Tanzania Trip Report

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Mar 12th, 2010, 01:49 PM
  #1
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Tanzania Trip Report

Agent, Outfitter: NOMAD TANZANIA
Guide: FELIX MOLLEL
Type: PRIVATE
Been Before? NO


ITINERARY:
Nairobi – Holiday Inn
Near Ngorongoro - Plantation Lodge
Serengeti/Ndutu - Serengeti Safari Camp
Loliondo - Loliondo Camp
Arusha - Rivertrees

Let the trip reports begin! We are back in Toronto after 2 months in Africa - what wonderful adventures we had! Thanks as always to everyone who answered my endless questions.
I'm going to break the trip reports into sections for ease - this covers our arrival in Nairobi and safaris in Tanzania. I'll do Rwanda, South Africa and Namibia/Botswana/Vic Falls separately.

As we have been keeping a blog I'll try to keep this trip report more about the planning and execution of the trip (for newbies as I was) and insert links to appropriate blog sections for the actual trip report. Note the use of the word "try".

By way of background, we leave Toronto for the winter - going away for 8-12 weeks (depending upon the destination). We had planned to visit Africa in Jan/Feb 2009 (and I had done a lot of preplanning at that time), but then we watched our savings sink and decided it was better to pull the covers over our heads and stay home. Last summer, after we screwed up the courage to open our financial statements, we decided that life is too short and we had to get back on the horse, so to speak!

From the planning work I had done we knew that Africa was quite expensive so we decided we would go if we could fly on points. With barely 6 months before departure I wasn't very optimistic. I spent hours on the phone with Delta and much to our surprise we were able to book the following itinerary in Biz Class for 120,000 points each:

• Toronto to Nairobi (via Paris and Cairo - a bit clumsy)
• Nairobi to Jo'Berg
• Jo'Berg to Toronto (via Amsterdam)

At the time I booked I knew we would visit Tanzania and South Africa so basically set those arrival and departure points (Nairobi was the closest I could get to Tanzania with flight availability). We would book and pay for our intra-Africa air as our itinerary evolved.

Once that was laid in I started to research/plan the Tanzania portion. As mentioned, I had a rough itinerary from our earlier plans so revisited it. The usual highlights - the Crater, Ndutu area, etc over 10 days with a private guide/driver.

My main concern was the guide. 10 days is a long time to spend - in a truck - with another person. We have had wonderful experiences in our travels with the guides we have met (usually via Fodors) and knew how much the guide relationship adds to our trip. In the case of South America, Egypt and Cambodia we worked directly with guides to book our hotels and transportation as well. I couldn't identify a similar circumstance for the Tanzania portion (i.e. an independent guide who also books travel) so set out to find the best outfitter for our purposes.

I read a number of good reviews of Nomad Tanzania - particularly regarding their guides. Working with a local agent (Nomad doesn't deal direct) we worked out the following itinerary:

• 1 night in Nairobi at the Holiday Inn (booked using points)
• 4 nights at the Plantation Lodge - day trips to Lake Manyara, Crater and local sights
• 3 nights at Nomad's Serengeti Safari Camp - a semi mobile camp near Ndutu
• 2 nights at Nomad's Loliondo Camp - northeast of Ndutu, outside the park to permit bush walks and a night drive
• 1 night at Rivertrees in Arusha

We were able to take advantage of Nomad's 5 nights for the price of 4 offer which helped (hah!). (More details about our Nomad guide and itinerary later)

Once we were booked we turned our attention to cameras/binoculars, clothes, reading/guide books, etc.

