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Trip Report From Elvis in Vegas to Elephants in Tanzania, Oct.2009

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What does Elvis have to do with a trip report! goes!

Since 2009 marks our 50th wedding anniversary (I was twelve when we married), we needed a special way to commemorate it. Our daughter suggested we renew our vows at the Viva Las Vegas chapel with Elvis himself officiating. This sounded like a great and fun idea to us so we planned the event for October 17th. Then we began to talk about our "honeymoon"

We talked about driving to Vancouver and taking the train trip through the Canadian Rockies to Lake Louise… but made no reservations. Then later, my husband said, "What I really want to do is go to Paris and Berlin" but no reservations were made. So in July I decided to look into an African safari. He had no enthusiasm for the idea, but I went ahead anyway. (Could this marriage be saved?)

I talked to friends, looked into tour companies like A & K, Tauk, African Travel, Micato, OAT,etc., and then I discovered this forum. I lurked for a while, read a few trip reports and finally decided a private safari was the way to go. Then, in August, I began corresponding with a few providers. I kept on reading the forum, asking questions, getting sample itineraries, and adjusting my requests with the providers accordingly. I decided on Warrior Trails as our driver/guide because their representative was so patient with me as I reconsidered lodging and destination requests. And their price was very good.

I was very nervous about wiring money to strangers in East Africa. But Foderites assured me that was how business was I took a deep breath, got my husband's reluctant agreement, and on September 1 sent off the money.

At the same time, preparations were on-going for our Anniversary celebration in Las Vegas. Fifty of our friends from high-school, college, our young married life, and today were all coming from everywhere in the country. And details needed to be worked out.
So we blocked the rooms at Caesar’s Palace, arranged transportation to the chapel; booked the restaurant, planned a hospitality reception at Planet Hollywood, shopped for our outfits, and researched the cake possibilities. And, needless to say, I didn't have much time to obsess about the safari. But I kept on reading the forum and worrying about tsee-tsee flies and yellow fever and malaria and what shoes to take..

Sandi’s itinerary idea was taken into account, Lynda’s provider in Tanzania, her packing list, and comments from many others helped me make my decisions. I shopped in my closet for what I needed and borrowed a few things from friends. I did check out the buffs, rain poncho’s, After Bite, and insect repellant at REI and even bought hand sanitizers and travel TP for the trip. Didn’t take duct tape or a stapler, however. Even made it to the Redondo Beach GTG where I met many of you wonderful Foderites..

On October 17th, Elvis drove us down the aisle of the chapel in his pink caddy convertible

And on October 24th, Jackson of Warrior Trails drove us up a bumpy long road to Boundary Hill Lodge in Tarangerie National Park. What a transition…both a wild ride!

We left Los Angeles for Tanzania on October 22nd. We took two nightmare Northwest flights. One to Detroit and the next to Amsterdam. The planes were crowded with little leg room. But we were rewarded with a brand new KLM 777 on the Amsterdam to JRO portion of our flight. We both slept a bit, and arrived at Kilimanjaro slightly dazed, but happy to meet Jackson. Then it was off to our first night’s lodging in Arusha at Rivertrees Country Inn.

Many highlights of our safari will be described in future entries. But I will share a few here: Our guide, Jackson, and the owner or Warrior Trails, Claimion, were wonderful, knowledgeable and hospitable. In less than two days, we were already family. (More about that later)

We traveled from Tarangerie to the crater and then on to the Serengeti. We saw large herds of Cape buffalo, elephants, antelopes, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, baboons, hyenas….and every kind of antelope.. We saw zebras and gazelles hanging from trees, we saw ostriches mating and saw other incredible birds. We saw cheetahs on a runway chasing our plane. We saw leopards up in trees….but we never saw a rhino. (Guess we’ll have to go back) And once husband George realized we weren’t in Switzerland, he relaxed and enjoyed (as I knew he would) the safari experience.

In my next entry I will begin to give you a day by day description of our 11 day safari…and hopefully will have some photos to go with each location. So stay tuned.

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    WOW, WOW and again WOW!

    Till 22nd you was his wife - now I am sure you are his QUEEN!
    You must have him provided with totally new facetts of his wife!

    So many thrills!

    I am lucking forward to reading your next installment!

    Ah - CONGRATS to your anniversary! Married at 12 - you really must feel like twins!


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    As promised,here's the first installment of the trip report.

    This installment will cover our first day on the road: FROM ARUSHA TO TARANGERIE and our first game drive in the park. Also, we'll share impressions and photos of our stay at BOUNDARY HILL LODGE, which was fantastic!

    I’m not really technically competent, so I’ll try to format this in a way that coincides with the photos I hope to attach. We have 700 + photos to edit and this will be my project even though my husband took most of the photos.

    A little bit about my husband, George, and me: We’re “active” retirees who travel quite a bit. We’ve been almost everywhere in the world including South Africa and the West Coast of Africa, as well as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Israel. This, however, is our first safari experience. We enjoy cruise ships these days, but in the past we drove on our own through-out France, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, and Great Britain. We’ll be going on a cruise to Southeast Asia in March, and on another Mediterranean voyage in July…so this may be our only safari experience. (But I already want to go back with the grandchildren)

    Here’s our itinerary and in the next few installments, I’ll give you a day by day account of our trip.

