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Trip Report Kenya and Tanzania Safari, November 2009 Trip Report

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It has been almost two weeks since Darla and I returned from a wonderful two week plus safari to East Africa. As with suggested protocol, I offer the following: We have been on safari in EA on four previous occassions and we have no affilliations with any safari company. The multi-page report thus provided is my attempt to capture moments and even details for future years of enjoyment. In advance, I apologize for the length, mis-spellings and other writing errors. I offer the report as partial pay back to numerous Fodorites who have contributed so much to our experiences before, during and after safaris.

Kenya and Tanzania Safari November, 2009

Planning began in late 2008 when Darla and I decided to return to East Africa. Having been on 4 previous trips (all in May and/or June) we picked November to take advantage of lower seasonal rates. We opted to include Samburu NP, Kenya for a more arid area and the possibility of seeing oryx antelope, Grevy’s zebra, and different birds. Plus, I thought it would be interesting to visit Nairobi NP it being so near to a major metropolitan area. And, we wanted to hit the northern circuit in Tanzania. For the Tanzania portion I provided requests for proposals to previously used safari companies and a few listed on the Tanzania Assoc. of Tour Operators (TATO) website. Unfortunately, I misunderstood the website protocol as I provided inquiries to more than 20 companies. The responses to say the least were varied, numerous and in some cases rather disappointing given I thought I was rather straight forward. It was rather easy to reduce the list to three or four. Finally, we selected Africa Serendipity to handle the in-Africa arrangements if for no other reason than peace-of-mind. I am sure we could have saved by doing all ourselves but Sandi was great to work with, has a good grasp on different camps, and an appreciation on travel time, etc. For Tanzania we arranged for private use of the vehicle where as in Kenya we would be sharing the lodge vehicle. Turned out we had a private vehicle there as well.

In January 2009 we made our deposit and then pursued airline tickets to/from Africa. Through our local AAA office we purchased tickets out of Dulles Airport (Washington, DC area) to Nairobi and returning from Kilimanjaro Airport (Arusha , Tanzania). We could have used our State College, Pa regional airport ut Dulles was still less expensive even with a 3.5 hr drive and parking. Also, we purchased trip insurance thru Travel Guard. Later, we purchased Flying Doctors emergency evacuation coverage for a few dollars understanding if services were not needed the money is used for local medical service. We thought about a one night layover in Amsterdam at the beginning of the trip but decided to fore go that and have an extra day in Nairobi.
Packing was relatively easy and straight forward given previous travel experience and a 15 kilogram per individual weight maximum for all luggage. Also, we knew laundry service would be available at most camps at nominal rates, if not free. I think I took 4 changes of clothing, 2 hats, light weight jacket and only the shoes I wore. I opted not to take my “safari” vest as digital photo needs are less demanding than in the old days with film cameras and a small travel bag was sufficient during game drives. Darla took a few more pieces of clothing including a pair of shower shoes which she greatly appreciated. We each had a pair of binocs, digital camera, flashlight, notepad and pen. I packed several sets of rechargeable AA batteries, extra memory cards, charger, converter and plug (next time I will take the appropriate one for East Africa!). Fortunately, a lodge staff member showed me how to trick the 3 prong wall outlet into accepting my 2-prong plug! A copy of Guide to Birds of East Africa by Stevenson and Fanshawe, paperbacks for reading during flights and other downtime (left several in the lodges once read), our study Bible, and Darla took a needle point project (yes, needle and collapsible scissors as carry-on items cleared airport security). She handled our meds, antiseptic wipes, etc. We took Malarone at breakfast. Our stuff came way under the 15 kg maximum.

The flights to Amsterdam and then to Nairobi were uneventful except my new tube of shaving gel was confiscated at Dulles Airport as the weight exceeded legal limit by maybe an oz. Upon landing in Nairobi with passport, visa application, and completed blue entry form in hand we entered the large room for passport control and visa purchase. Pure chaos, as everyone unexpectedly had to complete and turn in an influenza medical form. The process was not well organized nor was it apparent ‘til later that no one actually checked the form. The lines for obtaining visas moved at different speeds but soon we got ours paying with a crisp new $50 bill ($25 each). The official hardly looked at the completed visa application form we provided. The customs person without looking at our bags simply waved us thru. We were delighted to exit the building and see a WildTrek employee with a sign “Snyder”. Off to the Fairview Hotel in Nairobi across the alley, so to speak, from the Israeli Embassy.

The Fairview is a fairly good size full service hotel with various amenities particularly as it also hosts business functions. The grounds are well maintained with various gardens and even a series of waterfalls. Our room was clean, quiet and more than adequate. Food was good. For us, the highlight of staying at the Fairview was the array of birdlife on the grounds particularly early in the day before the gardeners got active. Mousebirds, sunbirds, thrushes, storks, and others were to be found around the hotel. With our room card we had access to various gates for traveling from our building to the main hotel. Armed security staff manned gates for vehicular access. One minor negative was the surprising number of mosquitoes in the vicinity of the patio eatery even during the late afternoon when the sun was still quite pronounced. The breakfast buffet was varied with omelets being quite good. For the evening meal I had a Pilsner beer, chicken Marcella with rice and cole slaw while Darla had a Fanta orange, schnitzel, veggies and French fries. I used the business center Internet service for a 15 minute session costing $2.00. Upon leaving the Fairview we completed a survey as to our stay. Next time I checked our e-mail I noticed a response from the Fairview thanking us for doing the survey and telling us that employee Dan, the omelet cook would get a cash bonus ‘cause we specifically mentioned him as an employee who made our stay special.

On our way to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage we stopped at an Exchange Bureau near Wilson Airport to change US dollars into Kenyan shillings at the rate of 72 for $1 US. The orphanage is actually within Nairobi NP but accessed by an external road. There we saw 30 young elephants in three age groups being fed as narrators told us about the orphanage mission as well as circumstances behind each little elephants. Poaching, starvation, human-animal interactions (falling in wells), etc. Kind of a humbling story about a dedicated effort to rear these little guys to the point where they are then released back into the wild. Program runs from 11 am ‘til noon with another public feeding later in the afternoon. I had some doubt as to going to the orphanage but now appreciate what we saw and heard.

