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Trip Report of a different kind - Tanzania

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Disclaimer: This was not a typical safari as game-viewing was not the priority. I just wanted to:
a) update the GPS/lodge/road information for my Google Earth site, and
b) scope out new safari routes with a long-time guide and friend and to tap him for information!

A] Our route & itinerary:

1. Arusha – NCA – Piaya (Loliondo) – Olosokwan (Loliondo) - Overnight at Nomad Loliondo Camp
2. Mara Region of Northern Serengeti – Overnight at Sayari Tented Camp
3. Grumeti Reserve Area – Central Serengeti – Overnight at the Serena
4. Southern Serengeti (Kusini & Ndutu) – Overnight at Ndutu
5. NCA via Endulen – Lake Eyasi – Karatu – Overnight at Octagon Lodge
6. Lake Manyara – Overnight at Kirurumu Tented Camp
7. Tarangire – Overnight at Sopa
8. Arusha

B] Migration Update:

We saw large herds crossing the Mara and run past Sayari going south.
We saw plenty of smaller herds between Migration Camp and Sayari
South of the Serengeti Serena we saw big herds streaming from the Western Corridor woodlands towards the central plains
We saw plenty of herds in the tsetse-infested woodlands between Moru Kopjes and Kusini.
We saw large herds on the plains north of the Kusini-Ndutu road.

Ndutu was a dustbowl. It has not rained there yet so the migration will wait before turning further south. It has rained a lot to the east of Ndutu near Endulen and the plains there are turning green.

In mid-November the migration appeared scattered between the northern & southern Serengeti and residents were joining the long lines. When the rains come in the south they will most likely leave the woodlands and move closer to Ndutu and beyond. But nobody knows for sure!

C] Google Earth maps update:

After our comprehensive swoop, is now the most accurate source of non-commercial information and images about safaris in Northern Tanzania! All the camp managers and owners I talked to promised to support me in keeping the maps accurate. Several of the mobile safaris companies are now using the maps to educate their agents, driver/guides and clients about the camp locations!

During our 12-hour days we verified the locations of just about every lodge, tented camp and camp area. I added many new pictures and HiDef video will soon be added to the pages to compliment the text.

Tarangire Lodge/Camp Update:

1. Boundary Hill Lodge in Tarangire made it through a huge wildfire but it won’t be completed for at least 3 months. If you look at my pictures you will agree that it will probably take much longer as much of the plastic piping,etc were destroyed. They also need to add better fire protection. The place seems very vulnerable.
2. Treetops Lodge has fire roads and the lodge survived the fire
3. Sidai Camp suffered badly and is closed indefinitely.
4. The deal between Naitolia Camp and Kirurumu Lodges/Camps fell apart. Tamarind Camp is once again the only Kirurumu property in Tarangire.
5. Just a short distance away, the new Elephant lodge is open for business but with new construction. Not bad but obviously designed for larger tour groups.
6. Whistling Thorn camp is also nearby but under construction. Time will tell. The NW corner just outside Tarangire is getting crowded with lodges and competition will be stiff.
7. Inside the park things have not changed much but one can now also buy entry permits at the Ranger Post near Kikoti! We will see how long this last!

Loliondo Update (warning – a controversial posting but it is an honest assessment from me who spend 2 days driving through the area. I am going back in late December to see if the rains will change the situation):