    We did the Northern Circuit in Tanzania from October 22-Nov. 2, 2009:

    October 22 – LAX – JRO by way of Detroit and Amsterdam on NW & KLM
    October 23 – Arrival Kilimanjaro –
    Overnight at River trees County Inn
    October 24 - Tarangire National Park – Boundary Hills Lodge
    October 25 - Tarangire National Park – Boundary Hills Lodge
    October 26 - Esilalei Maasi Village Visit, Lunch Gibbs Farm
    Overnight: Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
    October 27 - Ngorongoro Crater – Sopa Lodge
    October 28 – NCA – Lake Ndutu – Ndutu Safari Lodge
    October 29 – Serengeti National Park Seronera area – Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp
    October 30 - Serengeti National Park Seronera area –Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp
    October 31 - Serengeti National Park Lobo area – Migration Camp
    November 1- Serengeti National Park Lobo area – Migration Camp
    November 2 –Flight to Arusha from Klein’s Camp Airstrip - Lunch at the
    Coffee Plantation in Arusha – day room at Kia Lodge- evening flight JRO- LAX

    Friday night – October 23

    After 28 hours door to door, it was great to go to sleep. Pleasant, clean, nice cottage at River Trees Country Inn. Good linens, fresh flowers in the room, a nice patio and a good shower were all welcoming.

    The place is quiet and peaceful in a garden setting with a swimming pool. Owls and other birds called through the night and at 5:15AM, the Muslim call to prayer (which was repeated again at 5:30AM), reminded me I wasn’t in California anymore. George slept through it all and never heard a thing.

    Saturday – October 24

    Clamion, the owner of Warrior Trails, met us for breakfast at 9AM to brief us on our itinerary.

    The food was good. Choice of cereal, breads, etc. with made to order eggs and bacon, fruit juices and coffee. A walk through the gardens at River trees, a few photos, and then
    it was off to Arusha with our guide, Jackson, and Claimion.

    As we left River Trees, we could see the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro covered in snow, peeking through the clouds. We also saw Mt. Maru. It was a bright sunny day. Very much like Southern California weather in October.

    It was market day in Arusha and the traffic was daunting. Many Japanese cars, carts loaded with bananas and other produce, donkeys, goats, sheep and cattle on the roadsides and many people in colorful dress on the streets. Some were in western dress, some in bright Maasi colors, some with head scarves and some men in white Muslim caftans, and many women with baskets or buckets of water on their heads.

    The variety of dress led us into a discussion of culture and life in East Africa. Claimion told us of his traditional Maasi childhood in the village where he grew up near Ngorongoro. His parents still live in the village and follow traditional ways. He shared stories of driving herds of cattle as a boy of 6-10 years of age, his “rite of passage” at age 16, which included ritual circumcision (without anesthesia), the killing of an animal and other “tests” of manhood. But he also shared his beliefs of today for his own children which were brought about by his Christian religion and his advanced education.

    Jackson and Clamion also told us about the tribal traditions of female circumcision and efforts to modernize and educate the Maasi people today. They mentioned a boarding school for girls who leave the villages to avoid early marriage and female circumcision.
    Also we learned of efforts underway to educate the native people about HIV-AIDS, and the need to accept women who chose not to be circumcised. Female circumcision is still widely practiced today even though it is now illegal in Tanzania.

    We briefly stopped at the Warrior Trails office and met Josephine, Calimon’s wife and Samuel, another driver guide who works with Warrior Trails. Josephine is a very pretty and lovely woman. They gave us a gift of Maasi shukas for our trip (which came in very handy, both for warmth at the crater, a sun-shade, and protection from tsee-tsee flies) and we said goodbye to Claimion and were on our way out of Arusha with Jackson.

    We passed a few modern tall buildings, a new high-rise hotel in the center of town, but mostly the buildings were low and colorful along the highway. We drove by the East Africa Tribunal and United Nations Court Building where trials are being held for the Rwanda criminals from the ethnic wars between tribes 16 years ago. We also passed the Tanzania Military Academy outside Arusha and learned what it takes to have a career in the Tanzania military. It’s a sought after career since it provides education and training with somewhat low risk since Tanzania is a very peaceful country.

    After a stop for Jackson to stock up on water for the week and for us to buy a bottle of vodka (who knew we’d really need it?), we were on our way!

    On the narrow paved road to Tarangerie we passed many Maasi villages: some with no more than two or three bombas, some with market places, some set in the midst of cattle, sheep, and goats grazing; land so dry with sisal plants, scrub grass and acacia trees, that even the three camels we passed looked at home there. We also passed a large Maasi village on a hill and Jackson told us that was the home of the “Wa-Zee” (very rich in Swahili). Seems like this is the village of a very rich Maasi chief and his 60 wives and many children. The bombas on that hill looked much more substantial than the typical Maasi villages we had passed.

    We couldn’t help but notice after our travels in many third world countries, how clean the highway was! No papers, no trash on the side of the road. And many native people were walking long distances for water, or to the market places.

    After two hours of driving, and enjoying the scenery, we saw our first baobab, trees! We had arrived at Tarangerie National Park.

    We stopped for a picnic lunch at the gate, where we met and talked to fellow travelers from Spain, Scandinavia, Belgium and the UK. (Guess we weren’t going to be lonely on this private safari) They were all very interesting people. One young woman, in particular, was doing a PhD project on Maleria prevention and living for 6 months in a Maasi village.

