AFRICAN LION SAFARI
January 24 – February 8, 2012
Jan 24: 23 Hours of Travel … Taking Denis’ all-time favorite airline, British Airways, from Dulles to London, and then connecting for a flight to Nairobi, helped make this exhausting African Lion Safari trip into a more pleasurable experience … from the lounge where we took showers in London to the comfy beds and superb service on board. But exhausted we still were when we arrived in Nairobi.
Jan 25-26: Nairobi … The Nairobi Serena Lodge where we spent our first night in East Africa was more than a hotel. It was a resort with exotic décor, extreme security, full of East African business men and women vibrantly working to transform Kenya into a thriving modern economy. I was struck by the incongruity between the awesome ambiance of colonial days and the high tech business flavor of the 21st century. So too was I struck by the harsh reality of the threat of terrorist attacks as we were stopped by the blockade of police protection outside the Nairobi airport who had to validate our car and driver and its passengers before allowing us access into the airport. Still, we slept well that first night in Africa and feasted elegantly from a magnificent breakfast buffet with its very “East African” assortment of local East African, Indian and British fare. We breakfasted by the pool where Genevieve and Dominique later hung out until it was time to depart. Denis and I chose to watch Roger Federer play Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Australian Open at the hotel bar.
Jan 26: 7 Hours of Travel to Zanzibar … Still very much jet-lagged, we took an afternoon flight to Zanzibar on FLY540 airlines which is basically a shuttle between Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. While most Safari schedules suggest a visit to Zanzibar to cap off your African adventure, we chose to start our trip there in order to adjust to the time zone change of 8 hours before beginning the Safari. Although we were scheduled to go directly from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam and then onto Zanzibar, the tiny plane, whose air conditioning barely functioned and which looked like it deserved to have been decommissioned, or perhaps “junked”, years ago, made an unscheduled stop in Mombasa thereby retarding our arrival in Zanzibar by almost an hour. Hot and tired, we finally landed in what was once the slave trading center of East Africa and were greeted by the heat and humidity of the coast. We were picked up by our driver and whisked to our hotel, the Zanzibar Serena Inn in Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar. We had dinner watching the waves hit the shore just below the wide open window of our restaurant at the very edge of the Indian Ocean. Fresh fish and Indian food were the specialties on the menu. The girls and Denis & I retired straight away to our exotic rooms over-looking the pool and the ocean, and we collapsed into bed after dinner.
Jan 27: Stone Town Walking Tour & Spice Farm Walking Tour … The tour company organizing our Safari also made all the arrangements for our hotels, airport transfers, and tours pre- and post-Safari. The company’s local guide led us around Stone Town that morning where we saw decaying evidence of the once powerful Arab control over the spice route from the island of Zanzibar. We also saw the city’s central market, mosques and fishing boats which now dominate life in the island’s capital. Although this was Friday – a work day in Stone Town –, many of the streets were teeming with people, and occasionally we saw chickens and roosters walking around and squawking to add even more color to the mix. After lunch, we headed out of town with our guide to a very colorful spice farm where the Tanzanian government conducts research in the cultivation of spices. Our local guide was most informative, and we all were fascinated by the explanations of the cultivation and processing of the many spices being grown and studied there, including cloves, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and so on. Feeling and touching these spices in the raw and then learning about how they are transformed into the spices we know from cooking was fascinating.
Jan 28: Fly from Zanzibar to Serengeti and Day 1 of African Lion Safari … After a harrowing experience at the airport waiting in steaming heat midst the more than colorful locals, our check-in attendant finally arrived ½ hour before take-off. Unbelievably, we took off on time (!) The good news was that this time, our “mini-plane” belonged to Coastal Air which was far superior in piloting and comfort than FLY540, but really “mini” with a maximum capacity of 10 people. We were surrounded by enthusiastic Italians and we joined in with them in applauding the safe landing of our pilot in Arusha, which the locals call the “Geneva of Tanzania” due to its proximity to Mt. Meru, the 5th highest mountain in Africa at 14,000 feet and the majestic Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa rising to 19,340 feet. Now at an altitude of 5000 + feet above sea level, we found ourselves in a less hot and humid climate than Zanzibar and surrounded by Tanzanians with broad smiles and big welcomes who genuinely seemed to care about being hospitable.
Although we had assumed we couldn’t leave the transit area, we were ushered into an office where we were invited to use the rest rooms, and then shown where we could buy some lunch. An hour later, we departed for Serengeti, this time with a pilot who spoke with a broad Scottish accent. When we landed at the Seronera airstrip in Serengeti, our plane escorted by exquisite Lilac-breasted Lola Birds, we met Ayubu, the driver from Destination Tanzania Safaris who was also to be our guide for the next 10 days. With his broad friendly smile and confident handshake plus his extended 4X4 Land Rover, customized with 2 large gas tanks, electrical power outlets at every seat for charging batteries or using laptops for photography storage, extra powerful suspension, a small refrigerated cooler, extra comfy and large seats, a pop-up viewing roof, powerful two-way radios, etc, Ayubu immediately made me feel we were in for a fabulous 10 days together.
