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Tanzania Safari Diary -- Feb/March 2007

Old Mar 15th, 2007, 03:49 PM
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Tanzania Safari Diary -- Feb/March 2007

OK, here goes.

I did a “synopsis” of our 18-day trip to Tanzania in an earlier thread, which kind of hit the high spots and summarized the good and the bad (actually we had very little bad, and no ugly at all) parts of the trip. I will not repeat all of that here, since I know Fodorites have many threads to read and much advice to give. Although I am just starting this more detailed report, I have a reputation (well earned, I’m afraid) for being verbose, so be prepared for TMI (“too much information”). However, I ascribe to the “If you are forewarned, then you can’t whine about it later” policy, so proceed at your own risk. If you choose to accept this assignment, be prepared for one man’s sometimes serious, sometimes not-so-serious impressions of a wonderful safari. Truth be told, I am writing this primarily as a diary to remind me of our trip, since each year I seem to remember a little less. You will find this somewhat stream-of-consciousness story to be replete with parentheticals, notes, and other irrelevancies, just my way of jogging the old memory.

Itinerary:

Feb. 19-20 – KLM from Houston/Amsterdam/Kilimanjaro
Feb. 20-21 – Kia Lodge
Feb. 22-23 – West Kili area, Kambi Ya Tembo - Elephant Camp
Feb. 24 – Arusha National Park, overnight at Kigongoni Lodge near Arusha
Feb. 25 – Tarangire, Treetops Lodge
Feb. 26-27 -- Lake Manyara, Serena Lodge
Feb. 28 -- Ngorongoro Crater, Serena Lodge
Mar. 1-3 -- Ndutu area, Olakira Tented Camp (located in Ngorongoro Conservation Area)
Mar. 4-5 – Serengeti Seronera area, Serena Lodge
Mar. 6-8 – fly to Zanzibar, Matemwe Bungalows
Mar. 9-10 (and almost 11), KLM/Continental Zanzibar/Dar Es Salaam/AMS/Houston

Our merry band:
• Myself -- Africa-phile, trip planner, and early retiree (hence lots of time to spend reading Fodors, obsessing over itinerary, and writing an excessively long trip report)
• Dear Wife -- an intrepid soul (after all, she has been married to me for 33 years) and a game-spotter extraordinaire. On our previous safari, to Botswana in 2004, I unwisely dubbed her “The Warthog Queen” because she was always the first to see warthogs. On this trip, I wisely and appropriately upgraded her Africa appellation to the much sexier “Cheetah Girl,” since she was the first to spot a cheetah poking its little head up from a bush amongst the migration at Ndutu (as well as the first to spot our first tree-climbing lion at Lake Manyara).
• Dear Friend -- a bigger-than-life (personality-wise, not physically) vivacious woman and a frequent and enthusiastic traveler, although this was her first trip to Africa (Europe is probably more her style). She was a little apprehensive about: bumpy roads; her first flights in small planes and hot air balloons; elephants walking amongst and hyenas howling near the tents at Olakira Camp; snorkeling in deep water; tsetse flies and malaria-carrying mosquitoes; sunburn; chemical toilets; bucket showers; and bugs, spiders, lizards, crabs, and other wee beasties in her living quarters -- but she persevered through all of this and more, and professes to have had a wonderful time. DF can, and on some nights when I was just plumb worn out did, carry on a lively and entertaining conversation with little or no participation by anyone else. She staunchly adhered to my “If forewarned, no whining” policy.

Each of us came armed with our best attributes and our favorite tools. DW came prepared with patience (see 33 year reference above), faith, safari experience, binoculars, and a new bible. DF came with an open mind, enthusiasm, a flat-iron, credit cards, an eye for a good buy, and a prayer book (primarily for take-offs and landings). Self brought along great expectations, cameras, batteries, Sudoku puzzles, and some actual knowledge of our plans. Thankfully, we all came with a sense of humor, a sense of adventure, and just plain old common sense.

Note: This was the second safari for DW and me, and we love going on game drives. This was the first safari for DF, and she was somewhat less enamored of spending almost every waking moment bouncing around standing in a vehicle peering into the distance looking for a leopard’s tail hanging down from a tree. This report is from only my perspective -- DW’s and DF’s might be (might be?!) different. As I have said before, “The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of management. My experience, opinions, and memory may, and often do, differ from those of others.”

Tour operator:
Our tour operator was Sunny Safaris out of Arusha, with Ally and I having corresponded frequently for several months to plan and arrange the perfect trip. Our guide was Gerald (recommended to me by another Fodorite), and he was driving, as we had been guaranteed, his relatively new green Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop-up roof (hereinafter sometimes inaccurately referred to as “the jeep.”) Gerald was a wonderful guide – professional, friendly, careful, prompt, knowledgeable, accommodating, and an amazing game-spotter with 10 years of guiding experience.

Game sightings reporting policy:
We, or at least some of us, went on game drives as often as possible. We saw most of the game that we expected to see, and that everyone else sees, so I will not enumerate each of them in this report unless there is something about them that I thought noteworthy. We did see a few animals that are a little less often sighted, such as a generuk (in the West Kili area), two genets, a bat-eared fox, and a young caracal. We of course saw many birds, most of which I can neither remember nor identify any more.

Accommodations:
We (that’s pretty much the royal “we”) chose our itinerary to give us a good mix of location, topography, vegetation, game, levels and types of accommodations (lodges and tented camps), and levels of convenience, with sensible routing. Our only non-negotiable requirement was ensuite facilities, which we always had but of various types and to various degrees.

Weather:
Good weather! After all of the problems people had experienced in the previous couple of months, I was quite concerned about rain. Everything was indeed very green and lush, and the grass was very tall in some places, but we had only two rains, and even then they were non-events. Once was at Treetops Lodge near Tarangire, but we were on a game drive in the park at the time and it didn’t rain on us. The other time was on the afternoon when we were resting in the Serena Manyara Lodge prior to our bush dinner and night game drive in the park later that evening. We felt very lucky.

