After a one night stay in Nairobi, we (Tonya, Kristen and
Dan) went to Tanzania to do one week of safari, and one week climb of Mt.
Kilimanjaro, all done through Abercrombie & Kent tours.
Our week of safari included a stay at different lodges and multiple game
drives in nearby parks each day. We saw amazing animals at all the
game parks. Traveling between parks each day we saw much of the vast
farm lands and communities in the Tanzanian countryside. In general, all the people in Tanzania
are very friendly -- all the people and kids on the side of the road
waved at us, and all the locals at the places we stayed always said a
warm 'hello', or 'Jambo'. We were not sure whether our
accommodations would be along the lines of luxury tent or hotel -- they
were progressively more luxurious lodges with outstanding views and
We enjoyed multiple parts of Tanzania, from the safari
areas to Arusha and Mt. Kilimanjaro. In general, everyone was very
nice and very courteous. We must say that Tonya got more attention
that we did -- she was often mistaken for a 'local', traveling with some
tourists. They were extra nice to her -- but we were able to
sponge off that treatment.
Probably the most prevalent beast on the safari was the fly -- they
were everywhere! Most were the standard household looking type,
but some of them bite. It was hard to determine which of the household
types were just annoying and which actually bite. But all the damn Tse Tse
flies will bite, even through clothing -- much like a horse fly or deer
fly! It was impossible to get away from them. Whenever we stopped to look at an animal, they would converge on the truck.
They also seemed to annoy the animals -- most movement by the
cheetahs and lions was to avoid the flies!
We learned quickly that there are two times in Tanzania: Tanzanian time, and English Time. Tanzanian time
uses a 12
hour clock, with 1-12 representing daylight hours and 1-12 representing
night time hours. The daylight hours started at the hour of the
sunrise, 6AM. So 6AM in English time is 0:00 in Tanzanian time,
7AM is 1 o'clock, 8AM is 2 o'clock, etc. Likewise, 7PM is 1
o'clock, 10PM is 4 o'clock, and midnight, is 6 o' clock,
etc. We had to be very careful to determine whether someone was
talking in Tanzanian or English time -- they were always willing to
convert to English time.
Day 1 - Lake Manyara
The Lake Manyara game park is just below our lodge (about a 20 minute
drive.) The park is fairly small but includes the beautiful
lake. As we approached the gate we saw tons of baboons in the
roadway. At many points in this park, we stopped and watched
groups of 10 to a 100 baboons playing in or near the road. We also
saw giraffe, elephant, zebra, impalas, water buffalo, wart hogs and lots
of birds (it was clear to Hosea, our guide and driver, that none of us are 'birders'.)
Only the few giraffe, elephants, and many impala, and of course the
baboons, were close enough for good pictures. An interesting point
about the impalas -- there were many 'bachelor herds' consisting of all
male impalas. The strongest male in a group gets his own herd of
females (20-30 of them!) for mating. So, we would see the one stud
impala with his harem, and then the many sad bachelors hanging out
The Lake Manyara Serena Lodge was very luxurious compared to the
tents we had been expecting. The lodge was positioned on the ridge
over the lake and all rooms looked out over the lake. The lodge had all
the amenities (warm water, power, full
restaurant/ bar, etc.) we could ask for. They even offered email! But offering
email meant that you could write down on one page what you wanted to send
and they would radio it to another location that has internet
connectivity and they would type and send it, as well as relay verbally any
responses. At $10 a page it was not worth trying!
The dinner was an extensive buffet and it was very good. They even
had an acrobatic show after dinner.
Day 2 - Gibbs Farm, Ngorongoro Crater
After our morning game drive at Lake Manyara, we drove over very
rough roads (tons of pot holes) to Gibbs Farm for lunch. Gibbs
Farm is an quaint inn on the side of mountain that has gardens, walking
trails, and great views of coffee fields and farms. Someone said
it was listed as Conde Nast's #7 greatest inn in the world --
though we are not sure in what category. We could not do the walk to
the waterfall where elephant and buffalo are supposed to come to drink
because it was raining. The lunch was another excellent buffet!
