Note: I leave out the practical details, the Rough Guide book is detailed, and will be updated going forward (and better than Lonely Planet, I bought and read both) The pictures below are clickable, but if you want lots of pictures, check out my PicasaWeb album or the video.
Day 0 - Arrival in Tanzania
Getting a visa in KIA is easy. No questions asked, and efficient. I am second in line, maybe that helped, too. Later I will find out that Arturo and Joaquin got theirs quicker, but they don't actually have a visa in their passport, just a stamp. I now have a little paper sticker in exchange for my USD50. My bags are on the second trolley from the plane (yeah, you can see it all, the airport is this small) and were on the band waiting when I finished immigration. Arturo and Joaquin will have to wait for their bags. Aron, the driver is waiting outside and we are on our way. The countryside is beautiful, all green and flowers.
The road from the main Aursha-Moshi road down to the lodge (Moivaro Coffee Plantation) is in amazingly bad shape (even for Serengeti standards), but the lodge is great. No TV, no phone in the rooms. Woohoo! There are a few trails on the lot, and the guy at check-in told me it's fenced in, so no lions. I don't know if he was kidding. This is a populated area, I doubt there is anything wild besides birds and stray cats. Notr even baboons, i would guess. And besides, the fence has gaps big enough for a lion.
The blackberry switched to SOS only. At the airport I could still make calls, and send SMS, but no longer. I walked back to the main road to get a SIM card ($2) and minutes ($1) but the BB insists the SIM card is invalid. The BB is unlocked, but maybe I am missing something... If I can't get this to work then calling home frequently will be harder...
I hiked back up to the Arusha-Moshi road. Interesting. First, one just walks in and out of the main gate. There is some theater when a car with clients arrives, but not when one walks. And there are plenty of people outside, walking up and down that road.
In another experiment, I put in the SIM from my Sierra WLAN card into the BB. That lets me send SMS, but data is refused, and voice fails. It says it does get a GPRS network, though. At least some progress... I get something it running finally, right before the rest of our team lands in JRO.
Food is pricy. Lunch was $20, for some veggies, some rice, and some meat. I guess you can get lunch for $2 up on the main road. Dinner is $25 for four courses. The first one is a small salad (2 mouth full). 2nd is good pumkin soup. Then either pork chops, some fish, or a vegetarian option - sounded like just the veggies... Why so much detail you ask? I am pretty much alone in this restaurant, it's too dark to read, and this fills the breaks between food arriving. And I forward this text chunk by chunk over SMS to my family. This one I think I am sending to Peisun. Desert is here! Some cake (carrot? chocolate?) on fruit salad. Out of a can, which make it look safe:-)
It is also surprisingly cool. I am wearing a fleece vest, and am just comfortabe - sitting outside for dinner at 9pm. Almost like Mountsin View. During the day it was a bit warm, but not hot. The little hike up to the road was comfortable. By 9.30 it's chilly enough that I consider waiting inside for Arturo and Joaquin. They must be here any minute, and here they are!
I sleep through the night under my boxed mosquito net. Two thick blankets. I am glad I brought my heavy sleeping bag for the trek. I haven't seen any mosquitos yet (thankfully), maybe it's too cold for them?
And in the morning my BB SIM started working. I SMS our helpdesk last night, and whatever they did seems to make a difference. I got voice, too. No data, though.
Day 1 - Arusha National Park
Today is Safari day in Arusha National Park. It's a small park close to Arusha and a good acclimatisation day. One reason Safaris are expensive are the huge park fees. Arusha NP charges USD 35 for tourists, while the locals get in for a bit more than a dollar. However, I consider this well invested money.
Toyota rule the road and dirt tracks in Tanzania. We drive a white LandCruiser with roof flaps that open, but don't provide cover while open. For today in Arusha, this is appropriate, and in some cases allows us to see the canopy better, where white colobus jump from branch to branch, sometimes right over our car.
Today we see at least giraffes, zebras, warthogs, water buffalos, waterbucks, bush bucks, flamingos, blue monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, baboons, a marabu stork in flight, and a few birds of prey. Two male giraffes were fighting, which conisted mostly of some butt pushing, and every now and then a blow with the horns against the opponets neck. One of the giraffes was much smaller, not sure what he was thinking, but he clearly lost the butt pushing part. The waterbucks were on the other side of the lake, very far away.
The next day we head out for our 6 day Kilimanjaro climb.
