I have just returned from my 4th trip to Tanzania through ADS, and every time I am fortunate enough to visit this beautiful country, I am treated to a whole new and exciting experience! This trip was no exception!
First off, I should say that every time I go, I try to take people along with me people who have been dreaming their whole lives of visiting a place like the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater – and I cannot express to you the joy that comes from watching them see for the first time the amazingly raw and wild beauty only life on the open plains of Africa can offer.
On this trip, we started off spending our first day in Arusha, going to visit the School of St. Jude (an AMAZING place!) and to do a little shopping at the Cultural Heritage Shopping Center. This time I broke down and decided to buy some Tanzanite! Because the off season in Tanzania is so quiet (not as many tourists) , we were treated to quite a long lesson on the qualities of Tanzanite by the owner of the shop – based on my past experiences, this was a rare treat indeed, and which helped “seal the deal.”
After two restful nights at the African Tulip, we left early to fly into the Serengeti. Our short flight was amazing! We had a Tanzanian owner of several lodges on our flight, and so the pilot flew us over some of his lodges and close to the active volcano on the way. It was the best flight I have ever had in that area, and we got some great pictures!
And now for our safari…Oh, the magical Serengeti! Going to this special place allows one to literally get lost in time, as one can easily get caught up in the natural rhythm of life on the savanna. It is a beautiful thing when one can forget time, so as to simply float through the week without giving a second thought to all the stresses we have left behind in our normally “time driven” lives back home – even if it is for only one week.
I think that is my favorite part: rolling out of bed every day around 5:15, leaving the comfort and warmth of our wonderful accommodations to catch the first, early morning light, surrounded by animals. NEVER has it been so EASY to get up so early, because EVERY time I have gone on safari, the most magical moments tend to happen within the golden hours between 6 and 9 -10. Not only do those hours offer up the best lighting for pictures, the carnivores are ending their nighttime activities – hunting, feasting and energetic young ones playing – all can be seen during this magical time!
Our guide, Russel, was fantastic! I have had several ADS guides throughout the years – and Russel is right up there with the best of them. It was in no small part to his professionalism that we ended up having such a rewarding trip.
He was both hard working and humorous – and he never ceased to impress with his ability provide us with the BEST of sightings and with impeccable positioning of our vehicle for taking pictures. Yes, it’s true that a good eye and a quality camera/lens are important, but we are truly indebted to him for our closeness to the animals, the quality of the lighting, and angle of the shots that we were fortunate enough to take!
So many wonderful sightings to report this year – during our trip, we were fortunate enough to see 6 beautiful leopards, 8 cheetah and no less than 6 rhino – not to mention nearly 90 lions and countless numbers of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, and antelope (gazelle/impala/hart beast/etc). And then of course there was the herd of over 150 – 200 elephants that surrounded us as they slowly ambled out over our trail.
One special moment was when a little tiny elephant baby bravely charged through the tall grasses straight towards us, only to be surrounded by concerned family members, trumpeting and checking on his well-being before slowly guiding him away – all of this happening right outside of our vehicle! My friend Julie just happened to capture that special moment on video, and watching it happen all over again is simply priceless!
One of the leopard sightings we had was by far the clearest/closest experiences from all of my trips that I have ever had – a beautiful male “lounging” in a tree – he was surrounded by lush greenery and a river, but yet was clearly out in the open for us to photograph and observe, very relaxed – and he seemed to literally be posing for our cameras! I couldn’t believe we were sitting there watching him in the way that we were.
And then – after we had been watching him for quite a long while in silence – he treated us to a few action shots as he climbed down from the tree and into the tall grass, walking right next to our vehicle as he moved on out to hunt. I love the leopards, so for me that moment was truly a highlight! Speaking of cats and special sightings, I should also mention that we saw 3 serval cats on this trip, which was also a real treat! The normally elusive cat was in clear view for all to see – truly a special moment for us all as well.
There were so many special moments, but another one that stands out was in Ngorongoro Crater, where we stumbled upon a family of lions. The morning had been quite damp/wet, and a lioness was walking along a standing of tall grass/reeds near a small lake. She stopped and made a slight “call” – and in response to her call, out of the wall of grass bound a mass of rolly, polly lion cubs! They burst out of the grass all at the same time and ran full speed toward their mother! It truly was a special sighting, and one I won’t soon forget! SO cute!!
My favorite part of going on a safari with ADS is that we are privileged to be out ALL day every day from dawn to dusk with the same guide – so he is well aware of what we have seen and still wish to see – and we have the luxury of spending as much time as we want watching special sightings. Some of our best moments were when we were all alone with the animals.
