Posts From December 2014

Our African Dream Safari

Our group traveled from the U.S. to Amsterdam where we explored that city for two days and nights, and then flew on to Africa. We arrived at the Arusha airport in the early evening where the ADS staff met us and escorted us through the necessary processing into the country. They then drove us to the Mt. Meru resort hotel for our first night’s stay in Arusha, Tanzania. The hotel was luxurious and the staff upbeat, polite and accommodating in every way.

Our group of eight spent an extra day at the hotel/resort to refresh after the long trip. We began our safari adventure with a smooth bush flight to the North Serengeti. The flight gave us an aerial view of the African mountains, volcano craters, and the plains. The very first day of our adventure was unbelievable. My words will not do justice to the thrills and excitement we all felt repeatedly as we observed Africa’s wild life in the beautiful and natural Serengeti.

Our ADS driver guides, Ellison and Emmanuel, knew exactly where to take us to see the most animals in the least amount of time. They told us we’d need patience for good observations, but we didn’t have to wait long to see a Mara River crossing by a significantly large herd of zebras and wildebeests. We also saw some crocodiles in and out of the water, but no attacks during the crossing. What a thrill to see this magnificent event in its entirety so early in our itinerary.

On this first day we also saw lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos and cape buffalos. All of these sightings were up close and personal, made possible by our experienced and talented ADS driver guides. Each day brought new and different sightings. We observed the plains covered for miles with the migrating animals, and there were so many we almost came to think seeing huge herds of wildebeests and zebras to be routine.

Our accommodations at the Serengeti Bushtops camp on our first night in the bush were surprisingly first class. Both the facilities and the food were excellent. Plenty of hot water and electricity were available 24 hours in all of our camps. The staff was uniformly positive and service oriented. At Bushtops, I began my learning of a few Swahili phrases with Richard, a very outgoing and friendly member of the camp staff.

Awaking from a restful night in our tent, we discovered a few zebra wandering right outside. After a delicious full breakfast, our day in the wild commenced early and we spent all day viewing more and more of Africa’s wild creatures. One pride of lionesses numbered at least fifteen resting animals, and soon we saw two male lions atop the kopjes (a stony outcrop). We also spied a male leopard perched high on the kopjes. What a magnificent creature.

The next days were filled with sightings of more lions, huge numbers of giraffes (we saw a neck fight) large and small herds of elephants both on the plains and in the forests where the damage to trees was significant. Hippos were abundant in many pools and rivers and the antelope, gazelles, hartebeests, warthogs, hyenas and jackals became more abundant as we explored further into the plains. We even saw a black and white Colobus monkey running in a small forest, a very rare sight in this part of the Serengeti.

Our guides pointed out numerous birds such as vultures, storks, secretary birds, hawks and eagles. We even saw a huge owl. We saw ostriches, one that was performing a mating dance for a female, as well as flamingoes and many others I won’t name. And, we were able to drive very close to two resting cheetahs. As we watched, they ambled down through the brush to the edge of an open area filled with gazelles and antelope. They didn’t immediately give chase, but we knew they would sometime soon.

I’ve talked lots about our good viewing fortune, but I’ve reserved until now the one sighting in the Serengeti that all in our group treasures. As we drove past another kopjes, we spotted a black rhino meandering through the tall grass, only a short distance from our vehicle. We were able to see and photo this endangered creature from within 100 feet and closer as we followed her through the area. Many visitors don’t benefit from this sighting in the Serengeti. Ellison said this was only his second sighting of a rhino in the area after eight years as a driver guide. He told us there still are no more than 20 living in the area. What a thrill!!

During our eight days in the wild, we never ceased to marvel at the numbers and variety of animals that we observed. We spent two nights at the Migration Camp, also a very nice camp, and two nights at the more primitive Seonara Sametu Camp, still a wonderful camp. It was a thrilling experience to hear the animals visit our camps during the night. Our last bush night at the Lion’s paw camp was the most primitive, though the staff was always available to respond to our tiniest need and the experience was wonderfully wild, listening to hyenas howl and lions huff just outside.