    Then we climbed the wooden observation tower built into a baobab tree, took some photos of animal sculls marking parking spaces by the gate, noticed the monkey skulking around looking for food, opened the top of our Toyota extended Land Cruiser and FINALLY left for our first game drive.

    I was prepared for bumpy roads, and even considered bringing a traveling pillow with me, but the land cruiser was very comfortable with padded and covered seats. The two of us had two rows of seats to ourselves, so one of us could even sit in the back and put our legs up if needed. George, however, was not prepared for the roads in Tanzania. (I had to leave something out of the trip description to encourage him to join me on our “honeymoon”) So he was a very grumpy traveler the first few days….but hey, maybe it was jet lag!

    Just by the gate…our first wild animal in the road: A large land turtle! But when we saw the water bucks and impala and the unbelievably large termite mounds, I knew we were in Africa. And then we saw the zebras! And Jackson spied a “wallabie” (I thought they were only in Australia) and he told us a story about how the zebras need the “wallabies´ because they have such poor eyesight….but the zebras also need them because of their sixth sense about danger and rain. But we never saw any wallabies the whole day, even though we saw hundreds of zebras. (Finally dawned on me, “he meant wildebeest” and we saw hundreds of them later in the day).

    More animal sightings: dik-dik pairs, several elephant families, eland, Maasi giraffes and reticulated giraffes, baboons, warthogs, hyenas, and birds! Only one ostrich showed himself…head held high. Other birds included: red beaked hornbill, lilac breasted roller, black smithed plover, white bellied turaco, marabou storks and vultures.

    We were overwhelmed by the numbers of zebras, wildebeests, and large herds of elephants blocking the road. We waited while some angry looking males sized us up. Jackson told us about the animal behavior, which ones were good mothers, how the families were made up and traveled together, what happens to the older males, etc.

    All the information was new to us, so waiting for the herds to cross the road and understanding the danger of bull elephants was time well spent.

    The land was dry, but patches of green were beginning to show. There was only a small stream of water in the Tarangerie River bed. But there were green acacia trees for the giraffes and elephants to munch on, many peeled baobab trees for the elephants to chew on, and enough scrub grass to keep the various antelopes happy.

    After about three hours in the park, we headed for the Boundary Hill gate and our lodge outside the park. The road was steep and incredibly rocky….and George was getting increasingly grumpy. (He even said, “You owe me, big time!) I was thinking: “I hope this is like childbirth….a painful road…and then the reward.”

    And the ride was worth it! It was 6:15PM when we arrived at Boundary Hill Lodge which is built on a high rocky promenade. There's a wonderful view of the valley below and rock hyrax families living in the rocks below us. Our two story stone “bomba” was luxurious..even better than the photos I saw. There was a large bathroom downstairs, (with a view from the “throne” to the valley and animals grazing below), beautiful linens on our king sized bed, cheerful and whimsical African painted furniture, tribal art, a large patio with an outside bathtub in a totally secluded setting, and large leather easy chairs with a table set for us and a welcome gift of fruit, cookies, Pellegrino water, and Apple Cider..

    So we had our showers, our vodka with apple cider mixer, and then went to dinner.

    It was delicious! Leek soup, lamb, tilapia, potatoes, veggies, salad (which I didn’t eat) and a custard cup for desert. Two young Swiss travelers joined us for dinner and conversation. There were only ten guests that night, so service was quite attentive and the setting was lovely. It was an outdoor covered terrace, almost like an Italian style logia. Bricked walls and open arches added to the ambience.

    Two Maasi guides took us back to our dwelling by 9:30. The walk back was very dark, over a somewhat rough hewn flagstone path with a few steps up the hill, so we were very glad to have our guides get us safely back. We enjoyed another vodka cocktail, along with our IPod Beethoven sonatas. Then it was one more trip downstairs to the bathroom, (two+ liters of water a day do that to you………..I know, TMI) Lights out at 10:00PM.
    What a great day!

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    Sandra, I'm really enjoying your in-depth report so far. Hopefully Boundary Hill won George over...he certainly looks relaxed in the tub ;)

    Looking forward to reading more!

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    I forgot to tell you that I really enjoyed your photos too (what I hope is just the first set...). I viewed them the other day. I noticed how relaxed your husband appeared in the tub.

    By the way, you and your husband are extraordinarily well-preserved after 50 years of wedded bliss! I still don't believe you married at twelve, though. I think you married when you were six-year-olds.

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    Thanks for your kind words, Leely2...truth is we were betrothed at birth

    We live in Southern California....the land of the eternally young....good clean living and lots of travel..LOL

    We've been married so long that our kids are older than us.

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    Oh, forgot to add....the next installment with photos of game drives, Gibbs farm,and Maasi village should be posted by the weekend.

    Glad to know that somebody is reading it.

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    Hi All:

    Here's the next installment of our trip report...Thanks for your comments so far..

    There are two albums for the game drives and the other for village visit and Gibbs farm....not too many photos in each..


    We woke up this morning to a gorgeous sunrise over our eastern facing balcony and into our bedroom. We heard the barking of hyenas from the distance.

    And with the bathroom down below and the “throne” by a screened opening, it was a treat to view the animals grazing below as we started our day. Wonder if those animals below enjoyed the sight of us doing our morning rituals.

    Our Maasi guides were outside stoking up the furnace so we had hot water for our shower. These were the same two young men who escorted us to our “bomba” the night before with bow and arrows and flashlights. Were they there all night guarding our lodging? I think so!