Even in the crater, when we saw a mother rhino and her young one sitting in the grass, all of the other vehicles stayed for a while, but it was not until they ALL left the area that the mother and baby finally decided to get up – and they came quite close to where we were waiting! We were blown away by the fact that we were the only ones there to see this beautiful sighting – and we were able to take some incredible pictures of this very shy animal. Special moments like that are what going on a private safari is all about. And remarkable moments like that are truly unforgettable!
I should also make a point to mention that our accommodations throughout the entire trip were wonderful – from the African Tulip Hotel, Serengeti Serena Lodge, Lake Masek Tented Lodge, and the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge….I cannot say enough about the comfort and courteous staff at each and every place.
Needless to say, leaving on the evening KLM flight ten days after our arrival was bittersweet – we were all filled with a slight sense of sadness that the week had literally flown by and that it was now all coming to an end…but we were also feeling so fortunate and blessed that we were able to experience such a remarkable & memorable trip together as friends!
So let me end in saying that it truly turned out to be a more than magical trip – way beyond our expectations – and one that will resonate within all of us that took part for quite a long time to come! I have lived overseas for over 25 years and have traveled extensively throughout the world – but there is NO PLACE quite like Tanzania!
They say that Africa has a way of calling one back – and I have found that to be very, VERY true! Each and every trip I take is unique and unforgettable in its own way, and I hope I will be fortunate enough to heed that call once again in the not-too-distant future.
Asante Sana, ADS for once again providing for us ALL a true “trip of a lifetime!”
Safari Dates: April 7, 2016 to April 16, 2016
Jambo, my name is Luisa and I just completed my first ever safari to Africa. I could not have done it without the help of Africa Dream Safaris. I was interested in going on a safari but being a single traveler I was nervous about going alone and with just any company.
The main things I was looking for in a safari company was the trip being 100% escorted, all inclusive, my own private safari vehicle and people who could accommodate my specific wants and needs. Africa Dream Safaris surpassed my expectations, even from the very beginning when I requested a quote. Dawn was extremely available and helpful at answering all of my questions.
My biggest concern during the planning stage was that I would be alone in Tanzania, a country I had never been visited before. However, Dawn reassured me she had also been on safari on her own many times and that she never felt threatened. While planning my safari the staff were open and honest about questions and opinions they had on where to stay and what animals I might see in each area.
Upon landing in Tanzania I was wowed by Africa Dream Safaris, not only was my escort there but it took only 15minutes to get my visa and I was on my way through customs. Each person I encountered from ADS had a smiling face and was eager to tell me about their country, traditions and culture. They were also very curious about mine. Like I said before, I was alone on my safari and, although I did have a male guide, I never at any point felt uncomfortable.
Claude was my guide and was very welcoming and knowledgeable. The best part about Claude was, while other guides were sleeping or on their cell phones, Clause had his binoculars out looking at the animals as intently as I was. He was constantly giving me information as to the sex, size, age, feeding habits etc. of each animal. He was just as excited and intrigued by the animals as I was and I found that to be very refreshing. I am sure he has seen these animals thousands of times, but it seemed as if it was his first time seeing each one.
All of the accommodations were amazing and I have no complaints with any of the tented camps or lodges. I stayed at Mount Meru Resort, Mbuzi Mawe Tented Lodge, Lake Masek Tented Lodge and Ngorongoro Serena Lodge. Service at each place was beyond amazing from the wait staff to the room service. Each day I came back to a clean room and a delicious meal.
I had read in the ADS handbook that there were some complaints about the boxed lunches, I am not sure why. Although the food can be redundant, it is very delicious. At almost every place I stayed you got to pick what was going to be in your lunch box the next day.
The animal viewing itself was INCREDIBLE. I knew that I would see animals but I was not expecting to see the wide range of animals I saw, from the big 5, to the birds etc. there are thousands of animals and each animal is a gorgeous piece of nature. It’s breath taking to see the wildlife in their natural habitat. I have included some photos for you to see for yourself.
I wanted to write this testimonial because I know there are lots of companies to choose from and it’s difficult to settle on which would be best for you. My only advice is that if you are looking for a company who offers everything and considers your wants and needs, then ADS is the company for you.
I cannot say enough praises about them. To all the staff at ADS who made this trip possible – thank you for the trip of a lifetime!
Safari Dates: April 13, 2016 to April 23, 2016
We arrived at night on March 16 2016 to a warm breeze in Arusha. Our driver handed us bracelets made by Masai women for us girls, along with stamped postcards too. We were escorted right through check in and fell exhausted onto our comfy beds at the nicest hotel in town.
