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Trip Report: Tanzania & Zanzibar

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How embarrassing! We returned from Tanzania on June 12, 2006 (Yes, 2006) and only now am I posting my trip report. You would never belive that I started writing it in August! I feel guilty for not writing and posting this earlier – this forum proved indispensable in the planning of our dream trip to Tanzania. I apologize for not giving back to the forum earlier. I am just happy I listened to everyone and brought a travel journey – I chronicled our adventures in great detail. I didn’t want to ever forget a minute of it.

Since returning from Africa, I have been trying to learn more about this fascinating and forgotten continent. I have read Stephen Lewis’ book Race Against Time and am trying to figure out how I can help Africa and how all tourists can help Africa…there is more about that at the end, for now let’s concentrate on the trip of our lifetime. I will post this is segments, it is too long for one posting.

So, it was in January 2005 that we decided to go to Africa. It was my dream and my wife generously agreed to entertain me. The deal maker was the requirement for some beach time – I had no problem agreeing to that. Deciding on the time of year was most difficult. We decided on the end of May and early June. This was at the end of the rainy season and just before the high tourist season begins. Our driver informed us that the time of year we selected did make wildlife viewing more difficult because the grass was higher, but it was less dusty (no one ever mentions the dust!) and there were fewer tourists (no jeeps in our pictures) and we witnessed the great migration….that and we saw 7 lionesses lounging in a tree! Apparently when the grass is high they prefer to perch themselves in the trees so they have a better view of their surroundings. As well, since it was the “winter” in Tanzania, the sun was less strong. Given that our Range Rover did not have those nifty tops that provided shade, we were happy about that. No complaints about the time of year – we saw everything we had to see.

Our itinerary:
7-day Tanzania Northern Circuit Safari (May 25 to June 1, 2006)
7-day beach holiday on Zanzibar Island (June 1 to 9, 2006)

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    Part 1: The Safari

    25May06 – Arrived 20:05 Kilimanjaro International Airport
    Accommodations: Mount Meru Game Lodge and Sanctuary
    Arriving in the evening meant we missed seeing Mont Kilimanjaro (but now we have a reason to return). Our room overlooked the sanctuary, when we woke up and looked out the window we saw a zebra and ostriches. However, we were tired. We heard banging noises all night and no one had informed us when we arrived at 10 PM that monkeys liked to play on the metal roofs – during our first night in Africa and we were convinced some animal was trying to break into our room. The area surrounding the lodge was extremely lush, not at all what we expected. The service was attentive and the food good (although, we were extremely cautious). The bathroom was nice (I will rate all bathrooms). Unfortunately we did not have time to explore the grounds of the lodge and sanctuary because we arrived late and departed early. Recommended accommodations – if we had to do it again, we would plan to stay a while at the lodge and sanctuary so to enjoy it more. A nice walk on the grounds would have been great – they offered guided walks. We missed out on that.

    26May06/Friday – Day 1 Safari
    TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK
    Game viewing Tarangire National Park

    Before leaving Arusha to start our safari , with John our guide, we had a few stops to make – the Headquarters of Swala Safari to pay and the Arusha Women Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (AWLAHURIC). We brought AWLAHURIC 2 suitcases filled with donated items that they distributed to their clients and a local AIDS hospice and orphanage, but I’ll get to that later. Since we visited their officers, this offered us a glimpse of life in Arusha – off the beaten track if you will.
    The first day on safari was probably the most exciting; we had prepared so much for this and traveled half way around the world. We arrived at the park around noon. We were surprised that there was hardly anyone around. We saw: elephants, water bucks, giraffes, ground hornbills, impalas, dik diks (my wife’s favorite), hundreds of quelia quelia birds. We had lunch in the park and the boxed lunch was less than impressive (they really mean box, as is cardboard box). There was plenty to eat but we ate little, worried to get sick (especially with the cooked chicken in aluminum paper). We left the park around 5pm and headed to the hotel.
    Accommodations: Lake Manyara Hotel
    The worst hotel we stayed at during our time in Tanzania. It’s old and looks it, from the kitchen linens in the dining room to the bathroom. The dinner was buffet style with offerings such as fries, coconut chicken, rice, spare ribs, beef and creamed spinach. The hotel itself was not very impressive – like a run down Travelodge. The beetles that got into our room were quite impressive – nothing like that back home. There was entertainment in the evening which broke our hearts to watch. Young Tanzanians doing tricks and jumping up and down. I would have much preferred just to hear them sing in Kiswahili. The front desk was nice enough to charge our camera battery for us (no fee). The room had a great view of Lake Manyara. We would not stay there again and do not recommended it.

