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First time safari trip report by carl170

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Of course everyone says this about their first safari, but it really was an amazing time and one of my best experiences ever. Click on my username if you need to know my travel history and preferences. Here are some of my planning comments. I’ll post the trip report below them.


I think this was a good plan. Of course, the week before my travel companions expressed surprise that we weren’t going to Amboselli and wouldn’t be seeing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I guess they hadn't been closely reading everything I sent them. I had cut out Amboselli because of the time to get there (we probably would have driven) and I thought the weather might not cooperate for us to see the mountain, especially if we were only there a day or 2. You can look up my other post for the whole itinerary discussion. Our first stop was Masai Mara, this was also our first game park. It was definitely worth spending a full 3 days there as suggested here. The game viewing in Masai Mara was so great we thought we might be disappointed in Tanzania afterwards. Of course being our first park, we really had no frame of reference. We didn’t enjoy the drive to Tarangire, there is a nice highway going from Arusha to Manyara and Ngorongoro, but only a dirt trail to Tarangire Treetops. I was also worried about the Serengeti because it was recommended here that we skip it and do something else. I really thought it had been a mistake on the drive from Ngorongoro into the park. It was so very dry and dusty (dry season) and we didn’t see much of anything, only the occasional lone gazelle, that is until we were well into the park. But we did have some of our best game viewing there in Serengeti, the central and northern parts anyway. The Serengeti is much bigger than Masai Mara, and we often were driving long distances without seeing much. Honestly, we were most disappointed with Ngorongoro, because we couldn’t get close to the animals like we could in the Mara (though this may mostly be random) and we had heard a lot before about how great that park is. I’m not sure that we would have skipped Ngorongoro, maybe we could have flown to the Serengeti instead of going to Tarangire/Ngorongoro and gone to Amboselli or Samburu instead, but I think it would have been about the same. Not the game viewing, but the expense and trouble, and we might not have enjoyed it any less either way.

Then to the beach, I understand why die hard safari goers think this is a waste of time, but we really needed a break from getting up early and riding around all day every day on bumpy dusty roads and needed a few days just to sleep in and relax before heading home. Nairobi was nice as well; we had a day there to tour around while waiting for our connection. Nairobi has a bad reputation, but we had a perfectly nice time. It was good to be back to “civilization” after so many days in the bush. Traffic really can be bad though. I was a little confused about visas. Since we were coming back to Nairobi, I wasn't sure if we need a multiple entry visa. Since we were still in East Africa, even though they stamped my passport for entry/exit both times, apparently it didn’t count.

Thanks to LyndaS and everyone for the comprehensive packing list, it was a great help. Everywhere we went did launder underwear and socks so we never had to wash anything by hand. We did forget a drain plug anyway so it would have been difficult. Some things I cut out because of weight, I only took one pair of khakis, but 2 (as on the list) would have been good. I regretted leaving the flannel pajamas too; luckily there were the hot water bottles. I didn’t end up taking a seat cushion either. The bumpy roads were only troublesome when my arms or legs flailed around the vehicle and bumped into the door or something. I would have liked a light sweater; it would have been nice to wear something other than the fleece all the time. It really does get cool. I took workout gloves, this wasn’t on the list, but were good to have for holding onto the vehicle while still being able to manipulate the camera. We could have used more chapstick, the one I brought didn’t last the whole trip. The Audubon Society Field Guide was another last minute purchase and it was really good to have, not only to identify the animals, but also read a little bit more about them. The guides have good knowledge of the animals and their behavior, but this was just a little extra. Whatever the Roccco drama was, the Humvee vest was a great idea. It has many more pockets than the Columbia vest did and we wore them all the time. No one ever did weigh our bags though they may be able to tell just by feel, but they were within the limits.

Travel planning
We used Premier Tours, locally in Philadelphia. They arranged a private trip for the three of us, me, my partner and my father. I didn’t think to look into who the local operators were. Someone asked here the week before. It was Liberty in Kenya and Simba in Tanzania. They both did a good job, though it might have been a good idea to look them up ahead of time. In Masai Mara, we had the Kichwa Tembo vehicle and guide. In Tanzania we had the Simba Safari vehicle and guide. Simba used a Toyota pop-top vehicle. It wasn’t as comfortable as the Kichwa Tembo open Land Rover, but seemed to be standard for the area. We were able to set our own agenda for the most part. One thing about the private tour, if you are behind any other vehicle on the road (not just your tour group), you still only see dust. This was supposed to be one advantage of a private tour. At Kichwa Tembo, we traveled with a single Japanese lady. Fortunately, she was interested in the same animals we were. A big plus was that she was a veteran safari goer and a good spotter of animals our guide missed. She also told us what the hyena sounded like. In Tanzania, it was just the three of us with our guide.