Rest of day we spent in Nairobi N. P a very, very, small park by African standards. But, I particularly wanted to see it given its immediate proximity to suburbs of Nairobi, presence of black rhino and various birds. It is fenced on three sides but not the southern perimeter which provides access for the Masai and their cattle. With the major drought the park was hit extra hard by herds of cattle seeking water. We saw numerous carcasses of animals particularly cattle which succumbed to he drought. We saw Cape Buffalo, ostrich, more eland than I had ever seen, Thompson’s gazelle, coke hartebeest, black rhino (5 different ones including three in one group), giraffe, wildebeest, hyrax, and numerous birds. Also, stopped at the memorial (pile of ashes) commemorating the burning of 60 tons of elephant ivory as the beginning of major efforts to eliminate elephant poaching by this new country. It was an interesting day with relatively few vehicles in the park.

Next day off to Wilson Airport for flight to Samburu National Park. Rather ironic that birds we first saw at the airport were introduced English (House) sparrows! After a 1 hr 45 minute 200 mile flight (with a stop at the Nanyuki airfield) we arrived at the Samburu field. Peter from Larsen’s Camp met us. Tossed the bags into the vehicle and we were off on the 15 minute ride to the lodge. En route we saw dik dik, impala, gerenuk antelope, Grevy’s zebra, 5 lions, 3 elephants, a turtle in a roadside puddle, vervet monkeys, and various birds including firefinches, barbet, ruffous starling, Von Decker hornbill, white-rumped swallow, buffalo weaver, white browed sparrow, crested bustard, white-faced mousebird, nymaqua dove, red-rumped social weavers, morning laughing dove, beeeater, superb starling, kori bustard, ring-necked dove, tawny eagle, olive-spotted thrush, red-billed hornbill, black-headed weaver, red-bellied scinitarbill, martial eagle, lilac-breasted roller, yellow and red-billed oxpeckers, square- tailed Durango, singing wooddove and the “exotic” vulturine guineafowl. The impact of the drought was clearly evident with carcasses of animals including Masai cattle lost during the prolonged dry season. We also developed an appreciation why the river was so muddy. Much of the landscape was void of any ground vegetation and soils are easily displaced by rainfall. Thus, even after a few minute shower, slopes, ditches and roads would have running brownish-red water.

Larsen’s camp is surrounded by fence of electrified wire but clearly accessible by monkeys and baboons. The nearby Uaso river was running high with reddish waters reflecting a recent heavy rain in the drainage. We settled in at the Harriers tent with a great view across the river and numerous birds in overhead tree branches and adjacent shrubs. Hadada ibis, Nubian woodpeckers, gray-headed kingfisher, sunbirds and others were soon spotted. Besides a couple from Ireland we were the only other guests at camp. We ate lunch on the wooden deck adjacent to the river. A young Samburu lad in native clothing worked to keep vervet monkeys and starlings from the lunch area. Lunch was zucchini soup, chicken w/rice, a veggie plate, a caramel desert, beer and a fanta orange. The camp included a pool and jacuzzi (w/massage area), an elevated observation deck, a dining/lounge pavilion, gift shop, reception area, and wonderful living areas in regards to 20 spacious tents on permanent platforms . We enjoyed life in the camp. When we were not on game drives we could look for birds, walk the perimeter fence to spot wildlife, or simply sit on the porch and relax. Each day staff swept pathways removing monkey dung and termite mounds in their early stages. Early morning wake-ups, if desired, included hot tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and biscuits (cookies). With so few guests in camp we were spoiled with extra attention. The first evening meal of potato/pea cream soup, steak with rice/veggies and ice cream with chocolate syrup and red wine for me and hot tea for Darla was started on the riverside deck but was soon moved into the dining pavilion due to a sudden rain. We slept well with the sound of rain on the tent top and the flowing river. Each morning around 4:30 birds came to life and for an early riser provided a symphony of sounds . Breakfast included eggs (even omelets), crepes, toast, juice, potatoes, bacon/sausage, tea, coffee, and fresh fruit. With low camp occupancy we were treated to a vehicle all to ourselves with our guide Peter. He was quite knowledgeable on birds and all the other fauna of the park. We decided to go with his schedule in regards to game drives as who better knew what was out and about and when. The one day we took box lunches and dined on a hill top across the river from camp. Peter took a folding table and chairs and the three of us enjoyed the view, lunch and a time of fellowship. We saw bat-eared foxes, more oryx, reticulated giraffe, cheetah up close, small group of lesser kudu, grants gazelle, African hare, leopard tortoise (our first for Africa), warthog, impala, crocodile, monitor lizard, black-sided jackal, leopard, dozens of bird species and more. Peter enjoyed our interest in birds. Late one morning he took us to a prominent rocky hill on top of which a park warden was stationed for observation purposes. The warden armed with an assault rifle escorted us to the top of the hill for a great view of the Samburu landscape. He would stay there all day checking out behavior of game drive vehicles in the areas, looking for poachers and communicating with fellow wardens by radio. Peter said that populations of Cape buffalo and warthog were particularly hard hit by the drought. It was great to see new growth of grass everywhere due to recent rain. Shortly before we spotted the lesser kudu I had a time of extra excitement when I saw what I thought was a large dog-like animal moving thru the grass. Peter got very excited when he thought it might be wild dogs. It turned out to be two bat-eared foxes walking one behind the other away from us. Still it was a nice sighting. The wooden boxes we saw on a tree now and then are part of an effort to keep elephant from destroying them. Seems bees occupy the boxes and elephants do not like bees.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Larsen’s Camp. The proximity of wildlife from the reddish colored elephants, the pair of larger Verreaux eagle- owls in the tree near us to the lizard living in the tent foundation provided for great fun while in camp. The food was varied, delicious and abundant. Since our program at Larsen’s included free drink (except for mixed drinks) and laundry we had no bill when we left.

