Tanzania (17 May thru 28 May)
The Tanzania safari of our three country trip was arranged by African Serendipity working with Roy Safari. This was our third safari with Roy and we were pleased to again have Nicholas as our guide. At the Namanga border as we said good bye to Allan from Wildtrek Safari we greeted Nicholas and then cleared immigration. The visa ($100US per person) official was very efficient. Once he realized we had been to Tanzania several times he greeted us with the largest smile possible. We visited recently cleaned restrooms and left a tip for the young staff member. She asked for a bill with an issue of 2006 or newer. First time we have encountered a problem with lower denomination bills. Then off for a 2 hr drive to Arusha by way of Moshi. Once past Moshi we recognized numerous sites from our trip thru there last May. Nicholas stopped for fresh vegetables at a roadside stand saying prices were much better there than in Arusha.
We got to the African Tulip about noon but opted to eat later in the day. There the exchange rate was 1,500 tshillings for $1 while the Barclay bank a block down the street offered 1,532 per $1. Enjoyed soda and snacking nuts at open area near the pool while we read. Variable sunbirds, mousebirds and masked weavers also kept us entertained. Had a huge room for the night. Ate supper at 7pm. Had clear broth chicken soup, rolls, pork chops, chips (French fries to us yanks), veggies, a Serengeti beer, and 3 sodas for 54,000 tshillings. After a buffet breakfast we met with Sanjay owner of Roy Safaris for the pre-safari briefing and then we were off. Traffic wasn’t too bad. The ever present dali-dali or minivan taxis were out in great numbers as were numerous motorbikes and 2-wheeled carts carrying just about everything from produce to cut lumber to used clothes and more. Scenes looked familiar from last year. The new Heritage Cultural Center was not yet complete. Fellows were cutting roadside grass for animal fodder, ladies were offering freshly roasted ears of corn and workers were picking coffee at plantations along the way.
Once past Makuyuni (turn off to Manyara, N. Conservation area and the Serengeti) we soon began to see zebra and knew Tarangire NP was getting close. At the park entrance Nicholas did the normal paper processing while we looked around. A red-chested cuckoo soon caught my eye and the photos (IMO) were great! Knew we were in for a great safari! Woodland kingfisher, red-cheeked cordon-bleu, ashy starling, ring-neck dove, superb starlings, common drongo and red-billed hornbill were seen even before we began the drive into the park. The road was a mess. It was very rough from ruts due to recent rains. Piles of fresh gravel had been dumped here and there making for interesting maneuvering until the road crew could spread and pack it.
As we approached Tarangire Safari Lodge we noticed quite a variety of game in the area. Waterbuck and impala were grazing behind tents and a family of warthog was enjoying the temporary pond near the water tower. We moved into tent #22 furthest from the lodge and a favorite from past stays. During our 2011 stay I took (with permission) a photograph of the crepe/omelet chef. Thinking she might still be at TSL I printed a copy for her. Yes, she was in the kitchen. Obviously, she was quite surprised and certainly appreciative of the gift.
Vegetation in the park was quite lush from recent rains. Made game spotting a bit more challenging but certainly did not detract from game drives. We think we saw more elephants than ever before. Wasn’t long before we spotted our first lions, two lionesses and maybe 5 cubs in a tree sleeping away the afternoon. One rather large bull elephant mock charged us trumpeting loudly in the process!
Highlights of our stay in Tarangire NP:
Not a plus, the tsetse flies were just about the worst we experienced in all our safaris. One morning before a picnic breakfast I had killed 12 (Darla 8). We no longer subscribe to the idea of simply moving them to an open window or out the top. Rather, we used the flyswatter to pin the critter against the window and then squash them. Twice I had them crawl up my pant legs and render major bites on my thighs. After I squashed those two I had blood seeping thru my pants. The next game drive I bloused my pants legs into my socks. Not exactly stylish but more comfortable.
Wildlife around the tent/lodge. Heard lions and hyena during the night. And, more impala and elephant activity than ever before. Continued to be amazed how quiet elephant can be while browsing. A fellow tenter told us she saw a family less than 20 feet from our tent early one morning. We were awake but didn’t hear them.
