Planning a trip to Tanzania can be a challenge for those wanting to do it on their own. There are many tour operators to choose from, both local in Tanzania and local to the traveler. It can be a bit scary to book a local operator in Tanzania in advance since payment usually needs to be wired. Most Tanzania tour operators do not accept credit cards or charge a significant (3%-13%) fee for using a credit card.
After much research on the various travel review sites and inquiries to several operators both in the USA and in Tanzania, we selected Roy Safaris and were not disappointed! We custom created our adventure, selecting our accommodations and length of stay. We found a significant savings by booking through a Tanzanian operator versus a US based tour operator and preferred that the money go directly to the locals. After booking our flights, confirming our accommodations and itinerary and wiring our payment on to Roy Safaris in Tanzania (a bit scary), we were ready to go.
Tanzanian travel visas for US citizens are valid for one year. Although travel visas can be obtained on arrival in Tanzania, it is recommended to obtain your travel visa in advance. The visa ‘office’ in Kilimanjaro is very small and it could take some time to complete the process, which is the last thing you want to do after a long flight. The Tanzanian Embassy in Washington, D.C. is very quick in processing the visas, but allow a few weeks for processing, just to be safe.
Day 1 – March 3, 2011 – Our Adventure Begins -The flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam on Delta Airlines was full and with 2 screaming kids for the entire 8 hour flight, the majority of the passengers were less than happy. Parents, PLEASE, bring something for your kids to do and walk the aisles with them. The parents on this flight had nothing for these kids to do and just let them scream.
Day 2 – March 4, 2011 – Jambo from Tanzania
The flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro was not as full as and much quieter than from Minneapolis to Amsterdam! Jambo! We arrived in Kilimanjaro late at night with no issues and found our driver from Karama Lodge right away. The drive to Karama Lodge took about an hour from the JRO airport and was up a long, very bumpy dirt road about 5 km from Arusha town center. Our cabin/tent #12 was just down from the bar/restaurant and was very quaint. A canvas roof with wooden floors and door made for a very rustic feel. With a canoe shaped door as the entrance, it was a bit difficult to get in and out with our bags. The door was locked on the outside by a heavy duty padlock and on the inside by just the wooden bar dropped across the handle. The other door opened onto a small balcony overlooking trees and other tents/cabins. The room was clean and very simple with a king bed, complete with mosquito netting. The bed was not uncomfortable, but was only a thin, foam mattress. In one corner of the room was a small bathroom with toilet and sink and in the other corner, the shower with fire heated water. A few shelves and a bar to hang clothes on is the extent of the room.
Karma Lodge is up on a hill with a view of Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro (on a clear day) but also overlooks a residential area. The dogs and roosters in the residential area took turns barking and crowing all night, fortunately, we were so tired, it didn’t really matter much.
Day 3 – March 5, 2011 – Arusha
After breakfast we walked into Arusha town, 5 km from Karama Lodge. Although this is a tourist area, it was clear that the locals are not used to seeing an Anglo walk down the street in this part of town! People were friendly and we felt safe, but we did get several strange looks. The walk took about 35 minutes and we passed kids on the way to school, a gas station, mini market, houses and several other types of shops. The weather was beautiful – sunny and warm (90 F by the time we returned).
Once we were within a few blocks of town, the unofficial ‘tour guides’ started coming out of the woodwork! These young men would greet us and start to walk with us, asking where we are from, making polite small talk as they pointed out different things along the way and eventually offering to be our guide. Some flat out asked if we needed a guide for safari, others try to sell us ‘art’ (all the same thing) after telling us they are an artist. The ‘guides’ don’t normally approach the woman, but it gets annoying when you just want to explore on your own and already have arrangements (which is not an acceptable answer to most of them).
Downtown Arusha is crowded and busy, with many banks, but not much for the ‘tourist’. There are some hotels, restaurants, a few very small souvenir shops, a fruit/vegetable market and a local second hand market. The local center market was going on, but looked very crowded and not something we were interested in, so as we usually do, we avoided it. The main souvenir shop is on the outskirts of town and construction is underway to build a very large, fancy ‘crafters market’ for souvenirs.