The drive to Ngorongoro Crater was very bumpy, even though we avoided
most of the major pot holes. When we got to the crater, we stopped
at the first scenic view and it was amazing. The crater is 102
square miles and with binoculars we could see elephants at the bottom in
the open fields. Hosea said that this is the only place in
Tanzania that you can
find the black rhinoceros. The crater is a collapsed volcano and
is managed as a conservatory, not a national park.
The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge is positioned on the ridge of the crater, overlooking the
huge park. Our room view was spectacular. Since the lodge was at
7,500 feet altitude, it was chilly at night. The stars were
amazing at night because it was so dark. The sun rose just over
the crater across from our windows! The Serena lodges are getting
progressively nicer -- this one is even more luxurious than Lake Manyara.
Day 3 - Ngorongoro Crater
We left for the crater park at 8:15AM and made it to the gate just
before 9AM. There were 20 groups registering to get in when we
arrived. It went pretty fast, but it was amazing to see how
crowded it is when all the groups are in one area. We had heard
two things about the Ngorongoro: 1) it gets crowded, and 2) the animals
are very tame. We immediately felt the first one, and when we came
upon a pride of lions the second became clear also. As we were the
4th truck to roll up near the pride, we knew they were not bothered by
vehicles. One of them even got up and came over to lay in the
shade of our truck! When we started driving off we worried we might run
over his tail, but he did not even move.
It is very rare to see cheetah in the wild (or at least in Ngorongoro
Crater) because their number is limited, and they are shy and stay away
from people. So, when we spotted two cheetah stick their heads up
out of a grass field some distance off, we stopped to track them.
We spent about two hours as they inched (literally) closer. We got
great views of them via the binoculars, but they were still way too far
for the digital camera. Tonya took 4 rolls of pictures of just the
cheetah with her high powered lens, so I am sure we got at least one
wall-hanging worthy picture from that!
We almost saw a huge fight between a Cape Buffalo and a Lion, likely to
be a kill on one side. The Cape Buffalo don't typically beat the
lion, but they often try because they are so big and generally don't
like lions. Hosea saw the potential from a long way off, so we
went closer and waited it out. A pride of 16 lionesses with one
lion and 2 cubs were sleeping by the lake. A huge herd of cape buffalo were
about 500 yards downwind also at the lake. The lead cape buffalo
spotted the pride and slowly edged toward it. Hosea said that they
will charge the lions and try to kill them if they see them near the
herd. It took some time to develop, but the lionesses (with 2
cubs) finally saw the cape buffalo and moved farther upwind to avoid the
conflict, but the lion stayed his ground. Five cape buffalo broke
off from the herd and went closer to the lion. At one point the
cape buffalo and the lion were within 15 feet of each other roaring and
fake charging! Unfortunately, the lion gave in and backed
off. If the other 4 cape buffalo had not been there, Hosea said
that the lion would have attacked. The lion went on and re-joined
the pride. Oh well. I did take some pictures but we had had
to back off to allow it to happen, so we will again rely on Tonya's high
powered lens for this one.
Just to keep track, in the Ngorongoro Crater we saw cape buffalo,
warthog, elephant, vervet monkey, zebra, wildebeest, lioness/lion,
rhinoceros, cheetah, ostrich, Thompson and Grant gazelle, and tons of
flamingos and other birds. There are no giraffe in the crater
because the sides are too steep for them to traverse.
Day 3 - Oldu Pai Gorge, Serengeti
On our drive around from Ngorongoro Crater to Oldu Pai Gorge we saw
many giraffe, hyena, ostrich, gazelle, and wildebeeste. For miles
there were thousands of animals for as far as the eye could see on
both sides of the road. We were told that this is the time of year
that the wildebeest and Zebra go to the plains along that road to birth
their young, since there are fewer predators than in the crater.
We saw a ton of newborn wildebeest and zebra, even some mothers with
their umbilical cords still hanging out . Hosea said that a baby wildebeest
can run as fast as a full-grown wildebeest 15 minutes after
being born -- but they are still at high risk because they are smaller
and picked out of the crowd by the predators. We saw a lot of small packs of
hyena. At one point we saw a hyena asleep in the water filled
ditch on the side of the road. He looked sick, or maybe he had
just eaten too much, because he barely moved when we got close.
