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Trip Report Trip Report, Part I: 26 Glorious Days in Tanzania

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Sorry I've taken so long, but here's part I of my trip report...! I'll forewarn you - it's long, which is probably why I've chosen to write it in parts. Here goes...

My husband and I headed on our very first trip to Tanzania on December 26th… and loved every minute of it (well… almost every minute!). Just as a bit of background, our trip was a private one (just the two of us), organized with East African Safari and Touring Company, and involved not only seven full days of game viewing :-), and a week on the island of Zanzibar, but also a lot of trekking, camping and mountain hiking in between… Our trip was extremely remote (if someone told us that there were no tourists in Tanzania, we would probably have believed them based on what we were seeing!), and also extremely varied (not only in terms of the things that we saw, but also in the places that we stayed [from a tiny 2-man hiking tent, to the most luxurious luxury camp to a paradisiacal beach resort…])… it was magical. Also, as context, I should tell you that my husband and I are from Toronto, Canada, are in our late twenties, and absolutely love to travel.

From the animals, to the landscapes, to the people… honestly, our trip to Tanzania was the most wonderful and memorable trip we’ve ever taken! And the funny thing is, before we left (as some of you may know!), I had done a lot of research and reading of various opinions, travel reports, etc.; and I was reading over and over again that once you’ve been to Africa, you’ll constantly want to go back… and I can tell you this: it didn’t take long for that feeling to hit… we’ve already been on the web in search of our next African destination :-)

But before I do any further research into our next trip, I want to share with you the wonder of the trip just past (oh, and you guys asked for details, so be prepared for details!!!!) So here goes, but for you first-time travelers, please keep in mind (as you well-traveled African-travelers certainly know well) that it’s hard to truly describe the feeling of being in Africa… It felt surreal the moment the airplane touched down, and continued to feel surreal throughout the various parts of our trip…

Part I: The Serengeti

We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport at night, in the sweltering heat (it must have been 28 degrees, much more than we had expected from Arusha at night…). There was a bit of a mix-up with our transportation on this first night; we ended up having to drive a local Arusha family home before heading to our hotel… We were supposed to stay at the Jacaranda hotel (our reservation had been made and confirmed 6 months ago!), but when we arrived (by this time, it was 12:30a.m.), we were informed that someone behind the desk had given away our reservation because they didn’t think we were coming (we were later told that this is not uncommon at the Jacaranda, so be forewarned). When all was said and done, we spent our first night at the Impala Hotel. The Impala is quite a nice place, and certainly nicer than where we thought we’d be staying… we enjoyed a hot shower and a very warm night’s sleep…

And then the morning came, and before we knew it: we were driving through the Serengeti! Okay, in reality, perhaps it took a little bit longer than that… :-) Waking up in Arusha is quite an amazing feeling. The best word for the town: bustling. The city is truly alive with trucks, wagons, and most of all: people walking in all directions at all times! I wouldn’t ever want to drive there, that’s for sure… :-) Our morning was full of paperwork at the company office, where final payment was made, and then we headed to the grocery store to pick up any extras that we wanted to bring along… After filling up the Landrover with gas, we were off!

We were just the two of us in the landrover with our guide and driver. The main road into the Ngorogoro Conservation Area really isn’t bad – in fact, it is paved until you reach the gate. But from the gate on: bumpy, bumpy, bumpy. Oh, and dusty, dusty, dusty!

We headed off towards Olduvai Gorge … The whole cradle-of-mankind thing is so surreal that I don’t think one truly realizes what they’re experiencing until after they’ve left… We enjoyed the little museum, spent about an hour at the Gorge, and then we headed off again… We picked up a local NCA ranger a few miles later… he was a funny guy, Maasai (our first experience with a Maasai) and had a big gun… We headed off in the direction of our camp… We were scheduled to stay at our tour company’s semi-permanent camp, which they call Ndutu camp; we found out from our guide that the ranger was in charge of helping us locate the camp, as it had only been put up the day before (in order to be closest to the migration), and therefore only the rangers knew where it was! Needless to say, we knew that we were heading somewhere remote… :-)

This first day’s drive through the NCA and into the Ndutu area of the Serengeti was amazing. There was no more amazing a feeling than spotting our first animals! Our very first animals were 2 giraffe, who were very close to the road, munching away on some acacia. I fell in love immediately. They just contentedly stared at us, while chewing… I didn’t want to turn the car back on to leave... We dragged ourselves away and braced ourselves for more amazing animals to come… That first day, we saw tons of animals: giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, gazelle, water buffalo, and tons of birds. Finally, it was starting to get dark (which happened each day at approx. 6:30p.m.) and we spotted our camp. It was in the Ndutu area of the Serengeti, at the far end of a plain, just at the base of an approaching mountain… The camp consisted of four stand-up green tents (for the guests, of which we were the only ones!) with mesh screening windows on three of the walls, there was a zip-open flap to the “washroom” which consisted of a wooden potty toilet on top of a hole in the ground and a camp-bag shower, and a wooden double bed in the centre of the tent; there was another stand-up tent, which had a wooden camping table in it, which was the dining tent, and another stand-up tent which was set up to be a common area, with two small couches, a coffee table and a little makeshift bar where they were offering some spirits. It was beautiful. And the view from our tent was spectacular. Plain as far as the eye could see, with hundreds or maybe thousands of wildebeests grazing, along with hundreds of zebra as well. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The wildebeests were making a ton of noise and I questioned how we were going to be able to sleep!

We had a lovely dinner on our first night. Our guide ate all of our meals with us, throughout almost our entire trip. I don’t know if this is typical or not, but we truly loved it… it gave us a chance to speak with him at length about all kinds of issues … Our meals at this camp (where we stayed for 3 nights) were great – there was a staff of 5 at the camp, and they truly made sure that everything was lovely. Nothing overly fancy, but three-course meals each night for dinner… we started with soup (this seemed to be a custom in Tanzania to start dinner with a bowl of soup – one that we sorely miss now that we’re home!), then a main course, which usually consisted of a meat stew (very often beef, go figure in a country of cattle herders :-)) with rice or potatoes, and a lovely dessert and fruit plate. Since there was no power (nor generator) at this camp, it was so remote and peaceful. The dining tent was simply lit with a kerosene lamp on the table, the cool evening weather (it definitely cooled off a lot at night…) made it comfortable to sit in cozy clothes over a cup of tea, and then we’d usually head out to the firepit for a little while, before turning in (average turn-in time for bed during our trip was about 9:00p.m.(!), which is very unusual for us night-owls, but very necessary after full days filled with fresh air and tons of excitement).

I must mention, however, that my first night’s sleep in the African bush was: non-existent!!! I had read before leaving that one can freak themselves out during their first night out in the wilderness amongst the animals, but I honestly didn’t think that it would happen to me… :-) During dinnertime on our first night, I spent half of the meal posing a thousand questions to our guide about the general habits and patterns of the animals… We crawled into bed, listening to the thousands of wildebeest standing only several hundred metres from our tent, and I think my husband fell asleep before his head even hit the pillow (we were, after all, still jetlagged I’m sure)! So, there I was. And I freaked myself out. I heard noises – I envisioned lions approaching our tent – I kept checking to see if the fire (which had been built by our ranger to keep away animals by showing human presence) was dying down – and it was – I broke into a sweat. Hours went by, and as I realized how early we’d gone to bed, I truly didn’t think I’d make it through the night! I lay there, thinking of how I had another 3 weeks of camping in the African bush, and trying to think of ways to get out of it! Looking back on it now, it’s extremely funny, but it certainly wasn’t funny at the time :-) I must have fallen asleep in the early morning just as the sun was about to rise… But rest assured: as awful as that first night was, the rest of the nights in the African bush, I slept like a baby. :-)

Our next three days in the Serengeti were wonderful. We would leave on game drives at approximately 7:30 or 8:00a.m., after breakfast, and wouldn’t return to the camp until just before dinner. And believe it or not, we did not see any other tourists during our whole time in the Serengeti! We were so lucky… it truly felt like it was just us and the animals. I had envisioned traffic jams of landrovers traveling through the Serengeti, and although it was more like that in some of the other parks, the Serengeti we seemed to have to ourselves (I guess that’s what happens when you’re in the largest game park in the world!).