Preparation:
DW and I had resurrected all of our safari clothes from our previous trip. DW steeled herself to once again wear clothes that she had threatened to burn when we returned from our previous safari. DF had burned up the internet acquiring a mostly “Buzz Off” wardrobe. In accordance with my suggestion but with a heavy heart, she had pretty much limited herself to a few shades of khaki, beige, tan, and chardonnay, but with a few more colorful items for evening dining.

I dusted off my trusty point-and-shoot 10x optical zoom Olympus camera that I had acquired for our previous safari, for which it had suited me fine, and I added a couple of more memory cards. I had also decided that some scenes just begged for action shots, so I had bought a brand new (“How do you turn this thing on anyway?”) point-and-shoot 25x optical zoom Canon camcorder. As you can tell, I am strictly a functional, very amateur picture taker (I can’t even call myself a photographer). I took what I thought was enough battery power; however, the only shortcoming was that I could only charge my camcorder batteries in the camcorder, which was to prove a problem in a couple of camps when the only time the power was on was when we were out on game drives. Fortunately, I had also brought a Tekkeon battery pack which would serve as a back-up for all of my battery needs (FYI, it also works for cell phones, Blackberries, laptop computers, etc.).

Armed, but not very dangerous except to ourselves, we were ready for action.


Day 1 – Jambo! -- arrival at Kia Lodge (an Asilia property)

We left Houston on a Monday afternoon (but I’m not counting that as one of our days), but not before DF had settled her nerves (despite being a frequent traveler, she is still a bit nervous on planes) with a couple of pre-takeoff glasses of white wine. Fortified by a couple of more glasses on the plane, we had a happily uneventful couple of flights, with the only notable exception being DF’s succumbing to the siren’s call of the duty free shops at AMS and purchasing a beautiful Hermes scarf entitled “Jungle Love.” (It is only by virtue of some serious literary lip-biting that I am able to refrain from any further comment). With two leopards and other lovely designs in gold and black, it goes very well with her beige wardrobe. (I also succumbed on behalf of DW and bought a $9 tiny bottle of eyedrops, which they sealed in a huge plastic bag and told me I couldn’t open it until we got on the plane. Since DW needed the eyedrops right then, we scoffed at the law and opened the bag anyway. I expect the Dutch police to show up on our doorstep any day now.)

We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport on time at 20:30 Tuesday night, about 22 hours after leaving Houston. It took us about 30 minutes and three crisp $50 bills in the warm air of the terminal to get our visas, by which time our luggage was waiting for us. We grabbed our bags (one apiece plus an extra one stuffed with toys and supplies to be donated to a school or orphanage, plus my carry-on backpack which rarely left my shoulder since it contained our most critical items – i.e., passports, cash, ________and breathmints). As we exited the glass doors, we were greeted by about three dozen men standing behind a rope, each of them holding a sign with a name on it. We walked down the gauntlet looking for a sign that said “Smith Party” or something like that (but with our name) on it. Right at the end of the line we found Daniel, a young Maasai dressed in his colorful red and purple shuka (and incongruously, white Reeboks) holding a sign that said “Tom X 3.” Being the first Tom to come out with two other people, we claimed Daniel as our own, and took our luggage to the Kia Lodge van.

After a very short drive, maybe five minutes, we arrived at Kia Lodge, where about four more young Maasai, all dressed in shukas (but instead of tennis shoes, they were all wearing the usual Maasai footwear, tire treads with straps) awaited to take our bags. After “Jambo’s” (the universal Swahili greeting) all around, about ten minutes later we were checked in and on our way to our rooms through the curving walkways. Ah-ha! -- on the way we passed a bar area with happy voices emanating from it. Since it was the dark of a new moon we couldn’t really see much, but were to discover the next day that the expansive grounds are very nicely landscaped. Our rooms, #1 and 2 (out of a total of about 38) were quite nice, with the ubiquitous mosquito netting around the bed. The young men who showed us into our room explained that the gekkos were our friends, because they were there to eat the bugs. Intended to be a comforting thought, DW found it otherwise. Although exhausted, we regrouped at the bar where another Daniel served us a Tusker, a Safari, and two more glasses of white wine. Tired but happy, we toasted our safe arrival, drank up, and went to bed.

Tomorrow – a day of rest

Day 2 – Recovery and Discovery -- recharging at Kia Lodge

There isn’t really a whole lot to talk about for this day, since it was really just a day for resting and transitioning to the new 9-hour difference time zone. I awoke the next morning (actually I was so excited and so overly fatigued that I hardly slept at all) just before dawn, anxious to see if Mount Kilimanjaro would be visible. I looked out the window, and what do you know – there are the snows (what little is left anyway) of Kilimanjaro staring me straight in the face. I of course grabbed my camera and went out and took the obligatory few dozen pictures of the mountain (which I had heard you can not always see because of clouds) and the sunrise, my reputation as a sunrise/sunset photo freak being proven once again. I walked around in the bright new day, discovering the lovely grounds and listening to the awakening morning. DW and DF awoke a little later, and we had a lovely buffet breakfast with made-to-order omelets and all the extras.

I spent most of the day, at least until I crashed around mid-afternoon, walking around Kia Lodge and taking pictures of birds, lizards, trees, flowers, and Mt. Kili. I even took a picture of a plane taking off from the airport, which was less than a kilometer away. The ladies rested, sat around the pool with Kili (both the mountain and the airport) as backdrops, visited, and read. I think having that whole day to get over our jet lag and rejuvenate ourselves was a really good idea, although I can not take credit for it. At sundown I took another picture of the sun setting behind Kilimanjaro. (Those of you who have been paying attention might have figured out that Mount Kilimanjaro is northeast of the airport – the Kilimanjaro that the sun was setting behind was the airport, not an especially aesthetic photo op, but I took it anyway.) A little later we enjoyed happy hour cocktails, followed by a pleasant dinner in the open dining area. We went to bed early, because tomorrow we would be ready for some action!