1. Loliondo was disappointing. Even my friend Chris was surprised to see so many Maasai and the huge herds of cattle that we encountered the whole way from Piaya in the South to Olosokwan in the North. The combination of hunting (I marked the location of the UAE operation on my maps) and the influx of Maasai from Kenya are too much for this area. At least one seasonal camp decided to postpone their setup this season with the hope that the Maasai will move away once the rain starts. To illustrate my point, the Nomad Loliondo Camp operates on a very small concession between Klein’s camp, the UAE area and the hundreds of Maasai bomas. This area is just not wild anymore and not rich in game and I was very happy to leave the crowded Loliondo and enter the Serengeti.
2. The growth in numbers of Maasai must be putting pressure on the UAE hunters to reconsider their Loliondo concession. The unhappiness with these “macho” men and the way they operate is growing and it came up in many conversations we had with local Maasai while exploring the area. The bomas are increasing around the UAE operation and it is getting harder for the rich oilmen to pay off everyone to leave during hunting season. Maybe the time has come for them to pack up their prostitutes and guns and vehicles and leave for good.
3. The southern Loliondo area near Piaya was very dry and also covered with Maasai and cattle herds of 100 or more roaming the area. Nomad and Sayari (their first time down there) are now moving to Piaya and I am visiting them again in December to see how they are coping with the large numbers of Maasai and cattle. There is a slim hope that the Maasai will soon move further east so their cattle don’t mix with the wildebeest and possible diseases. Otherwise Piaya will be an interesting mix (clash?) of cultures and interests this coming season. To further complicate matters, one cannot drive direct into the Serengeti from Piaya (a warden must be collected at Naabi to help protect the sensitive Gol areas and to the north).

Serengeti Lodges & Camps update:

1. The new Grumeti Reserves camps are now open. For the first time Tanzania can compete with the likes of Singita and such! Please look at my pictures on of the Sasakwa Lodge and Sabora Plains Camp. Video footage is coming soon. These are the most luxurious accommodations options in Tanzania (really!) and the concession is huge. The guides are mostly from Southern Africa with solid resumes and they have new open vehicles. The wildlife is increasing (we saw lion and plenty of other wildlife in just a few hours). I can write more about these later if you are interested.
2. As you probably know, Little Kusini will not happen due to lack of water in the area.

NCA Lodges & Camps update:

1. Ndutu Lodge has been upgraded. They finally got rid of the ugly stable-like rooms and replaced them with normal chalet-style rooms. I posted new pictures. Ndutu Lodge has always been unpretentious and they do things in a matter-of-fact way that continues to bug me but yet I also go back (thanks to the location)! Meals are served in a style that reminds me of hostels – you sit down and the waiter brings your bread, soup and main course followed by desert and coffee/tea. There is little discussion about the choices (you can request special meals at registration), portions are small and the waiters seemingly want you to finish your meal as quickly as possible – it’s unlikely to be offered another glass of wine! Larger tour groups tend to crowd the public areas (lounge and fire pit) and couples or singles may find themselves somewhat isolated. I wish the owners would focus more on service.
2. If you ever visit shifting sands, please note that there are 2 dunes. The bigger dune is always crowded. Nowadays the Maasai herdsmen like to stand on top of the dune so they are automatically included in your pictures! And then they expect some compensation afterwards! It is better to drive north for 5 minutes to the smaller dune with no tourists and herdsmen.

Seasonal Camps Competition:

1. The competition between the seasonal camps is stiff. One the one hand, the traditional camps such as Nomad offer very basic accommodation (smaller tents with smaller beds and basic furniture) and thunderbox short-drop toilets where one must throw sand over one’s deposits. Safari vehicles are the normal Landcruisers with hatches. The new standard set by the new kids on the block (Sayari, Olakira, EMC, and others such as Sanctuary) offer bigger tents with flushing toilets and modern design concepts creating rather comfortable surroundings on par with luxury lodges! In addition Sayari has open safari vehicles and the camps have great locations. It will be interesting to see if Nomad decides to upgrade their seasonal camps in the near future. In Piaya for example, the differences between Nomad and Sayari will be very telling as they are not too far from each other.
2. On the mobile front, the competition is also stiff. Nomad mobile camps set the original standard but others such as Wildlife Explorer and newcomers such as Unique Safaris have beautiful tents – some with flushing toilets - and these guys are also booking many of the better camp sites thanks to increased occupancy from the support by international agents. Nowadays, the competition for the better camp sites during the migration periods are very tough and bookings are done a year or more in advance! The smaller operators (and companies that don’t specialize in camping) have virtually no chance to get the prime sites.

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