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Trip Report Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Dubai, Kenya, Tanzania

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Yes, I know there were a lot of stops. But what started here as a trip to Jordan followed by a Safari, just grew as I added some stop overs depending on flights. Really glad I did, as trip turned out to be amazing.

Istanbul

I have always wanted to go to Istanbul, and was very happy to finally have gotton the chance. Took BA business class (points) from Toronto. Short layover in LHR, and than on to Istanbul. You can get your visa at the airport, and I would recommend you dont forget to before you get into the regular line (which was long, and a lot of people who waited forgot to first get their visa). Took a taxi ride into the city to the W Hotel, which is a member of Starwood, who have an excellent promotion going on with a "free weekend night" and almost any one of their properties worldwide with 2 stays. The W hotel is very different, and not exactly my idea of style. But the room was nice, and the staff very helpful. Even though I expected a high price, the conceierge quoted me $500 USD for a escorted day trip (wow)!!! Needless to say, you do not need an escourt. Most of the sites are close together, and taxis are plentiful.

While I was in Istanbul, took in the normal tourist sites, in the Hafia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar. Also had a very nice cruise for several hours. One thing I noted about Istanbul, is that while people were very helpful, there were a lot of scams. And I mean a lot. Every taxi driver told you the place you were going to was closed, the road was closed, etc. At most sites, there were people around with a scam or 2 (oh Mr. you cant wear shorts into the Blue Mosque, you will have to go back to your hotel for pants, and I can sell you these paper pants). While I knew what they were, I can imagine first time tourists falling for some of them.

I liked Istanbul, and definitely want to go back, and also explore the rest of Turkey.

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    Jordan

    Took the Turkish Airways flight to Amman, where I would be staying for 3 nights. It was easy to get a visa, and pass through customs. Taxis have set fees, and soon was on my way into town, where I was staying at the Le Meridian Amman. The hotel was fine for a base for my exploration. On the first day got a car to take me to Petra. Lots have written about Petra, so I wont go into details, but overall an amazing place. I did a pretty good tour in about 5-6 hours. Not being in a big group allowed me the chance to speed things up, and the provided tour guide was very good for the cost (around $50). While I expect you could spend a couple of days there, I found my timing was perfect for me. As I was already out there, I also decided to add on Wadi Rum and make it a very long (but fun) day. Wadi Rum wasnt too far away, and I signed up for a couple hour desert tour. This jeep adventure was pretty neat, and I would recommend it to anyone if you get the chance. Got back to the hotel about 16 hours after I left. The one thing I noted about Jordan is that they seem to have a lot of speed checks, so most of the drivers go close to posted speed. We could have done much better time otherwise.

    The following day I went to Jerash and the Dead Sea. Jerash was an amazing site. It was very easy to spend several hours there just walking around and seeing the ancient Roman ruins, some of which were pretty well preserved. I was there early in the morning, meaning there were not many other tourists there, which was very nice. Had lunch at the Dead Sea, and spend the afternoon there relaxing. Got back to Amman to do some shopping.

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    Israel (Jerusalem)

    I have always wanted to see Jerusalem, and as I was so close decided to spend some time there. Surprisingly it was cheaper for me to book a flight from Amman to Tel Aviv, followed by a flight from Tel Avi to Dubai (all on Royal Jordanian) than it was to just book a direct flight from Amman to Dubai. Took the early morning flight to Tel Aviv from Amman (which was unfortunately delayed a couple of hours due to weather). While I was expecting some questions, I was surprised to see the number of "spot" checks, and for some reason I was flagged (single male, been to Malaysia, Lebanon, etc). Wasnt too bad, and got through in about 30 minutes. Took a short cab to the Jerusalem Sheraton where I met my guide for the day. I had arranged for a guide in the old city by the name of Gilad Suffrin, who can be reached at gsuffrin@yahoo.com. Gilad lives in Jerusalem and can meet you at your hotel for a day trip to the Old City. He also arranged a short visit for me over the border to Bethlehem. I really enjoyed the tour to the Old City, and did the Western Wall tour.

