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TZ Report: If there had been a million wildebeest there would have been a hundred million flies,


Feb 24th, 2006, 08:37 AM
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TZ Report: If there had been a million wildebeest there would have been a hundred million flies,

we consoled ourselves as we sipped gin and tonics on our last day at Nomad’s Ndutu camp, February 13. Despite my initial disappointment about the absence of the migration, I had come to appreciate the Ndutu landscape and I was reluctant to leave. Then it started to rain, the first rain in our 11 days, and it seemed too harsh to have to write in my journal-- “it rained the day that we left Ndutu.” After a quick consultation with my SO, Fred, and our TC, Mark, we asked if we could shift one of our days at our next destination, Nomad’s Loliondo camp, and stay one more night. Ken called Nomad’s office in Arusha learning that we could stay but we would have to pay an extra day’s camping fees because the camp was in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, at one of the “private” campsites. Staying at Nomad camps had been a splurge to begin with, it was crazy to spend even more money and we made the very practical decision to leave. But then Fred saw how sad I looked and said, it’s OK, we can stay if it means that much to you. A moment to come up with a rationalization–it would be valentine day presents–and it was all settled, we would stay. My instincts proved correct when we went out on the afternoon drive and experienced one of the highlights of the trip when we found . . .

Ah, but I am 11 days ahead of the story, so let’s go back to our arrival in Arusha on February 2. (How is that for a teaser, hee, hee!)

Arusha: Ngare Sero, the U.N. Tribunal, a School Visit, Canoeing in Arusha NP

Arriving at the Arusha airport, it was comforting to see the sign with my name on it held by our driver from Ngare Sero (www.ngare-sero-lodge.com). On the 30 minute drive to the lodge, Mark spotted his (Fred and I missed it) first African animal–a dik dik Symbolic perhaps because shortly after we left the well paved road at the turn off for the Dik Dik hotel. The dirt road became quite bumpy by the time that we reached Ngare Sero’s car park. We had experienced our first “African massage” as our driver J4 called it. (There are seven staff members at Ngare Sero whose names begin in J and so they have nicknames of J1, J2, etc.) Mike, the owner of the lodge, greeted us and surprised us when he said that they had dinner waiting for us. Our first meal made the next two days look promising–the lodge has a trout farm and they served us fresh trout that night.

Our two rooms (suites), located on the second floor of the original 100 year old lodge, had been the owners living space at one time and were incredibly atmospheric, with a sitting room, a separate bedroom with a large Zanzibarian bed, and a very large bathroom with an oversized tub with a “phone style” shower (Mark’s tub did not have the shower handle). The toilet was built into the wood tub deck, the lid lifting up to reveal the toilet bowl. In addition to our two rooms, the second floor had a sitting room that other lodge guests could use (although no one seemed to use it–downstairs there was a very large sitting room with a fireplace and the room opened onto the downstairs verandah). The other lodge rooms are located in a row on the grounds–all newly renovated including the bathrooms. I had wanted the two main lodge rooms, despite the fact that they had not been renovated, because all of the rooms on the second floor opened to a balcony that ran the full length of the building.

The next morning I walked out on the balcony, and beyond the trees bordering the grassy lawn in front of the lodge, I could see faintly the misty peaks of Kilimanjaro. A moment later I saw Colobus monkeys scampering in the trees–what a great start for my first day in Africa. At breakfast, we met Stacia, Mike’s daughter-in-law, who with her husband Tim, is co-managing the hotel and with whom I had been corresponding over the last 9 months. She told us that she had scheduled the massages that I had requested. At that point I realized that I would have to choose between the massage and attending the U.N tribunal for Rwanda genocide crimes. I decided to go to the tribunal and Mark and Fred would stay for the massages and then we would catch up with each other in Arusha. Fortunately, the lodge had a car and driver available–J4 once again.

Attending the tribunal is easy and requires no advance arrangement. You sign in at the security desk, present identification which is held at the desk until you depart, and pass through a metal detector. I used my passport but a government issued picture ID such as a U.S. driver’s license would have sufficed. The courtroom for the trial that I attended is a very long rectangular room, one of the long walls of which is made of glass separating the actual courtroom from the visitors area. You are offered a listening device with earphones–the official languages are French, English and Kinyarwanda. In the trial that I watched, the prosecutor spoke English, the defense lawyer spoke French and the witness spoke Kinyarwanda–all of which I was listening to in English. The courtroom lay-out has the interpreters at one end in a glassed-in section, then the prosecution team, the 3 judge panel sits along the middle of the other long wall facing the visitor’s gallery, with the defense team on the left. The witness sits directly in front of the visitors’ wall facing the judges. The day that I attended the witness was screened from the visitors by curtains. I later learned that this meant that the witness was a protected witness-had it been one of the defendants, he would not have been screened.

Watching an hour or so of a multi day (or more likely, multi week) trial is seeing a small piece of a puzzle. I learned that the witness had been a member of the Rwandan army, that he had married a Tutsi (he needed to receive permission for the marriage from the commander of the army). He was being examined by the defense lawyer and the focus seemed to be on certain meetings at the military camps and about the evacuation of the soldier’s families from the camps. Although most of the questioning was not very dramatic, and I had not expected it to be, there was a chilling moment when it became clear that the witness’s family had not survived.

