We planned our trip with Access 2 Tanzania about a year ago. Karen was a delight to work with and planned a fabulous trip for our family of three. Got home last night and couldn't wait to share our trip with all of you that were so helpful during the planning process! Our trip exceeded our expectations and we definitely will plan to visit again. Here we go...
6/26 We depart from Minneapolis to Amsterdam on Delta. Nice flight, no sleep. Bought some Dutch choclate and cheese to snack on while going on to JRO. The KLM flight was not as comfortable as the Delta flight. The food was terrible. We originally booked on Northwest and the changeover did cause some ticketing problems with the computer system. In the end it was all straightened out, but caused a bit of stress.
6/27 Arrived at JRO tired, but excited to be there. The visa line took about 20 minutes and was not problem. The luggage was all there and we met our guide Said. He was fantastic. We really enjoyed his personality and knowledge of his country. His command of English was very good. He dropped us off at our first lodging (I will do detailed hotel reviews of each place) the Arumeru River Lodge. The setting outside of town was lovely. The unit had 3 beds, decent size. It was an adequate place to spend 2 nights.
6/28 Went shopping in Arusha. Did try to meet with Wiston Laizer, for tanzanite but he ended up not being available. We met with his associate in a rather "Godfatheresque" setting. The associate was not very impressive and rather unprepared for our visit. The stones he showed us were not quite the quality we wanted. His price was $250/carat cash only. We ended up at the Arusha hotel at Swala Gems. Not the bargain place, but the quality was beautiful. They were asking $600/carat for amazing quality stones. They would only discount about 10% so we ended up paying $540/carat and they did take credit cards. I plan on making the stone into a pendant with my own local jeweler. Went to the Mt. Meru Market in town, kind of like a flea market where bargaining was the rule. Bought lots of wood carvings and beaded items. Loved negotiating with the vendors. I usually ended up paying 1/3 of what they were asking up to 1/2. Most were willing to go very low to sell.
6/29 Said picked us up for our first safari day. We had lunch at a local Barbeque place which was a very interesting experience. Then on to Tarangire National Park We had a flat tire on the way. Said was able to change it.. Saw amazing amounts of elephants and the usual other animals. We thought it was great. the Ultrathon lotion with 34% deet worked great here. We checked in to the Maramboi Tented Camp. Huge room with 3 beds. Really enjoyed this accomodation. The food was excellent here. They also had free wifi and internet available.
6/30 Went on early morning game drive. Saw elephants bathing in the mud. Went to a Masai market for more goodies. We had a scheduled bush walk at 4:30pm, but the guide did not show. They asked a bartender/waiter to take us. We walked to Lake Manyara amongst the zebra, wildebeast, giraffe, warthogs and many birds. This activity was ok, but disappointing that the guide really wasn't knowledgeable like you'd expect.
7/1 Left Maramboi at 8am with a box lunch for our bike ride down the escarpment into the Rift Valley. After about 5 minutes, my husband got a flat tire. The bikes were not very good quality. The brakes got so hot it blew out his tire. My brakes also did not work well which was really a safety issue in this setting. The tried for along time to repair the tube, instead of just replacing it. After a while they finally brought us both different bikes which made it the rest of the ride. It was an unpaved (of course) trail to Lake Manyara thru the Mosquito Village. We saw the hippo pool and rode in the middle of many herds of animals. Very cool. Had our box lunch under a banana tree. The local children were very interested in saying hallo to us. Went to a real Masai local market and bought blankets for $5, did not even bargain on that! The asking price was already so low. Checked into the Ngorongoro Farmhouse which is owned by the same group as Maramboi Tented Camp. The room was huge with 3 beds, sitting area and excellent water pressure. Had our laundry done here for $58 for the 3 of us. The food was ok, but they ran out of food early during dinner the first night. People were not happy. Not sure why this happened.
7/2 Went canoeing on Lake Manyara. The water was only a foot or 2 deep. I wouldn't recommend this activity here. It was kind of boring. Not much to explore. Did see a few animal, lots of birds, but overall not a great activity. Spents several hours in Manyara National Park. The scenery is beautiful, but the amount of animals was noticeable less then the other parks we visited. Next time I'd probably skip this park. On the way back to the Farmhouse we stopped at the Shirt Shack and bought t-shirs for $15/shirt. Also bought a huge painting canvas for $60 at local store. I think the style is called Tinga Tinga. It is really 9 paintings in one.
7/3 Left the Farmhouse at 10am and did a little more shopping on the way to the Crater. Saw an elephant cross the rim road right in front of our vehicle. Saw our first "honeymooning" lions they were towards the end because they mostly slept. Checked into the Sopa Lodge. The view was amazing. Meals had lots of variety and some were sit down vs. buffet. Hot water only between 5 and 8, morning and night. Room had 3 beds and was quite comfortable.
