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ArushaOur non-stop flight, on Air Tanzania, to Kilimanjaro Airport, near Arusha, jumping off point for Tanzania safaris, stopped first in Bujumburu, Burundi! A whole bunch of Chinese tourists came onboard. Non-stop in Africa often means "maybe non-stop." Its like having a DC to NY flight diverted to Nashville to pick up some Shriners.
But we went out and walked into the terminal so we can count Burundi. 28 years ago I was at the Ruanda-Burundi border and the Burundians told me to go home. We just read, by the way, Season of Blood by Fergal Keane, about the horrific Ruanda bloodbaths of 1994. The world (and the US) just stood by as a million were slaughtered in 100 days!
Arusha is Tanzania's 4th city and is a bustling, noisy, but vibrant place. Our first hotel, the Arusha by Nite annex, near our Safari company, was noisy and hot-waterless and not a bargain at $10. We enjoyed meandering through town and were amazed at all the Internet Cafes.
We had an extra day here so we took a day hike on nearby Mt. Meru. Great walk to about 9000 ft on the 14,500 ft peak. We visited a Masai Boma and a 'moonshine' operation. Our guide for the day was Jonas and afterwards we set him up on yahoo so email him. His employee, our safari company, Sunny Safari, says they'll help him with access.
Arusha is safari central for the northern Tanzania circuit; there are well over 100 safari companies with prices ranging from $80-300 pp/pd (per person/per day). After a reasonable amount of online research we took an 8 day camping safari deal from Sunny Safari for about $85 pp/pd; and we can highly recommend them. You can always make arrangements within a day in town but you may not get the price or itinerary you seek so it is not a bad idea to reserve in advance if possible. You won't find a reputable company providing safaris at a significantly better price. With email you can customize your itinerary before you begin!
A couple of other suggestions. Binoculars are required. Our safari-mates, 2 Italian women who talked incessantly but were pleasant enough, didn't have a pair and we were continuously loaning them ours. We had a camera with a 140 mm lens ... fine for scenery but, if you want animal pictures, come with 300 mm or forget it!
We had a standard issue Land Rover with a top that popped up for game viewing. It easily sat the 6 of us comfortably with our packs in back or on top. We had a driver-guide, Tadeo, who was very reserved but knew his stuff. Our cook, Shabani, took very good care of us; we were never even slightly hungry.
We started at nearby Arusha National Park. It rained hard that afternoon so the game drive wasn't real productive but we saw alot of giraffe close up and lotsa buffalo, zebra, warthog, waterbuck, bushbuck, baboon and eastern Black and White Colobus monkeys (different color patterns than the westerns we saw at Kibale). The volcano craters at Arusha are fascinating.
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The next day we drove back to town and then westward towards Lake Manyara NP; a beautiful Park, big lake, lush countryside but, again, not great in terms of game. It is famous for tree climbing lions but they are very hard to find. A friend of ours set up an elephant research center here many years ago and we went over to take a few photos. He'll be depressed when we tell him that no work is going on there at the present. But we saw an infant baboon, maybe a week old, and his antics made the day; then elephant, zebra, dik-dik, giraffe, impala, vultures, tops of hippo.
So much for the opening acts ... now it was on to the Serengeti where we'd spend 2 nights. On the way we stopped at Ngorogoro crater for lunch, at the spot we'd camp in a few days. Some ravens and crows (or kite?) attacked the Italians, grabbing sandwiches from their hands - so we ate in the car.
The Serengeti is the epitome of game parks, historically and in the present. It is a vast endless plain with, in the dry season, no green. The incredible wildebeest migration was months ago and there wasn't a single wildebeest
around. But there was plenty to see. Why even overnight lion and hyena visited our campground, although we didn't really venture out to meet with them.
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One day we came across a group of lion, with at least 1 cub, that had apparently just finished eating something since there were some vultures munching on a carcass. A lioness was having some sort of disagreement with an elephant who proceded to trumpet and chase her. There were alot of young elephant so maybe that was a factor.