Tomorrow – To the Bush!

To be continued.
hguy47 is offline  
Old Mar 16th, 2007, 09:02 AM
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Keep writing Tom I'm enjoying this!
Did you have dinner when you arrived at Kia Lodge or just drinks? Hope you will be posting your photo's/ pictures?!
Well keep it coming I can cope with your TMI!!!
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Old Mar 16th, 2007, 12:37 PM
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Very cool you saw gerenuk in West Kili. I've heard they can be found in this area as well as Amboseli and Tsavo in Kenya but not seen any myself. Looking forward to the next installment and your photos.
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Old Mar 16th, 2007, 01:11 PM
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keaho5,
We didn't get to Kia Lodge until about 9:30 p.m., and we were pretty tired, so really didn't care about any dinner, and it may not have even still been open. I think it was included, but we had plenty to eat on the airplanes anyway.

Patti,
The gerenuks didn't stick around long enough for me to get a picture of them. My pictures are going to be mediocre at best anyway, but I will post some of them somewhere sometime. I do wish I could have gotten a fleeting shot of the gerenuks, but I guess I'm too slow.
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Old Mar 16th, 2007, 01:20 PM
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OK, look out, here comes Installment 2, Days 3 and 4, where we finally actually get into the bush.

Day 3 – Back to the Bush at Last -- Kambi Ya Tembo – Elephant Camp (a Tanganyika Adventures camp)

Ally had called me on Day 2 (it is unclear why he had just then found this out) and told me that Kambi Ya Tembo (Elephant Camp) refused to let Sunny do the transfer to KYT and so it would be a KYT (actually Kibo Safaris, an affiliated company) guide who would be picking us up and driving us to the camp in the Sinya/West Kili area. No problem, I had already known that KYT insisted that you use their guides while at the camp, and I had actually wondered by Ally had planned on the Sunny guide going with us. We were later to find out that Gerald, our Sunny guide, had never even been to KYT, since this area is off the beaten northern Tanzanian circuit.

At 8:00, Michael, a nice young Maasai man with 5 years guiding experience, was waiting for us. We piled in and drove for about 2-3 hours, through towns and villages. We were amazed at how the women can walk for miles carrying a 20-liter (having been back only a few days, I sometimes revert to speaking “metric,” albeit with a Texas accent) bucket of water balanced on top of their head, or a 40-kilo bundle of wood attached by a strap wrapped around their forehead. Along the way, as we got closer to the camp, we enjoyed our first game viewing -- some ostriches, zebras, wildebeests, and Grants gazelles. KYT and its twelve tents sit on a ridge near the top of a high hill facing west (sunrise photo op tomorrow!) out over a beautiful vista of savannah, with Mt. Kili rising up to the east (sunset photo op tomorrow!) behind the tents. Sylvester, the wonderfully warm and personable Maasai manager, and his staff of about twelve men, mostly Maasai, greeted us (again with a plethoro of jambo’s, as would be the case the entire trip), introduced themselves, provided us with cool washcloths and fruit juice, and took our bags to our tents. The tents were not fancy, but quite comfortable and functional, with an outdoor sitting area with a great view. Our newbie, DF, despite her tent’s simplicity (but with a flush toilet), was excited by this new experience.

We had arrived – we were actually on safari, and we were loving it.

We had a nice lunch, with beer and wine, in the common/dining area overlooking the savannah. When asked what kind of spices he used in the tasty food, Sylvester proclaimed, “I hate spices. I was a camp cook before I became a camp manager, and I insist that all of my staff learn to cook, as well as do various other assignments. Instead of spices, we use things like garlic, pepper, cumin, herbs, Tabasco sauce, to season our foods.” He also told us that all of the food was cooked over a wood fire. The food was indeed quite good, enhanced by the company, the service, the location, and the ambience.

KYT would be one of the only areas where we could do a game walk (especially since Oliver’s Camp had closed and we had changed to Tarangire Treetops), so later that afternoon we decided to take a walk with Michael and the camp-assigned guide, a very young Maasai man nicknamed “Nyoka” (Swahili for “snake”). Nyoka spoke very little English, but he was from the area and knew every rock, tree, bush, footprint, and animal dropping. We walked for a couple of hours up and down and around the hilly area, and by the time we returned to camp we were tired and ready for a rest, a G&T, and a nice dinner.

After the G&T but before dinner, we had a pleasant surprise when Sylvester and his entire staff came marching up the hill dressed in their shukas and singing native songs, and with the sun setting behind them they gave us a dancing-and-jumping exhibition. I busied myself with both camera and camcorder, even in the dark, so as not to be invited to join in the frivolity. My dancing-and-jumping days are long behind me. It was heart-warming and thoroughly enjoyable pre-dinner entertainment, and added yet even more to our fond thoughts of KYT (you never forget your first, you know). After the show, the staff passed around champagne and then we had a lovely lantern-light dinner, with cold beer and wine (hmmmm, it seems that is becoming a common theme) and good food cooked with wonderful flavors -- but no spices. A cool breeze coming off of Mt. Kili made for some deep slumber and sweet dreams while we were safely tucked under the mosquito nets in our tightly zipped tents.