    We had breakfast on the patio with Jackson and it was delicious. Made to order crepes, eggs, bacon, sausages, freshly made bread, fruits, juice, and coffee (French press)

    We had a most interesting conversation with 6 other guests who were on their way back to Arusha today. They were young attorneys from Boston, Chicago, New York, and the U. K. And all were working with the United Nations prosecuting the criminals from the Rwanda ethnic wars of 16 years ago. We were invited to sit in on the trials when we return to Arusha next Monday. Didn’t think we’d have time for it, but it was a possibility at the time.

    Left for our game drive about 8:30 and the long bumpy road down from Boundary Hill felt a little less bumpy today….still, George had to take a photo of it. It took about 45 minutes to get to the gate into the park. But we saw wart hogs, zebras, ostrich, elephants and a herd of impalas along the way... We also had our “Swahili lesson”

    We learned: “em-zay” (rich man), “wah-zay” (many rich people) ”twendy” (let’s go)

    And “ba-yah” (grumpy) (You can guess why that’s on the list)

    Once in the park, we saw a superb blue tree starling just waiting for us to take its picture.

    Then we saw a herd of Cape buffalos, more zebras and elephants, and then…two female lions with three cubs on the side of the road, very close to our vehicle. Across the road, lay a freshly killed zebra... (Yuck!) Seems they’d all had their fill as it looked like nap time for one of the big cats. The cubs were a bit feisty, but Mama tolerated it well.

    It was hot and the lions weren’t the least bit interested in us, or in the 3 reedbucks grazing nearby. Jackson said they could lie around like this for 20 hours of the day. We sat and watched the little family for a long while. We were alone at the site, but soon four other cruisers with gawking tourists arrived, so we cleared out. (We, of course, by now, were not gawking tourists!)

    We were soon rewarded with the sight of a lone adult Kudu (a large antelope) which Jackson said is very rare to see in the park. As we passed by the Silale swamp a small parade of ostriches showed themselves. It was a Mama with 11 babies and a proud Papa strutting behind.

    At the swamp we saw marabou storks hanging out with herds of zebras, impalas and more reedbucks. There were also eagles (Steppe eagle and Fish eagle), huge flocks of white pelicans and egrets sitting in the swamp area (which was more dry cracked earth than swamp)

    Back to Boundary Hill Lodge for a late lunch of pizza, steamed fresh veggies, tuna salad, french fries, and fruit salad. Once back in our room for R & R, we could see grazing herds below in the distance. It was great to have our I Pod and speakers along as we enjoyed our music and the time to catch up on journal writing and reading before dinner.

    Joined our new Swiss friends, Iris and Dennis again for dinner….but Dennis was sick (me thinks it was the salad he ate the night before). (My rule: “boil it or peel it or leave it”, seems to work for me.)

    Beautiful night for star gazing on our patio with Mozart accompaniment made our evening complete.


    Took the usual route out toward the Tarangire gate. Much less animals along the way today as it looks like rain and they’ve gone elsewhere. Funny how there can be so many animals two days in a row, and then there are almost none. Guess they’d all gone off to the river and would only return after we’d gone.

    We did, however, see some wart hogs, guinea fowl, and Maasi giraffe with two babies, wildebeests and impala in the same clearing.

    Then on the horizon we saw what looked like a long freight train. Only when we got closer could we see it was a thousand strong herd of Cape buffalo. It was a little frightening when we crossed the road near them and they just stood and stared at us.

    Very mean looking critters!! Thankfully, they were not in the mood to stampede.

    Once at the river, we saw a small herd of water bucks, a silver eagle, and then several elephant families in the river bed. There was a little bit of rain and wind with dust blowing as we arrived at the main gate around 11:30 AM. Saw some black faced silver monkeys in the parking lot. But they were too fast for a photo op.

    On the very smooth paved road toward the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, Jackson told us the story of “the best road in Tanzania”. Seems as if this road, built about 8 years ago, was a gift from the son of the Japanese Emperor. After traveling on the original bumpy road, and seeing the famous crater, he felt that this gift to Tanzania would increase the pleasure of the people living in the area and also enhance the tourist potential for road travel to Ngorongoro. He was right, and his gift is much appreciated by the Tanzanian people.

    (Below is the link for the Maasi villages and Gibbs farm)

    We visited the Esasli Maasi Village on the side of the main road where a young male guide showed us around. Although he was dressed in traditional Maasi shuka robes, he did not have the ear piercings typical of Maasi young men. Jackson explained to us later that this young man had been to school where he learned English and lived a modern lifestyle. But he had chosen to return to his village and live the traditional life in a Maasi bomba. He already had a wife and child and it seemed that his position as the official guide in the village was secure.

    He introduced us to the women of the village who sang for us. They were dressed with very elaborate Maasi beaded jewelry and very large earrings and neck collars. They were dressed in blue shukas which indicated they were “Mamas” and “Bebes” (mothers and grandmothers) whereas the young teenaged women were without adornment and wore red robes. Our guide explained they had not gone through the ritual circumcision yet and so were not yet “Mamas”.

    After taking many photos, and visiting with the women and children of the village, we visited a bomba. The inside was quite small and dark, but had three separate “rooms”.

    One room was for the mother and children, one for the father, and one for the animals who lived inside with the family. There was also a “kitchen” area with an open fire pit and utensils. No windows were visible and our guide explained that was to keep the leopards out! They also had a large round area in the middle of the village with twigs and branches piled high as a fence to protect their cattle from predators.