    Now leaving Israel turned out to be much more difficult than entering. For some reason they kept passing me on to the next level person, asking me the same questions over and over. Finally after over an hour, I had had enough, and said no more, Im done answering your questions. Go get a manager and let me leave this country. Someone came over, and I was soon released. Unfortunately I wasnt done though. They than went through my bags (carry on only). They literally took everything out of my bags and checked for bomb residue or something. I argued for a while, but they kepy my nail clippers. We than got to my bug spray. I wasnt about to give it up, and argued. At some point I snapped and banned them all from ever coming to Canada. Of course when that happened, I was asked to go to the back room for a "metal detector" test. When I got there, some guy was putting on rubber gloves. Thinking the worst I say down in the nearest chair and said "no friggin way". They looked at me, smiled, and said no sir, we just want to "pat" you down. That worked for me, and soon I was back to the main area. I still refused to give up my bug spray (which was well under 100 ml), and asked to see the boss of the airport. By this time they had 4 security guards around me, and quite the crowd of other tourists listening to me arguing. Finally someone came, was introduced as the manager, and I explained I needed my bug spray and that I was "taking" it with me. She agreed but said I would have to leave my deoderant. I was like wtf, are you all retarded??? She wouldnt give, and I was happy to keep my bug spray, so left it as is. The 4 security guards escourted me to the business class lounge for a couple beers (which I needed by now, as it was 2 1/2 hours into my check in), and they were waiting for me and escourted me to the flight. While I cant confirm I fully expect someone was watching me on the flight.

    Needless to say I will never go back to Israel. They treated every tourist like a terrorist, which I thought was unbelievable. Just my advice.... I wouldnt go there unless you really want to.

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    hi richard
    you can't begin to imagine how US officials treat people coming from the middle east, since 9/11
    even israelis coming to a convention with an invited lecture they should be giving
    Imagine they would have have flown from Afganistan and not israel - this is the equivalent of you coming from Lebanon.
    you've stayed a few days in lebanon and jordan, came to Israel for a very short time - any intelligence agency cannot afford not to check
    man, the world ain't what it used to be

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    Wow, I thought trying to check out of Turkey was tough. Sounds like nothing in comparison to Israel.

    Arguing probably made it worse though; Single male, no checked baggage...

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    Dubai

    Left Isreal via Amman on Royal Jordanian. Quickly passed through customs and checked into the Four Points Sheraton. This seemed to be a fairly new hotel with excellent service. Did a half day tour of Dubai, visiting the major sites. Than spent some time doing some shopping. It was pretty hot, but not unbearable. In the evening did the desert tour and drive, which I thought was pretty interesting and fun.

    On the following day, just did some shopping, wandering around, and relaxing. A nice quiet day...

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    Israeli security is tough, but my sister commented on her last few visits, unlike in the US, they didn't have to remove their shoes and were able to take bottled water (from outside the secure area) thru Security and onto the plane. Their bags did go thru Xray and the one item spotted, a solid container in the middle of cloths, asked to open... it was a jar of Ahava (Dead Sea) mud! No problem, and were able to go on their way.

    And, the few times I had been (prior 9/11) they never asked me questions nor had me open any bags.

    Guess, we don't fit the profile.

    Good report though. Thanks for sharing.

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    Kenya

    Took an early morning flight on Qatar Airways to Nairobi. Arrived at NBO with plenty of time for the afternoon flight out of Wilson to Olonana, my base for the next 3 nights. I have been to the Mara once before, and was really looking forward to the return visit. Soon I was picked up by my quide, and a very friendly couple who were going to be my vehicle mates for the next 3 days. Olonana is a very nice camp overlooking the river. I really enjoyed my first night back in Africa, even with the hippos seemingly having fun just outside my room all night. The service was excellent, and I really liked the camp. All of the rooms are overlooking the river, which are usually filled with hippos.

    I liked our schedule at this camp. We would get out first thing in the morning, and arranged for breakfast to be had in the Mara (usually at the river with a nice view of the surrounding area). Return to camp around 1 pm, have a nice lunch, relax for a couple hours, and get out for the evening game drive. There is no night drives in the Mara. The camp is about 15-20 minutes from the gate, and there were a wide variety of birds along the way. Overall game viewing for the 3 days was pretty good. We did see a variety of lions, cheetah (including one munching on a kill), a nice leopard who posed for us on a rock, a brief sighting of Rhinos (who were very shy), and lots of regular game. One night on the way back to camp we had an excellent sighting of a Serval on the road. It walked right towards and past us, not like my other brief sightings.

