10/07/2008 - 10/17/2008
After a very long flight, we finally arrived in Nairobi, Kenya. Our hotel was very nice, but it was locked down like a fortress. Guards with machine guns, concrete posts scattered through the street to slow down traffic, and closed circuit TV everywhere. We later found out that the street is known as “the friendliest street in Nairobi”, and that the Israeli embassy is located directly across from the hotel.
The following morning we were scheduled to take a shuttle bus from our hotel to Arusha, Tanzania. However, due to some miscommunication, the bus left without us. With the help of a taxi driver, we raced through the streets of Nairobi and caught up with the shuttle just outside of town. We then continued on to cross the border into Tanzania.
Arusha, Tanzania is a starting point for many safaris and hikes to Mt. Kilimanjaro. We met up with our guide and driver (Mussa) and he took us on a quick tour of the town, which has grown dramatically over the past few years due to the increase in tourism. In the center of town, there is a monument marking the mid-way point between Cairo and Cape Town, and the market areas are filled with people selling local produce.
We exchanged $400 into Tanzanian Shillings at an exchange rate of 1186:1. Steve came out of the bank with a huge stack of cash. He asked the teller for a few small bills, but she decided to give him the whole amount in small bills -- 474,000 in 1,000 and 5,000 Shilling notes. It felt like we just robbed the place.
The official language of Tanzania is Swahili, but usually a tribal language such as Maasai is the first language learned. English is commonly the third language taught in schools. Education is mandatory for all children up to age 13. After that, families must pay for secondary schooling.
Before leaving Arusha, we stopped to load some supplies into our Toyota Land Cruiser. These are not your typical 4 wheel drives. They are extremely tough and well equipped: two spare tires, two gas tanks, a snorkel to prevent the engine from stalling in high water, a radio to communicate with park rangers and other guides, and even power plugs to recharge your camera batteries. It also has a pop up roof that provides a 360-degree view during game drives.
We then traveled to an area known as Monduli. One of the indigenous tribes of Tanzania, the Maasai, reside in this area. Most of the Maasai people maintain a traditional lifestyle, herding cattle and goats, and farming. They live in grass huts and dress with traditional red and purple blankets.
This particular area is high in the Monduli mountain range. Our guide taught us about the local berries, roots, and cactus. We passed through several small villages, meeting many Maasai people along the way. Children walking home from school ran to catch up with us, laughing and giggling when we spoke English to them. They were very excited to hold our hands, touching our arms and fingernails. We must have seemed like such an oddity to them.
Our first stop was Tarangire National Park. The park covers 2,850 square kilometers and is home to a variety of different animals. The roads within the park are all dirt and meander in every direction. Many times, we were the only vehicle in sight, and it felt like that we were right in the middle of the wilderness. It was really nice to have a private vehicle and guide. Immediately upon entering the park, we saw zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, and elephants. The park is also home to many different kinds of antelope: impalas, gazelles, waterbuck, steinbuck, and dik-dik. We were amazed at how many different types of animals we encountered, and how close they came to our truck.
We ended our day at Maramboi Tented Camp, which was wonderful. A herd of zebras was about 100 feet from our tent, and at night we could hear hyenas whooping and other critters moving through the camp.
The next day we did another game drive through Tarangire Park, and saw lots of elephants, warthogs, baboons, and buffalo. Again, we were amazed at the sheer number and variety of animals that we encountered, including many baby animals. In addition to the bigger game animals, we also saw ostriches, blue starlings, vultures, Martial eagles, secretary birds, and guinea fowl. After returning to camp, we had a great meal and fell asleep to the sounds of zebras rustling through the grass outside our tent.
We then moved on to Lake Manyara National park, which is found in the rift valley area. This area is a paradise for primates, and we saw a lot of baboons, Black-faced Veret Monkeys, and Blue Monkeys. There are also many different birds in this area, such as kingfishers and herrings.
Lake Manyara contains a high amount of alkali that has caused many trees in the area to die; the area closest to the lake looks very desolate. This was the first area where we encountered hippos. We also saw more giraffes and elephants, including some baby elephants.
That evening we stayed at Ngorongoro Farmhouse, which is an old coffee plantation turned hotel. The grounds are beautiful, and the hotel actually grows its own food on an organic farm.
The Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area was our next stop. Due to its unique ecosystem, this area hosts a variety of different animals and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. Wildebeest, buffalo, and gazelle roam through the grasslands. Predators such as lions, hyenas, and jackals are also found within this area. Each game drive is different, and we had the opportunity to watch a lioness hunt wildebeest. It was really neat to see the strategy and tactics that she used to stalk her prey.
In other areas of the park, we saw more lions, including one with two cubs in tow. Near a small lake, we found another group of hippos and water birds. Late in the afternoon, we were very lucky to see three Black Rhinos. There are only about 20 rhinos in the park, and this is one of the only areas where they can be found in Tanzania. We had a great day; we saw baby buffalos, wildebeest, and two lions lazing in the sun. The lions were playing and rolling around with their paws up in the air.
