Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tanzanian Safari 2012-13

After our Kilimanjaro climb, we wanted to go on a safari for few days.  I was not sure about the number of days that we should spend on the safari.  Looking through the Trip Adviser and going through the opinions of a number of other travelers, I got more confused than I got the answer.  There are people who just go into a park and get out in two or three days, and also there are some who spend about ten to fourteen days in the safari. I wanted to cover most of the national parks in Tanzania because this may be my first and last trip to Tanzania (because there are other places to cover in the world).  Decided to spend seven days in safari to cover the main parks with less time spent on driving around, so decided to visits the parks with the following schedule:

  • One day Tarangire National Park
  • Two days Ndutu Conservation Area
  • Two days Serengeti National Park
  • One day Ngorongoro 
  • One day Lake Manyara and drive back to Arusha to get the flight back home.
I have added some of the videos from the trip and click on the links to see the videos.

Day One - Tarangire NP 

Woke up very early in the morning to pack away things that we used for Kilimanjaro climbing in one single bag and left that bag at the hotel left baggage lounge.  The driver was supposed to show up at 8 am, but showed up around 845 am.  On the way to Tarangire, when the driver stopped over in a super market to get bottled water, I got some beer, coke and juice.  There was no ice box in the jeep and looking at most of the vehicles that are on the road, I didn't expect them to have anything other than basic necessities.  The road to the park is a paved road and our vehicle got pulled over a number of times by the police for "validating the paper work" but the drive indicated that it's all part of getting some money from the tourist vehicle.  At one of the stops, the cop was threatening to charge fine because I was not wearing the seat belt (the passenger seat belt was not functional in the vehicle).

Validating the national park permit and paper work seems to take a lot of time in every national part that we visited.  We were waiting for about 30 minutes for our driver to get the permit validated at the Tarangire park, while waiting we saw the Velvet monkeys at the entrance and a monkey got into a parked vehicle through the open window to get some goodies.  It was funny to see the reaction from the people inside the vehicle as well as the monkey.

It was so exciting getting into the park, the overall scenery is completely different from what I imagined and it's greenery every where.  The first sight of dozen or so impalas very close to the road was awesome and got us ready for the safari.  Tarangire is famous for their elephants and within a few minutes into the park, we spotted a family of elephants and a lion on a tree.  It is amazing to see a bunch of elephants and a pack of lions staying very close by, when watched this in a movie or program, it is hard to believe that it is possible.  Always thought that the lions can attack the elephants and the elephants are scared of the lions, but does not look that way when watching them.  Our guide indicated that the lions normally don't attack/kill an adult elephant.

After driving around the park 'til 430 pm, we were headed out to our camp site that's outside the park.  Reaching out camp site was an adventure by itself because there's no directions anywhere and we were driving in a muddy road, I was hoping that the driver knew what he's doing.  We almost got stuck in a mud a couple of time but the driver was able to get the vehicle out of the mud pretty good.  

The camp site was middle of nowhere and when we reached there, we were well received by a group Masai, given juice and advised on the formalities of the tent camping.  We were supposed to go for the night safari that night, but the camp manager advised that because of the road conditions we won't be able to do that and gave us the option of going for walking safari around the camp area.  But looking around camp area does not seem interesting, so told the driver that we're not interested and told him to arrange for the Masai village for the money that we already paid.

The dinner was good and we were entertained by Masai dance before the dinner.  The stay at the tent was very comfortable, it is as good as staying in a hotel with the only difference of availability of running water.  We started taking malaria pills but we didn't see a lot of mosquitoes and after some time we even stopped using the mosquito repellents.  Compared to the mosquito problems in India, it is almost nothing (at least where we traveled and when we were there).