On the morning of the flight back to Nairobi we were told we would be leaving earlier as the plane had to make a couple of extra stops. As we awaited the plane at the airstrip local venders really pestered us. Failing at making sales, one asked if we had any magazines we did not want. I remembered I had a paperback I had finished reading and had intended to leave at the camp. One fellow was delighted to get it as well as an ink pen I gave to he and his colleagues. The plane arrived and we were off first to Nanyuyki (also to refuel) and then onto the Masai Mara. There we learned we were awaiting a larger plane from Nairobi which was also shuttling passengers to/from airstrips in the Mara. I expressed concern that at the current rate we might miss our flight from Wilson Airport to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. The pilot suggested we transfer to the larger plane as it had fewer stops and most likely would be the first to Wilson. Luggage was transferred. After a 4 minute flight we landed at the next airstrip and after another 7 minutes the second one. Then, off to Wilson way behind schedule. Landing at Wilson Airport we were met by an Air Kenya rep who got our luggage and literally walked us thru passport control and customs into the waiting room so we could board the flight to Kilimanjaro which supposedly was being held up for us. What a customer-friendly approach!

Said flight took about an hour. We landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport about the same time as a much larger aircraft (Entriea maybe). So there was a crowd headed to the passport control visa issuing area. We had our blue entry cards completed and passports and visa applications in hand. But, we soon learned an influenza form had to be completed as well. Again, it turned out to be an informal process and one not necessarily linked to the other documents. While many travelers stood in the long passport check lines we were second in the one for visas. The official again ignored our completed forms, processed our passports accordingly, accepted two crisp $100 bills from us and motioned us thru. At the luggage carousel we prepared ourselves for a wait when one airport employee motioned us over to a small pile of luggage from our aircraft! I carried it to the customs area where I was quite surprised to hear the official there ask “what do you have in this bag”. I was kind of dumbfounded but was able to respond,” my clothing, dirty laundry, flashlight and the like”. He grinned and motioned for us to exit the building. Moving outside we soon saw our to-be-guide Nicholas from Roy Safari with appropriate sign. After a very short walk to his vehicle we were on our 45 minute or so drive to Arusha. On previous trips to Kilimanjaro Airport we had arrived during hours of darkness so it was a treat to take the drive in daylight.
Nicholas was delighted to hear we were returning visitors and right away we began to get to know each other, our interests, etc. Since it was still mid afternoon, traffic was rather light so the drive was extra enjoyable. The sights and sounds began to become familiar from previous trips. Soon we pulled into the African Tulip Hotel a rather new building adjacent to the one housing Roy Safari. Nicholas helped us check in, confirmed the next day’s schedule and then bid us an enjoyable evening. The Hotel offered an attractive outdoor pool, outside lounge, beautiful shrubbery and trees with accompanying sunbirds, air-conditioned rooms, a bar and a spacious dining room highlighted with a artificial, walk-thru baobab tree. We opted to eat in the first evening, used the internet service and got a good night’s sleep. I also exchanged US dollars for Tanzanian shillings at the rate of 1: 1,240. The rate for $1 bills was a bit lower at 1,200 Tsh.

Nicholas was there about 8 the next morning and we were off to Arusha National Park. It was Sunday and numerous persons in colorful attire were on their way to church as Bibles were obvious. On the way, Nicholas spoke about all sorts of things. While Coke was the most popular soda, Pepsi was attempting to get into the market. A species of pine was the common wood used in the handmade furniture industry in Arusha. Chicken was the more expensive meat. Large trees with numerous blue flowers were referred to as “Christmas trees” keeping the blossoms from early October ‘til Christmas. Also, there are some 200 species of bananas. I asked why so many potted plants were along many roads and streets as if numerous nurseries were in the area. Nicholas said individuals were encouraged to grow vegetables and other plants along roadsides to keep streets clean and attractive.

While Nicholas took care of paperwork at the park entrance Darla and I immediately began seeing birds in nearby bushes. Variable sunbirds were plentiful but difficult to photograph being so busy. At the “little Serengeti” area we saw giraffe and zebra. Moving higher into the park the dense vegetation added to the mystery of what we would see next. At a bridge I remember from our 2007 visit, we spied a martial eagle in a tall tree. It appeared to have the leg of a dik dik. Birds such as grey-headed kingfisher, silver-cheeked hornbill, ross’s turaco, sacred ibis, jacana, amythist sunbird, and auger buzzard were added to our list. Colorful black and white colubus monkeys were spotted at a couple of sites. Waterbuck, blue monkey, bush buck, warthog, and olive baboon were noted. At the Ngurdoto crater overlook we spied Cape buffalo hidden in the grasses far below. Around the lakes we spotted various waterfowl and shorebirds. Along select shoreline areas lesser pink flamingoes abounded and in some coves appeared as a narrow ribbon sewed to the shore. We enjoyed box lunches of hardboiled egg, 2 hot/dogs (sausages w/o buns), banana, biscuit, candy bar, cupcake, a pie dough filled with cooked veggies, and juice. Sharp-eyed Nicholas spotted a green snake (a boomslang) coiled up in a tree adjacent to the road. Passing “little Serengeti” on our way back to the park entrance we saw a male and female bushbuck. And, a mom giraffe and new born which had broken one foot.

We decided to venture into Arusha for dinner at the Dragon Pearle Restaurant. Hotel staff said the place was not too far away but highly encouraged the use of a taxi given the time of day. A staff member hailed us a cab and did the negotiations for the fare. Taxis in Arusha are not readily identified as a “taxi”. In fact we were looking at what we thought was an unmarked sedan. The driver agreed to take us to the Dragon Pearle for 2,000 tsh ($1.60)each way. The staffer said to pay the one way amount, tell the driver when to pick us up and pay the other half later. Off we went only to discover the Dragon Pearle was only 2 - 3 blocks from the hotel! But, it was dark and there was a lot of pedestrian traffic on the streets. We had a delicious dinner. Upon exiting the restaurant, two young lads overheard the word “taxi” as Darla and I conversed and before we could react said they would get us a taxi. One ran thru the dark parking lot to a dark sedan parked under some trees. He and the vehicle soon approached us. I thanked him and said we had made arrangements with another taxi but would wait only so long before we considered his friend’s vehicle. The first car never returned so I ventured over to the second one and began the process. He said he would take us back to the hotel for something like 5,000 tsh. I responded that the first one brought us here for 2,000. He then came down to 3,000 and we agreed (as I was going to tip the first guy 1,000 anyway). As we got in the car I wondered if I made the right decision as again, I had no way of knowing if this was for real or not. But, we arrived at the hotel and all was well. Next morning I asked Nicholas for clarification on taxis. He said some are well marked with a “taxi” sign but most have simply a hand size circle on the side with a number while some are simply personal cars used by drivers to make pocket money.