    27May06/Saturday – Day 2 Safari
    LAKE MANYARA
    After breakfast we headed to Lake Manyara National Park. In the morning, while leaving the hotel room, we realized that we were missing a pair of our binoculars. We looked in every bag and in the Range Rover and came up empty. We asked our guide if there was anyway of seeing if we had left them at the Mount Meru Game Lodge. He called the office and they found out that we did indeed leave them at the lodge. Well, we were absolutely shocked when, as we were driving out of the park, sitting on rock, was one of the employees from Swala Safari. He spent 2 hours on a bus getting to the park from Arusha to meet us so he could return the binoculars to us…and he had to go back the same way he came. On top of that incredible jester, he hands us an e-mail from my sister-in-law that she sent to Swala Safari – when we went to make our final payment prior to embarking on the safari, they let me use their e-mail to send a quick message home to our worrying families to say we were still alive. We could not believe the sacrifice this guy made – he was generously rewarded for his efforts. We were feeling very confident for having booked with Swala Safari. The forum did not have much information on them, they are a small outfit, but they really impressed us. However, as read on, you’ll see that there were bad times too.
    Day 2 was a full day on safari. We saw so much and were beside ourselves – blue monkeys, hundreds of baboons, warthogs, hippos, giraffes, elephants, cape buffalo, flamingos, banded mongoose…even a cobra and an elephant with a huge erection (I mean huge). Some of the animals were close to the edge of lake and since the roads in the park were not as close, we had to use our binoculars. Not to say we did not see any animals up close – we did, including a herd of elephants, some warthogs, baboons, impalas, and the cobra as it slithered pass the Range Rover – our guide had an incredible talent for spotting wildlife –we were impressed.

    Accommodations: Kirurumu Tented Lodge
    Wow! Talk about awesome. My wife was very hesitant, actually totally against staying at any luxury tented lodges, stating that the word luxury was all relative. In the end, compared to the Lake Manyara Hotel, Kirurumu was absolutely amazing. It was extremely intimate. The tent was in the middle of the wilderness (albeit somewhat manicured wilderness). The tent is on a rock/concrete foundation and there is a metal roof above the canvas tent roof. They supply you with a flashlight and there were men dressed as Maassai tribesmen (or maybe they were Maassia tribesman) to escort us back to our tent after dinner. You lock your tent from the inside when you go to sleep. We charged our batteries inside the tent (plenty of outlets). The staff was very friendly, especially our waiter. The dinning area was quaint and open – no walls. The food was very good, the bed comfortable, no bugs in our tent, and the bathroom very nice. We got to sit on the little veranda in front of our tent before dinner – it was relaxing to hear the birds and other animals calling – it was relaxing and what we imagined. We were totally impressed! Highly recommended – a definite must.

    28May06/Sunday – Day 3 Safari
    LAKE MANYARA/NGORONGORO
    Mto Wa Mbu Cultural Tourism Program

    We were supposed to go on a walk along the escarpment with a Ranger in the morning, but I was not feeling well, so we cancelled it. When we visited AWLAHURIC prior to starting the safari, we were offered coffee and popcorn. To be polite I had a sip – well I really should not have. My fault - I got sick. Luckily, I was traveling with my lovely wife who is a physician and who appropriately packed a small pharmacy for our trip – that was the last time I teased her about packing so much medication. After taking the required meds, my stomach pain, fever and diarrhea lasted only 1.5 days. But, due to my grave error, we missed out on some planned activities.

    After canceling the walk, we continued with our planned itinerary – we headed to some curio shops and then to Mto Wa Mbu for the cultural tour. This was something we really wanted to do because it was run by locals and directly benefited the community. We read about this in our tour book. We toured an authentic community in Tanzania and learned about their daily routines – our guide, a local young man, answered our questions. Due to my state (diarrhea), I even got to use their outdoor bathrooms (hole in the ground)…so, yes bringing toilet paper and carrying it with you the whole time…very important! Unfortunately, we had to cut our walk through the village short by an hour (it is a 4 hour tour) due to my stomach pains and we headed to Ngorongoro. Before stopping at the lodge, we visited a Maassai Boma – it was really interesting but obviously staged – our guide paid to get us inside. We were treated to a performance of sorts (signing and jumping) that was interesting and we were permitted to freely roam around. There was one Maassai fellow who took us around, including into one of their huts, and explained to us how they live. We had to rush to get out of the hut, which has no chimney to let out the smoke from the fire burning inside – it was intoxicating. They had lots of little bracelets and necklaces for sale.

