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Trip Report Trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar Dec 2008/Jan 2009

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Attached are links to pictures from our 21 day trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Serengeti:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109277&id=545073334&l=19be83551b

Lake Manyara:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=108759&id=545073334&l=0feb811864

Ngorongoro Crater
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=108973&id=545073334&l=72f8d4f317

Zanzibar
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109267&id=545073334&l=2c6be2ce4d

Chumbe
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109258&id=545073334&l=92eef30cd1

Itinerary:
Dec 19-20 Arusha, recover from jet lag at Arumeru River Lodge
Dec 21 Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Farm House
Dec 22-23 Ngorongoro, Ngorongoro Farm House/Serena
Dec 24-25 Serengeti, Sopa Lodge
Dec 26-28 Ndutu, Ndutu Lodge
Dec 28-30 Zanzibar (Pongwe), Pongwe Beach Hotel
Dec 31-Jan 1 Chumbe Island
Jan 2-3 Zanzibar (stone Town), Bait-al-Chai

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    Great photos and a nicely paced trip. Some of your pics remind me why I like Lake Manyaa so much even though many don't care for it. It's such a pretty little park. And Christmas in the Serengeti, huh? Now that's my idea of a holiday. Who did you book with and did you dirve the whole time? If so, how was your driver/guide?

    Thanks so much for posting these!

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    I was a bit doubtful about the OP, haven't seen anyone post their photos on Facebook without a report, but you are right Leely, very nice photos and would appreciate more details.

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    twaffle, yes, and I apologize for my typos!

    The photos of Chumbe prove that the common wisdom here "a beach is a beach is a beach, even in Africa" is just not true. What an unusual set-up. I'd like to hear more about it and I'm not even a beach person.

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    Here's the trip report...rather long...

    I planned this trip for a year carefully designed the itinerary and found a company that would book it for me and arrange all the transport, guides, flights etc. for a reasonable fee. Not that it was cheap. But some people do pay much more. We booked with Access2Tanzania. They started their company to support a school for Tanzanian children called Project Zawadi. Our guide was superb. His name was Maningo. A week before the trip our flights to Tanzania got cancelled, as Air Ethiopia changed their flight times and we couldn’t make the connections in London. Fortunately I located a better flight on KLM that was affordable and much better than our original arrangement. This was just be before the December ice storm when we lost power for 12 days. So after chopping wood and throwing logs and tree branches down our hillside the entire day before we left in the snow. We were so exhausted and we got on an evening flight between snowstorms (about ½ the flights went and ours was one) out of Boston and slept until we got to Amsterdam the next day. During a 2-hour layover we discovered the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam has an annex at the airport with a lovely giftshop and an exhibit of prints, ceramic tiles and paintings by Dutch masters including Rembrandt.

    We flew to Kilimanjaro, the gateway to Serengetti, arriving in Tanzania feeling quite fresh. We stayed two nights at Arumeru River Lodge to rest and adjust to local time, a lovely resort with gardens and views of Mt. Meru on one side and Mt. Kilimanjaro on the other, and excellent food. We also were missing 1 of our 3 bags.

    Tanzania was full of Europeans, Americans and Scandinavians fleeing the cold dark winter. We did not get any shots before the trip though we were threatened that we couldn’t get back in the country without a certificate for yellow fever inoculation which proved to be totally untrue. We all took our weekly anti-malarial pill, which we purchased in Tanzania because it was outrageously expensive here. There were surprisingly few mosquitoes. We got chewed by sand fleas on Chumbe Island and ran into tsetse flies a couple of times in the Serengeti but we just bashed them with heavy objects (they’re tough little buggers) and sprayed ourselves with repellant.

    We changed money in Arusha, a bustling city, and did some shopping. The second morning the baggage turned up and was delivered to the KLM office in Arusha, and off we went to begin our safari. We started in Lake Manyara preserve, which proved to be a very hot humid forest full of animals. We saw baboons, elephants, giraffes and lions. Our driver got a message that lions had brought down a baby giraffe so we located the lions resting next to the body of the young giraffe, while its mother hovered hearby. We spent two nights at the Ngorongoro Farmhouse, a working farm that also is a nice resort which serves the food and coffee they grow. The next morning we headed to the world-famous Ngorongoro Crater. We drove around the crater watching warthogs wallow in mud and guarding their fat tasty little piglets; hyenas who also wallow to keep cool in the heat of the day; lions who came up and rested in the shade of the jeeps right next to us. Nothing has the mystique of lions…two cheetah brothers, elephants grazing in the marshy acacia forest, and many interesting birds, including the crowned cranes, bustards; ostriches and many small colorful birds, and lastly we caught sight of a rhino way off in the distance. As we were leaving the park in late afternoon (it’s a steep bumpy ride on switchbacks into and out of the crater and you have to be out by 6 pm) we found a mother rhino with a large calf near the road.