Ayubu did not waste any time exhibiting his savoir-faire or beginning the Safari. I tried to keep track of all the animals we encountered … Ayubu just seemed to be able to smell them and head straight for their location … but I quickly gave up when I saw that we would be seeing lots & lots of animals, and that looking was better than writing. Although I had my reference book, Richard Estes’ Safari Companion, with me, Ayubu had the “Bible” from his Wildlife Management course, The National Audubon Society’s Guide to Africa by Alden, Estes, Schlitter, & McBride (Published by Knopf) which we could use to distinguish the difference between, for example, the Grand Gazelle and the Impala, or to identify monkey or bird species. Plus Ayubu seemed to be a walking encyclopedia of knowledge himself. I worked hard to challenge him with questions about the animals, their mating habits, habitats and so, but he always had the answer.
Our game drive that afternoon lasted 3 hours. We saw approximately 20 species of animals, the most memorable of which was the leopard sleeping in what the locals call a “Sausage Tree”. We drove right up to this tree which is distinguished by its sausage-shaped fruit eaten by animals (not humans) and observed the leopard at length who was totally unperturbed by our presence.
The drive to our camp that evening was marked by our introduction to the Tsetse Fly. As we drove through the tall grasses at dusk, we found our Land Rover with its elevated roof all of a sudden full of swarming Tsetse Flies and the attack began. The flies tried ferociously to bite us while Denis and Ayubu swatted non-stop. Screeching and jumping around, Dominique got into the fray as well. I applied more insect repellent. The good news is supposedly that Sleeping Sickness is pretty much eradicated in the areas of Tanzania where we went, but we still were determined to avoid these flies with their nasty stings.
We arrived that evening at Dunia Camp, a “luxury” rated semi-permanent camp right in the heart of the Serengeti. Managed by 2 gracious Tanzanians, Richard and Peter, the camp offered full comforts, from an inside flushing toilet in every tent to morning tea or coffee delivered with our wake-up call in the am to a full 4-course dinner served Colonial style with waiters by candlelight right on the Savanna. We met the challenge of having our first ever “bucket shower” and enjoyed meeting the foreigners staying with us as well as the cocktail hour in front of what they fondly called “Bush television”, a huge campfire which serves as the primary entertainment in the bush. Ayubu astutely pointed out that “Bush television only has ‘one’ channel”. After dinner, we were escorted back to our tents in case we came face-to-face with any of the animals roaming around and then fell soundly asleep. Our favorite visitor was the Giraffe, whom Ayubu informed us is the national animal of Tanzania.
Jan 29: Day 2 of African Lion Safari : Serengeti National Park: Seronera River Valley in Central Serengeti
No sooner did we depart camp after a delightful breakfast overlooking the Savanna then we encountered 3 friendly Giraffes on the road. Our Game Drive lasted for about 5 hours. We sat enthralled by the many animals and their unique behaviors – so different from their behaviors and interactions in the captivity of zoos. We feasted our eyes on the beauty of the Savanna, with its many animal family groups and small herds, Acacia trees, bushes and tall grasses, and of the grandeur of the Plains, which with their vast panoramic views of large herds of wild animals on low grass offered an exciting contrast to the Savanna. Denis took photos of at least 15 types of animal species, and the girls also took photos. I kept Ayubu busy with many questions. I loved observing how the animals dealt each in their own way with the oncoming vehicles and with each other, and was most excited to see several troops of Baboons of all ages play, frolic, & groom while the troop leader kept a cautious eye on us. The animals are habituated to the “vehicles” but Ayubu warned us never to exit from our vehicle without his consent as some of the species can turn very aggressive towards humans whom they are not used to seeing “out of the vehicle and on their own”.
Other highlights of the Game Drive included viewing a Leopard on an Acacia Tree (proudly spotted by Denis) and visiting the Serengeti’s renowned Retima Hippo Pool where we saw at least 30 “Happy” Hippos bathing and snorting cheek-to-cheek, 3 Crocodiles sunning themselves, and Vervet Monkeys frolicking around the pool. One of the Young Hippos seemed to be inspired by the “fun” the monkeys were having, and several times managed to get his buddies out of the pool to wrestle and play together. This fearless Young Hippo even tried to climb up on the rocks and “play” with the monkeys!
