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atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 02:16 PM

North & South Tanzania: Arusha, N. Serengeti, Mahale, Katavi, Tarangire
<u>My quandary:</u> How to go to Mahale for 3 chimp visits as a solo traveler without breaking the bank.

<u>The solution:</u> One of Flycatcher’s several flying itineraries that utilize scheduled Air Excel flights.

Eben of Kiliwarriors /Eben Schoeman Safaris was enlisted as the liaison to book Flycatchers, a Swiss company that has been operating in Tanzania about a quarter century. I used Eben’s Tanzanian partners for Arusha and Tarangire. You can also book direct with Flycatchers. Since the price was the same and Eben knew them, I went through him.

<u>The verdict:</u> In Swiss German vernacular, “Wunderbar!”

It’s another Swiss German expression: “En Guete.” (En Gwetay) Literally it translates to, “Have a good.” It is always said before a meal and means, “Have a good meal,” even though the word meal is just implied. Sangeeta, who traveled with Flycatchers, also mentioned "En Guete."

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 02:19 PM

1 Flight on KLM: Chicago-Amsterdam-Kilimanjaro

2 Arrive Kilimanjaro and o/nt Arusha Hotel

3 Arusha National Park drive, walk, canoe with Kiliwarriors. o/nt Arusha Hotel

4 Fly from Arusha to Lobo Airstrip in Serengeti,morning arrival, drive north to Bologonja for am and pm game drives O/nt at Flycatchers camp in Bolongonja part of Serengeti.

5-6 O/nt Flycatchers camp in Bolongonja

7 Fly to Mahale, take boat to Flycatchers camp.

8-10 Do 3 chimp visits, 1 dhow visit to hippos, 1 waterfall visit. O/nt Flycatchers camp in Mahale.

11 Fly to Katavi for pm game drive. O/nt Flycatchers camp in Katavi.

12-13 O/nt Flycatchers camp in Katavi.

14 Morning Katavi game drive and fly to Arusha. Drive with Kiliwarriors to just outside Tarangire. O/nt Tarangire Camp

15-16 Tarangire. O/nt Tarangire Safari Lodge.

17 Morning in Tarangire, Depart after lunch for evening flight

18 Arrive home

Three chimp visits in Mahale was the #1 goal. If I was going to Mahale, I wanted to add something else that was down south. Flycatcher’s Katavi camp location, like the Mahale camp location, is superb, plus Katavi has always intrigued me.

Flycatchers had trips that then continued on from Katavi to Ruaha, but I I didn’t do it this time because I figured some day in the future a Ruaha-Selous trip would be logical.

Also, Ruaha can be 100 F in Sept and I was concerned that mid to late Sept might no longer be prime time in that park like it used to be, based on other reports and this commentary.

For these reasons and because I wanted time to include Tarangire, I did not extend to Ruaha. But I flew there on my way to Arusha and from the air it was an impressive location and we had several sightings of elephants and other things right from the airstrip.

I went to N. Serengeti on the front end because I always wanted to venture well north of Lobo when the migration would likely be present. Flycatchers offers a reasonably priced camp in this attractive region of the park.

I’ve been wanting to spend a day in Arusha National Park for a long time, which was Day #1 of the trip.

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 02:21 PM

Colorcoding of the report for easier reference:

General comments = black
Wine List = <gray>gray</gray>
Arusha National Park = <red>red</red>
Serengeti = <purple>purple</purple>
Mahale = <green>green</green>
Katavi = <darkgoldenrod>gold</darkgoldenrod>
Tarangire = <darkorange>orange</darkorange>

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 02:26 PM


-13 snakes total (8 while canoeing in Arusha; 2 in Katavi--1 had recently shed its skin on a nearby branch; 3 in Silale Swamp in Tarangire).

-I spotted a poacher fishing illegally in Katavi.

-In the Serengeti I was certain I had discovered a dead vulture but it was just sunning itself. Also in Serengeti a jackal and a male baboon sat next to each other, like pals, for a few minutes.

- In Tarangire 4 different cheetahs plus 1 leopard that did a cheetah imitation on a termite mound.

