African Safari

January 23, 2008 - Arusha, Tanzania


Today we headed to Arusha, Tanzania to start our next big excursion in Africa - safari in East Africa!  Initially we were scheduled to fly from Jo'burg to Arusha via Nairobi but with the Canadian government having issued a warning against non-essential travel in Kenya, we changed our flight and flew directly to Arusha.  With this change, we needed to notify our safari tour company - Victoria Expeditions (VE) - as they were arranging our pick up from the airport. We wanted to let them know of the change in time as well as confirm that they were getting us at the correct airport, Arusha's international airport - Kilimanjaro. After a few attempts to reach VE via email, we finally did get a hold of someone at VE on the phone just before boarding the plane in Jo'burg.  Although the person on the phone confirmed the pick up, Dave and I were still a bit weary.

When we reached Kilimanjaro Airport we were happy to see that there was someone waiting to pick us up - his name was Bariki.  We later learned that Bariki would be our guide and driver for the 7 day safari.  He was now taking us to our hotel (which was about 45 mintues away in Arusha) where we would also meet up with Mark and Terry.  Dave and I were looking forwarded to getting to our hotel, what we thought was going to be a country lodge, as we had opted for the fairly high-end lodging for the safari (given we were camping days prior to the safari).  Hence our surprise and confusion when our driver, in the middle of hectic Arusha, turned into this small dark tunnel at the front of a run down building. The tunnel led to a dark court yard with people lingering around and hanging out on balconies. Bariki said 'We're here'. Dave and I looked at each other and then said 'We are where?'. He explained that this was the VE offices with our hotel above it. It was a dingy and sketchy motel. Our inital thought was that we had been scamed!  We had chosen VE based on a reference from one of Dave's clients but it was still a local company and we had already paid (via cash transfer) for half of the safari.  Right away we started to tell them that this was not what was agreed to.  By this point there for 3-4 men around the car, apparently all working for VE.  I then pulled out a printed copy of our itineary to show them the inconsistency when we realized that we had read the itineary incorrectly.  We actually did not have accomodations for the night we arrived in Arusha as the safari officially started the next day.  We felt a little silly and graciously accepted to stay at the motel. VE paid for our stay in the motel but you can imagine the condition of the motel as it was only $15 per night (that morning we had left a hotel that we were paying more than $200 a night, quite a difference).  Dave and I asked about our friends Mark and Terry and the VE guys told us they were already settled into one of the rooms at the motel.  We figured they were probably just as surprised (and disappointed) as we were but when we visited them in their room they were just happy to see us.  I guess they had more time for everything to sink in. 

As we checked into the motel, we were hit with yet another surprise.  The remaining half of the safari payment ($2,000 between the two of us) would need to be paid in cash.  When booking the safari, Dave had confirmed that credit card would be accepted but now the VE guys were telling us that the credit card machine was 'broken' and we would need to go to the ATM the next morning to withdraw the money.  We later learned that this was not going to be an easy task. There was a daily limit to the amount that could be withdrawn from an ATM which meant we could not withdraw all the money in one day.  Also, a lot of the ATM's were either not working, or not working for us, which meant we had to go searching for an ATM that would dispense money for us.  We owed almost $2 million schillings. The first day we were able to get out $1.2 million schillings. Their largest bill is $10,000 so Dave was carring stacks of notes in is pocket adding to it at every working ATM. In the end it took us two days and multiple visits to the ATM to complete the payment.

Safari Description
Our safari spanned a total of 7 days and concentrated on the northern part of Tanzania.  During this time we would be visiting 5 national parks (NP) - Arusha, Tangerie, Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara.   The safari was all-inclusive which meant it included a truck and driver/guide for the game drives, all park fees, lodging and meals.

Game Drives:  For the safari we were fortunate to have a truck and guide all to ourselves (Dave, Mark, Terry and I).  The truck was quite spacious and the top of the car opened up so we could see the animals from above (we just had to ensure our shoes were off before stepping onto the car seats).  Even when there were no animals around, it was fun just to stand up and enjoy the scenery from up top.  We basicaly travelled in the truck the entire time, inside and outside the parks.  As for our guide and driver, Bariki, he was very experienced.  He knew a lot about the animals (even the different bird species) and it was amazing and helpful the way he could spot the animals from great distances (even without binoculars!).