Birding. It was great! Brown-hooded kingfisher, orange-bellied parrots, scaly francolin, blue-cheeked bee-eater, pearl-spotted owlet, and more. Even at the tent we had quite a variety of birds to keep us busy during mid-day breaks. Brown-crowned tchagra, green-winged pytillia, African hoopoe, woodpecker and others were to be seen. From the porch of our tent we could see several vultures sunning themselves on a sand bar farther up the river. On the drive out of the park we spotted two Abyssinian scimitarbills on flowering bushes but the rascals never faced us for a good picture!
Relaxing at the lodge patio area before the evening meal. A variety of drinks were available and staff provided munchies (popcorn, nachos w/salsa, and roasted nuts). Food at TSL was very good. Not always a buffet. One meal was bean soup, rolls, beef kabobs, potatoes, peas, carrots, a cucumber/tomato salad, and a choice of desserts. Lunch buffets included potato soup, chichen w/parm sauce, rice, green beans, cauliflower, salad, and a fruit crumble or fruit salad for dessert.
Getting stuck during one game drive. I thought Nicholas was pushing his luck, so to speak, at one particular wet area near the river. I thought we would be stranded for hours but with 4-wheel drive and a light foot he got us moving. I still recall seeing mud (in a slow motion sense)from the spinning tires coming thru the open window and splattering my lovely wife. We all had a laugh as he negotiated the swampy area. Then we saw the blue-cheeked bee-eater.
Our itinerary called for us to drive to Kirurumu Camp for lunch and then a game drive in Lake Manyara NP. We asked if we could take a box lunch and go right into the park rather than drive to the camp, eat, and then retrace our steps. No problem. In the town of Mto Wa Mbu besides noting people heading to/from church service, and colorful stands selling paintings/gifts we saw pavement under trees in the far end of town a dirty white color. Turned out great numbers of white storks, yellow-billed storks and pelicans were nesting there and their significant droppings discolored anything and everything underneath!
While we waited at the park entrance for Nicholas to process paperwork, numerous adult storks were flying about and making considerable noise. The lake level was up and water was past the observation fence at the hippo pool. Nicholas drove us along the lake well into the interior of the park. We saw fewer and fewer vehicles as we went. I recognized the wallow where we saw the Peter’s Twin Spot last year. Hopeful for another sighting but no luck. Looked like we were headed for the hot springs area and that would be new to us. Soon a bus with students came towards us and the driver said something about the road being terrible. We came onto a stretch where only 4-wheel drive would work! And, then it got worse. In the process, we saw a small flock of crested guineafowl, a new bird for us! And, these normally shy birds stayed on the road a bit for picture taking. Finally, we told Nicholas as much as we appreciated his efforts to show us new areas road conditions did not favor such. We were able to turn around and negotiate the deep muddy ruts one more time.
While in the park we saw probably more elephant than all the previous trips combined! It was particularly enjoyable to watch a large group taking turns in a small pond. From young ones completely immersing themselves to old tuskers rolling on their sides to get wet. Some would get a good mud bath and then fling dust over their backs to complete the coating.
Did not see silver-cheeked hornbill on this trip. Blue-napped mousebirds eluded my efforts to photograph them showing the beautiful blue nape and bright red base of the bill and around the eye. Just about when we were to depart the park (where the small springs come out of the hillside) we noticed a rather large bird drinking at one. An adult palm-nut vulture—an unusual visitor to the park.
Then a short drive up the main road turning off on the gravel road to Kirurumu Tented Camp. The private stretch to KTC was undergoing construction of drainage bridges and was extra bumpy. We got tent #25 a new one for us to the right side of the dining area as one faced the lake. It was quite large with three mosquito net-covered 4-post beds and a roomy bathroom. Soda cost 2,000 t. shilling each. Since we were not leaving early we had ample time to look for birds along paths near the tents. Speckled mousebirds, black bishop, common bulbul, laughing dove, spotted morning-thrush, variable sunbird, chin-spotted batis and black-crowned tchagra kept us entertained.
The drive to the Ndutu was uneventful. Nearing the gate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area mist began to fill the air making it impossible to see the crater floor. Traffic was light on the rim road and we kept looking for wildlife. Coming down from the highlands we recalled the site of the lorry wreck last May, a few small pieces of wreckage marked the spot. Besides Maasai with cattle, goats, and donkeys, we began seeing ostrich, antelope and kori bustard. It was much drier on this side of the highlands. We ate a box lunch under an acacia tree a few yards from the road.