Day 2 - To Tarangire
Today we are picked up by Abdul, our driver and safari guide for the next 7 days. Whoa, what a change. He arrives half an hour early, drives a 4 month old, quiet Toyota 4WD, and drives well and safely. One slightly risky manouever all day long, and I would have done this one, too.
He gives us a small tour of Arusha, shows us the new supermarket, and off we are to Tarangire. This car has a different roof design, one where the roof just shifts up, so the mazungu get to stay in the shade. At the entrance to Tarangire they spray all the cars against the tse-tse fly, which it seems hasn't made it to Tarangire yet. We do a game drive on the way to the lodge. We see (at least) elephants, zebras, gnus, waterbucks, buffalos, giraffes, baboons, velvet monkeys, a jackal, 2 kind of eagles and many other birds, a monitor lizard, about a meter long, and two dik diks, the smallest antilope of them all, and very shy. Tarangire is the place to see elephants, and we see plenty. We also see the first wildebeests or gnus. Abdul says we'll see more later, and we have no idea how many we are going to see later.
The Tarangire Sopa Lodge is disappointing, particularly the rooms. They are dark holes in concrete towers made to looklike oversized Maasai huts. A round room just will suck, no matter what you do. They do an ok good job around it, but basically you stay in this cave. The food is good, and the choir turns out to be the best we will see.
Day 3 - To Serengeti
Today we drive to the Serengeti. On the way we do a game drive in Tarangire - basically driving out of the park. In addition to wildebeests, zebras, waterbucks, elephants and ostriches (all of which we saw yesterday) we see gray back jackals, another dik dik pair (they stay together all live), grounded hornbills, and we meet Zazu - you know him from The Lion King, it's a hondahonda or red horn bill)
In a tourist trap, I wanted to buy nice yellow bracelet for the girls, but they were $5. I offered $2, but that didn't work out. Arturo bought a simpler necklace for $5 and Abdul said it's a good price. And I find another over one meter tall Makonde statue quoted $500 before bargaining. Joaquin thinks one can be had for about $200, which seems reasonable. It's a bit big for transport, though. I let it go - for now. No reason to carry it through the Serengeti.
While Abdul stops for bananas, I buy four necklaces for $10, 2 of them for the girls. One elephant and one rhino. Then Arturo buys five for $10. Argh. He will be ripped off later on a rock statue, though. Worst thing, they screen his bag on the way home, unpack the statue, and don't pack it well - and it broke. Anyway, I trade the rhino for one of Arturo's elephants. So I have 2 similar ones now, I hope this makes giving easier..
We are now in transit to Ngorongoro which we will pass through. If we'll see animals, we'll stop, but we won't go to the crater today, it's just a drive through.
On the crater rim one passes the grave of Michael Grzimek, the son of Bernhard Grzimek. Arturo and Joaquin never heard of them, but the father was famous at least in Germany and witzerland. The son died in 1959, which was a bit before my time. Then, in Serengeti, we will look for animals on the way to the lodge. Yesterday, we did a lot of loops and detours in Tarangire, and we will do the same in the Serengeti.
The way from Tarangire to Serengeti NP is long, bumpy, and dry. The first distraction come in form of a car that broke down. Abdul stops, talks with them, and crawls under their car. It turns out he was a car mechanic before he became a tour guide. All safari cars have two gas tanks, and a switch to go from one to the other. This switch broke, so the other car has a tank full of gas, but no way to get it to the engine.
While they work on the gas lines under the car, two mzungu girls sit lazy in the car, reading books. Their guys stand around, not knowing how to help. In about 10 minutes, Abdul bypasses the switch, feeds the fuel directly to the engine, and off the other car goes. Woohoo, this is exactly the kind of driver you want in your car.
The second distraction comes in the form of a Maasai village. On the left, is a typical (still?) Maasai house, and on the right a corral used for their herds at night. On the fence are lion fangs for sale. In the words of Abdul, "enough to have all lions of the serengeti go teethless."
At a later opportunity, the lion fangs turned into lion claws. I think it's bones from their cattle. The Maasai even sing and dance for us.
The major element of Maasai dance consists in high jumping, they can jump over half a meter high... I wasn't impressed then, and not in shape to try it, but I tried later, and they jump really high. That meter, is with straight legs, and they hardly use their knees to jump.They also wear sandals made of old tires, not sneakers. We go into a one of their houses (with someone's wife sleeping in there) and are told about their diet: meat, blood and milk. The blood they let out of their cows.