We took a lot of US cash for tips and spending money, no traveler’s checks. Too many $1. Just before leaving, I had read someone else’s trip report who didn’t take enough $1 for small tips and I overcompensated. Somewhere between $50 and $100 would have been fine. To clarify $30 was too little and $150 too many. In Tanzania, everyone took USD, but in Kenya we had to make 3 trips to the ATM (Only Barclay’s bank would work) for more Kenyan shillings.

Photo equipment
I took 2 camera bodies, a Nikon D70 and D80. Only problem was they take 2 different kinds of memory cards. I also took a Wolverine backup, but still lost some pictures. I think the battery wasn’t fully charged while it was copying. 2 camera bodies were a good idea. We were having some problems with the D70 not properly reading the memory card so we got a new D80 and took both. One could have the zoom lens and one the wide angle. I still did switch lenses from time to time and dust became a problem. I could have used the Arctic Butterfly, which I decided not to get having already made many other purchases for this trip. The VR Zoom lens only went to 300mm. I don’t know if a teleconverter would have been a good idea or a 400mm lens. It for sure would have been a lot heavier. Sometime we saw things very clearly in the binoculars, but couldn’t zoom in enough for pictures. 300mm was good when we were close to the animals, but not so good when we were far away. One thing about VR, it works well when you are standing still (or idling in the vehicle), but really didn’t help with the large movements while we were bumping up and down on the road, it’s really meant for more subtle vibrations. I didn’t take a beanbag either, just used the ones provided in the vehicle. I left the tripod at home because of weight, there would really have been only one occasion to use it, and I probably would have left it in the tent anyway where it wouldn’t have been any use. Details later.

Miscellaneous other comments
I did wear contacts and didn’t have problems with the dust, at least not any worse that I would have back home. (My partnee wasn't so lucky and was often tired because, in part, the dust.) Sunglasses helped when it was especially windy.

Tsetse flies were annoying at times. We had one repellent, jungle juice with RU-something, that seemed to work. They did bother our driver more than, us but I did get bitten once or twice. We did bring an electric fly swatter, just for this occasion, but there wasn't enough room in the vehicle to use it properly--if it really worked.


Norfolk hotel, Nairobi
A nice hotel, it is quite large. The beds are very hard though. It was under renovation at the time, our first stay we ate in the inside restaurant. They kept the kitchen open late for us, it was just after 10PM. Our second stay we ate on the terrace restaurant. The different areas were under construction at different times. After you check out, there is a day fee for using the gym and pool. The pool is heated and quite comfortable. We might have been able to walk to the City Market from here, but since we were doing other things we had a car take us around. CNN in the rooms, it was good to get back in touch with what was going on back home.

Kichwa Tembo, Masai Mara
Our first tented camp. We thought it was great. My partner and I were disappointed we had 2 single beds, but we should have checked first. My father had the double bed all to himself. Except for that it was great. Everyone on the staff was incredibly nice and attentive. Warthogs and Blue monkeys roam around the camp. There is a private concession area for night drives and bush dinners. An electric fence encloses the camp, so we didn’t have to have escorts here. It is real close to the airstrip and to the park entrance. We saw lots of animals: zebra, buffalo, impala, giraffe and the warthogs just on the drive in and out of camp. A few people saw a leopard around the camp, but we didn’t see that one. We had a guide/driver Stephen Owino, a Luo, so we could talk to him about Barack Obama. I was worried how Kenyans might react. The open Land Rover was great for driving around, at one point we thought we would get stuck in the mud but made it out. It did break down on our first drive out of the camp though--that was good for comic relief. The meals were very good, but all buffet so we ate more than we should have, everywhere else we ordered off a menu. The swimming pool overlooks the Mara plain and while cold, was a nice spot to relax. There is only one outlet for everyone in the camp to recharge their batteries, and power is limited to a few hours a day. Fortunately I had brought my 220V international power strip. This was the only place I needed it though.

Tarangire Treetops
After Kichwa Tembo we thought we might be disappointed, but this was a great camp. It isn’t really built in the trees, but the rooms are on platforms raised above ground around the trees. They have these trap doors that keep the animals out. The rooms are kind of half tents, they have real doors that lock, but the windows and the porch are like tents. Here you have to have an escort after dark and in the early morning. Here we checked to make sure we got the king size bed. The beds were very comfortable; it was here I felt I had my first good night’s sleep. A double shower and two sinks, this may be the most luxurious place we stayed. The rocking chairs on the porch are the perfect spot to relax and watch the sunset, though we were out both days and couldn’t take advantage of this. The big drawback is getting here from the main road. It is an hour or hour and a half really bumpy drive along a dirt trail to Treetops. This may have been the worst drive on the whole trip. There isn’t much game here, though we did see waterbuck near the lodge. We may have been spoiled by our last camp, more on this later. Some Maasai live along the road and the kids come out begging when a vehicle comes down the road. My partner thought the manager was brusque; we wanted to use the swimming pool when we first arrived, but it was a little too late. We were able to use it the next day, also cold, but it was warmer here than in the Mara.

