As dawn lit up the Serengeti stage, we witnessed nature acting out its drama, its comedy, its romance and suspense, each day as it has over thousands of years; the theater of life. And, my husband and I had front row seats thanks to Africa Dream Safaris.
Our guide Ally took us on an adventure unlike any vacation we have ever experienced. We are active, seasoned travelers who are accustomed to hands-on, interactive travel where we control and contribute physically to the action. But we soon discovered that our typical notions of travel needed to be set aside.
Other safari vehicles came and went, travelers chattered loudly, took quick snapshots and sped away, while we lingered, observed, studied and spent quiet time enjoying the wonders that are the Serengeti.
Our guide told us “good things come to those who are patient” and so we waited and watched while a lion courted his mate on what Ally explained was a “seven-day lion honeymoon.” We were silent partners to the ritual of reproduction of the most bold of Serengeti animals. As others sped along a game trail, not bothering to stop for giraffe that were but two of the scores of giraffes in the Western Serengeti, our guide stopped to point out that this was a male giraffe pursuing a young female in heat. For nearly an hour we chose to observe as these two attempted to mate, demonstrating that mating is neither a quick nor easy task for these towering creatures.
Ally answered questions we did not even know to ask, telling us about every animal’s longevity, gestation period, parenting skills, eating habits and even animal folklore of the Maasai people. Ally’s eyes were keen, his knowledge immense, this driving skill spectacular and his sense of humor a constant pleasure.
We packed a bulging 16.5 pound camera bag, complete with Canon T4i camera and three lenses including a Canon 100/400mm stabilizing zoom lens along with assorted video cameras. A close friend cautioned me to not become so consumed with equipment and photography that I would fail to just stop and enjoy the safari sights. Nothing was farther from the truth. Take the best and most camera equipment to can. We used our lenses and view finders like binoculars. They allowed us to focus in on the scenes before us. Through our lenses we studied and documented the precious moments that were unique to us and our experiences.
We took over 6,500 photos and over eleven hours of video. Many thousands have come before us and many more will come after us, but none will see what we saw in the same way we experienced it and that was the beauty of our ADS safari. If it takes us months and perhaps years to process, edit and compile our photos and videos, so be it. This endeavor will allow us to relive our adventure, retrace our steps and recreate the moments that are now part of our lives. We have included but a few of the many photos that make us smile, that cause our hearts to soar and bring us back to our adventures in the Serengeti, now sealed in time.
Now, for the nuts and bolts: We just returned from our mid-May, 12-day safari with 3 night Zanzibar extension. I swear we saw every animal in the Serengeti, including lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, elephant, giraffe, hippo, wildebeest, buffalo, rhino, gazelle, impala, zebra, baboon, crocodile, and the list goes on. Plus, we saw many of the lesser known animals such as the bat-eared fox, serval cat, dik-dik, golden jackal, leopard tortoise, etc. And I can’t forget the birds. I am not a birdwatcher, but I have become consumed with bird viewing. There were so many colorful and exotic birds (including four types of eagles) and our guide was an expert in bird life, helping us document the birds of Eastern Africa. (I do believe that the crowned crane is the most gorgeous bird I have ever seen.)
Being greeted at the Kilimanjaro Airport and walked through customs at 3:30 am was a blessing. Our layover day in Arusha was much needed as we had nine time zones of jet lag to absorb. Our first day in the Central Serengeti was unbelievable, with us finding most of the animals of the Serengeti this first day out. For those of you fortunate enough to take a 10-12 day safari, we suggest that you consider taking a half or full day off from game driving about half way through your trip. Game driving, even for the fittest travelers, is fun but exhausting. Our 7th day, spent relaxing at the wonderful Mbalageti Tented Lodge, was what we needed to recharge. We used the day to meet with our guide, review photos, clean up journal notes and iron down spellings, pronunciations, etc. for locations, birds and lesser known animals we encountered and took time for a swim, a fabulous hot lunch and animal viewing from the elevated lodge deck.
I am a mosquito-phobic who gets bit when nobody else is bothered. We sprayed our clothing as recommended and I applied insect repellent daily, and can report that neither of us got even one bite in our 12-day safari, and only 4-5 bites in Zanzibar.
Lodges and Tent Camps: We stayed at seven lodging locations during our 16 nights in Tanzania. I would be remiss if I did not give “kudos” to the magnificent four. Mbalageti Tented Lodge in Western Serengeti was superb. We experienced a great tented room, huge bath, rock-edged swim pool, breathtaking views, and incredible food (not buffet) with very attentive staff. Lake Masek Tented Lodge was the most authentically African of the places we stayed. Maasai warriors in their village attire with spears to safeguard us at night, wonderful views over Lake Masek, lions roaring and hippos grunting during the night, African architecture and family style meals (with our guide included) were a few of the highlights. Produce was grown on-site and food was ultra-fresh and tasty. Staff was wonderful.
Plantation Lodge was simply incredible with lush landscaping, a suite with fireplace and tons of sitting/lounging areas, first-class bar with wine tasting cellar, old world charm, wonderful menu dining and a great representation of colonial Africa at its best. We would have liked to stay longer than one night. And in Zanzibar- Fumba Beach Lodge. Our Baobab Suite was what dreams are made of, private beachfront location with open air bathroom as large as some peoples’ apartments with bathtub built into a giant baobab tree. The Fumba had a true Zanzibar feel, exemplary service, beach boat bar, delicious food off the menu served under tropic skies, lots of secluded ocean decks, great spa, all in the kind of place that is so hard to leave. Staff and manager Tracy were charming and dedicated to our comfort. If you get to Zanzibar, don’t miss the private tour of Stone Town set up by ADS meet and greet staffer Godfrey. Quite amazing.
Was this a trip-of-a-lifetime? Yes! Was it worth the time and money spent? Absolutely! Would we do it again? You betcha!
“Asante” (thank you) to our guide Ally, our ADS representative Dawn and all the many staff members at Africa Dream Safaris for their warm, caring, professional attention, resulting in our magical travel experience.
Ann and Don P.
Trip Dates: May 13, 2013 to May 28, 2013