The next morning Brian from Roy Safari came over for a short pre-departure briefing and then we were off to Tarangire NP. First Nicholas took us to a local store so Darla could shop for tanzanite. Obviously, the sales lady started at the high end with two pieces in the $2,400 to $3,000 plus range. With some humor I suggested she come down a bit not only in regards to size but price as well. Even though we have some experience with tanzanite I still felt at the mercy of the establishment. Finally a piece was selected. Darla said even though we may be paying a bit more than it was worth, it will be special to her. Having heard that, how could I go wrong? Guess we are richest when on vacation or holiday as my British friends would say. I also told the sales lady she would do well selling used cars in the US!

We stopped at a grocery store so Nicholas could get a few things for his lunch. I continued to be amazed at the industrious citizens of the city. Pushcarts, street vendors selling just about anything, carpenters, small boys tending a cow or two, smoking diesel trucks (lorries), hundreds of dalla-dallas or mini-buses, the occasional safari vehicle (cars), colorfully dressed ladies balancing heavy loads on their heads, and guys sything grass along the road plus youngsters in school uniforms kept me entertained as we drove thru town. When we drove past the Heritage Cultural Center, he pointed out the beautiful building under construction for the new showroom. Recent rains initiated new grass first along roadways and then spreading inland. Yet, as we drove further into the country side we saw numerous carcasses of cattle which succumbed to the drought. As we got closer to the Makuyyuni intersection ((turnoff towards Manyara and northwestward), the counts increased. Pulling into the entrance to Tarangire National Park I was struck with how dry it was compared to what I recalled during visits in May/June. And, it was quite a bit warmer particularly when in the sun. Several safari cars were in the parking lot –more than I remember on previous visits. The stairway around the baobab tree was closed so we loafed in the shade near the vehicles after visiting the restrooms. A smaller leopard tortoise was noted but seemed to escape the attention of the other safari goers. Maybe they were too caught up in the overall adventure ahead. As we drove along, past the road grader attempting to keep the road smooth, I recognized a couple of spots where I remembered taking photos of specific animals on previous trips only conditions now were much, much drier and game was easier to spot. Nicholas was not a chatterbox on the radio but now and then did check with a fellow Roy Safari driver also in the park. Occasionally, vehicles from other companies would stop and the drivers would chat. Often he would share what the conversation was about. When told of an unusual or special sighting was up ahead, he knew how to build the anticipation! Elephants, giraffe, a leopard, 3 lions, cape buffalo, wart hog, grant gazelle, impala and other mammals and literally dozens of different bird species kept us busy. We enjoyed lunch at a formal picnic area overlooking the river. There I witnessed one of the dumbest things I have seen on safari. Some guy was feeding a large baboon so his significant other could take a photo. He was actually handing a piece of food to the outreached hand of the baboon. We were dumb founded! Later Nicholas got word of a leopard in a roadside tree on the route we would be taking to KiKoti Camp. A major thunder storm was developing but yes, indeed, there was this beautiful male leopard in plain view about 15 feet up in the tree. Nicholas suggested we wait awhile as the approaching rain would most likely cause the leopard to seek shelter on the ground. Sure enough, he came down, peed, crossed the road so close to us the hood blocked the view and slowly moved away thru the grass.

In a pouring rainstorm we drove to Kikoti Camp a few kilometers outside Tarangire Park. There large, spacious tents on permanent raised platforms with attractive thatched roofs and canvas occupy an elevated position with a separate lounge/dining pavilion mid-camp and a small reception office. The huge bed with mosquito netting had plenty of walking room around it. Twin stone wash basins, a nice size shower stall and toilet area made for a very nice three night stay. Numerous trees in the area provided habitat for a wealth of bird life and old dung suggested larger wildlife such as Cape buffalo and elephant frequented the area. Ground vegetation was rather sparse given the dry conditions. I believe only one or two other couples or small groups were in camp during our stay. Staff could not have been more accommodation or friendly. The one female server did get a bit cold with us once she realized I did not vote for President Obama. Normally I do not talk politics during our travels but several people did ask me about our new President. Most shared a common theme as to politicians having a difficult job attempting to please all people. We did agree that it is great for the US that regardless of skin color, the possibility is there for anyone to become president.

Our first meal was creamed celery soup, lamb kabob, stuffed chicken breast, chick peas in tomato sauce, vegetable salad, potatoes, cheese cake, roll , tea and coffee. As at many tented camps guests are escorted back to their tents after dinner given the possibility of encountering wildlife. During the nite we heard lions and hyena in the distance. During subsequent game drives we continued to add to our bird and mammal lists as well. More leopard, eland, more lions, steenbok, waterbuck, mongoose, squirrel, impala with baby, and a male kudu! Lunch was spaghetti with mushroom sauce, fish cake (Nile River perch), veggie pizza, carrot/pineapple salad, and some kind of tart for dessert, with hot tea and coke. As we left on another drive, Nicholas suddenly pulled to a stop and we immediately began to search for what he had seen. In a high shrub immediately adjacent to the road he spied a well camouflaged (brown leaf pattern) chameleon! How he ever saw it continues to amaze me. He said he doesn’t like to park under trees as chameleons have been known to fall and “they bite”. Here and there we encountered tsetse flies which seem oblivious to insect repellant and hard swats. Not really an issue given infrequent encounters. But, I was pleased to have dispatched three or four during one day and had carcasses to show for it. One evening we ventured over to the campfire area to enjoy a drink before dinner. The two staff members who escorted us were armed with what appeared to be homemade bows and arrows. Such were used to discourage critters from bothering guests on walks between tents and the lounge. At the campfire several staff members began to vacate the area upon our arrival. We asked them not to leave as there were plenty of chairs and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Seeing our two escorts there we asked if the group would also enjoy a coke. Facial expressions “said yes” so we treated the 5 or 6. I asked how accurate the one was with his bow. He said he could hit a certain size target at 100 meters! And, his buddies supported his claim. I was amazed at that distance given my experience with a modern bow. He offered to show me and let me try the next morning (but we left early). Another fellow allowed me to pose with him and his spear while Darla took a few photos. That short time around the fire with those men will stay with me for a long time.