Then a bunch of vultures came down by him and started picking apart the
kill he had practically lying under him. They would scurry up,
grab a piece of meat and then jump away to eat it. A pack of hyena
started approaching the one hyena -- Hosea said they were likely going to
kill and eat the slow moving one, and maybe some vultures at the same
time. But other trucks came by and scared all of them away!
When we arrived at Oldu Pai Gorge we explored the museum and heard a
lecture. The Oldu Pai Gorge (misspelled 'Oldu Vai' by the first
visitors, and now locals are trying to correct it back to 'Oldu Pai') is
the place where Louis and Mary Leakey found the oldest human fossils
from 1931-1990's. They found the oldest upright walking creature
footprints dated to 3.6 million years old. They found a homo-sapien
predecessor (homo hibilis) dated to 1.5 million years old. The
museum has extreme detail of the all the work done there in the past 6
decades. They still have digs there 2 months every year.
They hope to find the 'missing' link to fill the gap between 1.5 million
and 3.6 million years ago.
We had not realized until today that all the land around that area,
including the crater and the gorge, are part of the Ngorongoro
Conservation Area, which has been set aside as protected land.
As a side note....one of the most notable tribes inhabiting
Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the Masai tribe. They are the
ones that typically dressed in the deep red wraps with the jewelry
and head decorations. They are taking advantage of their notoriety
in a way that many other non-Masai locals and the government frown upon
-- they are hawking themselves on the side of the road to tourists for
pictures. There are groups of them every 1/2 mile, all dressed up,
waving at tourists to stop and take a picture. We heard it was
$5/picture, or $50 to visit their homes and take pictures. Most
locals consider this as 'lazy' and not wanting to do real work.
The government is trying to direct them towards being less dependent on
tourism and continue raising cattle and other means of living.
We finally reached the Serengeti National Park (easily drove 100
miles on very bumpy roads). On our drive the next 50 miles to get
to the lodge, we stopped and saw hippopotamus in a pond. We drove
way out of our way down extremely rough terrain looking for close-ups of
cheetah, but only found some sleeping lionesses. We did find a
leopard hanging in a tree. A marked difference in the Serengeti is
the vast areas of almost no animals -- some gazelles in the distance
but few other animals. Supposedly, with the very odd weather situation
this year (lots of rain in January) the animals migrated sooner than
expected, so there were almost none remaining, and thus few
lions/cheetah/leopard because they follow their food source on the
The Serengeti Serena Lodge lived up to our heightened
expectations. It was very luxurious and all the rooms had perfect
views of the sunset over the Serengeti. hills.
Day 4 - Serengeti National Park
Woke up at 6:30, thinking cats would be moving. No cats, not
much of anything! It started making sense since we saw few animals at
all. Actually, we saw a number of 'new' animals, like
hippopotamus, dik dik (tiny deer), water buck, etc, but no very exciting
animals, and especially no cats.
Dan skipped the afternoon, drive to avoid the pot holed ride (he
always sat in the far back of the Land Cruiser), and to update the web
site. Tonya and Kristen saw baboons and some more hippopotamus,
but nothing else worth mentioning during their 4+ hour drive.
We invited Hosea, our guide, to dinner with us. He is so
friendly and professional. He explained the extreme measures
A&K goes to to to make sure our trip is optimal and uninterrupted by
misfortune. We also talked about the differences in attitude of
the Tanzanians. He agreed that since there are few tribal issues,
they are very welcoming of foreigners (not just for the money!). Kenyans
have more tribes and therefore are more closed to foreigners, except for
making money from them.
Day 5 - Serengeti National Park, flight to Arusha
for Kilimanjaro climb
We went on a morning game drive on our way to the local
airport. Only unique animals were a breeding herd of about 100
elephant and babies. Other than that there were very few animals
-- not the time of year for the Serengeti. We flew out of a grass/dirt runway with a
plane that held 8 people. See Mt.
Comparing the amount of baggage we each
brought...Kristen has the bags for both of us, compared to the 2 bags just
for Tonya. Tonya, lighten up!