deeper africa

Last Full Day in Tanzania

IMG_6886 2On our last morning in Tanzania, we were greeted with another beautiful day, blue sky dotted with light clouds. We cleared out of our luxury tents and once again met Ammy at the Land Cruiser. It’s safe to say that we were not looking forward to the upcoming twenty-four hours of travel. We were all struggling with the notion that this awe-inspiring trip was over. And we were not ready to say goodbye to Ammy or the creatures we’d become accustomed to seeing over the previous week. I was emotional as we began our drive away from Lake Masek and tried to focus on seeing as much as I could before I could see it no longer.

ab92

Fast food of the savanna

One of the most commonly sighted animals in the savanna is the impala. We had seen so many of them on our trip in large herds grazing among the bushes and trees, and on this morning they showed up for us again. On our first day on safari, Ammy pointed out that on their hindquarters there is a dark “M” shape. He told us that the impala are the McDonald’s meal for the leopards, literal fast food. We never did see a leopard on our trip, which means we will have to return and try again.

IMG_6888 2

Dik-dik seeing us off

As we drove slowly one last time through the area, we had our eyes peeled for dik-diks. They were the one creature we decided we had to see one last time. They must have realized this because they showed up for us. I think we saw six to eight of them before we hit the small airstrip nearby where we would catch our bush plane headed to Arusha.

The Ndutu air strip is what you imagine it would be…a long stretch of gravel where bush planes come and go every hour. When we packed for Africa, the one guideline we were given was to pack light because the bush planes have a strict weight limit. When we saw the planes, it made sense.

i-zKNk6Br-XLEventually it was time to say goodbye to Ammy. I struggled to hold the tears back. There are no words to describe what a wonderful guide and person Ammy is. He was so patient with our non-stop questions. His expertise, warmth, and kindness made our trip. One thing that happened repeatedly on the trip is that we would ask a question that we more or less were guessing at an answer for. If we were guessing right, Ammy would respond in his lovely Tanzanian accent, “Exaaaaactly.”  Five months later, Steve and I are still walking around our house now saying that word as if we are Ammy. His big heart and smile made a deep indentation in our hearts.

IMG_6905

Best. Guide. Ever.

I think all but two of us were a bit concerned about the bush plane flight. Our oldest had flown on a similar plane in Sri Lanka six months earlier, so he was trying to make us all feel okay about it. I’d never flown on an aircraft this small before, and I’d never taken off from a dirt runway. I captured this photo of my sister-in-law quite by accident, but it pretty much summarizes how we were all feeling as we were preparing to take off.

IMG_6916

Are we really doing this? 

Of course, airlines around the world operate small flights like this one daily without incident and everything was fine. It was something else, though, being in such a small plane and flying over the expanse of Tanzania. We flew over the crater on our way to Arusha, and it was humbling to see it from the air.

IMG_6926Once we were safely back in Arusha, our Deeper Africa driver took us to the Cultural Heritage Center before taking us back to Onsea House for an opportunity to have lunch, shower, and nap before our long trip back home. The Cultural Heritage Center was filled with creations by local artists, most of it for sale. There were some amazing treasures.

Exhausted and overwhelmed after such an incredible trip, we had our lunch on the terrace and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing before our trip to Kilimanjaro Airport. Joe took a dip in the pool. The rest of us showered after our dusty morning and repacked the best we could. Luke took the opportunity to be in the moment.

IMG_6960When our ride to the airport arrived, we sucked it up and headed for the van with all our belongings and the treasures we’d collected along our journey. While Luke was ready to return home and get back to his own room, Joe, our world traveler, did not want to leave. I had to agree. In the end, we were able to pry Joe from the railing on the condition that we agreed to return. Joe and I mused on the way to the airport that perhaps our next trip back would be to climb Kilimanjaro, as has always been my dream and is now his.