After a late lunch at our camp, we decided to take a rest. And then my misery began. I felt hot, I couldn’t sleep, there was none of the “very cold” water I craved so I drank warm water — but unfortunately not enough. By 5pm my stomach was killing me and I had no energy to even lift myself up to drink. Luckily, the remedy was simple – hydration & rest. So much for drinking too much wine the night before and too little water.
Jan 30: Day 3 of African Lion Safari : Serengeti through to Ngorongoro Conservation Area around Lake Ndutu to Lake Masek Tented Camp
The Big Cats were simply phenomenal to see that day. So calm in our presence, so majestic to observe. We found 3 Lionesses with their Cubs resting with full tummies – obviously after a good kill – under the shade of an Acacia Tree. The older Cubs were protective of the Younger ones, and the group nestled together with paws on top of one another, affectionate toward one another and calm in our presence … 10 feet away! We also saw a Cheetah mother with her 2 baby Cubs, the single mother very much en garde to protect her playful 3-month old cubs who tried to climb the tree and simply wanted to have fun together, oblivious of our presence. I wondered how that dedicated mother manages to get enough sleep (!)
The drive was punctuated by a picnic lunch on the Savanna. Ayubu parked on a plateau under the shade of an Acacia Tree with a panoramic view of a great migration Herd of Wildebeest in the valley below. An awesome way to enjoy lunch.
Also that day we encountered many Troops of Zebra who travel in families, but often accompanied by Cattle Egrets who serve as their “Valets” to clean and remove ticks from the Zebra. A most interesting symbiotic relationship. Ayubu explained that the Zebra who are often preyed upon by the Carnivores develop
“defending mechanisms” when they are on alert such that they stand in twos, with one putting his head on the other’s back so that the 2 Zebra together are each looking in the opposite direction.
Once we left the Serengeti, where vehicles are restricted to road, we crossed over into the Ngorongoro Conservation (“NCA”) area and enjoyed off-road driving in both the Plains and the Savannas as Ayubu navigated by his “fingerprint” as he called it, but in reality he knows the area so well he simply navigates by using the hills as reference points. The NCA is an area conserved for wildlife and for people with their own settlements, like the Masai. We saw many Giraffes and Zebra, we encountered the Dik-Dik which is the smallest member of the Antelope family. Unlike most of the Antelopes, the Dik-Dik travel in pairs for life. We met Jackals for the first time, and saw many Giraffes in the Savanna with their young. At Lake Ndutu, a salt-water lake, we encountered hundreds of Flamingos.
As we were driving around Lake Masek following a Herd of Zebra traveling with the Wildebeest, we saw many Wildebeest skulls, sad remnants of the many who did not survive the stampede of the great migrations and whose carcasses were picked clean by the Hyenas and Vultures. Then, all of sudden, our rear right tire got stuck in the mud. While Ayubu struggled in vein to jack up the vehicle and finally called our Lodge to send a tractor to pull the Land Rover out of the mud, I was fascinated by the impact on the Zebra and Wildebeest of our presence on the soil outside our vehicle. They stopped cold. The Wildebeest fairly quickly re-routed to continue their migration, but the Zebra waited. One came forward and stood and stared at us, apparently trying to figure out if we represented any danger. This “analysis” lasted almost ½ hour, but finally the Zebra moved onward and out of our sight. Then, a lone Baby Wildebeest returned obviously very distraught. He had lost his mother and the herd. Nature is not always kind.
We arrived at our Lodge, Lake Masek Tented Camp, with its luxurious fixed tents with elegant indoor plumbing, including running water (which Dunia had lacked). The ambiance was more casual – buffet meals with our Drivers comfortably eating with us. We had our first “moon” shower – an open-air shower just outside our bathroom with regular running water … heavenly after a long hot day! And the food was superb at Masek thanks to Veronica, a very talented cook with an equally impressive sense of humor.
Jan 31: Day 4 of African Lion Safari : Ngorongoro Conservation Area … Denis changed the direction of the great migration!
As we drove around the Plain in the morning, we saw at least 3,000 Wildebeest running one-by-one in a Great Migration towards the southern part of Ndutu. Ayubu parked our vehicle on the Plain so that we could stretch our legs as we watched the animals pass. It was a truly awesome sight. Imagine our surprise, however, when all of a sudden the running stopped and we saw that the Wildebeest who had stopped the Herd had done so at a fork in the road approximately 100 yards from our vehicle and seemed to be thinking he should re-route the Herd in our direction. Had we confused the rather simple-minded Wildebeest? Denis took charge – he marched forward a bit and pointed towards where the other Wildebeest were running ahead and like a policeman directing traffic, kept insisting verbally but also with his body language that the Wildebeest at the head of the halted line-up re-join the Herd. Much to our surprise, the animal responded and began running once again in the “right” direction to catch up with the rest of the Herd. The animals behind him followed suit. This experience was – well – almost “unbelievable”!
