Fabulous family safari with Duma Explorer

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Jul 13th, 2012, 09:49 AM
  #1
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Join Date: Jul 2012
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Fabulous family safari with Duma Explorer

We have just returned from the most incredible trip to Tanzania. It was truly the vacation of a lifetime, combining 10 days on safari and 3 days resting on a quiet, secluded beach in Zanzibar. We went with 4 of our grown kids, aged 22 to 27, and it was an amazing family experience that we will all be talking about for years.

When I started my research it seemed like there was an endless array of options, itineraries, and tour operators and the task seemed quite daunting. Duma Explorer and Stacy quickly became my number 1 choice. She lives in Arusha and has first-hand knowledge of the parks and surrounding areas. I inundated her with emails and she always replied promptly and patiently, answering all of my questions, providing suggestions and alternatives. After much back and forth we decided upon an itinerary that included Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.

We flew to Kilimanjaro and spent the 1st evening in Arusha. In the morning we drove through town... quite the experience with the local market in full swing, hundreds of people walking on the sides of the streets with carts, donkeys, cows, goats, fruits, veggies, etc., taking goods to the market, women walking with laden baskets on their heads. Just what you might see in the pictures of Africa.... it is all true.
On the roads, dala dalas ( shared taxis) stuffed with people hanging off the sides and rear, laden with goods on top. I think people were sitting on top of people, on top of another layer of people. All a very enlightening picture of what was to come.

It was our good fortune to have Hashim as our driver/guide. He really made our safari the excellent adventure it was. From the moment he met us at the airport in Kilimanjaro, his smile captured us. With 15 years’ experience as a driver/guide he has vast knowledge of the animals, birds and vegetation and without him the trip would simply not have been the same. He could spot animals when no one else saw anything, and he never followed the pack. We saw the “Big 5” as well as 3 of the “Small 5”. Hashim was very respectful of nature, the animals and their safety. Hashim was a perfect fit for our group, 6 people all having different personalities; he had a great sense of humour and patience. We were amazed at his ability to drive the car, answer our endless questions, swat tsetse flies and spot animals, all at the same time.

We spent the first 2 days in Lake Manyara. It was very reminiscent of Ontario's provincial parks, except more lush vegetation. Most of our group liked Lake Manyara the best. The wildlife was abundant, and the tented camp was right near the shores of the Lake. We saw spectacular sunrises and views in the morning. The first morning we walked down to the lake with the Masaii guard to be greeted by giraffes, pink flamingoes and buffalo. Other sightings in Manyara included baboons, zebra, giraffe, elephants, dik diks, storks, hammerhead, vervet monkey, turtles, rock hyrax, banded mongoose, impala, kingfisher, eagle owl, red & yellow barbet, weaver birds, hippos, woodpecker, pine nut vulture, kori bustard, and many more birds that I’ve forgotten the name of.

The first morning Hashim stopped the car, and got out to look at tracks. He came back into the car stating “there are cats ….these are fresh tracks”. Several kilometers later we found them, our first 2 lions, lying in the middle of a dry river bed. The truck from our tented camp had become lodged in the sand right beside the lions and we had to provide a distraction by parking between the lions and their truck so that they could get out of the vehicle and engage the 4 wheel drive. But simply sighting the 2 cats was fabulous. They were no more than 15 metres away from us.

The next day we did a game drive in the morning then travelled to Gibb's Farm outside Ngorongoro Crater. It is a working farm/plantation but quite deluxe. The guest houses were huge, probably 1,000 sq ft. The meals are in the Farmhouse itself, and everything is organic and grown on the farm. We did a tour of the farm... they grow everything from coffee to fruits, veggies, flowers. At night, they need to light fires to keep the elephants from tramping the fields.

The fourth day was Ngorongoro Crater, which is very special. It is a 20km area of concentrated animals and wildlife; lions, elephants, cheetahs, hyena, ostrich, rhinos (we saw 5 but all from a distance), serval cat, jackals, blue monkeys, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle plus many more. We stayed at a lodge right on the edge of the rim to the Crater. There were fantastic views, but we did not enjoy really enjoy this accommodation as it was older and dated.

