Jambo Everyone! My husband, 18 year old daughter and myself just returned from Tanzania last night, and it was our greatest adventure ever! I want to thank everyone...in particular Mfuwe (who is currently visiting Namibia & S. Africa), Karl, Wegoustay, Achmed & Wormsrascal, who not only convinced me that I must make Tanzania a destination, but who also convinced me that May is a wonderful time of year to visit. Our trip was from May 12th to May 30th and we're so glad we chose this time of year to go rather than July or August.
First of all, the weather couldn't have been better! We had gorgeous weather every day...and it wasn't too hot or too cold. The weather was perfect for outdoor activities. We only had rain once the whole time...one night in the Serengeti. That day we had wonderful weather...that night it rained during the night, and when dawn broke the next day, the weather was once again glorious! May used to be a rainy month, but apparently it isn't very rainy anymore as the weather pattern has changed over the past few years.
So not only is the weather glorious, but the trees and flowers are all in bloom so everything looks beautiful and the air is fragrant. But best of all, there are baby animals to be seen everywhere! We canoed in a lake that had tiny baby hippos riding on their mothers backs! We watched as countless herds of elephants grazed around us with their small baby elephants in tow. We watched baby giraffes nursing from their mothers and we were mesmerized as huge groups of baboons foraged in the grass around us with their babies riding on their backs (some of the baby baboons were so young they were still largely pink and hairless). We spent hours watching tiny lion cubs frolicking next to our vehicle...and every so often they would stop to nurse on their mother before resuming their play. We saw baby warthogs following their mothers, baby hyena, young cheetah with their mothers, and tiny baby monkeys being scooped up by their mothers and nursed. May is definitely a wonderful time to visit if you enjoy seeing the baby animals.
What you won't see in May are many tourists! There were times in the National Parks (including the crater) when we felt we were the only ones in the park! We could spend hours parked beside lions or leopards, with no other cars around! The accommodations weren't busy, so we received very personal attention. Even when we went on the Night Safari in Lake Manyara, we were the only ones, so it was the 3 of us plus the ranger, spotter and driver, and we saw so much! The rates are cheaper in May, and we had no problem with dust as the roads weren't dusty...and in fact, we found the roads to be pretty good. Bugs weren't a problem. We started our malaria pills before leaving for the trip, but we encountered very few mosquitoes. There were a few tsetse-tsetse flies in Tarangire NP, but they weren't much of a problem.
The people of Tanzania are so nice and friendly. I found myself actually crying when I had to say goodbye to some of them. We planned our trip with Basecamp, and we are so pleased with this company. The service they provide is not only professional, but extremely personal as well. The owner Achmed Phillips is extremely nice and down to earth. He's originally from England, and for years he worked as a safari guide, accompanying clients on safari's throughout the continent of Africa. Coming from England and having worked as a safari guide, he knows first hand what clients are looking for when planning a safari. Years ago, after marrying a Tanzanian lady and changing his name to Achmed (it's not his original birth name), he formed Basecamp. Achmed really cares about his clients and their satisfaction. He likes to meet his clients once they're settled in, and over a few drinks he goes over the planned itinerary...answers any questions and lets clients know what they can expect throughout the trip. Then on the final evening he likes to meet with clients again just to hear first hand how everything went. This is the kind of personalized service you don't find very often anymore.
We placed our trust in Achmed when we transferred payment to him. On the other hand, Achmed trusts his clients. We changed our itinerary somewhat during our safari (something I'll talk about later), and we booked an extra night at the Arumeru River Lodge. Achmed didn't insist on payment for this extra booking right away. Instead, he said we can wire the money to him once we return home. Once again, this is an example of the personalized service he provides.
Our Basecamp guide Joseph was absolutely amazing. Achmed likes to know beforehand just what the client's expectations and interests are so that he can set his clients up with the perfect guide. He certainly did just that in our case! The guide is the most important part of a great safari, and Joseph immediately became part of our family. Throughout our trip we learned a lot from Joseph...about Tanzania, the people, the history and the flora and fauna. We also learned a lot about Joseph's family and his ancestral tribe. Achmed told us that all his guides are highly professional, knowledgable and amazing. Based on the two Basecamp guides we met...Joseph and another guide named Duncan...we have to agree. Both of them have been in the business for years, and when we asked, each of them said they really enjoy working for Basecamp. In fact, they both worked for other safari companies in the past, and have now been with Basecamp for years.