    Accommodations: Ngorongoro Sopa
    It took forever to get to the lodge from the main road. The ride was bumpy – not for anyone who gets car sick and not so pleasant if you are already not feeling well. When we finally arrived, the view from the back of the lodge and from our window was well worth it. The lodge sits on the rim of the crater and offers a great seat for sunsets; another breathtaking moment to just sit back and try to take it all in. In the morning, we felt like we were in the clouds – the air was thick and damp. Our room was very large, as was the bathroom. We had a heater and we used it. It got cold at night – about 10 degrees Celsius (no mosquito net required at this elevation because it’s not warm enough for them). The staff was friendly, our waitress especially. We stayed two nights and she took very good care of us. Knowing I was not feeling well and thus not eating much, the waitress brought me plain white rice. Our bed was turned down for us both nights. It was buffet breakfast and dinner à la carte. The food was good, although I did not eat much since I was not feeling well. My wife enjoyed it. The dinning room was big and got pretty noisy. The lodge has an outdoor pool, but no one used it – too cold. Recommended.

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    Part 2: The Safari continued

    29May06/Monday – Day 4 Safari
    NGORONGORO CRATER AND CONSERVATION AREA
    Dawn game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater

    My fever peaked the night before and I awoke ready to take on Tanzania. Unfortunately our Range Rover was not. After our guide had not showed up at the arranged time, we started to worry. We asked the front desk to call him or to call the company. We waited until 9AM. My wife, who was more patient that I was, kept repeating what we read so many times on the forum – be flexible. We were on the road by 9:30; a 2 hour delay. There was an electrical problem with the Range Rover – we were not impressed. John, our guide told us not too worry because he was a mechanic before he went to Safari Guide school. He was trying to fix the passengers side rear window that we were having trouble with the day before and something happened to the clutch. He was quick to show us that the window now worked. All was forgotten when we arrived in the crated and came upon 2 young lions lying in the shade of another safari jeep – they had just finished eating and the hyenas and jackals were in the process of fighting over the leftovers. Wow – what a sight. The crater was beautiful, rolling hills filled with zebras and wildebeests. We spent the day in the crater. We even had lunch next to a water spring with some hippos – very cool, I took tons of pictures. While in the crater we also saw: cheetahs, elephants, wildebeest, flamingos, ostriches, crowned cranes, snake eagles, hornbills, Thompson and Grant gazelles, helmeted guinea fowl, elands and zebras. We were very happy to have the opportunity to see the extremely rare black rhinos – 5 of them during the course of the day. Two were close enough to see without binoculars, the other required binoculars. 2 of the 5 were babies. Our guide told us we lucked out. There was talk in the forum about taking two days for the crated – we felt that 1 full day was enough. As we exited the crated around 5:30 in the evening, the wind was causing the long grass to sway back and forth like the ocean – it was so peaceful. We returned in time to watch the sunset again…

    Accommodations: Ngorongoro Sopa – Recommended.
    Laundry service – there is laundry service available at the lodge; actually there is laundry service available at most lodges. The catch is that you have to stay at least 2 nights to be able to use it. Keep that in mind if you plant to use it. It is not expensive.

    30May06/Tueday – Day 5 Safari
    NGORONGORO/OLDUVAI GORGE/SERENGETI
    Morning drive to Olduvai Gorge, visit archeologicl museum. Stop at the remarkable Shifting Sands of the Maasai. Afternoon head to Serengeti.

    We had to take the same bumpy road from the lodge to the main road in order to head to Olduvia – a 22 km stretch took 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was really foggy and the windshield wipers worked less than fabulously. We drove down the Olbalabl (This may be wrong) depression from the crate rim. As we went from the higher altitude of the crater’s rim to lower altitude, the landscape changed pretty dramatically, from lush green trees and short trees and shrubs. We passed several Maasai Bomas and lots of cattle. We stopped at one point to take a few pictures of some giraffes. As we approached the Olduvai Gorge, the landscape became visibly drier. Olduvai has great significance, begin the place where archeologists believe the first footsteps of primitive man were found. We visited a small museum that was filled with interesting information about the area and its historical significance – archeologists are still working and digging, trying to find out more. We had lunch in the hot sun overlooking the site. Now it started to feel like the Africa we envisioned.
    Next stop, the Shifting Sands. We drove through an area called the short grass plains where the migration passes in February. The zebra and wildebeest were gone, but the Thompson and Grant gazelles, which can go up to 5 days without water except for the dew on morning grass, were plentiful. The Shifting Sands are a mysterious phenomenon – a large sand dune in the middle of the grass plains that move approximately 17 meters per year by the force of the wind. Why? How? No one knows. Pretty cool.

    Next stop – the great Serengeti, the reason behind the trip. I was very excited at the prospect of seeing it with my own eyes. I had loved to watch those National Geographic specials on PBS, now I was here. We arrived at one of the entrance points. A lone wooden sign high above the ground states: Welcome to Serengeti National Park. Since the lodge we were staying at was actually 28 km away from the main road in Ndutu, we headed for the lodge right away. On the way, we were treated to Marabou storks, some gazelles and an elephant or two. The main attraction was the lions. We found two lying in the mud of the receding Lake Ndutu; one sitting in the shade of a shrub playing catch with a fly and a fourth lying under the shade of a bush. Absolutely incredible! A few more dozen pictures taken. It is fascinating how close we can approach the lions; they really do not get bothered...lucky for us.