I stopped by the press office on my way out to see if by chance they offered tours so that Mark and Fred could come by in the afternoon (it was a Friday and court sessions end 12-12:30 pm). They do not offer specific tours but a staff member was nice enough to agree to show them a courtroom later in the day which we did.

I was glad that I went and recommend it for anyone with some time in Arusha. (Website from which you can access trial schedules

I met Fred and Mark at the New Arusha Hotel where Swala Gems is located. This is the company that Eben had mentioned as a reputable dealer in tanzanite. Their main business is as a wholesaler of cut stones but they also sell retail.

After Swala and the courtroom tour we headed back to Ngare Sero where we were going to visit the local school. We had brought school supplies with us–notebooks, dictionaries, an atlas, wall maps–taking advantage of the extra weight limit our international flights permitted versus the limited weight allowance for our internal flights. A few days before the trip, as I was going over the purchases I had made, Fred had said–well those are fine but what are we taking that will be fun for the kids. Fortunately we received a tip from friends who had traveled to Kenya last year. We have a store in town that is hard to describe–it is somewhat like an old-fashioned 5 and dime store that has party supplies and school supplies. The school supplies were more appealing–erasers with animals (lions and elephants) on them, brightly colored pencils. They had blow up beach ball type balls that were globes (even had Arusha marked on the Tanzania map), small globe balls that were spongy or hard and bounced really high, and my favorite, glow-in the-dark animal stickers.

When we loaded up the school supplies in the car, we showed them to J4 and gave him a selection of items for his two boys. We arrived at the school–it was an L shape with every room overlooking the courtyard where you drove up. So our arrival attracted the immediate attention of the children in their classrooms. There was what seemed to be an office but no one in it. Two teachers came out of their classrooms and we introduced ourselves indicating that we were there for our visit. It quickly became apparent that they were NOT expecting us. I was really dismayed after all of the planning that I had done and I had really looked forward to this visit. Fortunately for us J4 took over and after conversing in Swahili, the teachers led us to the office. One stayed with us and we showed her the supplies we had brought. The other teacher left returning in a few minutes with a man who introduced himself as the principal. In his best teacher voice he asked us to please sit down as he sorted out what was going on. The teacher who had stayed with us gave him a recap of the school supplies that we had brought. He then indicated that we should leave the books in the office and he would take us to visit the children where he would introduce us and we could give them the small items that we had brought. We visited each of the 4 elementary age classrooms: 25 to 65 students in a class, dressed in uniforms, extremely polite and well behaved, totally charming. Although the visit had started out very awkward, by the end when we said good-bye, the teachers and the principal seemed genuinely happy and so were we.

That evening we had another very good dinner at the lodge, after which we did some star gazing. It had been an excellent first day in Africa.

The next day we had our day trip to Arusha NP which I had booked directly with Mary at Green Footprints (www.greenfootprint.co.tz). We had scheduled a late start out of concern about jet lag, so we knew that we would not be able to see as much of the park as one might be able to cover in a full day. We would not be able to go for a walk on the trail up Mt Meru for example. But the focus of the trip was to go canoeing and to do some game driving in the park as we worked our way back to the lake where the canoeing would take place. Herman was our driver/guide–a very nice young man. We entered the park and within moments I felt the thrill of seeing our first large animals–giraffes. We drove to what Herman called the “little serengeti” section where we saw our first zebras, buffaloes, and warthogs. We then drove partly around the Ngurdoto crater, stopped to pick up the canoes which are stored within the park, and arrived mid afternoon at Little Momella Lake for a picnic lunch to be followed by the canoeing. This was participatory canoeing in that Mark and Fred would be in one canoe by themselves and I would be in a canoe with Herman (so I did not have to participate but they did!) When we first got into the canoes my immediate reaction was that it makes such a difference to be at water level rather than at shore level. After a few more minutes, I then thought, well this is pleasant but frankly it doesn’t really seem very exotic, I do not have a sense that I am in Africa. The very next moment we turned a corner to see a tree full of baboons. OK Toto we are not in Kansas any more. Herman knew where the hippos hung out and he canoed us toward an area where there were 3–one a baby. Sure enough there they were. He predicted that they would submerge and then reappear a little closer to us. They did and I have to say there was a little rush of adrenalin when they popped up closer to us making a sound that Herman interpreted as “don’t come any closer.” We did not but they submerged and reappeared one more time, yet closer, before we paddled away.

The rest of the time we paddled around the lake taking pleasure in seeing the various birds–the crown crane, grey heron, sacred ibis, egyptian geese and swallows among others. I have to admit that I took a perverse pleasure watching and waving to tourists in their vehicles on the shore. I was convinced they were saying, “hey, I did not know that you could go canoeing, that looks like fun.”

That night for our last dinner at Ngare Sero, we were pleased that they served trout again. (All of the food was very good, with an emphasis on fresh, and organic, produce. They had the best plain yoghurt of the trip–made by a local Greek woman..)

