Posts From February 2012

Tanzania Trip Diary

Jan 31, 2012
Leaving this evening at 6:20 PM to Newark on Continental. Hopefully left no hanging chads behind- we started packing 10 days ago and hopefully all last minute stuff was anticipated and dealt with. Too late now. Stayed at Fairfield Inn at Newark Airport. Nice room, lousy bed.

Feb 1
8 AM flight to Heathrow on Virgin- our first (virgin?) Virgin trip. Booked premium economy which is about half the cost of business. Seats are definitely bigger, pretty comfortable although they don’t retract much. Food was edible to good except for breakfast on route to Nairobi. Everything was on time, very smooth, although the connection took 45 min in Heathrow just because. We only have an hour on the ground on the way home, so it better be better then. Watched “Cowboys and Aliens”, “Horrible Bosses”, and the new “Planet of the Apes”. All are keepers. Turned off “Bad Teacher” after about 30 min—really dreadful.

Feb 2
Landing in Nairobi was on time- zebra grazing in the field next to the runway told us we were not in Kansas any more. Connected to Arusha on Precision Air; did not see Kilimanjaro because it was clouded in. After getting through the visa process, we were met by Nataaya from ADS for the ride to the hotel. They put us up in the Mt. Meru hotel, which is clearly an upscale, new hotel- very, very nice. We were in a beautiful suite. Hotel actually faces Mt. Meru, which at 15K ft is the second highest peak in Africa. The countryside is just littered with (hopefully) extinct cinder cones and craters. Nataaya went through our itinerary in detail, and gave us a cell phone and list of contact info. The cell phone had some international minutes in case we wanted to call home, but we had brought our international phone along so never used it. But we thought it was a very nice touch.

Feb 3
Nataaya and Charles picked us up at 8 AM and took us to the regional airport where we boarded a small plane for the flight to Serengeti. The drive took us through southern Arusha, which according to Nataaya is about a million in population and growing fast. I could spend a lot of time here just watching and taking pictures of the people on the streets- lots of colors, smells, hustle. Flight was about 45 min- went right over Ngorongoro crater, saw Massai villages on the rim but not much else- pretty barren looking from 2000 feet. The flight was quite smooth, very clear day. We landed near Ndutu and met Arnold (full name: Arnold Yahaya Mushi) who will be our guide for the rest of our stay. Arnold has been a Serengeti guide for 12 years, 5 with ADS. He is a big, sturdy bear of a guy with a big smile and a loud but pleasant presence. We headed straight into the bush – saw zebras, tommies, grants, dik-dik, giraffe, and at least 2 dozen birds especially eagles. And lions— we came on a pride feeding on a fresh wildebeast kill. The pride had two groups of cubs, with the 4 youngest around 6 months or so according to Arnold, who we watched as they crossed the road in front of us with full bellies quite evident to get a drink in the lake.

And cheetahs- we found a mother with 4 very young cubs (2 months or so), clearly on the hunt. We watched them for quite a while and I took a gazillion pictures and an hour of video- all this before lunch! We stopped at the Lake Ndutu lodge for lunch, where we will stay for 3 nights (cabin 7). Food wasn’t bad (although it was overall the worst of all of the places that we stayed on this trip) and Serengeti beer wasn’t bad either. That evening back in the lodge we were entertained by lovebirds in the bushes outside of our cabin and in the evening the resident genet cats appeared in the lobby. The genets are beautiful small nocturnal cats not much bigger than a typical tabby but much sleaker and with gorgeous spotted coats. I suspect that some of the scratching and sniffing noises at our door at night were these little guys.

Feb 4
What a day. We were up and out at 5:15 am and on the road before 6. Watched the sunrise over the plain and saw golden jackels, tommies, other critters en route to Naabi Hill. We got our permit and entered the park.

Migration! It really is something to see. Also lots of non-migrants- elands, cape buffalo, oryx, Coke’s hartebeast. But the highlights of the day were 1. The leopard hunt- what a show; and 2. Lions hunting zebras in the tall grass.

The leopard was hunting a group of impalas in the shade of a tree about 40 yds from our car at about 11 o’clock. The leopard was across the road from the impalas, a little to our right, about 20 yards from us at about 2 o’clock. We watched as he/she worked her way along side of the road, looking for a place to cross without being seen by the impalas. She came to within about 15 ft of our car and positioned a shrub between her and the prey to screen her crossing. This was amazing to watch- she belly-crawled inch by inch across the road to behind the bush; took her at least 10 min to get across. Once there she started around the bush away from us, but apparently thought she might be seen so came around to our side (10 ft in front of the car!!!) and started creeping up on the herd. She got to within about 25-30 ft from the herd when some bozo pulled his car around off the road and came pretty close to running over the leopard. He also spooked the impalas, and the leopard tried to grab one that ran by but missed. Lots of pissed off guides and tourists.

The lion hunt was possibly more successful- we will never know because they went out of our sight before the lions got close enough to attack. We were driving along when I spotted a lioness peering above the grass to our right. Arnold stopped, and we saw what she was focused on a group of 4 zebras crossing the road about 100 yds ahead of our car, going right to left. She made a little noise and two more heads popped up, and after a few seconds they all started moving. What was apparently the leader crossed the road in front of us, while the other two crossed right behind our car, using the car as a screen. We were able to see them do a pincer maneuver as the zebras trotted off to our left and eventually away down a little slope and out of sight. We could see the lions moving very quickly through the grass- the black spots on the back of their ears really stand out. Whole show lasted about 15 min before the lions dropped out of site too.

Little more info on Arnold: wife is Brenda, daughters Cynthia and Sylvia. They live in Arusha; Arnold is working to build a new house for them. He told me that he is using material from termite mounds, which makes great bricks.

Signature joke: Why is a giraffe’s head so far from his body? Because it has a long neck. Caught this one (with embellishments) on video.