First of all, let me say that, combining all of the national parks together that we visited, we were extremely lucky in terms of game viewing. However, we didn’t get the sense of rawness in the Serengeti that we thought we might… we didn’t see a kill during our whole time there, and although some might be disappointed by that, I was extremely happy. I don’t know if I could have handled watching one animal come upon another and kill it before my eyes (I know that if I continue to return to Africa, I will no doubt see that one day, but I’m glad it wasn’t on my first trip…) Instead, what we saw was truly a playground. A magical, fun playground filled with animals. We saw giraffes, zebras, gazelles, storks, ostriches, wildebeest, warthogs, hyenas… and the list goes on (oh, and be forewarned: with the vehicle windows down, dung beetles can and may fly in and smack you in the face! Not a fun experience…!).

It was so amazing to realize that all of those different species of animals were all playing on the same turf. And the true realization, the one where you realize that you’re in Africa, and not just at the zoo, is when you realize that you are in their world. It wasn’t them living amongst us, but instead it was us invading their turf. And you knew it by the way that they all stopped and stared at you. And although they kept playing, they continued to stare until you continued on your way.

We were lucky enough to spot a couple of cheetahs on our 2nd day. They were gorgeous! We spotted only one at first, walking along, scoping out the scene… We made sure to stay back far enough (as cheetahs are extremely shy creatures…), and he eventually headed over for a rest under the shade of a tree, joining a second one who was already lying there! We ended up getting very close to them… for me, I felt like I could have stopped and watched each and every animal for hours… I never tired of watching them, and although my husband had feared that he might get bored after many days of game viewing, he admitted afterward that he didn’t tire of it one bit! In fact, he was every bit as excited as I was to view the animals!

And it’s not that we didn’t get the “circle of life” aspect: we certainly did! We watched hyenas eating a corpse, and we also watched a most interesting scene where about 30 vultures descended upon the remains of an antelope. It was so interesting to watch: not just the eating of the remains, but the behaviours of the vultures as they fought for food and maintained a pecking order of their own… It was strange to think that that antelope had been alive and playing only an hour before…

We also got to see a lot of calves… We were unfortunately a little early for wildebeest calving season, but the gazelles were clearly birthing, and although we didn’t see a birth or anything, there were so many baby gazelles on the plains! It was a wonder that our driver could spot them, and not hit them, as they would just curl up in a tiny little ball in the grass… they were adorable!

And of course – the wildebeest migration. What can I say? It truly is a sight to be seen! Thousands upon thousands of wildebeest. As far as the eye can see (in fact, at any given moment, you think that you only see maybe a thousand surrounding you, and then, with a closer look, you see tiny little dots scattered on the plain, and you pick up your binoculars and realize that each and every little dot is actually a wildebeest and that you are actually surrounded by tens of thousands!!!). And how they move! First, they are all just standing and grazing, playing, fighting. And then, all of a sudden, one (and I mean truly one!) wildebeest decides to start running, and next thing you know: they are all running!!! Charging! In single file! It truly is the most fascinating (and frankly, stupid-looking!) thing you’ll ever see… And within minutes, the plain is taken up with a seemingly never-ending line of wildebeest… charging south towards the Ngorogoro crater… The funny thing about being there for the migration is realizing how empty the Serengeti must be when the migration isn’t in the area! And it was even funny right at our camp, because, as I already mentioned, when we arrived for our first night, tons of wildebeest were standing and grazing very closeby the camp… the next day, they were charging, and by the third day, they were gone from the area of the camp completely! In fact, the camp staff told us that as soon as we were leaving, they were going to take down the camp, and build it farther south for the next set of guests to properly view the migration!

At the end of those wonderful four days in the Serengeti, we headed out to spend New Years’ Eve at the Ngorogoro Wildlife Lodge on the Crater rim. I’ll be sure to post the second leg of our trip soon… I’m sorry that this is so long and detailed, but I’m just writing it as I remember it, and I know that it would take me even longer to try to edit it down… hopefully you’re not bored of the details…

Stay tuned for : the Ngorogoro Crater, our Crater Highlands trek and our climb up Oldoinyo Lengai, Tarangire National Park, our climb up the spectacular Mount Meru and the end of our journey on the island of Zanzibar…

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    Great report. Keep the details coming, the more the better.

    I was just about to post a few Tanzania questions, so I hope you don't mind if I just ask you directly.

    Would you have done 2 nights in Arusha to recover from jet lag?

    How many hours was the drive from Arusha to Ngorogoro?

    Thanks!

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    Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories with us! I am planning to go next January/February. You mentioned that the East African Safari and touring Company organized your trip. Is this the company in New York? Also, do you know which operator was used for your campng in the Serengeti? Can't wait for the next installment.

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    Yay! More, more, please.

    I think you're doing a great job of describing your experience. Reading your account of the bustle of Arusha, I remember looking out our window at the Impala, all the weekday morning traffic, people everywhere. And then, in the midst of it all, a woman walking her cow, switch in hand.

    Welcome home, alwaysafrica.

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    Yes - love the details Alwaysafrica! We will be traveling next January from Canada and we have very familiar itineraries! Your details are really giving me a 'taste' of our trip to come.

    Thanks for the great report so far.

    kc



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    Great report; I appreciate the detail and you have a lovely style. The bit about the Dung Beetle made me laugh.

    You also reminded me of my very first sighting of a cheetah - love at first sight!

    Keep going please.

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    I especially love reading trip reports from "first-timers" as I can almost feel the excitement and though it were my first trip. Like you, I remember the feeling of my feet first touching African soil and knowing this was going to be something exceptional. It was so 10-years ago and still is to this day.

    Just for your information, the box that served as a toilet over the drop is called a "thunderbox" - and sorry to disappoint but, the Serengeti isn't the largest game park in the world... rather The Selous in the Southern part of Tanzania. OK, so that'll be your next trip.

    Waiting on your continued report. Thanks.

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    Superb report. I too got a laugh about the dung beetles.

    Several weeks ago at Satao Camp a suicidal dung beetle flew in at dinner time and lit on the shoulder of a big burly middle-aged gentleman. He went into a panic like the proverbial woman with a mouse! He was so upset he had to leave the dining room.

    Can't wait for your continued story.

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    Trip Report, Part II: 26 Glorious Days in Tanzania

    I only have time to post this write now, but I promise to answer some of your questions in my next post... I'm glad that you guys are enjoying reading it, because I'm definitely enjoying reminiscing while I write it!

    Part II: The Ngorogoro Crater

    Our drive out of the Serengeti and into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was a sad one, as we realized that we were leaving a place that we had long dreamt of, and wouldn’t be returning to again for a long while… But the scampering animals always have a way of lifting one’s mood…! And this is when we spotted our first elephants… there were two of them, sitting on the most luscious patch of green grass and we were in awe! They were so extremely big and beautiful…! We had seen numerous elephants on a past trip to Thailand, but quickly realized that the African elephant is much bigger, browner, and cuter than the Thai elephant… I was in love!

    I should mention at this point that everything (each and every park on our itinerary), was very green! We knew that January is known to be the short dry season - the month where the “short rains” in December have stopped, and before the longer rains begin - but we didn’t know what that would actually mean for the conditions and vegetation… Wow, did we feel lucky! We had spoken to friends of ours who had been to Tanzania a few years back in October. They reported that the parks, although probably more packed with animals than in January, were dry – brown/yellow grass, dry vegetation. What we experienced was completely the opposite! Everything was amazingly green and lush! The grass looked like it had rained until the very moment we got there, throughout our entire trip! We enjoyed the colour immensely and really enjoyed its impact on our photographs too!