The next morning we said goodbye to the staff at Ngare Sero. We had been very satisfied with our stay there–everyone had been extremely friendly. Some other comments about Ngare Sero. If you are a yoga practitioner (or just interested) Stacia is a yoga instructor and will give classes. Also, they have just completed a bush camp near Lake Natron that looks quite interesting. You can see pictures on their website (www.ngare-sero-lodge.com/Natron_camp.htm).

We departed with Edward, who would be our MKSC guide for the next six days. [BTW, you can avoid the last, bumpiest part of the drive to Ngare Sero by meeting your driver at the footbridge to it, which connects to the road much earlier than does its car park area. For our next stay I would ask to be dropped off and met at the footbridge while the driver continued driving with the bags to the car park, or they carried the bags across the footbridge–which is what we did on our departure.]

Next, on safari with MKSC.
bat is offline  
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Feb 24th, 2006, 09:21 AM
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bat, that was quite possibly the best intro to a trip report!!!

We had Edward as our guide too, I can't WAIT to hear your next segment!
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Feb 24th, 2006, 09:24 AM
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Plse don't keep us waiting all weekend for the rest!!! You are a great writer!
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Feb 24th, 2006, 09:53 AM
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Now I want Edward for my guide too!

Welcome back. Loving the report. Very interesting about the Tribunal.

I know you must be tired but I'm anxiously awaiting your next installment.
Leely is offline  
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Feb 24th, 2006, 10:59 AM
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Welcome back, bat! What a great intro! Don't keep us hanging too long until the next installment
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Feb 24th, 2006, 11:45 AM
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Welcome Back Bat!!! Glad you had a great time! More!! More!!
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Feb 24th, 2006, 11:52 AM
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Karibu nyumbani. I’m waiting with impatience for the continuation of your report.
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Feb 24th, 2006, 01:23 PM
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Our time in Africa is just too short. Semms that bat left only yesterday and now they're home. We've got to stay longer.

Great report so far.
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Feb 24th, 2006, 02:40 PM
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Thanks everyone for the comments. Yes, sandi, too short indeed.
I am having trouble posting the next segment. Is there a length limit for a post? It is showing up in the box but when I try to preview or post, it disappears. I just checked this post in preview and it worked. So I guess that I will break the next segment into smaller posts and see if that works.
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Feb 24th, 2006, 02:43 PM
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On Safari with MKSC: Crater (Serena and Crater Lodge), Olduvai and Ronjo Camps, Ballooning

We drove to Manyara NP, all on very good paved road, arriving about 1 ½ hours after leaving Arusha (Arusha is about a 30 minute drive from Ngare Sero). We saw more baboons but this time they were close to the road and we had a better opportunity to examine family behavior. We particularly enjoyed the young baboons “riding jockey” on Dad’s back. We saw some female lions on the move, hippos, elephants (with one making a false charge toward us–as with the hippos in the lake, a bit of an adrenalin rush). It was here that Edward started our education about the differences among the various antelope. At our lunch stop (ah, to remember your first box lunch) I started observing the other tourist vehicles and lusted after some of them–those with a sun canopy. I had discovered a potential problem with the vehicle we were using–it had a large rectangular hatch that was either completely opened or completely closed. It needed to be open to take advantage of photo opportunities but then you were fully exposed to the sun. I particularly noticed that there were other MKSC vehicles with sun canopies and asked Edward about them. It turns out that he had thought that it was odd that we were given this vehicle because it was not his usual vehicle which did have a sun canopy.

As we were stopped at the Manyara gate on our way out, Fred saw his first highlight–a baby baboon riding jockey style on the back of his father–they were across the road from the parking lot where tourists were standing around. We had seen this earlier but this time the dad stopped and the baby looked directly at the tourists and then he waved! Talk about an anthropomorphic moment!

We left Manyara to drive to the Crater where we would be spending the first night at the Serena, relocating the next day to Crater Lodge. On the way to the Crater rim we passed the turn-off for Gibb’s Farm. Although I understand that it is very nice (and Edward indicated that it and Plantation Lodge have better facilities for the driver/guides) I was glad that we would be staying on the rim because of the extra driving time it would take in the morning to get into the crater. As we parked at the crater park entrance where Edward would process our paperwork, a baboon jumped on the hood of the car and then onto the roof. Fortunately we had closed the canvas when we left Manyara but even so it was a bit unsettling feeling, seeing, and hearing the baboon on top of the roof. Edward chased him away and then went into the park office. While he was gone, a vehicle of local folks parked next to us. They had supplies strapped to the top of their car which proved to be totally tantalizing to the baboon who charged on top of the roof and started grabbing at their boxes. Chased away again, he retreated to a nearby tree planning his next move. He made a dash for the car but this time he jumped through the open front passenger window into the front seat, amid shrieks from the women passengers in the back seat, then made away with his loot–a bag of chips.