IMG_6962

Dragged kicking and screaming from Africa

When we had arrived in Tanzania, it was dark. We hadn’t been able to see Kilimanjaro. It was not visible when we headed towards our safari either. Sunset was approaching and we told the driver we hoped we would see Kilimanjaro. He told us it is often not visible because of clouds and air quality. Someone was looking out for me, though. As we got closer, the driver told us we were in luck. Off to the left side of the van, the mountain was visible. We all craned our heads to see it. I teared up yet again. The silly mountain took my breath away. Damn, Africa. You’re killing me.

IMG_6976

Barely enough clarity or light for this photo, but still here it is

The driver stopped for us so we could take blurry and barely adequate photos in the waning light. Joe posed in front of it, an action he told me cemented his intention to return and summit it someday. It’s hard to describe how the sight of that mountain touched me. Sitting here with my laptop, I am overcome with the memory of my first glance at that peak. If I am never afforded the opportunity to follow my dream to climb it, I am forever grateful for the chance I had to see it rise above the clouds.

We arrived at the airport, filled out all the necessary forms, and made our way back onto a sizable aircraft that would fly us to Amsterdam for our return flights across the Atlantic and finally home to Denver. With full hearts, we said so long to Tanzania. Until next time….

IMG_6983

 

On The Road To The Serengeti

ab56

The next morning we headed out to Serengeti National Park. It takes several hours to reach the Serengeti from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Along the way, we passed many Maasai. The Maasai are the only people allowed to live within the conservation area, and these people originally called the Serengeti home but were relocated to the crater area when Serengeti National Park was created. In order to protect the area, only the Maasai are permitted to graze livestock and they are allowed to cultivate only the foods they need to subsist. Tourist-savvy male Maasai youth adorn their faces with white chalk used traditionally for a coming-of-age ceremony and stand along the roadside willing to pose for photo ops if you offer cash. While the Maasai have been forced to abandon their pastoral, nomadic ways so that their children can be educated in accordance with Tanzanian law, the government has made some concessions to allow them to continue with many of their traditions. Contemplating how the Maasai have been treated in contrast with how the Native American tribes have been treated in the United States gave me something to do on the drive. My son found another way to shorten the drive.

IMG_6436 2

As you get closer to the Serengeti, the vegetation decreases substantially. Shrubs and trees are few and far between, while grasses dominate the landscape. Serengeti means “endless plains.” It’s a fitting name. After what seemed an eternity, we arrived at the photo op entrance to the park, took a few quick shots, checked the tire pressure, and resumed driving into the park office and gift shop.

IMG_6419

While Ammy was off conducting official tourist business, the six of us followed a short trail up a rocky outcropping to get a view. Along the way, we happened upon several mwanza agama lizards. Who knew?

IMG_6433 2

How amazing is this little guy?

Once we’d had our requisite picnic lunch, we pointed ourselves in the general direction of our camp for the night, hoping to spy some big cats along the way. The Serengeti landscape took some getting used to after all the lushness of our previous locales. We joked that it reminded us of Wyoming or eastern Colorado, which is to say it was familiar but not in the best way. After a while, we began to hear radio chatter from other guides and Ammy started off towards them. I had no idea how Ammy knew where to go. I mean, sure, he’d been doing this sort of thing for 20 years, but the rough dirt roads were not marked in any way. There were no landmarks by which to guide yourself. I started to wonder if we would get lost and pondered how many Lara Bars I had in my pack for emergency sustenance. Finally we saw a few other Land Cruisers and drove to them to get a closer look at what they had discovered. Lions!

I’m not sure what I expected when I thought about seeing lions in their natural habitat. I suppose I imagined they would be more entertaining. Aside from the fact that they are potentially lethal, lions are not all that interesting. Once you accept that they aren’t going to break into the vehicle and eat you, you settle into the reality that they are cats. They sleep. A lot. When they’re not sleeping, they’re resting. When they’re not resting, they’re lazily eyeing the horizon for their next bite of fast food. With a proper meal, they can go days in between hunting. And so they sleep. Without an abundance of trees, they find relaxing in the shade under safari vehicles a welcome respite from the African sun. After a while, all their yawning was making me yawn. We moved on to see what else we could find.