    We arrived at the Wildlife Lodge at around 4:30p.m., only to be disappointed by the fact that the lodge was not able to accept our laundry – we had anticipated getting our laundry done at the lodge, forgetting of course that they would need a minimum of 2-nights of stay in order to hand-launder it and have it sufficiently dry via hanging… And we knew that we were heading out the following day on our 5 or 6 day trek through the highlands, and realized quickly that our attire was not going to be as clean as we had hoped (our hand-washing in the sink always leaves something to be desired…) :-)

    All I can say about the lodge is that it was: okay. I have to preface this by saying that this was the first place that I got to hear some news and take a look at a television screen and come to the realization that (at that point) 135,000 people had died as victims of the tsunami (the tsunami had hit on the day we left home and so we had only heard of the very preliminary death tolls…) and so this definitely affected my mood, to say the least. Aside from that though, we had been very excited about the idea of staying at a lodge (especially for New Years) – thinking that this was our one night of true luxury… We didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as we thought we would. In fact, we found the “lodge experience” to be far too touristy (but perhaps it was only this particular lodge…). The place was filled with people, all of them smoking heavily in the common area, wearing their sparkly shirts and stiletto shoes, being rude to the staff – this wasn’t Africa! The rooms were cold and damp, with two small, uncomfortable single beds and of course, the building provides a barrier from the animals :-( The view into the crater from our room, however, was spectacular (when the mist wasn’t covering the entire view!). We spent a nice New Years Eve. together, ate a mediocre meal (which was supposed to be “special” for New Years Eve, but wasn’t nearly as special as any of the meals we’d eaten at camp in the Serengeti…), rang in the New Year with all of the others who then proceeded to stay up and blare the music, dance, hoot and holler, keeping the rest of us awake until after 3:00a.m.! Now don’t get me wrong, we’re in our twenties and we can dance and holler with the best of them :-), but we were more interested in being rested for our trip into the Crater the next morning (and were surprised by how little most of the other guests seemed to care about this…!).

    So, after very little sleep, we awoke at 6:30a.m. for an early breakfast… It was extremely misty (our guide said he had never seen such mist…) and so we were concerned at first that the views weren’t going to be good… and then we had the most spectacular day! We were in fact lucky that so many tourists had decided to party in honour of New Years the night before… during the morning hours, there was almost no-one in the Crater! In fact, the whole day was very slow, according to our guide – and we appreciated it! The Crater is so wonderful, and yet so very different from the Serengeti. It’s a 28-sq-km Crater, and it’s mostly flat too, but there are different areas of the Crater with different vegetation, and it’s confined, so there is less of a sense of mystery in what you might see, and more a sense of ambition to find the animals that you want to find (I would say that it’s more like a zoo-experience, but I wouldn’t want it to impart any negativity on the experience…) I’m very disappointed to hear the news that there will no longer be full-day crater tours (do you know the reasoning for this, Sandi?) – I can’t understand why this would be – In fact, I wished that we had had another half-day on top of our full day!

    When all was said and done, we had seen so many wonderful animals! We saw more gazelle, elephants, warthogs, zebras, wildebeest… we also saw monkeys in the trees, tons of baby warthogs running around, several more cheetah and had 2 very special experiences. First, we had read about the black rhino and how there are only something like 19 of them in Tanzania, and we were lucky enough to see 5 of them! 4 different sightings of them, including one of a mama rhino and her baby (about 1 year old)… they are a sight! Wow. They don’t come overly close to the vehicles, but with our binoculars, we had terrific views! It’s just sad to think how endangered they are.

    And then came the true excitement of our day! As you may have gathered from the trip report thus far, we had not seen a lion. And the two of us had talked about it, when we were leaving the Serengeti, and calmly decided that if we left Tanzania and hadn’t seen a lion, that we would be okay with that, because we were “having such a wonderful time, lucky with other animals”, etc… Boy, were we fooling ourselves! It was probably about 11 a.m. and we’re driving along in the Crater, when we spot a mid-sized female lion on a hill nearby! We pull up closer and realize that she’s not alone, of course… she’s got a baby beside her! By this point, we were fairly close (definitely within 15 metres or so!) and the hill that they were sitting on was just a small one, so when we stuck our heads (and bodies!) out of the rooftop of the vehicle, we had the most magnificent view! And it only got better from there… It turns out that it was an entire pride of lions: 4 beautiful females, 5 adorable babies, and one majestic male! We sat and watched them, and snapped photographs, and ooo’ed and aaahhh’ed for about 30 or 40 minutes… They just slept, moved around, played – and at some points, honestly it was like they were posing for our camera… By this point, there were obviously numerous trucks around (probably about 10…), but we had the best spot and tried not to let the bustle interrupt our experience (in fact, we realized that most people, strangely enough, get bored of watching any given animal and will LEAVE after about 10 minutes – it boggles my mind that an individual might only get to see lions in the wild ONCE in their lifetime and that they only want to experience this for 10 minutes, but that’s just my opinion… :-) Eventually, the daddy lion got up, gathered “the troops” and they came running down the hill (right by the tire of our landrover…!) and off to hunt… What an experience! And what photos we have!!!

    We left the crater at about 3:00 in the afternoon; the sun had dissipated in the mid-morning and it had turned into a beautiful and HOT, sunny day… we had truly seen the crater in several different lights, which was great. We headed out to one of the gates, where we met with our new driver and vehicle. We were sad to leave Siya, our driver who had been with us for these 6 days, because he was terrific, but the company knew that we needed a bigger vehicle in order to accommodate our crater highlands trekking which was coming up, and so we said our goodbyes to Siya. He had been a wonderful driver, with an amazing sense of humour, and a love for the animals – we missed him for the rest of the trip. But the great thing was that our guide, George, stayed with us throughout the entire trip - right until we got on the plane for Zanzibar! We’ve heard that a lot of companies don’t provide this, whereby you’re literally with the same guide (along with local guides, where necessary) for ALL of the safari game drives, all of the hiking, all of the mountain trekking… we were extremely lucky to have had George, such a wonderful, knowledgeable, caring man, throughout our trip…!

    That late afternoon, we drove through the Ngorongoro C.A., along a dirt road, towards the Masaai village of Nainokanoka.. We were so excited about the trekking that was to come over the next four days through the highlands… We passed several small Masaai villages, and I think the hardest part of this trip report is to explain the feeling of seeing the local people – poor; destitute; hungry; starving; and yet at once friendly and content. It’s indescribable and definitely life-altering. When we arrived at Nainokanoka, a decent-sized village, we pulled onto a little path, unsure of where we were headed, and realized that we were heading just behind the village to where we would be camping. All of a sudden, our vehicle was surrounded by about 30 local masaai boys, and it started to pour rain, so hard in fact that we feared we were going to get stuck (you would not believe the state of repair of this “path” even if I told you!) However, we eventually reached our campsite and they proceeded to set up our tents in the pouring rain. We realized that the masaai had gathered in order to have the chance to help out and make some money in the setting up of camp, etc. Our guide always hired locals to help in any way that he could.

    Our evening, once the rain cleared up, was wonderful. It was very cold and damp camping, but the sounds of the village while we drifted off to sleep were amazing: children playing, cow bells ringing, music off in the distant – much more local noise than we had expected… Our meals, from here on in during the highlands trek, was done by our cook Michael (who had accompanied our new vehicle as well…) over a charcoal fire… Again, lovely three-course meals, which always amazed us (because we were camping, and truly would have accepted and expected a hot dog on a stick :-)

    We slept in 2-man stand-up tents, with sleeping cots and sleeping bags… When it wasn’t wet from rain, it was actually quite comfortable…! We made use of the village toilet, which was definitely the worst toilet I have EVER used – a small, crack in a wooden outhouse, with the planks slipping down, threatening to let you fall in! For the next 4 days, we weren’t to have toilets at all, and although it made things difficult, I actually preferred it to the village outhouse… :-)

    Tune in for more: our Crater Highlands trek and our climb up Oldoinyo Lengai, Tarangire National Park, our climb up the spectacular Mount Meru and the end of our journey on the island of Zanzibar…

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    I am on the West Coast, still at work, twiddling my thumbs, bored out of my mind...and you post your nest installment!

    Thank you, alwaysafrica. I really love this report. Can't wait to hear about the trekking.