7/4 No red. white and blue for us today! But we did go into the Crater at 6:30am after a good buffet breakfast. Cheetahs, lions, hippos and elephants were the hightlight. Never found the rhino. We also turned our guide Said on to geocaching a hobby that our family enjoys with a GPS device where you find hidden treasures. He really got a kick out of it. At 2pm we headed to the Olmati Crater to do a hike with an armed ranger. Said came with us too. It was uphill 650 verical feet, moderately strenuous, very strenuous if you went the extra walk to the water fall. I opted to wait at the top and enjoy the view with Said and my son while my husband and the guide went on. I defintely felt the altitude as we went along. A very nice hike. Enjoyecd the excercise.
7/5 Leaving for the Serena Serengeti at 7:30am. A very long drive. My stomache was a bit unsettled Not a great place if you need a restroom. Saw hippo, lions and today a leopard up close! Had lunch at the Serengeti Medium Camp a mobile camp owned by the same group as the Maramboi and Farmhouse. A nice lunch spot. Our vehicle would not start. It was the starter connection. Said brought us to the Serena in someone else's vehicle and went back to get ours fixed. It was quite a long drive. There were lots of fires, one very close to our hotel. It was very smoky all night. The room had 3 beds and was basically like a standard size hotel room. The room had a hairdryer and a fan. Food was pretty good. Played our nightly game of scrabble in their bar area where they had appetizers available for free.
7/6 Leaving early for the western Serengeti. Saw many wildebeasts, zebras and a pride of lions with a big male. Saw a jackal eating a gazelle that had been hit by a car. Saw vultures eating a kill. My stomach pain was worsening and I started taking the Cipro. Was feeling much better within 12 hours, not sure if I would've anyways, but I thing the Cipro did the trick. Definitely remember a roll of toilet paper just in case you need it. Arrived at the Kensington Mobile Camp at 5:30pm, Very rustic place. Our least favorite. The location was good, but the tents were not well maintained and the food was subpar. The bugs here were horrible and I got eaten alive. Lots of safari ants and flys.
7/7 Today is my son's 16th birthday! The staff helped me decorate the dining tent with a banner and crepe paper I brought from home. We saw another honeymooning lion couple mate a few times very close up. Saw lots of the migration, not crossing the river because it was pretty dried up, but the animals were there in droves. Walked over a swinging bridge and saw crocodiles. It was very hot here and we rested in the afternoon. The chef made a special birthday cake for my son. Turned down the lights and came out with the cake lit singing to him. He really enjoyed this. Our pop top on the vehicle broke. Said was able to temporarily fix it with strips of rubber to hold it up. The roads are unbelievable bumpy and rough and the vehicles definitely take a beating. Think pink jeep tour in Sedona, Arizonia if you've ever done this you'll understand what I mean.
7/8 Did a short game drive on the way to the Grumeti Airstrip. Said our farewells to Said our new friend from Tanzania. We had to fly to Seronera Airstrip to pick up some people. This portion was rought. We flew at a higher altitude on the way to Arusha and it was smoother. The plane nearly skidded of the runway in Arusha only to find 2 blown out tires! I definitely was seeing a pattern with the flats tires (the vehicle, the bike and now the plane).
Said was driving back to Arusha, so our guide for the rest of the day was Mussa, also very nice and helpful. He took us to really inexpensive t-shirt shop only $5/ shirts and lots of selection. Also made one last stop to the Meru Market for a few last minute things. Brought us back to the Arumeru River Lodge for a day room We rested, shower and hide a nice dinner before Mussa took us to JRO. Flight to Amsterdam was uneventful. In Amsterdam things did not go well. Our plane was hit by a catering truck and need 3 hours to be repaired. It became a major problem and the flight crew was now on the clock to long and we had to make an unexpected stop at JFK in New York to switch crew and now we had to go thru customs. Delta was totally mismanaging the situation and we ended up 11 1/2 hours late! My son at something bad at the Amsterdam airport and became violently ill and hour before landing. We made it home around midnight in Minneapolis. My son started to feel better, but it was a mother's worst nightmare on an airplane and things just kept getting worse. This was not the highlight of our trip. Happy to report he's doing fine, and I'm glad that it's over. Delta compensated us $100 vouchers per person and 50 Euros vouchers in Amsterdam. Good towards future travel. Also gave everyone 10 euro vouchers for lunch at the airport with a 5 minute international calling card. Didn't seem great compensation for the total aggravation they put us through, but better then nothing.
I loved this trip. The people were friendly and so interesting. The animals amazing. Sorry this is so long, but we really did a lot in the time we were there. Please let me know if I can answer any questions.