    Accommodations: Ndutu Safari Lodge
    Our room was a stand alone cabin in the wilderness. The sign a few meters from the room door said: Danger No one beyond this point. We are not sure if the other lodges had guards, but this one did (armed with a big stick, like that would do much) and we saw him pacing up and down the path from the main building (dinning room, bar, front desk) to the last cabin. There were very few people at the lodge – the migration is not in the Ndutu area at this time of year. The lodge had set up a wood fire about 10 meters from the dining room/bar and chairs were set around it. Before dinner, we sat in the heat of the fire and watched the sunset and the darkness set it. It was completely black and the stars came out, one by one. They are right; the African night sky is absolutely beautiful. We would have sat longer, but we were the only ones at the fire and started to feel that there were eyes staring at us from the bush. The dining room was open, overlooking the wilderness. We enjoyed a great meal, the food was amazing. After dinner, we played a few games of backgammon in the bar area and tried to avoid being a target for these huge flying beetles – they sounded like helicopters as they approached you. One fly straight into my wife’s head as we walked out of dinning area and landed in someone else’s plate. After the game, we headed to our cabin. The walk from our cabin to the main building for dinner was fine when we left from dinner, but getting back to the room was exciting and scary. Armed with but a flashlight, anything could have been lurking.
    The only problem – soda water! Nowhere was it written that the lodge does not have pure water. The water from the taps (sink and shower) is soda water – you finish showering and feel like you are covered with a soapy film. The water was not suitable to brush your teeth. It would have been nice to know before hand. No mosquito net was provided by the lodge – we had to be creative with putting up our net since there wasn’t even a hook in the ceiling. My wife really did not like the cabin, she did not sleep much. Recommended with reservations (about the water), but it is Africa. Apparently, when the migration is in the Ndutu area, this is the place to be.

    31 May06/Wednesday – Day 6 Safari
    SERENGETI
    Visit the Gol Kopjes (Cheetah) Drive towards the west to see the migrating herds (if possible)

    We enjoyed breakfast overlooking the wilderness and wrote a few postcards. As we left, we noticed a Frankfurt Zoological Society Cheetah Project jeep. Ndutu is known for cheetahs who like the short grass plains and we saw plenty. As we headed to the Serengeti with the goal of finding the migration, we came upon vultures eating what looked like a baby wildebeest (According to the guide). Then, as we continued we came upon a group of 3 cheetahs playing; we just sat and observed in awe. Later in the morning, we saw 3 young cheetahs with their mother feasting on fresh killed. We could not get too close because there were other safari vehicles in the vicinity and apparently our guide told us that no more than 5 vehicles were allowed. As the young cheetahs ate, their mother kept her eye out for the jackals who were trying to getting inpatient waiting for them to finish. We witnessed the cheetahs taking turns chasing the jackals away – very cool.

    As we continue towards Naabi Hill Gate, we stopped to see a lioness with her two cubs – precious. My wife especially loved this – again, we watched in awe as they followed their mother and tripped over one another. We arrived at Naabi Hill Gates around noon and had lunch. We stopped for about 1 hour; we climbed the hill (actually is it a kopje) to get a view of the great Serengeti plains – how breathtaking. We made it.

    We drove through the Long Grass Plains – not much to see. The grass was tall and seemed to go on forever into the horizon. We stopped to pick up a stranded driver whose vehicle broke down; we were headed to the Serengeti Visitor Centre in the Seronera area (Central Serengeti) and gave him a left so he could call for help. The visitor’s center was very interesting and contained lots of interesting information about the Serengeti and the wildlife. We stayed a while and headed out again to find the migration. It did not take us long. We literally drove right into it. How utterly amazing – wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye could see. Honestly. We wanted to keep driving and stay at the same time. The herds moved slowing, the wildebeest grunting and moaning as they went and the zebra making their high pitch laugh (like a horse, I guess). There were just so many of them. We were amazed…speechless.