We saw 3 cheetah; one was standing on a hill, alone, when we spied her - she turned and began to walk off and first one then another little cub (maybe a month old) came out to scurry off, possibly on a trip to the grocery. Another Cheetah was standing alone watching some gazelle a few hundred yards off in the distance. She was debating "can i catch them or should I take a nap" and she kept looking back to us, maybe wondering if we'd do something dumb to frighten them off. A third was laying on a big rock and occasionally picked up his head.
We saw 2 leopards in trees and they were, essentially, motionless ... these cats are lazy! We also saw the required lion pride laying around flat on their backs. We were able to drive up so that they were right by the vehicle. We also saw a hunting group from a distance ... maybe a km away we watched as first one appeared and then one by one they came out of the grass marching in single file. It was fascinating in that they were invisible one second, then there were 2, then 4, then 6, etc. Sobering isn't it, when you have to jump out for a quick piss! (we did hear of Leopard killing a ranger as he guarded a lady so engaged ... in Krueger ... but that was at night) Even at that distance they cut quite a presence through the binoculars.
Our vehicle had a radio and Sunny had 5 other groups in the park and so the drivers were always telling each other where animals were. Still any safari involves long periods of nothingness followed by bursts of neat events. I figured that a neat event per hour would be good and sometimes that's what we'd get. Sometimes neat events would be from afar or would be small animals, like when we spotted a pair of foxlike aardwolves - rarely seen in daylight.
A really neat moment was seeing a wild dog in Krueger ... hard to say why something strikes one as neat. Sometimes just watching some cute warthogs was great fun especially if there were some young. Of course wherever we went in the Serengeti we weren't far from something; lots of warthogs, zebra, impala and usually gazelle (thomsons and grants) and a few elephants everyday. Also hartebeest, ostrich (with chicks - in S.A. we saw Ostrich on their nests), Bustards (thats a U - these guys are one of the largest flying birds left on earth), Eagles, vultures and Maribou Storks (talk about ugly!), red-billed teal, egyptian geese and various ducks and geese and the bizarre Secretary Bird.
At a crocodile pool they let us walk around although everyone jumped when a croc moved. These guys move real fast. Saw a video of a croc getting a buffalo ... amazing! Hippos shared the pool and we saw several other hippo pools; these animals look so contented! We saw several hyena with 2 cubs wander in some bush and some dik-dik jumped out. They were lucky the hyena weren't hunting.
The campbirds were neat, brilliant colored starlings, wrens, canaries, weaver birds (whose nests are works of art) and all sorts of other songbirds ... very bold as most campbirds tend to be. The band of baboon that lived by our campsite waged constant warfare with the guides and cooks; they stole a loaf of bread from us and our cook was pissed!
Perhaps the most exciting visitors were the howling hyenas and lion that visited camp one night. First the unusual vocalizations of the hyena woke us and had us wonder if it was if it was true that hyena NEVER came through a closed tent. (While we were in S.A., hyena took an 11 y.o American boy from his apparently open tent one night!) Then more sounds, a very loud growl and a fight. We saw a guard walk slowly towards the sounds with a lantern, leave it and back away. In the morning we learned that hyena had been all over the camp, which is usual, but the lion that came in to fight with them was not. The light drove them away.
Next was Ngorogoro Crater, perhaps the densest collection of wild animals in the world. It is the largest unbroken, unflooded caldera in the world and has been declared a World Heritage Site. The crater is 12 miles across, the floor a plain varying from 500-2000 feet below the rim; a self contained ecosystem. Animals can and do come and go but, by and large, the population is very stable. Two anomolies - no giraffe and no female elephants.
They warned us about elephant in the campground on the crater rim and, sure enough, at 5:30pm sharp an elephant appeared to drink from the big water barrel. What a surprise for Janet as she sauntered out of the head! The next night two elephants showed up. The crater rim peaks at about 7900 feet and we were a little below that but when the wind blew, which it did, it got quite chilly once the sun went down.