There are a couple things I want to say regarding safari guides...
Their job isn't easy. Not only do they have to know more than one language, but they also have to know all about the country and the flora and fauna so that they can answer the multitude of questions asked of them. They must have great tracking skills and mechanical skills. But most of all, they require great people skills and huge amounts of patience. If clients are obnoxious, rude or demanding, the guide must always remain friendly and polite. And even though the guide has visited each park and has seen every animal a thousand times before, he must remain enthusiastic and never appear bored. Sadly, while in Tanzania I was shocked to hear from more than one guide that many folks on safari don't tip their guides!!! Like waiters, a guide's base pay isn't that high because it's assumed that it will be augmented by tips. Therefore, guides and porters etc. depend on tips. Please remember that your guide or porter is there at your disposal 24 hours a day...7 days a week. And although guides are trained to spot wildlife, it's not their fault if they don't manage to locate a particular animal you're looking for. If you want to be 100% assured of seeing a particular animal, then go to the zoo or to a park in South Africa where pilots fly over and drop food down for the wildlife. You go to a country like Tanzania because you want to see animals in the wild...which means that the animals are unpredictable and can't always be found in the same spot. So don't blame the guide if you fail to see a particular animal.
And lastly...a guide takes the responsibility of your welfare very seriously. He wants you to have a great time and be safe. So please pay attention to what he says, and if he says you must remain in the vehicle...or he says you are not to go any closer etc., please obey. Guides must obey park rules or they are at risk of losing their job. And if you get injured from wildlife, your guide is also at risk of losing his job. Your safety is the responsibility of the guide, so please don't disobey your guide or park rules for the sake of a close up photo.
Despite being away for almost 3 weeks, we took carry-on luggage only. You don't need a lot while on safari. It appears that most of the safari accommodations offer same day laundry service. They also provide shampoo and soap. Many provide conditioner and body lotion as well. Do make sure that everyone in your party has binoculars. As for footwear...if you plan on doing any hiking up in the Ngorongoro highlands, do bring hiking boots. Mornings can be very misty in the highlands, making running shoes wet. Otherwise a pair of running shoes and a pair of sandals should be just fine. I brought sandals and hiking boots with me. And you don't need to pack an umbrella since the accommodations provide them for guests.
We flew United Airlines from Toronto to Washington, and then Ethiopian Airlines from Washington to Kilimanjaro. Each flight went smoothly and there were no delays, so we always managed to arrive as per scheduled. We chose Ethiopian Airlines because they arrive in Kilimanjaro around noon as opposed to KLM which arrives after dark. For most of my husbands career he was a top executive for a major airline and we flew business class at no cost. Several years ago he left the airline business to establish a company that deals with luxury business and private jets, so we no longer have airline privileges. In order to find our flights I went on Trip Advisor and did a flight search. The flight consolidator Vayama came up as offering the best deal in flights, and I booked our flights through them. They provided excellent service and promptly answered any questions I had. I would not hesitate to use them again. I compared the exact same flights and dates with travel agencies and with the airlines themselves, and no one was able to offer the same price as Vayama. I was purchasing 3 adult return tickets from Toronto to Kilimanjaro, and booking through Vayama saved me close to $1,000.00 on the total airfare! My husband has been involved in aviation accident investigations, and he receives regular airline safety reports. There are some airlines he refuses to allow us to travel on because he's aware that they cut corners when it comes to maintenance. He has no issues however with the safety of Ethiopian Airlines. Ethiopian Airlines flies into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia enroute to Kilimanjaro, and the airport in Addis Ababa is a wonderful place to "people watch" as you can observe people from all over Africa...from different tribes, cultures and countries. I enjoyed sitting with my cup of coffee while watching the melting pot of cultures that is found in that airport.
