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Trip Report May/June 2007 Tanzania

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May/June 2007 Northern/Southern Tanzania

As I begin to think about a trip report, I thought I would not do the detailed one as in previous years as who wants to read 12 or more pages? Then, based on inquiries from local friends and even folks on travel discussion boards I felt obligated to provide more detail. And, I recalled how much I enjoyed reading reports from previous trips.

Planning began in Fall, 2006 with email inquiry to Jane Fox of Foxes of Africa as to our thoughts of a trip to both northern and southern Tanzania. We opted to give Foxes first consideration based on the excellent 2005 trip arranged for us to Mikumi, Ruaha and Selous. I provided her with a rough idea as to parks we wished to visit, number of days, and a tentative budget. She indicated she would work with Christina MacDougall of Gazelle Holidays as to the northern portion of the trip. At the same time I began the process of getting flights using frequent flyer miles. We had enough for the Europe/Tanzania legs of the trip. The “window of opportunity” for the general time period we had in mind meant shortening the trip one day as the next available return was not for several days and the budget would not accommodate a longer stay. By late October our deposit was en-route to Jane. Again, we used a personal check.

We decided to book well in advance based on commentary from fellow travelers (Fodors chat board) that East Africa travel has increased greatly. Our decision to go in May/June was based on a combination of thoughts including: maximize chance to see the wildebeast migration yet not hit the southern parks too early when vegetation might reduce game sightings, still miss the crowds and also travel when airfare was less expensive. Being a wildlife/fisheries biologist I was quite aware of the unpredictablilty of game movement, etc. We were delighted that Gazelle Holidays included a private safari vehicle and guide for the northern parks and unlimited mileage. And, we were looking forward to seeing Arusha National Park for the first time and staying at lodges/camps different than on previous trips.

We took wildlife id guides, the National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife and the Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Stevenson and Fanshawe. Although heavy, they were well worth it. We each had a pair of binoculars. I was anxious to try out my new Canon S-3 digital camera but also took the Olympus 740 digital camera as a back-up. As it turned out Darla used it on numerous occasions so now we can compare results. For nostalgic sake, I also took a Minolta 35mm SLR with a 28-80mm zoom lens and ten rolls of film (used one roll and part of another). Took several sets of rechargeable batteries, 8 conventional AA ones, battery charger, converter (and remembered to bring the three-prong adaptor). If I recall, every place we stayed had outlets for charging batteries. Took a photo/fishing vest for carrying all the camera stuff but really didn’t need it given the ample room in the vehicle during game drives. Took only one flashlight, small note books, pens, an assortment of medication, an ample supply of antiseptic wipes, rain ponchos, alarm clock, sunscreen, bug repellant and reading material particularly for the international flights.

We used soft-sided luggage and stayed under the 33 pound limit per person given the restriction for the in-country plane rides. Darla took 5 or 6 changes of clothes while I took 4. Free laundry service at Ruaha/Mikumi plus nominal charges at select others really encouraged traveling light. I also took a smaller bag containing back issues of National Geographic, copies of recent issue of Pennsylvania Angler/Boater, packets of pencils/ink pens and sugarless gum for a school near Arusha. I will admit that bag was a real pain.

As in previous trips, we took a daily Malarone pill during or after breakfast. Did not experience any side effects.

We stayed one nite in Amsterdam not only to adjust to major changes in time but also as a safety factor should the US/Europe flight be delayed as there was only a two hour or so layover before the one to Kilimanjaro Airport. Good thing we did as the flight from Newark was delayed some 6 hours (so we could board, sit, unload, and await the preparation and boarding of a new aircraft). We would have missed the connecting flight by several hours. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is quite large but user friendly. There we changed dollars for Euros and purchased train tickets into Amsterdam’s central station. Trains run every ten minutes or so. The ride to Central Station took maybe 15 minutes and after 2 or 3 stops we were there. The Luxer Hotel was a couple of blocks from the station. That was great as I was still lugging around the magazines.

The flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport was uneventful and arrived at 8 pm local time. We deplaned, walked into the small terminal and got in line for visas. Again the visa official ignored our completed applications (downloaded from the Internet). He checked passports, issued and stamped a visa in each passport, took a $50 bill from each of us and waved us thru immigration. Picked up our bags and headed thru customs. It was raining pretty good by that time. Zoya from The Safari Company greeted us and carried our bags to the vehicle. In previous trips, for tips local men/boys would carry the vehicle. Now, perhaps due to increased airport security only the traveler and/or safari rep handle the bags and vehicles are not permitted as close to the terminal as in the past.

Then, we were off to Mt. Meru Game Sanctuary a short drive from Kilimanjaro Airport. On the way, Zoya pointed out distant lights at a tanzanite mine. After checking in, I had the first Kilimanjaro Beer of the trip and Darla had a soda. I recall hearing a symphony of bird calls (with nesting storks, ibis, and the like in the trees around our cottage it was no wonder). Also, the sound of running water from the concrete drain past our cottage made for peaceful sleep our first nite. Up at 06:30 with breakfast at 7. Various fruits, pastry, cold/hot cereal, juices, coffee/tea, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast. Then, to check out the grounds during a light rain.. The lodge is adjacent to an area inhabited by ostrich, zebra, waterbuck, an eland, monkeys and a variety of water birds. It is a great opportunity to see a wild variety of larger birds including, storks, herons, ibis, egret, and the like. The caged/penned croc, porcupines, tortoises, owl, and monkeys are from a by-gone era and in my opinion are now highly inappropriate. Zoya arrived and off we went to Arusha National Park with a box lunch (fried chicken, roll/butter, veggie and cheese sticks, yogurt, a cake-like desert, apple juice box and bottled water).