Tomorrow – a Maasai experience

Day 4 – “Elephant Chicken” and Boma Visit -- Kambi Ya Tembo

Bright and early the next morning – up at 6:00, with coffee and tea having magically appeared outside our tent door (pause for sunrise pictures), full breakfast at 6:30, off by 7:00 -- we went out for our first and only full game drive at KYT. That afternoon we planned on going to a nearby (as it later turned out, not all that nearby) Maasai boma for a visit. Michael and Nyoka and the three of us climbed into a rather beat-up open-sided vehicle (but with a sunshade) they had nicknamed “The Warthog” because it was so ugly. It was a bit of a rough ride, but very functional. We headed out in search of big game, and small game as well. This area is known for its large tuskers (elephants, not the beer, cut me some slack), but not in February because it is the dry season (West Kili has not had the rain so prevalent west of Arusha the last few months) when the herds have generally migrated north into Amboseli in Kenya. We did see two gerenuks, which are interesting looking long-necked antelopes, along with a variety of other animals. We drove around from west of Kili to north of Kili, and even went a little way into Kenya, where we saw a huge lone tusker in a patch of trees. Michael drove right up close to the ele, who was calmly eating large clumps of brush. We watched quite intently and intensely for several minutes, while I clicked away with the cameras. When the ele walked around a tree and came a little too close to her side of the vehicle, so close we could hear it burp, DF almost climbed into DW’s lap. If I had been in her position, I would have done the same. After a while the big tusker ambled off towards Kili, and we followed, with me of course taking several “Ele in Front of Kilimanjaro” pictures. A little later we stopped for a “pit stop” at the Kenya border, which is marked by a small concrete pylon with the latitude and longitude marked on it. I’ve seen pictures of people standing with one foot on each side of the border, but I declined to take any pictures of our activities there. As he and I stood there, Michael pointed out a Maasai ranger on top of a faraway hill to the south, and while looking at him through the binoculars I saw more elephants at the base of the hill. We climbed back in the Warthog and made our way south towards them, while they were also making their way northwards towards us. Michael said these might be the last six elephants in Tanzania, the rest were already in Kenya. After following alongside the six big eles for a while, Michael drove to a point right in their path and stopped the vehicle, involving us in a little game of “Elephant Chicken” – who would blink first? I was ready to blink immediately, but fortunately the eles soon veered off (apparently intimidated by our Warthog), lumbered around us, and continued on their way to the greener grass on the other side of the fence (there isn’t really a fence at the border, it’s just an expression). Thus endeth the exciting part of the morning game drive, although we did drive through an interesting but ugly area where there used to be a clay strip mining operation.

After a nice lunch, a shower, and a nap, about16:00 we climbed back into the Warthog and began what Michael said was a 15 minute drive to one of the real live Maasai villages that the camp helps support. Forty-five bone-jarring minutes later, we arrived at the boma, where the villagers, clearly not very accustomed to visitors, seemed a little wary. We saw the 70 year old head of the village, and one of his sons showed us around the thorn-encompassed kraal where they keep the cattle at night (watch your step). I think it was Michael (who else could it have been?) who told us, “He is a very wealthy man – he has 250 head of cattle – but his children have no shoes.” The elder’s ten wives and about 15 of his 30 or so daughters entertained us with some songs and dances, and then we were taken into one of the small cow-dung huts, which although pitch dark inside, was truly enlightening. Wife #9 and her three children live inside this small, five foot high, dark, smoky single room (along with the young sheep and goats in a separate section, to protect them from hyenas, we were told). Two very small sleeping areas are cut into the sides of the hut, one for the women and children and one for visiting warriors. The embers of a tiny cooking fire glowed in the center of the sole “living” area, which was probably about 8 feet long by 5 feet wide. The only “window” was a small hole in the wall. I will never complain again about poor air conditioning. After squatting and sitting in the hut for a few minutes while Michael explained the living arrangements, we exited to find that the women of the village had laid out blankets with various wares for us to see. DW and DF walked around (shopping is far outside my area of competency) and looked at the bracelets, necklaces, wooden items, etc. for a few minutes, after which we bought two of the large decorative bead necklaces. These were not tourist-prepared items, they were authentic and well-used. We could not even begin to bring ourselves to haggle over the proffered price, we were delighted to contribute a small amount of money that Michael said would be enough to allow the village to eat for a few days. As we drove away, with the cattle starting to come back into the kraal, the children ran after us for quite some distance, waving and shouting. The visit was an enlightening and humbling experience, and we were extremely impressed that the villagers, despite what is a very meager existence, were almost always smiling and seemed happy and satisfied with their life.

As the sun was setting we jostled our way back to camp, arriving in time for another nice dinner, a shower, and a good final night’s sleep at KYT. However, I, being the first of our group to wimpily succumb to a touch of stomach disruption, did not partake in the sumptuous repast, but instead dined on dry toast and Coca Cola brought to our tent by Sylvester and Nyoka.

Note: One thing I couldn’t help but notice while we were at KYT was the seeming incongruity of the handsome young Maasai men, dressed in their fine looking shukas and with great bearing and dignity, walking to the tents with rubber gloves, buckets, scrub brushes, mops, and brooms. The entire staff was male, and despite the reputation that Maasai women do all of the work, these guys were certainly working hard and doing their part. Sylvester seemed to be a firm but benevolent boss, and he ran a tight ship, but each and every one of his staff were friendly and professional and made us feel most welcome. We would hate to leave them the next morning, but more adventures awaited us.

Tomorrow – Row the Boat Ashore

hguy47 is offline  
Old Mar 16th, 2007, 08:15 PM
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Regarding the first installment only, you 3 are off to a roaring start with the Cheetah girl in her jungle love silk scarf and the contraband eye drops!

Glad the Kili and the sun kept you entertained on Day 1, along with planes taking off and some lizards.
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Old Mar 16th, 2007, 09:23 PM
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Great fun read, looking forward to much more.
regards - tom
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Old Mar 17th, 2007, 07:41 AM
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Now I know what elephant chicken means! You saw gerenuk, if even for a brief moment! How lucky.

I chuckled at the description of the Maasai housekeepers. Very incongruent indeed!

Very entertaining and waiting for some more.
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Old Mar 17th, 2007, 08:02 AM
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Very amusing very descriptive and very interesting.I too enjoyed the description of the Maasai housekeepers.
I can't wait for our safari in june.
Eagerly waiting the next instalment
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Old Mar 17th, 2007, 08:08 AM
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I am enjoying your report and looking forward to your next installments.
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Old Mar 17th, 2007, 01:07 PM
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I'm trying to stay on task so I can get this report finished before it all fades into oblivion. Here's what I remember from Days 5 and 6.

