Trip Report:: Kenya: Amboseli 1st

Old Mar 1st, 2008, 02:29 PM
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Dana M,
I thought that once would be enough, but now that we're back.....
I would like to see South Africa sometime...and Egypt...so we'll probably return. Lots of great memories.
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Old Mar 4th, 2008, 03:51 PM
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Trip Report #6: Ngorongoro Crater

2/8-2/10/2008

Ngorongoro Crater was a fitting finale to our safari because it was a microcosm of East Africa…except without my favorite, giraffes!

You can view my photos at: http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go....mp;ABID=298563

We flew from Kusini Camp, Serengeti to the Lake Manyara airport, where we were met by a driver guide out of Arusha that the Serena had arranged for. He and the vehicle were just not of the same quality that we had enjoyed in the camps. He asked if we wanted to shop on the way to the Crater and we declined.

The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge is perched on the rim at 7600’. It’s an attractive construction of round stones and soaring windows. Our room on the second level (preferred because you don’t have your view obstructed by trees) looked out over the great expanse of the crater, which is 12 miles wide and the world’s largest intact caldera. The room itself was nothing special, but they did deliver a welcoming fruit plate. We ate lunch at a buffet in the attractive dining room, but the food was just OK. Before dinner, they featured a dance with Maasai warriors, who did their usual head bobbing, jumping and chanting and young girls with shaved heads bedecked in beaded little helmets who looked very bored as they bobbled their beaded neck-rings.

The dinner itself was a disaster, as far as service was concerned. It took over an hour to get our entrees, despite both the server and the manager assuring us it was coming shortly. The table next to us came over and expressed concern that we were never going to get our food! We also had been given one of the worst tables way in the back away from the windows. The next morning at breakfast, we were told we had to have the table we had for dinner the night before, despite the fact that all the window tables were open when we arrived at 6am! My husband later had a conversation with the manager, and he assured us he’d put us at a better table that night. We were starting to miss the intimacy and great food and service of the camps we’d been at previously. By the way, the bed was the worst we’d experienced…hard as a rock, and I like a hard mattress!

The next morning, we never got our wake-up call…figures. Our guide picked us up at 6:30am and we were off down the steep road to the Crater. Actually, it was a lot better than I expected. He said they’d improved it before a recent visit by the Tanzanian president, who had expressed dismay over the atrocious toilet situation on the Crater floor. New toilets are currently under construction. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

When we first got down to the floor (at 5600’), the warm early morning light was magical. I loved the lush feeling of the forests and the low-hanging clouds and wanted to take some time to photograph the landscape, which also included sightings of elephants, baboons, and Cape buffalo. However, I got the feeling that our guide was rushing us through the forests to the grasslands to show us the black rhinos…since we had told him that was the only “Big 5” we hadn’t seen yet. I had to request several times that he stop to allow me to photograph.

He shortly spotted a black rhino, but it was very far away. We ended up seeing about a dozen of them through the day but none really close.
We also saw lots of zebras, about 10 hyenas traveling in a pack, some wildebeest (guess they missed the Migration invitation) and thousands of flamingoes…but the highlight of the day was watching about 5 lion cubs playing with each other guarded by 4 lionesses. That happened just as we were leaving about 2pm.

We ate our packed lunch at the usual lunch spot…near a large fig tree decorated with animal skulls overlooking the hippo pool. I had read about the aggressive black kites, which are actually brown raptors that snatch food from the hands of tourists. In fact, I read about one woman who had her eye taken out and another who needed stitches on her arm. So that information, along with my bird phobia, made eating in the vehicle a given. Actually, the driver agreed with me, and we ate our mediocre (but large) boxed lunches provided by Serena safely in the car and watched as a kite made off with a picnic hamper that someone had put on their hood for just a second. This is also the site of the nasty bathrooms. If you have to use them, the third stall does have a flush toilet rather than the holes in the floor. There are so many game vehicles down here that it’s impossible to take the usual bush loo break behind the vehicle.

So, while parts of the Crater were lush and beautiful, with the encircling mountain backdrop, and you do see a fair amount of animals, you do get a bit of a zoo feeling with so many vehicles traversing the same roads. We must have had 10-15 vehicles clustered around the lion cubs.
We stopped at the gift shop at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, so that we could see some of their unusual and over-the-top architecture. If money is no object, it would have been a wonderful place to stay. But, for us, money is an object, so Serena was second best.