Zoya is Chairman of the Tanzanian Tour Guide Association. He was very informative as to local crops, customs, and tribes (120 tribes exist w/i Tanzania). Arusha National Park is a great appetizer for the larger parks. We could see nearby Mt Meru but cloud cover kept part of it hidden . We saw the plant used by the Masasi for toilet paper and the one as sandpaper, saw black and white colobus monkeys, numerous birds, giraffe/cape buffalo, zebra, warthog, and numerous birds in the stretch called “the little Serengeti”. At one spot where we stopped to see a bird, I thought I could hear the “rumbling” of elephants stomachs. Sure enough we soon heard crashing around in the dense rainforest. We caught glimpses of several before they either winded or saw us and retreated further into the forest. We toured the road up the mountain, round the crater rim and down the other side. In the distance we saw the building used in the filming of the movie Hatari with John Wayne and Red Buttons. Think we saw more giraffe that day than I saw on any trip before. On the far side of the park we took a game walk with a young ranger armed with a submachine gun. That was an interesting walk as we actually were in the vicinity of wildlife including giraffe, wart hog and a herd of cape buffalo not to mention various birds. We visited a picturesque waterfall coming off a steep hillside with a stream channel showing evidence of substantial flows during the rainy season. As we stopped now and then particularly to photograph the Cape buffalo I noted the ranger keeping a watchful eye on the herd for any sight of behavior indicating displeasure of our presence.

I had an enjoyable supper of pumpkin soup, sorbet, lamb with mint jelly, rice, steamed veggies, and shredded cabbage. Darla had the spaghetti, fruit salad, pumpkin soup, and crème de carmel. We dined with Donna and Michael, Americans working in Saudi Arabia. What a memorable evening as we traded travel stories!

Woke up to rain couple times in the nite. After breakfast, we scoped out the birds and waited for Zoya who was delayed due to a traffic jam resulting from a truck/bus accident. In Arusha we had a briefing by Nelson of The Safari Company. Basic stuff.

We made mention that we wished to purchase Tanzanite. Nelson indicated Zoya should know of a place. He took us to the Arusha Cultural Heritage Center (which we have visited before) and it didn’t take long for our purchase (took care of the 35th wedding anniversary present). He also said unless we wanted additional shopping opportunities he would not be stopping anywhere else. During the ride from Arusha to Lake Manyara he continued to tell us about history of his country, politics, natural history. His sense of humor make it all that much more enjoyable. We learned about Masasi trucks (donkey), the “spare parts cow” (wildebeast), the Tanzanian Express (warthog), the Christmas Chick (guineafowl) and how Manayara was named for the manyara plant used for fence and for making glue from the sap.

We were to stay at Wild Africa Tented Lodge near Lake Manyara but there were concerns about the quality of service and condition of the lodge so we were upgraded to the Kirurumi Tented Lodge. (having stayed there on our very first safari we were okay with the decision). As we drove up the escarpment past the entrance to Lake Manyara NP we passed a troop of baboons and had a great view of Lake Manyara. Near the entrance to the Lake Manyara airstrip we turned onto the rutted road for the short drive to the Lodge. Vehicles from Predators Safari Club passed us and we thought we recognized Godfrey, our driver on the 2002 and 2004 visits to northern Tanzania. We had salad, tasty hamburg/cheese on pizza and fresh fruit (soda 1,500 and beer 3,000 t shillings).

Off for a game drive in Lake Manyara NP. We noted park staff has just wetted the road to the visitor’s center area to reduce dust. Practically as soon as we entered the forested area we came upon elephants feeding along the road. Given the shade from the dense canopy mosquitoes were having a field day. More elephants, impala, wildebeast, warthog and numerous birds kept us entertained. Along the freshwater stream and bay with the hippos Zoya was busy pointing out various birds in addition to telling us more about vegetation and character of the park. While he and Darla were occupied with birdlife lakeside as were the occupants in an adjacent van I spotted a lioness strolling down the dusty road on the other side of the vehicles. You can imagine the surprised look from everyone when I announced the lion’s presence! She proceeded over to what appeared to be a piece of zebra hide and began chewing on it. Eventually we saw two more lionesses and a manned male taking it easy in the grass. Reached the lodge about 6:30pm. Checked in and headed for tent #8. Throughout the trip whenever staff learned this was not our first trip to Tanzania they usually got a nice big smile and beamed that we were coming back. I recall telling one employee about the small green snake we had in our tent during the 2002 stay. She was quite adamant that they did not have snakes there. Despite my best effort to be serious she refused to believe me. (Such is their fear of snakes).

Unlike previous trips to Tanzania, guides were allowed to dine with guests at some lodges. We were quite pleased to have Zoya join us as it provided more of a relaxed atmosphere to talk things over and unwind. Little frogs near the dining pavilion made interesting background noise. Supper was superb. The pork chops were excellent. An apple turnover and hot tea completed the meal. Headed to the tent, arranged clothes for the morning and charged batteries. Even though there were several other guests in nearby tents, things were quiet.

Following a fine breakfast and checking out, we met Christine MacDonald and driver, Phillip. Christine was in-country checking out lodges and the like for arranging trips. She has a very pleasant and outgoing personality. She was kind enough to relieve me of the bag of school supplies for the group back at Arusha as we missed connections while at the Mt Meru Game Sanctuary Lodge. She also mentioned seeing great numbers of wildebeast particularly in the western corridor. That really got me pumped up!

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    Part 2

    The drive to the entrance of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was quite pleasant. The paved road made for smooth travel. With recent rains the countryside was green and beautiful. We enjoyed seeing locals going about various activities. In the towns I was surprised at the number of persons with cell phones. Once past the gate we immediately saw elephant and buffalo dung and freshly smashed vegetation from recent feeding. From the rim observation point, the crater was still a bit misty but we could see enough to whet the appetite for a closer inspection. We continued to add birds to the list. Moving on towards the Serengeti we began seeing more Masasi and herds. I was looking forward to that one long curving grade from the rim down thru the grassy valley with the one Masasi village just to the left of the road and others way in the distance. Wildebeast, zebra, ostrich and sacred ibis were here and there with standing water in the lower reaches of the valley. As the countryside became more arid we saw the occasional giraffe and numbers of goats and cattle. On the steep road just before the Masasi village a rather larger snake sped across the road. Zoya said it was a spitting cobra. My photo captured just the last couple of feet as the snake made off into the brush. Given the extent of vehicular traffic it is a wonder any wildlife survives a crossing.