Day 5 – Canoeing on Small Momella Lake in Arusha National Park – to Kigongoni Lodge

The next morning we said our goodbyes and took group pictures with the staff at KYT, and then Michael drove us back almost to Arusha, where we rendezvoused (that spelling doesn’t look right, but Spell-Check says it is) with our Sunny Safaris guide for the next ten days, Gerald. Gerald is a member of the Chaga tribe, has a wife and three children in Arusha, and has been guiding for ten years, all of them with Sunny. He was in the promised green Land Cruiser, which proved to be a roomy, comfortable (if you can use that term in connection with driving on the rough roads in the bush), and reliable vehicle. We transferred the luggage, and then transferred ourselves. DF permanently self-assigned herself the seat behind Gerald, where she sat the rest of the trip; DW took the second-row seat across from DF; and I claimed the remainder of the two rows and five seats for myself and my gear. I assumed my usual position for the next ten days of standing with my head poking up through the pop-up roof and my hands holding onto a rail on either side of the roof of the jeep. We headed up the road for the short drive to Arusha National Park.

Gerald checked us in (i.e., paid the entrance fees) at the Ngongongare gate, and within about two minutes of entering the park we were parked next to a large giraffe that was browsing just about three meters off the road. Being on a raised road and standing up, we were just about eyeball to eyeball with this very tall and somewhat goofy-looking animal. As we drove further around the park we saw many more animals, particularly at a place Gerald said they call “Little Serengeti,” where impalas, giraffes, warthogs, buffaloes, and zebras were all hanging out together. As advertised in the park brochures, we did see a white colobus monkey (a single one, high up in a tree) and a blue monkey (a single one, high up in a tree). After an hour or two we headed for lunch at Momella Wildlife Lodge (John Wayne’s house in the movie “Hatari”). Just before we got there we saw two more giraffes off to the side of the road, and Gerald said (I don’t know how he could tell at that point), “It looks like they are mating.” Huh? But sure enough, about a minute later the male indeed did have “jungle love” on his mind, but the female demurely declined. We didn’t want to be too voyeuristic, so we headed on to lunch.

After a leisurely lunch at the Lodge, we quickly made the short drive to Small Momella Lake, where we were scheduled to take a “canoe safari” with Green Footprint Adventures. Sure enough, there was our charming canoe guide, Herman, and another couple. It was sprinkling slightly, but it stopped after a few minutes – another sign of our continuing good fortune. After a briefing, we donned our life jackets and paddled away, DW with Herman, while DF, a very experienced and able canoeist, took the seat of power and control at the rear of the second canoe while I paddled away in the front. It was a very enjoyable two hours, except that some of us were a little concerned when Herman told us that there were hippos (“the most dangerous animal in Africa,” he said) in the lake. We did indeed see two pairs of hippos, but they (or more likely we) kept their distance. We saw lots of birds, a bushbuck, giraffes, a monkey, a hare, and a small herd of buffaloes (“the meanest animal in Africa,” Herman said) on the banks, while we gently paddled along with the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro on one side and Mount Meru on the other. We recommend Arusha National Park as a nice place to spend a day, with the canoeing as an added highlight.

After canoeing we rejoined Gerald and drove around the park a little more before heading off to our home for the night, Kigongoni Lodge, just east of Arusha. The road towards Arusha was alive with activity, since it was Saturday night (although at the time I really had no idea what day it was) in the City and everyone seemed to be headed out for a night on the town. Up a small dirt road (aren’t they all?), we arrived at Kigongoni Lodge just before dusk, where we found a large metal security gate and numerous guards (hmmmm). The Lodge is located on the side of a hill on the site of an old coffee plantation, and is quite lovely. Next was more jambo’s, checking in, and having the bags taken to our very large guestroom with a fireplace – and a huge bathtub and a huge shower! DW and DF and Self were all very happy. After long, hot baths, we reconvened at the bar under a tree lit with dozens of sparkling lights, had some G&T’s and wine, and then had a very nice dinner on the veranda, interrupted only by the power going out for a couple of minutes until the generator kicked in. Another wonderful day, a wonderful bath in a tub, another lovely evening, and a restful night.

Tomorrow – A special place

Day 6 – Heaven above the earth – to Tarangire Treetops Lodge (an Elewana property)

We discovered that Kigongoni Lodge actually offered internet service, so early the next morning DF and I took advantage of our first opportunity to tell the folks back home that we had arrived safely, were having a wonderful time, wished they were here. After breakfast Gerald, always punctual, picked us up for our drive into Arusha to meet Ally at the Sunny Safaris office. On the way we stopped by the Anglican Christ Church, where DW and DF were greeted and briefly shown around by one of the parishioners in between services (it was Sunday, I could tell by all the people at church, and since last night had been Saturday). While he and I were waiting in the car, Gerald asked how I had found out about Sunny Safaris and in particular why I had requested him as our guide, so I explained to him all about the Fodor’s Africa forum. We then made a quick stop by an ATM to get some Tanzanian shillings, where we met a nice young Princeton graduate who had been in Tanzania for seven months doing volunteer work. We drove to the Sunny Safaris office and visited with Ally while Gerald gassed up the vehicle. Then on the way out of town we stopped at the Tanzanian Cultural Center for our first shopping expedition, where I made the first of my two Africa purchases – a CD of “The Best of African Songs.”

We started our drive to Treetops Lodge, near Tarangire National Park, about 3 hours away. The first two hours were fine, but then we turned off the paved road at a little hand-lettered sign that said “Treetops Lodge – 30 km.” This may have been the worst road we were on the entire time (excepting the ascent road at Ngorongoro Crater, which doesn’t really count), with the hour+ trip made even worse by our first plague of tsetse flies. Gerald did his best to soften the bumps, but even he couldn’t do much about the tsetse flies, indeed they seemed to pester him more than the rest of us. We bounced and swatted for a long time, and after what seemed like forever we arrived at Tarangire Treetops Lodge, which is not actually inside the park. We were greeted at the steps by the transplanted South African manager, Glen, and two Maasai in full regalia, one wearing a scary mask. More cool cloths and fruit juice revived us.

