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Finally - My Trip Report - Tanzania & Kenya - May/June '05

Finally - My Trip Report - Tanzania & Kenya - May/June '05

Jul 12th, 2005, 01:48 PM
Posts: n/a
Finally - My Trip Report - Tanzania & Kenya - May/June '05

Hi Friends -

Finally, the Trip Report - it'll be in sections, so please bear with me.

The itinerary was:

Tanzania and Kenya – 2005

Thu, May 26 Lv. New York (JFK)
Fri, May 27 Arv. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (JRO)
- Ngurduto Lodge

Sat, May 28 Fly to Western Serengeti – Kirawira
Sun, May 29 Western Serengeti – Kirawira
Mon, May 30 Western Serengeti – Kirawira

Tue, May 31 Fly (via Arusha) to Zanzibar – Karafuu
Wed, Jun 1 Zanzibar – Karafuu
Thu, Jun 2 Stone Town, Zanzibar – Emerson & Green

Fri, Jun 3 Fly to Nairobi, Kenya - Intercontinental

Sat, Jun 4 Fly to Nanyuki, then Laikipia - Sabuk
Sun, Jun 5 Laikipia – Loisaba – Starbeds
Mon, Jun 6 Laikipia – Loisaba – Starbeds

Tue, Jun 7 Fly (via Nanyuki) to Masai Mara
- Cottars 1920s
Wed, Jun 8 Masai Mara – Cottars 1920s
Thu, Jun 9 Masai Mara – Elephant Pepper Camp
Fri, Jun 10 Masai Mara – Saruni Camp

Sat, Jun 11 Fly to NBO
Lv. NBO (via AMS)
Sun, Jun 12 Arv. New York (ERW)

Another year, another adventure. And what an adventure.

While earlier this year, I had planned this trip for both Henry and me… life happens, as does death. Just as I was getting prices for another trip to Africa – this time, East Africa – including Tanzania, which Henry hadn’t yet visited and some return time in Kenya – Henry passed.

Life takes a turn and things were hectic for all concerned. Once the necessary formalities of death were over, I made the decision to continue with these plans and asked Eileen if she’d like to join me. Eileen and I had traveled together to Egypt/Jordan and Southeast Asia… Thailand, Cambodia & Myanmar (Burma). She hadn’t been to Africa and had recently shown interest in doing so. So plans went forward.

The initial idea though wasn’t really mine. Susan had mentioned that Michael had surprised her with a ticket to Africa as a Christmas present. When telling me this, my mind starting contemplating “why not” – so why not? I wanted to visit the Southern route of Tanzania – Selous and Ruaha, Zanzibar and the Western Serengeti, hoping to get in on part of the Migration which often occurs here in late-May / June. And these were places Henry hadn’t seen on our previous trip to East Africa. I also wanted to experience the ranches in the Laikipia area which would have been new for both of us.

And with Susan having additional days in June, after Michael would return home from their Tanzania time, we figured she could then meet up with me in Kenya for time in the Masai Mara. In this instance, I would have told Henry he’d be heading home after our time in Laikipia, not join me in the Mara… he had previously been. It would be “just us girls.”.

The itinerary came together with flew glitches… in fact none. Without Henry whose schedule was open to whatever amount of time we would need… not so with Eileen. She didn’t have the liberty of three-full weeks. With the Selous and Ruaha still being closed at end-May (still the wet season)… Tanzania would be the Western Serengeti only and then off to Zanzibar, including a day in Stone Town. In Kenya, all the places in Laikipia were available, as were the camps in the Mara.

The only major difference from my other trips which were combine drive/fly – this time we’d be flying between major destinations. Even with flights, there would be plenty of road travel… I just wanted to reduce the amount of time on the roads, if not necessary. In total, we had seven (7) scheduled flights and two (2) charter flights. Interesting that the cost of all these flights amounted to more then our International air and on that we got a good price of $1,200 each.

So, here goes.