From there we left for Central Serengeti. This was possibly the best location for cats. We also saw the migration from here which was quite spectacular. Our trip was in May and Stacy suggested that we do both Central and Western Seregeti so that we could see the migration. , which is why Stacy suggested both Central and Western Serengeti. She was totally correct as we saw the migration in several places and it was almost surreal. From huge herds galloping in the distance as far as the eye can see, to close up and personal, on the road right in front of our car.

We spent 2 days at a tented camp on a hillside overlooking the plains and you could see the herds galloping for miles. As far as you could follow with your binoculars, the lines stretched into the distance. There were many thousands of wildebeest in the distance forming a grey line in the horizon.

We came across a large herd crossing the road and were stopped in our tracks, they were no more than 10 metres ahead of the car. The herd crossing must have taken 15 minutes, only to stop in the field across the road, to wait for stragglers. Then 2 minutes later they seemed to change their mind and head right back to the other side of the road. We waited another 15 minutes, but what a sight.

We also saw hartebeest, leopard eagle, safari ants migrating across the path to our tent, giraffes, zebras, secretary bird, leopards, many lions, augur buzzard, fish eagle, pygmy fowl, leopard tortoise, red billed buffalo weaver. As we were watching some giraffes in the field, we heard a loud buzzing noise coming our way. An absolutely huge swarm of bees passed over the car, we were terrified, but they were clearly on a mission to go somewhere else.

Another time after spotting 2 cars in the distance, Hashim raced over to find 4 lions directly overhead, lying in a tree having a nap. We had a perfect viewing spot for almost an hour as they stretched, yawned and eventually climbed down the tree.

The last 2 days were spent in Western Serengeti. Since the rains were quite late this year, we only saw the beginnings of the herd approaching western areas. However Western Serengeti is very different from Central with much more open plains and savannah grasslands. It was not very busy here and we had most sightings to ourself.

The lodge we stayed at was by far the most luxurious. Kirawira is a step back to Edwardian times with fancy hardwood floors, old English furniture and photos on the walls, and a swimming pool overlooking the vast plains.

Each evening a genet cat came to sit outside the dining tent. Lots of bush hyrax, lions, buffalo, a dead puff adder in the road, von deckens hornbill – both male and female, huge crocodiles at the Grumeti river, marabou stork (huge, wingspan must be 10 to 12 feet), at least 30 hippos lounging in a pool.

The accommodations were nothing short of fantastic. We stayed at a mix of luxury tented camps and lodges, but each time we arrived, we were totally amazed at both the camp/lodge surroundings and the superior quality of the accommodation. Nothing can beat waking up on the plains of the Serengeti with the sun coming up over the horizon and a pot of coffee delivered to our tent with a “jambo” and a smile.

Another aspect of our trip was to give back to the community. We came with 2 huge duffel bags filled with running shoes, kids clothing, soccer balls and medication for the Arusha hospital. Duma supports a local school located in a rural area approximately 20 miles from Arusha (Ndatu Kindergarten). The children did a presentation for us, but as we unpacked the soccer balls, you should have seen their eyes light up. They ran outside and started to chase the balls and bring us into a circle game they were playing.

A few km away, Stacy took us to Nkoaranga orphanage. Often new babies come in directly from the hospital where their mothers have passed away, and stay here until they are 5 years old, when they need to be sponsored to attend school. We gave out balls, clothing and shoes. Our kids aged 22 to 27 had to be torn from the place as they fell in love with the children immediately.

On the way to Gibb’s Farm, Hashim took us to the Mwema Street Children Centre in Karatu. It is a home that carries out preventative work for children who are living on the street. The Center welcomes those living on the street, and with the permission of their families, provides food, housing, education and general care, as well promoting family reintegration. We donated clothing, running shoes and soccer balls, and they left us with warm feelings and smiles in our hearts. PS. The kids loved having their photos taken and seeing themselves in the camera viewfinder.

The last 3 days of our vacation were spent on Zanzibar at Pongwe Beach and it was wonderful for relaxing, but much too hot to do anything. It was a good place to wind down from the long days on the road. The beach was absolutely amazing, on the Indian Ocean and the bluest ocean I have ever seen in my life. The beach was white sand and totally private, there are around 20 rooms and the place was full, even on the first day of the season, when we arrived. Stacy also arranged for the driver in Zanzibar and a tour of Stonetown prior to our return.

In summary, Stacy offered us a fantastic personalized experience and the trip wildly exceeded our expectations. We would highly recommend Duma Explorer to anyone planning a trip to Tanzania.

