Published: May 14th 2008May 7th 2008
Nairobi, Kenya was described as a very scary place in all of the travel books, but we found it to be easy to navigate and the people helpful. Tourists still seemed to be scarce due to the low season and the politcal unrest (which was mainly to the west of Nairobi and is on hold)...which we found to be very helpful in negotiating prices.
We arrived from the paradise of the Seychelle Islands expecting a huge let-down, but Kenya and Tanzania have been wonderfully amazing.
We got to Nairobi in late afternoon just to see a bright orange sunset over the Kenyan plains on the way to the city center. The taxi driver was great and stopped by the August 7th, 1998 memorial where the US Embassy stood so we could pay our respects. The memorial was closed so we bribed the guards to let us in (plus our guide told them we were Americans and they pretty much said fine with a few bills). We had the site to ourselves as it was dark and closed...but the visit still meant a lot to us.
We got dropped off at the Kenya Comfort Hotel (for travelers: this is
Lion in a tree!
This is apparently a very rare sighting for any safari. He was just our first of 32 lions, but the only one we saw in a tree.
across the street from the Shuttle bus station, albeit a bit expensive, our first night was fine, but on the return trip we had a street side room even though we asked for an inside room and slept not one wink. The staff were just jerks about it.), and had dinner and breakfast.
What was funny is that as we boarded the plane in Seychelles there was this young French guy checking-in right in front of us, we saw him again when we got our bags, and then when we got to the hotel he was in the lobby. We found that he (Ronan) was also headed to Arusha, Tanzania to do a safari in the Serengeti. The next morning all three of us boarded the shuttle and headed off for Tanzania
(Note For Travelers: we paid $25 pp for the shuttle booking it at the airport, we told Ronan what we paid so he got it down to $20 at the shuttle itself, and then on the return to Nairobi we paid $10...but that was a special deal -- fair is like $20, cheap is $15 -- and we talked to others who paid as high as
The trip is scenic, but the border gave us a shock when the Tanzania Visa was $100 pp for Americans -- while it was $50 for everyone else.
We met two British women (Esther and Jackie) and they were also planning the same trip. We all decided to stick together and negotiate for a safari as a group (which is always cheaper). When we got to Arusha the bus station was a mess..tons of touts, supposed guides, and people hawking things -- and they all just come at you.
The five of us disappeared into a little restaurant to collect our thoughts. Finally I went out and negotiated a trip into the city to see different hotels they were offering. Esther wanted cheap, cheap, cheap, but after visiting a few pretty nice cheap places, would not stay in the hotels that cost the $15 she wanted to pay. She wanted a $50 room for $15. So after several hours of driving around Arusha we found a great little hotel for $30 called Pamoja Expedition Lodge. It was great, with a garden, a pool, TV, and wonderful clean rooms. A little out of the center of town,
No really - they taste just like a regular banana, but have a bright red peel. The Lake Maynara area is famous for these and malaria...
but we felt very safe. Then the real headache started.
The guide that we had picked up at the bus station (Mr. Sotor Clemence of Excellent Safaris = http://www.excellentsafaris.com
) had been very patient with us and had found us this great little hotel (Travelers: see reccomendation at the bottom). But Esther was unsure that she wanted to use a guide we met at the bus station. The travel books warn you not to use these guys, but if you are not stupid, I have found they usually are a pretty good bet. Besides that, its the low season so even the most expensive safari companies are looking for clients. So we all had to wait and wait for other travel companies to come and make us proposals. They were WAY more expensive and at 9:30 pm we finally agreed to a program and a price with Excellent Safaris to leave first thing in the morning.
Our program was 4 days and 3 nights of safari stopping in Lake Manyara National Park, a night in the Serengeti National Park, and then a night in Ngorongoro Crater National Park.
WHAT AN AMAZING 4 DAYS!!!!!
We had expected
We found this little guy on the side of the road in Lake Maynara (from now on LM).
to reduce the cost by spending all the nights camping in these parks as the lodges/hotels inside the parks alone advertise low-season rates at like $120-175 pp, per night, per person (full board). But in our negotiations we got Excellent Safaris to throw-in two nights in lodges (night #2 & 3) and only one night camping -- and what a great experience it was.
