser, and we proceeded on another game drive before going to camp. At first, I wasn’t too impressed with him. He was quieter, harder to understand, and didn’t seem as knowledgeable…but then, Vitalis was a hard act to follow. But, as we got to know him better I changed to a favorable opinion. And, I wasn’t too impressed with the famed Serengeti either. if you ignore the millions of wildebeests around, we didn’t see as many animals. The wildebeests had just given birth to about a half million babies about two weeks early, (because they’ve had rain early…somehow everything that happens is explained by the timing of the rain) So, the herds were spread out because the females were tending to the calves and not moving. And, no one had mentioned….the FLIES that accompany the Migration. Apparently, they had just come out that day, and they were obnoxious. We covered our mouth and nose with bandanas to avoid these pests that feast on all the wildebeest dung. We did see some sleeping lionesses, an old male lion up on a kopje, some klipspringers, spotted hyenas, and black-backed jackals. But compared to the Masai Mara, much fewer animals (other than wildebeests and zebras) and more boring scenery.

    So, on this drab and dreary day… covered up like bandits, we pulled up to the Kusini Camp, where we were staying 3, rather than our usual 2 nights. The camp was nothing like I expected. The place looked like an army outpost. Clearly the most basic of places we’ve stayed at, although the camp is situated in a dramatic setting…high on a kopje (small rocky hill) overlooking the plains of the Serengeti and within a small forested area. The dining/lounge area is just a drab green tent on the granite rocky outcrop. Our tent, #8, is the furthest away, but it has the best view. From the raised wooden deck, we overlook a wide-open expanse of a tree-studded meadow below, with the plains in the distance. But the tent is devoid of decoration…drab green canvas, wooden floors, plain ecru bedspread, beat-up old wooden dresser, camp chairs, simple shower, flush toilet and sink…looks old and dreary…not enough lighting again . It’s a good thing we have our head-lights that we’ve used extensively in many camps. I feel slightly depressed on arrival.
    Head back for lunch and it’s good. Pasta with 2 sauces, gazpacho and great bread and apple pie. Wine is included here also. Had to put up with a very noisy, obnoxious American who talked over our table to the one adjacent. (Remember, I’m American too)

    Afterwards, we took a short nap. I’m so tired here! Must be the weather and the dreariness. And then we were off on our 4:30pm game drive, which is private. The most fun we had was watching the wildie babies chasing our vehicle…they run like the dickens! I felt like we were the pace car for babies in training for a race! Wolfgang said that they think we’re their mother...but they are so dumb that they run right in front of the vehicle and we were lucky not to hit them. They start running within 10 minutes of being born…they’d better to avoid all the predators around. I just couldn’t believe how fast they were and so cute with their little black faces and scampering gait. It’s hard to believe they’ll grow up into the relatively homely mature wildebeest. Driving around, we saw many lone babies who had gotten lost from their herds….that meant they were likely to be hyena or lion fodder. This was the first area where we saw kill lying around…mostly wildebeest babies. I asked Wolfgang if another mother would suckle a baby that wasn’t hers, and he wasn’t sure. We didn’t witness a birth, but did see babies nursing.

    Mid-drive, I told Wolfgang I had to “check the tires”. My husband gave me the most peculiar look because he hadn’t heard that term used before for a bush loo break, and he knows I’m the most mechanically inept person he knows!