We moved on to see a Lioness eating her kill in the tall grasses of the marsh, the fur around her mouth all bloody. Three other Lionesses hidden behind nearby bushes were waiting for Zebra and Wildebeest who were close by to descend to drink from the fresh water source, while vultures were sitting in trees and flying around, waiting to clean the carcass … a wildlife plan that never came to fruition because of the human interference of safari vehicles which sat for a protracted period of time stationed in front of the Lionesses, thoughtlessly inhibiting the herds from descending to drink. Eventually the Zebra and Wildebeest sought drinking water elsewhere.
We saw the 3 Cheetah Brothers looking to hunt — but once again, safari vehicles blocked the arrival of the expected prey.
And finally we saw an abandoned Masai “Boma” (“Enclosure”) while Ayubu explained the nomadic patterns of the Masai.
Feb 1: Day 5 of African Lion Safari : Balloon Safari, Breakfast in the Bush, Masai Boma Visit, Oldupai Archaelogical Site, & Drive to Ngorongoro
Today started with a truly magnificent hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti. The captain was a very competent Tanzanian who was trained in California and Tuscany. We left our Lodge at 5:40am and arrived at the site of our departure around 6am. Before sunrise, the passengers were buckled in and aloft, the 4 of us, 4 tourists from France and 2 from England along with the Captain. We soared up in the air for panoramic views and down low for close ups of the animals. We saw many species of animals in a very professionally orchestrated ride. We landed with only a slight bang, and then were driven by the Balloon staff to a site an hour away for a freshly cooked full English breakfast served by waiters all in white, champagne included.
A slight hiccup occurred, however, as we sat down at the table in the bush. Bees were swarming around the dishes of honey on the table, and Genevieve, who is very allergic to bee stings, was stung. Major concern — we didn’t have our medications with us — Ayubu was coming with them in the car. We had brought the bare minimum with us for the balloon ride. But a moment later the British born photographer who had been taking photos for the balloon company and had traveled with us appeared, grabbed a dull table knife, and strategically placed it on Gen’s hand just in time to prevent the bee poison from entering her blood stream. Problem averted. A truly memorable morning, with memories of the excursion topped off by the siting of Lions on the road to breakfast!
After breakfast was over and we finished chatting with the 2 couples from France, Ayubu picked us up to save the time of riding back to our Lodge and then we journeyed on to see a Masai Boma while viewing quite a few animals including Elans, Ostriches, and an African turtle. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a large group of Masai waiting for us dressed in their traditional garb of brightly colored blankets. The bright colors are supposed to scare off the wildlife predators. The chief’s oldest son greeted us in English while the tribesman sang and danced their welcome. The chief’s son proudly explained that he had been to school to study English and then talked about what we would do during the visit before we started. We entered the Boma, which is built with a circular protection fence to prevent wildlife from entering, and then were greeted by most of the adult members of the tribe. The Masai are Muslim, so the men and women stand in separate groups. First the men danced for us and then the women danced separately. Then the chief’s son explained how the cows lived in the center of the open air Boma and he introduced us to one of his younger brothers who offered to show us a traditional Masai dwelling. Built of woods and grasses, it has a thatched roof held together with cow dung, a very narrow and long entrance, the shape of which is designed to keep the cows from entering, a small central area for cooking with fire, and a small storage area, and then 2 small bedrooms, one for the parents and one for the children. On the average, a Masai couple have 3 children.
Next we went to see the school for children through the age of 6. The children proudly counted for us to 60 – in English – and we were told that once they learn enough English, they can take the school bus to attend public school. To advance in their education, they must pass national exams. The children sang and then I introduced myself and my family and asked all the children to tell us their names. It was a most heart-warming visit. Next we were invited – no “encouraged” — to buy some of the hand-beaded jewelry or household items made by the Masai women. Although Ayubu had warned us we would be pressured and we had already paid a hefty sum for the tour, we decided to buy a few souvenirs. Bargaining was expected. Ayubu also explained that the government was trying to modernize the Masai, and no doubt that a good education is a great start.
Next we headed for the Oldupai, formerly known as “Olduvai” Archeological Site. We visited the museum which focused on the research by Louis and Mary Leakey and the Leakey tradition of Anthropology carried on by their son, Richard, as well as on the history of the evolution of mankind at this cradle of civilization. Then while sitting in front of the excavation site, thousands of years old, we listen to a lecture by a young man with a university degree in archeology discussing the history of the archeological and anthropological research conducted there. When he finished, we asked some questions and then enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking this incredible site.
Ngorongoro Serena Lodge was in a word “fabulous”. The view from 7,5000 feet at the edge of the Crater, the balconies off of each room, the fabulous buffets, the grand comfort in each room, the laundry done rapidly in 4 hours, all very welcome indeed. We slept amazingly well that night.
