Safari 2008 Trip Report

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The following is a narrative of our 2008 trip to Tanzania with Naipenda Safaris, thanks again Jo (jo@naipendasafaris.com). We have grouped our pictures into separate groups that can be accessed via the highlighted links below.

About the flights Ė we loved them; well maybe just liked and they were much easier than expected. We flew Northwest/KLM and other than the SFO to MINN leg, they had the individual entertainment in the seatback (movies, TV, games, etc.), free meals, free WINE and ice cream. Coming home there was a 2 or 3 hour delay in AMS and they gave us vouchers for $15 each for food and a free phone card. We planned the trip so leaving MINN we took a sleeping pill and slept the whole way to AMS then awake for the airport and the flight to JRO and then straight to bed. We had no problem with jet lag.

We arrive at the Kilimanjaro Airport about an hour late. Immigration and customs was easy and there was no problem getting our visas. Chris, our guide, met us at Kilimanjaro Airport with sign in hand. Itís amazing how quickly we felt totally at ease with Chris and in good hands as he delivered us to the Mt Village Lodge outside Arusha. He stayed with us until we were all checked in and gave us the schedule for the next day Ė Arusha Park. We went to our rooms and the girls unpacked and the boys went off to the bar for a beer or two. Then it was time for bed and we actually felt pretty good after about 30 hours in airplanes and airports.

Arusha Park: We almost canceled this dayís plans because President Bush was coming to town and all the roads were going to be closed from 8am until about 4pm. So we would need to get to the Park early and stay in the Park until 4pm. We were not going to sit in a hotel when animals beckon so we got up early and headed out with our box lunches. Naipenda sent us out with Nixon since our guide Chris was driving up to the Serengeti so he could meet us when we flew up. (I thought about canceling our flight and driving up with him, but hey Iím not stupid.) This Park was a great choice for me. I wanted to see herds of Cape buffalo and animals in their natural setting and this was perfect. There are no predators but giraffe everywhere, buffalo, warthogs, zebra, baboons and the black and white Colobus monkeys (also great views of Kilimanjaro). Added bonus??? We had to wait at the roadblock a few minutes and so we did get to watch the presidential motorcade go by. All in all, a great day!

Mt. Village Lodge: a beautiful property on a little lake owned by Serena. The rooms were clean and large, 2 large beds behind mosquito netting, hot shower and cute decorating. The food was probably great (I was a little cautious having just arrived and planning a flight the next day). We had several Tusker beers on the lawn overlooking the lake after our day at Arusha Park and really enjoyed the whole experience (had a nice visit with some other guests). Dinner was a la carte with a salad bar and very good. Breakfast was a buffet with someone cooking eggs to order. Box lunches were typical.

The next morning we were up early for our 8am flight to the Serengeti. There were some problems/delays in checking out so Nixon had to drive us pretty fast to the airport. An E ticket ride for sure but not scary just fast. We gave them our tickets, they weighted our bags and then they whisked us out to the airplane with one other passenger and off we went. Again, Nixon stayed with us until we had stashed our box lunches on the plane and were off. Iím thinking maybe Naipenda has had dumb guests wander off because they really watched over us, or maybe we just looked clueless. Iíve never flown in a small plane but I LOVED it. We were low enough to see the maasai villages and countryside and we also got a great view of the Ngorongoro Crater.

Serengeti: Chris was waiting at the Seronera air strip for us with my 4 kilos of beans for my beanbag. In Arusha I just balanced my camera on the top rail and I can tell the different in my photos. A big beanbag is a necessity. So today we headed South past Naabi Hill gate to the Gol Kopjes, I think, in search of lions and cheetahs. We didnít get any distance at all until we spotted a group of lions (with 1 adorable cub) making their way to a shade tree right beside the road. We were the only vehicle and it was a great beginning. After that we found quite a lot of lions but mostly sleeping. We also saw all the usual critters, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, impala, warthog, and birds. We had lunch under a tree at a Kopje and here is also where Chris had to change a flat tire. His first, as the jack and tools were still in their original plastic bags. We spotted more lions throughout the day, along with several cheetahs. Later in the day when we drove along the river in the valley we spotted a sleeping leopard in a tree (with about 20+ vehicles). We also saw elephants and then hippos on our way to Mbuzi Mawe Tented Lodge. All in all a fabulous day in the Serengeti and at this point I could have gone home a happy camper. It had exceeded my wildest expectations and remember, I had worked, saved, plotted and planned this trip for over a year.

