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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May/June 2007 Northern/Southern Tanzania