Other typical Arnold quotes: “Don’t sleep! Don’t sleep! Don’t sleep!” and, “Is everybody happy?” and “Going fishing, fishing, fishing…” and “How is Everybody?”—constant chatter, great fun. Our contribution to the joke pool: How can you tell how many wildebeasts/zebras are around? Count the legs and divide by 4 (Arnold liked it- I hope is using it with his newer clients).

Feb 5
Long, dusty day in south Serengeti. The rains were late, so everything is dry and all of the animals ready to drop calves are looking for water and food so the herds are moving north to the rivers. Even though the animals were moving out- we still saw some great stuff. Arnold heard a couple of lions in the night, and he found them on edge of the lake- two young males, probably brothers. We also found the cheetah with her young cubs- same group, and she and the kits had clearly fed. Got some great videos of the family group playing and horsing around. It was very cool. Also found 3 fresh kills, already turned over to the vultures and hyenas. Arnold spotted a bunch of white feathers along the road and stopped to investigate- it was a white stork kill, and he spotted a lammergaier on the ground about 100 yds away. Apparently storks are their favorite prey. Arnold got quite excited, because they are quite rare (the lamergaier, not the storks), and he planned to report the sighting that evening. Other critters we saw:

Baboons on twin breast peaks
Yellow-crested woodpecker
Lots of eagles
Bee eaters
Spotted eagle owl, spotted by Usha in an acacia.

Feb 6
Up very early to meet our ride to the balloon, Usha’s birthday. Company is called Serengeti Balloon tours, pilot was named John. We rode with a couple from Chicago, Tom and Xiang Adolfsson, and Hawa-san from Japan. It was a bit breezy so we launched astronaut style. We stayed low over the trees, with lots of eagles and rollers flashing below. Got a pretty good look at elands, although they still kept a good distance. After landing, we had the customary champaign and an excellent breakfast. On the way back we spooked some ground owls- tawny colored with darker brown head and wings (African grass-owl). Arnold then picked us up at the meeting place and we headed for the marsh. Lots of lion activity- several kills, fat and lazy lions, cubs, beautiful light. We came on a pair of lions mating and watched for a while- Arnold said they will go at it every 10 min for 2-3 days. Whoa. We spent the rest of the day crusing the area west of Ndutu including Hidden Valley. Everything is absolutely bone dry and dusty. Arnold was very concerned, because normally even in dry times hidden Valley has water. Not this year.

We ended up at our private camp, our lodging for the next two nights. Talk about blowing away expectations! The staff was Nema, Kelvin, Praygood and Gerald (chef). Kelvin had set a couple of chairs and a small table next to a small wood fire, which he started when we settled in. There we watched “bush TV” to the west and a truly spectacular sunset with a glass of wine in hand and some peasant conversation with Nema and Kelvin both. Gerald fixed a great meal and baked a birthday cake, and Arnold gave her a Massai necklace which is now on our wall at home. I think Usha had a pretty good day all in all.

Feb 7-9
Lots of catching up to do. We’ve been too busy (or tired) to journal the past few days so I hope I don’t forget anything. 2nd and last day at the private camp was just as wonderful as the first, and if we could afford it this would be the only way we would stay next trip. Early in the morning we came upon a family of bat-eared foxes who had not yet settled in for the night. They pretty much ignored us, running around and under the car, playing and putting on a good show. By 6:30 AM, however, they were tucked in their holes. Also saw several lion kill sites, and got some great pictures. We saw 3 leopards in the same tree with what looked like a Grant’s gazelle hanging in the branches. Probably a mother with two fairly mature cubs. On the evening of the 7th chef Gerald fixed us a traditional African meal- okra, plantains, stews, sweet potato, lamb, chicken, rice. Info on the private camp staff: Nema is a delightful young lady with a bubbly personality and just the best smile. She is a treasure. Kelvin is quiet, attentive, tried very hard to make us comfortable. Gerald is a fine cook and has a very good sense of humor. Praygood was extremely shy, so we didn’t have much of a chance to speak with him at all. Overall, very nice group. We left our tip with Nema to distribute to the rest of the staff.

On the 8th we drove to Mbuzi Maue lodge. Passed a hippo pool en route and almost passed out from the smell- we did not linger since Arnold told us we would be seeing more hippos later. The lodge was decidedly more upscale than Ndutu; Arnold had forewarned us that we were going to run into a different clientele here. Good news is that this group generally liked to sleep in and have a sit-down breakfast so we were out on the road hours before them each day.

Two memorable episodes during this 3 day stretch: 1. witnessing the birth of a wildebeast, and 2. lion pride using our car for a nap. Just an amazing day, with another gazillion pictures. The wildebeast- I spotted a pregnant mom along the road with a pair of forelegs sticking out back- pretty clear sign that she was in labor, don’t you think? We kept an eye on her from a distance, and when she wandered off with a couple of wildebeast attendants under a big shrub we gave her about 15 min and then worked our way around for a look. The baby was on the ground and just a couple minutes old. We watched while it struggled to its feet, fell a number of times, tried repeatedly to nurse, and after 20 min or so was finally able to stand and walk. After about a half hour we left mom and baby alone once the baby was relatively steady and feeding. Later on as we were driving along the river we saw a pair of young lions in a tree about 40 yds from the road and stopped to watch. It was about 11:30, and Arnold suggested we get out our lunches and watch for a while. After a few minutes big, battle-scarred male popped up from the tall grass and walked right past the car, where he lay down about 15 yds to our left and repeatedly stuck his snout into a clump of grass followed by some hilarious faces and grimaces- Arnold thought he was smelling the urine of his females looking for one in heat. After 15-20 min the two in the tree came down, and were joined by a couple others who also popped up from the high grass- we couldn’t see them until this point. They all wandered over to our car, which they must have decided was a good shade spot to avoid the mid-day sun, and lay down. One lioness just settled her head on the running board and all of them went to sleep. We had 5-6 lions under and on the car, and were stuck there for a good hour or so while they got in their noonday siestas. Got a really great photo of the lion resting its head on the running board reflected in Arnold’s outside rear view mirror. It was a really cool experience, and we were all glad that none of us had a serious need to go pee at that time.