On the way back to Karma Lodge, we decided to stop for a bite to eat, since we didn’t want to eat all of our meals at the hotel. We had looked up a few restaurants but didn’t have very good directions so we stopped at the Golden Tulip, next to the Roy’s Safari office, down a quiet side road, for directions to Picasso. Picasso is a café next to the Imperial Hotel that had several good recommendations on Trip Advisor.
Picasso has both indoor and outdoor seating areas and serves breakfast and lunch (not sure about dinner). There is a small bakery display inside and a fairly diverse, reasonably priced menu. We ordered the filet and onion sandwich with fries and the chicken pie with salad. The ‘steak’ sandwich was okay, served on toast with a flavored mustard and the chicken pie was decent with a light, flakey crust on top, but was pretty much chicken with cream of mushroom soup. It seemed to have a lot of tourists and Europeans eating there, so it was a safe option.
We walked back towards the Karama Lodge and stopped at a small market to get water and wine (a 2 liter bottle of water for 1500 TSH – about $1, but the wine was about $15 for Nederburg South African wine). It was difficult to find a supermarket, which we found on the way out of town on Sunday.
On the walk back to the hotel we saw many school kids on their way home from school. One teenage girl reached up and touched my hair as we walked by (and I’m not even blond). We also had a group of grade school boys follow us to the trail where we turned for the hotel. They were imitating us and giggling and enjoyed that we asked them questions.
The walk up the hill to Karama Lodge was a bit steeper than we remembered on the way down and even though it was hot, there were trees to take a break under. We got to the gate and surprised the guard a bit, we don’t expect they have many people walk up to the lodge.
A short rain shower came through, giving us a chance to relax for a bit. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to see Mt. Kilimanjaro from the hotel.
We sat in the lounge and enjoyed a Kilimanjaro beer with a group of guys who had just climbed Kilimanjaro and were sharing their experience. While waiting for the sunset, the skies finally cleared up enough that we could see Mt. Meru and part of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it never gave us a view of its peak.
For dinner we decided to eat at Karama Lodge. The menu had 2 choices – lamb stew and chicken breast with tarragon sauce. We ordered one of each, but neither was very exciting and was more expensive than Picasso.
Karama Lodge has wireless internet available in each room for 4000 TZH per hour and a desktop available for use in the bar. The connection is good and it was a last chance to send a note home for the next week.
Day 4 – March 6, 2011 – Ngorongoro Crater
After breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled tomato and beans at Karama Lodge, we finished packing and were met at 8:30 am by our guide, Hemede, from Roy Safaris.
We stopped at the Roy Safari office for a briefing and to provide our insurance information (good thing we had our DAN cards with us), before heading out. At 9:00 am we left Arusha for Ngorongoro Crater. The drive to Ngorongoro Crater was fairly easy and took about 3 ½ hours. Near Lake Manyara National Park, we saw a few giraffe and zebra near the side of the road, but we were anxious to get to the Ngorongoro Crater and didn’t stop.
At the Ngorongoro Crater gate, Hemede got our park passes and we started our drive into the crater. We stopped on the rim to take a few pictures and were awestruck by the size of the crater (which we were informed is actually a caldera). Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy, so the pictures weren’t as clear as we would have liked! Next, we headed along the eastern rim of the Ngorongoro Crater to the north entrance where we descended into the crater, which took about an hour. At first we only saw a few wildebeest in the distance, but as we got deeper into the crater, the action started! On our first day of game drives we saw 6 hyena (which we had never seen up close before), our first ever cheetahs – 2 brothers, 6 lions and many zebra, wildebeest, gazelle, bird and an elephant. All of the animals came or were sleeping very near the road, providing wonderful photo opportunities.
In Ngorongoro Crater, you are not allowed to get out of your vehicle except in designated areas, which are limited. There is a picnic area and maybe 4 restrooms. The restrooms have both Turkish(drop) toilets and western toilets. For the most part, the restrooms are clean and have tissue (but it never hurts to have some tissue in your pocket). Another recommendation is to let your guide know well in advance that you will need a restroom, because it could take 30 minutes or longer to get to the nearest one – and if you see something new and exciting, who knows how long it may take!