Mbuzi Mawe is a wonderful Serena tented lodge up off the floor of the Seronera Valley to the North that is build around a Kopje. No way can I call these tents but they do. They were large with 2 beds, great hot shower, half walls with canvas and everything you could want. They did tell us that we would need a guard to walk us around at night and we did hear lions huffing both nights. The food was great with a la cart entrees and a salad bar. There was entertainment one night but we missed it as we were downloading photos. Breakfast was made to order eggs, toast and meat with a self serve bar for the rest. They even had chilled champagne! This could have been a favorite place to stay but I felt it was the wrong location for this February. It was too far from the valley to go back to for a mid-day break and I wanted to catch the morning light and the evening light. So if you leave by 7am and return at 7pm there is not much time to enjoy the property.

On the second day we headed over to the Hippo Pool; got the Cape buffalo, baby giraffes, elephants, etc, etc, etc. We also saw our second sleeping leopard in a tree. Again, Iíd be standing up with the wind in my hair and I felt like I had this permanent grin plastered all over my face. And about my hair, by the end of the day it was stiff as a board from the wind and dust. Bring lots of conditioner and some shampoo too. More about that later.

Ndutu: I think today we were planning to head straight to Ndutu. But along the way we came across a lone female lion hunting a pair of waterbuck. Now I didnít want to see ďa killĒ but I was looking forward to seeing a lion in action. I wanted her to give chase and look impressive or something. So what seemed like 20 minutes later the male waterbuck nuzzled the female and she jumped forward to avoid his advances and then the lion gave chase and it was all over. What was interesting was that the male waterbuck saw it all happen and he just stood and watched and waited like he was still going to get lucky. The female lion then drug the waterbuck quite a distance to the shade under a tree. Then she proceeded to pose and grin for all the spectators along the road (there were quite a few vehicles lined up along 2 roads watching). We left at this point because what seemed like 20 minutes was really 2 hours and 20 minutes. Iím a softy at heart (and I canít watch all those animal shows) but what made it OK is that this and maybe all the huff stock are dumb as dirt. The waterbucks saw the lion on a couple of occasions and moved a little away and then went right back to munching.

Ndutu Lodge is a simple property set on a rise looking over the lake. There were quite a few species of birds around the lodge that kept me entertained and also a herd of zebra with one pretty cute baby. The rooms are basic and our shower was pitiful but I loved the location and the food was pretty darn good and the staff was very friendly. Remember that the water is brackish and I had a brilliant thought after the fact; rinse your hair with the fresh water that they leave in the room. Iíd go back in a heart-beat. There are no electrical plug-ins in the room so you have to take all your charging stuff to the dining room/bar/lounge area. Not a problem except by now Iím pretty possessive of my images and I really wanted to keep my stuff within eyesight (it was around the corner when we were eating). I really wanted the laptop or a Wolverine on my person at all times but it was fine and there were no problems. Meals were set with an entrťe and then the rest served family style. The food was more comfort than gourmet but hardy and good and they had the best desserts on safari. Something to note about Ndutu Lodge Ė the tipping is different here. According to the information book in each room, the tip box money is divided between the staff except for the room steward, bar server and waiter as ďguests prefer to tip them individuallyĒ.

