August 2019 found us examining our extensive travel Bucket List and deciding to move “Safari to Africa” to the top. A photography friend who had traveled to Tanzania several years earlier with Africa Dream Safaris and who knew that we wanted a private safari told us, “I’ve already done the research…don’t bother looking at any other safari company!” So one phone call later, and a lengthy discussion with Sharon, Vice President of ADS, our much-anticipated safari trip planning began in earnest, and was to commence the following spring in April 2020.
And then the world stopped…
Flights and safari details over the course of the next year were postponed, cancelled, changed and/or rescheduled so many times we lost count. There was nothing “normal” about this past year and certainly nothing “normal” about planning this trip; at first there seemed to be so many obstacles that many times we just didn’t think this dream trip of a lifetime would actually ever come to fruition.
Would Covid ever really allow us to travel again? Would it be safe? Time seemed to crawl. But, with the constant advice and encouragement from Sharon and Michael of ADS, other staff members behind the scene, and tips from other clients who had already been, we set aside our tendency to become discouraged and we persevered; and looking back now, it really wasn’t that difficult after all was said and done.
And finally on April 14, 2021, exactly one year after we were supposed to have gone, and now fully vaccinated and with negative Covid tests in hand, we embarked on what was to be, at long last, the trip of a lifetime.
From the moment we cleared immigration in Kilimanjaro and for the next 2 weeks until we departed for our trip back to the U.S., ADS made sure that we were taken care of every step of the way, (including scheduling our Covid tests prior to our return to the U.S.) Our ADS greeter, Mathias, and driver, Sumbe, were there waiting for us when we arrived and immediately whisked us off to the enchanting Arusha Coffee Lodge where we spent the rest of that first day and night recuperating from our very long 30-hour journey in our luxurious bungalow.
Located in the middle of a lush, green working coffee plantation, the Arusha Coffee Lodge truly is the absolute best place to begin this amazing adventure. The next day, with camera gear and small but more than adequate luggage in hand, we were off to the Serengeti via bush plane where our real journey was about to begin…
Our passion for wildlife, and especially bird photography, found us being paired with Russell, our amazing ADS guide. Russell quickly became our best friend, and over the course of the next two weeks also our valued, tailor-made mentor. We know that all ADS guides are exceptional, but for us, Russell’s knowledge and experience, not to mention his expertise in bird identification, seemed to know no bounds and we couldn’t have asked for a better fit for a guide and wildlife instructor.
From the minute we landed at the Seronera airport located in the middle of the Serengeti, he exposed us to so many of the amazing secrets and wondrous gems that Tanzania has to offer. In fact, it took us 45 minutes just to leave the parking lot of the airport because there were birds and animals that we had never seen before that Russell patiently identified, and he humored us while our cameras begged to be clicked! You and your guide will quickly form a special bond – you will laugh, you will joke, you will share amazing sights and experiences, many of which he’s never seen before either.
Every single day we saw something unique and special: leopards napping in trees; a lioness playing in the long, windswept grass with her cubs; male lions with their elegant black manes; male impala with their beautiful twisted horns locked together sparring for dominance; NINE different serval cats including one all-black melanistic (most folks never see even one of these beautiful cats because they are so elusive);
bat-eared foxes; cheetahs, including one female who jumped up onto our vehicle to scan the horizon for her next meal; Nile crocodiles and monitor lizards, herds of elephants with their young surrounding our vehicle, nearly 200 new species of birds with odd names that we had never seen or heard of before; an impossible-to-count number of wildebeest and zebras running in single file from horizon to horizon, somehow knowing instinctively that it was nearing migration time; newborn giraffe and elephant calves, hippos, black rhinos (protected from poachers 24-hours a day), hartebeest, lesser kudu, reedbuck, waterbuck, and on and on and on.
And that’s just a short list of the “fauna”. There was also the “flora”, including wonderful wildflowers in full bloom almost everywhere.
At the beginning and end of every day, we were greeted with a hearty “Jambo!” from lodge staff members. At the end of every day we were exhausted after 10 to 12 hours of game driving, but it was the best kind you can imagine, especially when served a hearty “bush” meal cooked by talented chefs just prior to retiring for the night in our beautifully appointed quarters.
How do you describe Africa?
There are simply not enough adjectives and nouns to describe all the wonders it holds. “Wow” just isn’t adequate, but it certainly applies. We purposely planned our trip to Tanzania to take place at the end of the “green season”, which turned out to be the best decision, at least for us. The weather was pretty much perfect, the landscape still green and lush from all the recent rains, there was very little dust, and after having a full year to recuperate from the hordes of tourists who would normally have been present, the animals and birds seemed to emerge from hiding and were everywhere.
The tourist count was almost non-existent and during our nearly 14 days we rarely encountered another safari vehicle. We also had most lodges to ourselves, and unfortunately for the Tanzanian economy we have Covid to thank for that. But slowly, life is starting to return to some semblance of normal and hopefully on the road to recovery.