    Accommodations: Mbuzi Mawe Tented Lodge
    This lodge was not originally planned. We were supposed to stay 2 nights at the Serengeti Serena Lodge. 4 days before leaving Montreal we are told that there has been a change to Mbalageti. We consulted the forum and were told that this was not a good idea – that the migration would not be in the Western Corridor at that time and that we would have to travel a lot to find the migration. We had to insist, I mean really insist (including a phone call to Arusha) with Swala Safari, but finally we ended up with 1 night at Mbuzi Mawe and 1 night at Serengeti Serena. Mbuzi Mawe was incredible. The most luxurious accommodations we had while on safari. The main reception and bar area is located in a large tent. We were greeted with wet face cloths and a glass of juice (which was actually standard at all the places we had stayed at). All the tents are located around a kjope. Our tent was very large with an incredible bathroom – double vanity and marble counter tops. A great shower! WE had a can of bug stray and had to use it on two spiders, but besides that we hardly noticed any bugs. The bed was comfortable – there were actually 2 double beds in the tent, as well as a sitting area and desk. The furniture reminded me of the Flintstones because it was made of wood yet it looked like logs. We had a whistle in the case of an emergency or if we felt threatened and there was a patrol walking the site at night. We were not permitted to wander alone – someone came to our tent to escort us for dinner. The food was awesome (smoked beef, lamb with mint gravy) and the service excellent. We ate outside and a veranda overlooking the Serengeti – very fitting and very romantic. Internet service too. The best part, we heard the zebras and wildebeest calling to each other all night. It put me to sleep, my wife was not so happy, it kept her up all night. If it were not for the input from the forum, we would have never ended up at Mbuzi Mawe – thanks! Highly recommended.

    1June06/Thursday – Day 7 Safari
    SERENGETI

    We asked our guide to make our last day start early and end early. We noticed that most safari vehicles were leaving the lodges as we were going for breakfast. Did we miss out on something by waking up later and not heading out at dawn? Maybe? Then again, we do not feel we missed out on anything. Our guide always left it to us to decide. Generally we were on the road by 8AM. The goal was to find the migration again and get our full. We started with the visit to a hippo pool. Generally you are not permitted to exit the vehicle, but this time we were allowed. We got to look down on the hippo pool from a rock ledge. There were so many hippos and several crocodiles. It smelled like shit (sorry). We luck out because we saw a hippo out of the water slowing approaching the edge of the water – it was really awesome. They are huge! John was really happy with the way the safari had gone so far and was hoping to find a leopard – the last on our list. We quickly found the migration and spend a few hours observing and following slowly. We came upon a tree with 7 lions on a tree, literally just lying around – incredible. And then we hit the jackpot. A grouping of safari vehicles was noted in the distance – as we approached we saw the commotion. It s a leopard! There were zebra and wildebeest around too. We watched as the leopard drank from a stream, wandered through the tall grass, sat in the shade of one of the vehicles. It was almost worrisome how close it was walking around the vehicles. Then, it walked into the grass and sat to watch the zebras. We all got excited – would we witness a kill. We had front row seats. Everyone was quiet and patiently waited. Others were not so patient and the roaring of the jeeps as the drove off kept the zebra on their hoofs. The leopard, after over 30 minutes, retreated to the shade of the vehicles – it was noon and the sun was strong. Every time it made its way under a jeep, the driver would start it up and startle the poor animal so that their passengers could get a closer look. When our turn came, we instructed our guide to not turn on the engine. We decided to eat lunch in the jeep and provide the traumatized leopard some shade. The other drivers cursed, so we were told by our driver, at us and insisted that we start the engine. I instructed him not to and had him inform them that we were Canadians and would not make a game of this situation. We sat there for an hour. Maybe you would consider our actions to be selfish but we don’t - considering we were the ones with the worse view since the leopard was under our vehicle, we had everything to lose with it staying underneath us. Eventually, we decided to go on our way. We felt saddened that we had to starlet the poor leopard.

    We headed to the lodge. We decided to put the camera down for the final stretch and just enjoy – take it all in. I felt very overwhelmed in the moment. I had lived a dream of mine, together with my sole mate, my wife. Life was amazing. I hope to return one day and enjoy the same felling with my children.

    Accommodations: Serengeti Serena Lodge
    We decided to end our last day of safari early – we knew the Serena Lodge had a pool and we wanted to use it. We arrived at 3:45 PM greeted with a glass of juice and fresh facecloths. The sun was still high and the headed straight for the pool. Swimming in the Serengeti - it was incredible. The views from the pool of the valleys were great and the sunset we witnessed – absolutely breathtaking. A blazing red sun set perfectly in the horizon of the Serengeti. The lodge was made up of rondovels, each with 4 roooms. Our room had three single beds, not ideal, but workable. There was a mosquito curtain that did not live up to my wife’s standards, so we still put up our mosquito net. The bathroom was nice. Both dinner and breakfast were buffet and were disappointing. The buffet area was tight and you felt you were fighting for food. Lots of people. We were treated to another acrobatic show – again it was as if they were entertaining us with what they thought we would enjoy – we did not feel it to be authentic and would have much preferred same singing. Recommended but with reservations: buffet meals and lots of people. Mbuzi Mawe Tented Lodge was much better, but they have no pool.