We stopped at the rim lookout to appreciate the view arriving at the Serena about 6pm. Once we saw our balconies, we wished that we had arrived a little earlier so that we could have had more time sitting out there before dinner. All three of us were pleasantly surprised at the Serena (perhaps because as our largest accommodation we had lower expectations for it). Although it is quite large (75 units I believe) its layout of only 2 stories with the rooms distributed in two wings on each side of the dining room, makes it feel smaller. The only place that you sense its size is in the dining room. I would have preferred a second floor room, but our first floor balcony was quite nice (even the first floor is elevated a little bit above ground). The stone exterior is a nice touch. I bought a couple of cocktails from the bar to enjoy while we watched the view and the light change with sunset. It was really quite lovely (and I must say I was feeling pretty good about my bookings so far, given that having a room/tent with a view was a prime consideration). The rooms themselves are comfortable (if not particularly charming) and the bathrooms have very nice large walk-in showers with good pressure. The only real problem we noticed is that the sound proofing between the rooms is very poor. We had time before dinner for a call back to the U.S. to wish TC’s wife a happy birthday –on Fred’s mobile phone. This had started to become a running joke because the reception from the mobile phone was better than with the sat. phone that had been rented (thanks to Eben for the tip that coverage was good) . The food at the Serena, as others have mentioned, is buffet style and perfectly adequate. We sat out on the balcony after dinner and I was surprised that I did not need my fleece jacket, the temperature was quite comfortable (and pleasing after the hot day in the car).

We left early the next morning for our drive into the crater (now I did appreciate the fleece). Some have described the crater as zoo-like. I did not feel that way but I did think that it had an almost other worldly pastoral quality about it, a garden of eden sensibility. Something about seeing so many different animals in close proximity to each other–predators and potential victims so close by. I am sure my feeling about it is influenced by the fact that we did not see a kill while we were in the crater. We met a couple later in Zanzibar who saw what sounded like a horrific kill– a number of lions killing a buffalo in a very painful, tortured way. Their memory of the crater will be connected always with the memory of that kill. Instead, our memory of the crater is inextricably intertwined with our memory of a birth.

We were driving around the crater with Edward and we had already discussed the fact that the rains had not come in sufficient amount to bring the migration to Olduvai and Ndutu. I said, “well Edward, I at least need to see a calf being born so would you get on that.” We all laughed but within 15 minutes he pointed to a wildebeest and said “look there, she is about to give birth.” Something about the way she was walking had caught his attention. We parked and started observing. I had assumed that the mother would stand all during labor but instead she would lie down on her side and push several times so that her legs elevated in the air, then she got up and walked a bit and then repeated the process. We could see hooves extending from her and expected the birth to be imminent. At this point she stopped and stared–at a hyena that was approaching. We started to get very nervous. Edward had told us that a female could stop labor if she saw danger and even retract the calf somewhat and sure enough, the hooves almost disappeared. She moved away, all the time watching the hyena. The hyena went past, finally settling into a mudhole to sleep. We worried that it was just a ploy to lure the mother back into labor but she finally decided that it was safe, starting the labor cycle again of laying down and pushing then getting up. It was quite remarkable to watch the new born calf immediately try to walk. Up for a moment with legs wobbly and splayed, plop back down. Repeat over and over so that within minutes the calf could walk and trot along beside mom. Later we read a statistic that the death rate for calves in the crater is about 60%–we are sure that “our” little guy is part of the 40%.

We stopped, with many other tourists, at the hippo pool for lunch and it was fortuitous that we did for as we were leaving the lunch area we noticed a good lion sighting across the way. On the way out we saw at a distance one of the rhinos living in the crater. The wildebeest calf birth was of course the highlight but I also learned to my surprise that I find jackals to be attractive animals. Fred decided that they have gotten a bum rap since the word jackal is a derogatory reference. I also learned that I enjoyed watching zebras, particularly the beautiful patterns they made as they moved in, around, and next to each other.

Fred and I enjoyed the ride out of the crater on the winding ascent road. It made us think of other narrow mountain roads we had been one–a worse one in Crete that we recalled fondly. Mark, sitting on the outside and a bit uncomfortable with heights, was not quite as pleased. So anyone who feels the same should sit on the inside.

I had experienced the same problem in the afternoon at the crater as I had in Manyara NP. I could not take that many hours of sun. We had Edward call Petra, our ATR rep in Arusha, who arranged a vehicle switch. [Without getting bogged down in the details, it appears that we were given this vehicle, a Land Cruiser, in a misguided attempt to meet TC’s wife’s request for an operable cigarette lighter for his sat phone battery. In what seemed ironic, they had told Edward to use this vehicle instead of his normal one–which had the shade canopy AND an operable cig. lighter which he used all of the time to charge his mobile phone.] Edward would drop us at Crater Lodge and then drive back to Arusha. At first I felt bad about the extra driving that he would do but it meant that he would spend the night at home instead of at the Crater Lodge driver/guide facilities. He would meet us about 3pm the next day at Crater Lodge to relocate to Olduvai Camp, our stop after the crater.

I had always planned on lounging at Crater Lodge that next day (my way of “defraying” the cost by amortizing it over more hours of use) with Fred and Mark having the option to go on a second crater drive, but they too were content to spend time at the lodge. I had some difficulty getting enough information when I booked to decide which camp to select (since then Eben has provided helpful information) but I chose Tree camp because of its smaller size and the famous photo of the view from its balcony. That was something else we would get for our money–to recreate that photo for ourselves. I had read that the photographer had used a rose lens to color the shot and I later learned from Eben’s video of the balcony that the furniture is more rustic than that in the photo so I was not expecting a perfect recreation of the photograph.