- Lesser Kudu in southern part of Tarangire.

- Mating hyenas viewed from camp in Katavi, also a male roan.

- Finally got a good closeup photo of a giraffe tongue—Tarangire.

- Worst drought in Katavi since 1981.

-In Katavi a croc reached up and grabbed a bird, swallowing it in just a couple of gulps. Mud pits held 100s of crocs and hippos—actually neither unexpected nor odd for Katavi.

- In Mahale we saw several male chimps spring to aggressive warrior stance when they heard unrelated males in the distance. No threat to us, just to the other chimps.

- We stood a few feet from a warthog hole in Mahale one morning and watched 3 warthogs emerge one after the other to greet the day.

- The Flycatchers tents had a large container of 50+ Q-tips on a small nightstand. I'd never seen Q-tips supplied before. Aural hygiene must be a camp priority. I thought maybe Q-tips were invented by the Swiss, but my Internet investigation revealed it was an American of Polish descent.

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 02:31 PM

<b><gray>THE WINE LIST

The one wine I had remains a mystery because there was no label on the bottle, but I was told by the Flycatchers Serengeti staff that it was South African.

I had planned to request ugali, a traditional African cornmeal dish, for the final evening meal in the Serengeti…so when I found out another guest at the camp was an English-speaking wine salesman, I just had to ask, “What wine goes with ugali?”

My question was somewhat in jest, but his response was serious and ventured into foie gras wine pairings. I think he suggested white wine for ugali so that’s what I got.

When I ordered it, I did not realize that I had bought the whole bottle. One glass was enough for me and I could persuade only one other guest to join me in a drink, leaving 2/3 of a bottle at the end of our farewell dinner in the Serengeti.

Naturally, the bottle of partially consumed mystery wine went airborne with me to Mahale.

After arriving in Mahale, we all met for lunch in the camp’s dining room overlooking the magnificent Lake Tanganyika. I brought along my bottle and explained the wine situation and asked if it could be stored in the corner mini-fridge. I also inquired about any corking fees and was told there were none.

Two of us enjoyed a sampler glass of my white wine with our first evening meal in Mahale, in celebration of a fantastic initial outing with the chimps. The bottle went back into the mini-fridge about half full.

The second chimp outing was even more successful but I had sustained a big bruise on my knee when I slipped on some wet rocks while following the chimps along a stream. I could feel my knee swell and knew a cold compress would help. There was no ice, so at lunch I requested my wine bottle from the mini-fridge and tied it against my knee with my bandana. I could not perform this maneuver discreetly so I explained my use of the bottle, which everyone found to be quite funny. Thankfully, the knee fully recovered.

After our third and final outstanding chimp visit we had a lot to celebrate and I did so with a final glass of wine. There were no other imbibers, which left one small glass-worth of wine in the bottle. We found out that a Swiss guest would have Mahale all to herself for the next several days and that she was arriving on the plane that would be our departure flight. I told the staff to welcome the new lucky guest with a glass of mystery wine that they could explain had flown in from the Serengeti and had rehabilitated the knee of an American. I hope it made her wine list.

Marija Dec 5th, 2011 04:07 PM

Lynn, next time Bruce and I will accompany you and expertly drain your wine bottles. Do you only drink the rare Door county vintages? I've been waiting for your report. Thanks for starting!

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 06:24 PM

It's a deal Marija and I'll bring the rose petals! Thanks!

I’d gladly return to Tanzania with them.

They are a Swiss company and over 90% of their clients are Swiss with some Germans and about 2% are American. All guiding is done in English. My travelmates throughout the entire trip were an absolutely lovely Swiss couple (Beat and Yvonne) who--fortunately for me--enjoyed putting their considerable English skills to use.

I encountered 10 other Flycatchers guests that were either in the camps with me or transferring at the airstrips. All seemed to be good sports and not high maintenance folks, which is what I would expect based on the type of operation Flycatchers is. One was a repeat guest who did the Flycatchers circuit every year. (She’s the one I told the Mahale staff to offer my wine.)