At about 5:00 pm we headed back towards the northeast end of the crater where we ended our day at the Ngorongoro Lemala Tented Camp. This is a luxury tented camp with 9 semi-permanent tents. The tents are spacious, have wood floors, solar powered lights, a flush toilet and traditional bucket shower. You must request the time for your shower, so the water can be heated and filled in a bucket outside your room. Water is limited, so a ‘navy’ shower is recommended – get yourself wet, turn the water off to soap up, then rinse. There was also a gas heater in the tent, which was turned on during dinner, then turned off about 10 minutes after returning to your tent for the night. During dinner, the tent ‘attendant’ will do turndown and put a hot water bottle in the bed for each person. Believe it or not, the hot water bottles stay hot all night long! A walkie talkie was also provided in case you wanted a drink, shower or an escort to the main tent.
Ngorongoro Lemala Tented Camp is set up mid-May and taken down completely at the end of March. The camp is taken down before the heavy rains for maintenance and to allow the land to recover. There is a main lodge with a charging station, dining area, a sitting area and drinks (pop, water, house wine, beer and liquor are included, with a few premium drinks for purchase). The charging station is run on generator and is only turned on during limited hours in the morning and evening. There are also a few souvenirs available, but the selection and sizes can be very limited.
Before dinner, the bonfire is started and offers a nice way to share the day’s sightings with other guests. Dinner was served with all guests at one long table where the day/week’s experiences continued. Tonight there was a group of 8 zoo-related people who were very fun and crazy, and had wonderful experiences of their time in Tanzania.
The meals at Ngorongoro Crater were good, especially the soups! Dinner tonight was a chicken in a sauce with vegetables and rice. The whole staff came out and sang the Jambo Bwena song and danced around the table as they brought a spice cake for one of the other guests. This was our desert tonight. After dinner, everyone gathers around the bonfire with a drink before an early night back to the tents. Tonight, the sky was perfectly clear and the stars were amazing. Orion was barely visible because of all of the additional, visible stars! A Masai ‘warrior’ escorted us back to our tent, as you are not allowed to walk to/from the tents without an escort after dark because elephant and buffalo often come through camp.
An amazing first day with beautiful weather, an abundance of wildlife, our first ever cheetah sighting, good food, drinks and company, ending with a cozy tent with hot water bottle!
Day 5 – March 7, 2011 – Ngorongoro Crater
A 5:30 am wake up, with tea and coffee delivered to our tent, along with our hot water for a shower is not a bad way to start the day. Although it was a bit chilly it was still a nice morning (50’s). The Masai came and escorted us to the Land Rover to begin our game drive for the day. The view down into the crater was spectacular, with a nice fog hanging in the crater and the sun coming up. The entire morning was a constantly changing scene as the clouds lifted, sun came out and then higher clouds moved in.
The cheetah brothers were in the same general area, but not next to the road today. We saw many more herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and even more elephant in the distance. We saw 4 highly endangered black rhinos, with only one close enough to get some pictures! We saw the pride of 10 lions again, this time the alpha male and female came so close to our vehicle that I quickly closed the window so they didn’t stick their paws or nose in. The male then sprayed our vehicle before drinking out of the puddles in the road.
Breakfast was a boxed meal of finger bananas, apple, muffin, yogurt, juice and coffee and tea. We were able to enjoy breakfast at a beautiful picnic area. The picnic area has a lake with hippos, zebras, acacia trees on the far side, the crater with low hanging clouds and blue skies behind us. It couldn’t have been a more perfect place to get out to stretch the legs, enjoy breakfast, or lunch and use the restroom.
We worked our way back towards the Lemala Tented Camp for lunch, arriving about 1:00 pm. Hemede and Godwin (the camp manager) joined us for garlic soup and a beef wrap with roasted red peppers, onions and mushrooms on a homemade wrap, followed by fresh fruit with a yogurt topping for desert. This was probably my favorite meal! It started pouring with a much needed rain just as we got to the dining tent and let up just as we finished lunch. We chose to spend this afternoon relaxing, rather than going on another game drive.
