Tanzania on the fly and on the cheap

Jul 21st, 2004, 11:13 AM
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Tanzania on the fly and on the cheap

Message: Hmm. Okay. Trip report:

Started planning late March, when I thought "Maybe it would be nice to go to Africa. But I probably can't afford it." Convinced a friend (teacher: little $, lots of time) to join me. We bought air tix and started contacting safari companies. Decided on Easy Travel, started e-mailing them endlessly with questions. Finally just decided to let go some of my control-freak tendencies and agreed to an itinerary that worked out to about $150/pppn for an 8 night, 9 day driving-only safari. We chose to sacrifice on the accommodations side of things in order to have a private safari.

We arrived in Nairobi after an overnight in London (we live in San Francisco so those flights are brutal). Stayed in a not-very-nice but clean guest house catering, for all I could tell, to missionaries. Our attitude was "just have a good time, no matter what." So we did.

The man who picked us up at the airport ended up taking us to the elephant orphanage, the giraffe center, Carnivore, the Karen Blixen museum, and later a locals-only pub. At the pub everyone stared at us, and our table (in front of the band) was the last to fill up. What can I say? We had really primed ourselves to enjoy all the differences, whatever they might be. So we were having a great time. We passed on the busi (goat), though. There were huge political demonstrations that day, so we couldn't really go into town anyway. It was a pretty exhausting day, but we were just awestruck by everything: those enormous birds (what are they?) resting in the trees on the way from the airport, people walking absolutely everywhere, women in work clothes with their purses on their heads, and so on. We loved it from the moment we stepped off the plane.

Next day we took a shuttle to Arusha. Again, though it wasn't necessarily as comfortable as an American shuttle, we really enjoyed seeing everything. And fortunately, it was clear that day, so we got a nice view of Kilimanjaro. We were two of four tourists on the shuttle. There were two very well behaved Kenyan children who boarded somewhere in the countryside and stared and stared at us. We enjoyed that too!

We got to Arusha that evening and checked into the Impala. Not the Carlyle, but it beat the missionary guest house, hands down. The Indian restaurant in the hotel is goood.

Next morning we met our guide and our cook, Adrian and Antony, and off we went to Tarangire. As newbies to African wildlife, we were oohing and ahhing over everything. Taking photos of animals from far away, not realizing how close we would later get to everything. We were of course really impressed with the landscapes, the trees, the birds (and we're not birdwatchers), the flowers. The whole trip I must admit I was of no assistance to our guide (not that he needed it), because I found myself constantly gazing at the horizon, the sky. I found it all quite breathtaking. Even rocks!

In Tarangire we saw tons of elephants, Impalas, monkeys, baboons, zebra,...pretty much everything but cats. I could look at elephants all day long and not tire of them. But then I've already expressed my appreciation for rocks, so...

Our campsite was some strange place outside the park somewhere. I liked it! It was rustic, but there were toilets (well, a few holes and one toilet), and a shower that produced just enough drops of water to do some very minimal washing. I have long hair and probably couldn't have washed it. But that's what the safari hat is for, right? Our cook (a dear man, and boy can he whip up some tasty meals) brought us juice, water and some popcorn. We sat around chatting with our guide until dinner time. A huge meal, and really, we ate better while we were camping than in the lodges we stayed at. I still think about the banana fritters, the vegetable curry, the (jerk?) chicken.

While we were not sleeping in the park (we'll plan better next time, and Adrian has given us tips about where to stay when), that night I heard some strange noises that kept me from venturing out of the tent, even though I kind of wanted to go use the holes/toilets.

There were maybe three other tents of campers at this place, all Europeans, of varying ages. Dinner is at table with a lantern, on folding chairs, with our cook acting as waiter, wearing a jacket. We thought that was a hoot, and would have been more than happy to have him join us.

I'll post more later, but as a wrap up for today, I think in some ways that was my favorite night. It was peaceful, felt adventurous, but comfortable. And we loved dining with our guide, and very much missed doing so when at the lodges.

Leely is offline  
Jul 21st, 2004, 11:44 AM
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Thanks for the report Leely!

You said there were others at the campsite - how near were they to your little camp? How far was the toilet and shower from your tent?

Kavey is offline  
Jul 21st, 2004, 11:58 AM
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They other tents were far, but we could see them--a hundred feet or more, maybe? I'm not good gauging distances. It felt a bit like camping in a park in the U.S. except the individual "campsites" were not as discrete, if that makes any sense.The toilets were further away, but it didn't take more than a few minutes to walk to them. Didn't want to make my way over there in the dark, though, even with my handy flashlight. I suspect things all might be a bit cozier (less private) if the season were a busier one, or this a more desirable campsite. It was absolutely fine for us. Came with the requisite Maasai night guard. Next day he offered himself as a photo subject for about a buck. As I'm shy about photographing people, I appreciated his self-advertisement!
Leely is offline  
Jul 21st, 2004, 09:28 PM
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What a wonderful trip. Thank you for sharing. I don't think you will never be able to equal that experience. Something like that somehow haunts you and it is the perfect way to experience Africa for the first time. How wonderful for you and I'm sure you will never forget any of it. I had a similar experience when I stayed at campgrounds in Botswana with Earthwatch. We stayed up at night and the hyenas came within 10 feet of us. One night a hyena brushed by the tent I was in and I could feel it through the canvas. Shivers went through me. I've never forgotten it and I have never equaled that experience. Liz
Liz_Frazier is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2004, 10:41 AM
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Yes, it was amazing. We had such an unbelievable time. Our last day (Ngorongoro), our guide spotted a rhino sleeping in the sun, just as we were on our way to the ascent road (and boy is that a scary ride). It was perfect--I thought, has Adrian been planning this?