After a lovely breakfast on the porch our guide Patrick greeted us in the lobby with Masai gifts – beautifully beaded clubs (angoras) for the boys and traditional necklaces for the girls. After loading luggage and boxed lunches into the dark green jeep that was to be our transport for the coming days. We drove through small towns witnessing women carrying heavy loads on their heads, old men hawking batiks as the car stopped, and babies hanging onto their moms backs holding on with a pappoose.
Further along we started seeing Masai villages – clumps of Bomas and endless herds of cattle and goat, statuesque Masai men shepherding them along. We saw women walking to retrieve water from a faraway spring, and some children in uniform on their way to school.
Arriving in Tarangire National Park we were greeted by massive Baobob trees, punished by God according to legend they were forced to grow upside down, many live to be thousands of years. A small harem of impalas were the first animals to greet us; then came the giraffes….lots of them meandering from tree to tree, in the distance and close near the road.
Warthog families grunted around the grass, while black-faced vervet monkeys (also called “blue ball monkeys for obvious reason) ran and jumped around the grass and on the trees, taunting us during our picnic lunch trying to steal some food.
We saw our first group of elephants by a dried up riverbed, digging deep in the mud for cool water seeping beneath. We started seeing many more elephants after that, in herds under trees and the lone one here and there. We stopped to observe one young bull in the tall grass, not 15 feet from our vehicle, who after a few minutes started to charge us, so our ever-calm guide drove slowly away.
Along our way through the park we spotted mongoose, wildebeests, water bucks and a leopard turtle; ostriches and beautiful birds – lavender colored with red feathers, large red billed something and vultures, doves….lots of giraffes and elephants!
Driving out of the park there were Masai settlements along the way. The children ran alongside our jeep begging for our empty water bottles which they would use to carry water from the springs to their homes; we threw all the ones we had out the window.
We spent the night in Maramboi, a peaceful camp with a view of lake Manyara, watching the zebras in the distance while we sipped wine by the pool, and the pink-white lamingos flying high at sunset. The chefs whipped up yummy stir fried dishes to order for dinner outside, under the stars.
Tarangire National Park
The next day was much of the same, driving around trying to spot something. We watched a troop of baboons for a while, the tiniest newborn clinging to its mom, the dominant male exerting his aggression to the younger ones. We stopped to see a giant bull elephant near a waterhole, magnificent creature, covered in reddish-brown mud to protect from the sun, gracefully pulling water into his trunk and then his mouth, ears flapping away at the flies.
We spotted a female lion on a mound in the distance, looking for her next meal, likely. After checking back into our Arusha hotel, we sat by the pool before another delicious meal.
Into the Serengeti
We were driven to the airstrip to board a tiny prop plane, and flew just above the clouds on this beautiful sunny morning to the Serengeti plain. We were greeted by our guide David, also known as Chando based on his tribe since he’s the only one of his kind in the area. We started out to explore the national park, spotting our first giraffe not too far from the main village.
Along the way we saw Thompson and grants gazelle, heart beast named for the shape of their horns, three kinds of vultures and literally thousands of zebra and wildebeests. We spotted two Cape buffalo lazing under a tree, solemnly waiting out their older years as bachelors too old to keep up with a younger-led herd. These animals are one of the big five, considered dangerous and known to kill a man.
Our first encounter with the migrating herds was the zebra – first seen crossing the road in a hurry, then our eyes followed the line as they kept coming, which seemed to have no end. Traveling in family groups they clustered by the hundreds, whinnying like donkeys yet almost horse-like, their colored stripes looked unreal against the tall greenish brown grasses. There were lots of babies, still brown-striped and immature, following close to the adults who bore them.
We spotted our first hippo meandering slowly to the water, lumbering down the embankment to join his companions, about three or four others submerged with their large backs above the surface, grunting like pigs as they surfaced for a little air occasionally.
We stayed by the riverbank and watched the herds of wildebeests and zebra intermingling like they were at a cocktail party, taking turns at the water to discover it muddy, refreshing their dusty bodies instead. The zebras were clearly the superior of the two species, the wildebeests following along for the ride, each diligently protecting their respective young of which their were many.
White storks hung out with the next gigantic herds we witnessed migrating by the thousands across the plains. We saw lots of different interesting birds, including sand grouse and a chicken-like grouping of birds that were gray with spots and blue necks and heads. Our guide spotted a leopard hanging out in a tree and quickly drove over the grass for a closer look. We observed it moving a little, relishing the thought of seeing the rarest of the big five on our first day here.