Feb 2: Day 6 of African Lion Safari : Ngorongoro Main Crater , The “Caldera”
The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest unbroken “caldera”, a collapsed volcano roughly 10 miles in diameter that would once have been as high as Kilimanjaro is today. We left our Lodge at 6:30AM, passed through the Gate to the Crater and descended 2000 feet through a succession of rain forest and woodland, arriving at sunrise. Ngorongoro Crater is a World Heritage Site, home to nearly 25,000 animals. Shrouded in the early morning mist, the crater floor magically materialized revealing Lake Magade and what appeared to be an almost empty Plain. It’s so vast that you just don’t see the wildlife immediately, but soon the crater came to life. Especially when a male Lion appeared. Immediately, the Zebra and Wildebeest which had appeared on the Plain stood at alert. The Lion strutted majestically over the plain, but it soon became clear that his plan was to drink, not to hunt. And the Crater world relaxed a bit, still keeping a cautious watch on the Lion. He went to greet his consort, and then to drink as another Lion came over and sat with his consort which clearly motivated #1 Lion to return and lie near her also. Clearly, on this Plain, without the tall grasses and trees and bushes affording the privacy of the Savanna, the Lion was still King.
We moved onto to see the Golden Jackal, Elephants, and Zebra. We saw Wart-Hogs with their Young, including a Baby suckling – quite a family!. At Ngoitokitok Springs, we watched the Hippos jostle for position in the water while we had a picnic breakfast. An Elephant came down to drink the fresh water – I think Ayubu invited him to join us and enhance the ambiance (!) All was peaceful, the Hippos were quieter and calmer than at Retima Hippo Pond in the Serengeti, and then out of nowhere, a Black Kite Bird appeared and snatched my pain au chocolat. I screamed out of fear, or perhaps shock, I was left with a small cut from the bird’s beak, and the peace was destroyed. What’s more, that irritating bird didn’t even enjoy my breakfast. He quickly discarded it 20 feet away, dropping it on the ground, leaving a Village Weaver Bird with its beautiful yellow head to pick up the remains and quickly enjoy the spoils.
As we journeyed on, we saw Buffalo and then the last of the “Big 5” (the 5 favorite of the Big Game Hunters) … the Black Rhino, slowly, very slowly or as the locals say, “pole pole” making his way to the watering hole. We saw Jackals, a Lion in an Acacia tree, Ostriches, and White Butterflies. But most interesting was the Lion family once again. First, we observed a Lion who was still suffering from injuries in attacks. He was crossing the hot Plain in the midday sun and badly needed some shade to rest. So he decided to lie in the shade afforded by one of the Safari vehicles parked by the edge of the grass to observe him. He yawned and closed his eyes. But eventually the vehicle moved on. He did this repeatedly until he arrived at our vehicle, and there he was, lying right by our passenger door, a foot out of reach from the window. He would likely have stayed for several hours, but eventually we pulled away, happy to have had him by us but sorry he was suffering.
When we wondered on, we encountered a Lioness Crouched eating her prey, a baby Wildebeest, in the tall grasses. All was calm until 3 other Lions appeared and decided they wanted to share in the Kill and chased the Lioness. We moved on at that point.
We ended our day driving through the woodlands with their semi-tropical dense undergrowth to observe the Baboons – one of my favorites — and Vervet Monkeys.
Shortly before we arrived at our Lodge, an Elephant came out of the dense bush on the side of the road. Ayubu recognized this Elephant and explained that he cleverly knows how to help himself to the water and benefits of the local camping grounds. A very “civilized” Elephant.
As usual, we invited Ayubu to have dinner with us – we began to realize that dinner without Tabasco or Chili sauce was not dinner for Ayubu (!)
Feb 3: Day 7 of African Lion Safari : Exited Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Baboon Encounter, visit of the town of Karatu, shopping for Artesania, and drive to Manyara Serena Lodge followed by Game Drive in Lake Manyara National Park
As we hit the road we met another Elephant who was happily grazing by the side of the road. At the NCA exit gate where drivers parked their vehicles to check out of the park, we were surprised to find troops of Baboons all over the place. Ayubu warned us that if we left our vehicle unattended with windows or roof open, even for a moment, that Baboons were likely to hop in and forage for food. What’s more, he explained that they knew the difference between Black people and White people – the Black were more likely to chase them away whereas the White were more amused by them. And then he added that the Baboons preferred White women to men … I wonder why?
We hit the paved super highway and enjoyed the sights of the farms – very English-style with carefully tilled plots rich in minerals which may be why the fruits and vegetables here have such incredible flavor – and we arrived at the town of Karatu, nicknamed “safari junction”. We drove through the colorful town with its bustling market, saw the children in their uniforms returning for lunch, and soaked in the flavor of this very industrious little town … quite the antithesis of Stone Town.
