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Trip Report Trip Report - Tanzania Northern Circuit - Otis in Africa - Part III

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Here we go with another report! We hope this is entertaining to many and useful to some. We had a great trip and are looking forward to our next adventure!

Agent, Outfitter: Good Earth Tours (Arusha, Tanzania)
Guide: Moses
Type: Private
Logistics: Driving
Been Before?: Third Safari to East Africa

ITINERARY:
Arusha – Arumeru River Lodge (Overnight on arrival to TZ) 31JAN2011
Tarangire NP – Sopa (1 day/night)
Lake Manyara NP – Serena (1 day/night)
NCA Ndutu Area – Lake Masek Tented Camp (3 days/nights)
Serengeti NP – Sopa (2 days/nights)
NCA Crater – Serena (2 days/nights)
Arusha – Arumeru River Lodge (Day room prior to JRO departure)10FEB2011

Summary Trip Report: This was the absolute best of our three safaris. Amazing sightings, great experiences with our Driver/Guide, comfortable lodgings (wonderful food as always), and very hot and dry weather throughout (even though we hoped for rain for various reasons). Amongst other things: two cheetah hunts, two leopards, two Hoopoes, and a Serval Cat! End of Summary.

PHOTOS: This links to a Picasa gallery with 60 of the most interesting photos. We have about 245 “keepers” out of approx. 2500 we brought home. Also, another 20 short videos. Tip: When gallery opens, click on Slideshow upper left, then F11 to get fullscreen view.

https://picasaweb.google.com/valleyrat1/3rdSafariToEastAfricaFebruary2011?authkey=Gv1sRgCLTIv-bMrqOYfQ&feat=directlink

PRELUDE

We (DW and I) returned to Tanzania for our third East Africa safari during the first two weeks of February 2011 (31Jan2011 to 10Feb2011). Our two previous trips (January 2007-TZ and August 2008 – TZ/Kenya) are chronicled in this forum, with a great amount of planning detail that I will omit from this report.

Once again I must express thanks to the terrific folks at the Fodors.com Africa and Middle East Forum who offer so much helpful information, encouragement and enthusiasm about travel to Africa, particularly Tanzania and Kenya. For many of us, the first trip to Africa was a wildly emotional event and the stepping-stone to a continued interest in the Continent, its people, natural beauty, and wildlife. If we can encourage others to go on a first-time wildlife safari, that is a good thing.

PREPARATION

We resolved to re-visit Tanzania’s Northern Circuit late in 2009, with the thought of taking along our two children and their spouses. When that proved impractical for them, DW acceded to my strong desire to return and we began planning a trip just for us. Our plan was to travel later (early February vs. first-trip mid-January) to increase our chances of seeing migration birthing in the Ndutu area. Having had two previous great experiences with Good Earth Tours, we obtained a quotation for a private driving safari for two based on our desired locations, lodging and durations, modified with advice from Narry Ernest at GET’s Tampa, FL office. Based on that quote, we sent GET a deposit in late February 2010.

Refer to our previous trip reports for more detail on planning. For this trip, significant steps included:

- Purchasing and completing Rosetta Stone for Kiswahili. Outdated and clunky (it needs revision to match up with the features in more current RS products), it was better than nothing. While there is no substitute for talking to others in the language being learned, I slogged through it and was glad I did. Talking (kidogo) with staff at the lodges, and our driver and other drivers made up for that non-practice to some extent. If you go beyond Jambo with Tanzanians, they really respond positively. It was particularly fun to see the reaction from other drivers, who typically responded with absolute amazement at the Mzungu asking questions of them or our driver in KS. (Note that Rosetta Stone is not easy or quick – it takes focus and lots of time. I am retired and was able to put that time into it, but it is not something to attempt on a casual basis.)