Our final days were spent visiting Olduvai Gorge (site of the Louis and Mary Leakey discoveries of early humans) and the Ngorongoro Crater. In this conservation area, we saw more of the animals we’d been observing, though in the crater their behavior is less frantic than in the Serengeti. Here we observed lions, especially thrilled by two large males in open grass.

More elephants and giraffes were seen in the forest, flamingos and hippos in the salt lakes and the fresh water ponds, monkeys and multitudes of baboons, lions, and many more. And then again, we were fortunate to spot more black rhinos (they are more easily sighted in this contained ecosystem). We saw a mother and young rhino very close to our vehicle, and several sightings a bit further away in other locations in the crater.

Our last day included a stop and tour at the Foundation For African Medicine and Education (FAME) facilities in Karatu. This is a worthwhile charity providing medical care and education for Tanzanians. Our last night on Safari was at the luxurious Ngorongoro Manor lodge where the staff and facilities are all very first class.

We also visited Lake Manyara on our way back to Arusha and saw velvet and blue monkeys, waterbuck, numerous birds and fowl, baboons, hippos and flamingoes. Our last day in Africa was spent relaxing at the Mt. Meru resort before departing for Arusha and our flight back to the U.S. On the drive, our driver guide told us we were among the luckiest guests he has served, having seen all that we did, and now there is a clear sighting of Mt. Kilimanjaro fully to the peak. We stopped to take photos, of course, and then, back to the airport and the hardest part of the trip being…our long, long, return flight home.

But this trip, for any who ask, is the event of a lifetime. In every single aspect this is an adventure we are blessed and thankful to have made.

Linda and Ted S.
Huddleston, Virginia
Safari Dates: September 17, 2014 to September 27, 2014

No Comments
Read Full Post

New Lake Manyara Boardwalk Launched

A first of its kind elevated viewing boardwalk overlooking hippos and flamingos in Lake Manyara National Park has just been launched. The boardwalk was constructed by the Tanzania National Parks Association and is expected to improve the safari experience in Lake Manyara National Park by providing tourists with a unique wildlife viewing experience.

The two elevated walkways, which have just been inaugurated by Tanzania’s Minister of Tourism, stretch at lengths exceeding 150 meters and are furnished with washrooms. One of the walkways has been built in an area that is a popular hippo view point and the other at a vantage point to watch flamingos and other birdlife.

At the base of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Parkis most famous for its tree-climbing lions, elephants, hippos and three species of primates. The park boasts one of the highest concentrations of elephants in Africa and is home to the largest baboon troops ever documented. More than 400 species of birds have been recorded here. With cliffs towering over 2,000 feet above the lake, it is here that the Great Rift is most dramatic.

1 Comment
Read Full Post

Thrown into the Lion King!

Not sure what it is about Africa that gets under my skin, but I am sitting here at Rome airport with the last remaining red dust in my hair, saying goodbye to one heck of an experience!

A lifetime ago, but only a few weeks ago, Chris and I flew into Kilimanjaro airport, then took a small plane to the North Serengeti. There, we met our 32 year old Maasai game driver. He packed us into the 8-seater Toyota Land Cruiser, and boy, were we in for a wild ride! Or as locals say, an African massage – the 4 wheel drives through the wild, searching for the wilder life ahead.

All 10 days of the game drive were full of surprises- our vocabulary consisted of three words/expressions: OMG, WOW , and asante sana (thank you). Our driver, Emanuel, took us into the North Serengeti the first day, and we learned the basic three rules of life here: #1 Get Food, #2 Reproduce and #3 Try Not To Get Killed. The rest of the journey, we learned the patterns of behavior around these three rules- a harmony of nature that speaks to the simplicity and nasty brilliance of the order here. Nature teaches us such important lessons…

Within the first few hours of bouncing through the rough fields, Emanuel had spotted 3 of the Big 5, and i was not sure if I had been thrown into Lion King, or was living a National Geographic adventure. Graceful Maasai giraffes were all around us, and we passed lionesses with cubs under a nearby tree.

Emanuel was determined to get us to North Serengeti as the great wildebeest migration was taking place across the Mara river. Wildebeests have herd behavior in their annual migration, and they negotiate, so they will come close to crossing, then step back while we have our zoom lenses poised, and we will have to wait 2 hours for another decision.

