I’m pleased to provide my observations and remarks about a previous tour to Tanzania and Kenya.
To begin, words from Karen Blixen, from Out of Africa
“There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne —bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.”
So very true, those words. I’ve been blessed with an abundance of travel experiences….to Libya and Italy at age 16, living in Europe for 6 years during my 20s, and the opportunity to visit 5 continents during my 25+ years in the travel industry. None of my previous travels prepared me for the pure joy of Africa.
The service provided by Mr. Lembe and his excellent staff was outstanding on the whole. What a wonderful surprise after having traveled from NYC/JFK on Emirates Air for 20+ hours to have smiling Titus waiting on the jetway (literally) when we deplaned in Dar Es Salaam on February 20. He was a gem, and moved us through the visa procedure at the airport with speed and great efficiency. Further, he ensured our luggage was taken care of and assisted in getting us on the connecting flight to Kilimanjaro, and stayed at our side until the boarding was announced.
On arrival to Kilimanjaro airport, exhausted and grumpy, who should appear but pleasant Grayson, who helped with our luggage and took us to Mr. Lembe and the transfer van. On arrival to Serena Mountain Lodge, Mr. Lembe provided a thorough orientation to our entire group of seven.
Serena Mountain Lodge was delightful, and the staff very accommodating. The following morning, Day 2 of the tour, in bounds wonderful James Kiswigo, our driver/guide for the balance of our Tanzania tour experience. James personified what we came to know of the Tanzanian people…cheerful, warm, and ready to please. His service to our group from Arusha through the border crossing into Kenya was outstanding. He is a delightful human being. We learned much from James, and met his children, a grand treat.
Our first game drive in Arusha was full of oooohs and aaahhhs, but a simple portent of things to come. Up and out on Day 4 from Arusha to Lake Manyara, traveling the entire journey on a lovely paved road, passing Maasai in their colorful robes, herding their cattle along the way. Another delightful Serena Lodge was home for the next two nights. Accommodations, food and staff at Lake Manyara Serena Lodge were first rate. The view out over the lake from the swimming pool was surreal and beautiful. The game drives here were calm, and we enjoyed beautiful birds, families of giraffe, a hippo pool and baboons aplenty.
Onward to Serengeti along the Great Rift Valley where we stopped at a Maasai village where we were greeted by the son of the chief of village who happily extracted $50 from our group for a private tour. The Maasai men performed a welcome dance, accompanied by song as they jumped straight up in the air holding their spears. The women, resplendent in their colorful beaded collars. huge earrings, and bright robes, with babies on their backs, sang and clicked. After the welcome, we were escorted inside the fence and allowed to enter their smoky, dung and mud covered huts—quite an interesting experience.
Inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area we drove onward to Camp Lemala, and once arrived, ALL WERE DELIGHTED. This camp’s staff, from the chef, (Chef Paul) to the staff (Moses and Joseph come to mind immediately) to the Maasai that escorted us from tent to camp were all over and beyond our expectations. The food was excellent; the coffee wake up call to our tent each morning a fond memory and wonderful luxury, the provided laundry service a life-saver, and the overall genuine warmth and “happy to serve” attitude much appreciate by all.
What can you say about the game drives? They were wonderful. Most of our group agreed that we had all thought we’d be peering through binoculars looking in the distance at African wildlife. Not so! We saw lions mating 20 yards away, a cheetah with cubs at a stone’s throw distance, a leopard and a lion sleeping in trees just above our Land Rover. When we saw the giraffe family, they were so close we could hear them snipping off the leaves of the Acacia tree! And, thanks to James’s keen spotting ability, we encountered a python wrapped around a scrub bush, and his midsection must have been 36 inches digesting a recent lunch of gazelle. On one of the evening drives we found a den of hyena poking their nasty heads out of their burrows.
After three nights enjoying drinks by the campfire, watching the incredible African sunset over the Serengeti, we were off to Ngorongoro Crater itself and another Lemala tented camp awaited our arrival.