Day 1 - Thursday, May 26, 2005
Day 2 – Friday, May 27, 2005

Like old friends… again, the KLM flight to AMS, which I’ve taken often on previous trips to East Africa. This time, however, we’re flying into Tanzania first – to Kilimanjaro (JRO). Departing at 6:10pm (KL#642) we overnight into AMS arriving early the next morning 6:30am. Our layover is short as layovers go. At 9:45 we start boarding for our 10:30am continuing flight (KL#569) which got us into Kilimanjaro at 8:00pm.

Our flight out of JFK was on a Boeing 777 with a 3-3-3 configuration. We get two aisle seats (C&D) in the same row… no climbing over anyone and hopefully, no one climbing over us. The ongoing flight out of AMS was a Boeing 767 with 2-3-2 seating. Here we sat in A&B.

Between the two of us, we manage sleep on both legs of the trip. A vodka or two and a few pills do wonders for the sleep process. Surprisingly, the flights seemed rather quick… probably our anxiety to get to Africa. It’s the feeling one gets on the return, not wanting to go home, that makes that flight seem so much longer… and it’s not.

On arrival at JRO, we obtain our Visas on site. With application in hand, USD$50, we’re processed rather quickly… maybe 7-minutes, then out to baggage claim. Our driver is waiting outside – Adam, who whisks us off to the Ngurduto Lodge for our first night.

The Ngurduto Lodge is a few years old; the same owners as the Impala Hotel of Arusha. The lodge is on the outskirts of Arusha – a country club environment with golf course, large pool and conference/meeting facilities. Upon registering, we are taken to our room by golf cart right to the front door. The Chalet buildings are two-story, each containing about four suites. And the suites are more like a small apartment. There is a large bedroom with fireplace, comfy beds/mattresses and covers. There is a living room fairly large also with fireplace, sofa and chairs and a television. Between the two rooms is a sizeable bathroom with Jacuzzi tub and stall shower… hairdryer provided. Besides these “chalets” there is a regular hotel building.

We are exhausted, so we shower to remove the “eau de Boeing”… we’re in neverland none too soon. Tomorrow we have an early wakeup for our flight to the Western Serengeti.

Day 3 - Saturday, May 28, 2005

Early breakfast today, the sun is just over the horizon. Our pick-up is at 7am for an 8am flight from Arusha to Grumeti in the Western Serengeti – our first camp where we’ll be staying at the Serena Kirawira Camp.

We board a small plane with seating capacity for about 12… there is only half that number on board. On our way, we set down at Lake Manyara to pick up other passengers, then off to Grumeti. (from Grumeti the plane will head back to Seronera).

On arrival it is raining and I need the loo desperately… it was rather chilly aloft. I’m pointed to a hut across the field, which I have no intention of crossing/using… who knows what’s in that field/hut? So we hop into a Grumeti River Camp vehicle (this is strange as we’re staying at Kirawira and I know they have vehicles, but hey – “it’s got four wheels and hopefully going where I have to be”). We drive around a few bushes and there in the middle of nowhere is a hut with a full loo, running water, toilet paper and cloth towels – interesting. Then I realize this is the loo belonging to Grumeti River Camp. It’s right on the edge of their property… for clients who arrive here and “just can’t wait to get to the camp and their own tent facilities.”

That nature call taken care of, I’m back in the vehicle and assume we’re heading to Kirawira. However, we soon learn that the Grumeti River is running high and instead of crossing the river by vehicle, we come upon a suspension bridge that spans the river. Oh, No! This isn’t for me. I hate heights and didn’t do well on one of these years back. But what choice do I/we have? None, I guess.

To work up my own courage I suggest that Eileen cross first – hopefully once she’s over, I’ll be able to do so. Eileen sets her foot on the bridge and I’m behind her encouraging her to focus on the far shore… don’t look down, just take one step after the other. All of a sudden she exclaims that she’s stepping into “mushy” stuff. Hearing this comment, the guides mention that the baboons also use this bridge. She’s actually stepping into baboon poop! Oh, shit! Brave me, I still talk her thru and within no time she’s on the far side.