Africa is poetry in motion. Africa is magical. Africa is survival of the fittest … it can be brutal, and is yet beautiful. It is the balance of nature. It is Mother Nature’s “zoo”, but without boundaries or borders. It is animals who are free to roam and live the way Nature has intended them to since time immemorial, to migrate in the timeframe that is wired into their DNA;
it is the seemingly endless grasses of the Serengeti savannah filled with wildebeest and zebras often from horizon to horizon as far as the eye can see; it is hartebeest and eland, waterbuck, steenbok and reedbuck, impala and Thomson’s and Grants gazelles always on alert; it is vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, and baboons with their clinging babies; it is the jackals and hyenas and vultures, nature’s clean-up crews and garbage collectors.
Africa is the rock and the tree hyrax, fur-covered animals that look like robust guinea pigs and, oddly, are closely related anatomically to the elephant; it is the sleeping leopard draped among the branches of an old acacia tree, detected by your guide because he knows the telltale sign of the dangling tail; it is the kopjes in the distance sheltering a pride of lions and cubs as they sun themselves on the rocks and laze the day away after the previous night’s hunt and meal; it is that totally unexpected encounter with the elusive serval cat you’ve only read about but have never seen as you round the bend in the road and watch as it peacefully sits and interacts with a black-backed jackal;
it is the family of mongoose as they scramble across the road; it is the impossibly tall 20-foot giraffe reaching for a tender snack at the top of a thorny acacia tree…or the mother giraffe with a newborn calf who has yet to introduce this newest member of her family to the rest of the herd; it is the squabbling family of warthogs that you discover has spent the night under your tented bungalow; it is the hundreds of different species of birds that you’ve never heard of before with exotic and descriptive names: bataleur eagle, rattling cisticola, red-billed quelea, steel blue whydah, white-browed coucal, lilac-breasted roller (a personal favorite!),
Usambiro barbet, fork-tailed drongo, Vitteline masked and other equally interesting weavers, purple grenadier, blue-capped cordon bleu, Kittlitz’s plover, Hadada ibis, hamerkop, malachite kingfisher, Hildebrant’s francolin, southern red bishop, and Fischer’s lovebirds and various sunbirds who decorate the tree branches like tiny colored ornaments, and the ever-present and precocious but beautifully colored superb starling…and so so many more.
Africa is the long-crested eagle or lesser grey shrike perched on the branches of a dead tree begging to have its photo taken if the light is just right, or even if it isn’t; it is the tawny eagle or augur buzzard soaring overhead riding the thermals over the Tanzanian landscape; it is the night noises you hear as you drift off to sleep in your impossibly cozy and comfortable bed surrounded by sheer white mosquito netting (by the way, we had NO mosquitoes, or any other bugs for that matter!)
It is lions roaring softly in the distance, hyenas “laughing”, frogs riveting and insects by the millions doing what they do; and in the morning, it is the glorious sunrise behind the clouds and acacia trees for silhouette emphasis along with the sounds of the birds warbling and chirping as you sip your coffee brought to you by one of the staff as you greet yet another new day. All of these, and more, we called the “Serengeti Serenade”.
And of course, Africa is the people – and not just the incredibly friendly and very capable staff at all the lodges who will always greet you in the morning and at the end of a long day of game driving with a hearty “Jambo!”, who will wait on you hand and foot and see to your every need and who will make sure that all the safety protocols are in place and adhered to for your peace of mind and comfort. (As a side note here: tip generously if you can. These warm and wonderful people go out of their way to make your trip exceptional and deserve to be rewarded. It will make you feel good to know that you’ve helped them in some small way.)
It’s also the people you will see on the streets of the small villages as you pass through…especially the schoolchildren in their crisp uniforms, who will smile and wave as you drive by. It is the people who for hundreds of years have lived by tradition.
You can, and most likely will, take thousands of photos. But occasionally, be sure to just put your camera down so you can just look, listen and breathe it all in. Immerse yourself in the moment. I will never reveal just how many photos I personally took during our 14 days, but it was a lot (!), but I still made myself take time to just let myself go and experience what surrounded me in all directions. And your guide will make sure that you do.
He truly wants you to live and embrace your experience every moment that is the very essence of Tanzania. He loves his country and all the mysteries and wonders it holds. And remember, your advantage is that this is a PRIVATE safari, so your time is YOURS…you don’t have to share it with anyone else! (Another footnote here: do not skimp on memory cards or batteries for your cameras. Take plenty!) You will have a 360 degree view from the top of your vehicle, so you will have no excuses!
All of it … ALL of it … impacts you at the most visceral level. It truly leaves you changed forever. You will come to understand all that is RIGHT with the world and see it in a whole new perspective. You will come away with an understanding of what is truly important. It is just that special. And you will most definitely say, “I am coming back!” We are already talking about doing just that.
And when you leave this enchanted continent that is in many ways raw and unspoiled, you won’t be able to help but notice that you have personally changed and become more aware in ways that is not easy to describe. You will have experienced Mother Nature at her most profound. It will be then that you fully understand the meaning of the phrase that you will have heard over and over, “Hakuna Matata”… which basically mean, “in Tanzania, you have no troubles, no worries.” And it’s true.
So our advice? Just GO! Don’t wait. You will not for a moment regret it. Your adventures will be completely different from ours, but they will be unique and special. You will be pampered, you will be safe, and you will have checked off the most amazing Bucket List item ever. In our humble opinion, Tanzania truly is The Greatest Show on Earth and is not to be missed.
Nina I. and Mark C.
San Jose, California
Safari Dates: April 17, 2021 to May 01, 2021