Next Ayubu took us “for shopping”. I didn’t know what to expect, but the experience was impressive. A huge shop, owned & run by Tanzanians of Indian descent. The many collections of fine Tanzanian artesenia captured our attention, and I ended up selecting 2 black ebony Giraffes, a mother and a baby. Then Ayubu told me that the Giraffe was the national animal of Tanzania, and I felt even better about my choice.
We arrived at our Lodge, Lake Manyara Serena, just in time for lunch. Our rooms each had balconies with lovely views over Lake Manyara and a room fan which was badly needed – it was hot. After lunching al fresco, we headed out for an afternoon Game Drive. Lake Manyara is Baboon country, so as we drove through the lush semi-tropical jungle vegetation, we encountered many Troops of Baboons. I never lose interest in observing these friendly primates interact and care for one another. We also saw a Blue Monkey with its 4-foot long tail which he uses to wrap around a branch and hang from for his afternoon siesta, we saw more graceful Impala, a Baboon “convention” on the Plain – what else could so many Baboons be doing at 4pm in the afternoon? We enjoyed watching Young Elephants at play, spotted a Southern Ground Hornbill with its fabulous red gullet and red “eye shadow”, more Giraffe, and more Buffalo accompanied by Egrets, another symbiotic relationship – the Buffalo gets the grooming and the Egret hitches a ride. But most significantly, our seasoned Driver Guide, Ayubu, with his incredible eye managed to locate the famous Manyara Park Tree-Climbing Lions who are rarely spotted these days. We saw 3 lying as serenely as one could imagine, sprawled out 2 on one branch and the third on the branch above, enjoying an afternoon siesta. Cat poses can be exquisite to watch and these were no exception!
On our way back through the lush rain forest vegetation, Ayubu and a Vervet Monkey entertained us as Ayubu played peek-a-boo with the monkey. Dinner was again al fresco, and although Denis was very vexed by the non-existent but promised internet connection, the restaurant manager, Big John, managed to put everybody in a delightful mood. Hakuna Matata!
Feb 4: Day 8 of African Lion Safari : Drive south to Tarangire Safari Lodge in Tarangire National Park with Game Drive in the late afternoon
The drive from Lake Manyara to Tarangire was paved and easy-going. Once we arrived in the park, we heard the sound of many Doves singing out. Ayubu says they are singing “work harder, work harder”. Definitely a projection of his work ethic onto this beautiful bird. We saw an ant hill built by Fire Ants, and what an ant hill it was – about 5 feet high and 5 feet in diameter at its base … definitely not one of those Hilton Head ant hills you can just spray away! Ayubu introduced us to the beautiful Baobob tree with its wide trunk and beautiful dense green foliage, and explained that the bark missing around part of the trunk exposing a gaping hole in the trunk was due to the Elephants ripping off and consuming the bark for its moisture in the dry season. Surprisingly enough, the trees managed to survive and even thrive despite these attacks. He also told us the story about the surprising number of Weaver Bird nests in so many of the trees. Amazingly enough, the male Weaver builds 3 large nests and then invites his mate to choose her favorite nest. What a pity that habit wasn’t passed down by natural selection to the Human male!
Although Ayubu had told us that our new Lodge would be inside the park with a spectacular view, we were totally unprepared when we arrived at the Tarangire Safari Lodge for the incredible panoramic view we encountered in the valley below. As the literature on site pointed out, we could literally sit in the open-air and spacious Lodge, sinking down into one of their super comfy over-sized chairs, and with or without binoculars have a “seated” safari without budging. Many species wandered the Savanna below, and because we were in the “park”, many animals come up the hill to visit or pass through our camp while others come through the camp from the opposite direction en route down the hill, and some just hung around, playing and/or hoping to get a handout of food from naïve tourists. This was truly a Lodge to commune with nature. However, the tented accommodations, which also offered spectacular views over the Savanna below, were rather Spartan. Plus, it was hot and I was concerned that sleeping might be a challenge. We had our first taste of “being inside the park with the wildlife” right after we arrived at our tent when Denis encountered a pair of Dik-Diks right in front of our patio who, comfortable around humans, began frolicking around our tent.