At meal times when the group was all Swiss, naturally most of the conversation was not English. When it was just the Swiss couple and me, we spoke English. Often a guide accompanied us at meals and the guide spoke English. Going solo could mean limited dinner conversation, depending on the other guests, and I was prepared for that. All information provided by the guide in the vehicle was in English.

Flycatcher tents were simple with ensuite facilities consisting of a regular flush toilet and a shower that had hot water provided once a day. A pitcher of warm water was brought each morning. The Mahale tent was a little fancier and hot water was always available. Food was delicious, served buffet style, and included salads, a dessert (ranging from a fruit cup to avocado crème) at each meal, and soup for each evening meal. Around the campfire were snacks such as nuts or popcorn.

The vehicles were nice Land Cruisers and we never had a breakdown; the !!!guides at each location were wonderful!!!; the staff members were helpful and friendly; and batteries could be recharged in the vehicle or in camp.

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 06:33 PM

<purple>The Flycatcher Serengeti location in Bolongonja allows access to both Lobo and Kogatende and was in a lovely part of the park. Lions called each night (which we had no trouble hearing on account of the Q-tip supply), zebras passed through each morning, and elephants entered camp one evening.

If the goal is to wait for river crossings, Flycatcher’s camp is about a 2 hour drive from the river--not that convenient--but daylong trips to the Mara River are offered, which we did. The staff mentioned that film crews stay at Flycatchers for long periods of time and head out early each morning, spending the day near the river, trying to catch a crossing.

Because rains in both Bolongonja and the Mara encouraged the wildes to stay where they were, we saw very few wildebeest gathering to contemplate a crossing. Nor was much else out and about in Kogatende on our visit there, though the landscapes were fabulous.</purple>

<green>The Flycatcher Mahale location can’t be beat, regardless of price and Flycatchers has the best price. Staff, food, slightly fancier tents than the other Flycatcher locations with hot water always available, pristine beach--all combine for a magical experience. It’s the crown jewel of the Flycatcher operation. In my opinion, why would you stay anywhere else? Disclosure: I did not visit the other Mahale camps but I did see their location while in a boat. All looked very nice, but Flycatcher’s location was tops.</green>

<darkgoldenrod>The Flycatcher Katavi camp sits on the Katuma River with the Katisunga Plains sprawled out in front.

Based on previous reports, I wondered if by September the river could be dry, causing animals to disperse widely in search of water in places without road access. I learned when I arrived that Katavi was experiencing the worst drought since 1981 and the Katuma River in front of camp had dried up way back in May. Terrible conditions! But there were underwater springs throughout the Katisunga Plains in front of the camp that attracted constant herds of elephant, buffalo, waterbuck, giraffe, impala, topi, warthogs, and zebra. Camp Manager Nazir joked that some guests preferred to stay all day in camp and look at the activity in front of them rather than going on game drives. Not entirely a joke.

One species that was noticeably lacking was the tse tse fly—none in camp and these pests were bothersome only in a few areas of the park.

In addition to the herds, right from the camp we were also able to observe hippos, Saddle-billed Stork, hyenas (including a mating pair), a male roan, and a lion checking out some impala.</darkgoldenrod>

Flycatcher’s should appeal to anyone who places a premium on location, guiding, and simple but very adequate and comfortable accommodations, all for a reasonable cost. Their circuitous routing that allows the famed Serengeti to be combined with lesser traveled Southern parks is attractive to repeat Africa visitors. But it also makes a wonderful first safari, especially if combined with traditional stops such as Ngorongoro or Tarangire.

The only problem I encountered on the entire trip was my inability to get a photo of any one of the more than 25 species of flycatchers in Tanzania, which I felt was a must for this trip. I finally succeeded in Tarangire when a Gray Flycatcher perched nearby. There had been some flycatchers flitting around camp in Katavi I was told, but they had eluded me.

KTtravel Dec 5th, 2011 06:43 PM

I am enjoying your report and am looking forward to reading more.

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 06:50 PM

Asante, KTtravel!


24 photos, those taken on foot or canoe are labeled.