We also saw more leopards, and a baby warthog with parents who had apparently escaped a predator attack with several cuts and gashes on its rump. We had dinner back at Mbuze Maue with two couples from Pittsburg and Seattle- nice people, who were blown away by what we had seen. Fortunately I had downloaded my pictures to an ipad and had it along to show them the photos or I am not sure that they would have believed us. On the walk back to our tent (#9) after dark we spotted a giraffe feeding in a tree about 20 yds from our front flap. Never saw that in Kansas.

Feb 10
We were up early as usual, before sunrise. Saw 4 hyenas and a pride of lions laying in the road- we waited a good 20-30 min before they finally moved enough so we could pass. Arnold spotted two cape buffalo males, which he called “retired generals” because they were old and had been run out of their herds. Saw several elephants, a group of spotted hyenas and later black-backed jackels, banded mongooses (mongeese?), rabbits, etc. Lots of nightjars in the road- all before dawn. Today was hippo day at retina pool. The river has shrunk down to a few pools deep enough for the animals, who were jammed in. The smell was so intense that Usha held her breath for the duration of the visit and her skin turned brown. Arnold’s too.Water conditions in general are really bad- the herds have all started north away from the usual breeding area in the short-grass savannah to the south. Arnold is worried that it will be a very bad year.

We saw a lot of new birds- hammerkop, grey-capped social weaver, red throated frangolin, many more. We stopped at the lodge and saw some cliff springers in the yard (didn’t have my camera), and a pair of rock hyrax in the rock right next to our tent (got a good shot).

Arnold joke: how do you tell a male zebra from females? Males are black with white stripes, and females are white with black stripes.

Feb 11
Arnold let us sleep in a bit today and have a sit-down breakfast at the lodge. First thing in the morning we saw a pair of von der Doecken’s hornbills outside the tent. Today we drove to Ngorongoro and Oldupai. En route we found a leopard in a tree, who was very cooperative and came across the tree to just above our car. We watched him as he spotted a small group of tommies and went in pursuit. The tommies fooled him just as he was sneaking up by slipping behind some tall grass, and the leopard just sat there for a while trying to understand what happened. It was actually pretty funny.

Oldupai was cool, although the museum is very small for what must be the most famous archeological site in the world. We spent a couple of hours there and ate lunch while we listened to a lecture on the history of the site. We then went on up to the rim of the crater. The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge is just plain stunning- one of the most astounding architectural designs I have ever seen. Our room has a small patio which looks out into the crater. Spotted a sunbird in the tree outside of our room (purple banded? Not sure but I have a picture) and several other small birds. Frangolins on the ground below. That evening we watched a show by a local group of musicians/acrobats who were really good.

Feb 12
Full day in the crater. Its really had to fathom the crater until one is down on the floor. Animals everywhere- it is really a unique and frankly weird place. According to Arnold hyenas are the dominant predator in the crater, with lions following them around to scavenge. So many cool things- warthogs laying in a puddle along the road, hyenas, zebra males fighting, many birds including crowned cranes and flamingoes. And rhinos- saw two from a great distance and three more much closer (although still a ways away). The density of wildlife in the crater is difficult to grasp- there is just so much.
That evening at the lodge we were entertained by local massai performing a traditional dance. It was quite a show.

Feb 13
We left the crater behind and headed south. First to Lake Manyara where the Rift Valley escarpment is very clearly evident. Saw hippos on the move, flocks of storks, pelicans, blue monkeys (forgot to mention that we had seen vervet monkeys along with baboons in the Serengeti, so this completes our monkeys list). Went on to Tarangire NP. While stopped at the entrance, Usha saw what she thought was a yellow bird fly by and followed it back into the trees. Turned out to be yellow-winged bats, which are quite rare and a good find. Got a few good pictures. Tarangire is quite different landscape from the Serengeti, with many more trees including baobabs and huge euphorbias along with the acacias. Lots of elephants, giraffe, buffalo, many birds. We stayed at Kikoti Tented Camp, which is a wonderful resort just outside of the park. Very, very nice.

Feb 14
The highlight of this day was being surrounded by what must have been at least a thousand buffalo. This was probably the first time I felt a little uncomfortable. We also found a pride of lions under a tree, and it was clear that these lions did not have the same tolerance for our car that the Serengeti prides had. At one point I turned around and noticed that a little brown bat had gotten one of his toes caught in the mount of the antenna at the back of the car and could not get free. We don’t know how long he had been stuck back there- could have been all day up to this point. I used a towel to get hold of him and lift him up a little until his toe came free and he flew off. That was clearly a first for Arnold too. The tsetse flies were particularly bad in Tarangire- these critters are just plain evil, and bug repellant is useless. They make no buzzing/whining noise like most flies; instead they just seem to appear from nowhere and usually you know they are on you when you feel the bite. We headed back to Kikoti mid-afternoon for a late lunch and a little rest. Later we went for a walk guided by Thomas, who is a Massai on the Kikoti staff. We walked about a mile or so to Kikoti Rock (Kikoti means “meeting place” in Swahili; this was a traditional Massai meeting spot), which we climbed and sat watching the sunset. Below were go-away-birds in the trees. The sunset, which was our last sunset in the bush, was really gorgeous. That evening we invited Arnold to join us for dinner and had a great time. Entertainment was provided by a guitar-playing Massai in traditional dress who had an interesting repertoire, including “Ring of Fire” among others. He seemed pretty pleased when I called him the Massai Johnny Cash.

Feb 15
Spent the morning in the park before we headed back to Arusha. The route home (about 2.5 hr drive) took us through a few good-size villages and towns. We stopped at one for a cold drink and to eat our box lunches. BTW- every day we pooled all of our leftovers from lunch and breakfast, which were always more than we could eat, and whenever we passed a Massai village we stopped to give the food to the kids. We always had chocolate bars, yogurts, fruit, chicken, other stuff depending on the day, enough to give something to 6-8 children.