Ngorongoro Serena Lodge
This was a very large hotel. While I knew this and we had planned to stay in a few lodges, my partner was disappointed to be back in a “normal” hotel. It wasn’t too far from the descent road, though we didn’t get up very early to queue up. It was very different to get a wake up call by telephone rather than a soft knock and “Jambo” by a person carrying coffee to your tent. After having experienced the CC Africa style of Kichwa Tembo, we might have opted for the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge instead, but I’m sure it would have been more money. The staff was very friendly though. They have satellite internet and a shop that sold stamps. I got my postcards and stamps here. This was one place that had at least a variation of the local food, Ugali. I tried it one night, kind of a generic starch like rice or potatoes, but made from Cassava.

Mbuzi Mawe Camp, Serengeti
Also a Serena camp, so it had much of the same amenities of the Ngorongoro Serena lodge, internet, shop, evening entertainment. After 5 days of it, the entertainers get a bit repetitive. It is much smaller though and much nicer than the Crater Lodge. 2 double beds in every tent. 2 sinks and a large bathroom area, no double shower though. We had to be escorted here as well. One morning, a herd of buffalo was right in front of our tent. Here we heard lions at night for the first time, but didn’t see any near the camp. By this point of our trip, we were less interested in the zebra, impala and buffalo near the camp, but it was neat to have them right outside. Klipspringers live around the rock; we did see them one evening.

Fumba Beach Lodge, Zanzibar
Some people have asked about this on the message board, but no comments or reviews yet. It was a really idyllic place to rest up after the safari. The only glitch was that our travel planner didn’t tell us we had to switch rooms. For our first three nights, we had a beachfront cottage, but then we had to move to one of the back cottages. The beach gets more or a breeze and doesn’t have mosquitoes like the back ones do, but the rooms are the same. There is no AC so this may be important. It is a beautiful secluded place. We had half board here, so we only had to pay for lunch. We spent one day in Stone Town and another day snorkeling. It was like an underwater safari. It is far from town though, so once you’re at the lodge, you stay there. We had dinner one night on the beach, which was a great finale to our adventure. The pool area does get crowded; while we were there one family always got up early and reserved all the pool chairs. After they left though, it was fine. There are lots of little areas and porches to sit privately. You can only really swim in the ocean at high tide. At low tide, you are walking quite a ways from shore and still are only knee deep in water. Bush babies are in the trees around the lodge and you can hear them in the evenings.

Day by day report to follow.

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    What a thorough report from a first time visit.

    I never asked about ground operators either, but thanks for mentioning who yours were.

    The Mara is always a hit and I see it was for you too.

    Now its animal time.

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    We had 2 binoculars 8x40. We did need them. We could see much closer than with the 300mm lens. You can see depth with the binoculars that you can't notice in the camera. It is also nice to take a break from taking pictures and just observe from time to time.

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    Arrival (I’ll call this Day 1, though it spans 2 days)

    Our biggest problem was just leaving New York’s JFK. Bad weather and a disabled plane shut down all but one runway. We were sitting on the plane in New York for 3 hours before takeoff. Fortunately we made it to London’s Heathrow with plenty of time to make our connection to Nairobi.

    Nairobi was a little confusing, but not bad. Our first experience was with the passport lanes, it really doesn’t matter what the lanes say you can go into any line. The guys from Liberty were there to take us to the Norfolk Hotel. Our flight to Masai Mara was not until the next morning. It was late evening and Nairobi was quiet, there was no traffic on the roads. We arrived at the hotel just after 10 PM, but they called the kitchen and had them stay open for us.

    Day 2

    We had a 10 AM flight to Masai Mara from Wilson airport. There was more traffic on the road than the night before, but still not bad. We flew on Safarilink on a larger plane than I imagined; it had 4 seats in each row. On the flight I saw a giraffe not too far from Nairobi and some elephants closer to the Mara. Our guide from Kichwa Tembo met us at the airstrip with coffee and biscuits. Stephen was from the Luo tribe and John was a Maasai. They both seemed to like Barack Obama. We had an open Land Rover to drive in. On the way to the lodge we saw zebra, giraffe, a vulture, impala and wildebeest, plus some Maasai cows. We were impressed already and this was just on the short drive to the camp. At camp, we heard John give a short talk about the Maasai culture, while the camp warthogs roamed around us, and then we met Stephen for our first game drive.

    We were riding with a single Japanese woman, Masako, in the vehicle. There were three rows of seats so we had plenty of room. We hadn’t even left the camp yet when the engine died. Other people were leaving camp at the same time, at one point 4 trucks were behind us, but the backed up and went a different way. After maybe 15 minutes someone found the problem and the engine started. We were on our way.