    On a kopje, we also saw 3 lionesses and 2 males…and later 3 cheetahs. They looked extremely stuffed. One lioness sat guarding her kill…a full-grown wildebeest and two babies, but she looked too satiated to move. Anyway, so far I’m not crazy about the Serengeti. It’s flat and ugly and the migration isn’t what it’s cracked up to be…and then there are the flies!
    Got back by 6:45pm in time for sundowners (but no sun) on top of the big kopje. No one seemed very friendly. We downed our gin & tonics (beginning to really like these!) had a few appetizers, and went back to change for dinner. Came back and everyone was sitting around the campfire waiting for the 7:30 call to dinner….first camp where many people just went to dinner in their safari clothes. The chef and another read tonight’s menu first in Swahili and then in English. We started talking to a younger American couple and were the last to enter the dining tent. Two large square communal tables were set up. One was already filled and the other was partially filled with the two American couples we’d seen at lunch and two British couples. However, the way they had seated themselves left one seat open on one side and three seats opposite….and we and the younger couple still had to sit down. So, I nicely asked the Americans if they could slide over one spot so that the four of us could sit together with our spouses. And they refused! It wasn’t like they were going to be separated from their spouses or anything. However, the British couple realized what was going on and slid over, so were able to be seated together. I was furious with their rudeness, but luckily, I had a charming seatmate in the younger American woman and didn’t need to speak to the other Americans the whole evening. She was interesting and fun to talk with ( a military trained Dr. who had served in Iraq) and salvaged what could have been a very long evening.
    This was the first camp where the food wasn’t great for dinner. The chicken had a lot of inedible parts, and the lamb was tough. The starter and dessert were fine though.

    Here, they seemed to encourage you to go on a game drive later, so we began at 7:30am. Again, the highlight was watching the baby wildebeests scampering about. The older ones gallop like horses. Also saw a small African wildcat that looked like a house cat and zebras mating. Again, an overcast day, and I’m getting bored riding across the endless plain. Got back at 1pm for lunch and decided to skip the afternoon game drive, preferring to nap in the very comfortable bed, and enjoy our view from the deck.

    This time, sundowners on the kopje were much more fun. We were the only Americans left and really enjoyed sitting around the campfire and laughing with the other British and Australian couples before dinner. Tonight, they’d set up separate tables. Other than using white tablecloths and large candelabras, the dining tent is very plain also. The entrees were mixed again…tilapia was good and the pork was tough, but good soup and dessert.

    Next morning’s game drive began at 8am. One of the British groups said they’d follow us because their driver for the week from Arusha had gotten terribly lost getting to Kusini the day before, and he wanted to tail a local driver. Hakuna matata. Right away, we saw 3 bull elephants, each chomping on a tree. One of them had a penis that looked like a 2X4 hanging at a 45 degree angle…with all the elephants we’ve seen, this was a first. Wolfgang decided we should move on because that meant he could get aggressive fast in his agitated state.

    Then, he drove us east near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and for the first time, we could see the herds of male wildebeests moving in several lines that stretched both directions to the horizon. The females are still tending their calves. We saw a lot of baby carcasses since so many get lost. Apparently, only 1 in 3 make it back here next year. Also saw a pack of many spotted hyenas just off the road, as well as herds of Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles.

    The best part was just before lunch when I spotted a lone CC Africa vehicle ahead, and inside were our game drive partners from Lake Manyara…the South African sisters! Couldn’t believe we’d run into them literally in the middle of nowhere, especially since they were staying at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and that’s a long ways away.

    We were heading to our bush lunch rendezvous with our British friends, but first spotted three sleeping lions…not much excitement there…and then 5 cheetahs! I love watching cheetahs! At least they were moving around a bit and watching us.

    The bush lunch went quickly because of the flies, some drizzle and coolness. The Brits were joking about how much nicer our vehicle was, that Wolfgang provided chairs for the lunch, which apparently their driver didn’t have, and how their driver didn’t help Wolfgang at all. It made me glad that we were using the camp guides rather than hiring one for the week.

    Got back about 2:30pm and decided we’d had it with game drives on the Serengeti. Maybe it was the weather, but I wondered if we’d been better off staying in the Seronera area. Perhaps it had more hills/mountains in the background, or more forested areas. Yes, we were near the Migration, but, to me, that was good for about 15 minutes (other than watching the babies run). I had chosen to stay 3 nights because I thought we’d cover more ground in the Serengeti, but it seemed like we kept traveling over the same areas. Two nights would have been sufficient. Wolfgang turned out to be a good guide. He was sweet, a bit shy, and told some good stories about animal (as well as some client) behavior.