Now, I’m next. I suck it in and place my foot on the bridge, face forward, eyes on the far shore and place one foot after the next. Sure enough I’m stepping into the same poop! Dear Lord, “how dare you start my trip like this?” As I’m nearing the other shore, there’s Eileen taking a photo of the fear on my face. But I’m over and really proud of myself and Eileen as well. City Gals aren’t supposed to do this… but we did.

Good start.

Somehow, here we find a Kirawira vehicle with our guide and our luggage. How did the luggage get here? We didn’t see anyone carry our bags over the bridge. Damn them if they actually drove across the river. Time to rip into someone once we’re at the camp. But Eileen and I are hysterical with laughter, considering there were crocodiles in the muddy water below. We did it and survived, but our shoes have got to go right into the sink to be soaked, washed… and we have to shower off the muck!

We’re properly introduced to our guide, Eranst who drives us to Serena Kirawira Camp. We check in and are assigned Tent #10, “Swala-Impala,” – all tents have animal names. This tent is located down the hill from the public areas. As I remembered from a visit almost 8-years ago, the tent is a fair sized room with twin beds, plenty of closet and shelf space, a desk/dressing table, sufficient electrical outlets for hairdryer – though they provide one – charging batteries for cameras. There is a separate bathroom at the rear of the tent containing a shower and separate enclosed toilet, both little rooms are tiled.. There is one vanity containing a sink, another has a dressing table. There are lots of fluffy towels, including wash cloths, and, of course, bathrobes and slippers.

When checking in I had inquired about my friend Susan and her husband Michael who would be here for three-days having arrived a day earlier, and leaving a day before us. We were told that they were out for the full day. Ok, we’ll meet up tonight.

After tossing our shoes into the sink to clean off the baboon poop, freshening up, changing clothing, we head to the dining tent for lunch. Again, as I remember, the service was flawless with plenty of choices, but I can’t remember what I ate, except the best tomatoes ever… all was filling and hit the spot.

Finishing lunch I had a few minutes to speak with the resident manager especially about the adventure of crossing that suspension bridge and what we encountered. He was half smiling – making fun, or was it just plain funny – but he said we should just have everything we were wearing picked-up to be laundered. He said, they’d do all the laundry and have it back later in the afternoon.

My comment was – “and how will anything dry with so much rain still?” His response, “Sandi, just to remind you, Kirawira is a 5* Luxury camp… so we have a dryer.” What could I say to that? But I did ask, “and what kind of iron do you have? One of those that use hot coals?” To which he laughed and replied, “not that kind, but something called Rowenta and it spews steam.” Needless to say, I was in heaven. Eileen and I handed over every piece of clothing we wore and sure enough all was back later that evening, neatly ironed and folded. They even laundered a few pairs of “wears.”

Another thing we learned… Kirawira has their own gas pumps… located out back for the camp vehicles and those used by local outfitters. I remembered that on our first trip out across the Serengeti, we traveled with a few cans of petrol stored under the seats… It is a long drive and one wouldn’t want to get stuck out there with an empty tank.

On the way to the camp earlier, I had mentioned to Eranst that when last staying here we had our own guide, as we had driven here – his name was Carlos and at that time worked for Bushbucks Safaris. Sure enough, Eranst says that Carlos is here. And, sure enough, after lunch Carlos joins us in the public area… he’s not sure who I am, but does remember the women I had traveled with then – she was a tall 5’9” redhead… not easy to forget. But conversation ensues… I ask about his son, who is now in high school and we catch up on life these years since we last saw one another. It was rather nice renewing acquaintances.

The rain had stopped, but still cloudy and overcast. So out we go on an afternoon game drive. What surprises me is the high grass. Having previously only traveled in late November/early December the wildebeests, zebra and Tommies had eaten the grasses. So high grass was unusual and difficult to see animals that might be hidden in there. No problems seeing giraffe and we did see some.