    The museum and overlook at Oldapi Gorge provided a muchly needed break. I had heard the lecture re: the Leakey digs and discovery twice already and enjoyed it again. Darla took notes. I was looking forward to taking pictures of the small song birds that often frequented the overlook area but the water dish was empty and the birds were a bit skiddish. Displays in the small museum are always interesting and I didn’t recall seeing before the one regarding efforts to preserve the ancient human footprints discovered in a solidified wet area. The area had been buried but shrub and tree roots were taking a toll on these priceless remains.

    We took another break at the Nabia Hill Gate while Zoya tended to the paperwork for entering Serengeti NP. Besides the numerous starlings we added more birds to our list. The little mouse-like rodents were quite abundant as well as red-headed agama lizards. Wildlife sightings really began to pick up as we motored thru the short grass plains. Herds of Thompson gazelle, occasional Grants gazelle, topi, hartebeast and zebra held our attention as we moved on. We saw a few wildebeast but nothing like we expected to see later. Moving into areas with more trees we soon spotted a leopard up in a tree.

    At this point I began to get a bit apprehensive as to the pace of our trip, not having lunch, and having passed several spots meriting more time. As it turns out, the planner of the day’s activities did not allow enough time to travel between the Manyara area and the Serengeti Serena Lodge particularly for a hot lunch at the Lodge. We missed lunch at the lodge but finally the kitchen staff rustled up an appropriate meal. I was a bit disappointed for our haste in traveling only to sit at the lodge when we could have had a box lunch midway with plenty of time for game viewing before reaching the lodge. I asked Zoya about the arrangements and he shared my concern. He also felt one reason for Christine’s visit to the area was to get a better handle on travel conditions. So, I felt better.

    We headed out for the late afternoon game drive and just as we began to see more and more game rain began to fall. Finally we had to close up the vehicle. As we arrived at the river the rain let up and we stood on the bank watching some 75-100 hippos in one pool. Talk about an accumulation of tons of grass eaters!! On the way to the lodge we were completely surprised with a herd of elephants just when we thought the drive was over!

    At the Serena we had the upstairs of one of the circular huts next to the bush. From the balcony we could look a long ways across a valley and see numerous wildebeast, antelope and zebra. Dik-dik roamed the grassy areas around the huts and dung from various herbivores including Cape buffalo was quite obvious. The evening meal was self-serve. Meats included duck, lamb, fish, pork, and hamburger. Different salads, various side dishes, and 4 or 5 desserts awaited our attention. No question about it, one does not suffer for lack of food on this safari.

    We turned in quite a pile of laundry (trousers 1,800 t shillings, cotton shirt 1,500 t shilling, and t-shirt 1,250). Beverages seemed a bit more than at other places ( ½ liter beer 4,800 t shillings and 350 ml bottle of soda at 1,700). I exchanged dollars for t shillings. The rate for one dollar bills was 1,000 t shillings. The rate for larger denominations was quite a bit better at 1,265 t shillings. The lodge had facilities for Internet access ($5 per 15 minutes). I tried to get online to send email to family but (in the excitement, I guess) I could not recall my password nor had the presence of mind to get a new one via security questions!!)

    During the nite we hears lions roar several times and also hyena. We slept well. Various birds were practically at our doorstep. Hornbill, go-away birds, sunbirds, etc kept us busy checking the book and taking pictures.. Breakfast was great with several juices, various pastries, hot/cold cereal, omelets and thin pancakes (crepes) with several kinds of meat.

    The all-day game drive was great! Besides seeing considerable variety, critters particularly wildebeast were in abundance. The highlight of the day may have been a young green mamba snake. It was just a few feet off the road and easily visible to the naked eye. I am sure it felt the vibrations of vehicle as it descended the tree and hid in the weeds. Another vehicle came along and the occupants obviously knew we were onto something but could not see what. Other sightings included lion cubs on a tall kopie, lions and a cheetah in tall grass just a few hundred yards apart, and new birds such as silverbird, Senegal plover, African gray flycatcher and Coqui francolin. Each box lunch had small banana, apple, crackers, roll, hotdog in a roll, celery/carrots, muffin, chicken, and a juice box.

    Needed an umbrella for the walk to the main lodge. On the way we saw dik-dik and a large African hare. An elderly lady was having difficulty with the dark path so Darla and I helped her along. She thanked us and said “I am French”. Not sure what she was trying to tell us. Couple of different kinds of frogs and a huge bug in the hallway made for interesting discussion. Dinner was much the same as the nite before.

    Heard lions again during the nite. Lodge staffer said a leopard had been sighted by a guest near our hut. Headed out with box lunches for drive to the western corridor, a new area for us. On the way Zoya continued to quiz us about bird life and added to our list. Often he would stop the vehicle and say “new species”. Darla and I would look around attempting to sight what we thought would be a bird. On one occasion he actually meant for us to look down at the road at a black 6 inch centipede (we were told it was a small one!). Another time he spied a beautiful chameleon crossing the road. Seemed like it would take forever for this little creature to move a few inches let alone several feet. We held our breath when a vehicle passed us despite Zoya’s attempt to flag it down. The little guy survived. With my interest in ruffed grouse and related gamebirds here in NE US I always enjoyed seeing sandgrouse, spurfowl and francolins.

    When we pulled over to observe two bachelor Cape Buffalo, a vehicle from Predators Safari Club stopped. We recognized Godfrey and he said he remembered us. He was headed to Lake Victoria with a group.

    Then as we rounded a hill we saw a several animal-wide column of wildebeast lopping towards Kenya. And the column stretch from horizon to horizon! A few zebra were mixed in but only a few. The movement paralleled the road. Sometimes like a flood the herd would widen with many, many gnu grazing, sparring, and eyeing us. In places where the herd spilt over onto the road it appeared like a solid mass of dark bodies with a lighter color young wildebeast here and there. I was dumbfounded at the sight of so many animals for such a long distance. We continued into the Western Corridor past the entrance road to the Grumeti River Camp. Wildebeast continued to troop past us. At one well-used watering point we watched to see wildebeast drink particularly with crocs in the area. Am sure the vehicle made the gnu nervous to approach the site. One male did and ventured to water’s edge only to change his mind. Sure enough as he walked away a croc surfaced at the very spot! Riverside bird life kept us busy as we crossed the river. Pipe at the swinging bridge to the Grumeti Camp had been freshly painted and the flooring had been treated with preservative. On the way back to the lodge we spotted a cheetah moving across a recent burned area to intercept T. gazelle in the distance.