Our first morning we left about 6am with a breakfast basket and ate out in the middle of the wildebeests and zebras. Animals were as far as the eyes could see and LOTS of babies. At 6am it was still dark so probably 6:30 would have been fine. We drove in circles so the headlights could light the bushes. It seemed we found lions near the lakes on every morning and evening. Today we found the mama cheetah with her 6 cubs. They were adorable and I could have stayed with them all day but we too, experienced the glut of safari vehicles and left so we wouldnít compound her problems. I too witnessed the lack of manners by some of the other drivers that others talked about. After the cheetahs we found a mother lion and her 2 cubs up in a tree trying to find relief from the flies. We returned to the Lodge for a late lunch and nap and then went out about 4pm. This would be my preferred strategy everyday if it was possible. This evening we came across the mother cheetah and her 3 nearly adult cubs. Again we saw the rude behavior of a driver racing in a direct line to the cheetahs and cutting in front of a filming crew at work. It was getting late but we left the cheetahs because there was word of a leopard on the ground nearby. This was an ugly scene as eight or so vehicles crowed around one scared looking leopard on the ground with no way to escape the circle of vehicles. We left after a couple minutes because we were uncomfortable compounding the situation. Now it was nearly 7pm and on the way to the lodge we came across a hoard of vehicles and the cheetahs that we had seen earlier were advancing on a gazelle in the flats along the lake. We stopped and watched for a minute as one of them ran after the gazelle but she was cut off by the Cheetah Research vehicle! It was too dark for photos of her run but I think we got it on video (wonít know until the camera comes back from the shop and we can download the tapes). So it was a fabulous day for viewing the cheetahs and babies but disturbing that they are so harassed by the safari vehicles. We showed Chris our images the next day on the laptop and he was impressed that we got great photos (except for the mid-day lighting) from quite a distance away. I think he was also impressed that we cared more about the animals and keeping a conservative distance then getting the photo.

On this day we left the lodge again at 6am and then returned at 9ish for breakfast and to pack our bags and check out. We saw lions again but not the cheetahs. Today we headed for the Crater via the Shifting Sands and Olduvai Gorge. They were interesting for a one time visit and I do believe that the bathrooms are as bad as everyone says. Our friend described the menís as a hole in the ground with wind coming up out of it. My husband commented that you need to stand up wind. After what Iíd heard I was afraid to even open the door. At the Gorge we closed up the pop up roof and that was the dustiest Iíve ever seen. Dust collected and rolled down the windows and it was quite bumpy. This was the only day that I had a back ache and I think it was from slouching to see out the windows since we werenít hanging out of the top. The landscape turned from dust to lush vegetation as we got closer to the Crater and the drive became spectacular.

Ngorongoro Crater: We stayed at the Sopa Lodge because we heard it had good views and also for the private entry road. Those 2 are reason enough to stay here but the place is actually pretty nice. We had a large room with an alcove overlooking the crater (2 rocking chairs in front of a wall of glass), bathtub, hairdryer and safe to leave the cameras in. Our only complaint was that the beer was in cans (no Tusker) and should have been colder. We sat by the pool both late afternoons until the sun went down and it was magical. It was warm and pleasant and some people did swim in the pool. One dinner was an Indian buffet and the other night was a la carte. Breakfast was a buffet with an egg station. Breakfast started at 6 am and we were done and out the door by 6:30. (Coffee was available earlier in the lobby.) The Crater entrance is just minutes away and we found a herd of elephants soon after that and then buffalo and wildebeests and zebras. We didnít see another vehicle for hours and then only 2-4 at lion sightings and at the rhinos. The Crater was as good as expected even though we didnít see any leopards or cheetahs. It seemed that there were lions at every bend and we were the only ones watching. Two sightings had new kills. We had lunch at the picnic spot and there were lots of cars there with the Kites trying to steal everyoneís lunch. One went for Chrisís sandwich and grabbed his glasses by mistake. He dropped them about 15í away. About 2pm we looped back by the lions that had been hunting in the morning and they had gotten a zebra and were just finishing their meal(I expected kills to always be the babies but it was the opposite). I loved the vultures waiting in the wings. We left the Crater then and it was enough. We enjoyed another afternoon sitting in the sun. We were warned that the hot water could run out but we didnít have any problems.