Once we got to Arusha Arnold took us to a gallery which sold tinga tinga paintings and we bought a few. Arnold then took us back to the Mt. Meru hotel, where we were thoroughly de-briefed on the trip by another ADS staff member. We were both very impressed by the interest in getting fresh feedback. They put us back into the same suite; we had a nice dinner and a restful last evening in Africa.

Feb 16
Arnold picked us up early- I think it was around 6 AM- and took us to the airport, which is a good hour’s drive outside of Arusha. We (I) almost made a really stupid mistake right up front. The Precision Air flight from Arusha to Nairobi required that we check our bags (by the way, this time Kilimanjaro was beautiful). I just had them checked to Nairobi instead of all the way to Newark, thinking we could pick them up in Nairobi and carry them on since they were just a couple of roll-aboards. Stupid. I almost had to apply for a visa in Kenya to get our bags and go through customs and security to get back in to catch our flight. Fortunately, Kenya airlines staff were very helpful even though we weren’t flying with them, and they sent one of their bag attendants through customs to get our bags off the carousel and bring them back to us. If this had been in the US, they would have just taken the bags out back and blown them up. Good thing we had a 3 hr layover so we had time to work all this out. Other than this little self-inflicted fiasco, flights home were on time and uneventful. Except that I made one more stupid mistake, which was to buy some African liquor in Nairobi duty-free. It was confiscated when we went through security in Heathrow to make our connection. I was informed that I could check it in my luggage, but recall that we had a short layover on the way home and missing our flight was a poor trade for a bottle of booze. I hope the airport security folks enjoyed it. We stayed in the same hotel in Newark when we got to US and flew to KC next day.

There are a lot of things about this trip that were memorable. We saw well over a hundred lions, hundreds of thousands of wildebeast and zebras, hundreds of elephants, giraffes, buffalo, antelope, etc. etc. At least 10 different species of antelope, dozens of leopards, some really spectacular visits with cheetahs, so many birds- at least a hundred new species, maybe more. We put our trust in Arnold’s hands and he delivered the best trip of our lives, and we have traveled a lot. Arnold really made the trip memorable- he entertained us, taught us, kept us awake and alert, and was just a joy to be with. I also credit him with at least 50% of the success in capturing some really outstanding, professional-quality photos- we showed our pictures to a professional photographer who is a friend, and he was frankly blown away. Arnold got us into position, I clicked the shutter. And ADS is a class act, start to finish- the best service we have ever had from a tour agency, starting with our US agent (Dawn Anderson) and continuing through all that I have named earlier. I give their name out all the time to friends who are thinking about Africa in their future.

Can’t wait to go back.

Michael and Usha Rafferty
Olathe, Kansas
February 2012

1 Comment
Read Full Post

Diary Of An Adventure

Trip to Africa – January of 2012.

January 22, Sunday
Flight to Kilimanjaro was smooth except for first 10 seconds after liftoff. Quick dip of right wing was explained by pilot later as caused by strong cross wind. Rest of flight was uneventful except could not get TVs in our row to operate. After several visits by the Purser, he apologized and said he had never seen that happen before.

Shortly before landing, a flight attendant delivered to each of us in our row of seats a KLM gift certificate for merchandise worth fifty Euros. Pretty neat. Third person in row sitting next to Lori was part of a group climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Gave him an article form the Sentinel describing person born without hands or feet and climbed the mountain.

After landing, met two reps from Africa Dream Safaris, who took our passports, whisked us through Customs and drove us to Arusha and a beautiful mid-rise hotel. Assigned a suite and taken to room. Beautiful suite with 3 air conditioners.

January 23, Monday
Awoke at 7:20 am. Left for airport at 8:15. Took back road shortcut, so made it in plenty of time. If fact, had to wait for airplane and other passengers. Boarded it and away we went bound for Seronera in the Serengeti National Park. One hour flight on 12 passenger plane. Window seats, so good chance to see terrain.

Met our guide for the week, Vincent Leichy. Very easy to talk to, big smile and anxious to please. He explained schedule for the day, confirmed we were agreeable and off we went at about 11:00 am. Saw many animals the first day including: giraffe, impala, Thomson gazelle, Grand gazelle, zebra, hippo, leopard, cape buffalo, black faced monkey, baboon, dik-dik and elephant.

As dusk approached, we arrived at Bilila Lodge. We were welcomed by management and served a glass of fresh juice. As we were taken to our room, we were amazed at how nice it was. Leaving the main lodge, we traversed an elevated walkway to group of remote villas. Our unit consisted of 3 rooms. A sleeping / living room, a dressing room and a luxurious shower and bath area. The twin beds were separately enclosed with white mosquito netting. A fancy private outdoor seating area was available and offered a beautiful view of the valley.

January 24, Tuesday
Wake up call came on time today. Didn’t matter as I was awake at 4:20 am. Read Kindle, woke Lori at 5:15 am as scheduled and met Vincent at 6:00 am. Early start today as long way to go. Highlight of early morning occurred at the hippo viewing area. Observed one hippo on the road. We followed him as he went down the hill and joined 4 others in a backwater type pond. They sunned themselves for about 20 minutes.

Quite suddenly, one stood up and started to our left, where another hippo was approaching. Soon they both came running up the hill, one chasing the other. The chase continued until they were out of sight. The stranger disappeared, and the other returned to the pool. Vincent explained that the one was protecting his flock. Amazing how fast a hippo can run, considering how big they are.

We then drove parallel to the water’s edge and found another large group of hippos. Must have been at least 20 to 25 soaking in the water. They stayed there all day, as we came by them again later on the way back to the hotel.

Our next goal was to see a lion, so we started off for Maasai Kopjes. On the way, we encountered a large herd of Cape Buffalo. They were on both sides of the road. Not only that, they were in the middle of the road. Reminded me of the American Bison in Yellowstone Park. We watched them for about 15 minutes. We then headed for the Kopjes in hopes of spotting some lions The Kopjes are rock formations that are elevated above the plains. This gives the lions a better view of any animals in the grasses of the plains.