- I purchased a Canon T2i digital SLR and a Tamron 18-270 lens to augment the Canon S5 P&S that we used on the last safari. I did this in June 2010 and made sure I used the camera sufficiently to understand it. There is nothing that prepares you for the rigor of shooting photos or the dust while in the truck, but you need to try. No lens is enough and our budget allowed for the good-quality Tamron; both camera and lens were terrific. When I couldn’t get close enough, it was a sign that it was time to drop the camera and use the binocs, hakuna matata. Go overboard on protecting your camera from dust – I did not and got lucky.

- We took 16GB of high-speed SD card for photo and video, and another 9GB in “regular” low-speed cards for photo only. Brought home about 2400 photos and 20 videos. Shooting good video is damned hard, and I used the video to augment still photos, vs. trying to be Animal Planet’s next great find. I used most, but not all the of media space I had. I shoot all still photos at “superfine-large”. Not really necessary, but it gives you options for saving photos you might otherwise lose. The biggest problem is the size of my photo files with the T2i – they are monsters!

- I used my trusty-yet-cheap ProMaster monopod and/or a home-made beanbag (8” X 14”) in the truck. Both worked great. If you have any interest in taking good amateur photos, get the monopod; it’s easy to use and works great. I used the monopod both out the top and through the window, as well as on the few occasions we shot photos from outside of the vehicle. In the end, I wished I had used the beanbag more than I did, either alone or to help with the monopod. FYI – My beanbag required 4.5kg of good Tanzanian beans from the Shoprite in Arusha.

THE JOURNEY (At long last!)

Travel to Arusha:

Delta and KLM, Cleveland to NY/JFK (a foul and dirty place) to Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro. It’s tight and nasty in steerage, but worth the trip. We packed cameras, binocs, meds, back-up clothes for first day on safari, and all important documents in carry-ons, and each checked one canvas duffle. Upon arrival in JRO, our bags were the last two on the carousel. Bushbaby from GET met us at the JRO arrivals exit and took us to Arumeru River Lodge for our first night in Tanzania.

Arumeru was a delight compared to previous experiences with both the Arusha and Impala Hotels in Arusha. Clean and secure, with a ceiling fan over the bed, just what we needed. Daylight allowed us to enjoy the beautiful grounds, friendly staff and a delicious breakfast. While waiting for to be picked up after breakfast, we talked at length with Torsten, the husband of the couple that purchased the lodge two years ago. He told us about the work they had done with the property and with staff, and was very enthusiastic about their business and the changes they had made.

Our Driver/Guide, Moses, picked DW and I up at 9am and we were off to Tarangire. We made a quick stop at the Shoprite in Arusha for water and beans. As part of getting to know Moses, we talked about our preference for being on game drives vs. hanging around the pool or lounge at the lodge/camp. If there was a reason to do morning and afternoon drives with a hot lunch in between, that was fine; otherwise, box lunches were good for us.

DAY 1 – Tarangire National Park

We enjoyed Tarangire in January 2007 and did so again on this trip in February. While it’s better/different in August, we had great sightings this trip and enjoyed the woodlands. Tsetses were present and annoying, but not as bad as in 2007. We saw elephant, giraffe, and the usual suspects on the first day traveling down the east bank of the river. The next morning, we drove down to Silale Swamp and saw several elephant groups there. On our way out of the park we saw a Black Mambo on the banks of the Tarangire River, and DW spotted two Bat-eared Foxes (her favorite) as we traveled north up the West Bank Road. Bird sightings included several Hamerkop, a White-bellied Go-away-bird, a Speckled Mousebird, and an African Hoopoe (the first of two that sat for photos on this safari!) There was relatively little traffic in the park on either day and we enjoyed the solitude.

We stayed overnight at the Tarangire Sopa, and enjoyed a good dinner (served at table that night) and breakfast. As is normal for Sopa’s, room was large and clean, with a ceiling fan over the bed. Hot water takes a while to get to your spigot, but there was plenty. (Pay attention to posted times for hot water.)

Weather was mid-90’sF, 75F overnight. Partly sunny on arrival day, with some thunderstorms to the south, and clear/sunny on the following morning as we left.

MORE TO COME.

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