Each morning we noted the vehicle was freshly clean with a bottle of water in the holder at each seat. Nicholas frequently asked if we had enough water and I appreciated his concern for us getting dehydrated. And, we could always “check the tires” so to speak if Nature called! Darla was delighted when drives usually included a more appropriate facility although she experienced a fall in one. Something about mastering the two concrete blocks!

During one mid day break between game drives we sat on the porch reading or stalking birds around the camp. We continued to hear the sounds of a nearby woodpecker and finally pinned down the location. The wily bird was drilling for insects on the underside of the roof of the unoccupied tent next to ours. Each time I attempted to get into position for a photo it spied me and flew away. Finally I slowed my pace and movement and was rewarded with a reasonable picture. During another game drive we encountered a swarm of termites. Apparently, recent rains initiated the annual swarm of winged termites to emerge from the ground and fly off seeking new homes. Bird life really responded to the new source of food and various species were swooping, darting, running and pecking as they gorged themselves on this banquet. Bee-eaters, spur fowl, guineafowl, and more were less wary of the vehicle as they fed.

Nicholas pointed out the wood for the luggage stand near the camp entrance is rhino rib wood. It is a twisted, yet smooth tough wood fitting the name. Twisted like strands of licorice. I could just imagine my chain saw tackling rhino rib wood.

We really didn’t want to leave Kikoti Camp. I think it was Darla’s favorite in Tanzania. Undoubtedly more game will frequent the camp area as grass responds to the rain. As it was, we did notice more game getting closer the three days there. The only negative, if you will, is the distance outside the park. However, with no fences game is free to wonder. Our bill for Kikoti Safari Camp came to $48.00 (10 sodas at $2 each, 2 beer at $4 each and $20 for laundry). The laundry price was actually a very good one. For $20 we got all the items we could cram in a rather good size basket!

With box lunches we departed Tarangire NP for the drive to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. As we passed thru the town of Mto Wa Mbu green landscape became more pronounced given recent rainfall and irrigated fields. Stacks of green bananas awaited transportation to markets elsewhere, colorful crafts were on display and clothing and wall hangings with pictures of President Obama were quite obvious. Recently tilled fields of rich volcanic soils were being planted. At the entrance to the NCA we noted the new archway over the road, new gift shop and visitors center. We ate our picnic lunches of roast chicken, veg patties, juice, apple, cheese sandwich and muffin making sure nearby baboons kept their distance as we watched commercial and safari vehicles come and go. The abrupt change from macadam to stone, dirt road slowed the pace a bit. Darla and I were excited as we reentered the bush, so to speak, with game trails and sign of Cape buffalo and elephant quite noticeable. At the crater overlook I had to fight back a tear thinking of daughter Beth and how I wish she were along (a recent college graduate working part time). For our one nite stay at the crater rim we selected the Sopa Lodge as for one thing the nearby access road to the crater was very convenient. However, rules must have changed as we were told that road is only for exiting the crater and we had to drive almost half way around the rim to use the descending road and then repeat that journey the next am to continue on to the Serengeti. For those who have never driven the rim road it is quite an experience. It is narrow, windy, bumpy, yes muddy and everyone drives (those darn British!) on the left side. One can expect to meet oncoming buses, large cargo and petrol trucks, not to mention safari cars hurrying to the next destination and the occasional cape buffalo or even elephant. Occasionally, one will see a sign “pole-pole” or slow down. Vegetation is quite lush with tall trees draped with flowing moss, high grass, flowering shrubs, and little ponds here and there. Masai with their cattle and donkeys also frequent the area.

At the gate while Nicholas did the usual paperwork check, Darla and I spotted birds including the every busy sunbirds. Into the crater, we discovered new birds for the trip, large elephant, hippos, cape buffalo, a serval cat, Thompson and Grant’s gazelle, wildebeest, lions, hyena, eland, and a male kori bustard showing off his beautiful plumage to potential mates, . At a distance we watched a black rhino. Then, Nicholas spied another one slowly grazing as it moved along. Nicholas determined the course of travel and felt we had a good chance of having this fellow cross the road near us. He was right on and we were positioned with excellent side light for good pics when the rhino crossed. However, just as he was getting close, an impatient driver relocated his car and the rhino veered away crossing on the other side of us so we would be shooting into the sun. Regardless, we had a thrill of seeing a black rhino up close. Best situation in the 4 times we have been in the crater! We anticipated 2 black manned lions attempting a buffalo kill but the prey of 6 ran away shortly after they saw the lions in the tall grass ahead. Shortly afterwards the clouds really let loose and the area got a good soaking. As we began the ascent road three young male and a female lion crossed the road. The three began to stalk a lone eland from a distance. The eland was well aware of the young lions and even I could tell it was an exercise in futility. The young female seemed to also realize it was a hopeless cause. Obviously, the eland ran away.

Back on the rim road we turned off towards Sopa Crater Lodge, passed a small herd of Masai cattle and soon pulled into the reception area. As I recalled from previous visits, staff greeted us with calls of “Jambo” and provided glasses of chilled juice. We had room #25 on the left side of the lodge. First time ever on that side. View from our window was mostly vegetated area next to lodge but full of birds including sunbirds, masked weavers, speckled mousebirds and more. Our servers were Israel, Jacob and Lawrence. Had creamy zucchini soup, chicken with roasted potatoes, rolls and chocolate moouse with cokes. Breakfast was buffet style with personalized omelets, great variety of side dishes, fruits, juices, meats, and pastries. While taking photos of the crater from the patio area, a gal from Canada asked me to take a picture of her next to the sign post (having arrows pointing to various cities with distances), As I did so I noticed a very fresh cow “pie” next to her. Noted what appeared to be a footprint in it. She thanked me and told her friend she had to return to the room and change shoes!