Day Two - Ndutu

Got up at 6 am and the camp people were ready with hot water for our shower outside the tent.  You have to prearrange the timing when you want to have the hot water for shower need to be filled the previous night.  Taking shower with 20 liters of water was not bad at all and it's enough water to take good shower.  The people who filled the hot water stayed at the back of the tent, pour the hot water in a water bag and pull that bag higher.  Didn't know whether the people outside could see inside the tent so I went out to see whether someone can peep inside and found out that it's not possible (at least not very easily).

Breakfast is omelet, bread, cheese and juice, and if you are meat eater, you could have had a bacon.  Drive from the camp site to highway was challenge, we stuck in the mud a couple of times and one time the driver was not able to get the vehicle off.  We had to haul rocks from a distance to put under the tires to create traction before we get the vehicle out.

On the way to the Ndutu, we stopped to get the SIM card for the phone at Karatu and the driver wanted us to shop for the handicrafts, which I firmly said that not interested.  We reached the Ngorongoro conservation area entrance at around noon, when we entered the park after the check-in formalities, it started to rain heavily and the jeep started to leak from the top.  We started to accept the fun of travelling in Tanzania and it was just the start and the vehicle troubles, vehicle roof collapse would follow..;-)  When the rain stopped, we decided to visit the Masai village, after the welcome song and dance, we were given the tour of their village, home and school.  Overall, the Masai tour took about 30 minutes and we were ready to see the real Africa but I can say that it is complete waste of $50 for Masai tour. 

One great thing about Ndutu game drive is that off-road driving and during the game drive we saw thousands of wilder beasts and zebras grazing.  The highlight of the day way was watching the thousands of wilder beasts crossing the river.  After spent some time with a pack of lions just less than 10 feet away, headed back to our tent around 530 pm.  This camp site had a lot more people than the previous camp site.  I really think that the hype about it's the busy season and you won't be able to find place to stay is just to get you committed early, if you are flexible, you should be able to find a place to stay.

Day Three - Ndutu

At the breakfast, the camp operators were talking about a pack of lions crossing our campsite around 3 am and when our guide arrived, he also indicated about five lions near his camping site.  Couple of interesting things like giraffe's private moment with its partner, hundreds of wilder beast running down a slope and pack of six lions relaxing.  Also, saw a group of cheetahs very close to a number of giraffes and we were hoping to see a kill, but the cheetahs were not in a hurry.  The cheetahs will go towards the giraffes and the giraffes will move away, this was going on for more than 90 minutes and after that we stopped following the cheetahs.  We saw a more number of lions today and our guide was able to park the vehicle very close to the lions but the lions do not seem to be bothered about us.
We were staying in a hotel tonight and we started heading back to the hotel around 330 pm and on the way we had flat tire near a river bank.  When the driver got out to change the tires, I wanted to give him a helping hand even though I was scared to get out of the vehicle, I got out of the vehicle and kept my passenger side door open (in case if see a lion or cheetah, wanted to get in fast ;-) ).  I was helping the guide to secure the vehicle by collecting rocks from close by areas to put it under the wheels and removing the tire stored in the back of the vehicle.  You won't believe how I was looking around whenever I was doing something (in fear) and asked Sharada to take a video of anything interesting that may happen but luckily there's nothing interesting happened.  

Only when we were having dinner at the Ndutu lodge, we realized that it's new year eve ;-)  The dinner at the lodge was good (especially for the meat eaters) and special surprise gifts for everyone at the table also arranged by the lodge.  Even thought it's a lodge, there were zebras grazing at the back of the lodge.  We took long and hot showers and spent some time talking to fellow travelers in the lodge lobby whom Sharada/Shabina friended while climbing Kilimanjaro.

Vehicle Issues

While driving off road today, the roof of the vehicle came down because of the vibrations and luckily no one was standing..it would have killed us if we were standing.  At that point, we decided not to trust the vehicle and decided not to stand up while the vehicle was moving.

The vehicle supposed to have two spare tires but we started our safari with one bad tire and with the flat today, we didn't have any spares. The guide was planning to fix the tires in Serengeti and I was hoping that we won't have any problem with the tires while going off road the next day.