Lake Manyara: We left Sopa about 7:30 and headed to Lake Manyara. Iím a morning person so next time I would leave earlier and get to Manyara sooner. This is a nice little park and we saw our best elephants here. We had hoped to see elephants frolicking in the water and we did. We also saw quite a few little ellies but no tiny babies. There were lots of baboons, giraffes and other animals but no predators for us. This was our last stop and I have to say I was ready to head off for R and R on Zanzibar. I didnít think I would ever get tired of safari but this is hard work and the days are really full. We stayed this last night at E Unoto Retreat and it was beautiful. It is located at the bottom of the Rift Valley escarpment overlooking a little lake. It has a sparkling clean (and warm) pool and great bar service around the pool. The rooms are individual ďhutsĒ with a little patio overlooking the lake. These rooms had the most creative decorating of every place we stayed in Tanzania with down comforters and scented lotions and shampoo. They also had fabulous showers and bathrobes. They had wonderful cowbells at each door for wakeup and/or coffee service. Since I collect cowbells we asked at reception for their gift shop. They didnít have a gift shop so they asked what I wanted. They couldnít quite believe that I wanted one but they sent me off to the pool and in a little while they came and got me. They had brought up some from the maasai village for me to look it. They asked $30 (Chris, our guide, said they should be $10-$15) and we agreed on $20 and we were all as happy as could be. Food was excellent and so was the service.

Zanzibar: The next morning we headed off to Arusha for our 12:30 flight to Zanzibar. We had asked to stop at one of those touristy gift shops on the way and I bought 2 spears and a metal cow bell. The prices were really high but they came down a lot and I paid what I thought they were worth. We agreed on $50 and then when it was time to pay (after they had taken them apart and wrapped them) they raised it to $55. I told them no and to forget it then and they honored their first price. I would have liked to walk out but hey, I wanted the spears. The spears proved to be interesting at the airport in Arusha. When I put them through the security x-ray the guy pulled them aside and asked if they were my husbandís. He rolled his eyes and said they were mine. The security guy carried them and wanted me to follow him out to the airplane. I was afraid that he wouldnít let me take them but at the stairs he handed them to me and told me to stash them in the back when I got in the plane. The flight is very scenic and the color of the water is turquoise and gorgeous. Stonetown was definitely hot. We had a funky little mini van transporting us to Pongwe and we drug the spare tire on every speed bump.

Pongwe Beach Resort is the most magical, heaven on earth spot that we have ever been at. There are only about 16 rooms (actually feels like less) and the staff is fabulous. When wearrived they ask that we lock-up all our cash and small valuables in their safe and it is a cashless vacation. They ask that we NOT tip individually and leave a group tip in the safe at the end of your stay that is shared by all. They also explained about the meals. The menu for lunch and dinner is posted at breakfast and they asked if it is OK or if we would like something else. We asked for calamari one night and it was excellent(the chef was not sure he could get get it for that night, but when a someone came out of the ocean carrying a freshly caught calamari we knew our request was going to be honored, and boy was it). We were on half board so breakfast and dinner were included but we ordered and paid for lunch usually about $8-$10. The food was outstanding! Everyone would gather in the bar/ lounge area around 7 for drinks and snacks and then around 7:30 the waiters would come ask if we were ready to be seated for dinner. This was a great time to meet and visit with the other guests. Our traveling companion arranged with another guest to go out deep sea fishing and snorkeling. They had a great time and he caught a barracuda which they cooked for dinner. The beach is perfect (they rake up any seaweed every morning) and they now have a swimming pool. There was never any problem getting a lounge chair and the beach is totally private. We walked down the beach to watch the men fishing and the women harvesting seaweed. We also walked out forever at low tide to see if we could get to the breakers. Never did but saw lots of sea life. Pongwe has water socks to loan out as well as books, games, snorkel equipment, bikes and kayaks. We took the kayaks out one day and paddled along the coast. Coffee or tea was delivered every morning to our front porch and it definitely felt like paradise. Some people are afraid to book here because there isnít air-conditioning. We didnít find that to be a problem and I believe that February is the hottest month of the year. There is a slight sea breeze and the temp actually feels a lot like Hawaii. The generators shut off from 4-6am and so do the ceiling fans. I noticed but it was not a big deal. The only negative to Pongwe is the brackish water and the bar soap in the room (this is the old fashion kind that doesnít lather much). So again, use the bottled water that is left in your room everyday to rinse out your hair and bring your own shampoo. 4 nights was not enough and itís a long way from California.