Lodging:  As mentioned earlier, Dave and I opted for the high-end lodging.  And high-end it was!  During the safari, 4 of the 6 nights were spent at the Serena Lodges - a popular hotel chain in East Africa.  The Serena Lodges were impressive and the service impecable.  The lodges were similar with respect to its rooms and meals but each lodge still retained a unique look to them.  The other 2 nights were spent at independent lodges.  These lodges actually proved to be even nicer than the Serena lodges.  It was quite the treat! 

Meals:  Breakfasts and dinners were always had back at the lodge but boxed-lunches were provided so we could have them during the game drives.  We tended to over-eat during breakfast and dinners as the food was good and buffet style.  The lunch-boxes on the otherhand were not so good (usually consisted of a sandwich, juice, yogurt, fruit and dessert). Surprisingly, Mark, Terry and Dave after a few days opted for the veggie lunch-boxes as the meat lunch-boxes were a bit sketchy (Mark actually decided to become a vegetarian during the trip!)

Arusha National Park
Arusha National Park was the first national park we visited on the safari tour. We were all very excited - we were finally going to see some animals up close!  The park was approx. 30 minutes from the city.  Shortly after entering the park, we had lunch and then began a guided walk.  During lunch, I had gone to the snack counter to buy some chips (surprise surprise).  While I was waiting for the cashier to give me back my change, one of the park guides (who had a rifle by the way, all of the park guides had rifles) said something to the cashier in Swahili.  They bantered a bit, laughed and then looked at me.  I was certain they were talking about me.  Then the guide asked me "do you know what we were saying?".  I said "no" and he responded "you should....we were saying that you are beautiful".  I just laughed and thanked him.  Of course, I really didn't believe him.  I think the guide probably made fun of me but afterwards realized that I may actually understand Swahili (there are a lot of Indians in Tanzania who can speak the language).  I guess I'll never know what they were really saying.

Bariki stayed back while the park guide took us on our walk.  We were given the choice of how long we wanted to walk for.  We thought 2 hours would be sufficient especially given the heat.  The park guide first led us to see the buffalo that were grazing not too far away.  It was a bit scary - there is a fine line between how close you get before the buffalo feel you are entering their territory and decide to charge.  As we walked towards the buffalo, there were pockets of mud that were quite deep.  Although the guide told us exactly where to step to avoid the mud, it wasn't too long until I stepped in some!  My shoes were soaked and covered with mud.  The others laughed but it wasn't long before they eventually stepped in mud as well.  After getting quite close to the buffalo, we made our way around them to view some giraffe.  This was a our first real giraffe sighting.  There were 4 or 5 of them eating from the Acacia trees.  We walked up fairly close but again had to watch how close we got so we wouldn't scare them away.  It was cool just to watch them hang out and chew on the acacia leaves.  Some time later we got even closer to some giraffe while in the truck, exiting the park.  Before the end of the walk we made our way to a waterfall close by.  We walked to the foot of the falls.  The falls were beautiful and the mist was quite refreshing given how hot it was.  If we had our swimwear we would have been very tempted to jump in.

After the walk, we headed out of the park (after our up-close giraffe sighting) and to our hotel (The Country Lodge).  As it wasn't a Serena Lodge we weren't sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised when we reached the lodge.  From a dirt road we reached the gate of the lodge. The security guard let us in and we drove in a few minutes to the lodge.  We were greeted at reception with hot towels and fresh, cold watermelon juice and then taken to our rooms in a golf cart (even though our rooms were a 2 minute walk away).  The rooms were amazing and just huge (probably the size of my condo!).  The rooms included a living room, balcony, fireplace, and large bathroom.  All beds on the safari also had mosquito netting which made them look like canopy beds.  After settling in, we had dinner at the lodge and called it a night.  We had had a long day and the next day we would be visiting Tangerie NP. 



Room at Country Lodge
Pool at Country Lodge
Room at Country Lodge
Stork at Lodge

1 Comment

Mark and Terry:
February 18, 2008
It is nice to get your perspective and reminisce on the trip. Hurry up and post the next journal so we can read about travel instead of being responsible.
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