Joe Goes on Safari

Trip Start Sep 08, 2007
Trip End Apr 30, 2008

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Sunday, February 10, 2008

WARNING:  This entry covers pretty much the whole safari, so IS a bit long - pictures are forthcoming to make it more interesting!!!

While I thought the adventure would begin on the Serengeti, it actually started in Zanzibar Airport!  So I show up and just planned on buying my ticket for later that day.  I go to the ticket desk for ZanAir (a regional airline serving destination as exotic as, well, Zanzibar) and ask if I can get on the next flight.  The guy says sure and I ask him what time it leaves, to which he responds 10:30.  As it was already 10:15, I figured I was out of luck.  But the man confidently corrected me: "The plane leaves when I tell it to."  So as I waited in the terminal (after a rigorous security check where the scanner was broken and the guards asked "What is in your bags" to which I responded "Clothes, sunscreen, and shampoo" and away we went) and I tried to figure out which plane was ours (figuring it wasn't there, as surely they were all WAY too small!) I saw my luggage brought to the tarmac and leaned against the terminal door (extending walkway to the plane you ask?  I'm afraid not).  The flight was set to board and the 8 of us made our way out onto the tarmac (and which point I offered to carry my checked luggage to the plane for them, which was very greatly appreciated by the staff).  We were brought to what I thought would be what would ferry us to the REAL plane, but no, we were flying in a Cessna (into which I loaded my checked baggage myself -at least I knew it would get there!).  The plane was actually comfortable enough, and I was quite excited about it, although I did get a little nervous as the pilot continued to text someone on his cell phone as we taxi'd and prepared for takeoff.  As we lifted off I assumed the cell phone would be switched off - how foolish of me - the pilot continued to text throughout the flight!  The flight itself was great actually, and we had amazing views of Kiliminjaro (which apparently are rare during the day).  We landed in Arusha and as we taxi'd back down the runway to the terminal, I noticed something ahead - not a bird, not a plane, oh, wait, it WAS a plane, making a landing as we were still on the runway!  Just as we turned off the tarmac, the plane touched down - Ah Tanzania! 

I got settled in Arusha at a great hostel and met up with my friend Caolan who is working at the Rwanda Criminal Tribunal there.  He showed me the town and we had a great afternoon and evening - went to a great place for chicken and a really nice resto frequented by ex-pats.  The city of Arusha is actually really quite nice - a little dusty and definitely not what one would be used to from a Western perspective, but there was a certain harmony to everything (although at dusk all the white people run for cover as walking out at night is a big no-no).  The next day I made my way to the Bama Kambi Lodge, the starting point for my Safari.  I checked in and then went out onto the terrace and met a bunch of the other group members - it seemed like a great group (it was actually an AMAZING group, but more on that later).  I dashed back out into town with them and met Caolan for lunch and then he gave me a tour of the tribunal - thanks again Caolan for showing me Arusha! It was great! 

I then spent about an hour trying to get my frigging insurance papers printed - the safari leader needed to see them (actually he didn't, but i thought he did at the time) and I also booked my ticket back to Nairobi for post-safari.  That night the whole Safari gang met back at the hotel for an intro dinner and a review of our itinerary - it still really wasn't sinking in that I was about to trek across the Serengeti!  It was crazy!  The rest of the group also seemed great (again, they were fab!) and i was super excited the next day when we loaded our stuff into our two 9-person landrovers (with extendable roofs that allowed us to stand and look out) and headed out of town

The drive to Lake Manyara (our first stop) was a couple of hours and gave us quite a taste of the Tanzanian countryside.  All of us kept commenting on how beautiful the countryside was.  As I got to know my fellow safari-ers, I began to appreciate how lucky I was to have such a great group to travel with (always important when travelling alone!).  You also could see the terrain changing as we got closer - the ground was much more fertile and the housing and towns were much more developed than Arusha and surrounds.  As we drove down the highway, we got our first game sighting - a big ole giraffe was having dinner on the side of the highway (it served as a border between the parks, and the animals often wander around).  The excitement was getting a little crazy (Christine, one of the women who I hit it off with right away on the trip, and I kept grabbing each other and saying "We're on Safari!")  We arrived at our camp - very cute area, that was actually quite busy - and then headed off for our first game drive around Lake Manyara. 

We were greeting almost immediately by several families of baboons - they were everwhere!  We also spotted a blue monkey.  Perhaps the most fabulous part of all was when we were driving by a creek and I spotted something - just looked like a brown lump but I thought it could be hair/fur.  We back up and realized after watchign it for a bit it was an elephant - I spotted our first elephant!  We circled around and watched it spray mud all over itself (they like this apparently).  Several others came along and we sat and watched as they cross the road in front of us.  There were countless sightings like this - perhaps the most exciting one was when we watched a pair of them fighting each other (just after we'd spotted our first lion!).  The park gave us viewings of countless birds, impala, hippos, dik diks (no, NOT my favourite animal!) - we all discussed at dinner that night how taken aback we were with the amount of what we saw - SURELY it wasn't going to get better than this!  During dinner I also managed to slice my thumb open as I tried to clean my new swiss army knife after drinking too many beers (Thank you Debbie, my wonderful tent-mate, for tending the wounded!).

