I am compelled to write this blog about our recent safari experience with Africa Dream Safari for several reasons. You see, I really had no idea what I was to get out of the experience. I am not an avid photographer and I am not necessarily an ‘outdoorsman’. I just knew that I was looking for something that did not fit into my definition of a ‘standard vacation’.
I wanted this experience to be truly unique in every possible way…something that would give us an essence of life’s challenges on a scale and from a perspective different than our own – in this case, the relentless, unforgiving ecosystem that is Tanzania, and is defined by these numerous species of animals living in their natural environment.
Most of us only see these animals in a zoo, for just a few minutes at station after station. Rarely, if ever, do we get the opportunity to absorb that which is the Serengeti and its surrounding wilderness.
So, I did my typical detailed research (I am a Navy ‘nuc’ after all), which sent me down numerous paths, with various safari outfitters, who advertise similar services that enable people to experience wild game in their natural environment. After several months of research, which included calls with numerous people who had benefited from their experience with ADS, and other outfitters, and numerous calls with Michael Wishner, I was hooked.
He asked me what we wanted to get out of the safari…explored our interests and our level of commitment and he deftly dealt with my OCD tendencies as we finalized a detailed plan. His counsel helped us prepare on all levels, which led to this wonderful experience, and I suspect the right safari guide for us – more about him later…
Now, I am sure there are other good outfitters out there, but for us, when we closed the deal, we wanted no stones unturned. Many of the other ADS blogs address the tremendous help from start-to-finish, that I shall not repeat – they do a much better job of describing the experience. Rather, let me focus on the differentiators that made this experience truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience:
1. Our Safari Guide, Arnold. On a scale of one-to-five, he was a ten. We tracked the great migration. We studied animals for many hours in their natural habitat, which included the female animals caring for and raising their young. We tracked a female Cheetah for hours as it searched for, and acquired nourishment for her cubs, in the form of other wild game. We started early every day, so that we were in constant discovery of lions, elephants, zebra, leopards, and may others preparing their families for the day.
One morning, we went back to where we had seen a young lion cub hiding behind a bush in a rock formation that afternoon before – Arnold suspected that there was a larger pride of lions in residence in the formation. As we drove up, we spotted fourteen lion cubs, and four female and two male adult lions – who gets to do this. We spent hours studying them.
We spent time studying the habits and daily trials of the dung beetle…the dung beetle, for cripes sake – but once you understand the significant role that this little, often time unheralded creature plays in the Serengeti ecosystem, you begin to understand the nature of survival from the smallest to the largest animals.
We started at 0600 (which I highly recommend) each morning, and usually ended about 1700. Arnold is wonderful. He is a great safari guide, but even more importantly, he is a greater man. His fifteen-plus years of experience enriched our safari experience beyond measure.
2. Picking the right camps/lodges for you. Michael and Arnold both helped here. You can go from five-star hotels, to on-site, in-the-bush camping with amenities that exceed a normal camping experience. For the most part, we chose the latter as it afforded us a much more serene, realistic environment, which was much closer to the animals as we started each day.
I have to say something about Seronrea Sametu Camp (our first camp). It was small, but very extravagant from a personal attention perspective. We felt like family in this camp – it was a function of the hospitality driven by a man named Jonas – what a treasure. Between he and Arnold, each of our nights in this camp was relaxing and added to our learning experience.
If you choose Sameteu, I would recommend you bring Jonas stocking caps and joke books. He like to think he is funniest man alive…so, I ask that you all help him out. Again, I could tell that ADS was well regarded by each of the camp proprietors as I felt we were treated with special care. ADS played a significant role, I am sure, in how we were treated at Lake Masek Lodge and the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge as well.
3. We were always ahead of the logistics power curve, starting with the customs and other entry processes at Kilimanjaro Airport. Our entry took ten minutes tops, while the normal entry line extended seemingly forever.
There are some things beyond their control – for example, we were having some challenges with a delayed flight out of the U.S. Have your ADS emergency phone numbers loaded into your phone, and test your international cell connection before you actually need it.
4. Cameras. I only owned a cell phone camera. I was convinced that it would be sufficient as I was more interested in just watching the animals. Luckily, Michael talked me out of this and encouraged me to buy a relatively inexpensive bridge camera. I can tell you, that after some 1800+ pictures and videos, I am so happy that I took this advice. You will have plenty of time to take your photos.
David and Jeanne C.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
March 20, 2018 to March 29, 2018