    Overall a great camp, with a good location, and excellent service. Would definitely recommend, and hope to return one day.

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    Tanzania - Sasakwa Camp, Grumeti

    I like how you can get in a morning game drive in the Mara, catch the late morning flight out, and connect into Tanzania, usually in time for an afternoon game drive. "And Beyond" arranged my flights, and I appreciated having someone waiting for me at Kili to take me through customs into Tanzania, and get me on my flight to Arusha and onwards. After a quick stop in Arusha we were soon on to Manyara to drop some people off, and that on to Sasakwa airstrip. The planes in Tanzania seem to be the usual 12 passanger type. It was about an hour to Sasakwa, and I arrived to a great surprise. My guide Adas was there to greet me and explained that he would be my private guide for my entire visit to all 3 Singita Camps... it was excellent to have a private car (at no extra cost).

    Sasakwa is an absolutely wonderful camp, the nicest I have been to in Africa. It is on a large hill overlooking the plains. The view is amazing from either your room (and private plunge pool) or the main lodge area. The rooms are like private cottages, and very nice. Meals are excellent, and you have multiple choices for each meal. If you want an option different from game drives, you can play tennis, other games, go horse back riding, or take nature walks. They also have a resident wildlife expert who can join you on game drives.. in this case Richard Estes (who did join me on one drive, and had a wealth of knowledge).

    All that is great, but the reason I am here is for the game drives, and trust me the game around Sasakwa was great. Unfortunately I missed the majority of the migration (hadnt arrived yet). We did though see some advance groups of about 500 animals each. We also saw a wildebeast go down, and when we went to investigate found it caught and killed by a snare... very sad to see. While the grass was a little high, we were able to see a lot of game in my 2 days. There are a couple of local lion prides, as well as multiple cheetahs. The Singita part of Grumeti is a private concession, so you only find vehicles from the 3 Singita camps. They all work together, which is excellent for sightings. They also limit the number of vehicles at each sighting, which I really liked, especially after being in the Mara. Having a private vehicle allowed me to spend time where I wanted to go, in this case spending time with Cheetahs. We found a female cheetah early one morning and spent about an hour with her before she got up, and went for a walk. We were able to follow her, leading up to stalking and chasing some Gazelle. Unfortunately she missed out. Realizing she was still hungry we decided to stay with her for another 2 hours, awaiting another hunt. She didnt disappoint, and was able to take down a small Gazelle with her second hunt. Others probably wouldnt have had the patience to stay with one animal for about 5 hours, but it certainly paid off. Adas was great, and we were excellently positioned for each hunt for a great view.

    Let me say that there seems to be excellent year round game in this area. Sasakwa is a wonderful camp, and if you want the best, it would be for you...

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    Singita - Sabora Tented Camp

    Sabora Tented camp was my favourite of the Singita Tanzania camps. It is situated in the plains, about a 30-40 minute drive from Sasakwa, and Faru Faru. The camp was my favourite because it is situated right in the middle of the game viewing, and I prefer the open tented camps to lodges. The tents were nice, with a lot of privacy. I am told when the migration is in the area, it is all around the camp, and sometimes in the pool. Unfortunately, as mentioned I did miss the migration. While the camp is not as nice as Sasakwa, it is also much better priced. The service that one expects from Singita is there, and from the other travelers, it seems they get a lot of repeat customers. Tents 1 or 9 offer the most privacy, as they are on the far ends of the camp. If you are traveling with a family, there are connected tents that you can use. In the middle of the tents in a lounge / library that the 2 tents share. Meals were excellent, and after traveling for so long, I really liked the ability to choose your own meals, with a wide selection of choices.

    Game viewing usually begins right when you leave the camp, and as all 3 camps share sightings, there is usually a lot to see. I am told on almost every game drive they can find lions and cheetah, with leopards usually more difficult to find. I was lucky again on my drives to see a lot of both, including a lion kill. There are 2 large prides in the area, so there is usually a kill every couple of days. There is also a lot of regular game, and we had some good sightings all around. I took advantage of going out early, and having breakfast on the plains. Relaxed during the afternoons, and back out on game drives in the evening.