Seronera Sametu Camp
We were greeted by JJ at the lovely Sametu camp who brought out cool wet towels to wipe our dusty hands and faces and his helper offered cool pineapple juice for all of us. After settling into our tents we left the kids behind and headed out for another game drive. Beautiful birds and more zebras and wildebeests dotted the landscape as we approached the Kopjes – unusual rock formations punctuating the flAt plains like lunar mountains. We spotted giraffes grazing the trees in the distance as we approached the huge rocks and slowly circled around, seeing hyrax, a vole-like creature perched high above.
There they were, two lion sisters lazing on the rocks under a tree hugging the side of one of them. They were sleeping side by side, occasionally looking up to yawn or stretch or turn before settling down again. Majestic and beautiful, we watched them for awhile before heading back.
Crossing the road we caught glimpse of our second leopard of the day, quickly skulking in the tall grass sitting down to watchfully wait for a group of blue helmeted grouse to wander into the weeds, but they knew better and stayed on the open road. We watched the leopard as he watched us through the thick grasses until dusk started to fall and we headed back. On the road near camp we spotted a nocturnal African hare crossing the road.
After a quick bucket shower we had cool beer and delicious meal – the puréed soup was superb. The crew came out with a beautiful cake and clapped and chanted a joyful African set before singing happy birthday to our son. Exhausted, we settling in for a restful night listening to the sounds of the Serengeti.
Serengeti – Day Two
Getting up early the next morning was well worth it. We headed southeast of central Serengeti, among the remotest areas of the region, passing groups of Thompson and grant gazelle, topi which look like dark brown and black buff deer, hearts beasts and Impala in the wooded areas. Bird we saw included the odd-looking secretary bird, tawny eagle, white faced and Nubian vultures (there are 7 species of vultures in the area, one of which eats lion poop), and other kinds of Eagles. We saw the tiny did dik, smaller Athena the Thompson gazelle, and watched a group of mongoose on some flat rocks frolicking around in the morning sun.
We came upon the Sametu Kopjes to discover two pairs of lions, one on the ground and one atop the rocks. The lioness on the ground wore a radio collar, among those being tracked by the park. Above them in a tree was a tawny eagle tearing away at a fresh piece of meat, undoubtedly caught that morning. The pair on the ground got up and moved after awhile to a shadier side of the rock. There was a large group of gazelle not 100 yards from them, confident in their ability to outrun them and also the fact they were sleepy.
Not far from the Kopjes (Dutch for “little heads”‘ aptly named grouping of rocks jutting out of the flat landscape), we spotted a female lion lying by the side of a shallow marsh, a group of five Cubs close by in the grass gnawing away at a freshly killed baby wildebeest. We watched them for awhile, fighting and playing and chasing away the vultures a hundred different shades that lurked close by in the sky and ground. After awhile she led them to a drinking spring where they all indulged before heading back to the open marsh bank.
The female started walking towards the Kopjes, grunting/growling at the cubs to stay behind in the tall grass. She came so close to our vehicle – at one point she sat behind the right side of the car, so near we could hear her breathing. We followed her back to the rocks where she joined a young make on the high rock, lazing away.
After some time she started beckoning the Cubs from there to stay hidden. But they weren’t listening so she headed back to retrieve them. We watched as they marched towards the rocks in a line, climbed to the highest one and settled in for their afternoon siesta.
We returned to Sametu Camp for hearty lunch of spaghetti bolognase and yet another amazing puréed soup – this time pumpkin – and then rested up a bit before heading out again, this time with the kids. It wasn’t long before we spotted a pair of lions lying by the side of the road. The female was clearly in heat, the males mouth open to inhale her scent and not long after he mounted her right there, in front of everyone watching as by now other vehicles had pulled alongside to witness the fuss.
The whole business didn’t take but a couple minutes, the female rolled on her back when they were done. We watched them for awhile longer before heading on. We saw a herd of elephants traversing the plain in the distance and tried to drive around for a closer look. On the way we spotted a cheetah, it’s head just visible above the tall grasses beside a lush marshy area. On the way back we saw some more ostriches goofily wandering aimlessly around, some lesser bustard birds and just at dusk black backed jackals.
We were once again greeted by JJ and his towels on our return to camp. After quick bucket showers, we enjoyed another delicious puréed vegetable soup and fish curry, then we sat by the fire and watched lightening in the distance before settling into another restful night listening to the crickets and hyenas outside.
Serengeti – Day Three
Early morning JJ brought us strong coffee to our tent while we readied for the day. After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and eggs we headed out, spotting a Serval cat by the roadside pouncing a mouse for his breakfast.
