From the first conversation with our trip designer to the moment we got in the taxi leaving lodge in Zanzibar heading for the airport, the entire experience was seamless and far exceeded our expectations. We truly didn't know what to expect with this trip. We knew we'd see myriad animals while on safari. We knew we'd be awestruck with the expansive vistas. We didn't know what to expect with the food, transfers at airports, lodging accommodations, friendliness (or lack thereof) of our hosts, ability to communicate with locals, our general safety, etc. Africa turned out to be a huge surprise and I'm sure we owe a great deal of gratitude to our trip designer and the entire company's team. When we got off the plane in Arusha (Kilimanjaro International Airport), we were greeted by a smiling representative accompanied by our guide. Our representative was a ray of sunshine. What I initially thought was just a gregarious host who was well trained to make tourists feel comfortable turned out to be what we experienced with every Tanzanian we met. You couldn't pass a native Tanzanian without getting an ear to ear smile and a hearty "Jambo!" Sometimes you'd get a "Jambo, jambo!" The camps we stayed at were all amazing. Some were better appointed than others (Swala and Serengeti Pioneer Camps in particular) but even the lesser-appointed camps offered amazing settings in the wilds of Africa...star-gazing was amazing! The food was consistently very good. We spent our first night at Onsea House on the outskirts of Arusha.
Onsea House was a beautiful, boutique hotel nestled in the hillsides outside Arusha. The grounds were beautiful; well-defined paths were guarded by thick tropical plants and flowers were in full bloom. As the sun went down, I could hear dogs barking, cows mooing and an relentless rooster that announced his presence throughout the night. The food at Onsea was an unexpected treat. My wife and I immediately made friends with the couple in the room next to ours and we shared dinner with them. We set out the next morning for Tarangire. Our tour guide met us early in the morning and we started our safari. We couldn't have asked for a better tour guide; we really felt like we made a life-long friend in him. He was genuine, gregarious and extremely knowledgeable in all things Africa. We spent the next 10 days with him. We visited Tarangire, the Ngorongoro Crater, the Ndutu region and the Serengeti. It's hard to say which we enjoyed the most. Taragnire was a haven for elephants. The Ngorongoro Crater would have been beautiful even if it didn't host a self-contained ecosystem. Ngorongoro was the only place we saw rhinos. The Ndutu region was unique in that we felt free to explore nooks and crannies in search of lions feasting on a freshly killed zebra or cape buffalo. And the Serengeti was majestic and expansive. Being awakened to two competing lions roaring in the middle of the night to assert their dominance was something I'll never forget. We spent the last 4 days at a spa on the northeastern shore of Zanzibar. What an amazing place to get your zen on! I'm an early riser. I had an opportunity on multiple mornings to watch as the local fisherman paddled their outriggers past our thatched lodge on the beach. Dozens of boats would pass by as the men sang songs in Swahili with one fisherman singing the lead while the others sang responses in unison...priceless.
It's hard to say what the most memorable parts of our trip were, but I'll try. First, I want to say that our guide made the trip exceptional. When my wife and I talk with friends about this trip, we'll always recommend that they seek him out as their guide. In no particular order, here are our most memorable parts of the trip:
Stalking a cheetah early one morning in Ndutu while it went out for a hunt; it started by following a small gazelle but it gave up on the gazelle when a wildebeest and her baby trotted past. After about an hour and a half, the cheetah felt it had closed the gap enough to strike. It was a lot like a National Geographic moment: dirt and dust were kicked up, the cheetah zigged and zagged, the baby Wildebeest found its way into a small gathering of ostriches and the cheetah missed its prey. The baby gnu lived to fight another day and the cheetah had to look elsewhere for a meal.
On our last day in Ngorongoro, during the last hour of our game drive, we came across two lions mating, which I captured on film.
Finding rhinos (highly endangered Black Rhinos to be specific) in Ngorongoro was a treat
Watching a small family (7 or 8 of them) of elephants playing in a small mud-hole in Tarangire was fun...the baby elephant was so entertaining: it looked like it lacked the strength to remain standing as it kept falling and rolling the mud while the larger elephants continually pushed him/her gently with their huge feet
meeting some really interesting people in the lodges every night (we actually met some celebrities while we shared stories about the days game drives)
the hospitality of the hosts at the camps is something that American hospitality could learn from
I feel like I need to say it one more time: our trip would have been great without him, but our guide made the trip!
We loved every aspect of our trip, but the one thing we'd do differently would be to spend an extra night at the Serengeti Pioneer Camp and one fewer night at Lamala Ndutu. We loved the Ndutu region, but the camp in Serengeti was unforgettable. The camp manager, was one of those people who felt like a life-long friend that you haven't seen in a few years. Our host at Pioneer Camp, was the most welcoming host we met on the trip.
Thanks for everything! It was a great experience.
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