After a delicious lunch with a Mexican theme and enjoying the “safari” view in the valley, we set for an afternoon Game Drive. Tarangire Park is renowned for its many Elephant Troops and it did not disappoint. It was simply an Elephant Paradise. We observed many interesting Elephant Families roaming around including several with newborn baby Elephants suckling under their very protective mothers. We enjoyed watching babies interact together and see how the older children were protective of the younger. We also saw many Baboon Troops, Mongoose, and Vervet Monkeys cavorting in trees. We met the Marabou Stork, the Yellow Neck Spunfowl and the beautiful European Lola, the cousin to the exquisite Lilac-Breasted Lola who had escorted our plane as it landed in Seronera. We saw the elegant Waterbuck with their delicate “Bambi-like” faces, and we saw Harems of Impala, each headed up by a lone male with antlers (female Impalas do not have antlers). Ayubu calls these lone males “Crazy Boys” because their harems are so large that it’s challenging for a lone male to maintain his leadership position since this type of dominance leads to the formation of Bachelor troops whose members like to fight for dominance among them only to establish a winner who will be strong enough to overtake the “Crazy Boy” leader of the Harem. So naturally the “Crazy Boy’s” term is short-lived.
As the sun set over the Savanna, we saw a Bachelor troop of Impalas frolic near a troop of Baboons – Ayubu called that “Happy Hour” for the Impalas – and we saw the White Stork populate the bare branches of a multitude of trees throughout the Savanna as the animals settled in for the night, another Out of Africa sight to behold these thousands of White Storks decorating the Savanna as the sun settles.
When we humans settled in for the night, despite the Spartan accommodations we had a very restful night of sleep.
Feb 5: Day 9 of African Lion Safari : Sunrise Game Drive in Tarangire National Park
This morning we departed around 6am for another early Game Drive. The White Storks were still we were left them the evening before, but I think we woke them up. While we quickly encountered a Lioness on the hunt and we patiently stayed with her to see “the kill”, no prey appeared and there was no kill. The Savanna was very quiet that morning so we moved on. We saw more Superb Starlings, many Elephants with their Young, a Brown Snake Eagle, and a Dwarf Mongoose living in a deserted ant hill. We met many other Safari vehicles who recounted finding no animals to observe, so we figured we were lucky to have had the few encounters we did, and as we were returning for breakfast, we thought of that poor Lioness and hoped she had managed to have had hers.
But breakfast was surprisingly eventful. As Denis walked up to the buffet, he spotted a Lion majestically strolling between 2 tents and down the hill. I stood up to join him and missed the Lion, but I did see a Thompson’s Gazelle running terrorized up the hill into our camp … obviously, she had spotted the Lion and had decided to quickly head in the opposite direction away from him.
We decided to spend the rest of this last day on safari on the “sitting” Safari, observing the comings and goings down in the valley below as we sat in the magnificent lounge area of our Lodge. Our pace had been hectic throughout the trip, and so it was time for some serious R & R before making the long journey home which would start tomorrow. During the day as we wondered around camp, we individually encountered Dik Diks and Vervet Monkeys. Dominique had quite an adventure with the Monkeys … as she was in her tent, a bunch of them were frolicking on the roof of the tent making lots of noise, and then when she came out, they ran around and played a lot in front of her, baiting her to join them. One even took a seat on the chair on the patio of our neighboring tent. These Vervet Monkeys are very comfortable around humans. I met up with a pair of them later on in the day who stopped to greet me, and Denis had a friendly encounter with a pair of Dik-Diks.
By bedtime we were all calm and ready for a good night sleep, and we turned in early. About 1:30am that morning, I woke up to a lot of noise outside our tent and recognized it as elephants foraging for food. I knew that Elephants foraged a good 20 hours per day. I was just surprised to find them outside our tent. I sat up only to find an elephant 5 feet away from the screen of our tent. I shook Denis awake, covered his mouth so he wouldn’t say anything out of surprise to upset the elephants a few feet away, and whispered in his ear to do nothing to upset them. The elephant closest to our screen saw us and it felt like an eternity until she and her companions decided to move out of our camp and down into the valley. Meanwhile, Denis and I with our hearts pounding reveled in our middle-of-the-night experience with surprise visitors, a very thrilling Out of Africa experience! All of a sudden, these “Spartan” tents took on new meaning as they had enabled a very close up and personal encounter with the famous African Elephants.
Feb 6th: Day 10 of African Lion Safari : Drive to Arusha and Flight to Nairobi
This morning we said our good-byes to Safari life and headed off to Arusha to spend a few hours and have lunch before taking our flight to Nairobi. The road was paved most of the way, but we still saw a heard of Zebra and various other animals, including domesticated Cows, Goats and Sheep belonging to the Masai as well as a lone Camel who had been imported in by some Arabs.