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    alwaysafrica -

    Re the half-day Crater tours as 7/1/05 - let me assure you, they certainly didn't consult with me. But it makes sense in that the Crater is probably the busiest and most visited spot in Tanzania. It is small, and with so many vehicles and guests visiting - the environment has to be protected. It's my guess that by conducting only half-day tours they cut down on the traffic, preserve the area, and yet provide visitors/guests on half-day tours in the Crater a more pleasant experience. This is the one place that everyone mentions/complains is the most crowded. There are also few accommodations here, and if visitors do only half-day tours, these can free up the "second" night many people stay at lodgings - a two-fold solution.

    That's not to say you can't do an afternoon tour, and another the next morning... only not morning thru late afternoon in one day.

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    Part III: Trekking Through the Crater Highlands

    The whole experience of trekking in the highlands seems surreal. We woke up in the morning after a frigid night’s sleep in Nainokanoka, and started our trek toward Lake Natron. The really interesting thing is that there are no paths and no roads or vehicles – you just head out, in the right direction... and you walk for three full days. The whole trek was spectacular – and each day brought something different! And the feeling that you’re experiencing something that no-one can experience by vehicle is always an amazing feeling!

    The first day, we trekked from Nainokanoka to Empakaai Crater. This was a much tougher walk than we’d thought it would be (in fact, all three days were more strenuous than we’d thought… but even more rewarding!). We walked through rolling hills, and more difficult mountains; some areas were slightly treed, but most not at all, but instead more like plains. We walked through numerous local masaai villages and had plenty of opportunity for interaction with the people. This first day was extremely hot and sunny, which made it kind of tough-going because there was no protection at all from the sun (don’t forget your sunhat – you truly won’t make it!) There were lots of herds grazing, and at most times, we were walking on the cattle trails (seeing the effect of erosion on the trails was fascinating).

    The town of Bulati was a real sight… I had previously read about it, and expected a much bigger, built-up town than it was… it’s actually just a very spread-out Masaai village, with perhaps 50 bomas in total… We greeted the locals as we trekked along, and very often had masaai children joining us for some of our remaining journey… The looks on their faces as they ran toward us… just to see us (there really are very few tourists going through these parts), and have our guide place his right hand on the tops of their heads as a blessing… they were adorable. They giggled when they didn’t know how to behave or react, and they loved to follow along behind or beside us for as far as they could… We ran into numerous locals… youths herding their herds of cattle/goats/sheep, women collecting wood from nearby treed areas and carrying it back to the villages on a leather strap on their forehead, elders walking around the area in order to protect their territory… It was interesting to learn about the masaai as we walked along; in this area, all of the masaai are completely traditional – all masaai only wear the traditional shuka (blanket) to cover their bodies; the males have braided hair, wear beaded jewelry and are always carrying a metal spear, and often a wooden club as well; the women are completely hairless, and wear plenty of beaded jewelry (which, we learnt, is for the pure purpose of attracting the opposite sex…) and often are carrying their small infants on their back draped in fabric.

    We were naïve in not knowing that most of the masaai people do not speak a dialect of Swahili, but instead speak the masaai language, which means that they are unable to communicate with the local non-masaai Tanzanians…. We were lucky to have both our guide, George (who only spoke Swahili, and very little masaai) as well as our ranger, Sokoroyee, who was masaai and able to translate the masaai language into Swahili, so that George could translate it into English for us… At one point, when we had stopped to have lunch and George had gone for a little walk on his own, he ran into some tribesmen whom he wasn’t able to communicate with… they were extremely suspicious of him, and until they saw us (white tourists) and received an explanation from the ranger about George, they thought he was a cattle thief scouting out the area  It’s truly a different world.

    The views were beautiful as we walked alongside the Rift Valley Escarpment…. We spotted some wildlife – the odd zebra and wildebeest appeared out of nowhere, and we saw a cheetah scoping out some cattle, and had to inform the nearby village to be careful with their herds…! When we reached the rim of Empakaai Crater, we had been walking for about 8 hours, and even the ranger admitted that we were “tough” for making it! Unfortunately, our walk along the rim (on a dirt road) to our campsite took longer than we had thought – we walked for another hour and a half!!! The last leg always seems the worst and the longest… I have to say, though, that the hardest part of this trek was the lack of washroom facilities – as a female, it’s hard enough not to have any toilet at all, but to have no privacy at all is even more difficult… and then, add in the presence of masaai – who seem to come out of the bushes and trees at every turn! One never knew whether they were truly alone 

    When we finally arrived at our campsite, the view down into Empakaai Crater was beautiful… a fully forested crater with an emerald lake below, filled with flamingoes (although it’s a long way down, so they seem extremely small… ). Our campsite was populated by our driver who had met us there, our cook who was preparing dinner (thank goodness!) and several local masaai, who would be accompanying us as local guides, as well as taking care of our donkey caravan from that point forward – the car would not be able to accompany us at all until we met up with it again at Natron (no vehicle access whatsoever), and so our camping gear and supplies were carried by 2 donkeys… From this point on, we slept in two-man hiking tents just on the ground in sleeping bags, rather than the larger 2-man stand-up tent with cots… We had a nice night around the bonfire (gorgeous stars, as always in Tanzania!) and turned in early to be ready for the next day!

    The sunrise over Empakaai Crater was lovely and we headed out early. At first, it was a bit slow going as we got the donkeys into routine (they are forever desperate to chomp on grass!), and then: our first significant views of Oldonyo Lengai. One can understand immediately why the masaai call this the “mountain of god”! Wow. When we first saw it approaching, I’m sure both of our mouths dropped with the thought that, in a few short days, we were going to be climbing it – remember: Lengai is an active volcano! It did not look easy…! The slopes looked insane and it looked dry, volcanic… daunting. One of the coolest things about this trek was the views of Lengai, changing, looming, as we got farther into the dry Lake Natron area.

    During the morning and early-afternoon, we passed the larger town of Naiobi. It was surprising how green this village was – George informed us that it is one of the only towns in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area that is permitted to cultivate. The rolling hills and cultivated land were beautiful and the town actually looked a little bustling in the afternoon heat – people gathering, small markets, children heading to the local school… Once again, the children greeted us, always eager to follow us along. And then once through Naiobi, the landscape changed again (it honestly felt like the landscape changed at every turn – who could ask for more out of a trek??): it became quite forested with acacia trees. And not just any acacias (there are over 50 types!), but yellow acacias! They are so beautiful – their trunks and branches are a glowing yellow colour, seemingly stunted in growth (as all African acacias appear) and in the upcoming fields, there were thousands of them! What a sight!

    We were walking along in the extreme heat (we were lucky enough to have sun for this entire trek – unbearably hot, but better than rain ) and a masaai boy, probably around 16 or 17 years old, approached us for some conversation and to ask if he could be of any assistance (this is a somewhat common way for the local masaai to attempt to receive odd jobs to attain some money…). He joined us for the rest of the day’s walk, carrying small of our smaller bags… A sweet kid.

    As we walked along in the acacia, we enjoyed the truly fresh air, and came upon valleys of wild flowers – yellow, red – it was gorgeous. In the fields, we came across very small masaai communities (2-3 bomas); the ringing of cow bells and playing children could be heard throughout… Once again, a long, tough, rewarding day. By about 4:00 in the afternoon, we reached our “campsite”, which was nothing more than a spot in the forest – but clearly a specific area that they had wanted to reach by the end of the day.

    We sat for tea, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of flies (definitely the worst we encountered on the entire trip!), and slowly, we watched our campsite became a “hangout” of sorts for local masaai teenagers. Evidently they’d heard that we were in the area, and two by two or three, they would arrive to sit around our fire and chat. We looked around, and there was literally a circle of about 12 spears standing upright out of the ground, as they relaxed and enjoyed the interaction with us, but also with our guides and cook (after all, they were great guys ) We then all headed up one of the nearby “hills” to get a nice view of Lengai and the Rift Valley Escarpment in time for sunset. It was beautiful… We had a really nice time; we let the masaai boys use our binoculars to gain glimpses of Lengai and the surrounding area – this was clearly the first time they’d ever used a pair, and once we showed them how to sharpen the images, they were fascinated. It was quite a sight as they expressed their awe and excitement over such an amazing tool!