Wildlife became more abundant as we moved across the short grass plains to the acacia woodlands closer to Lake Masek. Thoughts turned to tse-tse flies but they were not there in numbers this time. The thick acacia woodlands, open grassy areas and the lake provided for a great mix of habitats for game watching. Dryer than we expected we still saw numerous elephant sometimes as singles and sometimes as small family groups, numbers of giraffe and a variety of bird. Then, Nicholas would take us onto the short grass plains where we saw Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, zebra, the occasional group of wildebeest, hyena, ostrich, mongoose, and birds including secretary birds, vultures, sandgrouse, grey gulls and others. Around the marshes we found lions, cheetah, more water-related birds, and even a caracal but for a very short time. Nicholas checked out a couple of water holes which were mostly wet mud. It was obvious concentrations of wildebeest had moved on.
At Lake Masek Tented Camp we had the Pimbi Tent one of the closest to the main lodge for three nights. I think the first night we were the only guests. We discovered the one chef I photographed in 2011 had transferred to another lodge so the photo I provided would be forwarded to her. We were delighted Nicholas could dine with us and that the Internet was available for use. I had trouble mastering the keyboard as the configuration was a bit different. Pimbi tent was very comfortable, had plenty of hot water, and several species of birds hanging around the immediate area. The purple grenadier would not cooperate for a good picture but it was still great to walk around the lodge on our own game walk seeing silverbird, black-faced waxbill, Diederik cuckoo and others. At night besides the nearby hippos we also heard hyena and lion. Staff could not have been any more accommodating. We enjoyed sitting on the deck watching the sunset, listening to the local spurfowl, munching nuts and sipping drinks. Food was okay. Maybe due to the low occupancy we had lots of leftovers and no special meals like May of 2011 when a stir-fry buffet was provided. I later found out Quiltingmamma, a fellow poster on Trip Advisor was there for a one nite stay at the same time.
Highlights of our time in the Ndutu area included:
Sighting several cheetah including a mom and two cubs in the marsh, three brothers near the old boma and a mother with six cubs on the plains. Seeing lions near the inlet to the one marsh and a lioness not too far from the lodge. When we got closer to her she wandered into the brush patch adjacent to the road almost the same place as in May of 2011. In that patch we saw a couple more including at least one manned lion. Seeing more eland than I have ever seen! And, they certainly lived up to their reputation as being skiddish. Usually about the time we spotted them they would take off at quite a run! A small group of hartebeest near the one marsh. We watched several hippos move from the shore where they had been grazing on grass to deeper areas of the lake. Took awhile for the single file of hippo to wade out thru the muck.
The largest serving of wine I have ever seen. Beverages except for mixed drinks and specialty wine were included in our plan at Lake Masek Tented Camp. One evening as a pre-dinner “sun-downer” I opted for a glass of red wine. I overhead the sever telling the barman to use the large glass. Much to my surprise the “glass” was more like a small-size fish bowl requiring both hands to carry it! My “touch of the grape” provided much humor for the server who said he would be glad to fill it anytime.
Then, after a game drive we headed towards the Naabi Hill gate to the Serengeti. There, we enjoyed a picnic lunch and watched traffic while Nicholas did the paperwork. A special truck rigged for serious filming drove thru and caught the attention of everyone. Also, a bus stopped and passengers were taking advantage of rest rooms and a small general store. We loaded up but did not continue to the gate as we usually do but turned back towards Ngorongoro. Then, Nicholas made an immediate left and headed towards the Gol Koppes. We had never been on that road so the excitement was high in anticipation of new territory to see. Less than a ¼ mile from Naabi Hill we passed a dozen or so elephant in the shade of acacia trees. Then, it was what seemed like hours of mostly tall grass with but the occasional group of antelope, ostrich and the like. That drive gave me reason to appreciate the immenseness of the Serengeti! For miles as far as one could see the plains and small rises of knee to waist high grass but with little visible wildlife. I was beginning to wonder if we were on the right track. But then, looking back I saw 3 or 4 other vehicles following us in the distance so I knew something interesting was ahead. As we crested one hill we saw a black area on a far horizon and the area was moving. Wildebeest and zebra too numerous to count were moving in a general north-northwest direction towards the Seronera Valley. We intercepted another mass of bodies further down the road as some were heading to pools in the river. Dust, flies, odor of wildebeest/zebra and the noise reinforced the idea that we caught up to the “migration. We continued to head downstream into the Seronera area seeing elephant, hippo, steenbok, and a reedbuck hidden in streamside vegetation. We noted the low water level in the hippo pool. Seems rainfall has not been that great so far this season. And, with the hordes of wildebeest and zebra entering the watershed levels will get even lower!