What a place! It was refurbished a couple of years ago when Elewana bought it, and it is spectacular, at least by my simple standards. The reception area up against a huge baobab, there is a very large square tiered seating area around a firepit, a lovely dining area overlooks a waterhole (not occupied during this very wet time) slightly down the hill – but the rooms! After a quick briefing, we were escorted to our treehouses -- raised on platforms among the trees, most with a spiral staircase, huge rooms with double sinks and double showers, a decanter of sherry on a small table, an immense veranda outside an expanse of 15 meters of netted doorways and windows, all nicely appointed. It is so nice it (probably) made it worth the terrible drive to get there.

After a short respite in our tents (I guess they are made of canvas so they are tents, but only technically), we then had a very nice buffet lunch. Also staying at Treetops was a group of executives and spouses from a Dutch corporation, I presume having some sort of outing. As was the case with most of our meals (excluding breakfast, of course) wherever we were, a delicious cream soup was served at the table. Then DW and I were off on a game drive, but DF could not resist the luxurious temptations of her tree palace, so she stayed behind to indulge in the sherry and decadence.

Gerald gave us the good news that although one of the back roads into Tarangire National Park was not accessible, there was another way we could go without having to suffer the tsetse infested road again. We had a pretty routine game drive, with the tsetse flies being an annoyance but not really a problem. We saw lots of magnificent baobab trees, but didn’t see any game especially worthy of note, which was not too surprising since not only it is not the best time of the year for Tarangire but also because the grass was literally as high as an elephant’s eye. I have seen pictures of Tarangire during last year’s drought, but it currently bears no resemblance to that parched, yellow land. In many places I could not see over the grass, even while standing up looking out of the top of the jeep, so even Gerald was unlikely to see much game while he was sitting in the driver’s seat. We did see the new Boundary Hill Lodge cascading down the side of a hill – Boundary Hill, I presume. Although it did not rain on us during the game drive, DF experienced one of our only two rainstorms of the trip back at the camp. After an interesting discussion over cocktails with Glen about life in Tanzania and other parts of Africa, we and the Dutch folks had another nice meal. The service was excellent, but somehow seemed to lack the personal warmth we had felt at Kambi Ya Tembo. After we were escorted back to our tents by the Maasai askari, a cool breeze amongst the treetops made for a very pleasant sleep.

Note: We had originally planned on spending two nights at Oliver’s Camp inside Tarangire and one night at the Manyara Serena. Because of Oliver’s closing because it was inaccessible due to the rains, we instead stayed at the wonderful Treetops one night and the Manyara Serena for two nights. What a fortuitous mandated change of plans that turned out to be, we would have hated to have missed Treetops.

Tomorrow – a special sighting
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Old Mar 18th, 2007, 12:10 PM
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Wow, I just read Eben's post about his current stay at Ndutu, where he is experiencing heavy rains, massive thunderstorms, very strong winds, inaccessibility because of bad roads, and no wildebeests. I haven't yet gotten to the Ndutu report of our trip, but I continue to thank our lucky stars for our good weather, good timing, and good fortune. What a difference a couple of weeks can make.
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Old Mar 20th, 2007, 08:52 AM
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hugy47,

Thank you so very much for being as descriptive as you are. I am one of many who thoroughly enjoys a detailed trip report. A synopsis just doesn't cut it for me. As for being verbose, that's the best quality in Fodorites. It helps out newbies like me in the end.

Cheers,
Juliet
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Old Mar 20th, 2007, 08:59 AM
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Wow! Love your detail (and humor). Enjoying your trip report very much. Keep it coming.

Deb
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Old Mar 21st, 2007, 08:59 AM
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Wow, this thing just keeps longer and longer. Too bad the quality isn't getting any better. Here is my diary for the next two days, from Tarangire through Lake Manyara.

Day 7 – Lions vs. Hyenas Confrontation – and our first leopards – to Lake Manyara Serena Lodge

OK, I may have finally piqued some interest among the game drive loving set with the caption for the day. After breakfast we packed our bags into Gerald’s vehicle and again set off for Tarangire NP via the back road, eliminating the need to again endure the terrible road between Treetops and the highway. About half an hour into the game drive we saw a hyena on the road, staring off into the brush on the left. We of course stopped, and I reached for my camera. Gerald, realizing something was up, opened his door and stood up on the floor of the jeep, and said there was something else in the brush. We all stood up higher, and lo and behold, not ten meters from the road, almost totally obscured from view by the high grass, was the carcass of an adult giraffe. Gerald moved the jeep a few meters down the road to where we had a much better view. To make a long story short, there were six lionesses and four cubs nearby, and two hyenas were enviously wanting a seat at the “table.” Alas, the lionesses were not in a sharing mood, and although one hyena did get a quick bite, it was quickly chased away in a flash of a large, tawny lioness, amidst quite a din of growling, howling, and yelping. The lionesses took turns chasing off the hyenas, and some of the cubs even acted like they were helping. Being greatly outnumbered and outweighed, the hyenas’ efforts were clearly going to be fruitless, at least for a long time, but they seemed determined to keep after it. At one point during the confrontation I turned around from my picture taking and, much to my surprise, saw that DF, no longer the apprehensive novice big game seeker, had climbed on top of the jeep to get a better view. As it turned out, this was to be the most exciting game sighting of the trip, but it would have been difficult to top. We stayed there for about 45 minutes, being joined by only one other vehicle in this isolated part of the park.