    That night, we enjoyed another fire-cooked 3-course meal… of course, at this point, there was certainly no dining tent, and so we ate under the stars on a tablecloth laid on the grass. The only unfortunate part about climbing so long and so hard while camping is the lack of a shower (this is definitely where the “Wet Ones” wipes came in handy!!). Our guide built us a fire right by our tent and we enjoyed the most spectacular sky full of stars before heading to bed at the usual time: 8:30 p.m. 

    Our final day of trekking in the highlands was magnificent, although challenging. We literally walked along the ridges on top of the Rift Valley Escarpment, and finally, as it ended, down into the cratered valley below near Lake Natron. The views were stunning, and it was amazing to see the donkeys manage along these tiny little paths! As always, little masaai communities abound, and it was getting hotter and hotter as we headed down the escarpment into the valley below. In fact, by the time we reached the bottom, it was full-afternoon heat and sun, and we felt like we had entered the desert! I was parched – our water was running low – and this was the first time that I truly felt a longing for… water. It felt like there was no water to be found… all of the streams and rivers were dry, the sun was scorching and the flies were awful… We ran into two masaai girls, and bought some of their beaded jewelry (really nice stuff)… we found that a lot of the places where we would barter with the masaai women, the young ones often didn’t even recognize the currency… which, in addition to the language barriers, certainly made things difficult!

    We walked across the fields with Lengai looming overhead (we were literally almost at the base of it at this point – and it looked more daunting than ever!!!), and slowly, faintly, we spotted our vehicle waiting for us along the side of the “road” (the vehicle had gone the shorter route around the side of the Conservation Area and Mount Lengai, while we walked through the Highlands for 3 days, and then met us at the base of the volcano to take us to our campsite where we’d be spending the next couple of nights…).

    The vehicle drove us to the Lake Natron public campsite (at this point, it was probably 1:00p.m.)… which is on the shore of Lake Natron, and thank God, had facilities! The guys set up our tent, while we thoroughly enjoyed our first sight of toilets and showers we’d had in 4 days  The facilities were in a little shed-like shelter, which was full of mosquitos… but it felt so good that we couldn’t complain!

    There was a little masaai market/school located within the campsite area, where we got to meet some of the local women and children… it’s amazing how much more aggressive the women become when they’re used to being in an area populated with tourists!! While we were at the campsite, we were one of the only groups of tourists there, but we had the feeling that it could get quite cramped and full during high season!

    We spent the rest of the day enjoying the relaxation of sitting down after having enjoyed a shower…  After four long, hot days of trekking, we needed the rest… after all, we were scheduled to head to bed at 8:00, and wake up at midnight in order to begin our night climb of Oldoinyo Lengai …

    It had been a tough, challenging four days, but I can honestly say that it was one of the most rewarding parts of our trip. We feel like we got a glimpse of Tanzania that relatively few people get to see, and our experiences with the locals are all our own. For anyone who is interested in trekking and the Tanzanian culture, both my husband and I highly recommend the journey.

    Tune in again for: our climb up Oldoinyo Lengai, our safari in Tarangire National Park, our climb up the spectacular Mount Meru and the end of our journey on the island of Zanzibar…





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    Alwaysafrica-
    OMG! What a report. You had me weeping with joy on your walk through the Crater highlands. How I wish this would have been available to me 20 years ago. Just the ticket I needed to refuse to ever leave this wonderful place.
    You certainly have the 'story telling' ability to write an incredible trip report. You must write for a living.
    Thank you ever so much for gracing our site and sharing this wonderful trip with us here. I await any further installments and shall be thinking of you in just over a week when I am once again with the wildebeest on the southern Serengeti. Liz

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    I'm sorry that this has taken me so long - I hope that I still hold your interest...! Things have been really busy, but I had so much fun getting back into the trip report, that I suspect the next installment will follow forthwith :-)

    Part IV: Oldonyo Lengai

    While in the Lake Natron area, we stayed at the Lake Natron Public Campsite; the place is nice enough (lots of trees – which is great for much-needed shade!). There weren’t very many tourists there in January (in fact, on the second night, it was only us!), which we considered to be a serious bonus :-), and it was a great place to meet some of the local massai townspeople… There were local boys that were allowed by the campsite owners to hang around and provide service to any tourists/tour companies that came through. Also, right near our campsite, was a little massai market, with about 40 women trying to sell their wares (mostly beaded jewelry). Thus, all of the local women and children used the campsite as a meeting place, which allowed us to meet quite a lot of them… During most of the day (with no potential customers in sight :-), the area of the market also became a makeshift school; with someone standing in front to teach the children, as well as most of the women, to speak Swahili – it was amazing to watch.

    We arrived at this campsite in the mid-afternoon a very tired lot, after spending the past 4 days hiking through the highlands…! We spent the afternoon showering (finally :-)), and relaxing. It was great to have a little concrete structure around the shower stalls (as well as around the sometimes-flushing toilets), but unfortunately this also meant that it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes – not that it mattered much – we really needed the shower. :-)

    That evening, we went to bed at around 8:00p.m., so as to wake up at midnight to begin our climb of Oldonyo Lengai. Easier said than done… :-) We were so excited/nervous about our imminent quest to climb the mountain, and it was so HOT (I’m sure you’ve heard about the intense HEAT in the Natron area…), that not much sleeping was done!

    We were “awoken” at midnight, and invited to drink some tea and enjoy a few biscuits before heading off in our Rover for the base of Lengai. Why at midnight, you ask? In Tanzania, most of the difficult trekking and climbing is done throughout the night; this is done for two reasons: (1) a trekker would/should always prefer to reach the summit of a mountain in time for sunrise, in order to attain the most beautiful views; and (2) the African sun is so da*n hot, that it really wouldn’t be feasible to climb during the middle of the day!

    The drive towards the base of the mountain was an eerie one. It was pitch black, and no real roads exist in the Natron area, so the driver had the discretion of taking whichever crevassed path he chose (an oft-disputed decision with our guide) – which included the mandatory midnight crossing of a riverbed! Once we arrived at the base, we got out and began the hike up.

    At this point, we had absolutely no idea what to expect. Accompanying us was, as always, our guide, George, as well as two masaai men – the owners of the donkeys that had accompanied us on our trek through the highlands. George had given us our prep. beforehand: “Oldonyo Lengai is not a joke. It is tough. We will climb behind one another and stay together within a few feet.” And so it began.

    It was surprisingly warm, given the late hour, and we were lucky enough to have a beautiful shining moon over a clear sky…

    Let’s be clear: Lengai is an active volcano of approximately 10,000 feet, and it’s steep! VERY steep – in fact, it would be correct to say that the entire climb is at an angle of about 45 degrees, which makes for some very hard work. My husband Paul was carrying a small backpack (which unfortunately was very heavy) with our camera, tripod, and videocamera, as well as a polar fleece shirt and gloves, needed for once we gained some height. I was lucky enough to have our guide George insist upon carrying my little bag – he knew that I’d need all of my strength to get up to the top.

    We were both wearing proper trekking attire, including wick-away clothing and well-broken in hiking boots, of course! We also thankfully brought our shock-absorbent hiking poles (which we couldn’t have survived without – even our guide got someone to carve him a walking stick to climb Lengai) and powerful headlamps (absolutely essential for night trekking; since your hands are needed for your hiking poles, holding a flashlight would be impossible and you’ll definitely want to be able to see a few feet in front of you [even despite the fact that the headlamps attract all kinds of buzzing insects to your forehead :-(])! We also brought plenty of water (which one desperately needs!), and of course our physical fitness – we aren’t regular hikers, and hadn’t done a lot of prepatory training, but we are certainly in reasonable shape and good fitness (another definite essential!) and had done a decent amount of mountain trekking in the past.

    Now, I know that there are several people on this board contemplating the trip up Oldonyo Lengai and so I’m going to be completely honest in my assessment of the trek: It’s really challenging. It took us seven hours to reach the top of the volcano. There is no set path, but instead you are climbing wherever you are guided towards the top, through ash, scree and rock. There is no technical climbing at all, rather just trekking with hiking poles, but it’s so steep that a few hours in, my hips were beginning to hurt from climbing at such an angle.