Because it was migration time, we began to see large herds of wildebeest and zebra. We finally got the opportunity to observe some hyena too. They are much more reclusive than I expected and went out of their way to avoid us. Perhaps they should be called shyenas instead? While we continued along the road, we looked for ways to amuse ourselves in the vastness of the endless plain. Karen did some tree posing with a tree.

At long last we found what I had been waiting for…cheetah. As big cats go, cheetah are my favorite. They are long, sleek, fast, and cute as the day is long. And, let’s face it, they are not nearly as terrifying as other big cats. That afternoon we found a mother with four cubs. Ammy said she was a good mother because it is hard to keep four cubs alive. We watched her begin stalking, considering taking off after some potential dinner, but in the end she decided against it. Cheetahs know their limits, and they won’t waste their energy chasing something they don’t stand a chance of catching. With four cubs to feed, this momma had to make wise choices to ensure their survival.

cubs

Winners of the prize for Cutest

As the sun began to slip towards the western horizon, we drifted into our next camp. Namiri Plains is another camp run by Asilia Africa, the same company that operates Little Oliver’s. Unlike Little Oliver’s, however, Namiri Plains is a mobile camp that changes locations as the migration moves through. The tents here were traditional tents without thatched roof coverings and stone floors. I could not wait to check them out. After a quick meet and greet with the staff, we were guided to our tents.

IMG_6499

Are you kidding me?

I haven’t spent much time extolling the virtues of glamping in Africa. It is something else entirely. It was hard to fathom that you were in the middle of the Serengeti. The hot water came courtesy of solar panels, and the water was always Africa hot. The tents were private, incredibly spacious and comfortable, containing a bed, a seating area, a desk, a vanity with two sinks, a flushing toilet, and not one but two showers…indoor and outdoor. There was plenty of indoor lighting and even power strips for charging cameras and phones. And the views. Sigh.

IMG_6496

Our sleeping quarters in the Serengeti

IMG_6506

The view from our bed

We finished settling in and headed off to share dinner with the other camp guests. This camp was bigger than our last one, so we had the opportunity to dine with other tourists. Again the food was delicious and in no short supply, and they went out of their way to cater to my gluten sensitivities. I remain awe of how the Tanzanians can provide this level of hospitality in a mobile camp in the midst of an endless plain.

IMG_6508

By the time we finished our meal and had some campfire time, it was nearly dark. One thing you are not allowed to do while on safari is walk without camp staff to or from your tent between dusk and dawn. At night, we were escorted back to our tents by a member of staff and a Maasai warrior. There were a couple Maasai tribesman who patrolled the camps at night, keeping an eye out for potential danger. They did not carry guns, only walking staffs. They understand the animals, and the animals understand them. We were told that the lions know that they Maasai are danger to them. It was easier to drift off to sleep at night in the land of big cats knowing the Maasai had our backs.

IMG_6524

 

 

Coffee, Dik-Dik, and Lake Manyara National Park

africacoffee

Caffeine addicts rejoice!

I remember before we left for our Tanzania trip, my sister-in-law asked my husband if he thought they would have decent coffee where we’d be staying. We giggled a bit before he assured her our caffeine needs would be more than adequately met with tasty coffee.  At the Asilia properties where we stayed, Little Oliver’s Camp and later Namiri Plains Camp in the Serengeti, they brought it to our tents every morning on wooden trays so we could enjoy it while we readied for breakfast. There are days when I wake up at home now and look forlornly around the room in the sad realization that no one has brought my coffee in. Dammit.

IMG_6247

Zazu and Mrs Zazu have breakfast with us

All good things must come to an end and so, after our morning coffee and a delightful patio breakfast where a pair of hornbills came to steal some food, it was time to say goodbye to our hosts. I will not lie. I legit cried as we pulled away from Little Oliver’s Camp. I cannot state highly enough what a magical place it is. The quarters are luxurious with no attention to detail spared, and the outdoor showers are the stuff of dreams. The main lounge area is stunning and comfortable. The food is delicious and served in large quantity along with wonderful wine and cocktails. The people working there are the best. You go to Tanzania for the animals and the experience but, make no mistake about it, the kindhearted and gracious people will convince you to return.

asiliaafrica

Everyone came out to say goodbye

This day, we would drive head out of Tarangire National Park, visit Lake Manyara National Park, and eventually land at our next home, the Plantation Lodge. It would take several hours to exit Tarangire, so we left early to ensure we’d have time to stop and view the abundant wildlife on the way out.