Stone Town: Our last night was spent in Stonetown. Definitely hot here in February and no sea breeze! We thought it was an interesting little town and easier to navigate then we expected. A few people tried to sell us stuff but in general they were pretty friendly and easy to discourage. We took a trip to the Jozani Forest and totally loved the red Colobus monkeys. It rained (first time on the whole trip) and we had to delay our trip out to the forest for 10 minutes or so. By the way, it rains really hard here. We didnít go to the mangroves so I canít comment on that part of the tour. Back in Stone Town we went to the Safari House for sunset and drinks. The drinks were the worst that we ever had (we ordered 2, both were bad so we poured them together and then it was drinkable) but the view was great, people watching was very entertaining and we would probably do it again and order beer. We felt totally safe wandering back to our hotel at dusk. We stayed at the Dhow Palace which was an excellent location. The rooms were funky and all totally different. They did have air conditioning, hair dryers, TVs (which we did NOT turn on) and Persian baths. Meals were served on the third floor (no elevator) roof top and fairly good. All in all, the hotel is more funky than special but we suspect the location is excellent. The best shopping for us was on Kenyatta Road at Zanzibar Gallery, Memories of Zanzibar and One Way and the others shops on this little street. We bought some nice T-shirts and a rather large carved stone hippo which proved to get heavier every leg of our way home. Iím so glad I got it!

We flew out on Coastal Airlines to Dar es Salaam (DAR) about 5pm. At DAR, Coastal had a little tourist package for $15 per person to drive passengers around DAR, drop them off at an outdoor mall for shopping and dinner and then deliver them to the international airport at 9pm for the midnight flight to Amsterdam. This was a great way to kill time before the flight home and keep in mind that the local airport is some distance from the international airport and not open for the AMS flight until 9pm. There was a delay leaving DAR and we had no problem sleeping to Amsterdam when we finally got on the plane. We had another longer delay in AMS but the airport is nice and they gave us vouchers for lunch. Then it was onward to SFO and home by 8pm (did I mention free wine on these flights and ice cream too but not at the same time). All in all, the best vacation of our lives and it was so great that we have already booked for 2009.

Final thoughts as there were a few things about this trip that I was concerned/unclear aboutÖ

  1. Bathrooms were never an issue. There are bathrooms at all of the Park entrances and at the visitorís center in the center of the Serengeti and also at both ends of the Ngorongoro Crater. Most are clean with the exception of Olduvai Gorge and Naabi Hill is not too clean either. The other option was to let Chris know that you wanted to make your territory and that was not a problem either.
  2. Security-we always felt totally safe for ourselves and our property. At the visitor centers, gates and lunch stops Chris would hang around the vehicle while we wandered off and we felt totally safe leaving cameras, etc. in the car. At lion and elephant sightings, we were just a few feet away but Chris was always alert and there was never a concern.
  3. Bugs never became a big issue. No mosquitoes at all anywhere except for a few in Arusha and a few in Zanzibar (I understand that Malaria has been irradiated from Zanzibar). There were flies around some of the large herds of animals and they did get in our vehicle but hey we had our electronic fly zappers. I canít tell you how much fun it was to zap the flies. They would snap, crackle, sizzle or smoke when you got one. (We left ours with Chris since he had never seen one before.) Also, as soon as we got moving they would fly out the windows. Tsetse flies were in an area in the upper Serengeti Valley but again when we had enough we got moving. I got bit once and it did get my attention and it left about a 1 inch purple bruise. No scorpions, snakes or other varmints on the whole trip.
  4. Weather was ideal. It was warmer in Arusha because of the lower elevation. In the Serengeti and in the Crater it was cool enough for long zip-off pants and a fleece jacket in the mornings but warm enough to zip off by mid-morning. It really only felt cool because we were standing up in the vehicle.
  5. Food was excellent and there were always plenty of choices. Box lunches got boring but hey we never went hungry. Cold water was always available in the vehicle and also at the lodges. Tusker beer is fabulous (Serengeti and Safari were good too) and Iím not a beer drinker.