At about 5:00 pm we went back to the main tent for a glass of wine, to charge batteries and catch up on the rest of the other guest’s adventure of the day. It was our anniversary and Hemede, Godwin and the other guide joined us for dinner because there were only 3 guests. The staff again sang the Jambo Bwena song and tonight, the cake was for us. After setting the cake in front of me, they sang a ‘cut the cake’ song, until the cake is cut and served to all. Another wonderful day!
Day 6 – March 8, 2011 – Ngorongoro Crater to Central Serengeti -Mbuzi Mawe
Today we had a 5:45 am wake up with our coffee and tea delivered to the room and water for showers. We had an early breakfast at 6:30 am with eggs, pancakes, cereal, fruit and bacon. The pancakes are delicious – a cross between a French crepe and an American hotcake!
At 7:00 am we said our goodbyes to Godwin and the staff before descending back into the Ngorongoro Crater for a few hours of game drive across the crater before making our way to the central Serengeti. Passes for the Ngorongoro Crater are valid for 24 hours, so we needed to be out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area by 12:30 pm.
The pride of 10 lions was out again, along with a lot of birds and antelope, but not as many hyenas as the past 2 days and no cheetahs today. Hemede told us that there are 5 lion prides in the crater with the largest being 12 members. The pride we saw each day was the pride of 10.
At 10:20 am we began our ascent out of the crater. The view today was spectacular because it was mostly clear, with some clouds, but not as hazy as the day we came down. The road we took out of the crater was steep, rugged and full of switchbacks – I’m sure glad we didn’t drive and we just kept hoping no elephants would be coming down as we were going up!
The actual Ngorongoro Conservation area entrance was still another 30 minutes on a very bumpy dirt road, but we made it in time and stopped at the picnic area at the Nabi Gate for lunch. The restrooms at Nabi Gate picnic area were not very clean, few women’s stalls had toilet tissue and it smelled like urine, but, there weren’t any other options. Hand sanitizer and tissue were needed here!
Near the restroom is a path to an observation area, with a view of the Serengeti where you can see for miles. The view of the Serengeti plains had few to no trees, but what an incredible site to see for miles in every direction and not see a building, power line, person or car!
On the drive to Serena Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp on the north side of the Central Serengeti we did a game drive. During this game drive, Hemede was determined to find us a leopard (he guaranteed it) and we found one. We only saw the leg of this leopard tucked up in a tree, but we also saw lions, many zebra, giraffe, buffalo and several types of antelope. Near the river, the zebra were drinking on an easy access bank, which was the perfect place for some lionesses to wait to make a kill. Because there were so many vehicles waiting for the action, we moved on, not wanting to cause any additional stress to the zebras. The Serengeti was much warmer than in Ngorongoro Crater and we only lasted a few hours before heading to Serena Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp.
There are even less restrooms in the Serengeti than in Ngorongoro Crater, but you can get out of your vehicle here, so let your guide know if you need to ‘mark your territory’. Depending on where you stay and where the migration is, it can be a long day on game drive! The nice thing about the Land Rover is that with the pop up roof, you can stand up at any time to stretch your legs or get a different view.
On arrival at Serena Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp, we were greeted with warm towels and juice before being shown to tent 10. Serena Mbuzi Mawe is luxury tented camp with about 20-30 large tents with porch, 2 queen beds, flush toilet and regular shower. There is power in the tent for charging, a phone to call for an escort and wireless internet available for $5 per hour. There is a dining room, bar and common area, but unfortunately, no bonfire area. The camp is open and an escort is required after dark, as in all of the tented camps.
Serena Mbuzi Mawe does not include drinks and does not deliver your coffee and tea to the room as some of the smaller camps do. Each night before dinner, there is entertainment in the common area, but people tend to sit with their own groups and not interact as in the smaller camps. Tonight the entertainment was ‘traditional’ dancers. Of course, at the end of their show, the dancers come into the ‘audience’ to try to get the guests to dance, unfortunately, guests were not paying much attention or were not willing to join the dancing.
We had a few drinks while watching the show from the patio, then we went in for dinner. Dining at Serena is not as personal as Lemala was, with each group having their own table and a menu with more selections than the smaller camps. We had grilled vegetables, soup, lamb chops and red snapper, which was a bit fishy tasting.
Serena Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp is a beautiful place to stay, but not as intimate and personal as the semi-permanent, smaller luxury camps.