Heading towards the airstrip area we saw a clan of spotted hyenas – a couple of Cubs frolicking in the grass watched by a band of adults. We soon passed the den where one stood watch, not ten feet from our vehicle. As we past the wooded area we saw Cape buffalo, magnificent and large and slow.
The hippo pool was indeed something to see, dozens of the pig-like, smelly beasts piled on type of each other in the shallow, shit-filled water. We spotted a baby croc on the opposite shore, and baboons jumping on the rocks just past. We watched the hippos for awhile, small groups of stray makes crashing in the water to the sleepy pile, greeted by grunts and snorts of “go away” from the big Bulls who wanted the females and territory to themselves. Signs of recent aggression were apparent in the fresh bloody cuts on the backs of some; mother protecting their babies in the rare event one of the big Bulls might chomp at them.
After the hippos we picnicked at the tourist center before going to Serena lodge to drop the kids for a swim. We passed a couple of baboon troops traveling along the roadside, one of the infants jumping on and off its mother’s back. Through the woods to the lodge we passed doses of Impala – harems with the dominant male, bachelors hanging around the edges.
We settled the kids by the pool and then headed out with just us and our guide David to witness the great migration – it wasn’t long before we encountered hundreds of zebra along the road, stretching across the plain as far as we could see. Wildebeests peppered the herd, and we watched as the adults protected the sleeping young and males nipped and neighed at each other to stake their mutual claims. Further along we saw the migration morph into mostly wildebeests with some zebra mixed in, jumping around and leaping across the water.
Majestic Maribol storks looked like a cross between the prettier white stork and a vulture; they actually were in the trees with vultures too and a long-dead Thompson gazelle hanging upside down. Later we saw a bunch of them in the bed near the water, their knees bending backwards as they awkwardly sit.
We passed four lionesses by a riverbed, sitting and looking and enjoying the light rain shower that started. We encountered a couple of black-faced vervet monkeys, the infant frolicking on the tree trunk.
Further along two bull elephants wandered the plain, green mountains behind them and a thunderstorm raging on the other side. After we picked up the kids we stopped to watch a herd of elephants cross the road in front of us, then spotted alone lion in a mound overlooking a small group of hippos in a shallow pool nearby. David our guide somehow managed to maneuver the vehicle through the slippery mud as the rain got harder and harder. Heading back towards camp the sky cleared to pink as dusk fell.
We spotted a black-eared fox scuttle around the Kopjes, some random ostriches and a lonely bull elephant as we headed back, water buck greeted us on the road to our campsite, then JJ with his towels. We ordered a second bucket shower so each had longer, then ate a wonderful meal of zucchini soup, lamb and potatoes with leek that Simon couldn’t get enough of. We sat by the fire listening to JJ regale us with scary lion stories as the kids cuddled together in the big bed in their tent to watch a movie.
Onto South Serengeti
We witnessed another beautiful sunrise at Sametu camp as we sipped the strong coffee with warm milk JJ prepared for us. He scanned the area with a telescope and spotted a mother lion and two baby Cubs not far from the camp.
After breakfast the crew loaded our bags and bid farewell, heading towards the airstrip we spotted a black backed jackal, that lonely elephant again, and lots of ostriches wandering aimlessly around. We then headed south towards Ngorongoro, traversing endless stretches of Serengeti – aptly named “endless plain”. A couple of lone nomadic giraffes munching on the occasional tree interrupted the monotony of tall and short grasses and gazelle by the dozens.
We returned to Sametu Kopjes to visit the adopted lion family – just the females and Cubs were visible laying on the cool rocks at the height of the day. There was a lot of nothing as we kept our eyes peeled for cheetah, to avail. We stopped to eat lunch in the car in the openness, and The Cheetah Project researcher stopped by in his gold jeep to chat.
There were gazelle galore, mostly Thompson, some grant, and a few heart beasts sprinkled in. We saw a couple more jackals, lots of secretary birds and corrie bustards on the ground and vultures perched on big dead trees, reminding us of a Halloween still. We stopped at Naabi Hill station on our way out of the Serengeti, and climbed up to enjoy the lovely view.
After an extremely bumpy, rocky ride through the woods we came upon the shallow Ndutu lake where pink flamingo waded, giraffes crunching down front legs spread to eat the low grass. We finally arrived at Lake Masek Tented Lodge where Masai hosts greeted us and showed us to our lovely semi-permanent tents overlooking the lake. Giraffe are wandering close to the main reception area, the kids are happy with the free wifi, we are happy with unlimited hot water for our showers.