Dinner the next night was much better. It helped that as I walked out of my room that afternoon I ran into the young American couple that we had enjoyed talking with at Kusini Camp. So, we ate together at a much better table and the food arrived promptly and was fine. They told us that their driver, which they had all week, had a reoccurrence of malaria and was too sick to drive them from Kusini. The camp loaned them a driver who took them to their next camp in Ndutu, while the original driver slept in the back seat. Another reason I was glad we used the camp drivers instead of having one drive us from camp to camp all week. Better vehicles, local knowledge and the back-up that’s available in case of vehicle or driver problems. And with the rains that we’d gotten, we heard many tales of vehicles bogged down in the mud.

All in all, I guess I’m glad that we saw the Crater, but it really wasn’t all that I expected it to be. Of course, after 5 excellent small camp experiences in Kenya & Tanzania, I might have been jaded. Compared to staying in a lodge, we liked the intimacy of the camps and the feeling that you’re more in touch with your environment. We liked the socializing that was facilitated in a smaller setting. And, the food, service and driver/guides were of a much higher quality.
Our driver also didn’t have the correct information about when our flight was supposed to leave from Lake Manyara and the front desk wouldn’t call the airline to confirm the departure time. He finally deferred to the time I had from CC Africa. We were more than ready for some relaxing downtime on the island of Zanzibar.

Next: Zanzibar




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Old Mar 5th, 2008, 09:20 AM
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You got a kori bustard in display. I haven't managed to get a photo yet. Looking forward to Zanzibar!
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Old Mar 5th, 2008, 06:00 PM
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Ok Patty,
you got me...what does "in display" mean?
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Old Mar 5th, 2008, 07:30 PM
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I meant courtship display with his neck and tail feathers puffed up. I've seen it a few times but they've been too far away for me to photograph.
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Old Mar 6th, 2008, 03:34 AM
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Forgot to mention that the next trip report to Zanzibar includes staying at Unguja Resort and Beyt al Chai (Stonetown Inn)
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Old Mar 9th, 2008, 04:34 PM
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Trip Report #7: Zanzibar

2/10/-2/14/2008 Unguja Lodge & Beyt al Chai

Finally, the African saga is drawing to a close with some much needed relaxation on Zanzibar. Or, as someone said to us, “ EVERYONE is going to Zanzibar!” (She wasn’t)

You can view my Zanzibar photos at:
http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go....mp;ABID=298563

So, in keeping with the rest of our trip, of course we ran into someone we knew at the Lake Manyara airport…a British couple we’d had fun with at Kusini Camp was on our flight, and we discovered we’d both booked dinner reservations at the Rooftop Restaurant in Stonetown, four nights from now. Now we had a dinner date!

Unguja Lodge sent a driver to pick us up. it took about an hour to drive to the south coast, just south of Kimikazi, known for dolphin watching excursions.
Elies, who along with her husband Ralph built the resort, welcomed us warmly to her amazing and intimate resort. Our Seaview Villa #5, which is a free-standing open architecture villa covered with a 2-story sloping thatched conical roof, was chic and atmospheric in an Arabian sort of way. The only room that could be closed up was the master bedroom. Everything else, the living area with curving whitewashed banquettes with colorful seat cushions, and the shower/sink area, and separate commode was open to the sea with half-curving walls. We were sited high up overlooking the turquoise Indian Ocean, with a weathered red fishing boat and luxuriant tropical foliage as a backdrop, and a stone terrace with teak bench for sitting…Breathtaking!
Stairs led to a second level with another mosquito-net draped bed that looked out through an eyebrow opening in the thatched roof. The light sconces looked Arabian…the wall decorations were made from natural materials…shells, sisal rope, driftwood and colorful fabrics. The master bedroom featured a large wooden four poster bed, on a raised platform, encircled with mosquito netting and sporting a blue elephant batik coverlet. Double sinks were behind the bed, there was a wooden closet area and another lockable small closet with a safe. The room itself was semi-circular with three arched and shuttered windows on each side. No air conditioning…just a ceiling fan. It was warm at night but not terribly uncomfortable, and we learned to keep the shutters open for maximum breezes. Special touches included a welcoming fruit plate and hand-made card adorned with a seashell which congratulated us for our 25th anniversary.

Just had time for a coffee/cookie break by the pool…then showered before the mossies would come out…applying my usual Eau d’Deet…Zanzibar probably had the most mosquitoes that we’d seen, but they still weren’t bad.

The Dining area was lovely and open, with the same half curvy white walls. We had elected for half board, and the set menu include a lovely shrimp starter followed by delicious “pole-pole” or, as we know it, trevalia fish. It was wonderful to have seafood after all the meat we’d eaten.

We awoke the next morning to a gale of a rainstorm. We rushed to bring in all the cushions to more sheltered areas, but the rain was blowing through pretty hard so retreated again to the bedroom. It cleared up so that we could walk over to breakfast, which was also delicious.