Then I spot a female lion on the grass only about 5-ft from the road. She’s just sitting there, no reaction to us. We look about and see no sisters and wonder why she’s out there on her own. Eranst says that she’s probably got cubs nearby. I scan the area and the only place where I think cubs could be hidden seems to be a rather full bush across the road. But no, there’s a small clump of green weeds about 3-ft behind her… sure enough, two cubs. You could just about see their ears. We waited a bit to see if the mother would move or the cubs would become curious – no way.

So we were on our way. During our time out we did come upon vervet monkeys, baboons, impala.

We returned to camp by about 7pm.

After showering, washing and blowing my hair and dressing in clean clothing, we head to dinner. Arriving at the lounge, I see Susan and Michael and there are wonderful greetings all around. Susan and I have been email buddies for two- or more years and it was good to finally meet. Both of them were exactly how I expected. We all had a few drinks before heading into the dining tent. Dinner was excellent and as I had expected, the four of us were the last to leave… “closing the joint.”

A well deserved great sleep followed. I was in Africa and so far, Eileen seemed to be enjoying herself… even with having been introduced to the place by having to cross that bridge and the poop! As Carol Joyce Oats wrote “Play it as it lays!”

Day 4 – Sunday, May 29, 2005

Having learned from Eranst and Susan and Michael that the Wildebeest herds weren’t in the area, rather still in the Seronera, we chose not to go out on a “crack of dawn” game drive. In fact, Susan and Michael had spent yesterday in Seronera and said it was great. So our plan was to head that way for the day and also visit Mbalegati Camp which was on the way.

We had breakfast at 7am and departed camp by 8am. Mbalegati wasn’t too far from Kirawira, but where it’s only 6km from the road turn-off to Kirawira – once we got to the turn-off for Mbalegati, it’s 16km to the property. But trudge on we did. The roads were still wet as the rains hadn’t completely ended… quite a few muddy spots.

Arriving at Mbalegati, we immediately noticed that they have a lovely position overlooking the Serengeti plains. It kind of reminded me of the positioning of Ulasaba’s Rock Lodge at Sabi Sands in South Africa. Amazing views. The décor of the public space was lovely, with traditional African motif, swimming pool, lounge chairs – very warm and welcoming.

We were introduced to Charles, the Manager… a South African who is “breaking in” the place. Mbalegati had once been a semi-permanent camp, but no longer… certainly not with a permanent pool. There are 26 chalets, stone buildings. These are divided 12 each on the sunrise and sunset sides of the hill. There are also 2 suites (one a Presidential suite containing a flat screen TV and DVD player and other “toys.”) Not very African to me, but the premise here isn’t solely game drives.

Their registration area is a wide space and rather “cold.” There is also a lodge with individual rooms; while nicely furnished, they don’t compare to the individual chalets. The chalets themselves have hand embroidered cases on the bed/s, an adjacent separate sitting area and nice size bathroom. Let’s hope guests don’t steal the linens.

We spent about an hour here, thanked Charles for his time and headed on our way. On our way out of the property, Susan and Michael were arriving to do their “look see.”

Heading to Seronera we came across giraffe, baboons and lots of hippos in the Grumeti. The wildebeests were found in the woodlands around Seronera. We couldn’t tell the number, but we could sure hear them. The zebra we saw were few and not part of the thousands that should normally be moving with the wildebeests. All very strange… the animals seemed a bit confused with the wet grasses. But give them a week or two and I’m sure they’ll get it together and be on their way West and then into Kenya.

We later heard from Susan (when she met up with us in the Mara) that the majority of zebra and Tommies were actually in the open plains of the Southeastern Serengeti… duh! But we’re talking animals and I certainly can’t tell you what they’re thinking… why or why not what is expected isn’t.

Having taken a boxed lunch from Kirawira, we ate our lunch at the visitor’s center at Seronera. There were a number of other vehicles here, and I bumped into Carlos again. While Eileen went to the Open Air Museum the two of us were able to sit and chat… learned that he never did remarry – his wife, son’s mother had died in childbirth. So he’s a happy bachelor and a great guide doing what he does well and something he really enjoys. We exchanged email addresses and will try to keep in touch.