    After a quick visit to their gift shop, stocked with beaded jewelry, we said our good-byes and were on our way to Gibbs Farm for lunch.

    The rain stopped and started again as we passed Lake Manyara National Park which looked very green. Then we passed Mtowanba, another Maasi village with a large central market. This was a more modern town with many villagers in bright western dress or in bright African fabrics. There were many “Obama” tee shirts and banners displayed by the side of the road and bananas of many varieties for sale as well as corn and wheat and charcoal for heating. Jackson explained this was a wah-zey (very rich) village as it was along the Mosquito River with very rich agricultural land.

    Gibbs farm was off the main road down a long red dirt trail. (sorta like a Hawaii cane road) We passed Tloma Lodge and many homes of modest means…some with goats or cows in the back yard…before we got to Gibbs. What a lovely sight!.... Acres of coffee plants, flowers and other agricultural products…as far as we could see. And within these gardens, a lovely lodge with cottages and a large reception, dining area.

    0ur lunch was a buffet of quiche, pizza, meats, veggies, salads, fruits and deserts...all very good. After lunch, we strolled around the gardens and enjoyed our time in what looked like the last of the sunshine. The rains really began as we left Gibbs, so our stop in Karatu was brief, just enough time for petrol. But, I was surprised at the size and ambience of Karatu. It is a town of more than 300,000 people, according to Jackson, but the commercial area was much smaller and primitive than I had imagined. I thought there would be some opportunity to buy some small things and George was dreaming of buying a cigar, but the shops did not seem to be geared to the passing tourist market…only local hardware, auto supplies, small local markets, and open air cafes in low, somewhat inaccessible buildings. Maybe it was because of the rain, but we saw very little activity anywhere.

    So we drove on towards Ngorongoro Crater in the fog and rain. And once inside the gate, we were greeted by a gang of baboons.

    The drive up to Sopa Lodge was treacherous. Because of the rain, the red dirt road was very muddy and even 4 wheel drive would not keep us on a straight path. It felt like we were on a collapsing mountain road, and after we saw the overturned truck and the stalled other vehicles on the way, we knew this was beyond an “E” ticket ride at Disneyland! 22Km from the gate to Sopa Lodge took more than 1 hour with the two of us sitting in the back seat, “white knuckling it” all the way. I could hear George’s voice in my head… (”see what you’ve gotten us into??!!”) But the truth is, it was only my own anxiety talking. Jackson kept on saying “Okuna Matada” no worries…but in George’s new vocabulary that became “Cucumber Potatoes” as we prayed for deliverance safely to the top of the crater road.

    We were thankful to arrive to a warm welcome, our vodka cocktail, a hot shower and a change of clothes. The architecture at Sopa is fitting for the site. About 70 attached thatched roof dwellings, built on a slope on the rim of the crater, took up two levels. And the reception, bar and dining areas were in a large building with a swimming pool and outdoor patios. But it was cold and foggy and there was no central heating turned on even though there were radiators in the rooms. Seems as if they only turn the heat on in July. But we were brought hot water bottles to keep us warm in bed and our room was large with a wonderful view into the crater. Just average décor, but roomy and clean with an OK bed.

    Dinner in a large dining room was good and we met some interesting people at the next table. They were on a National Geographic Around the World Expedition by private jet.

    Two days in Tanzania and then on to Egypt and Petra. They’d already been to Machu Pechu, Easter Island, Samoa, Tibet and India. Not my kind of travel, but interesting to learn about…especially in this economy. We learned that their voyage was about $55,000 per person for 23 days. And we think safaris are expensive! After visiting with the expedition folks and a stroll through the very nice gift shop for a reconnaissance mission, it was back to the room and lights out by 10PM.

    Another eventful day!

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    Though I would not consider such a trip, that price tag for a private jet and all those places over 23 days isn't too bad. What would a 1st class ticket cost? A fair share of the $55K I would think.

    The jetsetters were at Sopa? That raises a question and a comment from me. I wonder why they would not stay at the very fancy Crater Lodge, which would seem to be in keeping with their style of travel? Their choice of lodging may confirm the desirability of Sopa for its own access road. It would be my choice again. It appears the access road was a little scary in the rain.

    What were you discussing that em-zay” (rich man), “wah-zay” (many rich people) came up?

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    The crater access road was was the road from the Ngorongoro Gate up to Sopa Lodge that was bad in the rain.But on the way down, there were several work crews fixing the road, so maybe it will be better in the future.

    Em-zays and wah-zays had to do with the richer Maasi villages, people in Tanzania who owned their own cars, people who stayed at Klein's Camp or Crater Lodge, etc.

    About the Expedition using Sopa Lodge, I wondered about that too. They were transported from the Lake Manyara Airport and into the crater by Micato Cruisers...had Micato probably Micato made the arrangements for the group. Maybe Crater Lodge was fully the brochure for the trip, however, it reads that lodging will be either at Sopa or Migration Camp.


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    I believe Micato uses Sopa properties frequently.

    After posting, I thought the em-zays and wah-zays had to be the Nat Geo travelers. But I see I was wrong.

    I'll look at the photos later.

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    Loved the "E" ticket ride at Disneyworld - I'm still laughing over that !!! Now how many of you actually remember that?