The final decision is made by a female wildebeest, and of course is usually right. This is a wonderful opportunity for crocodiles, lions, hyena, vultures etc. to have their Thanksgiving dinner, as the weak wildebeest are such a nice treat. We saw two lions enjoying such a big meal, and here it was – the basic rule #1. There was a line-up with vultures overhead, and hyenas watching for their turn. Soon, there would be nothing left. Talk about a great recycling program!

The most fantastic lessons we learned were lessons of animal partnerships i.e. zebras travel with these wildebeests, because zebras have great eyesight, and eat different grasses, can’t smell a thing, and wildebeests are quite blind, can smell rain miles away, so they make one great team. As well, grazers (buffalo) work well with browsers (giraffe) because they eat different diets, as well. Elephants do both, and driving through elephant country is driving through mass destruction – trees ripped apart, stampeded undergrowth everywhere! But they are so cute!

Tanzania has more than 120 tribal groups in its hills and plains. There are ancient bushmen tribes that represent some of the most primitive of all. They are isolated from outer world, and survive on roots, snakes, baboons, and wild fruit. A prominent proud nomadic tribe called the Maasai are tall, graceful, dressed in stunning colors, and use their cows like we use ATM machines. They live with their cows, claim wealth according to # of cows, (therefore more wives) and drink cow milk mixed with cow blood as a main meal (sorry if I ruined your next meal). Emanuel took us to a non touristy Maasai village where he knew most of the people, and we went into their small dung-mud huts to see the interior designs. Lynn wouldn’t have approved…There people walked miles and miles each day to find food for their cattle, often with 2 or 3 youngsters helping herd the cattle.

One afternoon, we came across a lion and pregnant lioness, but our truck got stuck in a hole, and the lion roared really loudly. I was standing up in the truck at the time, and my new sunglasses flew out of the truck. Emanuel rocked the truck and called for help, but eventually got us out. Chris rolled up the windows quickly, and I sat down- asked Emanuel to forget the sunglasses, but he went back, and put the truck between lion and sunglasses, then swooped down and grabbed them. We motored out of there full throttle, hearts pounding!

Another day, we saw a leopard and two cheetahs on the hunt…so graceful and fluid as magnificent pussy cats you want to reach out and just hug! As well, we saw a huge pool of hippos all cuddle up together, waddling in the water, pink behind the ears with their gel-like SPF they secrete to protect them from the sun. A piece of trivia- what do zebras sound like when they make noises? Answer: dogs!

After travelling from North to South Serengeti, we came to the Olduvai Gorge. Here is an example of shifting plate tectonics where millions of years of archaeology are presented in a shelf for the viewing. And here is where Dr. and Mrs. Leakey made one of the most important archaeologic discoveries of our time- the “first footprint” that linked present day man to our primate forefathers.

Onto the huge Ngorongoro Crater, a 22×18 km sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife. We stayed in a camp on the edge of the crater, then went early morning to see many lions, cubs, elephants, and finally our rhinos! We made the big 5!

Near the end of our trip, we had the good fortune to stay in Swala Tented Lodge before heading to Arusha. What a luxury retreat! Hot water 24 hours a day! On arrival, an elephant was drinking out of the infinity pool, and later, lions had come to have a nice drink before bed. This was a good stone’s throw from our dinner table, and I ate very quickly with one eye on the lion! Our staff knew the behavior of these wild game and had no fear. They simply understand and respect each other.

The company we travelled with was African Dream Safari. They support a modern medical hospital, where an American cardiologist, Dr. Frank, and wife have devoted the last 12 year of their life building. It cares for a full range of tribal and tourist patients, and delivers superb care. Dr. Frank told me that he had three European neurologists vist when an American tourist came in with chronic headaches. One of the neurologists saw papilloedema in her fundi, and diagnosed a blood clot. She was transferred urgently to a nearby hospital, and had appropriate care. Would this have been picked up if she were home? Not so sure. Physician staff is international and telemedicine is used regularly. How unbelievable to hear that tuberculosis and malaria are so common here. How good to hear that HIV is on the decline.

Chris F. and Gail P.
Kelowna, Canada
Safari Dates: October 8, 2014 to October 18, 2014

No Comments
Read Full Post