• we bought a new Sony DSLR camera and Richard took 16 hours of lessons - he loves our Sony Cybershot (which I inherited) but wanted the flexibility of different lenses for this trip. He is very happy he took the 2 DSLR courses (basic/advanced)

• I went back and forth as whether to buy a small video camera like the Flip Video - we have video capability on our Sony Cybershot so in the end I decided we were carrying enough electronics and didn't need another one. I regret that - the Flip video is so small and so easy to use and would have been a great addition to our cameras - but we did still get some great videos on the Cybershot

• One absolutely fantastic suggestion here was for a Canon Backpack for cameras - Richard loved it - it easily took both cameras, lenses, binoculars and all the assorted cables/etc
http://www.amazon.com/Canon-Deluxe-B.../dp/B00009R6TA

• I debated whether to buy an additional pair of binoculars (we have a decent pair of Bushnells but they're big) and hemmed and hawed between the Canon Image Stabilization glasses or the Nikon Monarchs - in the end I bought the latter and LOVED them. I can't imagine going without your own pair of binoculars and this pair was perfect for me - lightweight with sharp images. I also bought a wide neoprene neck strap that made the glasses even more comfortable - link to binoculars here

http://www.amazon.com/Nikon-7430-Mon...8429392&sr=1-1

• There is no better place to start for a packing list than LyndaS's (although we skipped the coffee and stapler!) - it is invaluable
http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...eady-to-go.cfm

• We were particularly challenged for packing due to our 2 month trip duration and need for safari clothes and regular clothes (for the SA portion). Flying in and out of Nairobi actually turned into a blessing because we could break down our safari clothes (into separate soft bags we had packed) and check our main luggage at the Holiday Inn. It was still a challenge to keep to the 15kg limit (checked and hand baggage) although no one ever really paid any attention to the weight of our luggage

• we pretty much kept to safari coloured clothes - and living in Toronto (the home of Tilley) we had the requisite hats/etc. But I am 6 feet tall and have enough trouble getting clothes (especially pants) without the added burden of colour/cotton/cost (the 3 C's I guess!) One day I was bemoaning this to my (equally tall) goddaughter who is pre med. She said "Aunt Liz - buy a surgical scrub suit - they're cotton, khaki coloured and cheap - $25". In fact she gave me a pair (set?) for Xmas and it was great - although people did assume I was a doctor!

• Books - we did a lot of reading and took several guides books with us - enjoyed the Peter Allison books (he was a guide in SA and Botswana) - "Whatever You Do, Don't Run", "Don't Look Behind You"; really enjoyed "Cry of the Kalahari" by Delia and Mark Owens. Re animals we bought "The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals", "Newmans Birds Of Southern Africa"and "Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Animals" - took the first two with us

More to follow......
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Mar 12th, 2010, 02:34 PM
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Keep it coming!!
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Mar 12th, 2010, 03:53 PM
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Thanks for starting your report!
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Mar 12th, 2010, 04:21 PM
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Looking forward to more!
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Mar 12th, 2010, 04:49 PM
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Great start! Good point on the binocs. Sixteen hours of lessons means your husband was serious about his photos!

Surgical scrub suit--what an idea.

Welcome back Dr. Elizabeth.
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Mar 12th, 2010, 05:03 PM
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TORONTO TO ARUSHA

We left Toronto late in the day on January 15th - connected through Paris in the morning and then onto Cairo, where we had a 5 hour layover. Regular readers know that we had a wonderful time with a Cairo based guide (Ahmed Hamed Yousif) 2 years ago, and we were very excited at the thought of having dinner with Ahmed - given our long layover

Wrong.

We arrived in Cairo and made our way to the regular visa area - texted Ahmed that we had landed and he advised he was standing by on the "other side" to greet us. We asked a ground agent to advise us as to where we should go to make our transfer from Air France to Kenya Air.....oh, wait over there.

I won't go into the nitty gritty detail - but suffice to say that the next 2 hours were similar to Alice in Wonderland....people kept showing up to transport us (just us) to various buildings, in various undergrounds, to stare at various security guards (all of whom wanted tips to check our luggage through the scanners....think about that). We didn't tip them.....and later wondered whether we should have.

About an hour in we realized we weren't seeing Ahmed - another flurry of texts confirmed that but he was so sweet and insisted on staying at the airport while we were being moved along the process (if that's what you can call it) so he knew we were safe.

At the end of the ridiculous gauntlet we arrived in Terminal 2 (I think). A small terminal with a few shops/etc. All we wanted was a cold beer - so we found our way to a small bar, where all the airport staff had assembled to watch Egypt in an Africa Cup of Nations match. Within a few minutes we were as into the game as everyone else - and cheered the win. It was a lovely moment.