    It was only a short drive to the Oloololu gate. Once inside the park, we saw animals everywhere. Cape buffalo with little birds on their backs, more zebra, impala and wildebeest. We saw elephants and 2 sleeping male lions. Various antelope: eland, hartebeest, topi and waterbuck. Also ostrich and mongoose. Then we went to a brush area. In the brush were a mother and baby Rhino. I think there are very few of these Black Rhino left, but here we saw them through the brush. We left them and saw more elephants, several mothers and babies. Towards the end of the day we saw the mother and baby Rhino as they came out of the brush. We saw that the sleeping lions had moved a little bit. The park closes at 6:30 PM (sunset), so we had to leave. For the next day we planned to take a box lunch and be out all day.

    Day 3

    After breakfast we drove down to the Mara River. We saw some crocs and some hippos, then Stephen heard something on the radio and drove off quickly. We weren’t sure what was going on, but all the vans were heading in the same direction. We found a large group of vehicles watching the wildebeest cross the river. It was just like we had always seen in National Geographic. We found a parking spot where we had a good view of the crossing. Stephen pointed out one of the crocs holding a wildebeest it had caught. Behind them, hippos were lined up looking at the commotion. 3 of the crocs had each gotten one of the wildebeest. Soon after we saw that, the rest of the wildebeest noticed them too and stopped crossing. Most of the herd that did cross walked away, while some stayed back, I guess looking for their family or friends. We followed the river and saw more hippos. 2 of the male hippos were fighting with their mouths, pushing each other, I guess they were vying for dominance. Away from the river we started looking for cheetah, but none were nearby. Stephen saw something by a termite mound. We drove over and found 2 young lions. He said they maybe about 2 years old, they weren’t small cubs. Their mother was nearby. Away from the lions we stopped and had lunch. Obviously we couldn’t get out and eat right there.

    By this point we were near the Tanzania border which is closed (to humans at least). After lunch we found 3 lionesses sleeping by the side of the road. Not for the first time, we almost drove right past them. In the grass, they really are hard to see. We saw 2 hyenas, some ostrich, some other birds. None of us were bird people, so we only really noticed a few of the different birds. Then we headed back to camp.

    Kichwa Tembo overlooks the plain. Back at camp, besides the resident warthogs, we could see zebra and giraffe walking around below. I asked Stephen when the lions might be active, so we decided to leave early the next day and pack breakfast.

    Day 4

    We left camp just before sunrise, we saw the hot air balloons being inflated and stopped just outside of the gate to watch the sunrise. We saw a pair of lions, but they weren’t doing much. We went to the river crossing, the wildebeest walked towards the river, but then changed their minds and didn’t cross. We stopped for breakfast under a sausage tree. We saw a truck in the distance and went over to it. We saw a cheetah there with 2 cubs, these might be about 2 years too, they weren’t so little. The mother got on the termite mound and looked like she might hunt, but nothing was nearby. More vehicles were coming over so we left. Apparently there are rules about how many trucks can be around the animals at once and how long they can stay. We found a hyena den by the side of the road with 3 cubs there. We saw Grant’s gazelle here, and more of the grazing animals. Already I’ve stopped writing every animal we saw. We found the rhino again, they had gone maybe 10 km from where we saw them 2 days ago. More giraffe and baboons on the way out of the park.

    Back at the camp for lunch. Some birds and an agama lizard on the way back into the park. We saw an old bull elephant, Stephen said he was maybe 60 years old. We found some sleeping lions, an older male with a black mane, a younger male and a female. They kept on sleeping so we drove on. We found 2 young lions. Stephen said they would be a brother and sister on their own for the first time. They looked like they were trying to hunt, but were too inexperienced to be successful. The topi were watching them closely, but never let the lions get anywhere near them. It started to rain and Stephen gave us rain ponchos. We left the lions as it started to get dark, but now it was raining harder. The track was very slippery and we got stuck in a mud puddle. After a while of switching gears and going back and forth, we were able to get out of it, but it was very slippery all the way back. All the animals stand still in the rain because they can’t smell the lions and have to be more careful.

    Day 5

    My partner, Tony, decided that he wanted to do the balloon ride. I thought it might be fun, but I didn’t have a real strong desire to do this, it was rather expensive. Because the roads were still slippery, we had to get up at 4:45 am to be at the launch site in time. Fortunately, they had coffee there for us while they filled up the balloons and briefed us on the safety and operation of the balloon. It was a very smooth ride and we floated over many of the areas we had been driving around. We saw birds in the treetops, some giraffe ran from us, a lion surrounded by vehicles. We had driven through the different landscapes, but it was neat to see from above how it changes from forest to swamp to grassland. We didn’t get much higher than the treetops. It started to get windy, so we had to land quickly and bumped over a few termite mounds. A champagne breakfast was waiting for us not far from the landing site. Stephen drove there with my Dad and Masako, they had breakfast and a short drive to meet us. They had seen a serval cat with kittens on their way in. I was a little sorry to have missed that, but the balloon ride was fun. We saw the hyena family again. We saw a large male cheetah walking around. By the river we saw the hippos and crocs. Stephen said because of the rain, the wildebeest were confused about which way they were going and wouldn’t be crossing. We drove into the woods and Stephen told us to start looking for leopards in the trees. A little further, we saw one. We watched for a few minutes, another truck pulled up behind us, and then she disappeared into the brush. On the way out of the park we stopped at the gate. The rangers had rescued a baby buffalo and a baby eland and they were there at the gate for people to pet. Then back at the camp for lunch.