    In the National Geographic book for the Oct 2009 private jet trip, it gives you the choice of going to the Serengeti for two days at the Sopa, or Migration Camp - or Ngorongoro Crater for 2 days at the Sopa.

    The accomodations in general on the trip seem to be a mixed bag - the Mayflower in Washington DC, Swissotel in Lima, Sonesta in Luxor, the Sofitel in Marrakech, the Oberoi in Agra & the Monasterio in Machu Picchu. Some of them are not what I would expect for a private jet trip! (at the moment it accomodates 88, but from Dec 2009 it will accomodate only 68)

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    Sorry I've been remiss....the rest of my report is coming up tomorrow. New computer and my photo files aren't transferred yet. But, just wanted to add that the access road into the crater from Sopa lodge and the exit road from the crater were one and the same when we were there the end of October. Perhaps this was changed the next week while they were working on the rim was a muddy mess when we were there and the Snyder's November report mentions the change.

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    4th installment safari report (photo link at the end)

    Ngorongoro Crater – 10/27/2009 (Sopa Lodge)

    We’re up at 6:30 AM, and after a fine buffet breakfast including a made to order omelet station, we got an early start into the crater. The weather was pleasant, not cold, but brisk until noon, with sunshine breaking through a cloud cover. The road into the crater was fine. It had a graduated, not steep drop, and was only a 5 minute ride from Sopa Lodge. And, no dust!

    The first wildlife spotted was a terrific photo opportunity: An ostrich, standing on the hill next to us, with a brilliant sky behind him. As we drove through the short and dry grassy landscape early that morning I noticed how few trees were in the area. And as far as the eye could see, it looked flat and dry. We eventually saw the large herds of Wildebeest and Zebra, but not as plentiful as in Tarangire. There were very few other vehicles in the crater within our sight; in fact, we saw no others until we approached a hippo pond where there were almost ten cruisers gathered. This was the first time on our game drives that we saw so many others. And I had read so much about the crater being crowded and a bit like Lion Country Safari. But thankfully, that was not our experience on this day.

    At the rest stop, next to a hippo pool, we saw a group of men singing and dancing across
    the lake. We heard the music and so did the hippos. They were lazily floating about and once the music started, they’d surface as if to see what was going on. Quite a scene! Only later, when we returned to Sopa Lodge, did we learn that they were from a church choir and were filming a video.

    The wildlife we saw that morning included : wildebeest herds, Kori Bustard (which Jackson told us was the best bird for eating in East Africa…sorta like our turkey), More ostriches (even a mating pair), Spotted hyenas, Grant gazelles, Wart Hogs, Thompson gazelles, Crown cranes (which Jackson told us were the national symbol of Uganda), Cape Buffalo herds, Hippos, Egrets, Pelicans, Yellow beaked stork, Blacksmithed Plover, Black billed bustard, Flamingos on the alkaline flats of a crater lake, Jackals, and Vultures flapping over a fresh kill.

    After we left the rest stop, the landscape changed a bit and there were more trees and taller grasses. We finally saw some Zebras, (I’d begun to miss them after the hundreds we saw in Tarangire). And then in the scrub grass, a Secretary bird pranced about, almost posing for us ( I was waiting for her to get some coffee or take notes) Learned these birds kill snakes and rats…(hummmmm, wonder why they’re called “Secretary” birds??) (In my youth, I once was a secretary and I did come across many “snakes” and “rats” in the corporate culture.). A lone Hartebeest grazed as we passed, and then we saw some DRAMA! There was a group of 4 – 5 Lions, lying in the grass with a herd of Zebras near-by. About 8 cruisers gathered around as the lions started moving towards the zebras. The lions stalked from one bush to another, the zebras gathered a bit closer, but continued their grazing. The crowd of safari “hunters” were on the alert, cameras and binoculars poised. A few young zebras strayed from the herd; the lions crawled into another bush. But nothing happened. The adult zebras gathered in their young and left.
    And so did we. Jackson explained that lions can only run about 100m and that they must be much closer to their prey for a kill.
    The landscape changed again on this side of the crater. We drove into a forested area where we finally saw some elephants. (I’d missed them, too, since Tarangire). Jackson explained that there were only bull elephants in the crater and that many had been expelled from their family groups.

    Out of the forest, we were in more grassy plains, the weather had changed, it was warm, and I was getting sleepy. Almost dozing in the back seat, with my legs up in our most comfortable Toyota Cruiser for six or eight people, I was awakened by excited conversation between Jackson and George. Sitting on the side of the road were two black maned lions….just taking in the sights..maybe waiting for the dinner bell. The breeze was blowing through their crowned heads and they couldn’t care less that we had stopped behind two other cruisers to hang out and watch them. One of them decided to cross the road in front of us, and brushed up against our vehicle as if to tell us to “get out of his way”. We hung out and watched them for quite some time and eventually we had a crowd of five trucks gathered around. George especially appreciated the crowd of Danish women in the pop-top cruiser ahead of us.

    We saw many more hartebeests grazing and then the next highlight of our day! A romantic pair of ostriches…the male with very red legs, the female in all her brown feathered splendor, and then they were one! (Actually, all we could see was just a great big ball of feathers). But it was quick and no romantic gestures followed that I could see.
    Such is life in the wild!
    We drove around some more, still on the look-out for cheetahs, but to no avail. Jackson did spot more stalking lions, but we couldn’t see their intended prey. They were on a hill off the road and we lost sight of them over the crest, so more excitement for us. Except for the birds….a frantic group of vultures and eagles picked over the carcass of a gazelle as we stopped for our last photo in the crater.