PS here is a link to some of our photos- hope you enjoy them.
https://picasaweb.google.com/1037936...eat=directlink

Please don't hesitate to message me if you have any questions.
Penny
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Jul 13th, 2012, 09:37 PM
  #2
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
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Wonderful report, Penny. Particularly loved your cheetah and rhino in the wildflowers photos - just beautiful!

Was it rainy at all during your stay? How crowded was the Crater?
sangeeta is offline  
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Jul 14th, 2012, 04:07 AM
  #3
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Hi Sangeeta
We were there at the end of May so it was not busy season yet. We also descended at 7am so there were not a lot of cars. First thing in the morning we had most sightings to ourself.

We saw a serval cat very early, and they are not normally out during the day, as well as a grouping of 5 jackals lying across the road, However by 11am most good sightings had a lot of vehicles. The cheetah was stalking the gazelle for around an hour and we could not get very close at all. There must have been 20 cars near her.

Moral is make an early departure time to avoid the crowds. By the time we went for lunch at the rest stop, there must have been 100 vehicles stopped there.
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Jul 14th, 2012, 05:22 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2004
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"Endless array of options" perfectly describes the safari search and it looks like you were already set on Tanzania. Throw in some other countries and it's a Rubik's Cube.

"Most of our group liked Lake Manyara the best." Thanks for sharing that observation. How was the water level in the lake and how close could you get? Lately it seems like Lake Manyara has lost some of its luster, so it is nice to get this commendation from your mixed group.

"The kids loved having their photos taken and seeing themselves in the camera viewfinder." If you can get prints sent to Duma, they can distribute them to the kids next time they go through the area.

Great trip!
atravelynn is offline  
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Jul 15th, 2012, 05:54 AM
  #5
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Actually we were not set on Tanzania, but after a few weeks of researching, it becasme evident that this was the best choice for us. But yes, Rubik''s cube is a good analogy.

Since we have never been to Manyara, I don't now how the water level compares to the past. It does not seem to have affected the wildlife at the lake, 1,000's of flamingos, many cape buffalo, rhinos, etc. We were told by the tour operator that it was a better choice than Tarangire for May and we were thrilled with the park.

Thanks for the idea of the photos. I will contact Stacy and ask. I tried to email some photos to the Director but it probably went into his junk mail, because I never receieved a reply. What I didn't articulate in the trip report is that the kids went outside and started a gymnastic demonstration with aerial flips and turns and sommersaults over a huge old truck tire in the yard. Each of them had to take a turn and have their photo taken in the air, in the middle of the flip, etc. It became a sort of competition to see who could do the best. We caught some really spectacular flips, so I'd love to be able to share them.
Thanks for comments.
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Jul 15th, 2012, 04:45 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2003
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Thanks for the report and pictures. My favorite is the one of the 'Hopeful Breakfast Visitor', LOL.
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Nov 28th, 2012, 01:26 PM
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Hi penny275, I had a similar, extremely favorable experience with Duma Explorer recently.
Once a decision was made to plan a safari trip, I was faced with an unprecedented challenge of choosing the best vendor among the innumerable TOs based in Africa as well as the United States. I knew I didn't want one that subcontracted its bookings to another TO or had pushy USA-based reps that meant additional mark-ups. Based upon the many favorable reviews in TA, I contacted Duma Explorers as well as 3 other top TOs based in and around Arusha, TZ. Of those I was most impressed with the former, particularly because of the timely email turnarounds by its owner, Stacy Readal. Her package offered for me the best itinerary for 11 days of touring, best choice of luxurious lodgings, both permanent and seasonal, best selection of guides and vehicles, and best value pricing, although not the cheapest. Plus, she accepted my bank card as initial payment; I was not comfortable wiring money.
During the course of the safari tour, she not only met and greeted us at the commencement, but also monitored our progress by mobile phone. She definitely wanted us to be comfortable and happy.
I expressed to her initially that my 2 wishes on this safari were 1) see the "big 5" and 2) see the wildebeest and zebra migration crossing the Mara River. Both were accomplished successfully through the experience and perserverance of our guides, Isaak and Ebeneezer.
We couldn't be more satisfied with our probably only safari trip to Africa. Since I traveled with 11 others, whenever we get together, we reminisce fondly of our trip of trips in Tanzania and our fortunate choice of Duma Explorer.
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