We arrived around 3 pm (through a gate where they check admittance). North and South camps are close to this level with Tree Camp lower down. We were met by the manager of Tree Camp who drove us by cart to the top of the stairs leading down to the Tree Camp Lodge. There he explained the meal hours, not walking around at night without the guard, we asked about laundry (another way to defray the cost in my warped economic analysis), etc. And we signed a waiver–that is the first time I have stayed at a hotel that required a liability waiver (animals, particularly buffalo, walk the grounds).

We then went to our “rooms”–and they are quite the rooms as you all know. Each of the rooms are separate units. There is an unlocked very small entrance area for service deliveries or pick-ups without disturbing you. You then enter a large room with a 2 story height thatched roof. The larger than king bed is centered in the room facing a glass wall with doors that lead to the balcony. As you face the balcony, to the right is a desk with a door next to it (the toilet area–there is a view window in front of the toilet as well), to the left of the balcony doors is a fireplace. Behind the bed is the open shower–tiled with a very large rain shower style showerhead in the ceiling. There is a partial wall separating the shower from the bed to contain water but you can stand and take your shower while looking through to the balcony view. On either side in the back are pedestal sinks. There is a small separate room with a tub in front of a large window facing the same view as the balcony. Walls around the bedroom are dark wood, carved and paneled.

As Eben pointed out in one of his trip reports, the individual views from the six Tree Camp units are not as expansive as are the views of some of the units in South camp. The North and South camp units are also larger. We were able to see one and the difference is that they have 3 separate spaces–you enter the bedroom which has the bed against the back wall and enough space by the fireplace for two arm chairs, the next adjoining space is a small dressing table area, then the bathroom that contains the shower (smaller than at tree camp) and the bathtub–both of which are positioned to take in the view–and there is a separate smaller balcony off of the bathroom. IMO, the difference in the rooms is no reason to decide one camp over the other–the smaller Tree Camp units are plenty opulent. It comes down to whether you want the best view from your room, with a trade-off of staying in a larger camp, with more guests at the meal lodge–or whether you like the intimacy of the Tree Camp lodge. There is also a different style to the lodges–with the North and South camp lodges more “baronial” than Tree Camp.

As I mentioned in my interim post, North Camp has some units that would have good views but North Camp Lodge has obstructed views. South Camp lodge has a very expansive view–and because it sits higher up the slope than does Tree Camp, it has a broader view of the crater toward the eastern, Sopa side. But in your foreground are a number of units–these (14-21) should all have expansive views (perhaps 18-21 more centered views), with no units in front of them (Tree Camp is obscured below in the greenery). It’s a personal choice.

On our arrival afternoon, we spent from 5pm to about 7:30 pm with Tree Camp all to ourselves–and IMO no individual unit can compare to it. The view is mesmerizing–you can stare at it for hours, which is what we did. The next day we had it to ourselves from 10am until about 2 pm. The food was very good with a significant Indian influence. We left around 3pm after a very nice cold platter lunch (shredded duck, chutneys, salad) with wine, of course (alcoholic drinks are included–except wines from the wine “cellar” and some premium drinks such as cognac).

Edward had indicated that there was no reason to arrive at Olduvai Camp any earlier than late afternoon and he was correct. Without sufficient short rains, the migration was not there and the landscape was hot, dry, and dusty. I came to appreciate that you could always count on tommies to be there for you so that at least you could see some wildlife.

Olduvai Camp was very nice. This was our first tent experience and we found it quite comfortable. The camp is built around the base of a kopje and each of the 16 tents has a verandah with a lovely view across to the mountains in the area. The verandah had two camp chairs and a table with a wash basin and mirror. Our bed was centered in the room facing the verandah with enough room to walk around each side. Behind the “bedroom” was an extension of the tent that functioned as a closet, dressing area. The shower and toilet were outside behind the tent surrounded by a thatched wall for privacy. Next to the toilet was a pitcher with a milky chemical substance to pour into it. The bucket shower contained enough water for two people to shower.

One of the activities that the camp offers is a sunset walk to a nearby kopje accompanied by a masaii man. Our guide was a very nice young man in his early twenties and we spent the walk discussing his village, family, and future marriage plans (cattle dowry for example). Fred asked him whether masaii women are given the choice to decline a proposed husband. He paused, glanced at me, paused again, and then said yes. I did not believe him--I thought he was trying to say what he thought we wanted to hear. From the top of the kopje he gestured his arm across the plains and told us (it would not be the last time that I would hear this)–usually at this time of year looking across the plains one would see green grass covered in black from the bodies of the wildebeest migration. Still, the sunset was nice and we enjoyed talking to him.

At dinner we met folks from California who had booked with Africa Dream Safari and who were doing their trip in reverse of us–they flew into the Serengeti and were driving out with the next stop to be the Crater. I have not had a chance to email them yet, but we agreed to compare notes to see how we felt about the direction of travel (when I was booking I noticed that Africa Dream Safari tends to recommend fly-in and drive out, whereas ATR recommends drive in and fly out).