The next morning we got up and Mr. Clemence picked us up to take us to the bank to get cash (as none of us had enough dough). But the bank ATM was out of order so we had to go into town to get cash...then Ronan's card got eaten by the ATM (arrrggggh).
By the time we got to the office it was already past our 9:00 departure time...but then we found that two Korean guys were joining us (Jack and Sour (pronounced Soar)). Then all heck broke loose as some of us (not really "us" as in the George's) and Jack and Sour were very upset that we were not told that more people were joining us...so 40 minutes of yelling (which I used to use the internet to tell mom(s) where
These baboons greeted us on our way to the Lake Maynara NP. Look at the little baby baboon on top of his moms back :-)
we were)...we finally got the clear to get going.
But then Ronan wasn't back yet from the bank...so we didn't leave until 12:00 and there were four people who were really hot (Jess, Ronan and I were actually pretty impressed that they got the Safari, jeep, cook, driver, and gear all ready in like 10 hours...but some people expect miracles (besides that its Africa for crying out loud - not the US!). So off we went...
BTW: great, large Land Crusier...seven passenger with a lift up top to stand up..I need one of these (see photo).
We got to the Lake Maynara NP a couple hours later than we were expecting, but we were not disappointed at all. So much wildlife! Elephants, gazelles, hippos, giraffes, flamingo...it was just breath-taking. The park is known for its unique "tree-climbing" lions, but they are rarely if ever seen (what Lonely Planet said) but there he was...a HUGE male lion, up in the tree, and not 30 feet from our jeep! It was just a great afternoon! And we are so lucky when it comes to seeing wildlife on this trip.
That night we stayed in a
campground that had an amazing view over the park and the Rift Valley....we will try to post a picture...but there is no way to capture it on a camera. The night was tough as our camping cots provided by the campground were awful and the tent was full of holes (the #1 malaria area in Tanzania, but don't worry anti-malaria pills and 100% deet spray ought to take care of that!), so we just got in our "cocoons" we got for Christmas (thanks Grandma Johnson!!!) and just waited out the night (actually Larry slept most of the night, Jess waited it out), but at 6:00 am there was a great sunrise over the valley far below our camp. Wow!
We packed up and headed for the Serengeti...I didn't know that you took the road up and past the Ngoronngoro Crater...but what a road with views and jungle. Down the other side and across some really dry plains, which is a quick change of scenery, and then into the park.
When you enter the park it starts off with some lonely gazelle or impalla in the distance, then you see a zebra or wildebeest, then all of
This Land Rover really made the safari enjoyable. Everyone had a window and the top popped up to allow for standing room - for everyone!
a sudden you see 1000's of them.
While still driving into the park we saw two lions on the side of the road...over the four day trip we saw 32 different lions...it was just great...actually it was amazing.
We dropped off the gear of the 3 people in our group who were going to camp for a 2nd night (they wanted to hear the sounds of the Serengeti...which we ended up hearing better from the comfort of a very nice hotel room in a wonderful wildlife lodge -- city folks, go figure).
The rest of the day was just everything that you think of when you think of a African safari, but so much more. More hippos, more giraffes, so many birds, elephants, zebras, it goes on and on. Wow it was fun! So many great pictures and videos to share.
That night they dropped us (Jess, Ronan and I) at the Seronera Wildlife lodge right in the middle of the Serengeti...what a great atmosphere and a 4-star affair. The lodge is built right into a granite rock outcropping and is actually built using the boulders...unfortunately I had removed the memory card from the camera but
still kept taking picture so, though the pictures still show up on some kind of hard drive on the camera - I can't download them until we get home. Anyway, the lodge was great even if I can't post the pictures now. And more importantly our room looked east...so we awoke to the sound of hippos, and to a wonderful sunrise over the forest. How do you describe what we have seen????
That day was more great experiences: watching a march of 40 elephants across the grass plain right up to the water-hole were we were watching from, a group of lions eating something, and then we found ourselves in the middle of a massive, and I mean massive, herd of zebras and wildebeest getting ready to migrate north into Kenya.