Driving the crater rim road was an experience all by itself. We came upon a major (major for the area) line of traffic. Seemed a petrol truck got stuck in the soft road bed (being graded during the rainy season mind you). Nicholas was given warning that something was up ahead by the line of small limbs with green leaves along the side of the road. Such serve as warning flares or emergency triangles in the US. As more vehicles, mostly safari cars lined up, each driver went around the bend to inquire. Darla suddenly said “I should not look over there” as a man in Masai attire opted to relieve himself w/o bothering to move to the bushes. Soon we were motioned forward and we creeped around the stuck truck. Apparently, a tow truck or heavy piece of equipment had been summoned. Further on another vehicle was stuck and I felt for the young man trying to dig it free with only a hoe.

Nicholas continued onward, focusing on the road given the extent of the traffic, mud, etc when Darla suddenly yelled leopard! We backed up maybe 75’ and sure enough saw a female leopard moving thru the vegetation near an opening. Nicholas said that was first time he ever saw a leopard on the rim road! We continued past the Masai villages along the long curve into a huge grassy valley as we descended from the crater rim. Masai children in full native attire stood along the road dancing for picture taking and treats. Ostrich, impala, zebra , Thompson gazelle and even a few wildebeest kept us entertained. At Oldupai gorge we had a welcomed toilet stop and museum visit. The lecturer had a very good presentation on the Leakey research and history of the area. Even though several birds kept flying back and forth I remained focused on the lecture. One, a golden masked weaver, landed practically on the camera on the table!

Upon first meeting Nicholas we asked him if he knew Zoya (from our 2007 trip) and Godfrey (2002 and 2004 trips). He knew Zoya being active in organization of guides but not Godfrey. When we encountered a Predators Safari vehicle Nicholas inquired about Godfrey and we learned he passed away about a year ago. We have many fond recollections of him introducing us to Tanzania years ago.

Nicholas enjoyed telling us about the big cats. We learned cheetah have over 3,000 spots, eat fast, digest fast, and are very tolerant of other cheetahs. And, that he has had them jump on the hood of his vehicle for better viewing of the area.

In planning this trip we opted to split our Serengeti nights between two camps /lodges not only to make for more efficient travel but also to explore different habitats of the Serengeti area. As we passed the turn off to the Ndutu area Nicholas was pleased to see columns of wildebeest on the horizon meaning the migration was well underway into the Serengeti. Just past the Nabi Hill entrance it was very obvious we were going to see huge numbers of wildebeest. We could not wait ‘til paperwork was completed so we could proceed into the formal Serengeti NP. Right away we spied lions along the road! Groups of zebra, Thompson gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, yes, wildebeest, a hyena , kori bustards, ostrich, plovers, secretary brids, hartebeest, guinea fowl, 2 cheetah, black-bellied bustards, black-winged stilts along the Seronera River, hippos, more lions, topi, and more were seen en route to the Mbuzi Mawe tented camp. And, long columns of wildebeest became more common. Ground vegetation was quite sparse but new grass was very apparent. Numerous elephant were seen in a forested area. When we got to camp rain was falling and staff greeted us with large umbrellas. Tents on permanent pads were scattered around huge granite stones from a previous geological age. Piles of buffalo dung told me we were not at a fenced camp! At the reception area we checked in and were told the meal schedule, do’s and don’ts’ in regards to security, services available and that an international group would be performing local songs and dances before the evening meal. We prepared a batch of laundry for washing ($1.50/pr trousers, $1.25 per shirt, $0.80 per underwear). A soda was around $1.60 and a beer $4.00. If I recall we got a slightly better exchange rate at 1,290 Ksh per $1.

Took in the local group singing and dancing. While in the lounge area enjoying the entertainment and our drinks we noted several large and I mean large moths flittering about. One swooped down and actually got in the glass of red wine of a fellow traveler. It seemed to take a long drink and then flew out onto the table and stayed there for over an hour never moving. The gentleman did not see the incident but I told him as other moths were present. Staff brought over paper covers for the glasses. The moths and other flying critters were a real nuisance particularly in the dining room. The dinner began with a chicken salad, followed by excellent tomato soup, then glazed pork chops with potatoes/rice/veggies, rolls and a fruit salad. All tables were filled and the numerous servers and attendees gave the place a stuffy feeling. But, we were in Africa! It was raining again when we were escorted back to our tent and I noticed frogs on the walkway but could not stop to admire them. During the night we heard lions roar, baboons bark, Cape buffalo walking on the path, and numerous birds on and around the tent during early morning hours. We were surprised to find hot water bottles in our bed. Darla said hers stayed quite warm thru the morning! Breakfast was very good with various eggs and side dishes. Staff served each of us a glass of champagne ( tasty but hardly what I want to begin the day with!).

Nicholas had a long day planned for us so we took box lunches. Cape buffalo were at the edge of camp as we left. New sightings included klipspringer and many more birds. Came upon 3 brother cheetah sharing a young wildebeest kill. Watched the group for some time particularly to see vultures and marabou storks gather and the ensuing melee. But , while birds came in they remained quite shy even when the cheetah moved off. Then, we really got into the wildebeest with large bunches and/or long columns on the move. Once when two columns were near converging on one another, individuals got confused and a bunch of maybe 500 began running in a large circle around our vehicle in a clockwise motion. I noted one particular individual did the circle three times! We drove into the Lobo area and I was very impressed with the beauty and landscape there. Klipspringer were to be found in the high rocky places. We ate lunch at the open camping area and across the valley we could see herds of wildebeest moving onward. In some areas we saw acres and acres of grass lands occupied by feeding wildebeest and occasional zebra. Another driver told Nicholas about a hyena lying under a tree. Sure enough there it was. What we didn’t know nor would have it been easy to spot, was there a leopard was way up in the tree with the carcass of an antelope. Then, we came upon 4 (3 adult female and one cub) lions lying around with the occasional visit to a wildebeest carcass for another bite. Between us and the lions the ground was practically vegetation-less save for a little bush here and there. On an earlier safari we learned after checking out the animal or bird easily seen to looked around a bit and see what else might be present. Sure, enough as I used the binocs to look at the one small bush, something moved and it turned out to be a ear flick of a bat-eared fox lying just a short distance from the lions but in just enough of a depression to be hidden. More eland and as we came back to Mbuzi Mawe more herds, more columns of wildebeest.