    Being the last night of the safari portion of out trip, before going to be we put aside all the clothing we had used for the safari – a fleece, sweater, pants, shorts, t-shrits, etc. We left them with our driver. We apologized for not having had them laundered before – we told him he could keep them for himself or give them away. We did not need them; we had planned to do this. It was not my idea - when researching for our trip, I came across an article be a women who went on safari and left everything to their tour guide. Everything piece of clothing we brought would be left in Africa.

    BOX LUNCHES
    I never really expected our lunches to come in a cardboard box, but they do. We were careful what we ate. Never touched the hard boiled eggs or fruit that could not be peeled. Avoided the sandwiches with butter too. We were not impressed. We would have preferred less quantity and better quality. We offered whatever we did not eat to our driver – he was appreciative. The use of cardboard boxes is not very sustainable – Africa lacks recycling bins.

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    Part 3: Zanzibar

    2June06/Friday
    SERENGETI/ZANZIBAR

    At 9AM we were back in the jeep and on the way to the Seronera airstrip to catch our flight to Arusha and then onto Zanzibar. Our guide was a lot more talkative on this, our last ride together. We pointed out that we were really lucky to see everything we saw, including rhinos and a leopard – there is no guarantee that you will see the animals when you arrive and make sure no one tries to convince you that they can. The plane was almost 45 minutes late, which John pointed out, was nothing out of the ordinary. We thanked him, left him a generous tip and said good bye. The plane was small (Excel Air), seated about 12 – my wife was nervous. We got to see the Ngorongoro Crate and Mount Kilimanjaro from the sky. The flight was really awesome. The second flight, we were only 3. We were met at the Zanzibar airport by a representative who took us to the hotel. Zanzibar was different – you felt it in the air – more humid and hot.

    We relaxed by the pool for the afternoon.

    Accommodations: Serena Zanzibar
    We stayed in StoneTown for 3 nights at the Serena Zanzibar. We felt like we were in a movie – so beautiful. You looked down the corridor and you saw the ocean. Our room had air conditioning and a balcony overlooking the pool and ocean. The bathroom was very nice and the bed was king size! The staff was extremely friendly and helpful, the door man in particular (helped us make dinner plans – beach side table awaited us at Mercury’s). Strongly Recommended.

    We did have some problems with our reservation. The hotel had our reservation down as bed & breakfast whereas we booked for breakfast and dinner through Swala Safari - a significant problem that the hotel manager did his best to resolve. In the end, Swala Safari resolved the issue, upgrading us to full board (breakfast & dinner) at their expense, BUT the hotel failed to inform us. Is that what is to be expected in Africa?

    The first night we ate at 1 of the hotel’s restaurants – roof top – it was exquisite. The stars brightly shining above and the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks below….heavenly.

    3June06/Saturday – Day 1 Zanzibar
    STONETOWN/JOZANI FOREST/SPICE TOUR

    One of the things we enjoyed the most was the lack of DUST. We ate breakfast every morning at the hotel’s main restaurant overlooking the ocean – we watched as Dhow’s made their way into the ocean.

    We used Stonetown as our base for 3 days in order to do and see the things that Zanzibar had to offer, then heading to Pongwe (paradise) for the final stretch of our trip – the relaxing beach break.

    Jozani Forest was the first stop to see the Colobus Monkey - an odd species of monkey since it has no thumb and is only found in Zanzibar. We got to get really close – lots of fun to watch as the young babies and adolescent monkeys played in the trees. A lot more mosquitoes in Zanzibar – my wife got her bitten twice since landing in Zanzibar. The trip to Jozani included a walk through a mangrove forest – also very cool.

    The Spice Tour was also very interesting – Zanzibar is known for its spices, specially clove (one of the world’s leading suppliers). We were treated to a tour of a spice farm and saw: cocoa tress, nutmeg trees, vanilla vines, jackfruit trees, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and lychee. We bought a little boat of spices after the tour for $3 USD. We saw it later at the market in Stonetown for $1, so be aware.

    We had a driver to take us from place to place, arranged by Swala Safari and the Serena Hotel. There was a lot of poverty in Zanzibar, not more than the mainland, but enough to make your heart ache. We spent the afternoon by the pool. We were worried about venturing out on our own after sunset after reading various warning about the streets after dark – the doorman made arrangements for us for dinner at Mercury’s Restaurant. He had arranged for a taxi, but not an ordinary taxi – it was a little 3 wheeled taxi driven by a disable man – he took us to the restaurant and waited for us outside until we were done. We had a table waiting for us, overlooking the beach. The atmosphere was great – live music and great seafood!

    4June06/Sunday – Day 2 Zanzibar
    STONETOWN/CHANGUU (PRISON) ISLAND

    We had 2 activities planned: City Tour of Stone Town and a visit for Changuu (Prison) Island. The city tour was given by a local gentleman – it took 3 + hours and we visited everything there was too see, including the former slave market, Palace Museum, market, etc. We learned a lot about the history of Zanzibar and enjoyed it.