We searched diligently and were about to give up when we noticed several vehicles had converged in one area. Driving to them, we found a large female lioness napping in the shade of a tree atop the rocks. Her legs were wrapped around one of the limbs at the base, keeping her from falling out and sliding down the rock. She was completely disinterested in the spectators watching her. It was nap time, and she could not care less about outsiders. We decided we would see no action here, so we moved out. We had decided to get back a little early to the hotel so we would have some pool time, so we started in that direction.

About halfway back, we saw a group of vehicles near a water area we had previously visited. Suddenly Lori screamed, “look a lion walking down the road!” Ahead was a lioness very casually walking across a bridge, past many vehicles and right past our Land Cruiser. She had a real attitude. Looked like she owned the world.

We followed her down the road and watched her climb a small rise and look off into the distance past a water hole at some grazing animals. Leaving her there, we continued back to the Bilila Lodge and enjoyed a great swim in the refreshing water of the pool. After changing clothes, enjoyed a nice dinner in the dining room. Sampled some South Africa merlot. Very good. Will look for it when we get to S.A. Beautiful view of sunset from our patio table.

January 25, Wednesday
7:00 am Breakfast buffet in hotel. Checked out and met Vincent at 8:00 am. First sighting was two ostriches walking parallel to road. First stop was at Hippo Pool. This was the first time we were able to get out of the vehicles to view animals. We walked to rail (first one we’ve seen) and were surprised to find approximately 75 hippos keeping cool in the pond. They looked quite crowded and seemed irritated with each other. Also saw two crocodiles sunning on the bank.

Continuing on our journey, we encountered a lone giraffe feeding on an Acacia tree. Vincent told us of an accepted theory that trees communicate when they are being eaten, and the downwind trees respond by changing their flavor (believe it or not).

After seeing another large herd of cape buffalo, we saw a leopard sleeping in the branches of a large tree. Vincent pointed out that his “kill” was also in the tree. After moving our vehicle, we could clearly see it was a gazelle. It was truly exciting to see how Mother Nature works.

Continuing on toward our lunch site, we saw a group of elephants who were coming down a hill toward a water hole. Immediately following this we saw a large herd of zebras. We later learned that the start of the great wildebeest migration was behind these zebras. We then ate our box lunch at a picnic site at the Ranger Station of Serengeti National Park. Directly behind our picnic table was a 100 foot plus hill. When we climbed to the top, we had a wonderful view of the Great Migration.

It is estimated there are 1.5 million animals involved in this trek that cover 10,000 square miles of terrain in Tanzania and Kenya. We then left the Park and drove right through the edge of this movement of wildebeest.

After leaving the herd, we encountered two elephants standing next to the road. One had his head leaning against a tree, with one tusk on each side of the tree. He appeared to be resting as his eyes were closed. After awhile, he pawed briefly with one foot to loosen the soil, picked up dirt with his trunk, put the trunk in his moth, apparently to pressurize the trunk, and then blew the dirt across his back. Vincent said this was to cool himself off, as the earth was cooler than the air.

We then drove on to Lake Masek Tented Lodge, arriving shortly before dark. We checked in and had a beer on the deck. Shade was provided by a beautiful Acacia tree. Soon we were escorted to our tent by a man wearing Maasai warrior traditional clothing. Anytime you travelled between the Lodge and your tent after dark, you were required to have an escort. We were surprised how nice the tent was. Wooden floors five feet above the ground, three beds each with mosquito netting enclosure, hot and cold running water, toilet, bathtub and enclosed outdoor shower exposed to the sky. We are to stay her 3 nights.

After dropping off our bags, we met Vincent at the Lodge for dinner. Meal started with Chef Veronica explaining tonight’s meal. She jokingly started her list of entrees with crocodile and ostrich. We took her seriously and asked her where it was when we got to the buffet table. The staff laughed and we were satisfied with chicken Marsala, ratatouille and many fresh vegetables. After dessert, our Escort returned us to our tent and we went right to bed.

January 26, Thursday
Following early 6 am breakfast, we headed out for today’s game drive. We drove through the woodlands near our camp, past Lake Ndutu and toward the plains of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Our goal today was to see the “Big Cats”. On the shore of Lake Ndutu we saw several flocks of pink flamingos fishing in the shallow water, we also saw many other interesting birds.

Soon after arriving on the plains, we were treated to what Vincent described as a rare sight– a female cheetah walking with her four young cubs. We were thrilled! We tracked them for a half hour as they walked across the open plains.

We then left the cheetahs and continued our search for lions. Before long we saw several safari vehicles adjacent to a distant tree. Investigating, we found a pride of nine lions resting in the shade. Next to the trunk of the tree, we saw what remained of their kill. From the head and horns, we could see that it was a wildebeest. The lions must have had full stomachs, as they moved around very little. In the pride, there were 3 female adults, 4 juveniles and 2 younger cubs.

According to our camera, we left these lions after 10:04 am. By10:14 am we had our first photo of the Cheetah Brothers, a pair of male cheetahs. We were very close, and could see many details of their handsome physique.

Soon we were in the middle of the plains when we saw a large female lion walking down the road toward us. Vincent moved the vehicle to a point where the lioness would walk right past us. As she did, we looked directly down on her back. As she walked by, we could see a group of 5 zebras in the field ahead of her. She soon spotted them and went into a hunting mode. She left the road, lowered her body and headed for some tall grass.

For the next hour we watched her slowly advance toward her prey. Good time to eat our box lunch as we watched the show. The 5 zebras did not move for 45 minutes. As a new group of zebras approached from the left, the target zebras began to move away. At this point, the lioness made her move. She sprinted toward a single zebra that had been lying down. She missed her target as all of the zebras scattered. At this time, she simply continued her walk down the road.