When Eileen returned, she mentioned that she couldn’t really get into the Open Air Museum as the area was roped off. A lion had some cubs up in the rocks and wasn’t too happy having people nearby. In fact, Eileen said that when she heard one growl from the lion, she couldn’t get back to the vehicle too soon.

It was a full day with stops on the way back – seeing a leopard in a tree (the photo is rather dark, but got one), stopped at the Grumeti River to watch the baboons, vultures and hoping to see some crocs… no luck on the latter. We were back to camp around 7pm.

Of course, the same routine… shower and change and up to the dining area. We meet Susan and Michael for cocktails and then sat down for another delicious meal. Not being a fish or seafood person, nor spicy foods… I stick with chicken and beef… but the beef wasn’t tender enough. Something I was to find all too often while in Tanzania. Other then the beef, everything else was excellent.

Again, it seems we’re going to close the joint… there are few guests remaining in the dining tent when all of a sudden we hear singing in Swahili.

Surprise, surprise! The chef and his assistants and the wait staff are bringing in a birthday cake. Now, who can this be for? Oh, it’s for Eileen who celebrated a birthday a few days before departing the States… I just didn’t have time to do anything special… so why not in Afree-kah!

Eileen is certainly surprised… and only two candles on the cake… how thoughtful. The cake was homemade, white cake with chocolate icing and red/white lettering. There was enough cake for everyone staying at the camp, but most had left… so we had it all to ourselves.

This was so much fun. And we’ll still have cake for dessert tomorrow night.

Day 5 – Monday, May 30, 2005

We have breakfast at 7:15am and then meet Susan and Michael to say our good-byes. They’re heading south for a stay at Nduto for two-nights, then to the Crater for one-night (at the Sopa). After, they’ll stop at the Farmhouse for one-night, ending at Tarangire Tree Tops for two-nights. That’s the plan. With the exception of being in the Western Serengeti, hoping to see the herds, they didn’t pick the stops based on best game viewing, or quality or property – rather, just to be in Afree-kah!

And it was later when we met up with Susan in the Mara that we learned about the herds of zebra and Tommies in the Southeastern Serengeti. Also, she had raves about Tree Tops.

We finally left the camp at 8:15am heading to Lake Victoria. Along the way we came across hyenas and vultures fighting over a kill. Who killed, I don’t know, but for a moment we thought the hyenas would give up, but they returned to take what they thought was theirs.

Right outside the Serengeti gate, we hit the loo… another of those hole-in-the-ground things – sorry, not for me; it’ll have to wait.

We drive about 10km to a local village along Speke Bay. The village is called JS’ Paradise and houses a community of Sukuma people. The Sukuma are the largest tribe in Tanzania, numbering about 4.5 million. Here, their primary source of income is fishing and offering visitors canoe trips on the lake and walk-thru of their community. The representative of the village was Joseph who was well spoken in English and handles these “cultural tours.”

The village is very poor, without electricity or running water. The housing is shoddy brick block homes… the bricks made by the occupants. The sand, straw and water bricks found throughout third-world communities. As expected, the children – lots of them, all ages – attached themselves to us. I had some bamboo bracelets that I had bought in Cambodia – maybe 20-40 of these and handled them out to the little girls. We gave party favors to the boys.

In the middle of the village we came across a group of women who were rather chatty… which was interesting and surprising. Between the two of us and Joseph, we all seemed to understand one another. Here I distributed some of the nail polish I had brought with the understanding that the women could share these amongst themselves. One woman was so excited she actually curtsied… I was taken aback, but that’s how they show appreciation.

Mostly we noticed the women did lots of the work… though the men may have been out fishing earlier in the morning. Now, most of the men were in a “bar” or playing cards. Many of the women plant their own gardens and sell vegetables to one another or at the market. Those tomatoes sure did look good.

What was evident is that this community and I’m sure others like this one, sorely need mosquito nets and insect repellent. Eileen and I left some money directly in Joseph’s hands to use for whatever purpose he felt best. Though I’m sure our small amount will make barely a dent.