    The going is tough, and every few minutes, when we’d start breathing fast and hard, one of the guides would give the “pole, pole” advice. “Pole, pole” is the Swahili way of saying “slowly, slowly”. This is extremely important when ascending quickly – altitude sickness, while not potentially fatal at the altitude of Lengai, is always a possibility (and never fun!). It’s amazing how those simple words, “po-le, po-le”, said slowly and rhythmically, served to slow us down, reminded us to take a breath, and brought us back on track. We must have heard it 100 times on the way up (and another 200 on the way down!).

    We climbed and climbed. Once we’d been climbing for a couple of hours, and the climbing was getting tougher and tougher, we would take very short (1 minute) breaks every few minutes to sit down (which really didn’t involve much effort – when you’re climbing on such an angle, it only takes a foot or so to plop your butt onto the ground below :-) We had been told that Lengai had previously been climbed in between 4 and 8 hours, and we of course deluded ourselves into thinking that we would be of the climbers to achieve the top in 4 hours… unfortunately we were wrong. :-( When we’d been climbing for about 4 hours, we made the mistake of asking how much farther – the real problem is that the volcano is so steep, that it constantly looks like you are just about to reach the peak! The answer to our question “how much farther?” came with a very regrettable (and unexpected!) response of “at least another 2 and a 1/2 hours” . We were crushed. But we kept on.

    By this point, I was somewhat regretting the climb. We had been climbing for over 5 hours, and I was exhausted. It was pitch black outside and we hadn’t seen one single thing. It was so steep (and dark) that we weren’t even able to take pictures or video. I wasn’t finding it enjoyable. And I also knew that once we reached the top, we would only be able to spend very little time up there before having to head down to avoid climbing throughout the midday heat. I also started thinking about how we were supposed to climb Mount Meru (a challenging 4-day 17,000 ft. climb) in two days following this climb, and so I decided: I wasn’t doing it. In fact, for the rest of the climb up Lengai, I spent my time focusing on how we could make use of those extra 4 days that we would no longer need for Mount Meru – “another safari – perfect!”, I thought. That got me through :-)

    When we finally reached the top, just in time for sunrise, it was beautiful. It was gorgeous. There were lava formations, the air smelled of sulphur, and the sun was just coming up over Lengai and shining beautifully onto the Rift Valley below. The green of the Rift Valley turned a mixture of yellow, orange and pink and we took some beautiful photos. We probably spent about half an hour at the top (remember to confirm with your tour company that they are going to bring some snacks to the top, because we had assumed incorrectly and were very hungry for the whole way down [even despite the energy bars we had brought ourselves] :-)

    We began our descent. And as hard as we had thought the way up was, it was an even tougher way down! On the climb up, I had been nervous that climbing down at such an angle was going to be extremely scary (even though I’m never afraid of heights!) – but not so. The height didn’t bother me one bit – and in fact, the mountain seemed less scary than it did on the way up, because the craters that we had been afraid of falling into, were often shorter, less dangerous, or farther away than they had appeared during the middle of the night.

    However, the way down was still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We had read stories about climbers, who had said “I would go up Lengai again, but no-one could pay me enough to come down again…” and we began to understand why. The climb down took us about six hours (from 7:30 a.m. to about 1:45 p.m.) It was hot and sweaty and steep. The angle on the way down made it extremely tough on the heels and knees, the scree and ash below our feet made everyone very prone to slipping (I believe my husband was the only one who didn’t take at least one rolling tumble!) and the descent seemed to never end.

    Once we reached the bottom, and had enjoyed a shower and a soak of the feet, we went for a walk with George, to gaze upon our feat. It is a spectacular volcano and we were extremely proud of ourselves for having climbed it. What a sense of accomplishment.

    Some say that the sights and smells of Lengai will never be forgotten. I agree that it’s beautiful. And some people might definitely think it’s worth the climb, but I can’t say with 100% certainty that that’s true for me or my husband. What we really enjoy about trekking is the entire experience of a climb… being able to enjoy the entire trek (rather than just scrambling up)… stopping to look around, see the sights, take some pictures… being able to enjoy spectacular views… The views at the top of Lengai were no doubt gorgeous and the views on the way down were also beautiful, of course – but the “path/way” up is pretty much the same “path/way” down – which allows for a beautiful view (but constantly the same view) of the Rift Valley and surrounding area… I’m a person that enjoys different, changing¸views throughout a climb… This view was exactly the same throughout the entire climb, but simply at different altitudes as you descended. And we were so tired, exhausted and physically drained, that the views just weren’t rewarding enough.

    So, I guess when all is said and done, I can say that Oldonyo Lengai is a challenging and beautiful trek (and for the achievement of which you will receive much respect from the local people :-). However, whether you will find it rewarding enough to make up for the challenge of the climb is purely subjective. I’ve decided that for me, it wasn’t. I enjoyed infinitely more our trekking through the Crater Highlands. And our climb up Mount Meru a few days later (yes, a few days of safari at Tarangire National Park provided the necessary rejuvenation, thank goodness…!) totally reinforced my opinion… although it was tough (both mentally and physically), as well as very high and steep, it provided exactly what we were looking for… But alas, that’s a story for the next installment of my trip report :-)

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    Loved your account of the climb. What an accomplishment! I also noticed in your first installment that your first animal sighting was a giraffe. Mine too. You never forget it.

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    You guys are great for still being interested (I had briefly thought that maybe I'd waited too long and lost my chance)...

    I will definitely compose the rest and post it within the next few days. Our ENTIRE trip was phenomenal and I feel badly that I left off the rest of my post, not allowing people to benefit from the experience...

    Only a few days - I PROMISE :-)

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    No I do understand. I never finished my report from the long long long 2004 trip and I decided after several months that there were so many more recent trip reports that it wasn't worth finishing mine unless anyone specifically wanted it. I'd just answer questions instead.

    BUT I WANT YOURS!

    :D

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    Well, I know it’s been an embarrassingly long while since my last installment, but, at Kavey’s request… I’m continuing on! Thanks Kavey, for the encouragement – I hope that you and any others still interested will find the information useful… Also, I believe that I had promised an earlier poster some information about Naitolia Camp (just outside of Tarangire NP) and I hope that late information is better than never! Here goes...

    After spending one last night in the Lake Natron area, and enjoying our first full night’s sleep in two full days!, we headed out of the area, en route to our next destination: Tarangire National Park! By this point, we had strictly been trekking and hadn’t been on safari for almost a week! It’s amazing because, a week earlier, when we left the Crater to begin our highlands trekking (which, you might remember, was after almost a full week of safari!), we had felt satisfied with our safari experience. But by this point a week later - we were already anxious to get back to safari-ing :-)

    We made the rather long and hot drive from Lake Natron back into Arusha to pick up supplies. On the way, we drove through amazing countryside… that area is always described in books as “other-worldly”, and I couldn’t agree more. Hot, dry, rolling hills and volcanic mountains surrounded by desert-like plains (we even saw cacti!). We drove through the town of Engaruka and had a chance to meet with some of local townspeople – lovely, warm people.

    After a short stop at the East African Safari and Touring Co. office (which is a little place on one of the main streets in Arusha, hidden away behind some storefronts) to pick up supplies, we headed toward Tarangire National Park. The drive was along the main, paved road, but it was interesting nonetheless… locals swimming in the nearby streams, people walking to gather supplies… I can truly say that I was riveted to the scenery during every moment of our time in Tanzania :-)

    We arrived at Naitolia Camp and were in awe. The property is approx. 40 minutes from the gates of Tarangire National Park, but is still located within the Tarangire Conservation Area – which means that wildlife is still in the area, but it allows for the opportunity to participate in night game drives and walks.

    Once again, we were the only ones staying at the camp, which provided a peace and tranquility that we could never have even imagined.

    The camp at Naitolia is owned by East African, and each “tent” is constructed entirely from local materials with low stone and grass walls, covered by a grass-thatched roof in the style of the traditional African banda. The only modern aspect of the tent is the front façade made of canvas and shade cloth (mosquito netting), so that we had a beautiful uninterrupted view of the Lemiyon Plains from the comfort of our huge, cedar four-poster bed (this honestly was one of the most comfortable beds my husband and I have ever slept in – the king-sized mattress was wonderful, and the duvet was warm and cozy – perfect for the cool Tarangire evenings… surrounded by the safety of mosquito netting). We didn’t stay in the Treehouse (of which there’s only one – and it would have been significantly more expensive…) but our tent was beautiful, and after having trekked and camped and climbed through the highlands, we literally jumped up and down with excitement at the true luxury provided by the camp.