    However, the final dinner was so much fun that it made our visit here worthwhile. This time, we had one table with all of us, and we’ve never laughed as long and hard as we did that night. When the mother of our funny British friend started talking about the five-legged elephant we saw, that was all that was needed to set it off. Kusini did the best job of getting people to mix, from their sundowners on the kopje, to sitting around the campfire before and after dinner, and occasionally doing group seating. The managers, Sean & Samantha, were interesting to talk to and always greeted us when we returned to camp.

    We heard Cape Buffaloes and hyenas during the night, but once again, missed hearing the lion’s roar. Upon waking, we saw a huge buffalo grazing right next to our tent and were glad we didn’t have to leave the tent right away. We were ready to move on to an actual lodge, rather than a tent.

    Next: Ngorongoro Crater: Serena Lodge









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    Another great set of photos! What a cute little tommie. Also loved your Mara balloon photos, the baby baboon from Manyara and the yellow billed storks feeding their chicks in the tree. Manyara looks lush and beautiful. Looking forward to more!

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    Great trip report barefootbeach. Your safari certainly started off with a bang. What a wonderful first game drive. I’m glad your guide at Tortillis was so accommodating when he heard the Twiga Twiga chant, and that you were ultimately successful. You’ll cherish those photos of the giraffe with Kili in the background for a long time. Great way to celebrate your 25th anniversary. And then to start at Joy’s with a private game drive and immediate giraffe sightings! You had great cat sightings in the Mara: lion, leopard and cheetah. You were lucky with game in Tanzania as well, especially the baby wildies in the Serengeti, in addition to lion and cheetah.


    Your report is very informative. I love your food/menu descriptions. I’m a bit of a food snob, so I particularly enjoy these sidebars. I’m glad the last night at Kusini made the stay there enjoyable. Sounds like thus far the only disappointment was Arusha Coffee Lodge, and that only for a brief visit.

    I’m looking forward to reading more.

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    Thanks for the comments Patty & Dana. I guess we were lucky with our game sightings...since it's our first trip I don't know what "normal" is...if there is such a thing. And, as you can tell, the food, location and atmosphere rank as much with me as the animals. Going over these reports just reminded me of how very special Africa is. I'm so grateful they're making some progress in resolving the post-election violence in Kenya.

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    Dana M,
    I thought that once would be enough, but now that we're back.....
    I would like to see South Africa sometime...and Egypt...so we'll probably return. Lots of great memories.

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    Trip Report #6: Ngorongoro Crater

    2/8-2/10/2008

    Ngorongoro Crater was a fitting finale to our safari because it was a microcosm of East Africa…except without my favorite, giraffes!

    You can view my photos at: http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go.aspx?AID=99470&AT=3&VID=302671&ABID=298563

    We flew from Kusini Camp, Serengeti to the Lake Manyara airport, where we were met by a driver guide out of Arusha that the Serena had arranged for. He and the vehicle were just not of the same quality that we had enjoyed in the camps. He asked if we wanted to shop on the way to the Crater and we declined.

    The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge is perched on the rim at 7600’. It’s an attractive construction of round stones and soaring windows. Our room on the second level (preferred because you don’t have your view obstructed by trees) looked out over the great expanse of the crater, which is 12 miles wide and the world’s largest intact caldera. The room itself was nothing special, but they did deliver a welcoming fruit plate. We ate lunch at a buffet in the attractive dining room, but the food was just OK. Before dinner, they featured a dance with Maasai warriors, who did their usual head bobbing, jumping and chanting and young girls with shaved heads bedecked in beaded little helmets who looked very bored as they bobbled their beaded neck-rings.

    The dinner itself was a disaster, as far as service was concerned. It took over an hour to get our entrees, despite both the server and the manager assuring us it was coming shortly. The table next to us came over and expressed concern that we were never going to get our food! We also had been given one of the worst tables way in the back away from the windows. The next morning at breakfast, we were told we had to have the table we had for dinner the night before, despite the fact that all the window tables were open when we arrived at 6am! My husband later had a conversation with the manager, and he assured us he’d put us at a better table that night. We were starting to miss the intimacy and great food and service of the camps we’d been at previously. By the way, the bed was the worst we’d experienced…hard as a rock, and I like a hard mattress!