Departing after a few hours, we head back toward the Western Serengeti gate. Along the road we see a nearby school with lots of children going to and fro, all in uniforms. This reminded me of the schools we saw on our very first safari – everywhere in Kenya with mostly boys attending, though I learned that girls had separate schools. But that was 10-years ago. Here we saw lots of girls at school. Glad to see this.

Arriving at the gate… this time I had to use the loo… there was no way I could hold out for 54km to Kirawira.

We’re back at Kirawira in about an hour, no animal sightings. We have a late lunch and Eileen schedules a massage. I plan to catch up on my journal notes and read and just relax for a few hours.

The masseuse brings the table soon after and is about to set up on the deck when the skies open. So indoors the table goes and on top Eileen gets. I had some entries for my journal and the light shower was nice and clean smelling so I stayed outside... when all of a sudden the skies go crazy and rain is pouring down in every which direction, there is no way I can remain out here. So inside I go, hit the bed and in no time I’m out cold.

Massage over and Eileen is feeling wonderful. “What hands she had!” is all Eileen could say… and just what she needed.

Earlier… while at lunch… we heard loud noises and saw more people then usual around the camp; we learned that a sizeable group had arrived when we were at Lake Victoria. When we arrived for cocktails, we could hear this group already in the rear dining tent… to themselves. It was strange just sitting at a table for two now that Susan and Michael were gone, but a table for two it was.

As we were enjoying birthday cake dessert, a couple from the large group passes us and I noticed the women had on a t-shirt, same as one I bought on one of my earlier trips. While I’m sure there are many like this shirt, this was the only other person on whom I ever saw it. The writing on it “dreaming and when I awoke I was in Africa” – so perfect. We learned this was a Tauck group from the States. It was an 8-day trip, staying at mostly Serena properties (except, I believe in Arusha… not sure where); traveling with a tour director. I wondered how much they paid for their tour and when I got home found out – too much! Believe it was almost $4K and that was without International air. Well, someone had to pay for the tour director… but why they needed one, is beyond me. Well, not the time to dwell on this, as it’s been discussed often here on Fodors.

Moving on… this group would also be leaving with us from the Grumeti airstrip. We said our good-nights.

Before heading to our tent – always with an askari escorting us (to/from with a torch and rifle), the camp manager advised us that the Grumeti was still flooded and we’d have to re-cross on “that suspension bridge” – not something either of us wanted to sleep on. But how else were we supposed to get out of there. Not that either of us wanted to leave, but our schedule was our schedule. My mind, however, went to the Tauck group and wondered whether they knew about this!! We’ll find out tomorrow morning.

... to be continued

Jul 14th, 2005, 11:53 PM
Posts: n/a
Hi Sandi

While putting together a DVD (cutting and pasting of 5 hours film) of our trip to Tanzania from last year July , I came across your 'famous' bridge .
Looking at my film , I hear the guide telling us that this is the bridge used when one can't get to the airstrip by car. Our kids (teenagers!) saw the bridge as some kind of special "attraction" and crossed it while shouting "look mom, no hands!".
I didn't want to look at them and turned away.Just to say that I do understand that it does take courage to cross it!
But Kirawira is worth taking the risk isn't it?
Jul 15th, 2005, 03:42 AM
Posts: n/a
After the fact it certainly is work it once you've arrived at Kirawira.

But to All - I've since added subsequent days of this report which seem to have disappeared. So I'm going to have to do each section that I complete as separate reports. I know it's much easier when all together, but something seems to have happened to some days. Unless Fodor's Editors are at work again???

Jul 15th, 2005, 03:44 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,218
Something is going on coz I read a whole lot more than this yesterday and added a reply too!!!
Kavey is online now  
Jul 15th, 2005, 03:45 AM
Posts: n/a
Hey, maybe I don't have to do separate sections - there seems to be another thread under the same name, further down that has all so far included - thru Day 9. I'll try using that for the balance of the Report.

Beats me what happened that there are two threads with the same title.

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