It was still overcast, but we walked down the stairs to the beach, which like all the beaches on Zanzibar, are subject to large tidal variations. This was low tide, and you could walk way out to a reef, dodging the many sea urchins that were now exposed, along with a variety of crabs. Swimming was pretty much impossible. We walked up to Kimikazi, where the local town fishermen were fixing or going out on their boats and watched some boat builders work on a dhow.

Lunch was pizza, cream of onion soup and dessert…again delicious. Afterwards, we relaxed at the swimming pool.

At 3:00pm, we went with several other resort guests on a walk to Kimikazi, led by a very senior staff member who lives there. We wanted to see the children in school. The regular school had already let out, but we visited the Muslim school where the girls in their veils were in after-school sessions for two hours. When they leave, the boys attend religious classes for two hours. The tour was interesting but way too long…it was so hot and humid and we didn’t get back until 5:45pm. It was fun having all the smiling kids yelling “Jambo Jambo” and wanting a $1 to have their picture taken. We’d been asked not to give them money, rather to make a donation to the school, but they were delighted to look at their pictures on the LCD screens, and especially laughed when my husband started taking mini-videos with his camera. We went into the house of our tour guide and met his wife and children, who were busy kneading bread dough and slicing cassava. We met his 93 year old great aunt who is still making rope from palm fronds.
Sundowners never tasted as good…we were so hot, sweaty and parched! Dinner featured shrimp kebobs, and we had a lively conversation with a young German couple seated next to us.

Unguja Lodge does feature an on-site dive shop with a variety of boating excursions, but we really just wanted to rest. Woke up to another overcast, cool morning with a bit of drizzle, so didn’t feel like taking a sea swim although it was high tide and you could swim right off the stairs. I just loved drinking my chai bora tea and cookies that they brought at 7am…and sitting outside watching the calm seas and dolphins go by. It’s so peaceful here and very private. I’m surprised there aren’t insects, lizards and monkeys in the villa since it’s all open. After breakfast, another walk up the beach, but it started raining about 11:30. For the dry season, we’re getting a fair amount of rain, but it just makes reading more enjoyable.

We had another huge storm about 6pm. Luckily, we’d showered (since the rain was blowing in gusts) and waited out the storm sprawled out on our bed, which came equipped with two great reading lights. We had planned to go over at 7pm for a drink but the rain was still raging. We laughed when we heard a familiar voice (Elies) asking through the shutters if we were all right and would we like a drink brought over. I don’t know how she would’ve delivered it in the pouring rain, but we declined and said we’d be over at 7:30pm. Luckily, the rain stopped just before dinner started.

The set menu had said Dorado was the main course, so we were pleasantly surprised when the server presented a large platter with two huge lobsters. Wow! We noticed that we were the only ones to get this, and realized she had arranged a special dinner to celebrate our 25th anniversary. They were so sweet and tender…probably the best lobster we’ve eaten. My husband thanked her profusely and wanted to thank the chef…so she led him into the kitchen where he gave him a big hug! We truly enjoyed our visit in this special place. I wish we had left Zanzibar on this note, but instead we’d planned to spend our last night in Stonetown.

Arrived in Stonetown at the Beyt Al Chai guesthouse about 11:30am. Right away, guys who were sitting in the tree-covered square jumped up and wanted to be our guide. We had debated about whether to go with one, because they keep the other hustlers at bay, but decided we’d go to lunch first. I was very disappointed with the Beyt Al Chai. We were given a different room from what I booked over the Internet, and when told about it, they said they needed that room because it had two beds rather than one. The one we got was very plain and drab, although it did have a distant view of the sea and looked out over the shady square. Things were not well taken care of…dirty and old. The guy at the desk was not very helpful. We’d been spoiled throughout our trip with excellent service, but I guess that ended here.
We set off for lunch at Archipelago, located on a second floor verandah overlooking the sea. It was already hot and sweltering, so the sea breezes and shade were welcoming. We did have to frequently decline offers of guidance, sunglasses, cashews, etc., but it wasn’t too obnoxious because they took “no” for an answer. After lunch, we had to navigate the inner, winding alleys of the town, to find 151 Hurumzi, a guesthouse where the Rooftop Restaurant is located. They have an inconvenient policy of requiring you to pay a deposit in cash by 2:00pm to confirm your dinner reservation that evening, if you aren’t staying there. Since they only can seat about 25 people, advance reservations are a necessity. At this point, I was sorry we weren’t going to be staying there, but after talking to our Kusini Camp friends later, we were glad we didn’t.

We then toured the House of Wonders, which contained an interesting museum, and visited a few shops. We were not very impressed with Stonetown, which seemed to be decaying as we walked, and the stifling heat and humidity didn’t help.