The next day we set out for Serengeti National Park - which invovled driving through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Olduvai Gorge (the place where they found the footprints of super early man - we stopped for a brief lunch and lecture visit).  We stopped at the border of the Serengeti for pics and then headed in!  I got to sit (mostly stand actually) at the front of the open-roof truck almost the whole way, just MARVELLING at the plains stretching in every direction - you really felt like you were at the end of the earth (I must also admit that the lyrics to Circle of Life were playing rather loudly in my head - thank you Disney for shaping every special moment of my life).

The two nights we spent there will stick with me for a long time.  The first night you could actually hear the lions (the males call to each other - they sounded super close but we were assured we were always safe).  The jackals literally played right next to our camp and one evening I watched Zebra walk by as I brushed my teeth.  The camp was great - really quiet, we almost had it to ourselves.  The group and I were just so excited the whole time - so enthusiastic about being there and getting to see what we were seeing!  Definite highlights include the pride of about 15 lions we stumbled upon, and definitely sighting a leopard (one of the hardest of the "Big 5" to spot!) and watching him climb a tree to nap over his very recent kill of Impala.  We saw so many zebra, gazelle, water buffalo, elephants, hippos, even a crocodile or two!  By the end of it we counted that we'd seen at least 40 lions!!  On our last day, as we left the park and headed to Ngorongoro, we hit part of the large migration that brought huge herds of zebra and wildebeest from Kenya into the Serengeti - the plains were just FULL of hundreds of thousands of the animals, spreading sooooo widely!  It was amazing!

As we journeyed back to Ngorongoro, we stopped at a Maasasi village - kind of weird since we were paying to enter someone's home and invade their culture, but I heard there was a market there so I felt much better.  We were all paired off to different guides - the three single guys (myself included) were given to this one warrior.  He first asked us how old we were (the youngest of us was 24) and where our wives were.  When we told him none of us were married, he was shocked, explaining he already had 2 wives and just as many children at the age of 20 (I explained I was simply MUCH too busy to be married).  Nonetheless it was very interesting to see the village, and I did buy a small souvenir (a Maasai "lion" tooth necklace - pretty sure it's carved cow bone)!  Onward!

The camp at Ngorongoro was not as cozy - it's the only one, so is very busy - but it was fun all the same.  Best highlight was definitely when I came out of the bathroom and Debbie told me she was staring at an elephant behind the latrine - I told her she was full of shit but she insisted, so I indulged her.  Not only was an elephant behind the latrine, but he was trying to mate with ANOTHER elephant behind the latrine!  A crowd gathered and we watched for a while, but he couldn't seem to figure things out (men are always the same, regardless of species it seems), so we left them to it.  Later in the evening, I went to the bathroom and caught movement out of the corner of my eye - one of them had moved closer up the path, so I watched a bit.  He kept coming closer and closer!  I got a picture with him right behind me, where I thought he'd stop - NOPE!  He came RIGHT into the camp for a drink of water from (what I'm TOLD was) our cooking water tank!  It was so crazy!

The next day we did our last game tour through the Ngorongoro Crater area - the oldest cauldera (I think that means extinct volcano) in the world, or so I'm told.  The mission was to stop the very difficult to find black rhino - and spot them we did!  About 7 of them actually, but from super far away (the pictures, once posted, will illustrate this).  Apparently they are very aggressive and the guides are leery of getting too close!  So it was then with somehwat of heavy hearts (I think for everyone) that we began the journey back to Arusha and civilization once again!  The trip was a bit long, but we did stop at a souvenire shop (our guides suggested this was the best place to buy souvenirs) and I picked up the ever-essential salad spoons with handles in the shape of game animals (zebras for me) and a neat carved bowl.  We bot to Arusha in the early evening and I think I had a 45 minute shower - it had been WAYYYYY too long!  We all gathered for one last dinner, reminiscing about what already seemed to be a MUCH too distant memory and exchanged emails and invitations to visit (a reminder to everyone - I WILL take up those offers!). 

The next morning, those of us who were left had breakfast, chatted some more, said more goodbyes, and then slowly headed out of the city.  I shared a taxi with Sue, a woman from Toronto (Dave and Debbie - Sue suggests beers this summer!) to Kiliminjaro airport where I flew to Nairobi to meet Allison -is the adventure over you ask?   Not a chance!

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