    Supper was another buffet with various fruits, salads, chicken, beef, rice, buttered potatoes, hot mixed vegs, spinach in coconut sauce, choc Bavaria, Passion Moose, macaroons, cake and fruit.

    We continued to see a variety of wildlife on the drive from the Serengeti to the N. Crater rim. Tall grasses made viewing difficult. We spotted more than one hyena and a quick dash of a serval cat across the road kept us on alert for critters. A kori bustard with chick ran down the road before finally veering off into the grass. Seeing lions on an old kill and more around a kopie was a nice way to leave the Serengeti.

    We had been to the N. Crater on two other trips, both via the access road near the Sopa Lodge and both early in the day. This time we entered at the other road and mid-day. It was quite windy that day and undoubtedly was one reason rhino were not “out and about”. Zoya heard of a sighting and we glassed over that area for several minutes. Either the animal was in a slight depression or in very high grass as we could not see it. But, finally it stood up for a few minutes, turned around and then laid down. Had we not been looking in that direction we would not have seen it. We enjoyed box lunches at the small hippo pool as we watched a couple dozen or so hippos. The water level was lower than I ever saw and they were constantly swishing water over their backs or turning completely over. Eland, wildebeast, hyena, wart hog, topi, t. gazelle, Cape buffalo, elephant, zebra, hartebeast, ostrich, and numerous other birds were to be seen. Zoya thought it a bit early for the flamingoes to be there in large numbers. He also showed us the remains of the fort occupied by a German hunter who lived in the crater years ago.

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    Part 3
    We motored up to the Sopa Lodge. The place had changed a bit from what I recalled in 2004. Primarily, trees in front of the patio area had been removed and the view into the crater was spectacular. As we sat there, we could see an elephant just a few yards down the hill perhaps at a small watering trough. As before several species of birds hung around the stonewall and sunbirds were in the flower beds. Our room had been freshly painted and in fact workers were in the adjacent one. But, without adequate ventilation in the bathroom area (when the shower is on), paint was already beginning to peel. None-the-less, we relished being back at the Sopa. It was like a homecoming. We sat in the lounge with soda/beer in hand while munching freshly roasted nuts.

    Supper was buffet style with beef stew, chicken stew, salads, various side dishes and an assortment of deserts. While checking out the gift shop we noted a white-browed scrub-robin flying in the lobby. The little rascal would not hold still for a picture! The next morning after a buffet breakfast (including omelets and those crepe pancakes) I tried photographing sunbirds in the flowering trees next to the walkway. They really tried my patience playing “hide and seek” as they moved from blossom to blossom.

    The ride from the Sopa to the gate of the N Conservation area was uneventful. Zoya asked if we would like to visit the market area in the town of Karatu. He accompanied us in and around the shops and stalls. The locals were quite friendly and seemed to appreciate us visiting “their” area rather than simply driving by. The butcher shops (beef and pork are not sold in the same shop) left a lot to be desired in regards to standards here in the US. We saw a shoes being made from old tires, a sewing shop using foot-powered sewing machines that would qualify as antiques here in Pa, a Christian book and music store, a hardware shop with barbed wire, nails, paint, hinges and other items, handmade furniture, and veggie/fruit stands galore. No one pestered us to buy but one elderly lady followed us around for the longest time. Zoya thought she might want something but she never spoke, never jestered. A young lad did ask for sweets and money however.

    Checked into the Ngorongoro Farm House Lodge. This working farm of several hundred acres provides most, if not all, the food for the lodge. Lunch centered on Salad of Africa (greens, African sausage, tomato, cucumber, onion, and biltong with honey/mustard dressing with 2 pancakes filled with chicken, bacon, mushroom, mozzarella cheese smothered with a white wine and camembert sauce sprinkled with olives and parley. Our half “house” was incredible at 31’x31’. Within that space a huge one piece bathtub, shower and bathroom were located within partitioned walls maybe 10’. If you check out the photos provided elsewhere you will get the idea. And, when we returned from the evening meal, staff had lit a small fire in the fireplace. Quite the cozy place – just needed a snowfall. The surrounding area was well landscaped with flower beds, spacious lawn and a sizeable plot of coffee bushes. Several different sunbirds and other small birds were seen. Used the internet center (30 minutes for $5). Was able to reconstruct my aol password and sent message to daughter. We opted for the guided walk about the farm but didn’t add new sightings.Except for the occasional antelope and different birds I could just as easily imagined being on the family farm in sw Pa. John, our Masasi guide was quite interesting. A couple of fellow Americans talked to each other too much. And, one cheap member of the group quit the walk early simply to avoid giving John a tip. Also purchased a carved African hoopoe.

    The lounge area is also quite spacious with a well-stocked bar and great books on Tanzania, the Crater and birdlife. As it was tea time Darla had a cup of tea and I tried a Pilzner Lager. Supper centered on hot veggies, braised beef with sauce, potatoes, and crème boule for dessert. Up at 6:45 am (chased birds around the flower beds) and had buffet breakfast. Was obvious Zoya is well known at this lodge and even the head chef come over to chat. Settled bar bill (something like $9 for 5 sodas and 2 half-liter beers).

    Zoya remembered we wanted to purchase batik and stopped at the village of Mto Wa Mbu. He parked along the main road and pointed to shops and said to enjoy ourselves. I think we had the attention of every shop owner. All were quite polite wanting us to step inside their shops. As we would walk by, more than one owner would say, “remember shop #5 or shop #2”. I responded I would and we did make it a point to visit each one even if a purchase did not occur. A couple of purchases were made after friendly bartering. At one I asked the owner if I could photograph he and Darla. He was delighted. Later he gave me his name/ address on a scrap of paper and asked if I would send him a copy. (did so). We eventually found our way back to the vehicle. Thru open windows other venders made sale offers. I made offers to trade packs of sugarless gum for small necklaces. Had one taker and then I passed out smaller quantities of gum to others.