The food at Olduvai was OK except for one truly SHOCKING thing–no, it was not the dishwashing genet about which amfs reported previously (saw the genet but it was not washing dishes fortunately)–they served instant coffee! This in a country that produces very fine coffee. This in a camp owned by Frenchmen. Surely there is some French Ministry Office that takes complaints about Frenchmen who serve mediocre food and instant coffee. Seriously, it did not make any sense to me. They have a permanent kitchen. They provide you with a thermos of hot water. All they had to do was invest in a few FRENCH press coffee pots (which we saw all over the place). Oh well, c’est la vie. After dinner we went on the walk up to the star gazing platform (again with our Masaii guide) but the moon was very bright and the platform was very windy so we did not stay long.

The next morning Fred and Mark went on the walk to the Olduvai Gorge; I would follow later with Edward in the vehicle. They went with both a masaii guide (not the young man from the previous day who was relocating to Ronjo and we would see him there the next day) and an armed ranger. Although they did not see a great deal of wildlife on the walk (some giraffes and tommies), they enjoyed the exercise and again, the opportunity to talk with the two men. Fred again asked his question about women being able to refuse a proposed husband and the very quick answer was an emphatic “no.” As has been reported before, the museum is small but I enjoyed reading about the digs (and starting my collection of masaii bracelets for gift-giving). We then drove to shifting sands which at first seemed not worth the drive but once we got out and walked on it we enjoyed it. There was a lone masaii woman there who did not seem to be selling anything because she did not have her wares displayed but Edward had spoken to her in Masaii and as we drove away I asked what she was doing there. Indeed, she was selling items. We drove to a nearby highpoint to look out over the plains and Edward gestured with his arms across the vast expanse and said . . . well, you know what he said . . . usually this would all be green and covered with wildebeest. As we left, I saw the masaii woman alone in that stark landscape with no other vehicles in sight and I asked Edward to stop so that I could make a purchase. Yes, she had bracelets (and the lowest asking price so far) but I only had dollars and she wanted shillings, so it looked as if there would be no sale. Edward continued to speak to her in Masaii and she finally accepted my dollars for the purchase. As we drove away he explained that her main concern was where she would be able to convert the dollars to shillings and he had told her she could do so at the museum. That was a long way away and so I am not at all sure that I did her a favor by going back to make the purchase.

We called it an early day. One of the things that I liked about Edward was that he was willing to be quite frank about what the dry weather meant in terms of a potential drive. Our itinerary indicated we might drive to Olkarien Gorge where the vultures nest but he said it would be a miserable multi hour drive that would not be worth it. (I had this confirmed later by our Nomad guide who had camped there with some previous clients.) Instead we returned to camp for a late lunch (I have to say that the ubiquitous lunch chicken tasted much better hot on the plate than cold in the boxes) and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the view from our verandah. I did find the African landscape quite beautiful which compensated greatly for the lack of wildlife. In the late afternoon I was dosing pleasantly on the bed when I heard wind chimes. I wondered where they were and then I realized it was the sound of the bells on the masaii cattle being herded by the young boys across from the tent–so even the masaii cattle could provide a lovely African moment.
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Feb 24th, 2006, 02:45 PM
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Ok, that worked--do you think I am supposed to get the message that I am too wordy? Too bad!

Onto the Serengeti

The next morning after breakfast we set off early for our next destination–Ronjo Camp in the Serengeti. It took about 50 minutes to reach the “welcome to the Serengeti” sign. I knew that the serengeti had some permanent resident wildlife that would not be so migration dependent and I guess that I had unconsciously expected that the change would be more quick and dramatic in coming. When we passed the Naabi gate it seemed rather empty–tommies of course, then some wildebeest and zebras. Incredibly hot, dusty, and windy with the horizon hazy with dust. I had been trying very hard not to be depressed about the unfortunate timing of our trip in an off-year but I was succumbing to some disappointment. We turned onto one of the loop roads and saw some elephants and some reed bucks (more antelope education), then a hippo pool with a dead zebra carcass in it–which did nothing to lift my mood. All of a second Edward pointed and said look, a male lion. It was our first sighting of a male and there was something about seeing him that made me feel cheerful. The classic and trite description–he looked quite regal.

We next headed to the Little Simba kopjes where Edward directed our attention to a cheetah with cubs. He told us to watch her because she was stalking the oncoming herd of wildebeest and zebra who were headed for the waterhole in front of us. Sure enough as they approached she sprang from her cover and the animals turned and fled in a cloud of dust. I thought she had failed but she emerged from the dust with a wildebeest calf in her grasp. She carried it over toward her cubs and as I watched through my binoculars I noticed that the calf’s legs were moving. I asked Edward if the calf was still alive but he said no. She seemed to be giving her cubs the chance to deliver the death blow but they were inept and it seemed to me that she then killed it. I wondered whether Edward was doing what the young masaii man had done–telling me what he thought I wanted to hear. Fred thinks the calf was dead at the beginning–but in any event I had seen a kill and as interesting as it was I felt that I was quite content for it to be my only observed kill.