Then - onto the plane for Nairobi (with an unscheduled stop in Khartoum at 3 in the morning - I watched while they frisked the cleaning staff before they entered the plane....sobering). And finally landed at Nairobi at 7am. We watched as 2 of our 4 bags came off the carousel. And then...nothing. (should have tipped that guy in Cairo, evidently). Richard went to the missing baggage office and found a really helpful fellow who was convinced he knew where our bags were.....he disappeared for about 30 minutes and returned with the missing luggage!

In the meantime I had connected with our driver Mutua - who was patiently waiting outside of customs. The best I could do was my version of charades as I attempted to describe the fact we were waiting for more luggage - Mutua understood my lame sign language and waited for us.

(I should mention how we found Mutua. The agent we used to book Nomad Tanzania had provided costs for transportation from the Nairobi airport to the hotel and back again. The transportation costs were more than a hotel room - literally hundreds of dollars. When asked he said - "well, you need to be safe". That sounded a bit over the top to me so I posted on Fodors and Trip Advisor. One of the "Destination Experts" on TA PMed me and said she would be happy to help by organizing her regular JATCO cab driver for our airport transfers. For $25 each way Mutua was always there when scheduled and very helpful. Better yet, we had a lovely time with the TA Expert when we met up with her at the end of our stay in East Africa when she met us at the Holiday Inn. I have Mutua's contact information for those who would like it)

So...we arrived at the Holiday Inn. The Trip Advisor reviews were good - for the most part - and we had saved a lot of money using points (for two nights - another one on our return from Rwanda...but I'm getting ahead of myself).

From start to finish - both nights - we had a really great experience at the HI. Staff was terrific, room was fine, food was good - it was everything we needed at that moment. A bit of a "bubble" - yes...but we were happy to ease into our trip. And the fact we could check tons of luggage (at no charge) for 2 weeks endeared them to us.

So it was early to bed with all our luggage rearranged - and off to Tanzania in the morning. Mutua picked us up at the hour I designated, and off to the airport we went.

I should comment that I do all the travel planning in our family. Richard is wonderful when I ask for his involvement and opinions, but for the most part I run the show. (he does a million other things in our weird sharing of duties relationship - actually he does most things, but I digress)

So....we arrive at Jomo Kenyatta airport for our 8am flight to Kilimanjaro - there is a long line outside the terminal at the xray equipment so it is about 7:10am when we get to the check in agent.
Richard has gone over to have our walking sticks covered in plastic (we need them for our Rwanda trek) so I'm alone when the agent says "you are checking in too late - you cannot make this flight - the next one is at 6pm".

Gobsmacked. The Brits have the best word for how I felt. I asked her to speak to her supervisor and she went off for a few minutes. Upon her return she said, no, there was nothing that could be done. It was now about 7:25am - I asked to speak to the supervisor and she pointed him out to me.....over I went. (I could see Richard returning to the check in agent and watched his face as she told him we could not make the flight...ouch)

With the supervisor I used that most deadly of weapons.

The truth.

It was my fault, I told him. I was too cavalier with the timing to the airport; had failed to realize we would have to do the security screening before we got to the check in counter, etc. Could he please help.

He looked at me as though it was first time anybody had actually taken personal responsibility for their problem. And then he smiled. And then he picked up the phone.

He personally escorted us through Passport Control (after he had purloined another staff member to carry our bags - since it was too late to check them) to the gate - and wished us a happy and safe journey.

Never underestimate the value of the truth.

And then we land - and Felix awaits us. Little do we know what a great time we're about to have.
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Mar 12th, 2010, 05:06 PM
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Can't wait for the next installment. Don't regret deciding not to buy the Flip - it is very unreliable. Both my son-in-law and I have gotten free replacements from the manufacturer and both our replacements work sporadically.
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Mar 12th, 2010, 05:51 PM
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To say that I obsess about our guides is an absolute understatement.

As mentioned, we chose Nomad due to their reputation for great guides...and before we left I did everything I could to ensure we would get the best guide...for us.