Another interesting meal- salad, cooked banana wrapped with bacon/ sauce, rolls, sliced turkey, rice, potatoes, steamed veggies, lemon fluff w/chocolate sauce and fruit slices. Was not to crazy about cooked banana. That evening we had the entertainment with dancing and acrobatics. What a high energy group!

In route to the Nabi Hill gate at times we saw columns of wildebeest from horizon to horizon moving south. Also, saw baboons, topi, zebra, warthog with piglets, giraffe, gazelle, several lions, 2 cheetah on a termite mound, a leopard on the ground, hartebeest, a cheetah with 4 cubs, reed buck, kori bustards, and a host of other bird species. Approaching the upward grade to Nabi Hill, Nicholas alerted us we were experiencing a flat tire and he had to stop. Made us remain in the vehicle (for safety reasons) while he changed tires. Practically the next vehicle to us was one of his fellow Roy Safari drivers returning to Arusha as his clients flew back. So, he helped with the tire and traded one of his spares with Nicholas so we would have two good ones. Had lunch at the Nabi Hill stop. While there tried to photograph African Paradise Fly Catchers with the beautiful long tails to no avail. Past there saw three golden jackals, gazelle, ostrich, and many more wildebeest.

Area at turn off to Lake Ndutu , a salt lake having no outlet, was much more arid than further north. The occasional Thompson’s gazelle greeted us. Once into the forested area began seeing giraffe, impala, and more birds . Ndutu Camp, located within sight of the salty lake, is a series of small cottages with a spacious lounge/dining area adjacent to an office, gift shop and other buildings. No fences so guests are encouraged to stay a certain distance of the cottages. Large trees provided homes to a variety of birds and a small bird bath attracted numerous ones particularly in the morning. Marleen Koppen is the camp manager and a very gracious hostess. Genet cats frequent the dining area and were to be seen both nights on rafters above. Only a couple of cottages were occupied so attendance at meals was light. And, guides were permitted to joins clients at meal time. We were delighted that Nicholas joined us and we took care of his drink (soda). This camp was about the only one where we encountered any number of mosquitoes and this being during mid-day when we sat outside. Nicholas said they were not the malaria carrying type but they made it unpleasant to be on the porch. Maybe if we had used repellant things would have been different.

Given the recent prolonged dry spell the area was a bit desolate in comparison to what we had just experienced. But, pockets of game and birds were to be had. Lovebirds, brown snake eagle, sand grouse, auger bustards, hartebeest, ostrich, harriers, starlings, etc . Near the freshwater marsh numerous water-related birds were to be seen. Looking ahead we saw a column of wildebeest approaching the grassy areas near the marsh. On the extended plains on the far side we came upon two large, manned lions and eventually the rest of the pride (9 cubs and 3 adult females) under bushes. Then, Nicholas spotted two hyena feeding on a wildebeest carcass (mostly the head, rib cage and two front legs). We were so close we could hear the bones being crunched. In the Ndutu area which is outside of the Serengeti one can drive off road. Off in the distance we saw a cheetah approaching and it walked right up to the vehicle kind of chirping and/or barking occasionally. Nicholas thought it might have been calling its brother. It veered off its original course when it saw the two male lions. We had the hyena, cheetah and lion pride practically to ourselves. Looking towards the horizon a large number of wildebeest and a few Cape buffalo were moving towards us. And, we came upon a pair of secretary birds building a nest in the top of an acacia tree. More luck than skill but I got a decent overhead shot of one bringing in a couple of large branches for the nest. What a morning!

Back at the lodge we enjoyed a lunch of cream of celery soup, brown bread, egg rice, chicken cooked in coconut sauce, peas, carrots, tossed salad and a crepe filled with fruit. Superb starling, cordon bleu, ruffous-tailed weaver, barbets, lovebirds, white-headed buffalo weaver, red-billed starling and various sparrows and doves enjoyed the bird bath. The late afternoon game drive was compounded a bit given the area Nicholas selected hosted sizeable numbers of Masai cattle and goats. Still saw a number of birds and various mammals. Along the freshwater lake now very low due to the drought we saw numerous now desiccated carcasses of wildebeest drowned during crossings last June.

During our last breakfast at Ndutu we saw impala near the camp and two hyena crossed in front of the dining pavilion. We again encountered the lonely cheetah from the previous day and the pride of lions. And, more wildebeest were on the horizon as well as rain clouds. The drive to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area gate was long and dusty with occasional wildlife here and there. We looked for Darla’s leopard on the rim road but to no avail. When we exited the rest rooms at the Nabi Hill gate we heard screaming and yelling. Seems a baboon had climbed into a safari car and was attempting to open luggage inside. The occupants had foolishly left the pop-up roof up! They finally got the baboon to exit the vehicle without taking anything.

As we motored towards Lake Manyara we thought areas looked a bit greener than even some 5 or 6 days ago. Turning off the main road towards the Kirurumu Tented Lodge I recalled the rough, bumpy ride to get to this very special camp overlooking Lake Manyara. Staff greeted us with chilled juice and then took us to the Carcal tent #7 which Darla thought we had before (who knows). Again, a great assemblage of birds awaited us. And, we were not disappointed with the food. Vegetable soup w/croutons, roll, chicken, potatoes, veggies, and a crepe stuffed with fruit with a caramel sauce. Sodas were $1.60 and a Kilimanjaro beer was $3. Darla spotted a bishop bird, variable sunbirds and an African Gray Hornbill. Although not bothersome, it seemed a bit nosier than we could recall or maybe sound travels better on dry clear evenings. We could hear music and certainly dogs from a nearby village. During the night we think security guards were chatting on their cell phones. Early in the morning a couple of roosters maintained a steady performance. We still slept well. Breakfast was excellent with the personally prepared omelets and crepes.