    The next morning, we never got our wake-up call…figures. Our guide picked us up at 6:30am and we were off down the steep road to the Crater. Actually, it was a lot better than I expected. He said they’d improved it before a recent visit by the Tanzanian president, who had expressed dismay over the atrocious toilet situation on the Crater floor. New toilets are currently under construction. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

    When we first got down to the floor (at 5600’), the warm early morning light was magical. I loved the lush feeling of the forests and the low-hanging clouds and wanted to take some time to photograph the landscape, which also included sightings of elephants, baboons, and Cape buffalo. However, I got the feeling that our guide was rushing us through the forests to the grasslands to show us the black rhinos…since we had told him that was the only “Big 5” we hadn’t seen yet. I had to request several times that he stop to allow me to photograph.

    He shortly spotted a black rhino, but it was very far away. We ended up seeing about a dozen of them through the day but none really close.
    We also saw lots of zebras, about 10 hyenas traveling in a pack, some wildebeest (guess they missed the Migration invitation) and thousands of flamingoes…but the highlight of the day was watching about 5 lion cubs playing with each other guarded by 4 lionesses. That happened just as we were leaving about 2pm.

    We ate our packed lunch at the usual lunch spot…near a large fig tree decorated with animal skulls overlooking the hippo pool. I had read about the aggressive black kites, which are actually brown raptors that snatch food from the hands of tourists. In fact, I read about one woman who had her eye taken out and another who needed stitches on her arm. So that information, along with my bird phobia, made eating in the vehicle a given. Actually, the driver agreed with me, and we ate our mediocre (but large) boxed lunches provided by Serena safely in the car and watched as a kite made off with a picnic hamper that someone had put on their hood for just a second. This is also the site of the nasty bathrooms. If you have to use them, the third stall does have a flush toilet rather than the holes in the floor. There are so many game vehicles down here that it’s impossible to take the usual bush loo break behind the vehicle.

    So, while parts of the Crater were lush and beautiful, with the encircling mountain backdrop, and you do see a fair amount of animals, you do get a bit of a zoo feeling with so many vehicles traversing the same roads. We must have had 10-15 vehicles clustered around the lion cubs.
    We stopped at the gift shop at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, so that we could see some of their unusual and over-the-top architecture. If money is no object, it would have been a wonderful place to stay. But, for us, money is an object, so Serena was second best.

    Dinner the next night was much better. It helped that as I walked out of my room that afternoon I ran into the young American couple that we had enjoyed talking with at Kusini Camp. So, we ate together at a much better table and the food arrived promptly and was fine. They told us that their driver, which they had all week, had a reoccurrence of malaria and was too sick to drive them from Kusini. The camp loaned them a driver who took them to their next camp in Ndutu, while the original driver slept in the back seat. Another reason I was glad we used the camp drivers instead of having one drive us from camp to camp all week. Better vehicles, local knowledge and the back-up that’s available in case of vehicle or driver problems. And with the rains that we’d gotten, we heard many tales of vehicles bogged down in the mud.

    All in all, I guess I’m glad that we saw the Crater, but it really wasn’t all that I expected it to be. Of course, after 5 excellent small camp experiences in Kenya & Tanzania, I might have been jaded. Compared to staying in a lodge, we liked the intimacy of the camps and the feeling that you’re more in touch with your environment. We liked the socializing that was facilitated in a smaller setting. And, the food, service and driver/guides were of a much higher quality.
    Our driver also didn’t have the correct information about when our flight was supposed to leave from Lake Manyara and the front desk wouldn’t call the airline to confirm the departure time. He finally deferred to the time I had from CC Africa. We were more than ready for some relaxing downtime on the island of Zanzibar.