    After lunch, Tony got a massage, Masako went on a game drive with Stephen, and my Dad and I went on the escarpment hike.

    More later.

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    Black rhino and calf is quite a find. Lots of cat activity! Your comment on what you missed doing the balloon ride adds a good perspective for people considering it. Glad you enjoyed the balloon.

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    The escarpment hike was neat. It was nice to do something active, rather that ride around the rest to the day. It was a strenuous hike, we had a guide and an armed policeman with us the whole way. Our guide pointed out how different animals climb up the hill since the migratory animals are eating most of the grass below. Even hippos and giraffe climb up here, evidenced by their droppings. We saw dung beetles, and what was really creepy was the chalk colored hyena droppings. The hyenas grind up the bones with their jaws. Great views from the top of the escarpment over the Mara plain. We didn’t see too many animals, just zebra, impala, eland and baboons, besides the Maasai cows. Back down to camp to rest up a bit.

    This night we planned a bush dinner. We invited Masako to join us. Stephen drove us out. We saw some lights in the distance, and this was our bush dinner. There was a tent set up, lanterns all around. A fire pit on one side of the tent and the grill was set up on the other side and they put rose petals all over the table. Candles lit the way to the bush toilet even. Sammy, our waiter from camp was there with a full bar, and Francis, our policeman was there to guard against lions. The tent was right by the river. It was too dark to see, but I’m sure there were hippos and crocs below us. We had drinks and sat by the fire pit. It was cloudy and sprinkling, so we couldn’t see stars, but it was quite nice. We had a full menu starting with soup and then the grill. We had our dessert out by the fire. It was quite a special evening.

    We only saw a rabbit on the road on the way back, but after packing up, Sammy saw a leopard on his way back to camp.

    Day 6

    This was our last day in the Mara. We got up early and planned to come back for breakfast. Tony slept in, so it was just me, my Dad and Masako with Stephen.
    We weren’t expecting that we would see very much on our last short game drive. We saw a giraffe doing its business. Because of the rain, there we lots of mosquitoes out. We found a lion that had caught something. We couldn’t tell what it was at first, just a tangle of fur. Later we realized it was 2 male lions. They had dug up a warthog. The older male got the top half (the best part), and the younger one got the back end. A lioness came by and waiting for her turn. Once the younger male finished, she came over for the leftovers. A younger female was also in the distance waiting her turn. The lionesses poked around the warthog den a little, but didn’t find anything. This was pretty exciting, we were close enough to hear them crunching. We didn’t feel too bad about the warthog, but were sorry for the others that might still be hiding lower in the den terrified.

    Back for breakfast and packing up. Stephen drove us all to the airstrip. He picked up new people, and John, the Maasai was there greeting new guests as well. He pointed out an eagle in the distance that had caught a baby lion the other day, which we all were sad about. Our flight back to Nairobi was a little rough. You feel every gust of wind in the little planes. At Wilson we went through security and immigration, no such thing at the bush airstrips. We had a flight from there to Kilimanjaro. That flight was even rougher. We did see the mountain from the plane.

    At Kili, we had a new driver and guide, Rashidi. Already at the airport, there were more signs in Swahili and less English. He brought us box lunches and drove us to a hotel to meet the local agency rep, Marian. She warned us that there was a paved road part way, and then we would be in the real Africa. We were on our way to Tarangire Treetops. We stopped for pictures of the mountain from the road. I was amazed that we could see it, I thought it would be covered by clouds. We drove for an hour or two on the paved road passing lots of African markets, then turned towards Tarangire. We really had no idea what bush roads really were like until this point. There was barely a dirt trail to Treetops. We bounced around on this road for a little over an hour. Occasionally, kids would run after our car asking for money. Rashidi gave one of them his leftover box lunch. We saw huge termite mounds and some animals: zebra, impala, ostrich, giraffe, elephant, and jackals. We finally got there at sunset and ordered drinks from the bar.

    Someone escorted us to the room. At night, you need an escort and they are armed only with Maasai spears. The room was amazing, spiral stairs led up to the room, we had a king size bed, 2 sinks and a double shower. It was built on a raised platform around the trees, not exactly a tree house, but very nice. There was a trapdoor to keep animals out, and we had a real door that locked, but it was semi-tent like. Canvas screens led out to the porch where there were 2 rocking chairs. We were escorted to dinner. Dinner was from a menu, not a buffet like Kichwa Tembo, but this was good because we didn’t eat as much.