About 3 months before our departure I emailed the agent to clearly outline our requirements (not the least of which was a vehicle with a good suspension for Richard's dodgy back). At that time I also described our past relationships with guides....how they have become our friends....and attempted to impress upon the agent how important the guide was to us. He replied that he would do the best he could but that it was pretty much the luck of the draw.

Coincidentally I had struck up a conversation with the MD of Nomad (via Trip Advisor) so I shamelessly sent him a similar email.

We struck gold.

Felix Mollel is a senior guide who.... has a great sense of humour, speaks great English, has a great vehicle (which is really important), and - most importantly - can see animals in the next country.

Within 5 minutes we knew we were going to have a great time with him...and become great friends.

Pics of Felix and his vehicle here

http://lizandrichardsa.typepad.com/a...-tanzania.html
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Mar 13th, 2010, 12:56 AM
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Elizabeth,

This trip reports are invaluable to those of us still planning. Many thanks indeed for including the level of detail that you have.

I'm 6'2'' and have the same issues so was reading that bit with particular interest.

Looking forward to the next installment
Thanks
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Mar 13th, 2010, 04:30 AM
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I have always enjoyed Liz and Richard's Great Adventures. You have not disappointed once again.
Looking forward to more!

Moneyburns
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Mar 13th, 2010, 07:04 AM
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Very entertaining and detailed ! I'd love to have that gift and patience!

I am looking forward to reading about the NOMAD experience (particularly as some of their camps have not "decent" toilets but rather long-drop).

Maybe for any reader who wants to exclude an experience which Liz describes at Nairobi Intl. - SAFARI LINK flies WILSON-Kilimanjaro with much smaller aircrafts, Wilson is much more intimate for all procedures and arrival at JRO is pleasantly uncrowded - also regarding VISA procedure on site.

SV
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Mar 13th, 2010, 11:53 AM
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Hi Liz, welcome back! I have been following your adventures on your blog. Very nicely done.
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Mar 13th, 2010, 01:21 PM
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"SAFARI LINK flies WILSON-Kilimanjaro"

... as does Air Kenya, but these flights don't depart till 12:40pm or 1pm. If you want an early flight it's out of JKIA with the 8am in high demand; depending on day of week, there's another flght mid-morning.
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Mar 13th, 2010, 09:15 PM
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Elizabeth,

I am really enjoying your trip report as I did the blog. Looking forward to more,

Pol.
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Mar 14th, 2010, 11:36 AM
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Thanks all for the nice comments!

Forgot one other essential thing we took (for us, anyway) - itty bitty booklights as we both like to read at night and some of the bedside lighting was too dim.

Trying to keep to travel details and not just rewrite the blog here, but that's tough!

So we left Kilimanjaro for our 4+ hour drive to Plantation Lodge (first wildlife spotting about 2 hours into the drive - a giraffe! About a hundred miles away but still exciting)

A comment here about our itinerary - as you can see we spent 4 nights at Plantation Lodge before going to the Serengeti, traveling from the Lodge to Lake Manyara, the Crater, etc. This is an unusual length of stay but worked for us for several reasons:

• We do not like to change hotels everyday and have always accepted a 90 minute drive morning/afternoon to see sites rather than change hotels. (Also, and this might just be because I'm parsimonious, but at the price of some of this accommodation it doesn't make sense to me to check in late in the day and check out early the next morning....if I'm going to pay the rate I want to enjoy the experience)
• I couldn't get excited about the Crater accommodation options (Crater Lodge wasn't a contender), particularly given we'd have to spend two nights there due to driving to the Serengeti after the Crater. I suppose I came closest to booking Sopa Lodge (mainly due to the access road) although I did fret about not being on the crater for sunrise/sunset (which happily I did not regret later)
• Richard has a dodgy back and I always try to have one flexible day early on after a long travel period - we had plans for 2 of the 3 days at Plantation Lodge - the other was in reserve in case he needed to just relax (happily not needed so we could do other things)