We decided to go watch the wildebeest we could see on the far horizon. They looked like marching ants in the distance. Just as we arrived near their trail, we saw a single mother and baby separated from the group. Although the baby was running with the mother, it was obviously a newborn, as the placenta had not yet dropped.

As we left, both animals were running back to join the large group. As we returned to camp, we again saw the cheetah brothers lounging under a tree.

January 27, Friday
This morning we plan to return to the grassy plains. As we approach Lake Ndutu, we spot a solitary male lion lying in a bushy area. It is the first male lion we have seen, so we are excited. At 9:15 we spot some activity ahead near a group of trees. Upon arrival we see a large pride of lions resting. They are a mixture of female adults, juveniles and cubs. We count a total of 13.

We watch them for awhile and decide all they want to do is sleep. Vincent explained to us that the male lions live by themselves and must provide food for themselves. The pride is run by the females, who provide food for the young ones.

Driving across the plain, we see a large bird we had not seen before. We ask Vincent what it is and he tells us it is a secretary bird. This sounded familiar but I don’t know why. After a while, I realize that is the name of one of the characters in Victor Mollo’s classic bridge book “Bridge in the Menagerie”.

Starting around 10:30 we make 3 separate cheetah sightings. First we see a lone cheetah sleeping in the shade of a single tree. Then we see a group of 3 that Vincent thought were brothers, as he had seen them previously. The third was a single cheetah walking on the plain. He walked right past us, sat down and finally lay down. All of these events occurred within an hour and a half. Lori commented she never expected to see so many cheetahs and I agreed.

We returned to Lake Masek camp, had a hot lunch and relaxed on our screened in porch. Tonight we went down to Lodge early for a cocktail on the outside patio.

January 28, Saturday
Early morning start again today as we are leaving Lake Masek and traveling to Ngorongoro Crater. We ate made to order omelets (by Veronica’s brother) fruits and juices for breakfast and then make our own box lunches to take along.

As he did every morning, Vincent got out his map and showed us the route we would take and described what stops we might make. Today we go through the woodland past Lake Masek, across new plains and on to the Crater.

Highlight of early morning was a strong disagreement between two zebras. One was chasing and biting the other. As they ran all around the water hole, the other zebras in the herd scrambled to get out of the way. It lasted for a good 20 minutes or more. Leaving there, we passed the remains of part of a zebra, obviously a “kill” of one or more predators in the area.

Vultures had not yet arrived, so it could not have been there very long. On the plains we saw several ostriches, hyenas, Thomson and Grand gazelles and wart hogs. Also zebras and wildebeest, which seem to be everywhere. The roads in this area were especially rough and dusty.

Our first stop was at the Maasai Village. The Maasai are nomadic tribes that move as required to find food and water for their cattle. Their diet is almost entirely derived from the cattle, including milk and blood products. We were greeted by the son of the chief, who was our tour guide in the village. The people were dressed in vivid colored outfits, predominately red. They did a dancing and singing show to entertain us. They were proud of their ability to jump high.

We were then escorted into one of their igloo type huts. It was quite dark inside and in the center of one area of the floor was a fire. This was used to cook their food and heat their water. It was quite hot even though it was only low burning embers. Huts were constructed of tree branches and twigs and covered on the outside by a combination of dirt and cattle manure.

We were told that the huts were constructed entirely by the women. We went over to a makeshift school house filled with pre-schoolers. We were then given the chance to purchase arts and crafts produced by the women of the tribe. Good place to buy some souvenirs and support the tribe.

We then traveled to the Olduvai Gorge archaeological site. Here we had lunch followed by a lecture explaining a history of the area. They have a cast of human like footprints that date back to 1.8 million years ago. Also layers of rock are present that date back about 300 million years. Sure makes you feel insignificant.

As we continued on to the Crater, we passed numerous Maasai encampments always with a herd of cattle nearby. We made the long climb to the rim of the crater. As Vincent checked us in through the gate, it gave us a chance to admire the vast expanse of land before us. The trip down to the crater floor was on a narrow winding road with many switchbacks. When we reached the bottom, we began our exploration of one hundred squared miles of the Ngorongoro crater.

As we started toward the large lake, Lori spotted a pink band across the lake. As we got closer, we realized we were looking at thousands of pink flamingos.

After rounding the lake, we spotted the first large animal we had not seen—the rhinoceros. We actually saw six of them spread out. Although they were quite far from the road, we could easily observe them through our binoculars and zoom camera lens. We saw many birds we had not previously seen, as well as many animals we had seen earlier.

On the way to our new camp, we detoured to see two adult male lions resting on a hillside. We then started up the opposite side of the crater to Lemala tented camp, which was on the rim. We noticed how much greener the vegetation was, with many heavily canopied Acacia trees.

Arriving at the camp, we were warmly greeted by the Staff and shown to our tent. This camp was the most rustic and remote of all of our accommodations. We were told that when we wanted to shower, they would bring hot water and fill the storage tank above the roof. I said to fill it and they did.

We were invited to an outside “cocktail party” with the other 4 guests in camp, one couple from Toronto and another from New York City. We were all seated around a bonfire waiting for dinner. When announced that dinner was served, we were all joined by our host, Godwin the camp manager, at a large table in the main tent. A fine dinner of tilapia, vegetables and rice was accompanied by South African wine.

Saying good night to our dinner companions, we returned to our tent. We were pleased to find our gas heater had been turned on and we were very cozy. We were also surprised to find that each bed had a hot water bottle. First one I had seen in many years. By the way, the gas heater was turned off about 15 minutes after we returned from dinner, apparently for safety reasons.

January 29, Sunday
We left this morning at 6 am. Long way to go and a lot to see. We were each given box lunches for both breakfast and lunch. We went down the side of the bowl and across the floor of the crater once again.

First significant sighting was a single lioness walking on the plain. We also got a much closer look at a pair of ostriches who passed right by the rear of our vehicle. Soon after that we spotted a group of 8 to 10 elephants. We noticed that their tusks were much longer than we had seen.