Now...A note to the women...at no time did I find the need to wear a sports bra due to rough roads. Also, if like us you chose to go out all day with a boxed lunch, it's pretty much assured that you'll have to "mark your territory" in the bush at some point. In fact, if you look at some of the "African-style" toilets, you might find going in the bush to be more preferable!!! I want to warn you however...do not wait until the last minute to ask your driver to stop! I made this mistake, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has done so! The road down to Lake Eyasi is rather bumpy, and my bladder was feeling the pinch. There were a lot of locals out and about, walking along the roadside, and there weren't many bushes. There definitely wasn't any rest stops along the way. So I made the decision to hold my bladder until a suitable location could be found to relieve myself. Unfortunately the bumpy drive exasperated the situation, and I found myself facing an emergency! Too late! As I ran towards the nearest bush, my bladder gave out. My embarrassment proved to be a cause for great laughter amongst my husband, daughter and Joseph! I had to yell to my husband to bring my bag of clothing behind the bush so I could get changed!!!! I've been assured that I'm not the only person this has happened to...so I warn you ladies...do not wait until it's too late! If you have to go...don't hold it too long, or like me, you might find yourself changing your clothes behind the bush!!! My husband and daughter are still laughing about this incident!!!
None of us got sick or had any health issues on the trip. We all felt great throughout. Each place provides bottled water, which we not only used for drinking, but also for cleaning our teeth. Although many folks warn against eating salads, we are a salad eating family, and we did eat salads at each of the places we stayed and we never had a problem.
Watch that you don't gain weight while on safari! Every place we stayed at offered HUGE breakfasts, lunches and suppers, and we couldn't possibly eat everything offered. There was just too much food! We chose to eat a light breakfast of fruit and possibly some toast. Then for the most part we had boxed lunches and we could never eat everything in our box! We did not bring any snacks with us to Tanzania, and thank goodness we didn't because there was just too much food offered at the various locations.
As for wildlife sightings...we saw everything we wanted...and more! The only thing we didn't see were snakes! We really hoped we'd see snakes in the wild, and we mentioned this to every ranger we encountered. But we never managed to see a single snake in the wild. We did see tons of wildlife however. We witnessed the migration of wildebeest which is unimaginable unless you've seen it with your own eyes. On many occasions we saw lion, leopard, cheetah, serval cat, the spotted genet cat, bat eared fox, bush babies, giraffe, elephants, ostrich, scrub hare, hippos, hyena, hyrax, black backed and golden jackals, mongoose, blue monkeys, vervet monkeys, colobus monkeys, baboons, bush squirrels, warthogs, zebra, chameleons, nile crocs, nile monitor lizards, leopard tortoises, dik dik's, large bats, buffalo's, bushbucks, duiker's, eland, gazelle, hartebeest, impala, reedbuck, springbok, steenbok, topi, waterbuck, wildebeest, agama lizards, huge millipedes, huge sky blue slugs, dung beetles, skinks, geckos and ant lions. And yes...we saw a couple rhinoceros in Ngorongoro crater. And birds galore! (I'll list them in a later writing). Many of these sightings were right alongside our vehicle! On one occasion we had a male lion and two females laying by the edge of the road, and we watched as the male lion mated with one of the females, and then a few minutes later he mated with the other female. For many of the above mentioned animals, we saw babies interacting with one another and also with the adults.
This trip was everything we'd hoped for and more! I'm heading off to bed now, but tomorrow I'll write about our adventures including the places we stayed and visited. We definitely plan to return. To Karl, Mfuwe and Wormsrascal...we passed your greetings on to Achmed, and he sends his greetings back in return. And especially for Mfuwe...you requested a photo of Achmed with Sassy (the stuffed cat our daughter received when she was 2...and as per tradition, she takes Sassy with her on all her travels). Well I got the photo! Achmed happily agreed to be photographed with Sassy. I'll let you all know once we post our photos online.
My wish is that everyone has an adventure in Tanzania that is as wonderful as the adventure we've just had!