We had asked Ayubu to show us around the city of Arusha, which is Ayubu’s home town, and then to choose a restaurant to have a light lunch before setting out for Kilimanjaro Airport. We had expected Arusha, the home of the International Tribunal for Rwanda, to be small and peaceful. It’s quite the contrary. Hello to big and teaming with people and traffic jams, lots & lots of open air markets, military clearly in evidence to keep the terrorists away and keep the peace,– a city that is anything but “peaceful”. Yet, leave it to Ayubu to find a little piece of heaven right outside this bustling city to take us to lunch. Imagine the most idyllic place you can for handicapped people, in particular those who are deaf and/or dumb. Add to that an extremely resourceful woman determined to find them employment and financial support, plus a focus on environmentally sound work – the use of recycled glass and metal to create artistic re-sellable beads and other goods –, and then an extraordinarily charming place for the tourists who come to visit this site to stop and have a cool drink or a delicious barbequed lunch. Well there you have Shanga, a peaceful oasis outside Arusha where especially tourists and foreigners come to marvel at what Saskia Rechsteiner, the founder and owner of Shanga, is accomplishing.
On top of planning this extremely interesting and memorable visit to Shanga, Ayubu also organized that his boss, Innocent, the owner of the Safari Company we were using – DETASA “(Destination Tanzania Safaris”) – come for a brief greeting. So after making some beautiful purchases and enjoying a delicious and healthy lunch of salads and barbequed fish, chicken & beef, topped off by some perfectly sweet bites, we had the pleasure to meet up with Innocent and review the past 10 days we had just experienced with Ayubu. Quite simply, we couldn’t have hoped for a richer or better experience.
After chatting at length with Innocent, we headed to the airport. Ayubu waited to make sure we had no problems and that our flight was departing as scheduled, and then it was time for good-byes. How could we have imagined having such a fabulously interesting, educational, and entertaining safari without him? Impossible. Departure was difficult. We shall miss Ayubu, but the incredible memories he helped us create will always be in our hearts, and we will always remember fondly his wonderful sense of humor, his broad smile and the joy we shared together in finding and observing the animals of Tanzania.
Our flight to Nairobi on Precision Air was comfortable and efficient. Nathan, our Nairobi guide was waiting for us along with some of his colleagues to greet us — a typical East African welcome. We arrived at the Serena Nairobi Hotel exhausted, but happy and full of beautiful memories. Too tired to go out on the town, we enjoyed the chic hotel Bar and then ordered room service – sumptuous Indian for the girls and me, and an American style burger for Denis … quelle surprise!
We all took long hot showers and crashed into bed.
Feb 7th: Rest up and Visit Nairobi until late nite departure for London
After a great night of sleep, we started our day with a magnificent breakfast in the lush and exotic restaurant of our hotel and took life pole pole – “slowly”. Nathan, our driver picked us up and took us for a short tour of central Nairobi where we saw high security around the government buildings as well as some of the hotels and businesses owned by the President of Kenya or other government officials on the take. Then we took a scenic ride out to Karen Blixen’s home which is now a museum. We drove out of the city, past Kebira slum which is the 2nd biggest slum in Africa after Soweto and home to the ultra-poor of Nairobi, and moved on along the very same road to the ultra wealthy suburbs of the “Karen” district where the homes are all gated and walled in with electrified wire over the walls. The home of Karen Blixen which is now a museum was donated to the city after Blixen’s death, and it now features many of the very same magnificent possessions she was forced to sell after her tobacco farm failed and she went bankrupt. The visit is by guided tour and is extremely interesting. I learned much more about this gutsy and adventurous intelligent woman than I learned from either reading or watching Out of Africa.
We passed the final few hours in Nairobi before dinner getting the flavor of life in Nairobi by driving around various districts and visiting a couple of the newer shopping centers. This is a high crime city and there is security everywhere. We ended our day eating dinner at Nairobi’s famous Carnivore restaurant known for its exotic meats. More gimmicky than fine cuisine but interesting all the same. I don’t like Alligator meat but I do love Ostrich meat balls! And I love the wildlife and people of Tanzania.
African Lion Safari Postscript …
In addition to the African Lion Safari Journal notes above, I have the following comments:
I found the Tanzanian people to be extremely warm, gracious and welcoming. I loved their big smiles and big hellos – “Jambo” every time we passed by. They always asked how we were, how we enjoyed our food or our safari ride, did we have a good night’s sleep and so on. They really make you feel welcome in their country, are eager to help you in any way they can, and enjoy sharing their language of Swahili with you. Peoples from many tribes, people from many backgrounds, and people of different colors seem to live respectfully in harmony with each other and with the wildlife animals.
I think the wildlife animals of Tanzania are the National Treasures of the country, and I hope that the Tanzanian government will ensure that the beautiful parks and preserves in which the animals roam so freely retain their primary focus as a home for animals, and that Humans do not encroach into their space. Wild animals which roam freely as nature intended are so very different from animals who are fenced up in zoos, and their behavior in the wild is a sheer delight to see.
Read our African Lion Safari related posting “Hakuna Matata and Ayubuisms” !
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