    In addition to the spacious, wonderful “tent” – with the wonderful bed, sitting area and writing table :-) - we particularly enjoyed the other facilities too … Each tent had an outdoor “ensuite” - the ensuite consisted of an area (made private by the construction of hay walls in the direction of the other tents or common areas, but completely open on the other side to nature and the plains) with a small washing basin (for washing up), a separate “hay room” with an outdoor shower (which they’d fill with warm water upon request), and yes, get this, an outdoor flush toilet. I should put “flush” in quotations because I’ll admit that realistically, the toilet only flushed once every hour or so… but we hadn’t had a toilet in so long, and the views from the outdoor toilet were so superb :-)) – it was amazing (an especially bizarre feeling to use the facilities at night underneath a full Tanzanian sky of stars!).

    For those of you who’d like to check out some photos and get more information about the Camp, check the following web address:
    http://www.eastafricansafari.info/naitolia.htm

    The common area included a lovely (and romantic) candle-lit dining area (as far as I could tell, when all of the camp's six tents are full, everyone eats together at the one big long table – but we had it to ourselves :-), and a bar and small library, that opened out to views of the acacias and open savannah. The food was reasonably good - they were out of a few supplies, but the food was still enjoyable. I must admit that we had expected the food at this luxury lodge to be even better than the food that we’d previously been enjoying while camping and trekking, but we actually enjoyed the food while trekking even more…

    The staff at the camp was extremely friendly, and some of the staff was the same as when we’d been at our semi-permanent camp in the Serengeti (which they’d taken down once we left the area…) and so it was nice to see some of them again!

    I must mention though that there was one thing that we didn’t like at this camp: the tipping procedure. The hostess staff asked us on our first day at the camp whether we’d like to be leaving a tip at the end of our stay and they dropped off the “tip book” for our review… The tip book consisted of a page of entries of the “previous guests” and how much they had provided as tip. Naturally, the high amounts listed put some pressure on us as to how much we were going to leave at the end of our stay… As it turns out, at the end of our stay, we put our tip into an envelope and dropped it in the “tip box” at the front of the common area (which seemed extremely formal, considering we were the only ones staying at the camp!) and then were again given “the book” to write down our information and how much we had tipped. My husband immediately noticed that it was a DIFFERENT page of entries (the most recent, of course…) and the tips were SIGNIFICANTLY lower – all in all, it seems that the highest page of entries was given to us to apply some pressure; this left us, for the one and only time during our entire trip, feeling a little ripped off. So, if you’re planning on staying at this wonderful camp (which I believe is listed in the Lonely Planet for $375 pp/pn – full board, but was certainly MUCH cheaper (perhaps half!) as an inclusion when using East African as a tour operator), enjoy every moment, but be forewarned about the tipping procedure and don’t fall prey to these tactics.

    The other property in Tarangire Conservation Area that is owned by East African is Boundary Hill Lodge. We got to hear all about it (it’s an even newer property), but made the decision that we’d rather stay in camps than in lodges, and also decided that the lodge was too expensive an option. It does look beautiful, however, and more distinctly, the lodge is 50% owned and operated by a local Masaai village. Information about the lodge can be found on the East African Safari and Touring Co. website. (http://www.eastafricansafari.info)

    Now, back to our stay! Our first night at the camp, we ate dinner by candlelight (Naitolia has no power) and then went on our first and only night drive. Dinnertime was peaceful and romantic (to only candle and lamp light), with the sounds of nature surrounding us. I spent some time writing in our travel journal, and we watched a most beautiful sunset over the plains from the deck of our tent, and then we headed out on our first night drive. It’s funny because when we were planning our trip and trying to decide whether to go on a night drive, people had many differing opinions. Some people (including some of the other tour companies that we were dealing with before deciding to go with East African…) believe that night drives aren’t worth it. Their reasons: it’s too dark, you almost never get to see any big game, it means that you have to be staying too far out of the park and it’s just not worth it. Others advised that night drives were a fantastic, unique experience – my husband and I most definitely agree!

    Our night drive was fabulous and yes, it’s true that it meant that we stayed 40 minutes outside of the park – but we visited the park for several days anyways! And although we didn’t spot any big game, it was an exhilarating experience to search for animals amidst the dark plains…

    We drove along in the darkness… Our guide, George, accompanied us as our driver this time, and he brought along one of the camp staff to be our spotter. The spotter brought an extremely vivid spotlight and he stood out of the open roof of the LandRover, roaming the area with his spotlight… At first, nothing. And then… it was a most extraordinary feeling to spot shiny, gleaming eyes in the darkness; it truly makes one realize that there’s a whole other animal world going on out there while we’re sleeping! We stopped the car. Impala, a whole bunch of them, were staring right at us from quite close at the side of the road. The drive continued and although we didn’t spot any big game, we were excited to spot numerous birds and such wildlife as dik dik, a gorgeous Serval Cat and even a chameleon way up in a tree (I don’t know how these spotters do it!!!).

    I highly recommend one night drive in an itinerary (although one is probably sufficient) – it’s not as “flashy” as daytime drives, but it provides a whole new perspective and is a unique and fun way to spend an evening.

    We headed back to the peace and quiet of our tent, and crawled into our bed. What a day! And we slept with dreams of our upcoming day in Tarangire in our heads!

    “A January Day in Tarangire” coming soon…!

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    Great report! Thanks AlwaysAfrica

    I just want to give you an update on the lodges your wrote about!

    Naitolia Camp is now owned by Kirurumu Tented Camps and Lodges. I visited in June this year and they were busy upgrading the camp. At that time it was a bit run down (especially the tree house) but the Kirurumu team will most certainly make a difference. I posted some pictures earlier. I would not considered it a luxury camp though, unless they really do a makeover!

    Boundary Hill Lodge is still under major construction and a bit of a mystery. It is in an excellent location but one can only hope that it will be completed soon to operate as it should!! I posted pictures of it as well!

    Eben

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    Ooooooooh thank you thank you!

    What a shocker about those tipping practices - I have never come across or heard of anything like that before and would be very unimpressed indeed were I to be manipulated in that way!

    I don't know if you fed this back to the managing company but if not, I'd certainly consider doing so.

    That said, the camp and experiences sound delightful and you're so lucky having it all to yourselves again!

    :D

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    Thanks for the update climbhighsleeplow! I do, however, wonder why/how it was sold by East African... curious!

    And it's funny that you should say that it's definitely not a luxury camp - for us, having done some semi-permanent camps, a lodge and mobile camping, Naitolia Camp was most definitely luxurious (even though we knew that it wasn't one of the high-end ones...)! It certainly makes one remember to take any specific opinions within a trip report in the context of the poster's entire trip...!

    Glad you enjoyed the report... I'll be posting the next installment within the next few days...

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    Oh, one more thing climbhighsleeplow - can you please include here the link to your trip report and photos? I'd love to take a look...

    Happy you've taken a read Kavey... more soon!

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    I was fascinated by the beginning of your trip report and was so looking forward to the rest of your time in Tanzania. Thanks so much for continuing and look forward to reading more.

    Now I have to get back to finishing my trip report! LOL!

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    AlwaysAfrica, this year in June I did my first camping safari (a very, very basic one) and I am hooked! Not for everyone for sure but it was one of my best trips ever (and I've stayed at Crater Lodge, Swala, Kusini, Klein's, Grumeti and more!)

    I absolutely share your enthusiasm!

    Here is the link to my Tarangire pics. As you can see the thatch, etc was quite torn up when I visited Naitolia.

    Do you have pics of your trip? It will be good to compare and I would love to see the campsites you stayed at! I also think it is good to read about places that are not often mentioned here!

    http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?Uc=p596e02.88coojaq&Uy=-php4l2&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0&mode=fromshare&conn_speed=1

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    Hey Always....
    It seems that we must have been on the same flight.. I left on 12/26 and got to Kili on the 27 via KLM...yes, it was very hot! I'm actually going back again on Dec 26 this year.. kind of funny about the date.... Glad you enjoyed your trip!