Day 7 – March 9, 2011 – Central Serengeti – Mbuzi Mawe
We set the alarm for 6:30 am because there is no personalized wake up with coffee and tea. With running water, we showered then went up to the dining room for breakfast of fruit, breads, pancakes and bacon before a full day of game drive. Serena Mbuzi Mawe has several baboons that enjoy going in tents that have not been zipped all the way closed and will take makeup and clothes. The baboons will also stay near the dining room, waiting for an opportunity to grab some sugar. One lady in the dining room insisted the baboon sitting outside was wearing her make up!
We started our game drive at 8:00 am with the first stop at the Hippo Pool. There were at least 100 hippos in one area. It was very smelly because they swim and wallow in their own dung. There were some of the largest hippos we have ever seen, a few playing and several small hippos just trying not to get crushed or drowned.
Next, we found a part of the zebra migration, which had me speechless! I couldn’t stop smiling at the miles of zebras you could see! We stopped near a drinking area of the river, where there was a small stampede due to the 2 lionesses on the other side of the river. It was interesting to watch, but because there were so many vehicles in that area, it took away from the natural feel. With all the vehicles, you can see the additional stress on the zebras as they have to not only watch for lions, but for cars too. Again, we decided to continue on rather than wait to see if there would be a kill. Down the river we found a carcass of the kill from yesterday.
Lunch today was a boxed lunch with fruit, breads, cheese sandwich, beef pie, chocolate, juice, water, which was way more food than we could eat! We found a nice area to enjoy the scenery and our meal.
The leopard from yesterday was more visible today and we realized she had 2 cubs and a carcass hanging in the tree with her. They were apparently well fed because they were all sleeping and unfortunately, too far away to get good pictures. After seeing a pride of 16 lions today, we lost count of the number of lions we have seen on this trip! We found another pair of cheetahs under a tree, but they were sleeping and we didn’t want Hemede to rev the engine or slam the doors to wake them up, as many guides will do for their guests. After about 6 ½ hours, we headed back to Serena Mbuzi Mawe to rest, shower and review the pictures from the day. The heat, dust and rough roads take a lot out of you!
The entertainment this evening was the same group of people doing some incredible moves! The one guy would hold up 1-2 of the others with one hand! I’ve seen this before but am not sure what it is called, but the strength of these guys is amazing!
For dinner we had pumpkin soup with vanilla essence and French onion soup, a salad, steak, pork chops and cake (banana cake). The pumpkin soup was amazing – we need that recipe!
Day 8 – March 10, 2011 – Central Serengeti to Ndutu
Last night was very windy, making it hard to sleep and wondering if the tent was coming down! We got up at 5:30 am to finish packing and to have breakfast at 6:30 am. Breakfast was the same as yesterday, pancakes, rolls, fruit, and oatmeal for a change. Hemede met us at about 7:15 am and by the time we were ready to go it was 7:30 am.
We saw the zebra migration again and even though there were zebra as far as the eye could see, it was only the beginning of the migration because the rains haven’t started yet. Today, there more wildebeest in the migration and the numbers seemed even higher than yesterday! Spectacular! We can only imaging what the full migration would be like! Pictures cannot do justice to this amazing event!
We saw 4 lionesses stalking the zebra, but as usual, there were so many cars following and getting in the path of the lions and zebras that we moved down the road a bit. After push starting another vehicle, we turned around and saw 2 more lionesses, from the same pride, come out of the bushes. This was a nice sighting, since there were no other vehicles around. The lions came by our vehicle and walked towards the zebra, with no interest but to find the shade of a tree to nap under.
On our way back to Nabi Gate and on to Ndutu, we took a different route that went further south than we had been before. On the way to Ndutu, Hemede spotted some lions off in the distance under a tree and also some hyenas. We stopped at Nabi Gate again for our picnic lunch, then continued south to Ndutu, which is in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, bordering the southern Serengeti. The lake in Ndutu was dry, since the rains hadn’t come yet and there were very few animals on our way in, probably because it was mid-day and very hot!