    After lunch, we got in a boat and headed to Changuu Island, commonly called Prison Island. To see the 100 year old + turtles and to snorkel in the Indian Ocean. The snorkeling was okay, we were upset that the captain of the boat just through the anchor overboard with complete disregard to the damage being done to the coral below. We know that there is better snorkeling elsewhere on Zanzibar, but it was included with the trip to the island so we took advantage.

    Once back at the hotel, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets looking for souvenirs. We had dinner at another local restaurant – Monsoon – also very nice and good food.

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    Part 4: Pongwe, Zanzibar (Paradise)

    5-6-7-8June06/Monday to Thursday – Day 3 to 7 Zanzibar
    ZANZIBAR BEACH

    Accommodations: Pongwe Beach Hotel
    This must be what Eden was like. Incredible! It was us and the ocean. I know that many strongly recommended we try to switch our reservations at Pongwe for other hotels (with air conditioning), but we decided not to. We wanted to be secluded and away from all distractions. No TV, a few old magazines, a great selection of books and a backgammon game that we selfishly played every evening. There was nothing to do but relax and that we did. I personally enjoyed the hammock. The water was beautiful, although cold, and the sand was fine and white. We were not many and everyone had there little piece of beach. The food was also incredible, out of this world – we ate like champions. There is limited selection but we did not notice. Everything is fresh! We were served fresh fruit around 4 pm everyday, at which time we were explained the options for dinner and selected what we wanted to eat. One night we opted for the seafood platter on the beach. It was fantastic and extremely romantic – candles were lit in holes dug in the sand. Our table was set with our chairs facing the ocean. We had one seafood platter (a $20 USD extra charge) and one regular meal. We hardly touched the regular meal – the platter consisted of 2 rock lobsters, 1 regular lobster, 4 king pawns, a large piece of squid and 10 crab claws. One person could never eat all that. We were treated like royalty while we were there – the staff was really pleasant and friendly. Val (owner) and Heidi were fantastic – they run a great place.

    The hotel consists of little buildings of 2 to 3 rooms, a few step above the beach. If I am not mistake, all rooms look out onto the beach, at least ours did. The bathroom was large and nice and the room had a desk and a second single bed that looked more like a crib. We had a little veranda with rustic reclining chairs (woven rope with cushion on top) and some lush vegetation, including a beautiful papaya plant growing below. We were warned about Pongwe, but we were not bothered by the primitiveness of the place, it was part of the charm. The room had a ceiling fan to keep us cool, but since the electricity went off during the night, it was not on all night. It took a while, but we acclimatized to the heat and in the end, it was fine. We did not long for a pool, the ocean was beautiful. There were some jelly fish, but apparently the kind that do not sting. The time of year was not the greatest for a beach holiday; we were there during their winter. The sky was cloudy but we did not make it dampen our spirits. We were rejuvenating ourselves in this little piece of paradise and we wanted nothing more.

    9June06/Friday
    ZANZIBAR/DAR ES SALAAM/AMSTERDAM
    Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam (Dar Es Salaam International)

    Getting There
    Montreal (Trudeau) –Amsterdam (Schiphol) to Kilimanjaro (Kilimanjaro Airport)

    Getting Home
    Dar Es Salaam (Dar Es Salaam International) - Amsterdam (Schiphol) - Montreal (Trudeau)

    We stayed two days in Amsterdam on the way, since we had never been there before. We found out that the daily flight from Amsterdam to Tanzania stops first in Kilimanjaro and then in Dar Es Salaam. By taking the outgoing flight from Dar, we got to spend more time on the beach. The flight from Zanzibar to Dar is only 20 minutes. Flying from Zanzibar to Kilimanjaro is further, more expensive and requires you leave earlier.

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    Part 5: Tourists for Tanzania

    As we were planning to go to Tanzania, I thought a lot about how we could help. As faith would have it, I met an acquaintance in the waiting room of the McGill Tropical Disease Centre. She was just back from working in Africa for UNICEF. Through her, I met a Tanzanian student studying at McGill University in Montreal. She put me into contact with the Director of the Arusha Women Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (AWLAHURIC); a non-governmental organization (NGO) that runs a community legal aid clinic. The student and Director helped me determine what types of items that would be beneficial to the women and children that the organization helps, as well as for Uhai Centre (the Catholic Archdiocese of Arusha HIV/AIDS Prevention and Training Program) and the Bangata Lutheran Dispensary.

    With the help of our friends and family, we filled 2 large donated suitcases with approximately 120 pounds (54 kg) of donated materials. One was filled mainly with clothing and the other with medical supplies. Our little mission was extremely successful. Upon our arrival at the Kilimanjaro International Airport, the Director of the Arusha Women Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre and some volunteers were there to greet us. We handed them over the 2 suitcases and the next day went to visit their office and the Uhai Centre. This jester was so simple to coordinate and mcuh appreciated.