We have some great video, the pictures do not do it justice. They were on all sides of us...they were feet from the jeep! It was crazy to see.
We ate lunch, packed-up, and headed out for the Ngorongoro Crater. Oh yeah...on our way out of the park we got to see a mother lion walking with a cub in her mouth...see the picture...she walked right
LM Campground Kitchen
Our cook Maiko was excellent and despite the appearance of the kitchen none of us got sick...
with us for 10 minutes or so.
I cannot believe that someone was smart enough to build a lodge on the edge of this crater like our lodge was built...stunning. This crater is an average of 13 miles across and 1800 feet deep...it is like Crater Lake without water and 20,000 large Africa animals living in the bottom of it!
The lodge and all the rooms had huge picture windows that looked over this natural wonder...you felt like it was too wonderful to believe your own eyes. We ate buffet dinner (oh yeah, the lodges have pretty good buffets for meals...all included in the price of the safari) and headed to bed. The next morning we woke up looking eastward to a sunrise coming over the edge of the crater wall...again, WOW.
The safari was more amazing views of animals...there is a lake in the middle of the crater with 1000s of flamingos. We finally got to see the Black Rhino!!! We then we had the pleasure of watching 4 female lions on a real hunt...they were stalking wildebeests and zebras...it was really cool to watch. One of the other jeeps broke-up their hunt
Two male lions in the Serengeti
These two were napping on a little knoll that was literally 20 feet from our jeep. It was awesome.
before success, but it was really something to see. Again, these lions were just feet from our jeeps (see pictures).
We were so pleased with the whole experience....what a trip of a life-time. You always hope that you can go on a safari like this...but it far exceeded both of our expectations by many mulitples. It was so much fun!
Odd thing about life is that a few on our trip were just determined to pick apart every little thing that went wrong, and had a disappointing time. For the money we paid, with how quick they put it together, and the value we got for our money, and for what we saw and where we stayed...it was like they were on another safari (or planet). It just goes to show you that when you travel it is YOUR attitude that determines the experience. We paid for a bargain-basement, backpacker safari...and we felt like we got so much more than we ever expected.
We made it back to Arusha and unloaded back at our little hotel. Jack and Sour stayed in a different hotel across town, so Jackie, Esther, Ronan, Jessica and I got a taxi and
Giraffe in the Serengeti
This is just one of the many giraffe we saw on the safari. In fact by the end of the trip we'd just drive right past whole herds of them and barely look. They are however amazing creatures and a lot of fun to sit and stare at.
went out for dinner. It was a nice way to relax and say goodbyes to everyone. Good fun.
We got back together with Mr. Clemence and started to arrange our trip to exotic Zanzibar for some diving and beach time. We were sad to say bye to the new friends, the safari fun, and a trip that you always dream about.
So many great picture that cannot even start to show you the beauty we saw over 4 days. We can't wait to tell you about Zanzibar! For Travelers:
We used Mr. Soter Clemence of Excellent Safaris to book this incredible trip http://www.excellentsafaris.com
. He does seem to be a little unorganized, and so there were little glitches along the way (for example: we had to wait on the beautiful deck of the crater lodge for 40 minutes to have our vouchers faxed...about the best 40 minute delay I have ever had traveling....I would have paid most days to spend 40 minutes on that viewing deck).
Also there were several misunderstandings by others in our group (our view:unrealistic expectations) but he always made good and tried to make everyone whole (ie: he gave all of us
Hungry, smelly hippos
They just lay around splashing water all over eachother and themselves. However, they use that same water as their toilet...a little stinky.
a free night in our hotels the first night back in Arusha due to the delay leaving -- that WE caused!). It is for sure a budget operation for those on a budget...we would recommend the company for travelers that can roll with the flow.
However, if you are expecting perfection, pay more and book through an expensive company from home. But for the rest of you...we had the trip of a lifetime with these guys. We booked our flights to Zanzibar which have been perfect...and in the end I believe that 4 out of 7 of us thought the safari was the greatest trip ever and loved it....
There are more photos below