They show us a kindergarten which hopefully is a fake. They had a blackboard, a kid with a stick pointed on the ABC or 123 and the group chanting the letters and numbers in English. It's just learned by heart, I doubt they even understand the concept. But still, many of them will grow up tri-lingual: maasai, swahili, and english.
And then we arrive in the Serengti. We see zebras, elephants, baboons, a huge herd of buffalos, and an even bigger herd of wildebeests. These are Western wildebeests, which are darker than the Eastern ones that we saw yesterday in Tarangire. Other antilopes are abundant too,: we see elands, topas, johnson, and grant.
We also see a golden jackal, as opposed to the silver back in Tarangire. We see an interesting lizard, with a red head and the rest blue, and a marabu stork on top of a tree. And we see our first spotted hyenas. First three puppies, then later more.
The highlight, however, was a lioness right next to the road, on a rock convenient at eye level from the car. She was resting there, and left right when I changed the SD cart in the camera. But it was very impressive and Joaquin was pretty worried.
Warthogs are fun animals. They live alone, together, or with a family. When they run, their tail sticks in the air, it's very cute to watch.
The Serengeti Sopa Lodge is what you would expect. Very nice, nice view, airy, beautiful. One of the guide books decries the architecture, but it's hardly visible. I like it, good job. The food is ok, and I risked ice cream - without thinking too much. Tomorrow would be a bad day for diarea, on safari with the lions...
Day 4 - Serengeti
Today is our first full day in the Serengeti, and in terms of animals, it is very successfull. In addition to many of the animals we saw earlier, we see a leopard and a cheetah! The leopard is sleeping on a tree close to the Maasai Kopies, belly full with his breakfast. The rest of the breakfast is on a branch nearby, for later snacking. Later, we find another kill on another tree, but that one is a few day old. The second leopard probably moved on already. Next think is a lioness with her fresh kill: a zebra.
Then we find the cheetah. It is laying in the grass. As we were watching it, it decides to get up and walk away slowly.
We also see a few hippos resting in the water, and a single cocodile. Tomorrow we'll go on a game drive along the river, looking for croks and more.That will be fun.
We are staying at a different lodge, the Mbalageti, tonight, and it is very wide spread. One needs a guard to move from the rooms to the main building. It looks mostly like a scheme to support the local Maasai population - and we participate. The rooms are small, but quiet nice.
The hotel turns out more interesting than I previously thought...For one, Arturo and Joaquin have a queen bed room. Eventually, Arturo manages to get a second room, but both have cold water only. Arturo takes a cold shower, and Joaquin used my bathroom instead. Later, it will turn out that the hot water heater blew it's fuse, and we were the only ones complaining... So they fix it. Many more things go wrong. My flashlight is broken, the porter-who made 1000 TSH tip in 5 min-notices it, but never comes back to fix it. Because of the rain, they have less space for dining and struggled, and we get a bad table in the hallway, without view of the Maasai dancing. Joaquin orders one soup, and gets a different one.
The manager apologizes for all things. They try really hard, but just keep failing. The food is good, except for the desserts. The decor of the hotel, even for the "standard rooms", is outstanding.
Some more musings... We drove into the "western corridor" today. Fewer animals, the migration is not here yet. Or already through? I am confused. Anyway, no exciting river crossing for us. Not much water anyways... Speaking of water, I mentioned it started to rain a bit. Nothing exciting, just drops here and there, and I think this is limited to the western Serengeti, but who knows.
Insects are not a problem for us. No mosquitos. Tse-tse flies close to us can be counted on one hand. This doesn't seem to be the case for most animals: like the giraffe on the picture, they seem to be the prime feeding ground. Did you notice the ticks on the lioness above (the one on the rock).
Btw, the migration is moving about 2M animals around in a circle, over the year. Pretty impressive to see the wilder beasts come through, it just doesn't end, there is more and more and more...amazing numbers of animals...
I wanted to look at all the animals in the guides, but I am just too tired, this is pretty exhausting. Good night!
Day - Back to Sopa
Mbageti Lodge is exceptionally beautiful and breakfast is outstanding both in terms of view and food quality! Joaquin takes another cold shower, and we hit theroad, eh dirt track. We headed further West, to kirawara resthouse and ranger post (only 40 km left to the Western gate). Just before lunch we were treated to a special feast. A bunch of crocs devouring a wildebeest. It was quite a spectacle. The beast was already dead when we arrived, and they were tearing it apart. They start with the legs, and only when they are gone, they go for the tummy. Once that falls apart, they each grab a piece and try to swallow, while others try to steal from them.