    Day 7

    Someone had posted about the picnic lunch here at Treetops. It isn’t a special lunch; this is what they give you if you are coming back to camp. We had breakfast at the lodge and Rashidi packed up the picnic lunch. It was a bumpy drive to the park entrance. We saw waterbuck and giraffe on the way in. Once in the park, we drove along the swamp, but didn’t see much except for different birds. We crossed over by the river. It is still very dry, though there is water in places. It wasn’t really a running river, not like the Mara River in Kenya, but then it is dry season here. We saw more zebra, elephants. Here we saw the vervet monkey, rock hyrax and dik-dik for the first time. We stopped for lunch at a picnic site. This was a much better lunch than the box lunches. We had a picnic basket with Tupperware, plastic plates and silverware.

    After lunch we drove over to Lake Burunge. Here at the edge of the lake, we saw the largest herd of zebra we had come across. On the way back to the lodge, we stopped by a group of elephants. One mother started to get upset that we were too close to her baby. Rashidi drove us away quickly, it looked to me like she was about to charge us. Then we went back to the lodge. We were back early enough to use the swimming pool.

    We decided to do a night game drive here. I was almost thinking we’d leave the camera behind, since night shots often don’t turn out well. Luckily we did bring it, because on our way to dinner, our escort quickly brought us up to the platform where we saw a leopard drinking. Below the swimming pool was a little water hole. The leopard was drinking from the water hole, stopped for a minute to sit up, then drank some more. It must have been thirsty, because he was there for at least 10 minutes or so. We tried to take some pictures, because it was dark, they aren’t so clear. We couldn’t use the flash because we didn’t want to scare it away. This would have been a good time to use the tripod, but I can’t believe I would have had it handy at this moment, even if we had packed it. This was before we even started the night drive. This was the second leopard we saw, and I for sure thought we would not even see one.

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    Carl, thanks for the report. You actually saw a mother and baby rhino on your first game drive? This is a little too much for my jealousy glands on a Sunday afternoon. How irritating to miss a serval with kitten because of a balloon flight, but much worse is how much you are missing by not being in the Mara always and all the time. I can understand replacing a game drive with an escarpment hike, but I don’t understand Tony’s massage. Hit him with something hard on the head on my behalf!

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    I would have to admit the balloon ride wasn't worth the expense. It is quite expensive, but we thought we are only here once, we might as well experience it. We had seen the balloons in the air one morning and the animals running from it, so it did look like it would be neat.

    As for Tony's massage, he was really tired from jet lag and needed an afternoon off.

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    It really gets cold at night, so for the game drive, we got ponchos to wear. We had a driver and a spotter, who was balanced on a seat attached to the hood of the Land Rover. Both he and the driver had spotlights to shine on the animals. It just happened to be the full moon tonight, so I thought this would be good. Starting out, we only saw animals that we had seen during the day, waterbuck, elephants, giraffe, and dik-dik, but then we saw some others. Hyena (for the first time in Tarangire), rabbit, bat-eared fox. Possibly the most interesting animal, the springhare. It bounces around like a kangaroo. We saw a little owl and a sleeping hornbill. We also came across a dead genet that the driver said was killed by an eagle. It was an interesting drive, seeing the animals at night is a little different, but of course it is harder to see and hard to get pictures.

    Day 7

    This was the first morning I woke up feeling well-rested. We packed and went to breakfast. The credit card machine wasn’t working, so we had to pay all our extras in cash. This was the only place this happened. Then we had to drive out of Treetops. The trail seemed even worse than on the way in. It was about an hour and a half back to the main road. Once there, we had to make several stops. Bathroom, toothpaste, Rashidi dropped off money to someone in one of the villages we went through. At least, courtesy of Japan, there was a nice paved road all the way to Ngorongoro.

    We made it to Serena Ngorongoro for lunch. Part of my itinerary discussion suggested going into Lake Manyara park this day, but that didn’t make it into the local operator’s itinerary and I didn’t press the issue. In the end, I thought it was good to have 2 days in the crater. Going down into the crater in the afternoon, we saw the Maasai herding the cattle out. They have to be out of the crater by 3 PM or so. It is a dry and dusty place (again dry season) and a large salt (or soda) lake. We saw wildebeest, zebra and gazelles. Crowned cranes, for the first time. We found a lone gazelle and not too far from him, a cheetah. For awhile it looked like the cheetah might get it, the gazelle was walking towards it, but he realized the cheetah was there are started quickly walking a different direction and never came in range. We found a large group of sleeping lions, some cubs among them. They didn’t look like they would be moving. We saw more hippos, warthogs, jackals and hyenas. Then we had to leave the crater to be out by 6:30. From what I heard on the message boards, I thought that vehicles could only stay in for half of the day. This isn’t quite true, just if you come out, you can’t drive back down. I thought that we would do a half day in the morning and come back to the lodge for lunch, but since we could stay the whole day, we decided to pack a lunch. For dinner at the Serena, I tried local food for the first time, the Ugali. It’s made from cassava, but is just a starch, like rice or potatoes. Not bad.