    On the way to Tarangire National Park, Zoya told us more about Tanzanian customs such as marriage, becoming a man, etc. We were supposed to stay at the Tarangire River Camp but were upgraded to the Tarangire Safari Camp. I am not sure of the reason but have no need to complain. The lodge centers on some 2 dozen permanent tents on concrete pads and a few bungalows. Our tent was the one furthest from the lobby/dining pavilion. Had fresh giraffe tracks adjacent to the porch. The circular dining pavilion really impressed me. The thatched roof was on top of long poles in the shape of a really tall tee-pee. Looking upwards one could get dizzy given the height and the hypnotizing effect of the pattern. Food was excellent. Supper was leek and potatoe soup, porkchops in rosemary sauce, rice, potatoes, greenbeans and carrots with coconut tart, mango cake, and chocolate mouse for dessert. Soda was $1, ½ liter beer at $2 and 1.5 liter water at $1.00.

    After dinner, I tried sitting out on the porch but the mosquitoes drove me inside. We heard lion and hyena during the nite and had two giraffe feeding adjacent to the tent. Elephant, Cape buffalo, and zebra in numbers drank at the river. And, bird life around the tents and lodge was varied. Highlights of the game drives included a leopard, bat-eared foxes, and numerous birds including barbets, parrots, woodpecker, sunbirds, and spurfowl. The rainbows were special! I can only imagine the sightings from the patio area later in the year when water becomes scarce.

    We were to fly from the Tarangire airstrip but it was decided safer conditions were at the Lake Manyara one. We drove out of Tarangire seeing more elephants (including one with a radio collar), antelope, zebra, giraffe and various birds. We arrived at the airstrip just as the Foxes plane landed. It was piloted by a lady, Soqui who hails from Argentine. The flight was relatively smooth and so relaxing Darla took a nap while I just about dozed off. Coming over the Ruaha NP airstrip I noted hippos in the river and a game drive vehicle near the aircraft parking space. We were quite delighted when deplaning we were greeted by Josephat, our guide from 2005! After storing the plane in the temporary, canopied hangar we were on our way to Ruaha River Lodge. On the way we saw zebra, giraffe, various birds and a small band of kudu—welcome to Ruaha!!

    Manager Jennifer has been busy at the lodge with new and remodeled bandas. Ours was downriver some 150 yards from the dining area and was quite spacious. An electronic (numeric code) lock on the door, security safe, power strip for charging batteries and a huge bathroom caught our attention. After an enjoyable lunch we headed up river for a game drive with Josephat as our guide/driver. Jackals, hyrax, hornbill, baboon, spurfowl, ashy starling, helmeted guinea fowl, vulture,dwarf mongoose, crocodiles, waterbuck, turtles, giraffe white-headed lapwing, crested francolin with chicks, pied kingfisher, parrots, African hoopoe, hippos, yellow-collared lovebirds, and numerous other birds entertained us.

    After cleaning up, we headed over to the lounge portion of the dining pavilion for a cold drink and munchies (popcorn, peanuts, etc). Supper was tomato soup, lamb stew, rice, potatoes, greenbeans, cauliflower in white sauce, more veggies and banana cream pie for desert. While the lamb was okay it is certainly not one of our favorite dishes. Jennifer checked with us as to the afternoon game drive and activities for the next day. We also had occasion to chat with others in the dining area. A young couple from the Netherlands were enjoying a safari with their 4 yr old daughter and ten-month old son. They had relatives in Dar es Salaam and rented a car for the trip. Both youngsters once fed earlier in the evening, went to bed around 7:30 not awaking until early the next morning. So, mom and dad paid a Masasi fellow to stand watch on the front porch and were able to enjoy dinner with the rest of us.

    After dinner we were escorted by a Masasi warrior back to the banda. The shower area was on a stone ledge in the corner of the room. Two large, knee-high stones bordered the step up to the ledge. When Darla began her shower she discovered a nice-size frog living in a cavity under the one stone. It was out-and-about when she first entered the shower but soon retreated to the cavity. Later, it was on top of one of the stones. Besides the frog in the shower, we had a gecko in the bed room drapes and at least one mouse. Our daughter Beth would have enjoyed the in-house menagery.

    Breakfast at 7 am with morning sun coming into the dining area. Ah, the fresh, still warm cinnamon rolls!! And, juice, grapefruit, omelet, bacon, toast and coffee/tea. At 8 we were off with Josephat, and two young ladies from England. One was mid-way thru a stint as a researcher at Mikumi NP and the other was a friend on holiday. Sightings that day included Egyptian Geese, H. ibis, hildebrant francolin, African squirrel, African golden oriole, hippos, black-bellied bustard, jackal, hamerkop, pearl-spotted owl, giraffe, kudu, monitor lizard, impala, zebra, water thick-knee, vervet monkey, warthog, long-crested eagle, Von deckens hornbill, ostrich, cinnamon-chested beeeater, a sickly male lion, several females, green wood-hoopoe, rufous-crowned roller, crowned hornbill, and more. We had a box lunch at the small thatched pavilion along the dry river tributary to the Ruaha. Josephat checked out the site before we entered as he had lions there a couple of years ago. The nearby toilets were just as I remembered from two years ago. Some bird or rather large bug had a mud tunnel nest along the ceiling. In-between sightings we enjoyed chatting with the two British gals and Josephat. He invited Darla and I to attend church service with him on Sunday and asked me to give the message.

    Again, after wiping off the dust we headed over to the lounge for cold refreshments and to watch the sun set across the river. Staff made a fire on the cleared sandy area near the river. Newcomers to the lodge included a recent college grad teaching nutrition at a local school and her parents from Ontario. Others were a large group from Switzerland, 2 couples from Germany and several Tanzanians involved with the National Parks. Seems it was budget prep time and the bureaucrats were making the rounds of all the parks.

    As I recall we ate pork chops, baked potatoe and cinnamon torte. Still a great meal. A rather large beetle appeared on our table. With little difficulty it “moved” the small toothpick holder before we decided to transplant it outside the pavilion.