We spent a full day in the crater and it really was a full day. For the first time we could drive alongside hundreds of animals, wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, impala, warthogs dominated and you could imagine what it would be like during migration with thousands of these wherever you looked. During the day we saw warthogs, impala, lion, gazelle, zebra, wildebeest, hyena, a few black rhino (a first for us - all the rhino we saw in SA were white rhino - so called because of their wide snouts (whit in german became white), hippo, elephant, hartebeest, waterbuck, eland, vervet monkeys. As for birds I noted ostrich, pelicans, kite, maribou stork, vultures, the sacred ibis, crested crane (flying!), corey bustards, ducks, flamingoes, guinea fowl, pelicans (the champs of coordinated fishing), stilt.
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We came across a hyena den with daddy laying about 100 yards away and a little cub maybe 2 months old laying in the entrance hole. Stopped at a nice lake for lunch (no potty stops in the crater except a couple of designated areas). The lake seemed empty but then we'd see these eyes appearing here and there. We finally decided that there were at least a dozen hippo in the lake. Eventually some flamingo and pelican showed up as well as a lone bull elephant. Our driver, Tadeo, saw a lion take a buffalo right here recently.
Wildebeest are wierd animals, especially when they try to run. The herds had lots of young and these are so awkward. And we sat and watched an elephant essentially destroy a nice tree.
For the 2 evenings at the crater rim we went, after dinner, to 2 deluxe lodges for a drink and to see how the other side lived. It was fun to socialize with our guide and cook although we were quite grungy by now and we elicited many stares from the high-end crowd. Shabani, the cook, was amazed when, during our discussions, he learned that I was Jewish and not from Israel. I was his first Jewish client (and he wanted a picture to show me off) but he couldn't quite understand why I called myself American and not Jewish. He wasn't drunk; a Muslim he didn't drink.
Our last park was a surprise treat. Tarangire has lots of elephants and we were able to see them interacting at close range ... rolling in the mud, playing, washing, spraying each other as they walked in the river. We saw babies rolling and, almost literally, jumping on each other. One started chasing some zebra and that was hilarious. For some reason mommy didn't like that and came bellowing after him. You could see how happy they were when they reached the water; it was a grand social occasion every day! We could also watch how they climbed river banks that seemed too steep.
Saw eastern wildebeest (different than those in the crater), mongoose, secretary bird, giraffe, zebra, dik-dik, reedbuck ...
On our last day, almost the last viewing of the safari, we watched a large male lion munching on a kill atop a hill while spread below were 60-70 elephants making their way down to the river. An old bull tried to mount a female but she wasn't having any of that and their bellowing and chasing got the elephants all in a lather.
Elephants are destructive animals; they really rip into their enviroment, destroying forests as they rip out trees as they graze. (this does provide food for low grazers) In South Africa an antisocial bull had killed 30 rhino in Hluhlewe and they were trying to decide his fate. In Mkaya (Swaziland) a bull had killed 3 rhino and with the 3rd they decided to kill the elephant. Once in great danger of extinction, the ivory ban and better policing has seen them come back in many areas. But a few drought years and/or an end to the ivory ban and elephants can be back to the brink of extinction.
All in all, if I was redesigning an 8 day safari I'd forget Arusha and Manyara and go directly to the Serengeti for 3 nights and then 2 nights each at Ngorogoro and Tarangire.
We did stop at a couple of Masai villages. At one it was the monthly market day and a cattle auction was taking shape. For under $100 we could have gotten a good cow. At another village we did buy some beef and chicken for dinner.
We spent a day relaxing in Arusha, at the highly recommended Outpost Hotel, a little oasis of peace at the edge of town, watching some TV, catching up on the Internet and just taking it easy. At an art museum in Arusha was an interesting photo display of the early Nyere years. And an odd photo of a German WW1 officer riding a zebra. Janet was invited into a back room used as a studio by a curator and colleagues. We bought some pieces and talked about his brother with AIDS. Everyone here has an AIDS story; few families are untouched.
Several people have asked about climbs of Kilimanjaro. When I climbed it in 1973 all that was needed was to make hut reservations for 4 nights at a cost of maybe $20 and you were off. Today you have park fees, required guides/porters and pretty much you can't climb the mountain for less than $500 and generally you are looking at $750 for the standard 5 day climb.
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