    We returned to Sopa Lodge by the same road we’d gone down. So we’d made a complete circle around the crater. We had a late lunch around 2:30 and were greeted by the full Church choir that we saw earlier. Only this time, there was a whole production going on!

    As we arrived they were shooting a video of their lead male singer who was dressed in a tuxedo and singing and dancing like a western pop star. Later, about 40 members of the choir, male and female, had several costume changes, and performed many different musical numbers as the production company directed their activity. We watched the performance until about 4:30, until the weather changed as the wind and fog obstructed the crater view.

    Our vodka again came in handy as it was cold and damp…no heat in the room. It was a good chance to climb under the covers and nap…so we did!

    We were treated to more choir music at dinner. ..Only this time it was the dining room staff singing for our enjoyment. The staff at this lodge was extremely friendly and efficient. And both evenings we were there, they had a full dining room. After being almost the only guests at Boundary Hill we were impressed at how well this venue was run. The greeters when we returned, the staff at the front desk, the people in the gift shop, all were very warm and hospitable. But then, so far, I had found that to be true of most of the Tanzanian people we had met. We were back in the room under the covers with our hot water bottles by 9:30.

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    A professional production with the choir, not what you expected in the crater I am sure.

    Your Lion Country Safari comment brought back happy distant memories and smile to my face, I admit. Glad LCS never materialized for you.

    Will check photos next time.

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    I'm glad you didn't experience Ngorongoro madness--on two trips I was able to avoid most of it, but then again I never saw a choir singing down there. Or up at the top, either. It will be a very scenic video, I'm sure! :) Good pairing of lion brothers and Danish sisters.

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    Yes, I meant the crowd scene in the Crater. I think on my first trip we saw a rhino from so far away that even with my binocs it looked like a big, slow-moving rock. Second trip much closer--I knew it was a rhino! You'll have to try again one of these days.

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    ----- Original Message -----

    5th installment- Safari report – photo links below – Nudutu Safari Lodge & Mbuzi Mawe

    FROM NGORONGORO TO LAKE NUDUTU – 10/28/09 – 10/29/09

    (What was a “Gene Simmons” look-alike from “Kiss” doing on the road??)

    We left Sopa Lodge at 9:30 AM. The road around the rim was muddy, slippery with rain and fog. And even in this weather, repair trucks (from a China contract) were grading the road in the mud. We saw the same overturned truck from 2 days before and a few stalled 4 wheel drive vehicles, one with a flat tire. Mad me thankful we made it up this road and now grateful we were moving around all the obstructions. I needed four layers of clothes to stay warm and the Massi blanket also helped.

    It took us one hour+ to go the 22 km to the gate. And then we were on the other side of the crater where the road was much better. We passed Rhino Lodge, Wildlife Lodge, Crater Lodge and Serena Lodge….so in retrospect, perhaps one of these would have been a better location even though the ascent and descent roads were a distance from these lodges. But we did enjoy all the choral activity and the views at Sopa Lodge.

    At around 10:45, the fog lifted. We were near Crater Lodge and could see into the crater again. The landscape changed as we left the crater area. The land was dry and dusty and we saw few animals along the plains.

    Many Massi boys were on the road with their herds of cattle and all those animals broke the monotony of the endless flat plain. But, in the middle of nowhere, near the turnoff to the Oldeval gorge, 2 Massi boys stood by the side of the road in full Massi wraps. Only they were black. They had painted faces, half black and half white. They looked like Gene Simmons of Kiss. I didn’t think the Massi celebrated Halloween and then I wondered if this was a tourist photo opp fundraiser that we missed. But Jackson set us straight…it was part of their circumcision ritual and they were most likely spending the week with the elders of the village going through their required initiation into manhood..

    Once we arrived at the Nudutu area, we saw an immense flat plain devoid of even scrub grass. It was dry clay soil which we drove through on our way to Nudutu Safari Lodge, and for miles that’s all you can see. This was the calving area where thousands of wildebeest and zebras give birth to their young in January and February. Must be quite a sight! I could only imagine the sounds and smells of driving through this area at that time of year! No wonder Nudutu Lodge is so popular those months.

    But today we saw a few Grant gazelles, Thompson gazelles, about 30 zebras, lots of cattle, a large jackal, some wart hogs, and once we got to a forested area, a few giraffes.

    But I didn’t expect to see much wildlife here at this time of year….for us it was a break from the long drive into the Central Serengeti.

    Nudutu Safari Lodge is a peaceful and quiet camp in a very natural setting, overlooking Lake Nudutu. After a brief walk, we spent the afternoon reading in the large lodge. Our room was comfortable, but plain. Solar heat provided lots of hot water for our showers.

    Dinner was served in an attractive dining room and Jackson joined us for dinner. Food was average with great veggies and dessert. There were a few other guests from Italy and Germany, but the highlight in the dining area was the resident “Johnny” Genet Cats who climb around the rafters chasing geckos. They’re cute little critters, and the staff enhances their diet with a plate of kitchen scraps each night.

    We had a nice chat with the lodge manager, Marlene, a 30ish young, attractive woman from Holland. We thought she was charming, but an unlikely candidate for the job since she was the only woman on the staff. She’s a psychiatric nurse who came to Africa for a visit and decided to stay because she loves the peace, space, and natural setting. (Different strokes for different folks) I would have worried about my social life at that age.