Other highlights (so many fantastic TZ/Kenya trip reports lately, and that makes me very happy indeed):

Perfect little forest scene at a babbling brook in Manyara: reed buck, water buck, and a large family of baboons, all hanging out in the dappled sunlight.

Lion kill in the Serengeti. (Lions everywhere there.)

Leopard with 2 cubs, enjoying their kill (Thomson) in a tree in the central Serengeti

Crocs narrowly missing wildebeest and zebras taking a drink at the Grumeti River in the Serengeti

Crossing a rope footbridge over theGrumeti, seeing the crocs leave the beach to swim under us as we crossed back over, post-picnic lunch. My heart was thumping for an hour afterward.

Cheetah on the hood on the Land Rover, hissing and baring its teeth at us, my friend and I trying to climb under our guide. Early a.m. in the Serengeti, no one else around.

Hyenas enjoying a wildebeest they had apparently managed to catch themselves, Ngorongoro.

"Chasing" a monkey out of our room at the lodge in the Serengeti. Later that evening I somehow managed to get all caught up in my mosquito net.

Many, many fascinating elephants, up close and personal. Tarangire, Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro.

And of course, giraffes (how I love the way they walk), warthogs, monkeys, baboons, Impalas, Thomsons, buffalo, reed buck, water buck, topis (?) and much more.

We spent four nights in the Serengeti, and I could have stayed longer. We asked our guide quite a bit about "the best time" to go to which parts of the park. He said "The Serengeti is always good." Then went on to give his opinion about different times of the year. Also asked him to tell us which animals he still gets excited to see (he's been a guide for about 10 years). He said, though he tried so hard to be diplomatic, he most enjoys chimp tracking and when he goes to see gorillas out of country. So...next time!

Leely is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2004, 12:29 PM
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Thanks for the additional notes. I think crossing the Grumeti on that rope footbridge with the crocs positioning themselves for your mishaps would have left me weak too. They say the largest crocs in the world live in that river. I just loved the details you posted. Just takes me back to my early trips on the cheap to East Africa. It compensates you with rewards no one would ever imagine. If you'd like I will post a link to the photo album from my trip last year to see the Wildebeests on the Mara. Liz
Liz_Frazier is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2004, 12:54 PM
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Liz, I'd love to see your photo album.

And I'm so glad tusker Dave, Freddy and others are posting their camping experiences. Tanzania, and East Africa in general, seem to have accommodations to suit virtually all budgets and tastes. I would hate to think of someone with an interest not going because he/she thought one has to either spend a fortune or tramp around like a hobo in order to experience a safari.

p.s. Please forgive the preceding outmoded and grossly politically incorrect terminology (hobo, tramp); I couldn't think of another metaphor. Insert smiley face here--don't know how.
Leely is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2004, 01:21 PM
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I posted the links over on Freddys trip report thread. You may have to register, its free, but you may be able to just go on in with the link. If you wait a minute after you get on the site, a slideshow will begin and you just click next to proceed through. Now these are recent albums. My first trip was 20 years ago and although I have the pictures, I don't do scanning. I think there were many more animals then, than now, especially on the Mara, but it will always be beautiful to everyone. We stayed at Governor's Camp last year, but it isn't the best place for the migration. The Mara Serena is right above the crossing site, and would have been preferable. It's gotten to be such a mess that I don't think I'd go back for the migration there. Just tons of tourists drive out from Nairobi, etc, and it is just cars lined up and the animals get spooked and although I'd always wanted to see this spectacle, I don't think I'd have gone if I'd have known how bad it is with the tourists now.
Be glad you did it the way you did and you missed some of this I think.
I remember on my first trip, I was with a group of 6 others. We stayed at the Boulevard Hotel in Nairobi the first night. Then we went to Amboseli and when we came back we stayed again at the Boulevard Hotel before heading out for the highlands. It was like coming home to us. Gee, it was a fun trip. We stayed in cheaper places and drove everywhere, no flights, but we didn't know better. We were just all so wide-eyed and awe struck by EVERYTHING! When we left I went to the ladies restroom at the airport and bawled my eyes out because I didn't want to leave. Something about me never came all the way back from that trip. I've searched for it ever since. Liz
Liz_Frazier is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2004, 05:10 PM
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oh, what lovely stories -- both Leely's and Liz's!!!! Thank you for your report, Leely. It sounds so wonderful.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Jul 26th, 2004, 01:12 AM
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What a wonderful trip! Good to swap stories with a fellow camper...I remember mentioning in my trip report that I wasn't sure about camping options in Tanzania - good to know that it is just like in Kenya.

At the end of our trip, we were convinced that we could (should) have spent more time camping, but during planning we were not sure how it would turn out, so we kept it to just 3 nights. Reading through your experience Leely, I'm pretty certain next time we would want to do more.

We had a similar experience with the first animals we spotted. When our group of seven saw our first zebra immediately on entering the Mara park gate, we wanted our guide, Joseph to stop while we all took pictures. Now this zebra must have been at least 20 meters away, and Joseph had this really bored look on his face - 'Ho hum, a zebra...' He told us we would see plenty more zebra, much closer, but we didn't let him move on till we had enough! I can't but think of that incident and smile.
freddy123 is offline  

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