We were very happy with the Plantation Lodge - a nice upgrade to a suite ("4 nights?" asked the manager) and lots of time to poke around and experience the Lodge (do visit the vegetable garden). Food was good (especially the soups) and very friendly staff. One criticism is they don't allow guides to dine with guests - I can perhaps understand that when they are full but that wasn't the case when we were there (obviously I don't think the guide should have to dine with the guests but we would have appreciated the option). Blog entry here

http://lizandrichardsa.typepad.com/a...de-karatu.html

Off early the next morning to Lake Manyara - I had read some debate about whether Manyara is "worth" visiting (and the TA who booked Nomad for us certainly didn't think so) but we had a great day and were very happy we did. (it should also be noted the TA didn't think the Crater was any raving hell, either - too crowded, he thought) Blog entry here (warning - sad picture of feral dog with porcupine quills)

http://lizandrichardsa.typepad.com/a...e-manyara.html

One comment re safari vehicles - Felix has a converted Toyota Land Cruiser which he owns but is outfitted to Nomad specs. We really liked the style and configuration - the roof pieces lift over and back and are not in the way of photo taking and the built in frig meant there was always cold beer! And Felix has a great folding table and chairs kit (complete with a variety of tablecloths) for our many bush breakfasts and lunches.

Day 2 we were off to the Crater - when I started planning our trip to Africa over 2 years ago I asked Richard if there was anything in particular he wanted to see. "Ngorongoro" he answered immediately - "I've wanted to see it since I was 10 years old". Well that pretty much sealed it, didn't it? We left early from Plantation Lodge (before 6am) to get to the park as the gates opened and then took the Sopa Road. Almost immediately upon turning right onto the Sopa Road we had one of our best game viewings of the entire 2 month trip - a family of 9 lions, less than 3 metres from the vehicle. (pics on blog). We were one of the first cars in and were alone for most of the day - which was a very magical one. Hard for something to deliver after all those years of waiting - but it was everything Richard had hoped for, and more. 2 links to the blog

http://lizandrichardsa.typepad.com/a...er-part-1.html

http://lizandrichardsa.typepad.com/a...er-part-2.html

Then finally our unscheduled day - on the drive back from the Crater we professed our desire to get out of the "bubble" and see some local sites. So we developed a plan to visit a school/orphanage, a local farmer's market, a local restaurant (Felix revised that to a local bar) and then a visit to land he owns near Karatu - the site of his future B&B. It was a really great day - sweet and sad - not many pics though. We also bought a few pieces that day - really incredibly awkwardly sized and heavy things that Felix took back to Arusha with him and miraculously wrapped and shipped to us for about $100 (they arrived in 3 weeks all intact - will post separate pics).

http://lizandrichardsa.typepad.com/a...l-sort-of.html

Well...better stop here - next installment will be the Serengeti and I promise SV an explanation about long drop toilets! We're off to our neighbours for our welcome home party - pity them as we're taking our laptop and we have about a million pictures of elephants from Chobe (and about that many of sand from Namibia!)
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Mar 14th, 2010, 07:58 PM
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Hi Elizabeth. This is certainly a small world! I emailed you as you were about to leave for Rwanda to ask you about Ahmed.
I did not land up using him for my trip to Egypt in May-He sent me back a e=mail saying that he was busy, so I worked with a lovely TA in Cairo
Of course, now I am thinking of my next trip -which could be South or East Africa- I cannot do them both as I probably will take 2-3 weeks. I likely will do 2 separate holidays-so I look forward to your reports. As you recall, I live in Montreal Regards Sandy
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Mar 24th, 2010, 03:30 AM
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Love your photos. What kind of camera and lenses did you use. The pictures of the lioness in the tree are AMAZING!
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Mar 24th, 2010, 05:30 AM
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Sorry, I re-read and now see you used a Sony CyberShot.
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Mar 24th, 2010, 08:38 AM
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mrscherry2000 - the lioness pics were taken with our new Sony A-300 DSLR - although Richard still loves the Cybershot.

Going to finish this today - shouldn't have started it before it was finished!
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Mar 24th, 2010, 05:05 PM
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Glad you're still writing this--very enjoyable. During your trip I wanted to post "So you didn't end up wearing jeans!" on the Rwanda portion of your blog.
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