I think it fair to say that nothing had prepared any of us for the day in the crater itself. From Wikipedia: “The main feature of the NCA is the Ngorongoro Crater, which is the world’s largest unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera. The Crater, which formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself some two to three million years ago, is 2,001 ft deep and its floor covers 102 square miles. Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from fifteen to nineteen thousand feet. Aside from herds of zebra, gazelle, and wildebeest, the crater is home to the “big five” of rhinoceros, lion, leopard, elephant, and buffalo. The crater plays host to almost every individual species of wildlife in East Africa, with an estimated 25,000 animals within the crater.”
My friends, we saw them all. What a sight, looking out from the Land Rover seeing herds of so many animals, as far as the eye can see. The highlight was watching the black rhino lumber along from a distance of 200 yards, and cross the road right in front of us. This event witnessed the largest concentration of other camp visitors in their vehicles…at least 30 Land Rovers all bunched up together with passengers perched and cameras clicking. This was a day unlike any other I’ve ever experienced.
Leaving Ngorongoro we headed back to Arusha for lunch at the Heritage Center and a meeting with Mr. Lembe, before moving onward to the border and into Kenya. James drove us to the border with Kenya. The border process was orderly, we met our new driver/guide Francis, and obtaining our visas at the check point was easy.
The Amboseli Serena Lodge is truly an oasis in the desert, and a lovely property. There are artistic and creative touches at this lodge not found in the two previous Serena properties. The walls of our room sported delightful paintings of wart hogs and a rhino. The door handle to enter the room as a replica of a Maasai spear, and there were giraffes and zebras and birds etched into the glass doors leading to the patio area.
We were sitting outside on this patio when we encountered very up close and personal the famous vervet blue-balled monkey. Actually, bright turquoise is more accurate. What to say? You have to see it to believe it! Enjoying a cup of tea, another one of these quick little guys snatched my sugar, opened the package and sat calmly at the table nibbling away at the sweet treat.
Amboseli had great herds of elephants, and we saw the sweetest mom and baby you can imagine.
Returning from Amboseli to Nairobi, we enjoyed lunch at the Carnivore Restaurant where every possible game meat one can imagine was brought from the huge open fire roasting pit to our table on a long spear, and lopped off onto our plates. After lunch, thank goodness to the air strip where we boarded an 18 passenger Air Kenya prop plane for the short flight to the Mara, and the absolutely fantastic Fairmont Mara Safari Club. There’s something to be said for saving the best for last. Voted one of the top 500 hotels in the world in 2008, this “luxury tented” hotel was simply breathtaking. The public areas boasted all things Maasi, from colorful beaded chandeliers to beautiful metal and wood carving sculptures on the walls. The grounds surrounding the lodge were full of every imaginable flowering plant and tree. Inside the tent itself you’re looking at a sight from Architectural Digest….porcelain toilets, rainmaker shower heads, Turkish rugs on slate floors, ebony tables between leather safari chairs. Outside on the deck you overlook the Mara River, not 20 feet away, and hippos wake you in the morning. One afternoon an enormous crocodile lay sleeping on the opposite bank for 4 hours.
It was at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club that we were treated to yet another wonderful human being, our waiter and all round “help with anything” John Kingori. John was warm, gracious, funny, intelligent and such a help to us during our stay.
On day two at Mara we enjoyed an early morning, private game drive from driver/guide, Evans, who had been with the Fairmont Mara for twelve years and was an expert guide. That morning we saw a large pride of lion, a sleeping leopard in the tree, another cheetah and her cubs, and some fantastic birds, not to mention the endless herds zebra, gazelle, topi, and wildebeest, scattered endlessly among the thorn acacia trees, mountains and African sunrise.
Sadly all good things must end, so on day 14 we return from Mara to Nairobi by plane to connect with our onward flight back to JFK, via Dubai, on Emirates Air.
Truly a trip of a lifetime, which I will always cherish, and for which I am so very grateful.
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© Sandra B. Wilkins
About the Author
Sandra Wilkins is a Tour Specialist at AffordableTours.com
Tel: 800.935.2620 Ext 115