We arrived at Ndutu Lemala Tented Camp, which is another mobile camp overlooking the river bed, which was also dry. Ndutu Lemala Camp is similar to the camp we stayed in at Ngorongoro, but is a bit more spread out. There are 10-12 tents at Ndutu and we were again in tent 10, which was at the far end of the camp. There is a nice common tent with dining and a sitting area. The drinks and laundry are included and the charging station is available in the common tent most of the day. The tent is very nice with 2 double beds, desk, chair, bucket shower, flush toilet and a front ‘porch’ with sofa. Unfortunately, the black flies were so bad that it was not enjoyable to sit outside.
We settled in for our next 3 nights, ordered a shower and some drinks, then went up to the main tent to review our pictures from the day, meet the other guests and hear about their adventures from the day, while enjoying the clear skies and bonfire before dinner.
Dinner was served later here, not until 8:00 pm, so no one returned to the bonfire after dinner. Most of the guests sit together at one table, as we did in Ngorongoro, but a private table can be requested for special occasions. The soup was again fantastic and dinner was good. Chicken was on the menu tonight.
Day 9 – March 11, 2011 – Ndutu Lemala Tented Camp
During the night we could hear the lions calling to each other as they moved near the camp (we learned they were very close!). We had a wake up at 5:30 am with coffee and tea delivered to the tent (you can get very spoiled with the morning coffee delivery). At 6:00 am we went out for game drive and saw a beautiful sunrise over the volcano and the plains.
As we drove across the plains, we found an orphaned baby wildebeest that came very near the car, crying, when we stopped. When we started to drive away, it tried to run with us as if we were the herd. Even though it is part of the cycle of life, it was very heartbreaking to see it running after us crying and so lost.
Not far from the orphaned wildebeest, we found the migrating wildebeest and zebra, with a pack of 7 hyenas near by. It was hard not to think that the orphan was so close to a herd and also the hyenas. We also saw a female cheetah, rolling in the dirt, trying to find some shade and being followed by a hyena waiting for her scraps.
Hemede got word on the radio that there was a leopard in a tree, so off we went and found the leopard high in a small acacia tree. He was tucked away so far in that it was difficult to see. These guides are amazing at finding the hidden and far away wildlife! After about 15-20 minutes of watching this leopard sleep, we worked our way back to camp for breakfast. On our way back to camp, we saw a lioness down on the river bed, relaxing. By 8:30 am we had seen a sunrise, lion, leopard and cheetah – great way to start the day!
After breakfast, we took a rest and at 9:30 am went back out for game drive. We went back to see if the leopard had moved to give a better photo opportunity, but it was still tucked away in the same spot as when we left a few hours earlier. Next we found a female cheetah with her 3 almost grown cubs. The easiest way to tell which was the mother was that she was the one who was always alert to what was going on around them, while the cubs just napped. We watched the cheetahs for while, then went back to see if the leopard had moved – no such luck. We also went to find the elephants, but they were no where to be seen.
At 1:30 pm we went back to Ndutu Lemala Tented Camp for lunch. Hemede was able to join us today (it all depends on how many guests are at the camp and at that meal). We rested for a few hours and at 4:00 pm went back out for a short drive. We again asked to see if the leopard was in a better photo spot, but again, it hadn’t moved…typical cat, sleeping in the exact same spot for 12 hours! We also went to see what the cheetah family was doing. The mother started showing some interest in a young zebra, but after watching her for a while, she lost interest. This would have been a much better ‘kill’ experience than in the Central Serengeti because there were only 3 other cars and we all stayed out of the path of the cheetahs.
We got back to camp around 6:00 pm and had drinks brought to the tent along with our water for showers. We went to the common area for a little bonfire and drinks before dinner of lamb, butternut squash soup and brownies for desert. yum!
The lions soft roaring (talking) woke us up several times during the night as they again passed through the camp area.
Day 10- March 12, 2011- Ndutu Lemala Tented Camp
Our last full day of game drives, we had our wake up at 5:30 am with coffee and tea, followed by 6:00 am game drive. We found the herd of buffalo and zebra, which seem to have grown since yesterday and saw a beautiful orange and yellow sunrise with acacia trees and zebras in front of it. As we started back towards camp, we saw many vehicles in the river bed observing a lion, 2 lionesses and 3 – 3 month old cubs. The cubs were playing and they all came to drink water, which gave us a great opportunity to take some reflection shots of the entire family. When they all decided to take a nap, we headed back to camp for breakfast and our own nap.