    We stayed at the Ngorongoro Serena. It is built to look like a crumbling stone ruin perched on the rim of the crater, with sweeping views of the crater. We took a hike with a naturalist who knew a lot about local plants and animals. Found elephant tracks and buffalo tracks and gorgeous birds, all while looking at the sweep of the crater and the blue African sky and clouds. We ran into Masai children herding their Brahmin cows. They also danced for us in the evening at the lodge before dinner. We spent two days in the crater, then headed for the plains of the serengetti. On the way to Serengetti we visited Oldupai Gorge (Olduvai is a mis-spelling by a German archeologist). Louis and Mary Leakey went looking for dinosaurs and found early man. There is a nice little museum with replicas of the famous skulls of Zinjanthropus and Homo Erectus, as well as giant extinct antelopes and buffalo and crocodiles. We heard a little lecture in musical African English.

    We spent two days in the Serengetti, we saw vast herds of wildebeest and zebras (they hang out together to avoid lions) as far as the eye could see in all directions, following the rains. These herds migrate in a huge circle through the year, heading south into Serengetti in a clockwise direction. Then they head northwest, fording treacherous rivers full of giant crocodiles and swift currents; many drown or are eaten, but millions make it back to Masai Mara in Kenya. We could drive through empty plains one day and find them filled with animals the next. The drivers help each other to locate animals, so all the tourists are happy. We’d come home hot and dusty at the end of the day to share our stories with each other, and everyone seemed happy and excited by what they saw. We had a very affable and sharp-eyed guide, who spotted 3 leopards for us; they are furtive animals who snooze in trees all day, invisible in the shade, and hunt at night. But Maningo would spot them with his naked eye while driving around potholes on the track, and help us find them with our binoculars, which could take a while. We learned after driving around all day a few times that the animals hide in the shade in the heat, and we should too. So avoiding the box lunches provided by the lodges, we returned to the lodges for a nice lunch and siesta, driving in morning and afternoon and finding tons of animals and birds. Some people never saw a leopard or a rhino, and we saw three of each. We waited one afternoon til the spotted snoozer stood up, stretched, and slowly poured himself down the tree, to disappear into the tall grass. How a black and orange animal can disappear in 6 inches of green grass is beyond me, but he does.

    We spent Christmas Eve at Serengetti Sopa, a nice lodge built into a hillside in the Serengetti. After a day bumping along dirt tracks in the heat, swatting tsetse flies and getting covered in dust, we would come home to a warm shower, a deluxe buffet and entertainment in the evening. African dancers and acrobats dazzled us, and then got us up to dance. The food was great and it was fun browsing through the gift shop where we bought some African fabrics, one of the few things we could stuff into our duffel bags (we were limited to 15 kilos apiece for our domestic flights, so we packed light). That night we found two masai blankets on our beds, a gift of the lodge. That last night the baboons kept us up all night scampering over the roof and vandalizing the pool furniture; we also heard the elephants breaking trees and munching the branches right outside the walls.

    On Christmas Day we headed from Sopa to Ndutu, crossing through the entrance gate again. It rained heavily as we waited in the jeep for Maningo to get the tickets, and it changed to hail, so we had a white Christmas! The Tanzanians were great, and put up with the occasional rude tourists with good grace, but sometimes they do the dumbest things…

    In the Ndutu area you can drive off-road and see more animals. We were dazzled by the multiplicity of gorgeous birds: multi-colored lilac rollers, red white and black buffalo weavers, gold and black weavers, tawny eagles, kestrels (falcon-like) and kingfishers. Even the starlings are gorgeous: the superb starling is iridescent blue with a tawny orange breast and white stripe across his heart. We spent Christmas at Ndutu Lodge, formerly a tent camp established by an eccentric big-game hunter turned nature-lover named George Dove with a huge mustache. Later owners built nice cabins and a lovely dining room. It was hot in the daytime but cool at night with very few mosquitoes. There were some annoying people when we arrived, but they all cleared out and we met some awesome people the next day. In the evening the gennettes came out and prowled the rafters above our heads looking for bugs to eat. These cute cat-like creatures have long ringed tails and are a bit larger than housecats; they help to control the mice, snakes and bugs.

    On our morning drive we arrived just in time to see a Cheetah stalk a Thompson’s gazelle, and bring it down in 3 seconds flat, drag it a little way, and then walk off to call her 3 cubs. They plopped down to rest for a half hour while the herd ran around in panic. Finally the cats went to the kill and she let the cubs play with the kill; they bit its neck, flipped its legs around etc. in mock hunting play. Finally she ripped the skin open and they methodically devoured it, starting with the haunches, then the ribs, then the forequarters, as vultures slowly began to wheel overhead, then descend to wait their turn. We watched for about 3 hours in total, as the flock of vultures grew quite large. They patiently let the cheetahs eat their fill, creeping imperceptibly closer. When they got too close, the cubs charged them, scattering the squawking birds. A few Marabou storks, which fish but also will scavenge, joined at least three varieties of buzzards and vultures. No hyenas or other animals showed up. Finally when the cheetahs were full, the mother laconically charged the vultures, then they all padded off for a nap. The vultures swooped in a screeching pile on the remains of the carcass. That was the highlight of the safari; very exciting and we really didn’t think we’d get to witness a hunt. We saw lions stalking some wildebeest one morning but they couldn’t get close enough before the grazers caught their scent and took off. The lionesses charged after them for a minute and then gave up.