One creature we loved seeing was the dik-dik, a small, territorial antelope. Yes. Such a thing exists. Steve, the boys, and I became obsessed with these little guys, forcing Ammy to stop over and over so we could watch them defend their territory with their tiny horns or dart off, stop, and then eye us suspiciously. Most people go to Africa and go crazy for cheetah or giraffes. Here we were, losing it over 11 pound antelope. But, look at this photo and tell me you blame us.

dikdik

Female dik-dik….try not to fall in love

We had seen a few giraffe at a distance during our time in Tarangire, but on our way out of the park on New Year’s Day, we saw over 40 of them in the span of only a mile. We watched a pair battle each other with their long necks. We saw one bend at the knees to eat grass and saw others stretch to reach the tips of the treetops to grab the most tender bites of acacia leaves. Ammy said he hadn’t often seen them together in such large numbers. We joked that perhaps it was their annual giraffe convention. It felt like they were coming out to see us off.

giraffes

After bidding a fond farewell to Tarangire, we headed to Lake Manyara where we expected to see zebra, wildebeests (aka, gnus), and cape buffalo. The first thing we encountered in the park were baboons along the road. Baboons are fun to watch. They, like the elephants, are always up to something. Anywhere you park, you must roll up your windows because they are opportunists. On more than one occasion we saw a baboon dive into a vehicle and make off with food. I couldn’t decide if I thought they were creepy with their huge canine teeth or adorable with their mischievous and spunky personalities.

baboons

Not long after beginning our drive though the park, the sky opened up. It was the only time on the trip when we endured a sustained daytime rain. We closed the roof and tried to take photos out the windows. The area around Lake Manyara is marshy, and I was grateful for the Land Cruiser as we passed through some standing water. As the rains began to lighten, we saw some zebras that looked as if they wished to switch places with us in our dry vehicle. I started speaking of them with the traditional British accent because zeh-bra sounds much more dignified.

zebra

That face, though

The wildlife to be seen here is impressive: elephants, hippos, zebra, wildebeest, cape buffalo, and all types of water birds. Because the weather wasn’t in our favor, we didn’t spend much time in this park but I believe it would be worthwhile to give another shot at a later date.

We headed out towards our next lodging, stopping at a shop filled with locally crafted items. There were paintings, carvings, and all manner of beaded and other textile gifts. We had fun choosing special treats for our family back home. And Steve did his best to barter lower prices. In the end, I think he felt he could have done a better job and saved us some money. I told him that we were helping the local economy and, let’s face it, could spare a little extra for people who didn’t have nearly what we do. It’s all good.

IMG_6296

Ammy turned off onto a dirt road that wasn’t marked and we bounced our way back a few miles to our final destination of the day. As we pulled up the long road towards our lodging, it was obvious we were in for a treat. Plantation Lodge is set on a hill, the entire property shrouded from view with greenery. We pulled up to a parking area and got out of the Land Cruiser. After climbing some stairs to reach the property, I began shaking my head. Ahead of us lie perfectly manicured lawns, all manner of tropical plants, and white cottages with heavy wooden doors. Arbors were covered in flowers, plumeria bloomed everywhere, and several cats lounged lazily in the shade of day waiting for their night shift to begin. Were we really in Africa? This was my second choice lodge for this portion of the trip, and I found myself glad we’d landed here. It was clear we were in for a treat.

We settled into our rooms, took some time to wander the property, and grabbed an evening cocktail before dinner while the boys took to the pool. It’s such a pleasure to travel in a way that affords complete relaxation. Because Deeper Africa took care of every last detail, we were able to show up and just be in the moment. I breathed deeply that afternoon with my cocktail in hand, sunglasses on my face, and the promise of another wondrous adventure day on the horizon.

IMG_6326

Living the dream