Breakfast, a short rest then another game drive at 9:30 am. We found the migration on the plains again, the 3 brother cheetahs we had seen yesterday cooling off under a tree and a female cheetah being teased by a herd of gazelle as she tried to find some shade. This cheetah had us a bit concerned as she came up to the vehicles looking for shade and looking like she was going to jump on the hood, giving easy access to the open roof – fortunately, she wasn’t sure about the cars and kept walking.
As we started back along the river bed, the herds of wildebeest and zebra were running into the riverbed, we thought maybe a lion was in pursuit, but they were just going for a drink. There were also some giraffe in the river bed, which provided the quintessential African scene. It was a beautiful site that we had to stop and watch for a while. As we started back towards camp, we found the lion from our morning drive, but the lionesses and cubs had moved up into the trees. The lion seemed to have an injured back leg, causing a slight limp, but it was hard to tell because he didn’t walk very far.
We went back to camp at noon for a rest and lunch at 1:30 pm. We weren’t going to go out for a last game drive today, but after such a wonderful week, we decided we would take a long rest then go for a short, final game drive from 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm. We really didn’t see many animals during this last drive and on the way back to camp we stopped for a final visit with the lion pride, which were still in the same area of the riverbed as they had been all day. The lioness and her 3 cubs were trying to cross back to the trees after having a drink of water, but all of the cars were blocking their path. The cubs were afraid and confused by all of the cars following them and cutting them off, which bothered us! There really needs to be more control around this! We also found the male lion lying spread eagle on his back behind a tree with one eye open. We didn’t stay long because there were so many cars that we knew had been coming and going around the lions and cubs all day. I know we were part of the chaos, but we tried to keep our distance and not stay long.
We got back to camp and had a shower before enjoying a drink at the bonfire before dinner with a family from Switzerland.
Day 11 – March 13, 2011 – Ndutu Lemala Tented Camp to Kia Lodge, Arusha
We heard the lions near the camp again, along with some hyena during the night. At breakfast, the Swiss family had just come back from a morning hiking safari, where they encountered the lion family right behind the camp! The cubs were playing and when they spotted the hikers, they turned and went the other way. We found out that the pride had slept around the camp during the night!
We started our long day home by leaving Ndutu Lemala Tented Camp at 8:00 am, driving about 1 ½ hours to Olduvai (the real name is Oldupai) Gorge to visit the museum and hear a short lecture. This is the area that the oldest human remains were found by Mary Leaky. There is a small fee to visit the museum of bones and other information. There are also some souvenirs available and a very rustic toilet.
Next we stopped for lunch and did a quick visit in a souvenir shop – all of the same wood carvings that are in all of the other African countries and a lot of jewelry made by the Masai. We got back to Arusha around 2:00 pm and said our goodbyes to Hemede before another driver from Roy Safaris drove us to Kia Lodge, which is just a few minutes from the airport.
We were able to get a day room for $80 at Kia Lodge, which is fairly nice. The rooms are villas of 2 rooms and were for the most part clean. We rested, used the free wireless internet in the bar, had a quick bite to eat, freshened up then headed to the airport for our flight through Amsterdam to Minneapolis. The bar has several sandwiches and the dining room serves a 4 course meal.
What an amazing trip! Roy Safaris and Hemede are highly recommended! They are professional, responsive and friendly! Lemala Tented Camps are fabulous – the staff, food, rooms and locations make for a real luxury camping experience. Serena Mbuzi Mawe is also very nice, but less personal than Lemala. Asante Sana (thank you very much) to all!
Since the migration cannot be completely predicted because it is dependent on the rains, we were very happy with the decision to add a few days in the Central Serengeti! Having been on game drives before, we know that game drives take a lot out of you with the heat and rough roads, so we requested shorter drives each day and still saw wildlife and scenery beyond our expectations. We also had a chance to relax and enjoy our camps!
Saying of the week: When asking the security escorts at Mbuzi Mawe what they do if they encounter a lion or buffalo, the response was “you go around”. The Masai seemed to have the same philosophy. Hakuna Matada!