    Day 8

    We didn’t get up super early, we had breakfast at the lodge, then headed down. There was no queue to get in, but we did have some vehicles in back of us, which because of dust we tried to keep ahead of. One funny thing, when we were leaving the lodge, our driver was listening to ABBA. We had just seen Mamma Mia before leaving for Africa. I thought we would be free from ABBA for awhile, but this wasn’t the case. We kept the music on until we got to the crater floor. Right then, we saw a huge gathering of hyenas. It turned out that a lion had killed something and all the hyena and jackals were surrounding him, trying to get something. We watched for awhile but were pretty far away. Further on, we saw a group of lions heading up the hill. They also were far away, we saw the male lion from before come join them. We found a cheetah, but not doing much either. We went to where we saw the lions yesterday and found a different group of lions nearby. Further on, we found a large group of hyena near their den. The den we found in the Mara had maybe 6 hyena, but here were at least twice as many. We stopped for coffee at the picnic spot. There was a lake with hippos and some wildebeest in the background. Rashidi heard about a rhino here, we went looking for it. We could see it, but there were too far away. I think it was another mother and baby rhino, but we could barely see them in the binoculars. We went back to the picnic spot where the Serena had brought down lunches. Rashidi thought these would be good lunches, but after our picnic basket lunch from Treetops, this was back to the same standard box lunch.

    After lunch we headed towards the forest, but then Rashidi decided to take us to an overlook instead. Somewhere here we found 2 cheetah laying in the sun. In the forest we saw vervet monkeys, elephants (only bulls in the crater) and baboons. We went back to the hotel since we had a long drive the next day.

    Day 9

    Packed up and went to breakfast. By now we realized what to expect from the box lunch, so we packed up some breakfast items to take with us. Our first stop was the Maasai village. I was very skeptical about doing this, but it made it on the itinerary and my Dad and Tony didn’t seem to mind. The village tour started with a welcome song and dance, then they took us into one of the huts. About 20 people came out of this hut before we went it. They started talking about Maasai culture, but I started feeling claustrophobic and had to leave the hut. Then we were supposed to buy something from one of the villagers. It is supposedly a contribution to the village. Both my Dad and Tony bought something, and then got something else as a gift. Tony thought haggling here about the contribution would be inappropriate. After that we went to the kindergarten where the kids were learning numbers in English.

    Our next stop was Olvudai gorge. There isn’t much here, just a small 2 room museum, but it was a nice break. The gorge is scenic though. After that, the whole area was very flat dry and dusty. I was starting to wonder if this was a good idea, since it was suggested here to skip the Serengeti altogether, maybe we should have stayed in Kenya and done other parks. We saw an occasional gazelle, but not much else at all. We reached the park entrance and not much had changed.

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    When you are expecting 0 leopards, that's when you get 2.

    Nice to include the night drive option.

    2 days in the crater beats 1 crater and 1 Manyara! You came out ahead.

    I've had ABBA encounters in Africa too. Funny.

    Kichwa Tembo, Masai Mara: "There is only one outlet for everyone in the camp to recharge their batteries, and power is limited to a few hours a day." Vital info for anyone going there. Actually, I am surprised there were not more charging opportunities there.

    Bringing a 220V international power strip was a terrific move on your part. I would never think of that.

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    We drove up to the Simba Kopjes. I thought it unlikely that lions really would be there, what are the chances that we would see lions on the Simba Kopjes, but there they were laying on the rocks. After a while, we left the lions and followed a river, we saw Cape Buffalo, a hyena and a few lionesses in the distance. We went back to the lions on the rock. They were more active now, actually, there was an interesting interaction between the male and the females. He got up and sat with one of the females, they walked over to where another female was sitting. That one got up and walked away. But the male and female quickly mated, then moved off of the rock. This was interesting to see. Rashidi said they would do it again in a few minutes, but they just lay in the grass resting.

    We started to head to Mbuzi Mawe camp, but Rashidi had heard about a leopard with cubs someone had found. We passed more lions and a cheetah, then found the kopje where the leopard was. There was a huge traffic jam of vehicles circling the rocks. We could see something in the brush. I took a lot of pictures of leaves. In the binoculars, we thought we could see movement. We sat for awhile. We couldn’t leave because of all the cars. All of a sudden, the leopard jumped up onto the rock. It sat there in the open for a while then jumped back into the brush. We were about to leave when it jumped out again, this time carrying a gazelle it had caught. This was amazing. And now I was comfortable that coming to the Serengeti was a good idea.

    We drove to the camp, which was still quite far away. We unpacked, went to the bar and had drinks. Then dinner and bed, we looked out on the porch, but didn’t sit there. It was cold here at night.