    We were back in our cottage by 9:30. The electricity is only available from 6AM to 10AM and from 6 PM to 11PM so no time for much reading or journal writing in bed that night.

    Photo link below for this segment)



    We had a great breakfast of home-made pumpkin bread, cheese, and eggs over easy, coffee/tea, George saw a large flock of beautiful lovebirds on a branch, set up his camera, focused, and SNEEZED! Love birds, gone! LOL But he got another chance and a good photo.

    Left Nudutu at 8:30AM, and we saw the usual wildlife on the way out: wart hogs, guinea fowl, baby giraffes, and many various antelopes. We drove through the dry, vast bed of Lake Nudutu and saw a herd of Hartebeests near the shore, then some vultures and a secretary bird feeding on a carcass. Then we saw Grant gazelles, elephants grazing on the shore along with zebras and impalas, and Massi cattle. We were confronted with three mean looking Cape buffalo on our path across the lake, but ultimately they ignored us.

    Jackson told us of the wonders of elephant “poop”. Seems it’s a native remedy for skin diseases. (Think I’ll tell this to my dermatologist). Observed some more Massi cattle and the young boys in charge of them...... These boys looked to be between the ages of 6-10 and they lived in temporary bombas while they drove their cattle looking for food and water in these dry conditions. I could picture Claimion, the owner of Warrior Trails, experiencing the same kind of life in his childhood.

    After about a half hour driving across the lake bed, we entered the Serengeti Plain and soon saw hundreds of Grant and Thompson gazelles chasing some vervet monkeys under acacia trees. Giraffes joined the chase. There was wind and dust, and looked like rain, but it was warm and we had the washboard bumpy road all to ourselves. “Serengeti” means “endless plain” in Swahili and with an area of 14,763 sq K it lives up to its name.

    We learned some more Swahili words from Jackson “kaka” – brother, “dada” – sister, and “em-koo” – boss. We were now officially kaka, dada, and George was the em-koo.

    Jackson explained why we would see no more Massi cattle, sine the Serengeti was made into a National Park in 1961 and the Massi tribes were relocated into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. But we did see other animals on this dry plain: a Honey Badger jumped into a hole, then a Kori Bustard, a Secretary Bird, three spotted Hyenas and a Jackal near the road..

    Briefly stopped at the first Serengeti gate while Jackson paid the fees. And guess who we saw? The choir again! We bought their CD for $7.00, and chatted with the church pastor and the video director. Nice folks. And we learned this is their first music video production and it should be available in gift shops next year. Their music and performance will be a great reminder for us of our time in Tanzania….and if I make a DVD of the trip, it will provide the background music. (I’m getting more technically competent every day!)

    By 11:15 AM, it was very hot and dusty as we drove along this endless plain. We saw two lupe vultures in a tree and then they spread their very large wings and flew away.

    As we drove past the Lololondo Kopges and Massi Kopges (rocky “islands” with cave like openings), we searched for lions and other wild-life to no avail. But as we drove toward the Seronera area, we saw many zebras and elephants and only three other cruisers on the road. And then there were many lions in the grass, and out of nowhere,

    10+ cruisers appeared, most from Leopard Tours, which are radio controlled. We,

    Luckily, heard little radio or cell phone chat during our time with Jackson, and yet, we didn’t feel as if we missed seeing what we came for. Every now and then though, he did stop to get some info from other driver-guides as we passed them on the road.

    We saw a Topi (a new antelope for us) and then Jackson spied some cheetahs in the grass which were so well hidden, we couldn’t see them. Even with the binoculars, I thought he was making up the sighting, since I had been on a” cheetah” search for days.

    But we drove around to the other side of this inlet, and there they were! Our first cheetah sighting! So cute! We watched them a while but we needed a comfort stop and it was looking like rain. After a stop at the Seronara airstrip, we spotted a beautiful leopard up in a tree by the side of the road. And we were the only ones there to visit with him..We waited hoping he’d come down in the rain, but he stayed in the tree, so we said our good-byes after some wonderful photo opps,

    Stopped for our “picnic” lunch in the rain at the visitor’s center. Saw some colorful birds looking for crumbs, as we ate our boxed lunch…lucky birds. They got almost all of my lunch. Too much bread for me! And, guess what? The choir was there again, this time selling their CD for $5.00! The rain let up and we walked through the metal sculpture exhibit at the visitor’s center and read some interesting info about the ecology of the


    After lunch, we continued our game drive, searching for cheetahs again. But they were hiding somewhere, as it was raining. But we did see some hippos and crocodiles…even a baby croc. We arrived at our destination, Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp and I could feel the altitude of 5,144m. Just a slight hill to climb to reception, and I was huffing and puffing.

    There were Cape Buffalos grazing less than 100m from our tent which made me a bit nervous. But once inside, the lovely interior with luxury décor I forgot it was just canvas and a few zippers protecting us from wild life.

    There was entertainment in the lobby before dinner. Quite energetic and colorful tribal music, dancing, and acrobatics, held the attention of a large appreciative crowd including many French families with children. Dinner was good, but service was quite slow at our table. We joined a very nice Canadian couple for dinner and conversation. Back to our tent with an escort by 9:30. Heard the buffalos through-out the night.

    Next installment will cover the remainder of game drives in the Serengeti and our stay at Migration Camp. (Photo link for this segment below)

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