    Next: Zanzibar




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    Trip Report #7: Zanzibar

    2/10/-2/14/2008 Unguja Lodge & Beyt al Chai

    Finally, the African saga is drawing to a close with some much needed relaxation on Zanzibar. Or, as someone said to us, “ EVERYONE is going to Zanzibar!” (She wasn’t)

    You can view my Zanzibar photos at:
    http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go.aspx?AID=101233&AT=3&VID=308715&ABID=298563

    So, in keeping with the rest of our trip, of course we ran into someone we knew at the Lake Manyara airport…a British couple we’d had fun with at Kusini Camp was on our flight, and we discovered we’d both booked dinner reservations at the Rooftop Restaurant in Stonetown, four nights from now. Now we had a dinner date!

    Unguja Lodge sent a driver to pick us up. it took about an hour to drive to the south coast, just south of Kimikazi, known for dolphin watching excursions.
    Elies, who along with her husband Ralph built the resort, welcomed us warmly to her amazing and intimate resort. Our Seaview Villa #5, which is a free-standing open architecture villa covered with a 2-story sloping thatched conical roof, was chic and atmospheric in an Arabian sort of way. The only room that could be closed up was the master bedroom. Everything else, the living area with curving whitewashed banquettes with colorful seat cushions, and the shower/sink area, and separate commode was open to the sea with half-curving walls. We were sited high up overlooking the turquoise Indian Ocean, with a weathered red fishing boat and luxuriant tropical foliage as a backdrop, and a stone terrace with teak bench for sitting…Breathtaking!
    Stairs led to a second level with another mosquito-net draped bed that looked out through an eyebrow opening in the thatched roof. The light sconces looked Arabian…the wall decorations were made from natural materials…shells, sisal rope, driftwood and colorful fabrics. The master bedroom featured a large wooden four poster bed, on a raised platform, encircled with mosquito netting and sporting a blue elephant batik coverlet. Double sinks were behind the bed, there was a wooden closet area and another lockable small closet with a safe. The room itself was semi-circular with three arched and shuttered windows on each side. No air conditioning…just a ceiling fan. It was warm at night but not terribly uncomfortable, and we learned to keep the shutters open for maximum breezes. Special touches included a welcoming fruit plate and hand-made card adorned with a seashell which congratulated us for our 25th anniversary.

    Just had time for a coffee/cookie break by the pool…then showered before the mossies would come out…applying my usual Eau d’Deet…Zanzibar probably had the most mosquitoes that we’d seen, but they still weren’t bad.

    The Dining area was lovely and open, with the same half curvy white walls. We had elected for half board, and the set menu include a lovely shrimp starter followed by delicious “pole-pole” or, as we know it, trevalia fish. It was wonderful to have seafood after all the meat we’d eaten.

    We awoke the next morning to a gale of a rainstorm. We rushed to bring in all the cushions to more sheltered areas, but the rain was blowing through pretty hard so retreated again to the bedroom. It cleared up so that we could walk over to breakfast, which was also delicious.

    It was still overcast, but we walked down the stairs to the beach, which like all the beaches on Zanzibar, are subject to large tidal variations. This was low tide, and you could walk way out to a reef, dodging the many sea urchins that were now exposed, along with a variety of crabs. Swimming was pretty much impossible. We walked up to Kimikazi, where the local town fishermen were fixing or going out on their boats and watched some boat builders work on a dhow.

    Lunch was pizza, cream of onion soup and dessert…again delicious. Afterwards, we relaxed at the swimming pool.