Typical of the setting around any pool in the river, one could expect to see hippos and certainly a community of bird life including, African fish eagle, doves, kingfisher, blacksmith plover, black crake, maybe a grey heron or marabou stork and even Egyptian geese.
On another game drive we headed to the Maasai Koppes where we intercepted a major concentration of wildebeest coming into the Seronera area. One column was maybe 3 or 4 animals wide and moving at a brisk pace at times. Darla counted 150 per minute crossing the road. Then, the head of the column stopped but the herd kept pouring into the area forming what seemed like a solid mass of wildebeest a couple hundred yards wide in any direction. A camera vehicle moved here and there filming the herd until finally it stopped for the crew to enjoy lunch. Likewise, we had our box lunch of chicken, juice (cranberry/kiwi), bananas, apples, cupcake and water. Leaving the area we came upon a partially eaten wildebeest with five lions (one wearing a research collar) under a dense bush. Looking closer we saw a dead but uneaten adult wildebeest next to the group and a dead baby wildebeest! Heading back to camp we spied two leopard in a tree with a third in another maybe 100 yards away.
At Mbuzi Mawe Camp we had tent #7 furthest from the lodge in the same area we stayed in November, 2009. Staff was very accommodating and quite pleased when they heard we were returning guests. The dining tent was well occupied but not terribly noisy. Sodas were $2 each and the food was excellent. The first night we had eggplant soup, garden salad, rolls, and either pork chops with potatoes and veggies or beef fillet with rice and veggies. Then, we saw the entire kitchen and wait staff coming into the dining room singing and dancing. Thinking such was a typical greeting we simply enjoyed the event until it was obvious they are stopping at our table. We were presented with a decorated cake saying “Karibu Tena” -- welcome back! Guess they really did appreciate returning guests.
A bull cape buffalo grazing practically at the foot of the steps from the lodge dining tent. Only time in all our safaris where we encountered such upon returning to our tent after the evening meal. Our escort shined his light at the buffalo and not seeing any body language of aggression motioned for us to continue towards our tent.
Numerous elephants feeding near the Seronera airstrip with impala and topi nearby. Seeing a safari vehicle full of photographers with some of the longest telephoto lens I have seen. They were seeking birds and at the Seronera visitor’s center were enjoying stalking sunbirds and others. A lioness in a tree.
We felt a bit sad leaving the Sergenti but were cheered up with the prospect of two nites at the Crater and an early morning game drive there. Nicholas took us a slightly different route to the main road to Naabi Hill reducing dust from traffic.
We opted to try the Crater Serena as we had always used the Sopa. We thought it might be interesting see the habitat around the Serena particularly for birding during “down time”. After a fine lunch (grilled chicken with BBQ sauce or beef stir fry with French fires and veggies) in the dining room with the great views of the crater we relaxed by exploring the lodge. We were amazed with all the stone work in constructing the lodge and the exercise one got from climbing the stairs to the main level. At 4 pm we ventured out with an armed ranger for a walk to the crater rim. Soon after leaving the lodge property we came to the watering trough and spring used by the Maasai for their herds. For both of us this brought back memories of being back on the farm as we gently walked between cows and avoiding cow patties. Our guide told us the spring is used particularly by cape buffalo during the dry season. He also told us about various plants along the way and identified various birds. We were delighted to see yellow-winged sunbirds, a new species for us! Our trek took an upward direction and soon we were on a very narrow path and then a steep but grassy hillside with a long drop to the crater floor below. The angle was impressive and I was glad we were not doing the walk when vegetation was wet as footing could be slippy. From our vantage point we could look across a narrow valley and down onto the Serena Lodge. The stonework looked even more impressive from that angle.