We continued game driving into the park and stopped with a number of other vehicles to watch 5 lionesses under a tree with 2 of them clearly stalking nearby warthogs. The tension mounted as you watched the lionesses approaching. I had a pang of guilt as I realized that because the warthogs were not as attractive to me as had been the baby calf maybe I was rooting for the lions after all. We expected the lioness closest to the warthogs to be the one to spring first but instead the one further back ran out–prematurely as it turned out resulting in the warthogs escaping quite easily (I felt a little better because I had been relieved that they had). It seemed so obvious a mistake by the lioness and even she seemed to realize it–instead of rejoining the others back at the tree she kind of held back for a moment as if she anticipated that they would say to her–what were you thinking? (particularly the lion who had been in the better position). She finally sauntered over to the tree only to be scared by a very large bus that drove by–sending her running across the road in front of our vehicle. Now she really looked sheepish–she was definitely not having a good day. A male lion showed up across the road and we waited awhile to see if there would be any interaction but they remained separate. Continuing on our game drive we saw our first leopard in a tree—they sure look uncomfortable laying on their belly with their legs hanging down. At the masaii kopjes we saw a “Lion King” tableau with a male lion standing on the edge of the rock surveying his kingdom from above, with a female lion laying back on the ledge. Because we were taking the balloon ride the next day we had to sign up for it in the vicinity of the Wildlife Lodge–another release to sign. Although the balloon folks were supposed to be picking us up at Ronjo the next morning, the rep asked Edward to do it for them and he agreed. We then game drove our way over to Ronjo which was camped near Turner Spring. On the way we spent time at a hyena burrow with lots of pups. I admit that the hyena is one of my least favorite animals and that I find them aesthetically unpleasing–but even they produce cute young ones.

Ronjo camp, is a temporary camp in that it must be moved but they seem to maintain it in the seronera valley year round. The camp location when we were there had a nice view of acacia and because it looked toward the spring, you could see a line of wildebeest and zebra moving across the horizon. There were 11 tents set up somewhat like the Olduvai camp. The tents were smaller (to be expected) but had a verandah with 2 camp chairs and a table with a washbasin and mirror. We had twin beds here instead of our usual single large bed. The “bathroom” was outside the back of the tent– a toilet with the pitcher of chemical liquid nearby and a bucket shower. However, the Olduvai bathroom arrangement had felt quite private and comfortable–the Ronjo camp set-up did not. Given that the camps have the same owners it’s somewhat surprising–and easily remedied. The problem is that the thatched wall surround is lower at Ronjo than at Olduvai (and the Olduvai tents back onto the kopje). Also the sides of the tents are more exposed to their neighbors (again making the height of the walls more important). For some reason I cannot fathom, they do not hang the shower buckets very high at Ronjo–I had to bend a little and I am 5"2"--you can imagine what the 6" guys had to do. We were in tent 3 and I had to ask to be moved because it was right on the path from the dining room tent on which the male staff and guests passed back and forth and if you were in the “toilet” the cloth curtain was blowing about and there was no way to secure it on the sides--fortunately I had Fred available to hold it for me. When I asked to be moved I explained that it was a privacy issue and I was told by the camp manager that I was not the first to complain. So, Leely, make sure you request certain tents at Ronjo–I suppose that you will be at a different camp location and so I do not know if number 3 will remain the one to avoid. I would suggest that you ask for tents away from the main path to the dining room tent–in fact away from the tent at all because at least in its current set-up there are tents behind the dining room so that the DR tent is within the site lines of your views. I’ll let ATR know about the situation. On the plus side, we thought they did a nice job with the food and they now charge batteries for clients. If you do not want to stay in a lodge in the seronera valley, it does provide an alternative.

Very early the next morning Edward drove us to the balloon site. We arrived before dawn, the first customers to arrive, and the crew was starting to assemble the balloon by the light of vehicle headlights. There were two balloons; ours held 12 people, I am not sure about the other one. The pilot assigned us to a section–3 in each corner of the balloon basket with the pilot in the middle. I did not realize how we would be entering the balloon. I had imagined a gate that you walked through. Instead, the basket was on its side and we positioned ourselves on our backs with our knees bent crouched over to keep our heads below the rim of the basket. As the balloon filled with air it pulled the basket upright at which point you could stand up. There was difficulty getting our basket aloft. A panel that seals the air inside the balloon kept coming loose. The pilot informed us we might not be able to take the ride if they could not resolve the problem soon as there was a limited window of time that they could fly because of thermals. The wind had been unusually strong that week and he had been forced to cancel 4 of the last 7 flights. The other balloon had lifted immediately and we waited, crouched in the basket, listening to the burner blow hot air in the balloon, wondering if our flight would be cancelled. On the fourth try, we were off. The delay meant that there would be a shorter flight–about 40 minutes. Once airborne the pilot kept us rather low (obviously above the trees) and there were moments when you were floating over a herd of wildebeest and zebras and they were running across the land below you that seemed right out of the descriptions. Perhaps the highlight of the flight though came not from the animals below but from two of the passengers– a marriage proposal complete with diamond ring, a surprised and happy bride to be. We learned about the engagement because she started to cry and at first we thought something was amiss until they explained the tears were joyful. When we landed everyone is given a glass of champagne, we toasted to the couple, and the rest of the event turned into an impromptu engagement party. They drove us to a site where the crew had set up a lovely breakfast–table set under acacia trees, china, more champagne–and a “loo with a view.” The engagement made everything very festive and certainly enhanced the pleasure of the trip for us.