It’s cooler here near the crater and just lovely; we were warned not to walk alone as the buffalo are out in full force. We enjoyed a lovely buffet dinner despite the giant moths flapping around us; the complimentary wine might have helped. We slept so soundly to the music of crickets and hippos snorting in the lake below.
South Serengeti Reprise
We left the kids to sleep in and headed out after breakfast to encounter Steinbeck deer and African dik dik in the woods outside camp. We saw a couple black backed jackal, and soon after we came upon the great marsh where dozens of giraffes roamed around the low trees, and a huge flock of flamingoes waded for shrimp in the shallow waters.
The drive was beautiful – a bright but cloudy sky generated a cool constant breeze. The area was lush and green and the air moist. The roads were so muddy in some parts the jeep swooshed and fishtailed. Driving along watching the secretary birds peck and a few random zebra over the glen we came upon a caracol cat, a rare sighting indeed, rarer still we watched as it pounced a large mouse and proceeded to devour it right before our eyes. We gazed amazed until it skulked away into the high brush.
We crossed the muddy marsh that was once filled like a river to find the lions. Our first sighting included three females and one male, exhausted from the two females in heat demanding his attention. He mounted one right away, then the other came over to complain and he roared her away until 10 minutes later when he did his business with her too. The other female lay quietly several yards away, happily uninvolved. We drove on to find a few more lions further along the marsh, a couple of females and some younger ones lazing on the wet ground and in the bushes.
Heading through the woods we encountered a few more dik dik, some eland – the largest of the antelope closely related to cows, the ever-present Impala, and of course lots of giraffes. Coming into the clearing we came upon a massive migration herd, mostly wildebeests with zebra peppered in, and Lots of wildebeest babies.
They parted like the Red Sea as we moved slowly forward in the vehicle. We crossed one plain and then another in search of the elusive cheetah, marveling at the nomadic, majestic giraffes gracefully crossing the plain, cutting into the horizon line with their long necks. We searched the short brown grasses far and wide, cutting this way and that looking for the cats.
After over an hour we spotted two other jeeps in the distance and knew we found success. We spotted what looked like white wood sticking out from the bushes, but it turned out to be the freshly killed baby wildebeest that belonged to the exhausted cheetah sitting close by.
We spotted one younger one near her settled into the high bushes. She looked up as we approached, and our patience paid off as she stood and stalked over to her cub, the sat down again and looked right at us as if to pose for the photos. Wondrous sighting indeed. When we spotted a group of elephants gathered under the acacias we knew our day was complete.
To top it off we saw a rainbow on our ride back to camp; the kids perked up a bit when a small dung beetle about 1 1/2″ diameter flew inside the jeep; our guide salvaged it alive and let it out on the ground as he pulled the roof tarp closed to the coming heavy rain. Our ride back was slippery and the roads hard to find, but we made it safely back to camp in time for hot showers and a yummy dinner.
The next morning we bid farewell to lake Masek lodge and wifi after a hearty breakfast and headed out on our journey to the crater. We passed dozens of giraffes on our way out of the great marsh area, and ran into migration cross traffic as we swerved along the muddy roads. We reached the plain taking the boundary road dividing the Serengeti and Ngorogoro parks, Naabi hill to our left and the the Ngorogoro mountain range to our right.
Zebra, gazelle and ostriches roamed around, and we passed a couple of cadres of vultures and Maribol storks feasting on leftovers. When we started to see herds of sheep and goat we knew we were in Masai country. A young girl ran at top speed towards our jeep as we sped along, robes flapping open and closed, arms outstretched yelling for something. Our guide slowed the car to hand her a bottle of water – she took it and looked at us, saying nothing, perhaps stunned or disappointed.
The roads were rocky and dusty as we started to pass the Masai villages, shepherds wandering alongside the roads, children waving for their pictures to be taken. We decided to forego a visit to the Olduvai gorge to optimize our time at the village instead. We were greeted by the chief Losawa, one of three in the village of 120 who spoke English. Men and women marched out in separate lines to greet us, the men bouncing up and down blowing instruments that looked like PVC pipes, the women stood by in a line chanting a complement to the men’s.
After our greeting we were led inside who watch a jumping contest and invited to join in – first the men, then the women. Then they showed us how they made fire – no matches, just hard no soft sticks rubbed together to create a spark on top of a knife, the burning embers then transferred to a bunch of dried grass which quickly became ablaze.
We were divided up into twos to receive a tour of the Bomas – made of branches and dung, hot and dusty, two flat beds made of sticks to accommodate a family of six. A small fire pit cooked food for them, a hole cut in the roof above the chimney. Tarps were used to protect in rain. There were hornets flying around. It was good to get outside again, where they showed us crafts made by the family of the Boma we visited, encouraged to buy to show our appreciation.