For the evening meal I expected a jam-packed dining room much like we had experienced at the Sopa. But, it was quite different and in a very nice way. Our table was up on a small balcony with a few other tables and overlooking the main dining area. It was a bit more intimate and broke up what otherwise would have been a big dining room. While we ordered from the menu, salads, breads, desserts and other items were available at the buffet area. Very nice atmosphere! One very large party (maybe three or so families) kind of became a nuisance as the kids were everywhere and the men stood in the middle of the room for discussion paying no attention to the children and behavior. The meal was excellent and we enjoyed side conversation with our server.
Nicholas suggested an early morning crater game drive with a picnic breakfast. We slept quite well, arose at0530 hrs, and met him at the appointed time. Spotted a hyena crossing the rim road as we neared the turn-off to the gate. I was pleased we were probably the first vehicle. The sun wasn’t quite up yet but as we leveled out on the crater floor a cheetah crossed the road in front of us! First cheetah we have seen in the crater in the seven times we visited there! Then, we spotted two manned lions strolling past elephant, zebra and antelope. As the sun continued to climb in the sky we got a good view of the Serena from the crater floor. A pack of hyena with several young ones caught our attention. Then, into the Lerai Forest. I was looking forward to revisiting that habitat particularly in regards to birds. We were not disappointed. At one wooded glen where a small stream flowed under the road we saw at least four different species. Besides the woodland kingfisher which Darla always enjoys we got quite close to white-headed barbets, tropical bulbul, and dusky turtle doves. We had seen white-headed barbets on a previous trip but were not able to photograph them. Numerous elephant were in the area. Also, we saw Hildebrandt francolin.
Soon, Nicholas headed to the hippo pool and picnic site near the rest rooms for our picnic breakfast. He inloaded three folding chairs, table and table cloth. With thermos of hot water we made tea and coffee and had a nice breakfast. A rather large bull elephant strolled into the area and the folks eating at the one safari vehicle had to scramble to get inside in the event the tusker veered closer. All morning long rain clouds were present and often we could see showers in parts of the crater. We spotted a rhino lying down with the alkaline lake as a background. He got up and began walking on a course we thought might bring him closer to the road. But, he “tinkled” and laid down again. At the same time a cheetah wandered across the landscape and the two highly-sought animals drew a lot of attention. At one point, I counted 24 vehicles along a 150 yard stretch. I really appreciated the eyesight of our guide. While everyone was affixed on the rhino and cheetah, he announced to us a lion was lying in the grass also near the lake!
After a while we headed back to the Lerai forest and in the process spotted a second rhino in a grassy area. Didn’t really get to watch that one as it moved into brush. Then, we headed out of the crater. As we were used to taking the road near the Sopa Lodge this route was completely new to us. It was breathtaking in my opinion! With switch-backs and drop offs I was impressed. My pictures do not do justice to the steepness nor the view. From the lodge as I watched Maasai men and boys bring their herds out of the crater I was reminded of the effort required to tend those animals so important to them and their culture. Shortly, rain clouds moved into the area and one could not see the crater. Was very glad we took the walk the day before as the path would have been quite slippery.
The second night’s meal was equally delicious and the atmosphere was even better (as the large multi-family group was not there)! We appreciated our server knowing she probably has to deal with some very trying guests. When she brought our meals I suggested she grab a fork, pull up a chair and join us. I am sure I surprised her with the invitation but her reaction including a huge grin said enough!
On our way back to Arusha, Nicholas needed to stop in Karatu. So, we enjoyed sitting in the vehicle and watching life in the town. Once in Arusha we headed to the African Tulip for lunch and a chance to shower and change clothes before the ride to Kilimanjaro Airport for the flight to Nairobi and onward.
Looking back, our time in Tanzania was excellent! Probably saw more wildlife than on any other trip, added new birds to our list, had a quick sighting of a caracal, and renewed acquaintances with Nicholas, Sanjay and a few staffers at camps. Appreciated the efforts of Roy Safaris to again provide us with a memorable safari. Would we do anything different? Probably not. Sure one can get into the should have-could have game of second guessing choice of lodging particularly in regards to the migration but who can tell months earlier what conditions will be like? Plus, there is a whole lot more to see than several thousand wildebeest and zebra.
The link to our pictures on kodakgallery.com is a below:
I understand in early July the site will be closing with albums transferred to shutterfly.com. Have not yet pursued process for viewing them there.