    One morning we hiked in Ndutu with an armed ranger, scaring a cheetah out from under a bush. We also had giraffes following us. After breakfast we told our driver, and went out in the Land Rover to track the Cheetah. We found her hidden in a bush, devouring a Thompson gazelle. We watched her methodically munch the entire thing by herself. We developed patience in watching; our guide stayed or went as we wished. Away from TV, computers, newspapers and deadlines, our minds slowed and expanded to match the pace of life in the wild.

    We moved every 2-3 days to a new lodge, and usually slept poorly the first night in a strange bed, so we took a lot of Benadryl to get enough sleep esp. for those early morning game drives. After 8 days of this, we had seen everything our hearts desired, and flew out of the Serengeti airstrip to Zanzibar for R&R.

    Zanzibar is a large island off the coast of Tanzania. We were picked up at the airport and whisked to the east side of the island to the Pongwe Beach Resort on a white sand beach near a fishing village with a stiff sea breeze that cooled the intense heat. Here we rested, ate very well, contemplated what we’d seen on safari, and socialized around the pool with folks from South Africa, Sweden and England. The staff fed us gourmet food and taught us to play the Bao. We walked to the village when the tide went out and we could get around the eroding cliffs on the beach; it was dirt-poor. The men were building a new fishing boat out of a single huge mango log; They hollowed it out and shaped it, then lashed outriggers to the sides to stabilize it, fitted it with a sail, and off they went daily to fish. Women harvest seaweed which they sell for 6 cents a kilo (2.2 lbs) dried.

    The resort was not electrified as yet, and ran on generators. They had a ceiling fan in the cabin but no A/C and the ceiling fan went off at 3 am when they powerered down from 3 to 6 am. So we would wake up sweating at 3:15 am. We finally just opened the door to get the breeze, it felt quite safe. After 3 delightful days in Pongwe, we headed to Chumbe Island. We were again picked up at the hotel and dropped off at the boat to the Island.

    Chumbe Island which was very “au natural” sort of very high-priced eco-camping. Solar panels charge batteries which gave you power at night, the toilets are composting types, rain water is collected for showers. The island used to be a military installation and since no fishing was allowed around the island, the reefs have not been destroyed by fishermen. They took us out snorkeling twice a day. We saw alligator fish, lion fish, huge grupers and many other colored fish. The coral reefs where just amazing. The food was excellent and they fed us very well. We got to see the giant crabs at night too.

    After two days we headed back to Stone Town for some people-watching and shopping. We were ambling along looking like tourists when a fellow attached himself to us and for a small tip proved to be a competent guide through the narrow twisting byways. He also introduced us to a government-run excursion office where we got a good deal on a dolphin-spotting boatride for the next day ($35 instead of $75 charged by the private tours). He took us to the old slave market. There is a memorial to those enslaved which consists of several sculptures of people with real chains on their necks, in a pit about 3 feet deep, looking very unhappy. An Anglican minister named Rev. Steere campaigned with Stanley Livingstone in London to ban the trade, which the English did in 1857 or something. They built a huge cathedral on the site of the old slave market, but you can still visit the dungeons below where slaves were held. The cathedral was decorated for Christmas; the altar stands on the site of the old whipping post, and good Rev. Steere is buried beneath the altar, peace be upon him.

    Finally we flew to Dar es Salaam, a 15-minute flight over the ocean from Stone Town airport. We spent two days visiting friends and finally headed back to Boston.

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    Great trip and description of sightings, have not checked photos yet. That extra day in Arusha was helpful for the lost bag. You are right that 3 leopards and 3 rhinos is quite fortunate. Nice family outing for the cheetahs, not so nice for the prey.

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    I see you posted your report before the one year anniversary of the trip.

    The baboon family in the Serengeti is a nice peaceful scene and so are the grazing animals in front of the signature kopjes. Some more nice baboons grooming in Manyara. Lucky mother and baby black rhino in the crater and is that 2 cheetahs there? Were the monkeys in Stone Town just hanging around the town or did you go to a particular forest to see them?

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    What a great way to spend Christmas! Ndutu really worked out well for you. Lions, cheetahs and cubs, a genet. You got some excellent bird shots too but those action pics of the cheetahs are very exciting.

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    Azim, I'm doing almost the identical trip as yours, also leaving the 19th of Dec, staying at almost all the same places, also finishing the Serengeti on the 28th! Glad to see it was a good trip and you saw a lot. Had the rains already arrived in Ndutu or was it still pretty dry?

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    atravelynn, We saw two cheetahs in the crater and 12 in Ndutu area. We had to go to the Jozani forest to see the monkeys on our way back from Kizimkazi after dolphin watching in the ocean.

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