    Laura

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    Thanks for continuing your report. So many experiences that we rarely read about. Will you be posting photos to go along with the report (hint, hint ;) ) or have I missed them somehow? Looking forward to the next installment!

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    Thanks to all of you for being patient once again (my husband and I are currently getting ready for a trip to Panama, for which we leave in just over two weeks, and so time is scarce, but I'm trying to write as much as I can!)

    I know that a couple of you have mentioned photos... we have our own beautiful DVD of digital photos (we were SO happy with our photos!), set to our favourite African songs... but of course, I can't get that to any of you :-( I never put our photos up on any of the websites, but perhaps I will do so once I finally finish my trip report - I'll keep you posted!

    As for now, I'll continue about our time at Tarangire:

    We spent the next few days at Tarangire National park and were amazed! As some of you are aware, there is often (although not always) the opinion from fellow travelers that January is not a great time to visit Tarangire. We disagree wholeheartedly! We thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Tarangire and, having compared our experience with others who had been there at a more popular time (i.e. October), we think that our experience holds its own!

    Although vastly different from the plains of the Serengeti, with its rolling hills and enormous baobob trees, Tarangire is a truly beautiful place (and is even more beautiful and appreciated because of how different it is from the other national parks in the Northern Circuit)! In January, the grounds are green and lush and all of the trees are filled with leaves. This is in stark contrast to the photos I saw of the park in the month of October (when our friends were there). We could vaguely tell that we were looking at the same place, but it was so radically different that we almost couldn't believe our eyes - yellow patchy, grass, bare trees, it's amazing that a place can change so drastically in a climate that's always warm!

    When we arrived at the gate first thing in the morning, we were skeptical. At the admission gate, we were confronted with lots of other tourists. Perhaps visitors to some of the more populated camps and lodges wouldn't feel the same way - it sounds like a lot of travelers are used to seeing lots of other tourists while in East Africa. But as I've mentioned previously, we'd really lucked out by having privacy almost everywhere we went! In reality, it was probably only 2 dozen tourists at the gate, and once we left the gate, it barely felt crowded at all. Like the Crater, tourist vehicles need to stay on the trails, but there are so many different trails, that one never needs to be too far from the animals (unlike some of the distances in the Crater!).

    It was incredibly sunny and hot - so hot that it actually was uncomfortable to have the roof off (our vehicle didn't have a pop-up roof, but instead a removable one. While it wasn't overly easy to maneuver (i.e. the vehicle had to be stopped and two people would remove the roof), it never seemed to be a problem and it worked great for us).

    Our wildlife viewing at Tarangire was certainly plentiful. We had been told that the viewing wouldn't be the best in January but, let me tell you, given what we saw, I can't even imagine what it must be like in dry season :-)Elephants abound! Throughout the earlier parts of our safari, we really hadn't seen a lot of elephants. None in the Serengeti :-( and then several in the Crater and surrounding areas, but consistently, our Guide would say to us: "We don't have to worry about seeing elephants. When we arrive in Tarangire National Park, you will see more elephants than you can imagine!" - and he was right! We especially appreciated the size and beauty of the African elephant. We had previously seen the Asian elephant (in our travels through Thailand) and had previously thought that the Asian elephant was big and beautiful. We've now learned that nothing compares to the African elephant. Long tusks, brown skin (as opposed to light grey), large bodies - the elephants of Tanzania are magnificent. And the really great part was that there were clear families of elephants - it was so amazing to watch a family of elephants interact, from the older males, to the females with their young ones - from "adolescents" to babies. We got the cutest photo of the behinds of a mother elephant and her baby wagging their tails as they walked along :-)

    We also very much enjoyed watching the baboons - so human-like: we enjoyed them playing, feeding their young, mating, fighting - it's easy just to sit and watch them for hours!

    There were only 2 things that happened that somewhat disturbed me - one occurred at one of the picnic areas at lunchhour. We were sitting near our vehicle eating our boxed lunch and there was a family sitting at one of the picnic tables with all of their food laid out on the table. Suddenly, a big male baboon came scrambling out of the nearby bush and hopped onto their table! The family all screamed and started to move away, but the baboon grabbed some of the meat and sandwiches and made off back into the bush. It was a bizarre scene (although probably a familiar one at the picnic area :-( that made me feel not like I was in Africa, but instead at our zoo or something; sad. Certainly, the family hadn't been particularly negligent, but it just demonstrated how accustomed these baboons are becoming to desiring and eating human food, which has and will continue to change their systems dramatically.

    The only thing that occurred is that we had one of those "moments" where we believed an elephant might charge our vehicle! It was a big female elephant and it was walking away from our vehicle (we were slowed, if not stopped, to allow it to pass) and all of a sudden, it turned on us. Staring right at us (as all animals in the wild do!), it's ears went back and it's trunk went up and was flailing about in a strange formation. Next thing we knew... our guide and driver were arguing! Although it was in Swahili, we gathered that our driver wanted to reverse the car and get away from the elephant. Our guide, George (who has vastly more knowledge about the animals and whom we trusted wholeheartedly) was yelling to drive the car forward because the elephant would surely move out of the way (there was still a decent distance between us and the elephant). Eventually, after a few tense moments, our guide won out and we proceeded... like he had predicted, the elephant seemed to calm right down and continued away from us. It all happened very fast but felt like a lifetime until we got it resolved!!!

    Of course, Tarangire was much more than elephants and baboons: we saw plenty of impala (best sightings of Impala we had in Tanzania), in fact, at one point we saw three pair of impala side by side - and each pair was fighting! Cool sight to see! We saw dik dik, an ostrich with about 30 young ones, warthogs - unfortunately, we didn't spot any leopards (which is the one animal we never got to see on our trip), but we certainly did see plenty of animals!

    And then it all quickly came to an end. After we had eaten lunch, we began driving again and I somehow got the feeling that we were headed back toward the gate. I got a lump in my throat as I realized that this was our last day of safari (the following day, we'd be heading to Mount Meru for our 4-day climb, and after that, onto Zanzibar...) and that I wasn't prepared - it may sound silly to some, but I was so upset that I hadn't been warned and able to say a proper "goodbye" to the animals (has anyone else ever had this feeling?). I didn't know when we'd be able to come on safari again, and had felt such a strong connection with the animals ... I couldn't believe that I wasn't going to have a chance to say goodbye. I shared my disappointment with my hubby, who was trying his best to humour me and make me feel better about the situation... and then, out of nowhere, out came three enormous male elephants! They were a sight to behold. They came extremely close to the vehicle, and then starting wandering off... my eyes followed their path and saw that they were about to meet up with literally another 25 male elephants! We followed along the trail and secured a wonderful viewing position. Watching these males interact was amazing (George told us that this was clearly a social meeting of some of the oldest male elephants in the park!). We just sat there for 15 minutes or so and I said my proper goodbyes - to those elephants in particular, but also to all of the wonderful, fascinating animals in the Tanzania animal kingdom. Although I was still sad to leave, I felt at peace.

    We spent that night back at Naitolia Camp, enjoying both a beautiful sunset and a marvelous sunrise, and then packed our stuff to head for Mount Meru - a spectacular four-day mountain climb was about to begin!

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    Dear alwaysafrica and climbhighandsleeplow,

    It was fantastic reading about your trip, alwaysafrica. It brought back many wonderful memories. I went to Tanzania a number of years ago with my children and we went on safari with EASTCO and also had a wonderful time.

    I returned recently for a shorter visit and during that time I stayed at Naitolia. I was surprised to hear about the tipping practices as that was not my experience. It may have been the management at that time.

    Naitolia is still owned and operated by EASTCO and when I was there recently I was told they refurbish the camp after each rainy season.

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    hi you probably dont even use this anymore but if you do. we are thinking of using east african safari and touring company and cant find any resent feed back can you help us we have never been overseas before and a feeling very aprehensive because there is no info on them.

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    I'm interested in hearing about your experience on Meru - is that out of the question at this stage?? I'm in Tanzania this September and I'm starting with a Meru trek.

    Val.

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