Vincent explained that this occurred because the minerals in the crater enhanced the growth of the ivory tusks. As we watched them eat, another vehicle joined us and the largest elephant walked right toward our new neighbor. They looked quite excited, but the animal walked right past them.

We then came upon a watering hole. In the water was a group of hippos. In addition, a single hippo was grazing in the grasses adjacent to the hole. This was the first time we had seen one eating rather than lolling in the water. We chose this spot to have our breakfast, so had more time to watch the hippos. Vincent warned us that ravens were in the area, and that we should watch our food carefully.

We then continued our travel across the floor and started up the other side. The road up seemed steeper and more winding than the descent had been. We had numerous views of the entire crater on the way up, and we pointed out the areas where we had seen the different animals and birds. We also were able to see cylinders of birds circling high above the crater floor. Stopping at the visitor’s center briefly to sign out of the Park, Lori took a picture of a relief map of the park.

As we left Ngorongoro, we realized we were on the first paved road since we left the airplane that brought us from Arusha a week earlier.

On the two hour trip back to Arusha, we passed farms, villages and rolling countryside where farming seemed to be the main activity. In the villages, people were selling fruits and vegetables along the highway. We also saw many motorbikes, bicycles and scooters being ridden. As we got closer in, we observed many coffee fields. They look similar to grape vineyards.

Coming in to downtown Arusha, we passed a clock tower which Vincent claimed is at the center of Africa. We returned to the Meru Hotel, where we were joined by Nakaaya of the ADS staff. Over a drink, she asked questions about our safari and gave us a survey form to fill out. We gave very high ratings to Vincent, as he did an excellent job.

We said goodbye to our ADS hosts and spent the remainder of the day watching the finals of the Australian Open tennis match. Gal from Croatia was in lounge and got very excited watching her fellow countryman win the match.

At 4:40 the next morning, Vincent picked us up and took us to Kilimanjaro airport where we prepared to board for our day long flights to Nairobi, Johannesburg and Cape Town. This brought to a close the Safari portion of our trip, a truly wonderful experience.

As the plane rose to a higher altitude and the sun came closer to the horizon, we were finally able to see the famous Mount Kilimanjaro.

Read Full Post

Ron, Pam, Don & Angie

Our safari certainly was an African Dream Safari. The preparation we received from ADS ensured our visit would be comfortable and worry free. We were impressed by the guidance we received with regard, how to pack, what to bring, tipping advice, emergency contacts, and a “did you remember to . . .” checklist just before our departure day. ” The staff at ADS was always easily accessible and available to answer any questions we had regarding our trip. All of the ADS staff from planning to completion were extremely warm and friendly and focused on meeting our needs. Even after arriving 20 hours late, a smiling ADS representative was at the airport to greet us and quickly processed us through our entry into Tanzania.

The next day, after a fascinating flight to the Serengeti, we were greeted by our driver-guide, Ellson. Ellson’s knowledge of the East Africa animals was exceptional. Not only was he knowledgeable, he knew exactly where we might find them; and we did! On our adventure, Ellson helped us identify more than 120 different species of animals and birds. We came home with many exceptional photographs including the rare Serval cat and African wild dogs.

The food and accommodations throughout our trip far exceeded our expectations. Our group most enjoyed our “Private Luxury Camp”. The camp was set up in a beautiful, very peaceful location. We could watch herds of cape buffalo and gazelles in the distance from our “front porch.” At night, we could hear the hyenas laughing and one visited our campsite. On the second day of our stay there, we had our very own “camp giraffe.” This Private Camp is our most memorable part of this great vacation.

We were very happy we choose your company and highly recommend it to others. Your attention to detail and concern for us having the best experience possible was demonstrated by the entire Africa Dream Safari staff. We can’t thank you enough for the trip of a lifetime.

Asante Sana and warm regards,

Ron, Pam, Don and Angie
Midland, Michigan
February 2012

No Comments
Read Full Post

Sandy & David Mazur

The trip was wonderful! David and I had such an experience, we’ll never forget it. All the camps were great and the people at the Private Luxury Camp were unbelievable. Michael (our driver) was simply amazing! I loved just listening to his endless knowledge and the animals he spotted was just a giant bonus. Our favorite day was having breakfast on the hood of our car while a herd of elephants strolled behind us!

ADS is a great organization and we’ll recommend them to anyone who is interested in an African Safari. Asante Sana for all your help Lynn.

Sandy and David Mazur
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
February 2012

No Comments
Read Full Post

FAME Medical in Tanzania

Catherine Duwe and Safi Mwambo spent their school break working at FAME Medical in Karatu, Tanzania.  They both are in their final year of Nursing School in Tanzania, and we look so forward to them joining the FAME Team when they graduate next September. These two lovely young women are fulfilling their dreams.

Catherine is from a very poor family in Karatu.  She began her time at FAME Medical as a Housekeeper.  Safi was studying to be a Clinical Officer but had to drop out when her family ran out of money.  She subsequently came to work at FAME Medical as a Nurse Assistant.

Recognizing their potential, both young women were selected for FAME scholarships –- a program FAME started in an effort to address the staggering shortages of healthcare workers in rural Tanzania.  According to one report, the overall nurse to population ratio in Tanzania is estimated to be 160:100,000.  In rural Districts, like ours, estimates suggest a ratio of 6:100,000.  Having experience, firsthand, these stark realities, Safi and Catherine understand how desperately Tanzania needs skilled and compassionate nurses.  They have dedicated their lives to making a difference where they are needed most, in rural Tanzania, the place of their birth.

Africa Dream Safaris will match dollar for dollar any $50 donation thus turning your contribution into $100, which has real significant purchasing power in Tanzania. Please click here to contribute to FAME and to learn more about the organization. Make sure to enter ‘Africa Dream Safaris’ in the designation field to ensure that your $50 donation is matched correctly.