We heard the children singing in the small shed made of sticks that was the school, the teacher a tall lovely young woman with a great smile. They all sat on the one long bench as we stood and listened to the chief tell us about their schooling – about 20 or so, some very little. One girl maybe 5 played teacher by the blackboard, holding the stick that was the ruler and leading the kids in recitation of the alphabet. Adorable. We waved goodbye to the school and started our hike through the hills – 5 K or so, up rocky hills, across the brush, encountering herds of cattle along the way that all belonged to the village.
We finally reached the road where our guide greeted us with box lunches. We picnicked right there at the top of the hill as it started to rain, looking out at the vast mountain range that surrounded the crater. We said goodbye to the chief and his son who had joined and headed into Ngorogoro, down a super steep hill to the bottom of the crater. Beautiful bright colored birds – green and yellow and electric blue – fluttered around the bushes along with many varieties of butterfly.
The view from inside the crater was spectacular, like being in a bowl made of green mountains, the lake in the center was pink from the massive flock of flamingoes. Resident zebra, gazelle and wildebeests coming led with Cape buffalo, the most we’ve encountered so far. Beautiful crowned egrets poke around, along with families of warthogs. We spotted three lions lazing in the sun near a clump of trees, two sprawled out on the rocks like spilled coffee.
Circling near the edge of the crater into the woods we saw a big herd of elephants, two young bulls play-fighting. Further along there were two huge elephant. Ills by the stream, one seemed about to charge as we carefully drove forward to witness the baboon troop of more than forty scurry from the hilly roadside into the massive tree there, jumping and screeching and eating the fruits and flowers it bore.
As we drove back out onto the crater floor we passed more of every kind of animal we’ve seen so far munching on the short grasses, in search of the rare rhino. Finding none as the hot sun started to set we headed to Ngorongoro Lions Paw camp, similar in every way to Sametu except for the view – instead of flat dry plain we were in, lush dense forest, with a view of the mountains and crater just beneath – and the climate, as it became very chilly after sundown.
We chatted with an interesting couple from Hawaii by the campfire before enjoying a lovely meal, then snuggled in our cozy tents for the night, finding fuzzy hot water bottles waiting for us under the heavy blankets.
Ngorogoro Day Two
We headed back into the crater the next morning, the undulating rim covered in a hundred different shades velvety greens. Zebra, Thompson and grant gazelle, and the ever-present wildebeests peppered the crater floor landscape; ostrich, white storks and beautiful crowned cranes poked around the grasses, while bunches of hippos lazed in the marshy pools we seemed to pass every couple miles, cattle crane birds perched atop their mostly submerged bodies.
There was an an abundance of Cape buffalo, the highest concentration we’ve encountered yet, hanging in clumps of 5, 10, 20 and more, huge lumbering beasts, slow and ominous.
Our guide suddenly started racing down the packed red dirt road towards a line-up of jeeps to take us to our first rhino sighting. She was in the distance, beyond a small group of buffalo trying to blend in, munching on the grasses. She moved slowly across the horizon as everyone marveling tried to capture images of this disappearing breed.
Our guide explained this was a black rhino, differentiated from the white by the color their mouths. The white really refers to “vite”, the Dutch word meaning wide, and are mainly found in South Africa. We watched her move around and then moved on, towards a rest stop, and spotted some Masai shepherds with their goats near the wooded edge of the rim. An incongruous sight, making us a bit envious that they were able to walk around among the beasts of the crater.
At the rest stop two elephants trotted by not 100 yards from where we stood. Driving on we spotted a few hyenas and jackals, which looked a lot like small German shepherds. We past by the rhino again which was lying in the grass; unmoving, we decided to head onto lunch at a beautiful spot by a marsh with large trees and lush papyrus, hippos peeking just above the water, and hundreds of cattle egret on the far side.
Our guide swiped at the large kite birds trying to swoop down to grab our food as we sat around the blanket. Feeling sated we headed back up the small hill, past zebras back towards the rhino which had now moved closer to the roadside. After capturing some more pictures we drove around, watching the swirling dervishes of dust kicked up by the strong winds sweeping across the crater floor.
We spotted some Eland, the largest of the antelopes, black stripes wrapped around their legs like ankle bracelets, their swirled horns recalling silly straws and unicorns. A male lion lazed the grass, and we saw two more rhino, separate and some distance apart, plopped in the middle of the open plain.
Tired after more than six hours of driving around we headed back, rewarded with a group of five male lions – three of them teenaged – on the road out of the crater. We stood up and faced backward to savor one final glimpse of the awesome crater before heading back into camp for a restful afternoon before dinner.