    During the morning game drive (with an couple from Great Britian, their daughter and friend) we continued to see diverse birdlife including Senegal coucal, cordon-bleu, juvenile fish eagle, grey kestril, East African Brubru, magpie shrike, tawny eagle and white-headed buffalo-weaver plus mongoose, hyrax, elephant, impala, kudu, giraffe, (saw wild dog footprints), jackal, baboon plus skink, agamas, monitor lizards, and large catfish in a small pool in an otherwise dry river bed.

    Lunch at the lodge included spring roll, chicken, salad, rice, veggies, and fried banana plus beverage. Then, we had a break before the afternoon game drive at 4 pm.

    Josephat came over and we walked to church. I digress here only to give readers a bit of background as to what happened next. During our 2005 visit we became acquainted with Josephat including his passion for studying the Bible. Upon returning to the states we sent him a study Bible and other reading material given his professing to be a Christian. Later, he asked if we could help sponsor musical instruments for his church group to add to the service. Via Foxes of Africa we sent a monetary donation. Fellow Christians will recognize how a small effort sometimes “mushrooms” into bigger accomplishments. The Foxes are great people. One of their projects involves building an orphanage in Iringa given the large number of parentless children there. Another, is the building of a structure for a church where the staff live at the Ruaha River Lodge. It would appear Mr. Peter Fox was moved by former guests contributing to the local church group and he recently provided materials for a circular roofed pavillion where services can be held. ‘til that structure is finished he is permitting service to be held in the new dining hall. That structure is massive with numerous wooded beams and high ceiling. Such was the setting for the service we attended.

    Some 20-24 staff members attended with Darla and I being the only “outsiders”. The service was in Swahili. When the group sang, Darla and I could at least clap in time. Then, Josephat asked me to give the message. I had him read (in Sawhili) Scripture from which I would speak and he translated the short message I gave (on the parable of the Sower). Watching expressions of the attendees I think the message made sense and I was comfortable adjusting the parable to fit the group given their closeness to agriculture and knowledge of excesses of living (drinking, gambling and material possessions). Then, Josephat surprised both Darla and I when he asked her to say a few words. I was really proud of how spoke to the group with little preparation. Among other points she complimented the group on the presence of so many men as often in the US women often out-number the fellows in church. Then, the choir sang. We were impressed that such a large proportion of the group sang in the choir and how well they did. Josephat said later they practice often as it is a popular form of entertainment. While they sang (in Swahili) we also heard a background chorus of hippos in the nearby river. Talk about an experience!! Later, in the dining room more than one staff member thanked us for being part of the service.

    Josephat walked us back to our banda. As we neared the one occupied by the Dutch family, the father called out that an elephant was at ours. Sure enough, a bull elephant was feeding next to our porch. We think it was Billy who frequented camp in 2005. We could not get into our banda but assured Josephat we were okay and would visit with the next door family from Ontario. At one point Darla and I tried walking to the porch but Billy turned and we got the sense he was not happy to have us sneaking behind him. Our first impulse was to get outta there. Darla headed one way and I another. Meanwhile the elephant continued to pull tree branches and other leafy vegetation into his mouth. Soon we were able to get onto the porch and inside the banda. His feeding took him completely around the banda. We took several photos including some thru the screens. At one point we could have easily reached out the window and touched him. Soon he tired of eating and headed to the river for a drink. Then he moved off.

    The afternoon game drive with the British family was another enjoyable one. We headed up river again and saw an interesting variety of wildlife. When we stopped for a beverage break along the river, we were able to walk along a gravel bar noting tracks of various critters. I recall seeing the shell of a freshwater mussel and commented to Darla about having similar inhabitants along the Allegheny River back home.

    Supper was excellent. When one diner saw the menu, we overheard, “thank goodness not lamb again!”. We had beef marinated in mustard in tomatoes, mashed potatoes, rice, pumpkin squash, olive bread, onion/cheese soup, veggies, baked fish, and lemon merrangue pie, tea and coffee. Enjoyed conversation with the family from Ontario and the daughter working with Emanuel International.

    Our last nite at Ruaha we heard hippos fighting nearby. Said goodbye to Josephat (as he was guiding another group). Headed to the airstrip. Sightings along the way included elephant, warthog, Batelur, impala, and a lioness. Soqui had a time getting the plane fueled as the electric transfer pump refused to start. So, siphoning into cans was needed.

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    Part 4
    Landing at the Mikumi airstrip we were met by Mattie, Manager at Vuma Hill Tented Lodge. She informed us the region had experienced considerable rain in the recent past (setting a 40 yr record). As such, the other Foxes camp was closed given problems with roads. So, we were staying at Vuma Hill. Mattie has been in the business for several years and is a delightful person. As we left the airstrip I noted the extremely tall grasses and realized game sighting might be handicapped. On the way to the camp we saw elephants, impala, ground hornbills, warthogs and a group of bachelor Cape buffalo. The camp is on the other side of the paved highway so we crossed at the park headquarters. Vuma Hill Lodge is greatly different than Foxes Safari Camp, being located in a dense forested area along the ridge of a modest hill. We stayed in tent #15 towards the end of the walkway from the dinning area/pool.

    Lunch was chicken, rice, chupa, peas in coconut sauce, with fruit salad for desert. Darla wanted a Fanta orange soda but such was not available. Our server suggested Fanta passion drink. She said it was excellent.

    I thought with the dense forest canopy around our tent we would see a host of birds but was disappointed. An occasional hornbill and common bulbul was about the extent of sightings right at the tent.

    Pintail whydah, impala, superb starling, cape buffalo, Egyptian geese, elephant, long-tailed fiscal shrike, zebra, lilac-breasted roller, white-browed coucal, bushbuck, eland, jackal, hornbills, marabou stork, long-tailed starling, reedbuck, and a mating pair of lions were some of the critters we saw that afternoon. I recall seeing more bustards as the afternoon progressed as it seems they may be more nocturnal than I thought.

