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East Africa Adventure - Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania 21 Days


SaminKaz
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Here is my trip report from my last trip. I thought I would share this as I am now preparing for my next adventure in February. It is always nice to reread one's memories to remember what we love and don't love about going on safari.

 

31 December, 2013

 

I left on my East African safari adventure on New Year’s Eve, 2013. It certainly was a fortuitous day to start my journey, which I had changed at the last minute because I was hoping to see the fireworks in Abu Dhabi.

 

I arrived promptly in Abu Dhabi after a great Etihad flight, which I had used my points to upgrade to business class. A wonderful way to start my trip! My only problem is that the champagne is never cold enough when they offer you a glass at the start of the flight (first world problems). The staff were great, because they put the bottle on ice as soon as we were airborne and it chilled down nicely for when the food arrived.

 

Abu Dhabi has become my main airport hub whilst I am based in Kazakhstan and I find it to be an easy transfer between gates and departures. I was out of the airport within 20 minutes and getting into an Etihad chauffeured car (complimentary when flying business/first class) for my quick drive to The Park, Rotana. The driver was new and had some problems actually locating the hotel but the comfort of the car allowed me to feel relaxed and to not worry about the extra time spent looking for the hotel. I was on vacation and not working so I had nothing to be stressed about.

 

It was my first time at The Park, Rotana and it was conveniently located about 20 minutes from the airport. My late arrival (approximately 9.15pm) on New Year’s Eve meant that there was little wait for my check-in. I made the booking through PointsHound who contacted the hotel prior to my physical check-in to make sure I had a room on a high floor away from any parties that may have been on that night. The staff at the hotel were great and gave me an upgrade to my standard room although it was on a smoking floor. I was reassured that the room would not smell and it was agreed upon that if there were the odor of smoke they would change the room immediately. It turned out that the room was fine and I enjoyed the opportunity to freshen up before investigating the hotel further.

 

Unfortunately, my plan to go and see the fireworks was put on hold when I was advised that I would be guaranteed a taxi to get to The Corniche (main road) but that it would be very hard to return afterwards due to traffic and people. I then had a look around the hotel which offered a number of dining/partying opportunities for New Years but being dressed in attire suitable for an African safari and not for a night out on the town I decided room service and sat tv were a better option.

 

I relaxed in my room and then went to bed without hearing any of the noises from the parties downstairs. I woke up to a New Year’s Day in another country (I seem to make a habit of this) and then caught a metered taxi to the airport earlier than I needed to try and secure another points upgraded ticket.

 

Suggestions:

 

The Park, Rotana was conveniently located (about 60 DHS in a metered taxi).

 

The staff were great and the rooms were spacious and clean. I found a great price on www.pointshound.com with an added bonus Etihad Guest points which made me choose this property.

 

Ask for a high floor to avoid any noise from the entertainment areas located on the lower floors of the hotel.

 

Room service was well priced and decent.

Edited by SaminKaz
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Looking forward to seeing what your itinerary has in store!

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1 January, 2014

 

Upon arrival at the airport I went through customs quickly due to already having my ticket from the previous check-in and only carrying my camera backpack. I went up to the staff at the Etihad Lounge to see if I could arrange my upgrade and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was already allocated a complementary upgrade. Stoked and thinking what a way to start the New Year I proceeded to head into the lounge when the staff member informed me that a complimentary upgrade doesn’t include lounge entry. Ah ha who cares, I made my way to the coffee shop/restaurants and sat down to an awesome cappuccino whilst I called home and wished everyone a Happy New Year.

 

Soon it was time to go to my gate and board. Once again the flight and service was great. The same issue with the champagne and white wine being too warm was rectified with putting both on ice, once we were in the air.

 

I was fortunate to have secured the upgrade because all of business class was full. It was an uneventful flight with the opportunity to sit and speak with an interesting man working with the UN in Sudan. His stories would make your toenails curl and it was a shame the flight was only five hours long. I could have listened to this guy talk for a super long-haul flight.

 

Once I arrived in Nairobi it was a quick trip through customs to get my visa. The benefit of business class meant I was one of the first in the line. After paying for a single entry visa (although I told them I was re-entering another two times within the next 3 weeks – it turned out alright) I went through to the baggage return and waited for my bag. This took longer than the whole visa/customs process and then headed out to find my driver who would take me to my hotel.

 

My driver was a lovely guy from AirCab who took great delight in driving in Nairobi on a day without traffic. I had researched enough to know that Nairobi traffic is notorious and was worried about my 2pm arrival and having to transfer to a city based hotel. Low and behold the drive to the hotel was not even 20 minutes, which was a pleasant surprise. The joy of arriving on a public holiday!