Airport to Arusha Hotel = 50 minutes

Arusha Hotel to park entrance = 40 minutes

Peter of Kiliwarriors was my guide for a full day in Arusha National Park that included a box lunch. The unseasonal cool rain that had started a few hours after my arrival the previous night continued until mid-morning of our day in the park and it played a role in our sightings.

We entered near Serengeti Ndogo, open plains area where zebra and buffalo grazed in the drizzle. At times we’d see one other vehicle, and had one shared sighting of a Brown Hooded Kingfisher, but mainly we were alone.

After driving about 20 minutes in the rain, we saw 4 elephants eating along the road. Peter had never seen elephants from the road in this park--only on foot--and he celebrated this unusual occurrence by singing the Jambo Bwana song. We theorized that the unexpected rain may have encouraged the elephants to deviate from their typical routine.

Normally visitors would see some Black and White Colobus Monkeys in the forests along the road, but they were taking refuge from the rainfall and remained hidden all morning.

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 06:56 PM

<red><u>Walking in Arusha National Park</u>
The ranger station where the walk was arranged is a good place to see Blue Monkeys at eye level. It’s also where the Meru climbers assemble. There must have been 50 people getting ready to climb Mt. Meru when I arrived.

Moments before my walk, the rain stopped, but the coolness remained. Fortuitously pleasant. Peter accompanied Ranger Christina, who was armed, and me, on an hour and a half leisurely stroll.

Christina pointed out the tiny pellets of a midden made by the dik dik antelope. Even more interesting was the drop of dark sticky substance clinging atop a reed. The drop had been secreted from the dik dik’s preorbital gland (black spot near its eye) for territorial purposes. I even took a photo of it and it is one of the 24.

Elephants are often seen on walks but our only ele sightings were from the road. We did spend a lot of time with a buffalo herd that had the longer hair and coloring of forest buffalo. Our buffalo encounter prompted Peter to recall this tale from his youth.

<i>A hunter from Peter’s village was checking snares he had set and found a huge bull buffalo had become trapped. The beast appeared to be dead when the hunter, wearing only a loin cloth, approached with his knife. The hunter sat down next to the carcass to begin butchering and discovered that the buffalo was not dead. The hunter tried to run a few steps out of harm’s way, but even mortally wounded, the buffalo had the jump on him. To avoid being tossed by the buffalo’s horns, the hunter used a trick he had been taught, which was to lie flat on the ground. Apparently buffalo will not walk on an irregular surface such as a body. Indeed the buffalo did not trample the hunter but instead licked his bare back with a tongue so rough that it tore much of the flesh away.</i>

Our walk took us to the picturesque Tululusia Waterfall and along the Ngarenanyuki River and acquainted us with several relaxed pairs of White Fronted Bee Eaters.

One of the most interesting sightings was mineral, as opposed to animal or vegetable, discovered along a path on the side of a hill. A bao board had been chiseled into the stone ground covering. Bao is a strategic game played by placing pebbles in holes on a wooden board--or in this case--on a slab of stone. Before 1960 when the area was not a park, cattle grazed throughout. The bao board we happened upon must have been chipped and chiseled over many years to provide an entertaining pastime for the cattle keepers.

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 07:01 PM

<red><u>Canoeing in Arusha National Park on Small Momella Lake</u>
The 2-hour 2 pm to 4 pm canoe trip operated by Green Footprint, now known as Wayo, was a highlight of my day in Arusha. We had a very steady 2-person canoe with guide Emanuel in the back and me in the front and we wore life jackets. It was peaceful, relaxing, beautiful.

We saw giraffes, warthogs, and other animals along the shore and Common Stilts, Little Grebes, and a Three Banded Plover at the water’s edge. A Squacco Heron escorted us around much of the lake. Whistling Ducks lined the shore and a photo confirmed a Ruff had joined them. We glided up to a nest occupied by the Red Eyed Dove, that elusive bird that sings the continual African background music of “I am a Red Eyed Dove.” We saw each of the two hippo families that make Small Momella their home.

The chilly rain of morning had sent the snakes to the trees to warm up in the afternoon sun and we saw 8 of them: 4 Green Boomslangs, 3 young Pythons, and 1 Green Mamba! Prior to showing me the first snake, Emanuel asked if I liked snakes, which I thought was considerate.

