Our plane landed in Kilimanjaro Airport last night with all 9 of us aboard. Our guides were on the tarmac to meet us, walk us through customs in minutes, and escort us to the Mount Meru Resort in Arusha. It was late but the restaurant at the resort remained open just for us to have dinner and then to our rooms for some welcomed rest.
Day 2 (Arusha):
On day 2 we toured Arusha, the 3rd largest city in Tanzania. Our first stop was an elementary school where we visited a 2nd grade classroom. The children were so joyful. Many were bilingual, speaking both Swahili and English. Next we enjoyed the local and unique art at the Heritage Museum and art stores. Our final visit was to a most amazing conclave of artists. All were disabled, blind, or deaf – all gifted self-supporting artists. It was heartwarming to watch them weave, paint, sew, create and mold jewelry, do beadwork and more…
Day 3 (The Western Serengeti):
Early morning we boarded a small private plane in Arusha and had the most spectacular overview of the area as we flew across the Serengeti, landing in the far northwestern portion, to begin our safari. As our small plane landed on the grassy plains, zebra and wildebeest scattered in front of us. Amazing introduction to our adventure. How in the world did Sharon and ADS manage to arrange such an amazing start to our safari?
On this very first safari day we saw – up close and personal – lions, giraffes, zebras ,wildebeest, hippos, baboons, birds which looked like works of art, African Buffalo, hyena, Jackals, warthogs, Thomson’s Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle, Kirk’s Dik-dik, Topi, Impala, monkey, and even turtles.
Midday, while crossing a river, we witnessed a crocodile take down a zebra who was drinking from the river. The croc methodically pulled him in, drowned him, and proceeded to dissect the insides and carry them to his nest. Whew!
Late this afternoon we arrived at Mbalageti Tented Camp, having already traversed the Musabi Plains and the Grumeti River region. We all settled into our cabins that have breathtaking views overlooking the plains from our hillside verandas. Not exactly “roughing it” at this point. We ate and swam and I think we will all sleep soundly after our 1st day as visitors in the animals’ home turf.
Day 4 (The Western Serengeti):
Up before dawn, we watched the uncompromising African sunrise as we headed out of camp. The best part of another exceptional day of animal encounters was highlighted by the plethora of up close elephant encounters – some as near as ten feet from our 4-wheelers. We watched baby elephants nursing, humongous bull elephants stare us down just a bit shy of petting distance, and whole families of elephants walk by us. Breathtaking moments! After this trip it would be so difficult to see an elephant in a zoo ever again…
We roamed the Ruwana Plains and the Lower Grumeti Woodlands today then returned to camp for a hardy late lunch. Next came the famous 6+ mile Walking Tour of the Serengeti, accompanied by armed Rangers and Swahili Warriors. Near sunset, the hikers joined the less adventurous of our clan at our “Dinner in the Bush” destination with lush table settings, candlelight, bonfire, elegant menu – along with entertainment by baboons in the surrounding trees.
After dinner the kids surprised us with an Anniversary Cake, singing, dancing, and such fun! Quite a memorable 50th anniversary celebration in the African moonlight.
Day 5 (The Central Serengeti):
Today we crossed the Seronera Valley, Makoma Hill, and the Retina Pool en route to our next destination – The Four Seasons Bilila Lodge – not too shabby! On the way there, we spotted our first leopards – such magnificent animals!
Day 6 (The Central Serengeti):
We’ve learned that sunrise is the best time to see the animals. Today we saw the elusive cheetahs, along with all the other majestic animals which are nearly becoming commonplace to us.
Today the kids surprised me with a luxurious massage at the lodge’s Spa. Talk about feeling like “Queen for a Day”… Then tonight after our outdoor dinner by the endless pool, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me as they served me the most decadent 70th Birthday cake – without the fire hazard of that many candles! What a day. What a night! Does it get any better than this?
Day 7 (Ngorongoro Crater):
We pressed on today through the Olduvai Gorge, enjoying sightings along the way. We had the opportunity to visit a Maasai Village . It is hard to even get your arms around the daily life of the Maasai people – it is so very different from ours. The women make the huts from mud, dung, and grasses.
The entire hut is smaller than an average sized dining room back home. There is no heat except a small fire (with no chimney to vent the smoke), no plumbing of any kind, no lighting. Their sole source of food is meat, blood, and goats’ milk. Young boys Ava’s age are out herding the cows and goats from dawn to dusk. They return before dark to bring all the animals inside the Villaage enclosure for safety.
It was a hoot watching our sons join the Maasai Warriors in their “Jumping Contests”. It seems that being the highest jumper in the village is a real “turn on” for the Maasai girls. The Maasai are polygamous. It looked to me as if the women get all the hard jobs. They build the huts, birth and raise the children, cook the meat, etc. Meanwhile, the men take turns guarding the village at night, practicing their jumping skills, and protecting the village in general. Hmmm…
By days’ end we have entered the Lerei Forest, experienced the Moru Kopjes, and Olduvai Gorge. The topography here is unlike any we have experienced to date. It is lush rainforest with cool temperatures.
I wasn’t sure if our gang would like the tents at Lion’s Paw, but to my surprise, they all fell in love with this campsite. We had the whole camp to ourselves and our host, Eddie, made our visit extraordinary. After an elegant dinner, we had smores over the campfire as Eddie told us stories of Africa.
Day 8 (Ngorongoro Crater):
We awoke to a surreal jungle mist as we departed camp, bellies full, winding down the rim to the bottom of the crater. We searched all day for the elusive rhinos, to no avail. We were rewarded for our efforts, though, with ample viewings of lion cubs with their moms, and bachelor lions galore within several feet of our two jeeps, along with all the other resident animals.
One of our guides, Pokea, is so extraordinary at spotting a plethora of camoflauged animals that we have nicknamed him “Eagle-Eye”. Our other guide, Bennett, is Mr. Personality and has a heart as big as all outdoors! Incredible team!
After a marvelous dinner, we again got busy making our signature cheetah smores with wine chasers. As we say good night and climb into our tented beds, we can hear the night sounds of the animals outside our tents.
Day 9 (Lake Manyara):
Where did the time go? Can we already be nearing the end of our journey? One last area of protected National Park to explore as we make our way back to Arusha gives us lots of laughs watching the baboons’ antics especially.
Then, miles of farmland with corn stalks, sunflowers (they make oil out of these), coffee plantations, with occasional pauses along the way as cows and goats cross the roads, accompanied by young boys guiding and coaxing them along.
We arrived in Arusha late afternoon, to be given four rooms again at the Mt. Meru Resort to shower and rest before dinner and the journey to Kilimanjaro. We said good-bye to Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunset. It looked absolutely surreal. What a dramatic farewell to Africa!
Asante Sana, Tanzania…La La Salama.
Cynda E. and Family
The Villages, Florida
Safari Dates: June 1, 2016 to June 7, 2016
P.S. This celebration trip was truly “over the top” for all of us, thanks to the attention to detail throughout our journey by ADS. We have been blessed to be able to travel quite a bit since we retired, and I can honestly say that no other trip compares to this one.