A couple of other comments on the balloon ride. Chatting with the pilot we learned that the company has a female pilot and an African (black) pilot–unusual for the industry. They hope to send the African pilot to the World Balloon Competition in a year or so–breaking the color line in that event. As other posters have noted, the burner is noisy and it seemed that the quiet moments were fewer than the noisy ones. I asked the pilot if his use of the burner was typical and he said yes. I know that many people ask whether it is worth the money–and it is one of those personal decisions that everyone has to make for themselves. I am glad that I did it but I probably would not do it again.

The rest of the day was spent game driving seeing lions mate, revisiting the leopard in the tree we had seen the day before, now with a fresh kill in the tree with him, watching another leopard stalk a baby zebra–unsuccessfully. I now realized that I could enjoy the tension of the hunt but preferred that the outcome be unsuccessful–at least for the predator, that is. Watched a very young hippo out of the water with its mother--up, plop, up, plop--fun to watch. A sad scene in which a mother wildebeest had lost her calf and was plaintively calling out for it. We wanted to get out of the car and help her search–I prefer to think that she found it after we left.

The next day we left Ronjo to game drive to the Naabi gate where we would meet our new guide Ken and shift to Nomad camps for our last 5 nights of safari. On the way out we noticed that a full zebra carcass we had seen on the way to camp the preceding afternoon was now merely skeleton. We came across 5 hyenas, 2 jackals and vultures engaged in finishing off a wildebeest carcass (an adolescent, not a calf). One of the hyenas took a piece across the road and hid it but the jackals immediately found it. The jackals then took turns eating so that one of them could chase away the vultures if they made a move toward the meat–one did so and the guard jackal leapt at it nipping at its leg. Watched a baboon family for awhile that had an extremely young baby–mom was eating and the baby kept trying to get in on it–looked to be saying “hey Mom can I have some too?”

We reached the Naabi gate and it was time to say goodbye to Edward. In our six days with him we had laughed a lot and had learned a lot. He had been a very good companion and a great guide. We were sorry to see him go. We were also sorry to say goodbye to the seronera valley where we had seen a lot of animal action and we were a little wary of what Ndutu would bring.

Next, safari with Nomad, “Masek” and Loliondo Camps
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Feb 24th, 2006, 04:01 PM
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bat, raced through and will read more carefully when I get home from work.

Did see the Ronjo toilet/shower issues. Dear lord!
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Feb 24th, 2006, 04:36 PM
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leely: I do not mean to make it sound dire--it is easily fixed and I will make a point of bringing it up to ATR.
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Feb 24th, 2006, 04:42 PM
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Oh I was just kidding (sort of); should have used a smiley.

Take care and get some rest!
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Feb 24th, 2006, 06:03 PM
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There'll be no rest until the trip report is complete. Keep it coming!

I must say it's torturous seeing all these trip reports without a trip to Africa in the works this year but I can't stop reading.
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Feb 24th, 2006, 06:26 PM
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WELCOME BACK BAT! So glad to see your report, I read the first part, must go for supper, but printed out the second part - can't wait to read!
Just so that I get it right in my trip report index is MKSC Mt Kilimanjaro Safari Club? If so, is it a ground operator in Kenya?
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Feb 25th, 2006, 05:10 AM
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Yes, that is the correct name--the ground operator in TZ.
AKA (and this is what is on the vehicles) Tanganyika Expeditions. They own the Olduvai and Ronjo Camps. To stay at these camps you have to be on an MKSC safari. [same with Nomad for its camps]
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Feb 25th, 2006, 07:40 AM
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You lured me in alright with your teaser! How fascinating that you took in part of the genocide trial. Adds a whole 'nother dimension to the Africa experience. What a good idea to seek out a local source of school supplies rather than lugging them from home.

Glad you gave an account of Arusha Nat Park, a place on my list, but not one that gets much of a review.

How wonderful to witness wildebeest birth with the added drama of the hyena!

The Manyara baboons you recounted bring back memories, especially the babies on the backs. Those troops were some of the most obliging photographically as I recall. But also aggressive if they were in people's vehicles. That would be scary.

What luck your drive to the balloon produced a hyena den with pups, a favorite of mine. Glad you could appreciate the little guys even if they're not a favorite of yours.

We agree exactly on the balloon experience. But you had the added bonus of a proposal on your ride!

To see a cheetah kill with hunting lessons for the cheetah cubs is an amazing stroke of luck!

Such an enjoyable report. Looking forward to the Ndutu finale you alluded to.
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Feb 25th, 2006, 08:56 AM
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Thanks for the close read--I did lug the school supplies though (or rather the airline did and the guys at Ngare Sero). I don't think I could have found the items there easily and certainly not for the price I got them here--I did want to convey to folks in the U.S. the kind of store where I found the "fun" school items. It is sort of like what used to be called a 5c & 10c (five and dime store) or a "notions" store. I was able to buy things by the dozens. It is rather eccentric but there might be something like it in others' hometowns/cities.
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Feb 25th, 2006, 09:50 AM
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I'm really enjoying the trip report, bat. Thanks for all of the details!
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