    At 3:00pm, we went with several other resort guests on a walk to Kimikazi, led by a very senior staff member who lives there. We wanted to see the children in school. The regular school had already let out, but we visited the Muslim school where the girls in their veils were in after-school sessions for two hours. When they leave, the boys attend religious classes for two hours. The tour was interesting but way too long…it was so hot and humid and we didn’t get back until 5:45pm. It was fun having all the smiling kids yelling “Jambo Jambo” and wanting a $1 to have their picture taken. We’d been asked not to give them money, rather to make a donation to the school, but they were delighted to look at their pictures on the LCD screens, and especially laughed when my husband started taking mini-videos with his camera. We went into the house of our tour guide and met his wife and children, who were busy kneading bread dough and slicing cassava. We met his 93 year old great aunt who is still making rope from palm fronds.
    Sundowners never tasted as good…we were so hot, sweaty and parched! Dinner featured shrimp kebobs, and we had a lively conversation with a young German couple seated next to us.

    Unguja Lodge does feature an on-site dive shop with a variety of boating excursions, but we really just wanted to rest. Woke up to another overcast, cool morning with a bit of drizzle, so didn’t feel like taking a sea swim although it was high tide and you could swim right off the stairs. I just loved drinking my chai bora tea and cookies that they brought at 7am…and sitting outside watching the calm seas and dolphins go by. It’s so peaceful here and very private. I’m surprised there aren’t insects, lizards and monkeys in the villa since it’s all open. After breakfast, another walk up the beach, but it started raining about 11:30. For the dry season, we’re getting a fair amount of rain, but it just makes reading more enjoyable.

    We had another huge storm about 6pm. Luckily, we’d showered (since the rain was blowing in gusts) and waited out the storm sprawled out on our bed, which came equipped with two great reading lights. We had planned to go over at 7pm for a drink but the rain was still raging. We laughed when we heard a familiar voice (Elies) asking through the shutters if we were all right and would we like a drink brought over. I don’t know how she would’ve delivered it in the pouring rain, but we declined and said we’d be over at 7:30pm. Luckily, the rain stopped just before dinner started.

    The set menu had said Dorado was the main course, so we were pleasantly surprised when the server presented a large platter with two huge lobsters. Wow! We noticed that we were the only ones to get this, and realized she had arranged a special dinner to celebrate our 25th anniversary. They were so sweet and tender…probably the best lobster we’ve eaten. My husband thanked her profusely and wanted to thank the chef…so she led him into the kitchen where he gave him a big hug! We truly enjoyed our visit in this special place. I wish we had left Zanzibar on this note, but instead we’d planned to spend our last night in Stonetown.

    Arrived in Stonetown at the Beyt Al Chai guesthouse about 11:30am. Right away, guys who were sitting in the tree-covered square jumped up and wanted to be our guide. We had debated about whether to go with one, because they keep the other hustlers at bay, but decided we’d go to lunch first. I was very disappointed with the Beyt Al Chai. We were given a different room from what I booked over the Internet, and when told about it, they said they needed that room because it had two beds rather than one. The one we got was very plain and drab, although it did have a distant view of the sea and looked out over the shady square. Things were not well taken care of…dirty and old. The guy at the desk was not very helpful. We’d been spoiled throughout our trip with excellent service, but I guess that ended here.
    We set off for lunch at Archipelago, located on a second floor verandah overlooking the sea. It was already hot and sweltering, so the sea breezes and shade were welcoming. We did have to frequently decline offers of guidance, sunglasses, cashews, etc., but it wasn’t too obnoxious because they took “no” for an answer. After lunch, we had to navigate the inner, winding alleys of the town, to find 151 Hurumzi, a guesthouse where the Rooftop Restaurant is located. They have an inconvenient policy of requiring you to pay a deposit in cash by 2:00pm to confirm your dinner reservation that evening, if you aren’t staying there. Since they only can seat about 25 people, advance reservations are a necessity. At this point, I was sorry we weren’t going to be staying there, but after talking to our Kusini Camp friends later, we were glad we didn’t.

    We then toured the House of Wonders, which contained an interesting museum, and visited a few shops. We were not very impressed with Stonetown, which seemed to be decaying as we walked, and the stifling heat and humidity didn’t help.