The rest of the game drive was, compared to the lion/hyena interaction, relatively tame. The scenery was beautiful, and although the Tarangire River was no longer a raging torrent that it had been a few weeks earlier, the bridge across it had been destroyed so much of the park was inaccessible. Nonetheless, we saw large groups of elephants, ostriches, giraffes, and other animals, so we deemed it a very good drive.

Around noon we left the park through the main gate to make our way back down the highway, then north up the famous “Japanese road,” through the village of Mto wa Mbu (Swahili for the charming name of “Mosquito Creek”) to the Manyara Serena Lodge, our next way station. We arrived at the Serena, a nice enough place that paled in unfair comparison to Treetops, in time for the typical, adequate buffet lunch. The lodge and the service were fine, but I fear we had been spoiled by our stay at Treetops. Nonetheless, our visit at Manyara National Park would turn out to be quite worthwhile.

After lunch DW and I headed out on another game drive, but DF, not wanting to go cold turkey from her taste of leisure and luxury at Treetops, decided to stay behind to e-mail back home and get a massage, which she later reported was wonderful (the massage, I mean, although the e-mail was probably swell, too). Lake Manyara NP, perhaps because it is fairly close to Arusha and on the main highway, seems to be something of a “showcase” park, with exhibits, maps, and nice bathrooms at the entrance gate and good roads throughout the park. At the entrance to the park there is a sign that says, “Remove nothing from the park except: Nourishment for the soul, Consolation for the heart, Inspiration for the mind.” Just past the gate there is a small museum, but it was not open, and indeed the area around the museum had been commandeered by a huge troop of very active baboons. During the game drive we saw most of the usual suspects, including flamingoes on the lake, storks in the trees, a group of large elephants up close, and four languid lionesses. We also saw a group of vervet monkeys, but DF was not there to see why they are sometimes called blue-balled monkeys. We saw quite a few beautiful small birds, but my limited photographic firepower and skill didn’t do them digital justice. It was a beautiful day, and we thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful afternoon.

However, Africa was not yet done with us for the day. As we were driving out of the park on the main road at a fairly rapid pace, Gerald was, as always, still on the lookout for game. If I haven’t said it before, his ability to simultaneously drive and scour the landscape in all directions was amazing. Suddenly, Gerald provided some icing on the game drive cake – he quickly stopped the vehicle, saying “Leopard!” Incredibly, he had seen a leopard high up in a tree, about 100 meters away, up a hill, directly to the left of the road. As I scrambled for binoculars, which I hoped might let me see what Gerald had seen with the naked eye while driving about 40 kph, Gerald urgently says, “They are running, see, they are running.” (When excited, Gerald sometimes used the plural pronoun instead of the singular. It was only one leopard that was running.) We saw the leopard briefly before it settled down in the deep grass. So we continued our way towards the exit, when about four minutes later both Gerald and DW simultaneously say “Leopard.” Sure enough, right there on the road is our second leopard in the last few minutes. It of course quickly left the road and went down near the edge of a bridge over a small ravine. We parked on the bridge and caught one more quick glimpse of leopard #2 as it went across and up and out of the small ravine into the thick brush.

That was all the icing for the evening’s cake -- other than the vanilla, chocolate, and custard sauce on top of my medley of desserts (no point in holding back now, and besides, I was celebrating Big Cat Day). We went back to the Serena and told DF about the afternoon game drive. She regretted missing the leopards, but there would be more chances to see leopards, and you never know when you might be able to next get a massage. Later we joined up with the mellowed-out DF, and had a quiet, Serena-style buffet dinner. As I recall, there might have been wine involved. That evening at about 22:00 hours the phone rang, which we did not expect, but it was only the laundry telling us that they had converted our dirty clothes to clean clothes and were bringing them to the room. Yea! Clean clothes for tomorrow! And so we went to sleep with visions of big cats dancing in our dreams. As we often say in Texas, any day with lions, hyenas, and leopards is a good day. Good night, John Boy.

Tomorrow – Just us, the darkness, and an elephant

Day 8 – A Night to Remember – Manyara Serena Lodge

Although Manyara isn’t as renowned as some other parks for wild game, we thought the preceding day had been just fine, thank you. Flush with yesterday’s success, we started fairly early this morning on another game drive, and this time DF went along in hopes of replicating our leopard sighting. We were unable to find another leopard on this day, but around 10:00, after going to the hippo pool, taking pictures of more birds, ogling the usual giraffes, eles, impalas, etc., the eagle-eyed DW suddenly and excitedly said, “There’s a lion in that tree!” Sure enough, there she was, a lioness lounging around in the crook of a tree some distance off. Not even Gerald had seen it. Other vehicles stopped to see what in the world we were looking at, and pretty soon word that one of the famous tree-climbing lions of Manyara had been spotted crackled over the radios that comprise the jungle grapevine. After a while with no sign that the lion was going to move anytime soon, we went on our way to see what else might be wandering around the park, which included an elephant seriously scratching itself all over up against a tree. A real action scene like that doesn’t really show up in the still photos, maybe the video will be better. Late in the morning we went by the treed lioness again, and she hadn’t moved, but there were at least two more lionesses in the grass beneath the tree. Remember, the grass was still so long there may have been more, but we couldn’t see them. What we did see, about 50 meters away from the lionesses, was a very young impala, frozen with fear as it watched the lions. Its mother was about another 100 meters away, but neither of the impala knew what to do. We fretfully watched for about ten minutes and none of the animals moved, so we did, back to the Serena for lunch.

After lunch we went shopping, or rather some of us went shopping and some of us went along just for fun, to the small group of “shops” just outside the gate of the Serena Lodge. DF, although an expert shopper, like me doesn’t like high pressure sales tactics nor haggling over prices, so after repeatedly telling the merchants she wasn’t interested, she went back to her room. DW, herself not a haggler but on the trail of a shuka (the traditional Maasai all-purpose mostly red clothing), perservered, and purchased a red (of course) and black shuka for only 80% of the original highly inflated asking price. We probably looked like we had “sucker” printed on our foreheads, but believed that any further haggling would be unseemly. Our plans for the rest of the afternoon consisted primarily of hanging around the famous infinity pool at the Serena, soaking while we looked out over the vastness of the Great Rift Valley. However, it clouded up quickly and started to rain pretty hard, so we retired to our rooms for a nap, which we deemed an acceptable option. This was to be the last rain we would see on our trip, and this rain even came at a good time, so we once again felt very lucky.