No Comments
Read Full Post

Dawn’s Reading List

Okay, so many clients ask me what books to read before embarking on their safari adventure.  Some people want to learn more about Tanzania, and others just want a great story relating to the area.  Well there are MANY great books out there, and many of them are already listed on the ADS reading list.  I’ve read most of these books myself, but the truth is I do have my favorites!  If I had to pick a *TOP 3* favorite all time African Safari books, I couldn’t do it.  So here are my *TOP 4*:


#1:  “Lion’s Share: The Story of a Serengeti Pride”

By Jeannette Hanby and Illustrated by David Bygott

Sigh.  This is one of my FAVORITE stories of all time.  Beautifully written and exquisitely illustrated by Jeannette Hanby and David Bygott, both of whom actually lived among the Serengeti lions for four years (wow), this is the story of the “Sametu” lion pride.  Not only is it packed with fascinating information about lions as told by scientific experts who have observed real animals in the field, it is a beautiful story. Unique and creative, this story transports the reader to another place and time and allows one to experience the Serengeti from a lion’s perspective.  You will journey alongside the lions and get to know them as individuals as they earn your empathy and respect.  You will experience all the highs and lows, the triumphs and tragedies, and the living and the dying that is the dance of Africa.  The story takes on an even more special meaning when one visits the Serengeti in person, specifically Sametu Kopjes, and gets the opportunity to meet one of these amazing lions in person.  Perhaps even a descendent from one of the lions in the story!  Rare is the book that can teach and still capture your imagination in such a special way at the same time.  This is a must read.


#2:  “My Serengeti Years: The Memoirs of an African Game Warden”

By Myles Turner

It’s truly amazing what a mass of information and factual data you can pick up by reading this book, without even realizing you learned anything!  This story is the perfect solution for those of you interested in learning more facts about the Serengeti and how it came to be, but tire quickly of reading long dry articles or textbook-style literature. This is a memoir of Myles Turner, an African Game Warden, involved with the Serengeti in the early and turbulent years when it was being defined as a National Park.  A true story told by not only an amazing man but an extremely articulate writer; you will be drawn head over heels into his personal journey.  All told by Myles himself!  And accidentally you’ll learn a lot too.


#3:  “Serengeti Home”

By Kay Turner

A companion to the aforementioned book “My Serengeti Years”, this is the story of Kay Turner – the wife of Myles Turner.  If “My Serengeti Years” is the ying, this is the yang.  Told by Kay herself, this is her amazing story of how she lived alongside Myles for many years in the raw wilderness of the Serengeti and its many challenges, an amazing feat in itself, and somehow successfully raised two children along the way!  Kay has a profound respect and appreciation for the beauty and solitude of the Serengeti’s great wilderness and the amazing animals that reside here, and she has a wonderful knack for conveying the feeling of Africa to the reader.  Kay’s writing style is equally brilliant but quite different than her husband Myles, and her description of the Serengeti reads almost like beautiful prose at times.  Reading Kay’s writing is decadently cozy, like wrapping yourself up in a favorite blanket by the fire on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon and sipping hot tea.  A heroine, humorist, artist, poet and adventurer, by the end you’ll want to be her best friend.


#4: “Whatever You Do, Don’t Run”

By Peter Allison

The funniest book I’ve ever read. This one had me laughing out loud.  A lot.  Technically not written about Tanzania or the Serengeti, the truth is there are just some safari experiences that translate across the board to any safari anywhere in Africa.  Peter Allison is a Safari Guide in Africa, and his collection of real life stories and humorous outlook is Jerry Seinfeld brilliant.  Not only has he gathered an amazing collection of experiences that will have you gasping in awe, part of his art is observing and articulating the funniest animal (and people) behaviors that anyone who has been on safari will instantly relate to.  This one is a rare gem.  Go get yourself a copy and read it!  Now!!!


A quick side note.  Some of these books and others on our reading list may be out of print.  But a quick internet search can usually yield positive results!  I’ve personally had very good luck finding inexpensive used copies of these books on websites such as Albris and Amazon .  Happy Reading!!!

Read Full Post

The Great Migration Has Arrived!

The Great Migration has arrived just in time to celebrate the grand opening of Seronera Sametu Camp. It has been an exciting month last couple of weeks with finishing construction and we finally hosted our first real guests. Needless to say they were delighted to have huge herds of wildebeest and zebra literally right in camp. You can see and hear them from just about any spot on the property but the view from the fire pit is superb as it looks out over an expanse of plains. The nights have been very lively with the wildebeest in town. Lots of action from lions and hyenas and we even had a single cheetah come through camp at dusk and cause quite a scene.

No Comments
Read Full Post

Local Lions in the Dry Season

If the last couple weeks have been any indication, the highlight of the dry season here at Sametu Camp is going to be the local lions. Just about every night you can hear lions calling out in the distance and some nights multiple roaring from different directions. Hyenas have also been very vocal at night. Our guests are seeing lions on most mornings within a few minutes of leaving camp. The wildebeest and zebra have pushed further north but we still have a lot of game in the area including gazelle, topi, hartebeest, ostrich and warthog.

No Comments
Read Full Post

Unusual Dry Season

We are already seeing large herds of wildebeest and zebra a full month earlier then we were expecting. It has been an unusual dry season here in the Serengeti. The rains came much earlier than usual. There have been some showers just about every night recently and large columns of wildebeest are heading south towards the plains. Barafu Kopjes, which is a really lovely 45 minute drive from Camp is packed with the migration as far as the eye can see.

No Comments
Read Full Post

Abundance in the Green Season

The green season is really an amazing time to be in this part of the Serengeti. The plains to the south and east of the Camp are glowing green and rich with many different species of migratory animals. Even the European storks have joined the party with thousands descending upon the plains. The nearby Sametu Kopjes, which are only a few miles from Camp, have been the highlight for guests recently with plenty of cheetah and lion sightings including a couple successful hunts. Large herds of elephants are also abundant at the moment especially in the woodlands to the west of Camp.

No Comments
Read Full Post