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Northern Tanzania Safari/Crater Highlands Trek Jan 2003


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A very belated trip report from January 2003 with few details and no pictures. Sorry, but it was a long time ago and I can’t even remember how many nights we stayed in the Serengeti. But here goes.


I planned the trip with Tropical Trails, a local company based in Arusha. We booked a private safari and trek through the crater highlands – our own vehicle, guides and cook. The tradeoff was that it was budget camping at public campsites. Overall, I was very happy with Tropical Trails. Granted, I have no point of comparison, but I thought our guides and cook were excellent. We spent the first night (maybe even the first two nights) at their hotel, Karama. We had a small comfortable chalet with a view of Kilimanjaro. I was in heaven. I simply love the smell in the air in Africa. I still remember it, 10 years later.


Our safari/walk took about 10-12 days. We had a private guide and cook for the entire trip (John and Manu). For the walking portion we had an additional Maasai guide (Ole), three donkeys (which I named Jose, Eyeore and Little One), a donkey groom, a Maasai guard (to be honest, I was not counting on him to save me in case of an animal encounter) and various other folks who seemed to wander in and out of the group, usually around mealtimes.


We stayed in public campgrounds in a small two person tent. We had mattresses and sleeping bags. No beds, no electricity, no bathrooms. It was perfect for us. The only thing I would maybe consider changing is the no bathroom thing. It’s hard to enjoy a sundowner when your guide keeps telling you not to drink anything after 6 PM because you really don’t want to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night.


The public campgrounds in the Serengeti were surprisingly uncrowded. One night, it was just us. Another night it was only us and one other couple. The campground in Ngorongoro was very crowded. But they had hot showers, so you give a little but you get some back. Twiga Camp, by Lake Manyara reminded me of a Boy Scout camp in the US, not the best way to start, but it went up from there. And all the campsites on our trek were secluded and perfect. We also stayed one night in a lodge – I think the Sopa by the crater. Definitely not my cup of tea but a welcome break from the camping. I may have spent a full hour in the shower.


I can’t give you a day by day report so I will just break down the highlights and the things I remember. We started at Lake Manyara, spent a few days in the central Serengeti, a full day in Ngorongoro and then we embarked on our trek. We walked to Empakai crater, then we went to a beautiful campsite right on the edge of the rift valley. Next we walked to and camped by Oldonyo Lengai. Finally we walked to an area close to and visited Lake Natron.


Here are the highlights:


Loading the Land Cruiser with several dozen eggs that were to remain unrefrigerated in the heat of the Serengeti for 10 days. I have to be honest, I stopped eating them after about a week.


We had wanted to spend a night in the Lobo campsite in the northern part of the Serengeti. Our guide talked us out of it because it was the off season and he did not want the cook to stay there alone while we were out driving. Something to do with a lion and a tree. We did drive up there one day and it was one of our best days. We spent hours surrounded by a very large group of elephants, including many babies. They slowly crossed the road we were on both in front and behind the Land Cruiser.


Watching a troop of baboons fill the branches of an acacia tree settling down for their night’s sleep. A beautiful picture with the setting sun in the background (too bad none of my photos are digitized).


Sleeping through a lion strolling past our tent one night. My husband still tells this story, apparently my snoring was slightly louder than the lion’s roar.


I much preferred the Serengeti to the crater. Ngorongoro was more crowded and it was hard to escape the crowds. We did spend a few hours at a lake in Ngorongoro watching an inept jackal trying to kill a flamingo. That is one of my favorite memories from the whole trip.

At the Ngorongoro campsite, since there were so many people, I had the bright idea to ask them to pitch our tent away from everyone else. I think they were playing a practical joke on me since I love chocolate, but our guide told us to make sure we had no chocolate in the tent as there had been incidences where a wild forest hog broke into a tent in search of chocolate. Really? In the middle of the night my husband wakes me up. He is pretty sure there is a wild forest hog outside our tent and wants to know if I have any hidden chocolate. Sure enough, I hear this flapping sound and heavy breathing right outside. We carefully unzip the flap and shine our flashlight outside – right into the eyes of a cape buffalo calmly grazing right next to our tent. Someone yelled hysterically – close the flap, close the flap, it’s going to charge. Might have been me, my memory is a bit hazy.


Pitching a tent on the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment in a grove of yellow fever acacia trees. It was magnificent. The Grand Canyon had nothing on this view. But in the US, we would have been sharing it with 1,000 strangers and here we had the whole place to ourselves. It was a magical night.


Serengeti refrigeration – wrapping wet toilet paper around a beer can and leaving it in a shady place with a light breeze. It worked surprisingly well.


Walking with our Maasai guide through Maasai villages and marketplaces. Periodically, people would walk alongside us and we had a chance to talk. Ole would translate. I still have an authentic Maasai toothbrush that a young man made for me during one of our walks. It’s a small thing but it’s always the small things that seem to stick with me.


Of course we saw many, many animals. No rhinos up close and no cheetahs (I simply have to go back to Africa just so I can see cheetahs). It was the perfect vacation and I have been planning my return trip for the past ten years!! :)

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Lovely to have the memories but how nice to have seen some photos from 10 years ago. A return seems well overdue.

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