The reason we were taking it easy this afternoon was because we had signed up for another Green Footprints activity for the evening. At 19:00, after cocktails around the pool (which we never got to use) while watching an acrobat show we met Godfrey and his sidekick Solomon at the front of the Serena. They loaded us into an open-sided, open-topped vehicle to go to a bush dinner in the park, which would then be followed by a night game drive. As it turned out, we were the only people who had signed up for this particular night, so we had the park to ourselves. Near the side of the aforementioned museum just inside the park, which had been abandoned by baboons since the day before, a lavish barbecue dinner had been set up, with enough food for a small army. But the only diners were us, at a lovely candlelit table for three under the growing, now half-full, moon and a sky full of stars. Edgar served us elegantly, giving us his undivided attention like we were his only customers – oh, yeah, we were. The chef in his toque offered us our choice of grilled beef, chicken, or fish, along with a full buffet offering of fruits, vegetables, bread, and dessert. We cracked open a bottle of white wine (at this point, none of you readers should be surprised about that), and couldn’t have felt any more special if we were dining at Buckingham Palace.

After a truly magical dinner, with only a brief minor mishap on the way to visit the dark bathrooms (is that too much of a subtle tease?), we climbed back into the vehicle, tucked under our warm shukas to ward off the chill, and picked up a park ranger who was packing a very large rifle. Godfrey was driving and Solomon was sitting on a small seat attached to the front of the “bonnet” of the vehicle, from where he brandished a powerful spotlight. We drove slowly through the park, while Solomon flashed the light up and down and from side to side. We saw a couple of tiny bush babies flitting through the trees, then went to the hippo pool where hundreds of shining eyes greeted us from just above the top of the water. A little further on Solomon said something and Godfrey stopped the vehicle. The light shone on a small tree about 40 meters away, but where the guides saw a genet, the tourists saw only darkness. Eventually the genet moved and we got a pretty good look at it as the ringed tail slinked away in the dark. Very cool.

But the biggest thrill was yet to come. We soon came upon a huge elephant walking away from us down the road. Godfrey turned off the engine and Solomon put a red filter on the light so as not to disturb the big fellow, but too late, he had already noticed the intruders. The ele turned and started walking, ever so slowly it seemed, back up the road right towards us. It came within just a very few, like two or three, meters from the front of the vehicle. It seemed so close we could almost feel its breath, but remember, Solomon was sitting in a tiny seat on the very front edge of the vehicle, so he could probably have told you what the elephant had for dinner. We all sat there absolutely silently, except for the park ranger who was ever so quietly whispering instructions to Godfrey. After an eon the elephant slowly moved over ever so slightly, grunted, and walked over near the side of the vehicle (like the previous ele at KYT, he moved to DF’s side of the vehicle, whereupon she again slid over into DW’s lap). At that point Godfrey let off the brake and, since we thankfully were pointed on a slightly downhill slope, we gently and stealthily glided past the elephant, just before it crashed noisily off into the thick brush. Godfrey started the engine and we drove away, with a lot of nervous laughter and chatter emanating from the vehicle, especially the rear (that’s where I was sitting). For some reason we all seemed to shiver a little bit, but I don’t think it was from the chilly air. We drove back to the park entrance, dropped of the ranger after thanking him profusely, and drove back to the Serena. Thus ended another routine day at the park.

Note: When we told Gerald the next morning about the ele face-off in the darkness, he told us that when close to elephants he always likes to have the vehicle pointed away from the eles. Thanks, good advice, but a little late.

Tomorrow – The “groaning board” and the famous crater
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Old Mar 21st, 2007, 10:13 AM
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Thanks for the latest installment. Still enjoying very much. Did your guide mention if it was unusual for lions to take down an adult giraffe (assuming that's what happened)?
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Old Mar 21st, 2007, 10:52 AM
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You're a good writer Tom Keep it coming.

You were lucky to see leopards at Manyara, our guide is there often and told us he typically spots them maybe once a year.

I take it you felt the night drive at Manyara was worthwhile? If so we might try it next year ourselves ...

Looking forward to your report on the Ndutu area.

Bill
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Old Mar 21st, 2007, 11:41 AM
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Thanks to all for the encouraging words, I find that I am enjoying reliving the trip. But be careful what you wish for, there will be more to comem I'm only about half-way through the trip.

Patty,
We assumed that the giraffe had been brought down by the lions, but couldn't really be certain. Maybe old age (I mean the giraffe, not me)?

Bill H,
We enjoyed the night dinner and game drive at Lake Manyara NP. Our operator, Sunny Safaris, at my request had prearranged it with Green Footprint Adventures, but the GF local office is at the Serena and you can arrange this and other activities (bike ride, village tour, etc.) there. Reasons we liked it so much may have been that it was our first nighttime activity in the bush, it was a beautiful cool moonlit night, we were the only three people to have signed up for that night so we had the whole deal to ourselves, and the added thrill of the close ele encounter.
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Old Mar 21st, 2007, 12:07 PM
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I'm really enjoying your report so far. Looking forward to more!
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Old Mar 21st, 2007, 02:44 PM
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You have a wonderfully written report here.

So Manyara really produced for you!

The lion and hyena interaction would be very exciting and I can understand why it would remain a trip highlight.

Glad you saw the leopards, and as it turned out maybe Gerald was right that they were running. I always enjoy how English comes out when spoken as a second language. The guides have put some great twists on standard English.

Your night time close encounter of the elephant kind must have gotten the adrenaline going. I recall some similar experiences in the day, but at night they'd take on an added dimension.
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