 

The Serena Hotel in downtown Nairobi is a pleasant but overpriced place to stay. The gardens and pool area offer a chance to relax whilst the chaos of the city is on your doorstep. Security is paramount at all times and I was strongly discouraged from leaving the hotel to go for a walk. Being a solo traveller I love arriving in a place, grabbing my bag/camera and heading out to see what is around me by foot. It is a great chance to see things that being in a car would not allow. I was finally told I could go for a 10 minute walk and if I didn’t return by 5pm then someone would be sent out to find me. The staff were obviously worried because of the public holiday and the fact that the normal street traffic was not around. The park opposite was very busy with locals enjoying the holiday but the hotel security were concerned that this was not the place to go to and especially not with a camera. I could understand their concern but it was frustrating to feel caged in the hotel and it’s surrounds. I went for a quick walk but it certainly didn’t endear me to Nairobi. I actually felt very uncomfortable, maybe due to the dire warnings from the Serena Hotel Staff or maybe due to the public holiday crowds, so I returned to the hotel and took refuge at the hotel pool and sampled some Kenyan beers.

 

Suggestions:

I would not stay at The Serena again. The price and location would be the main contributing factors. If you are using a hotel as a transit between flights then driving into Nairobi is not necessary. Especially, if you are not interested in seeing the city centre. I would suggest hotels that are more conveniently located to the airport especially if you are staying only overnight. Otherwise, The Palacina was a similar distance to the airport but a lot nicer and the rooms were definitely larger and more modern. Similar price point at around $225 per night. The Palacina breakfast and afternoon tea/drinks was also a great bonus.

 

The hotel was easy walking distance to the city centre but be prepared that the hotel staff would prefer you to use a “hotel” taxi. Not sure what the added cost this is compared to a normal taxi.

 

Aircab was a cheaper taxi alternative and offered a meet/greet service at the airport. Their car was a station wagon with air conditioning although it was not very effective. I actually had my window open 80% of the time and only closed it when we were stuck in traffic in the city centre. They can be contacted via their website with prompt replies www.aircab.co.ke

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Lots of interesting detail, looking forward to more.

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2 January, 2014

 

Shoebill Stork

 

I was up early due to my flight to Entebbe, Uganda leaving at 8am. Once again the dire warnings of Nairobi traffic meant that I asked for a 5am transfer to the airport. Unfortunately, I have missed flights in the past and it now haunts me. It means that I am always a little precautious about departures and leave that little bit earlier than necessary. I arrived at Jomo Kenyatta by 5.30am and was checked in and waiting at the coffee shop next to my gate by 6am. Thankfully Kenyan coffee is awesome and the coffee shop at gate 16/17 provides pretty good food as well. This kept me entertained along with my iPad (travellers necessity) whilst I waited for my flight to be called. Unbeknownst to myself the gates are opened super early and you are asked to wait in a general area for the flight to actually be called. This can be quite nerve racking because there are no signs or people offering information about what is going on. You wait in an area hoping that your flight hasn’t actually boarded and normally boarding is very late. This exacerbates the situation leaving not only myself but the fellow guests around me feeling worried about their respective flights. This was my only worry whilst in Nairobi Airport and the one thing I think should be fixed asap.

 

Finally we were all called to board the flight. We tried to follow the lady that called our flight but she disappeared pretty quickly and I was left to follow people who had no idea where to go. We made our way down a ramp to the airport floor. We finally found the lady who had announced our flight and went to the bus that would deliver us to our plane.

 

Boarding onto The Kenyan Airways flight was very easy. The flight was about 60% full which allowed me to have no one sitting next to me. Although there was a little bit of turbulence as we left Nairobi we then were left with 40 minutes of smooth sailing. There was a small breakfast offered which consisted of a “plastic” croissant, jam, water and your choice of tea/coffee and other assorted drinks.

 

http://vimeo.com/83280940

 

Arrival at Entebbe was painless and once again I was quick to go through the customs/visa entrance and was processed within minutes. Have the right cash and you will be fine! My hotel had arranged the transfer and my driver was waiting for me when I came through the arrival doors. Within minutes I was settled in the hotel mini-van and I was off to The Boma Guesthouse. The trip was uneventful except for the amazing size of the East African Headquarters for The UN. The UN Airport and extended space for all land based vehicles was incredible and something that I had no idea about.

 

I arrived at The Boma Guesthouse within 20 minutes and was welcomed by their lovely staff. They settled me in quickly into a nice, clean basic room that was equipped with everything I needed for a nights stay. I returned back to the reception area to wait for my tour guide to pick me up for my Shoebill Stork Tour at 10am. Whilst waiting I went online to check emails etc and was pleasantly surprised by the internet speed.