    Arrived back at the lodge around 6:45 in time to freshen up before dinner at 8 PM. Headed up to the dinning pavilion lounge. Watched geckos on the wall above the one wall light catch bugs. Had pumpkin soup, roll, rice, potatoes, veggies, porkchop, beef w/mustard sauce, banana cream pie, tea. Of course, Darla had another Passion Fanta and I a beer. A Masasi walked us back to the tent. Recalled hearing several geckos on the tent roof.

    After breakfast (eggs, fruit, toast, warm sticky bun, juice,) headed out for a game drive. Soqui had the day off from flying duties and asked if we minded her coming on the drive. We certainly welcomed her along. Mattie opted to be the guide/driver. I could tell she wanted some time away from managerial duties of the lodge. Crested francolin, a nice size herd of Cape buffalo, impala, white-browed coucal, helmeted guinea fowl, hippos, grey heron, blacksmith plover, occasional male wildebeast here and there, white egret, martial eagle, zebra, yellow-throat longclaw, sparrow hawk, jackal, baboon, eland (at a distance), giraffe, monitor lizard, red-billed oxpecker

    Mattie was a great source of information as to life history of various game we spotted and reinforced the story Zoya told us of how the hippo came to be an aquatic mammal. To get permission to live in the water it had to prove to the crocodile it didn’t eat fish. Told the croc to check as it swished its dung with its tail to show no fish bones! Whenever we crossed a culvert or bridge we would check for wildlife. She indicated lions sometimes frequent culverts/bridges for the shade in the hot dry season and at one spot she often saw a python. If I recall, it was on this drive that the vehicle that got into camp just before us had a beautiful leopard cross the road a short distance from camp!

    Another excellent lunch. Three types of pizza, hamburgers w/a sweet, warm syrup, avocodo salad, coleslaw w/nuts and pineapple, beets, pasta salad, rolls and orange cake. Then, we had free time to watch for birds from our porch, read, and simply relax.

    As we prepared for the afternoon game drive, Mattie asked if we were willing to tolerate tsetse flies as she wanted to try a different area of the park and one more likely to have the thick bush often favored by these pests. She remembered my saying I wanted to see eland closer than several hundred yards away. Heading down the hill from the lodge we spotted two ground hornbill fairly high up in a tree. Seldom have we seen this bird in trees. Shortly after turning onto a different road we began seeing impala, warthog, giraffe, whydahs, and yes tsetse flies. I think I am a patient and tolerant person in the wild particularly when hunting and having flies and mosquitoes around. But, at one point, after noting one persistent fly despite being swatted twice still managed to draw blood, I was ready to yell, “enough, lets get outta here”. We stopped to observe something and 5 or 6 or more tsetse flies were in the vehicle and it sounded like a beehive. Mattie, bless her heart, asked if we wanted to turn back, but we decided to forge ahead. Glad we did. As we crested a small rise we saw 4 adult eland not to mention wart hog and baboons. And, the eland cooperated and posed for photos! We all agreed it was worth the flies. Also, saw little bee-eater, spotted thick-knee, brown snake-eagle, and grey-headed kingfisher.

    Got back to the lodge around 6:30 just in time to meet Jeff Fox, father of the clan. In the lounge Darla enjoyed another Passion Fanta and I tried a glass of red wine. Thought maybe it was a Tanzanian creation (from the vineyards near Dodoma) but was informed it was an import from South Africa. Don’t recall the name but well worth the nominal price of $2 a glass. Supper was Mediterranean tomato soup w/garlic bread, rice, coconut chicken, roast goat, carrots, spinach, potatoe lyenese, passion mouse and tea.

    At breakfast Mattie alerted us we would have time for another game drive before heading to the airstrip for an 11:30 flight to Dar es Salaam. She regretted she could not accompany us as duties at the lodge required her attention. So, David took Darla, Soqui and I for the drive. As we crossed the paved road to park headquarters a family of elephants were also crossing just a short distance away. So, we were able to check them out and also another group not too far from the airstrip. As we pulled over to the plane I noted impala were on the air strip.

    Two young gals were joining us for the trip to Dar. They were the daughters of one of the park staff and going for their first plane ride. Don’t think they spoke much, if any, English. Both were quite nervous during the flight. At DAR we said good bye to Soqui, traded email addresses and met Lydia from the local Foxes of Africa office. We remembered her from the 2005 trip. She took us to the Slipway Shopping and Recreation Center where we could spend time before being picked up for the trip to the airport. The center is located on a bay off the Indian Ocean, has shopping, eateries and lodging in the event we wanted to rent a day room. We remembered being there in 2005. We ate the box lunches Mattie sent along with us. Then, we promised ourselves to take our time looking around as we had about 5 hours ‘til Lydia came back. Added to our bird list with house crow and a heron at the beach. Noted the large building we saw under construction in 2005 was still not completed, the stalls with the paintings had been moved to the same building housing the sellers of carvings, cloth, beads, etc. Fishermen were cleaning nets along the extended pier, young lads were fishing using throw lines. Apparently one fellow snagged a rock or something as he simply peeled off his t-shirt and dived into free his line.

    The commercial establishments included a well-stocked bookstore with numerous books on Africa (travel, history, natural resources, etc). Prices seemed a bit high, however. All sorts of craft items were to be found in the formal shops and also the teeny, tiny ones under the tin roof. We enjoyed cold drinks at the outdoor café and in fact had supper there later. Darla’s steak sandwich was excellent. I had the half, roast chicken but also managed a bite of her sandwich. Prices were very reasonable. Our meals including a beer or soda were something like $7 each. As the sun went down it was great to sit on benches overlooking the bay and watch the tide roll in.

    Lydia and companion picked us up and drove us to the airport. Checking in was about as smooth as I have experienced. I recall the gentleman at the check-in counter. He was very good natured and was “shocked” to see how little baggage we had. He was able to get our bags checked through to Newark even though our connecting flight in Amsterdam was not NW but Cont. We headed upstairs to the general waiting area only to see a gal wearing a Penn State t-shirt. She graduated in 2006 from the main campus just a 10 minute drive from our house. Flights home were uneventful. And, luggage came with us.