    Day 11

    It was really windy. The tent was shaking and creaking from the wind. We met Rashidi after breakfast. At this point in the trip, we had decided to have all our meals at camp and gave up on the box meals. On our way out of camp, we found a couple with a flat tire who needed help. Fortunately for them, Rashidi had all the tools necessary in our truck and was able to help them. The husband was working on a new camp being built in the area. We started driving and saw impala and both Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles. We went to a large hippo pool and observed them for quite some time. Often on the game drives we would stop for trees and rocks by mistake. We drove by something that I thought for sure was a termite mound, but I told Rashidi to stop anyway. It was a male lion. It walked towards us and crossed the road right in front of us. It looked pretty old. Further on, we saw some lionesses in the distance, they had caught something and hyenas had gathered around them. One of the lionesses walked over and crossed the road behind our truck. Not far from here, we found another male lion sitting near his leftovers. On the way back to camp, we saw a hippo out of the water grazing.

    We left camp after lunch, saw the usual zebra, impala, and elephants. We stopped to look at the vervet monkeys. We went to an overlook and took some pictures of the plains. Rashidi talked to some other guides and heard about 10 lions nearby. He looked for them in the binoculars and must have found them. We drove over a little river and found 3 lions on a hill. Nearby, we saw the other lions all in the grass. We had driven past 9 lions. I think there were 12 here together. This was in the northern Serengeti on the way towards Lobo. It was getting dark so we had to go straight back. We passed another male lion, some hyena waking up for the night. Rashidi saw a wildcat and I think I saw a serval cat, but we didn’t have time to stop.

    On our way to dinner we saw a family of klipspringers on one of the rocks. This was also the first night we heard lions roaring in the distance. The klipspringers were still out when we finished dinner.

    Day 12

    We woke up to buffalo right outside our tent. They didn’t linger around too long, they were gone after breakfast. We saw another serval cat on our way out of camp. This time, we did stop for pictures. We found lions by the river, there were gazelles there the other day, but not now. One of the lions had a radio collar on her. We drove a long way looking for cheetah, but didn’t see any. We saw a lot of grazing animals in a swampy area. Everywhere around this swamp was very dry and dusty. 2 lions were here too, one of these also had a radio collar. Then we went to the Seronera station where there was an information center. We rested for a while. There were a lot of birds and bush hyrax here. A walkway told the story of the Serengeti life cycle. There were some modern art sculptures of some of the animals. Rashidi heard about another leopard. We weren’t sure if it was near us or not, but we headed there. We found a cheetah that had caught something. Vultures were waiting in the tree above it. Every once in awhile it would sit up. We found the tree where the leopard was. We kept looking in the branches but couldn’t see anything. We all thought we saw it in different directions. Someone did find its tail hanging straight down, but it was mostly hidden.

    Back to the camp for lunch. It was time consuming to come back every day. We didn’t have time to rest, just eat and head out again. I thought this might be our last game drive, but Rashidi said we would have time in the morning since our flight was at 11 am. Most of the time, we didn’t know when our flights would be until the day before. We just had a short drive, around camp there were only impala, giraffe, crocs, buffalo, one warthog. It started raining in one direction and we had to turn back. On the way back we saw some zebra. We packed up and went to dinner and bed.

    Day 13

    Our last safari day. We had breakfast and drove slowly to the airstrip. On our last game drive we saw wildebeest, elephants, zebra, impala, gazelles. A lion with a collar was across the river. We waited at the airstrip for our flight. 3 flights came and went, but ours did come. The plane was Regional Air, and it actually was direct to Zanzibar, but we stopped in Arusha and had to go through security. My Dad left us to fly to Kilimanjaro and from there back to Nairobi. Tony and I continued on this flight. Miriam, from Simba met us in Arusha with box lunches and stayed until we were checked into our flights.

    The beach was very relaxing and we had a good time there. There are things to do on Zanzibar, we toured Stone Town and went snorkeling with a guide (like an underwater safari). I don't know if any of you are interested in those details though. Let me know.

    My pictures are posted here.
    Thanks for reading.

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    Great photos! Wow to the crossing shots. How exciting. And you all were spoiled for cats--can't believe it.

    The hyena cubs are adorable (even "in a mottled way"), your Mara sunsets and Serengeti sunrises are splendid, lions, cheetah on the termite mound, beautiful giraffes, great Zanzibar shots--a terrific gallery. I very much enjoyed viewing it and it was nice to see the happy faces behind the adventure.

    Asante sana!

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    Great rhino shot of mother and calf, and you had 2 of those sightings. I noticed the contrast in color of the eles even before reading the caption. Nice you took note of such things, like the symmetry too. Cute rock hyraxes. The lion viewed through the windshield is a great perspective and gives a good feel of what you see and how on safari. You have some super hippo open mouth shots, solo and engaged in battle. The lion mating may have been quick, but it happened on a kopje (it looked like.) That's very cool. And the leopard with the impala was up there too. Was that where the impala was eaten or was it on the way to a tree?

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