    But we were looking forward to seeing our friends and celebrating our last night in Africa at the acclaimed Rooftop Restaurant. You climb about 4 flights of stairs to reach this intimate restaurant where you sit shoulder-to-shoulder at low tables, on cushions with a view over the rooftops of the sunset and the sea. The multi-course menu of Middle-Eastern food included hummus & pita starter, followed by fattoush salad or cream of avocado soup, and I had curried prawns and my husband lamb tagine, followed by passion fruit sorbet. All was delicious and a deal at $25 per person. They featured a violinist who played haunting Moorish melodies. Our friends said they weren’t so happy with their room, and that it was all open. (We thought about them in the middle of the night when a ferocious rainstorm blew through. We were glad we had a room a/c unit.) Similar to being in the camps, the inn had one of their staff escort us back to our guesthouse, about a 15 minute walk. He took us through the dark, narrow alleyways, some without a light at all, so we were glad we had our flashlights. An escort was necessary both from a security precaution and because you’d get lost otherwise.

    The breakfast as our guesthouse was the best part of our experience there…served in an attractive small dining room. We took off to visit the Palace Museum, where a guide is assigned to you, and enjoyed their historical exhibits.
    Had a good lunch on the beachfront at Livingston’s and then took off to the Zanzibar airport for our flight to Nairobi, connecting to Amsterdam. The check in procedure in Zanzibar was agonizingly slow while we wilted in the blazing sun. We did notice that if you were with certain tour operators they expedited you through. We ran into our British friends again while waiting for our Nairobi flights, and they told us they’d gotten soaked during the storm last night with their open air room.
    When we finally got on our Kenya Airways fight to Nairobi, we were drenched with sweat. The plane’s air conditioning never felt as great!

    In retrospect, I would not have stayed in Stonetown at all. We would have had plenty of time to get to the Zanzibar airport from any beach location. The atmosphere and Stonetown attractions just didn’t hold enough appeal to us.

    But, we flew home well satisfied having spent an incredible nineteen days in Kenya and Tanzania. The wonderful memories of intimate camps, diverse scenery, exciting animal sightings, fun social encounters, and excellent food put this African Safari among the top of our travel experiences.









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    barefootbeach,
    I've really enjoyed your very detailed report, especially since I will be staying at two of the same places as you in November (House of Waine and Beyt al Chai). You have me a little worried about Beyt al Chai though! We are only going to be there for one night. Is there somewhere else you wish you would have stayed in Stone Town? Though the rest of our trip is more upscale, we decided to skip the Serena Inn since we wanted a more authentic B&B type experience, but now I'm rethinking that! It seems nowhere in Stone Town gets particularly good reviews, but Beyt al Chai seemed the best of the lot on TripAdvisor. We have also booked the "Beyt al Ras" room which I think is the only one with two beds, (I'm traveling with my mom), do you think that was better than the one you got? Is there another hotel you'd recommend instead?

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    Hi Hig22,
    I wish I had gone with my first choice, which was the Zanzibar Palace. At the last moment, I switched to the Beyt al Chai after reading a Trip Advisor report that didn't like its location in the middle of Old Town, since it was hard to locate. Since we were only there one night also, I thought it might be better to be located near the main road (just across from the Serena)...and closer to the sea. But now as I realize that taxi drivers or restaurant staff will walk you back to your hotel, it wouldn't have been a problem. I also didn't want to stay at the Serena because I wanted a more authentic Stonetown Arabian type experience. We were given the El Sahel room, when we had booked the Al Hakum. The room that looked the nicest was the Beyt Al Ajaib, a corner room with sea views, but one bed. That's the one shown in my photos. But, I just didn't get a good feel at that place. I thought 151 Huzumi, where we went to eat at the Rooftop Restaurant, looked much nicer than our place...yet our friends didn't care for it or their open room. So, based on previous reviews, I guess I 'd recommend the Zanzibar Palace, although we didn't see it. The owner, Sebastian, was very helpful while corresponding in emails...and I learned about Unguja Resort from him.
    I also heard good reviews about the Spice tour from two people. We didn't go because we'd been to one on Grenada. But, if you haven't been, it might be worthwhile. Hope this helps!

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