But we were looking forward to seeing our friends and celebrating our last night in Africa at the acclaimed Rooftop Restaurant. You climb about 4 flights of stairs to reach this intimate restaurant where you sit shoulder-to-shoulder at low tables, on cushions with a view over the rooftops of the sunset and the sea. The multi-course menu of Middle-Eastern food included hummus & pita starter, followed by fattoush salad or cream of avocado soup, and I had curried prawns and my husband lamb tagine, followed by passion fruit sorbet. All was delicious and a deal at $25 per person. They featured a violinist who played haunting Moorish melodies. Our friends said they weren’t so happy with their room, and that it was all open. (We thought about them in the middle of the night when a ferocious rainstorm blew through. We were glad we had a room a/c unit.) Similar to being in the camps, the inn had one of their staff escort us back to our guesthouse, about a 15 minute walk. He took us through the dark, narrow alleyways, some without a light at all, so we were glad we had our flashlights. An escort was necessary both from a security precaution and because you’d get lost otherwise.

The breakfast as our guesthouse was the best part of our experience there…served in an attractive small dining room. We took off to visit the Palace Museum, where a guide is assigned to you, and enjoyed their historical exhibits.
Had a good lunch on the beachfront at Livingston’s and then took off to the Zanzibar airport for our flight to Nairobi, connecting to Amsterdam. The check in procedure in Zanzibar was agonizingly slow while we wilted in the blazing sun. We did notice that if you were with certain tour operators they expedited you through. We ran into our British friends again while waiting for our Nairobi flights, and they told us they’d gotten soaked during the storm last night with their open air room.
When we finally got on our Kenya Airways fight to Nairobi, we were drenched with sweat. The plane’s air conditioning never felt as great!

In retrospect, I would not have stayed in Stonetown at all. We would have had plenty of time to get to the Zanzibar airport from any beach location. The atmosphere and Stonetown attractions just didn’t hold enough appeal to us.

But, we flew home well satisfied having spent an incredible nineteen days in Kenya and Tanzania. The wonderful memories of intimate camps, diverse scenery, exciting animal sightings, fun social encounters, and excellent food put this African Safari among the top of our travel experiences.









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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 02:11 PM
  #48  
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I forgot to mention that Africa Adventure Company had nothing to do with my poor choice of Beyt al Chai, (or great choice of Unguja Lodge)...I booked Zanzibar separately.
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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 02:51 PM
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barefootbeach,
I've really enjoyed your very detailed report, especially since I will be staying at two of the same places as you in November (House of Waine and Beyt al Chai). You have me a little worried about Beyt al Chai though! We are only going to be there for one night. Is there somewhere else you wish you would have stayed in Stone Town? Though the rest of our trip is more upscale, we decided to skip the Serena Inn since we wanted a more authentic B&B type experience, but now I'm rethinking that! It seems nowhere in Stone Town gets particularly good reviews, but Beyt al Chai seemed the best of the lot on TripAdvisor. We have also booked the "Beyt al Ras" room which I think is the only one with two beds, (I'm traveling with my mom), do you think that was better than the one you got? Is there another hotel you'd recommend instead?
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Old Mar 10th, 2008, 06:27 PM
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Hi Hig22,
I wish I had gone with my first choice, which was the Zanzibar Palace. At the last moment, I switched to the Beyt al Chai after reading a Trip Advisor report that didn't like its location in the middle of Old Town, since it was hard to locate. Since we were only there one night also, I thought it might be better to be located near the main road (just across from the Serena)...and closer to the sea. But now as I realize that taxi drivers or restaurant staff will walk you back to your hotel, it wouldn't have been a problem. I also didn't want to stay at the Serena because I wanted a more authentic Stonetown Arabian type experience. We were given the El Sahel room, when we had booked the Al Hakum. The room that looked the nicest was the Beyt Al Ajaib, a corner room with sea views, but one bed. That's the one shown in my photos. But, I just didn't get a good feel at that place. I thought 151 Huzumi, where we went to eat at the Rooftop Restaurant, looked much nicer than our place...yet our friends didn't care for it or their open room. So, based on previous reviews, I guess I 'd recommend the Zanzibar Palace, although we didn't see it. The owner, Sebastian, was very helpful while corresponding in emails...and I learned about Unguja Resort from him.
I also heard good reviews about the Spice tour from two people. We didn't go because we'd been to one on Grenada. But, if you haven't been, it might be worthwhile. Hope this helps!
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Old Mar 11th, 2008, 09:16 AM
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Unguja looks great! Sorry you got all that rain but maybe it helped cool things down. Thanks for finishing your report. Really enjoyed it and your photos!
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