Day 4 - Drive to Serengeti

Awesome breakfast at the lodge while enjoying the scenery of giraffe and wilder beast grazing closer to the lodge.  We started driving off road toward Serengeti and on the way, we saw a Masai walking alone and it was strange scene.  As we were getting closer to the Serengeti park, the number of animal population was thinning down because most of them migrated to south (Ndutu area) and after crossing the park entrance, we didn't see any animals for about an hour.  The Serengeti landscape is unbelievably beautiful, the guide indicated that it's once lake and when the volcano erupted the whole lake got filled up to become the plains.  

Few mile into the park, our guide spotted a leopard sleeping and at that time his wife called him to say that she got malaria.  After that our guide seemed to be worried and I was not sure how to react, asked him whether Achmed would send someone to take care so that he could go to take care of his wife.  He indicated that his mother was with his wife, there is no reason to worry about her but for the next two days he seemed to be worried and constantly texting, guessing that the recipient was his wife.  After some time, I was irritated because he was not interested in spotting the animals but just texting and interested in getting back to tent soon, but we didn't say anything other than we said that we prayed for his wife to get better.

We spotted a few lions, leopards and baboons but not a large group of any giraffes or wilder beasts, and the whole park seemed to empty without the thousands of giraffes and wilder beasts.  Reached our campsite before dark, the campsite is semi-mobile campsite and very nicely located.  We told our guide that we wanted to start the drive the next day early at 7 am so that we could come back to the campsite for lunch and nap in the afternoon.

Day 5  - Serengeti

One thing that we didn't like about Serengeti is that no off road driving allowed and which made us watch the animals from far away.  Within 10 minutes away from our campsite we saw a male lion resting near side of the road, after some time it started to walk in front of our vehicle and we followed the lion for about 20 minutes before going to look for other animals.   It started rain heavily within a few minutes afterwards, the drive itself became an adventue that we were driving in the mud roads flowing with lot of water.  At one section of the road, the guide spotted a small baby crocodile on the road resting in the water puddle.  Returned to the campsite for the lunch after seeing a lot of elephants close by and no luck seeing buffaloes close by. 

On the way back to the campsite, the guide fixed the tires in mechanical shed near the visitor center.  After lunch and shower, we went to the hypo pool and it's strange to see a lot of hypos as well as crocodiles in the same place.  The guide indicated that the crocodiles don't eat the hypos, not sure why.  On the way back to the campsite, we spotted a turtle on roadside as well as a number of baboons.

Day 6 - Ngorongoro

We wanted to spend as much time as we could in the Ngorongoro crater so left the campsite early but we spent sometime try to help a tourist vehicle that was stuck in the mud near Serengeti entrance.  After spending about 30 minutes we were not able to pull them out, so we left.  The tourist was stuck in that place for more than two hours and finally, one of the tourists in that vehicle hitch hiked to the entrance to get a rope to pull the vehicle off the mud.

One thing about all of the tourist vehicle drivers is that they are very patient and help each other.

Gorge and the Vehicle in the Ditch

Before Ngorongo, we had to stop in the Olduvai Gorge, to see and learn about our ancestors' known home.  The tour of the Olduvai Gorge was very informative and the museum is not anything great but fine.  Also, we were in a hurry to reach the Ngorongoro crater so not much interest in learning anything at that point.  Within a few minutes after leaving Olduvai Gorge, our vehicle start to have problem, could not climb the slope and stopped.  When the driver tried to let the vehicle roll down the slope to start the vehicle, we ended up in the ditch at the side of the road.  When another tourist vehicle tried to help us to get out of the ditch by pushing the vehicle from the back, it didn't work and by that time another Basecamp tourist vehicle going toward Serengeti stopped to help us.