    The idea is so simply. We spent so much time making sure we packed just the right amount of stuff so that we would not go over the weight restrictions imposed by the internal flights. They are threads on just packing. So, why not bring an extra piece of luggage filled with donated materials to a local NGO? Internationally, each passenger is permitted 2 bags of up to 23 kg each. We brought pencils, latex gloves (pregnant women are required to bring their own to the hospital and many cannot afford them), clothing, Imodium, sterile gauze sponges, condoms, band-aids, etc. We thought is was going to be hard to find an old suitcase to transport the donated materials to them and leave there, but the response was so great that I still have an old suitcase in my basement waiting for my next trip to Africa.

    I was told that there is a NGO in Kenya that goes as far as to mail to visiting tourist bags that they fill with donated materials and volunteers meet the tourists at the airport to collect the bags. I do not believe such an organization exists in Tanzania, but that does not prevent anyone from doing the same thing. Anyone interested in helping the Arusha Women Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre, Uhai Centre or Bangata Lutheran Dispensary or Tanzanians in general are invited to e-mail me at touristsfortanzania@gmail.com.

    I believe this is a unique opportunity to offer help directly to the people of Africa. They were so grateful for what we were doing that they had even offered to arrange for the local media to be present when we visited their offices – an offer we refused. My only disappointment is that I did not plan enough time to meet with the Director and others, they wanted so much to show us the work that they do and how our contribution was going to help them.

    I sincerely believe that tourists can have a huge impact on helping Africa, not only by the economic benefits of tourism, but by directly lending a hand. Think about, how better to ensure that aid gets to the intended recipients than bring it yourself. No one would be obliged you to visit the office or dispensary – they organization will gladly meet you at the airport to take the luggage from you and let you on your way. Think about it. E-mail me if you want more information:

    touristsfortanzania@gmail.com

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    Conclusion

    I hope you found this thread to be of valuable - it really outlines our complete experience. I tried to include as much detail as possible, which is probably why it took me so long to write it (sorry again).

    I want to say one last thing about the tour company we used: Swala Safari (www.swalasafaris.com)

    We did book with Swala Safari - Ester was our contact and John was our driver/guide. They are a smaller company with competitive prices - lower than the others I contacted (Roy, etc.).

    There are several stores throughout the trip report how they impressed us and disappointed us. The binoculars (good), the Range Rover breaking down (bad) and the confusion over the arrangements in Zanzibar (bad but corrected - apparently, it was the first time they had made arrangements for anyone to go to Zanzibar). No body is perfect and they really did their best to make sure we had a great time.

    The forum did not have much information on them since they are a small outfit, but don't let that scare you into contacting them. I planned our safari so it was a private safari. They do offer already planned safaris too. We had no problem communicating with them either.

    It is true what they say about Africa, everything is at a slower pace, I think that takes a little getting used to. When the plane was late 30 minutes, the guide was not concerned and we were starting to worry. In the end everything worked out and we had an incredible time. While on safari we picked up a driver of a safari vehicle that had broken down and we met a group of people at the Serengeti Visitor Center waiting for a replacement vehicle because their jeep broke down too. Sometimes things just happen and you cannot necessarily blame anyone.

    I cannot believe it was in May/June of 2006, so long ago yet still so clear in my mind. We long to return....one day, soon.

    I hope you enjoyed the trip report.

    Sincerely,

    Peter & Joanne
    Montreal, Canada

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    Better late than never and greatly appreciated as not much has been said about Kirurumu Camp. Also appreciate the info regarding ways to give that require minimal effort on our parts. Plan to pack extra suitcase for each of us going with medical and schoool supplies for arrival in Uganda. Amazing how much you can get at a dollar store that makes a world of a difference to someone's education i.e. pencils, pens, geometry set, calculator, crayons, etc.

    Cheers,
    Juliet

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    Thanks for the detailed report. The binocular story is really heartwarming. You are a magnet for lions in the trees. Nice to catch a glimpse of a cobra. The crater had an abundance of game for you, not to mention the swaying ocean grasses. A cheetah family of four would be one of my highlights.

    I loved your comment that "we were Canadians and would not make a game of this situation." I'd like to whip out that declaration some time when it could do some good. And I'm not even from Canada, though my accent has convinced people that I am.

    Hope you are able to return with your children.

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    I'm so glad you came back to post your report! I have printed it out and will read it shortly as I am still in the June-Oct area in the trip report index, which is where logically this one would fit in.

    But just wanted to say thanks for posting, I remember you from my packing thread, you were going just a few days before I did!

    Hopefully the packing worked out for you OK.

    We longed to go back so badly I had to book another trip, we are off again in May of this year!

    I will look forward to reading this!

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