We bid farewell to Edward and his crew the next morning before heading out towards Arusha. As we drove out of the camp along the crater rim we were greeted by spectacular views of the landscape 2000 feet below, the faded moon high in the pale blue sky as the bright sun pushed up through the clouds that were almost at eye level. We stopped at a lookout to take one last photo together, savoring the fresh air and moonlike beauty of the crater and rim surrounding us.
Once we drove over the rim the winding dirt roads seemed to change almost immediately to smooth asphalt, and the scenery changed dramatically as well. We sped past small clumps of dilapidated roadside shacks and houses, some made of concrete, others sticks and stones, covered with tin roofs or what looked like rotting wood.
The people were as fascinating to watch as the animals in safari. Young children walking together unattended by adults, men riding bicycles laden with heavy loads of what looked like hay or some other type of plants. Three-wheeled little toy cars that were taxis hauling people to and fro.
Women with heavy loads on their heads. There were Masai men and women walking along in their distinctive robes and elaborate jewelry, intermingled with the many in western style wear or traditional African costumes. Women by the roadside selling from their baskets filled with vegetables and fruits, groups of men lazing under shade tress in plastic chairs. It was the saturday before Easter, so half day of work for most.
We soon drove onto a dirt road towards the FAME clinic, a non-profit started by a California couple 14 years ago. “Dr. Frank” greeted us, a tall man with a big personality, and we immediately made a “Philly” connection based on his relationship with a neurologist from Penn who donates his time there regularly.
A cardiac anesthesiologist by training, he was born in Ethiopia and inspired by his missionary parents to emigrate to Tanzania with his wife Susan late in his career. She came to greet us and took us on a comprehensive tour of the facility, at once proud and thankful and full of gratitude for her staff. She seemed genuinely happy to do what she does – a counselor/psychologist, she clearly found her calling here.
She showed us around the intake rooms, maternity ward, new radiology building and temperature-controlled laboratory with modern equipment, all mostly donated. The pharmacy was stocked with primarily generics from India, but they are trying to source equipment locally to make it easier to get spare parts. She introduced us to a young girl, Katherine, whose education was sponsored by a an American couple; Susan was truly proud of her, as she was of herself as she humbly shared she was a maid before this with a lump in her throat.
FAME is committed to educating the local people to practice medicine, importing specialists from all over the world to volunteer for weeks at a time in order to teach the Tanzanian doctors and nurses. Their current focus is maternal-child health and education, encouraging the midwives from the outlying villages to come and learn how to identify high risk pregnancies so they can pre-empt emergencies by referring those cases directly before it’s too late.
At the end of the tour Susan showed us the mobile clinic trucks which set up twice monthly near outlying orphanages so people from farther away can receive the care they need. The visit was truly inspirational – even the kids were intrigued.
We headed on through Karkatu, a small town on the outskirts of the Arusha region. We then got onto the great central road that cut through the entire continent, starting in northernmost Kenya and going all the way down to South Africa. Boma villages appeared hat seemed to be every couple miles, herds of mostly goats tended by Masai boys and young men; women walking along what seemed to be endless fields, alone or in pairs, carrying nothing, just walking.
Hilly, dusty, sometimes barren-looking, some green-brown brush and occasional low trees here and there. We stopped at a shady roadside shop to picnic our final boxed lunch – same hard boiled egg, piece of chicken, slice of quiche, boxed juice, small banana, apple and chocolate bar. There were two domesticated cats wandering at our feet who enjoyed the meaty bones we threw.
Driving into Arusha we passed crowded streets filled with busy shops and people. The images were overloading at times – dust and dogs and all kinds of noises and smells, colors and dirt, slipshod buildings barely held up by tin signs bearing soda brand names, women grilling ears of worn, men seeking purses and socks and knapsacks and anything you can imagine, piles of goods there on the dirt sidewalk.
Some people are dressed up in suits and skirts, maybe coming from work, maybe for the holiday. Chickens and goats wandering freely, children clinging close to their mothers, young adults gathered on corners shooting the breeze. It was fascinating and exhausting and somehow overwhelming that so many live this way.
We arrived at the hotel and bid farewell to our guide David, or “Chondo” as his peers called him. We had a couple hours for a quick swim, re-packing and early dinner before heading to the airport with our ADS hosts Mattais and Oli. We strained for a glimpse of Mount Kilamanjaro but the clouds were too heavy; maybe next time…
It was a truly unforgettable trip.
David, Suzann, Melissa, Zoe and Simon S.
Safari Dates: March 16, 2016 to March 26, 2016