    Looking back it was a great trip spending time with Darla, renewing acquaintances with Josephat, making new friends such as Zoya, Mattie, Soqui, Matt at the Sopa Lodge, etc , seeing over 200 species of birds and dozens of mammals and reptiles, visting Arusha National Park for the first time as well as the western corridor of the Serengeti, seeing areas a bit greener and wetter than on previous visits, and simply relaxing.

    Was it a great trip? Most Certainly!!

    Would we go back? You bet! But, given the choice, at a different time of the year. Maybe October for southern Tanzania. And, say Feb/Mar for the northern areas. Given the opportunity to be in Tarangire say in August would definitely desire to stay at the T. Safari Lodge and tent #22 if possible.

    Regrets (or better worded “wished we had”). Probably would have started the trip to Arusha NP earlier in the day (rather then sit around the lodge, but at least when we did depart, the rain had just subsided). Probably would have used the nite at the N. Farmhouse either for one more night in the Serengeti or a second nite at Tarangire. Given the opportunity would have made an advanced reservation for the night game drive in the Manyara area (it was booked up when we got there). Would have insisted on box lunch for day going from Lake Manyara to Serengeti rather than the rushed day we did. Should have been more familiar with the S3 camera. Being on a game drive is not the time to think about doing a panoramic or movie shoot for the first time. Should have used spot metering more rather than only the default “auto” setting. And, I think I put too much stock on the “image stabilizer” feature. And, for a bit while on the trip, I was falling into the pitfall of comparing current one to previous ones and feeling somewhat let down that I didn’t see “x” or “y”. Each trip has been unique into itself and should be savored as such.

    Regardless, we had a great time and I am really glad we went.

    6/24/2007 (Readers are asked to forgive typos and the like).

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    Spectacular photos! I hope mine are as good with the S3 that I just purchased for a trip later this year-along with my 35mm as back-up. Hope I don't see one of those crickets in my tent.

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    Dick, welcome home to you and Darla. And thank you for the detailed report. I felt I was there sometimes. I'm going to send the link to my Africa travel buddies--they'll love it.

    It's so difficult to get the timing just right for these trips, isn't it? I'm thinking way, way ahead to December 2008 and what would be best to combine with gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Kenya? Northern TZ? Southern TZ? Flights, costs, vegetation in the various parks, etc., are all in play. Still, like you, I don't think I can have a bad trip.

    Off to view your photos!

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    Thank you for the report and pictures. Nice time of year for sunsets. I was going to ask some questions but I think between your report and pictures you answered them all. I'll have to think of some more.

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    Enjoyed reading the report - good to hear more about southern Tanzania. Your pics were great, got a kick out of the lunch box sighting! Eeeew on the green mamba - looks like the vehicle got up close and personal. The rainbow over Tarangire was lovely, brought back memories of our afternoon on that same patio, watching all the herds of animals going to and from the river for water. Thanks for taking time to share! Deb

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    Wonderful photos. We were in the western corridor just a couple weeks later (late June) last year and it was much dustier and the river was nearly dry. Interesting difference.

    Really enjoyed your photos. You have captured so many birds so well. Also particularly noted the squirrel, the cricket, the sunsets, the giraffe with oxpecker and the lions and elephants of the southern parks. And like a good Fodorite you took many lodge and camp photos!

    Where to next?

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    Thanks for the nice comments.
    Next trip? Probably will not be for awhile (so we can save up). If to Tanzania, will be at different time of year. Also, would like to try Zamb. or somewhere nearby.
    We would also like to have a group with us (family, friends, etc) so we can enjoy watching others on their first trip to Africa.
    Keep up the reports and pics! A great "fix" for those of us with Africa Disease.
    Dick

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    addisonr, sorry if I confused where we stayed. In 2005 trip we were at the Foxes Tented Camp and this past May/June we stayed at the Vuma Hill location. Both have appeal to us. While neither camp is set up for children (no special programs nor activities)I would say Vuma Hill would be the better of the two. While both have a pool, Vuma Hill is more contained in regards to walkways and proximity of tents to one another and rest of the camp. The other camp is quite a bit more open and much more accessible for wildlife. Quite a bit more distance between tents. I found the view from our tents in the other camp to be better particularly those on the opposite side of the hill from the entrance. The Vuma Hill Lodge while at a higher elevation is under heavy forest canopy which limits one's view. Found food to be equally good.

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    Should we be fortunate to be able to return to Mikumi I think we would favor the Foxes Safari Tented Lodge as opposed to Vuma primarily due to the more intimate feeling at Foxes Safari Lodge. With only 8 or so tents and in particular those on the far side of the hill one does get the feeling of really being out there. The great view and the lack of fences/barries accents the feeling.

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    Wonderful report. I know how you plan on a brief 4 page summary and then it turns out to be 40. The more detail, the memories preserved and it is helpful for others.

    Were the mosquitoes that you mentioned on a few occasions worse this time around?

    I´ll be looking for those kudu pictures that you vraved tse tse flies to capture.

    Quitting a walking trip early to avoid a tip is the height of boorishness!

    I approve of your hoopoo souvenir--my favorite African bird.

    The church service that you not only attended, but participated in, must have been a moving experience. How fortunate you were.

    Now for the pictures.

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    You managed to get a photo of the rhino in the crater along with some nice wildflowers in the foreground. The ground squirrel is such a hard little creature to get a picture of. The mouth to mouth hippos are a classic. You have some lovely photos.

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    The mosquitoes were no worse than any other trip we have taken. Actually, had I used repellant I am sure sitting out would have been great. I just don't like using bug spray/lotion at least not right before bed time.
    Not many kudu pictures this time while in Ruaha, not as many opportunities as before. Thanks for comments.

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to post such a detailed, nuanced and fair summary. Your experience was so similar to a safari my family and I had last year that it brought back many fond memories. Best wishes for many more enjoyable travel experiences.

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    KarmiL, you are most welcome. One way I have extended memories of our trips is to give illustrated talks to groups. Here in Centre County, Pa there is a RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program)run by the county. Included is a speaker's bureau which I enjoy. Besides "reliving" our trip, I get to meet people and sometimes get a great meal or refreshments.

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