 

When the time reached 10.15am I knew that no one was turning up for my shoebill tour. I immediately contacted the travel agency but unfortunately no one was picking up the phone. I also emailed the different email addresses I had (two) to try and alert them to my predicament. The hotel offered me another possibility to use their supplier, which was double the amount at $300 for a private shoebill tour to be picked up immediately which I refused. I was finally contacted by the tour agency arranging the tour and told I was not expected until the following day. They arranged for me to be picked up at noon and to be out at the Mubamba Swamp by 1pm.

 

I was left with no option and thinking I was wasting a precious $150 to try and see a shoebill. Knowing we would be out at the swamp by around 1pm I had no illusion as to what the heat of the day would offer me. Being optimistic and on my first “real” day of safari I decided to go for it. My guide and the boat drivers were very enthusiastic about finding a shoebill and by then I was truly happy to just be out on Lake Victoria.

 

Lake Victoria is extremely vast and of course when you check out the map you will see it covers a huge amount of Uganda and also goes into Tanzania. Mubamba Swamp took about 45 minutes to travel to via a wooden speedboat that was very basic but extremely adequate. If travelling this route I would suggest that photography enthusiasts take with them a spare towel from their hotel and a waterproof bag or plastic shopping bag to put their equipment in. There was water along the bottom of the boat but the guys were great about rearranging some wooden planks to rest my camera equipment above the water. A towel/plastic bag would have been great to rest my bag on and if the towel had gotten wet then it could easily be placed in the plastic bag. A small towel would also be ideal to wipe down your face/neck whilst out in the midday’s sun. Put some water on the towel and you will instantly feel refreshed and you can easily place the towel on your neck to keep you cool.

 

We changed from the speedboat into a smaller boat to navigate the swamp’s narrower channels. We then travelled about 2 minutes into the swamp and rounded a corner. I was super surprised to come upon a large female shoebill who was hunting for a lungfish to feed her chicks. Her husband I was told in the next lagoon but we decided to stay with the mum to see what would happen.

 

I am not a birder and have never really had any interest in birds but after seeing David Attenborough’s Africa documentary last year I had a newfound interest in the shoebill stork. When I realized I would be in Entebbe and would have the opportunity to potentially see this bird I leapt at the chance. To see a shoebill in person is a pretty awesome experience. We were able to get within 5m of the 140cm female who waited patiently for a lungfish to come within her grasp. It was 90 surreal minutes that flew by. My guide was also blown away by the experience and he and the trackers remarked about this being the closest they too had been to a shoebill. The photos and video opportunities were endless and I took great delight in enjoying every moment I had with this magnificent creature. Truly, one of the world’s most unique birds, and of course rare birds.

 

After over 90 minutes with the female shoebill, I suggested we move to find her husband. The temperature was rising along with the humidity. Being out in the open whilst in the swamp was super hot and I was desperate to feel some breeze of the open water. The trackers used their oars to move the boat out into the channel and within seconds the movement must have created enough of a ripple to allow a lungfish to surface near the shoebill. She quickly caught the fish and swallowed it. About 30 seconds later she went to take a drink of water and seconds later was flying away to regurgitate the fish and water for her chicks wherever they were.

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/79649861@N06/sets/72157640358535923/

 

I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were and also the opportunity to be with the shoebill for the amount of time I was given. We couldn’t find the husband and made our way back to Entebbe. The open water allowed me to get some fresh breezes from our speed boat trip back to the town. We arrived back at an area next to the local market and I went for a quick walk around. It was amazing to see the difference between world markets and of course the people that see the produce in these places. The vibrancy was paramount but the smell and lack of hygiene and refrigeration would blow most people away. The western market is so “perfect” compared to African markets which showcases great diversity compared to the generic produce offered to us westerners.

 

My driver was waiting for when I finished walking around the market and he took me back to The Boma Guesthouse. I then spent the afternoon hanging around The Boma’s pool. The Boma made one of the best club sandwiches I have ever tried which was a pleasant surprise to be eating it in the middle of Uganda. Wonders never cease!

 

I headed off to an early night seeing that I was up for an early morning flight to Kihihi the following morning.

 

http://vimeo.com/83500953

 

Suggestions:

 

The Boma Guesthouse was a great place to stay and offered a bed/breakfast for $125 per night. If booked directly with the hotel they also offer airport transfers. There are more modern properties in Entebbe but they come at a price, which I cannot justify for this part of the world. Each to their own though.

 

Ask for a quiet room but be prepared that most guests are using the hotel as a transit property and arrive/leave at ungodly hours which does interfere with your sleep.

 

The restaurant offers really good, home cooked meals. If you are time poor then there is no need to leave to find a good meal.

 

There is a supermarket that is about a 10 minute walk to stock up on any drinks/snacks you may need if starting a safari from Entebbe.

 

I used Mabamba Shoebill Tours which can be contacted on www.shoebillmabamba.com I would definitely use them again but remain in contact with them and remind them of your tour 2-3 days before your arrival. The price was the best of all the tours and to have a private tour for $150 is exceptional.