We see some more hippos, including babies, but eyes only...
There is cell phone coverage allmost everywhere, including in the middle of the Serengeti. But my blackberry refuses to roam. Joaquin even gets data traffic on his...I will just send out the SMS as soon as I can.
We are heading back to the Sopa lodge now, over the wide Serengeti plains. Serengeti comes from "endless plains" in Swahii. The big herds of wildebeests (gnus) and zebras are here.
After the crocs we drive to the hippo pool, passing many baboons, impalas, buffalos, topis and wildebeests.
The hippopool is fun, maybe 100 hippos, a constand bubbling grunting and calling. And eyes popping up here and there. In a different pool later, some actually came out of the water, and then went back in. All of them have small ones with them, too. We stopped next to a few giraffes, again with a little one. Abdul also saw two lionesses on a tree, quite far away, amazing eye sight. We use the zoom lenses heavily.
Right after that we saw a serval, a small and rare cat, but it disappeared quickly. I only saw its butt. It's supposed to look like a small cheetah, but I couldn't tell.
Day - Central Serengeti
We are getting closer to the end of the safari, and a certain tiredness is starting to appear. Being on Cipro - or rather the reason why I am on Cipro - doesn't help either. Good we stay for two nights the same hotel, a first since the beginning of the trip.
This morning we drive to Moru Kopies, and on the way we see a few huge herds. And they are huge, five, possibly 6 digits worth of animals. It's hard to take pictures of this. Print out 12 copies of the picture on the left and stick them around the wall of your cubicle side by side. That's about how it looks. And there is quite a symphonie of mooing.
But we see no more lions. One of the Moru kopies features in The Lion King movie. We also visit a small cave that served Maasai when it rained. They paid a high price for the establishement of the national park as they got kicked out, and lions may use it occasionally.
Lunch is another Sopa lunch box, again at the visitor center. Arturo and Joaquin are watching the movie about the lions, but after two weeks a TV seems such a strange thing to me....
After lunch, we see the Tanzanian Airforce One. It landed in Serona airport, in the middle of the Serengeti. The president came to visit some local people, it seems. We didn't see the president, though.
Later we see another leopard, bigger, and much closer. He moved his head a bit, but isn't interested in climbing down from his tree. We drive to another Kopie where we see a lioness earlier, and behold, there were two cubs (more like teenagers) there. We also find 4 more members of the pride, but of the male, we only saw the mane. Their lunch is in the grass, or what is left of it...the horns of a wildebeest.
We drive throug the big herd on the way back, and it moved closer to the hotel. As I am writing this, I hear the constand mooing through my window. The view here is great, and the valley outside is now populated with thousands of wildebeests, zebras, and a few giraffes.
Day 7 - On to Ngorongoro Crater
On the way out of Serengeti, we see another pride of lions, and a thompson gazelle runs along the car for a few seconds, at 60kmh! Which is pretty impressive - but only half of cheetah speed. Guess what Cheetahs like best for lunch...
On the way to Ngorongoro we stop at Odupai gorge, one of the major palaeontological sites in Africa. They have a small, but interesting museum. One can tour the gorge itself, but it wasn't on our schedule, and I am not that excited about old stone tools, bones, and geology. So we didn't insist. We'd rather head straight to the crater.
Almost first thing In Ngorongoro, we see a sleeping pride of lions, and then most of the other suspects: gnus, warthogs, thompson gazelles, ostriches, buffalos, etc. No rhino yet. Lunch is another Sopa Lodge lunchbox, Joaquin is sick of them.... I am not that hungry, given the status of my digestion (TMI).
And late in the afternoon, we see a rhino. Well, not really. Arturo and Abdul claim that a few gray dots in the binoculars were rhinos resting. They look like rocks. There are a bunch of cars, and others claimed that the rhinos were standing up earlier, so somewhere on that hill, there are rhinos. If they move, they aren't rocks. I take a Find Waldo picture, you can look for yourself. Maybe tomorrow we will be luckier.
We also see another cheetah, although I only see it's head for about half a second. On the bird front, we found white pelicans...
The Ngorongoro Sopa lodge is nice, situated on top of the crater. Our rooms are a bit challenged in their view, however. Not too big a deal, we'll be out of here in 12 hours. The Ngorongoro Sopa wins the best wild live price, though. Three elefants walk by right ouside the hotel window, and then hang around for some eating and drinking right next to the hotel
We'll do another game drive in the crater tomorrow early morning, then drive to Arusha (3h, and - ahhhh - paved roads).