The tourist from the other vehicle and all of us pushed the vehicle to get out of the ditch, and the other driver helped to figure out the starting problem of our vehicle.  The problem seemed to related to starter and from that point onwards, our vehicle needed a push to start.  Luckily, we found vehicles and people to push our vehicle where ever and when ever it stopped..;-)

Garden of Eden

If you have only one day to do the safari, the only place you should go is the Ngorongoro crater and it is entirely a different world.  Seeing a pack of 12 lions in one place very close to the vehicle is unbelievable and couldn't believe a cheetah being taunted by a group of wilder beasts.  We thought that we would see a kill by the cheetah but that didn't happen.  We were looking to see the rhinos close by but could spot about three of them very far, with the dwindling number of rhinos (the total population in the crater is about 25), it is difficult to see any close by.  The let down of the the trip is not able to see thousands of pink flamingos at the close range.
Left the crater very late and checked into the Sopa Lodge that is very well located near the entrance to the crater and a luxurious place to stay.  It is the fanciest place that we stayed in the trip, five star hotel in the middle of nowhere.  After taking showers, both Sharada and Shabina wanted to use the Internet and went to the lounge.  When I came down to the lounge to reconfirm the flight tickets, they were socializing with an Indian family from London.  After sharing our travel stories, we had a nice Indian meal for dinner. 

Day 7

We left early from the Sopa lodge and started the game drive in the Lake Manyara before noon.  This is the only day, I wish I had applied sun screen and all other previous days were cooler that we didn't need sun screen.  We saw a huge family of elephants and they were walking inches away from our vehicle and it was so scary that I closed my window fearing that it could pull me away from the vehicle.   The guide said that as long as we don't make any noise, we should be fine, but even by accident if an elephant moved its butt, the vehicle would have gone into a ditch...;-)  We spent the whole morning looking for the tree climbing lions, we were able to spot the lions but saw a number of bird species.  Looks like it's hard to spot lions in December and looked like it is the month of birds.

There's a picnic area in the park where everyone park their vehicle to have lunch without the worries of lion could make visit there, not sure why they are so confident that lions won't come to a place where there are a lot of vehicles or people.  Few minutes later, a few forest rangers showed up with guns to that area but didn't look like they were watching out for any animals.   We drove around for another 3 hours looking for lions but no luck in finding them.  This is the first day where we didn't spot a lion in the whole trip..;-(  None of the other travelers have spotted any lions either, so we decided to get back to the camp.  Our vehicle needed to be pushed a couple of times in the park after lunch and after few breaks near a lake where there're a few hippos.  We could see flamingos very far away and been told that when there is a lot of water in the lake we could see the flamingos very close by.

The camp site is a permanent site in a close by town, it is more like a cabin type of accommodation and we noted a guest from Turkey signed up in the guest register.  So at the dinner time, we asked the host to identify the Turks for Shabina to practice her Turkish.  The couple from Turkey is from the same city where Shabina spent two months in Turkey and I was totally impressed with the way Shabina could remember her Turkey to communicate with them.

Day 8

I had paid for the Lake Manyara morning safari for today, but it was not listed in the guide's manifest that means that he didn't have the permit or money for the permit to get into the park and because of the lack of permit we won't be able to get into park before 830 am.  We were not really interested in going to Lake Manyara either, so talked to the tour operator about refunding us the park entrance fee and he agreed.  We reached the Basecamp office around 1030 am to collect our $100 park fee and to thank Achmed, after that dropped Sharada at the Oasis hotel for the shuttle to pick up.  When we reached the Kilimanjaro airport, there was huge shock was waiting for us and the flight that's supposed to take us to Dar es Salaam was not flying anymore because of the bankruptcy.  You can read that story by clicking here.

Final Thoughts

Always thought why spend too much money to see the animals in the wild while I could see them in the zoo but the overall safari experience is great.  No reason to spend a lot of money but with a reasonable budget, you should be able to enjoy the safari if you plan well and flexible.  Vehicle problems and breakdowns are common, so take it easy and enjoy.  Always plan for your vehicle or plans being unreliable and things may not run smoothly but at the all work out for better.

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