Leaving the Ngorongoro Crater area, we stopped at the archaeological site of the Oldulvai Gorge. This area is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world, and is often referred to as the “Cradle of life” or the “Cradle of mankind”. In the 1950’s, Louis and Mary Leakey began to excavate the area and discovered fossil remains of Hominids (the ancestors of man) along with stone tools dating back 2.5 million years. Footprints fossilized in volcanic ash were also discovered that signify the point at which man began walking upright. Every year, archaeological teams from around the world travel to this remote area to conduct ongoing excavation projects.
Heading further south, we entered Serengeti National Park through the Naabi Hill gate. The first ecosystem we entered were the grasslands. Here again, luck was on our side and we saw a group of cheetahs sleeping in the shade under a tree close to the road.
Continuing on, we took a detour off the main road and did a short game drive around a rocky area. We came upon a lion and lioness resting on top of a large rock. Our guide told us that when a female is in heat, the male lion separates her from the rest of the pride for a 3-day “honeymoon period”. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes the lions began to mate.
We spent the majority of our time in the Serengeti in the central region called Seronera. This area is abundant with wildlife. We saw more elephants, giraffes, impalas, buffalo, wildebeest, and zebras…the list goes on and on. To complete our day, we spotted our first leopard. This is probably the most difficult animal to see; the majority of time they are perched in the branches of trees and blend in very well.
That rounded out the “Big Five” for us: lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard. This phrase was used by big game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. We stayed overnight in the central area at a camp called Mbuzi Mawe, which is a permanent camp. In the evening, we were treated to some African music, dancing, and an acrobatics show.
The next morning, we enjoyed a sunrise breakfast in the Serengeti, and visited one of the largest hippo pools in the area. We then started our game drive, and were lucky enough to spot a leopard in a tree with its kill -- an impala. After a few more spectators arrived, the leopard appeared to be annoyed by all of the attention, took the kill into its mouth, climbed down the tree, and ran off.
We then came across a family of elephants that had knocked down a tree onto the road. Before this trip, we did not realize how destructive elephants are. Families of elephants destroy many trees as they pull off pieces of bark, and knock them down to reach leaves on higher branches. African elephants can eat up to 500 pounds of vegetation in a single day, and drink as much as 40 gallons of water at one time.
Later in the morning, we stopped to watch a herd of buffalo a short distance from our truck. A commotion occurred when a lioness began stalking a baby buffalo. In retaliation, the herd of buffalo came together and chased the lioness up a tree. They held her at bay for at least 30 minutes.
Buffalo are among the few animals that will actually fight back. Most animals will run from predators and scatter, but buffalo will actually fight back as a herd. The lioness was really upset, and we could hear her hissing at the buffalo below. It was very funny to watch. Even our guide was amazed, and said that he had never seen anything quite like it before.
In the afternoon, we headed to the Lobo area of the park, passing more wildlife on our way to a mobile camp called Simiyu. The camp was great. Since it is a mobile camp, it follows the migration of animals and is due to pack up and move again next month. The area where the camp is currently located is in a very remote section of the park, and wildebeest and zebras roam freely through the grounds.
Our tent was great, very comfortable, and had its own bathroom and shower. However, you had to request to have hot water brought to your tent for showers. The staff was very friendly and attentive. One evening, when Ann was taking a shower, it took her by surprise when she heard a small voice call out from behind the tent “Hello Miss, would you like more hot water Miss?”
At around 6PM each night, the staff would make a camp fire and serve cocktails, along with fresh peanuts and popcorn before dinner. It was nice to visit with the other guests and share stories. On our first night, there were only four other guests, along with a staff of eight. The service was outstanding.
The next morning we explored the northern part of the park. We saw several herds of wildebeest, and more zebras and giraffes, but the large migration had unfortunately already headed west towards the rain. This area of the park is in the highlands and borders with Kenya's Masai Mara Park. Our afternoon game drive took about five hours, and we never saw another person or vehicle…it truly was a "private" safari day, and very relaxing.
On our final day in the Serengeti, we headed back to the central zone of Seronera. We saw many more lions, including a family of lions with cubs. The female lions had killed a zebra, and they were eating it under the shade of a tree.
Later in the afternoon, we saw more elephants, warthogs, lions, and another leopard in a tree close to our picnic area.
On our final day, we caught a small bush plane back to the town of Arusha to do some souvenir shopping before heading back to Nairobi for the long flight home.
Our animal count stands at 79 lions, 4 leopards, 3 cheetahs, 3 Black rhinos, and so many elephants, zebras, and giraffes that we have lost count. We had a wonderful time in Tanzania, and the trip truly exceeded all of our expectations. Perhaps we will come back in a few years to visit some of the parks in Kenya and South Africa.
Steve & Ann