    I would definitely return to Sabora.

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    Singita - Faru Faru

    Faru Faru was about a 45 minute drive from Sabora, and is in a different area by the river in cabins overlooking either watering holes, or the river. They have an excellent view of the valley, with a lot of great viewings of Black and White Colobus monkeys. My room was nice, with the ability to open up the large windows overlooking the water holes. Overall service was excellent, with again very friendly and helpful staff. It is very different from the other Singita camps, and I can see why a lot of their returing clients go to all 3 camps.

    One evening drive we heard about a lion kill of a Zebra, and we went to investigate. This lead to a first for me, in that there was a lion up in the tree. We got some great pictures of that lion, and the rest of the pride having their feast, including a tug of war between 4 different lions.... you can expect what happened when they all pulled in different directions. Overall there was again lots of game, and some very large herds. You can see why the lions / cheetah eat very well, and Singita Tanzania's expectation of a kill sighting every day or 2.

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    And Beyond Migration Camp

    Went to the airport for a short flight to the migration camp. It was only about a 20 minute flight. Met my new companions, and with the bad news that the migration was not around, and that it was in an area that we could not get to. We were greeted at the camp by our "butlers" singing. Migration camp moves with the migration, so I was not sure what to expect. I have to say I was impressed. While the tent was much more basic that what I had at Sabora, it was all I really needed. A good place to sleep, shower. For some reason the bucket showers seemed to last a lot longer than those I remember from Kenya. Food was good, if somewhat limited in choices, if you care about that. The camp was fairly full, which was great, as there were a lot of interesting people with lots of stories to share on game drives and over meals.

    Like Singita, there was a lot of resident game in the area, which was nice. As we didnt have the number of vehicles out that Singita has, we had to find our own sightings. There were a lot more vehicles here, so we could follow the Mara rules of finding game, by looking where the other vehicles were stopped.

    Overall, another great camp, and a place I would definitely recommend, and would return to. Hopefully next time the migration is in the area, but even if it isnt, there is usually a lot of game to see.

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    Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

    My final stop, and under an hour flight. I was only here for one night, so would just have the evening game drive. Stayed at the North camp, which still had excellent views of the crater. I did get a chance to see the other camps, and tree camp looked like a great place if you were going with a group or large family. I would just recommend that people with mobility issues understand there are stairs and climbing at that camp. My cabin was excellent, and it was a nice place to end my safari. Meals were great, though for some reason I wasnt feeling too well at night and skipped dinner. I have to give the manager credit. She came looking for me, and when I explained that I wasnt feeling too well (altitude maybe?) I soon got a call from the doctor, and my butler who delivered something to eat to my room. Excellent service I have to say...

    The lodge was about an hour and a half drive from the airstrip. After checking in, we had time to eat lunch, and were soon off for the afternoon drive. Going down was not too bad, and we were soon on the floor. Maybe it was the afternoon crowd, or off season, but for whatever reason there were not many vehicles there that afternoon. Lots have been written here on the floor, so I wont go into details, but overall I was pleased with the sightings of game, including a lion family playing, rhino sighting, and an excellent serval sighting. I have to say this was one place where I regretted not buying a better camera for, as my vehicle companions had the long lenses, and took some great photos, which I couldnt with my camera.

    Overall a great place, and while one day was enough, you might want to consider 2 for a morning visit to the crater. The camp was great, though its probably not a place I will return to.... kind of reminded me of African Lion Safari (drive through place we have in Canada with some game). I more prefer the wilder areas.

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    I caught my flight through Arusha to Kili, and from there the connecting flight to Wilson. Unfortunately I was a little too late for lunch at Carnivore, so I hung out at the Simba until dinner started at 6 pm. Had a nice relaxing dinner (is there any other way at Carnivore), and caught a taxi to NBO for my 11 pm flight back home. Had to laugh again at the security at NBO, with having to go through 2 diffent checks one after the other.

    Overall another excellent trip. Tanzania is a place I definitely want to return to, though I think my next safari is back to Kwando...

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