Day 8 - Ngorongoro Crater and back to Arusha
It's 5:45am, and we'll be leaving soon, for the last gamedrive and then homewards. It's an extremely weird feeling, but in 24h I'll be out of Africa..
As of now, the hotel is still in the clouds and it is dark, but by the time we'll reach the crater ground, it will be brighter. I put on two fleeces and the rain jacket, and it's appropriate. Other Mzungus told us it's cold in Ngorongoro and it is quite fresh, but nothing compared to Kili.
On the way down we see another serval, too short to take pictures, and then we find 6 lions on the hunt. Their target wildebeest is already on the run.We follow them for a while, but run out of road quickly, and stay not long enough to see the kill they'll probably do in the next hour or so. Instead, we head for (boxed) breakfast to the picnic place. We also see a group of juvenile jackals.
Abdul also keeps pointing out Kori Bastards, and I can't stop thinking of Mike Myers. I must be getting it wrong, and decide to look it up later. Amazingly there are 16,300 Google hits for this. But if you do an image search (don't do this at work with safe search off, btw.), the first result solves the problem, it's Kori Bustard, Ardeotis kori, at up to 20kg (44lbs) the heaviest flying bird of Africa, and possibly the world (it competes with the Great Bustard).
We have about 3 hours left in the crater and we still haven't seen a rhino - other than a blur on Arturo's laptop.
We leave, and shortly after, Abdul asks for the binoculars. His incredible eye sight found us two rhinos. Not close, but they looked like rhinos in binoculars, which qualifies in my mind. Arturo says his pictures prove that yesterday we saw three rhinos, but if one can hardly tell in max res on a picture, what's the point. There are plenty of pictures of rhinos on the Web. Now, the picture on the left was taken with my Canon S3 at full zoom, 432mm and 2816 pixels wide and the rhino is only about 120 pixels wide... Anyway, we are good on rhinos now. Happiness is back.
Later, after we already turned into the ascent road, a ranger tells us there is another rhino close to the road, so we do a three point turn and drive there. "Close" must be relative to the animal, not to the actual distance. This one was moving slowly towards the road. After a few minutes, it decides to lay down, and we leave. We have a long way to go...Paved road feels strange.
Good Earth Tours & Safari
I fully recommend Good Earth Tours, particularly if you plan to climb Kilimanjaro (writing this in 2007, things can change over time). The trip was a complete success. They briefed us before the trip, and debriefed after. Check out their Web site for more details: they are African owned, support local schools, etc. Ernest, our Kilimanjaro guide mentioned that he attended wilderness rescue training with them, and he isn't even their employee. Abdul, our safari guide, was a car mechanic, and he fixed someone else's car in the middle of nowhere. Abdul also told us that of their two reps in Florida, one was a Kili guide, and the other a safari guide. This is exactly the team you want.
Back in Arusha in the Impala hotel we get a day room. The beds aren't made, but at least the maid is doing them right now. Not that I need them, I only need towels... Oh well, this is Africa....I only have an hour until I have to leave for the airport. Just enough time for a shower, to change clothes, and backup the SD cards to Arturo's computer. And maybe have a quick stroll in the city, but it turns out not. Arturo and Joaquin will leave at 5pm, two hours later, they have time to eat at the restaurant, and Arturo goes online, and sends out an update..
I also have to think about repacking, and how to transport my Makonde statue towards it's new home in California. I am most concerned about the trip from TLV to ZRH, Swiss, and restrictive luggage restrictions....and Israeli security. I need a bag for the statue that I can open and close (I ended up with bubble wrap, unpacking it twice for security, and convincing the check-in and the gate agent that I can take it. We settled on "let the crew decided" in both casese. Despite a plane packed to the last seat, the crew couldn't care less. And the A340's have a lot of overhead space, even with Swiss' tight seath pitch.
But back to Addis Abbebba. It turns out the president of the Comores island was on my plane. Dude, I flew on Comores' Air Force One. First time flying with a president... He was there together with staff and bodyguards. That's why biz was full, and the guy sitting next to me was not friendly at all. He probably carries. The president looks like a nice elderly man, and he just stayed in his seat while others tried to get out of the plane. But the flight crew pushed everyone (but security) back and let him and his staff go first. He had his own bus, too.
I am spending four hours out of 6 hours lay over chatting with a guy from the UN in rome. It is very pleasant and interesting. Another hour of news reading on the Internet, just to stay awake. Not that anything really happened in the last two weeks.