After canoeing, Peter and I drove along the several lakes and admired the pink flamingos. September is a little late in the season for peak flamingo activity.

We continued on to find a pair of sparring waterbuck and a cooperative Brown Hooded Kingfisher, but no Colobus. “Where are the beautiful black and white monkeys?” Peter called out anxiously. Apparently, over 90% of visitors to Arusha National Park get to see Colobus, but it was looking like I’d be in the unlucky minority.

With about 100 meters of forested monkey habit left before we reached savanna, Peter stopped the car and stated, “There they are.” We saw six Black and White Colobus, including a juvenile.

The excitement of the Colobus was later followed by a sad goodbye to Peter.

Wilburt and Mariam, Eben’s Tanzania partners, met me for dinner in the restaurant at Arusha Hotel. They were delightful dining companions and Miriam and I both ordered the very tasty pumpkin lasagna.

christabir Dec 5th, 2011 11:17 PM

Welcome home! I love your trip reports.

Femi Dec 6th, 2011 05:10 AM

Hi Lynn, how did you obtain your visa? In advance or upon arrival? Thanks

atravelynn Dec 6th, 2011 06:16 AM

Thank you Christabir.

I got my visa upon arrival at the airport so that my passport and I were not parted. Upon arrival is my preferred method, when allowed, because wherever I've gone the visa has always been just procedural and I never feared being turned down. I like to minimize the chances of my passport getting lost in transit.

The line for the visa was about 45 minutes if you were at the end of it, like I was. After obtaining the visa, I went to a second counter and that took about 5 minutes. Those who had obtained a visa before leaving home went right to the second counter and waited maybe 20-30 minutes.

Most places when I buy a visa upon arrival, there is just one counter to enter the country, buy the visa, get fingerprinted, etc. It is not a 2-step process like this one.

I'd get my visa upon arrival again even though I had to wait longer than if I had gotten it through the mail before leaving home.

atravelynn Dec 6th, 2011 06:44 AM


46 photos—predators are in first 4 shots; last 3 are of Flycatchers camp in Bolongonja Serengeti

Arusha Hotel to Arusha Airport = 20 minutes, transported by a Flycatcher staff member.
Flight to Lobo Air Strip = 50 minutes.

Guide Ernest picked me up at the airstrip and we were able to start our safari about 8:30 am. Flycatchers gave me my own vehicle and gave the Swiss couple that landed with me their own vehicle too. I thought that was a very generous move on their part and I appreciated it.

We spent the morning driving around the Lobo area but did not see much other than some adorable klipspringers because the bulk of the migration was in Bolongonja. Unfortunately the hunting concession in Loliondo has affected the predator population in Lobo and we saw no predators.

Bolongonja was bursting with wildebeest and I spent a lot of time watching the herds and trying to get pictures of galloping wildes.

At one point I explained to Ernest that I thought the terrain looked like chocolate chip cookies (actually more like the chocolate chip cookie dough, but I thought that might be too hard to explain) because the grasses were golden and the wildes were brown dots. Ernest must not eat too many chocolate chip cookies because he asked me about that analogy several times. “Tell me about the wildebeest chip.” “What did you say about chocolate wildebeest?” I did my best explaining the small chocolate pieces in a biscuit and their resemblance to the wildebeest-dotted hills that surrounded us. Not sure how successful I was. If I have the good fortune to return to Tanzania with dear Ernest as my guide, I’m definitely bringing a bag of Chips Ahoy.

In addition to wildes, we saw the hoofed species and birds that are normally found in the Serengeti, plus some nice sightings of the shy eland and oribi. Our 3-night stay was not particularly lucky for predators besides lion (about 12, half photographable) and hyena (3, all photographable). But the group who followed us and who spent 4 nights in Bolongonja saw lion, cheetah, leopard, and rhino. I was pleased that our pair of 3-month old lion cubs bounded across the road, directly in front of us, as offroading is not allowed. Luck was with us then.

In this part of the Serengeti, the flora was a star in addition to the fauna, especially if you throw in a rainbow or two.