Before you knew it we were at the gate to Lake Manyara National Park ready for our last game drive of the trip. Immediately, a group of fighting silver-cheeked hornbill were sighted within a short distance of the road and right next to feeding elephants. We spent a wonderful morning exploring the roads within the park. At the hippo pool visitors can depart vehicles and stand behind a railing for picture taking and observing. It was quite hot in the open and one had to look into the morning sun to see hippos and numerous water-related birds. Still we added to our bird list. Warthog, baboons, kingfishers, storks, egrets, herons, geese, wildebeest, zebra, Cape buffalo, vervet monkey, water buck, ground hornbill and numerous small birds entertained us. At any one stop we were likely to see half a dozen different birds if we simply took our time and looked around. As we crossed one bridge on our way to the park exit a beautiful male bushbuck was grazing and gave us a chance to admire his colors.

Exiting the park we headed thru Mto Wa Mbu where we ate our box lunches in the lounge of a local safari hotel where Nicholas often stops. Dick asked Nicholas to drive extra slow thru town so he could photo local business including the crafts depicting President Obama. En route to Arusha we experienced a sudden thunderstorm and saw how easily top soil is eroded, filling ditches and stream beds. At one small roadside puddle a Masai man was taking a bath but with his back to the road! In Arusha we used the day room at the African Tulip for showering and changing clothes before heading to Kilimanjaro airport. Actually, we got there way too early. Before going thru the final security check point one has access to eateries and several shops including a duty-free one. The trip home was uneventful although long. The return flight goes first to Dar es Salaam to discharge and take on new passengers but first a team cleans the cabin. That travel and cleaning adds a couple more hours to an otherwise long flight. But, it was quiet and we slept. Thinking we would not be fed on the transatlantic flight we had lunch and also used up a few Euros from previous travel for a Christmas ornament. Otherwise, the airport shops are way too expensive. Airline fed us again shortly after departing Amsterdam! Arrived at Dulles on time and proceeded thru immigration and customs the fastest ever. We were in the van heading home within an hour of touching down. Got to State College a bit before 10 PM.

Fantastic trip. No regrets.
Lodging suggested by Sandi was great and well worth the investment. Also, her ideas as to itinerary were also right on. It might be easy to judge lodges/camps based on proximity of game which is definitely influenced by season and weather (dry periods/rainy). Also relative price might be a factor as well. Not staying at a high end lodge/camp might encourage extending the length of a safari. It was very nice being at a low occupancy camp/lodge as opposed to larger crowds at lodges elsewhere. Darla really liked Larsen’s Camp. Proximity to water, nearness to wildlife, staff, lay-out, etc really appealed to her. Don’t think I will have any difficulty asking her to stay there on a return visit.
Our guide, Peter, at Larsen’s Camp was excellent. Welcome opportunity to stay there again and to have him guide us around Samburu. Nice sense of humor and worked to show us all he could find.
Wildtrek Safari in my opinion had less than a stellar performance. Again, based only on one day in Nairobi National Park our guide did not have any wildlife id books nor did he have binoculars. And, he seemed hesitant with birds. He seemed to ignore such unless called to his attention.
Roy Safari more than met our expectations. In fact, exceeded them. Nicholas was courteous, punctual, humorous, yet serious as necessary. Knew his stuff. Often, would point out birds (in particular) in our book so nothing was lost in naming. Personal—shared his private and family life with us. Left us with a better understanding of life in Tanzania. On occasion may have stretched break time while in conversation with fellow guides. But, given his commitment regarding driving safety, pointing out game, even starting early on drives, etc, made for a nice balance. Was not constantly chatting on the radio but did have a tendency at times to use his cell phone a bit much. Realizing the number of days away from family, etc maybe there is room for such. All-in-all we would definitely have him for a guide on a future safari. We were so impressed with his performance that in addition to a reasonable tip we also gave him our hard cover bird book!
Packing. Other than the appropriate adapter for our charger, I don’t recall any thing we should have taken but didn’t. Darla thought she might have enjoyed having our National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife along so she could check out some of the mammals and reptiles we saw. Glad we took wash cloth as such is not always provided even at the high end camps. I should have known better as to maximum size of packaged liquids/gels in regards to shaving cream and customs. Clothing was just about right given opportunity for laundry service. Could have left large brimmed safari hat home. Glad I didn’t take vest. My small carry-on bag was fine for game drives. And, I didn’t look like I just walked out of A&F safari store! Probably took too many sets of rechargeable batteries but didn’t know how fast we might use them particularly if Darla used second camera much.
Money. No where did we encounter anyone with a preference for local currency. Glad I did exchange some in both countries not only for the sense of being there but was convenient for not having to do mental calculations.
Itinerary. No regrets as to where we went. Given the opportunity to return to either country I probably would make changes. Definitely wanted to see Nairobi National Park not only due to presence of black rhino but also as part of my background as a wildlife/fisheries manager given its proximity to a major city, the grazing issue with the Masai, etc. Doubt if I would do that one again. But, maybe during a different time of the year particularly when ponds, lakes and marshes are filled I might. Also, would depend on what my bird-loving wife desired. Same might apply to Arusha NP. Certainly, coming out of a dry season might have influenced what we saw in the Ndutu area but then again, maybe the sightings we had would not have been . Was very glad Sandi suggested flying to/from Samburu, as such increased game drive opportunity and otherwise we might not have had Peter but maybe the guide from WildTrek. If ever we do the two country trip again, might reverse the order so we could fly home from Nairobi. The flight from Kilimanjaro to Dar with the cleaning and boarding time before departing Dar makes for one very long flight!
Am still compiling the bird list but would venture to say we saw and/or heard well over 150 species and could have easily had more if we had really pushed the birding part.
A humbling experience. Despite my various experiences with wildlife and fish over the years I am still humbled with the observation of the wildebeest migration. The power and sheet numbers of all those animals still leaves me awe struck. Likewise the importance of water not only to the flora and fauna of the land but the many people there was reinforced when we saw the effects of the drought. We ought not to take water for granted!
Safari organizer. No regrets using Africa Serendipity. Am sure such saved me hassle and worry.
Take more notes. Easy to think one can recall everything but the days on safari sometimes have tendancy to blend together. Glad Darla had her notebook. Not to the point where she missed seeing things (being busy in writing) but a new notes here and there make a difference later.
Dick and Darla Snyder

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