I really like Ground Hornbills and we saw one with a caterpillar hanging from its beak. I got a photo. Ernest explained the hornbill was likely taking the caterpillar to young chicks or it would have swallowed it immediately.

atravelynn Dec 6th, 2011 06:48 AM

<purple>Other than the Swiss couple in the other Flycatcher vehicle, we only occasionally saw another vehicle and we never shared a sighting with a non-Flycatcher. At one point though, five vehicles converged out of nowhere and gathered for a pit stop together.. As the guides chatted and shared information, all the vehicle occupants focused on a lone vulture in a nearby tree. Five vehicles looking at one vulture, ha ha.

Something to consider when going to Northern Serengeti, if you are not using a guide from one of the local camps, is to be sure you hire a guide who is knowledgeable about the area. There were two separate vehicles (one was from a well-known company) that stopped to ask Ernest some very basic geography questions. Ernest interpreted one question to be, “Where is the airstrip?” and the other “How do you get to the Mara River?” They weren’t asking about some obscure kopje, but about landmarks I would think should be familiar. Ernest said he often gets these questions and that confused drivers seek out the Flycatchers vehicles for directions because they know they are based in Bologonja and know the region. Ernest certainly knew the region and every road in it and every animal hiding in the vicinity!

We had daily rain, but usually too late to interfere with our viewing. The rain was sufficient, though, to prevent us from crossing the bridge to Lamai. These unusual early rains, which were falling regularly in the Mara too, encouraged the wildes to stay put. Why risk your life crossing a croc-filled river when green grass was growing right under hoof? In fact, some of the wildebeest that were heading north toward Kenya met up with wildebeest who were returning south back to Tanzania from Kenya. They all banded together to relax in megaherds in Bologonja. Their next stop would be Seronera.

For our last afternoon the showers came early and produced hail, which Ernest had no recent memory of, plus double rainbows! The showers continued so that we needed an umbrella to go to and from our final evening meal, that by the way was the ugali and mystery white wine (see Wine List, above).

After dinner, back at my tent, I placed my folded umbrella in the corner, prepared for bed, and quickly fell asleep. I had just drifted off when I heard a loud racket in my tent. I awoke with a start and fumbled for the light switch. (There was an electric light in both the tent and ensuite loo). In the several seconds it took me to turn on the light, my fear grew. When I switched on the light I saw the umbrella had popped opened. It must have smacked against the two walls of canvas and caused the racket. Whew!

Still unnerved I grabbed my flashlight and took it to bed with me, for comfort in the dark. Little did I know I would forget my flashlight under the covers the next day when—previous night’s misadventure completely forgotten--a double check of the room before departure and even a peek under the bed would not reveal the hidden flashlight.

The next morning we were about 1/3 of the way to the airstrip, driving at a good clip, but stopping for sightings, when I noted a vehicle barreling down on us. “Who are these crazy speed demons behind us?” I wondered. Turns out it was a couple of camp staff members who had found the flashlight and were speeding to reunite me with it. They flew at the speed of a Flycatcher to reach me! I’d call that 6-Paw, Golden Apple, Platinum, Premier, 5-star, First Class, Triple Diamond, Elite Status, Top Tier, Gold-Plated, service!

At a normal pace with some stops it takes about 50 minutes to get to the airstrip from the Flycatcher camp.

Leely2 Dec 6th, 2011 08:54 AM

Think I praised this report on, but did I remember to praise the photos? The chimp portraits are especially impressive. (I know, I'm jumping ahead of the narrative here.)

Thanks so much, Lynn!

shouldbewriting Dec 6th, 2011 09:09 AM

Loving this. It's very visual, funny, informative and I love Ground Hornbills too. It takes a lot of effort to go into this much detail, but that's why people love your trip reports; thanks for taking the time to make it come alive.

atravelynn Dec 6th, 2011 10:49 AM

Thank you Shouldbewriting. I like to include details that are helpful, such as the pitfalls of sleeping with your flashlight or at least a better morning-after routine or where to find snakes or what to expect in different regions. Can't resist some of the funny stuff that happens.

Perfect timing Leely, chimps are up next.

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