 

No need to change your money into Ugandan shillings if you have US$ but if you want there are 3 money exchange places close to where the supermarket is. I would suggest using the lovely lady at the 2nd or 3rd money exchange who was very nice and able to provide smaller notes that I could use easily for tips when necessary.

Edited by SaminKaz
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Nice vid. What an amazing looking bird & fabulous sighting.

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Really nice shoebill photos. All of the practical information in your posts is useful, too.

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3 January

 

Entebbe to Kihihi

 

Once again I continue my early morning rises to depart for my flight from Entebbe to Kihihi. Departure from Entebbe Airport was easy and my only worry was my excess luggage due to the cameras. Lucky for me the weigh machine was not working properly and my bag was passed through. The plane only seated about 12 people plus airline officials once again accompanied the pilots and us to the plane. Carryon bags were left at the back of the aircraft so make sure you have your cameras and whatever you need whilst the flight is in progress. The airline offers you bottled water as you board and some mint candies. Most hotels will offer you a packed meal to take with you on the plane to eat. There isn’t really any opportunity to buy any food from the airport except for duty free inside or one overpriced coffee shop, which is not in the same area as the departure area and means you must enter and have your luggage scanned and then again to enter the departure check-in although the doors are about 5m apart and both security guards can see each other.

 

Once on board we had an 80 minute flight with a drop-off after 1 hour. You will travel over Lake Victoria, grasslands/woodlands and then over Queen Elizabeth NP. We arrived at Kihihi Airport, which is a small grass/dirt runway with actually a permanent building that house toilets and a waiting area for guests. I got off the plane in a little bit of a daze and was met by my driver who collected my bag and off we went to the 4WD. I was driven alone to Bwindi which is a 90 minute drive from Kihihi. The road at times is very “African” and you will soon learn the African catchphrase that their roads provide you with an “African massage”. I sat in the front seat and kept up a constant stream of conversation with my driver as I enjoyed the scenery and took photos and videos.

 

I thought the drive was a great way for fly-in tourists to see that Bwindi and the gorilla trekking is not the only part of Uganda that they should encounter. It is only too often travel industry tries to “protect” tourists and especially people staying in more upscale, high-end lodges/hotels from what is the reality in most parts of Africa. This includes inadequate infrastructure, lack of public services and poverty. It is obviously nice to stay in lovely accommodations but it doesn’t reflect the reality right outside the doorstep of these properties.

 

I arrived at the Sanctuary’s Gorilla Forest Lodge and was warmly welcomed by the manager and assistant manager who sat me down and went through my program for the next three days. I was then shown to my room, which was one of the furthest away from the communal parts of the lodge. I was in The Warbler Room, which had two double size beds, wardrobe, seat, a large bathroom with a shower made out of stone and a separate large room with a bath that had candles for light. I was hoping to test out the bath after one of my treks as a great way to relax and unwind after a long walk. After unpacking I made my way down to the communal area.

 

I was welcomed back to the dining area to enjoy a 3 course lunch that was all inclusive of house wines (cask wine and some bottles), local beers and soft drinks. The lodge was not busy at all with only 5 guests for the evening, which was a little bit surprising seeing that January/February offered a small window of opportunity to see the gorillas after the rainy season and before it started again in March.

 

Lunch was a simple affair. The food was plentiful and the view over the front lawns and over to the Bwindi National Park were lovely. The staff were very accommodating and attentive. After finishing my meal I was reminded that I had organized an afternoon activity to see the local waterfall.

 

Unbeknownst to myself these activities cost extra and I was charged US$70 to do this. I was a little perplexed that there was such a large charge for a 4 hour return walk to see a waterfall. I was told that there is a $40 to cover the cost of the ranger/guide and the two tourist police that accompany anyone going into the forest and there is a $30 fee charged by the lodge. I told the manager that I hope the waterfall is better than Victoria Falls, which only charges $25 for entry. Not sure if that went down too well but I was pissed off that the cost wasn’t discussed before I choose to go on the walk (thinking that a walk wouldn’t cost anything) and that the price was so high.

 

The walk was a hot and humid affair. I was accompanied by a ranger/guide and by two armed tourist police (I believe more for ceremonial/employment value than safety). The walk was pretty easy with some gradual inclines that were quite long. We managed to get to the first waterfall in about an hour. There is the opportunity to swim at the first pool at the base of the waterfall. Seeing that I was with three guys I wasn’t really comfortable to jump in by myself. I was hoping to sample the water which is classed as the cleanest water by the Ugandan water board but my ranger strongly suggested against it. Seeing I was walking tomorrow and for an unknown time I thought it was best I follow his suggestion. By the time we reached the third waterfall it was about 30 minutes later after the prerequisite photo/videos were taken. We spent about 10 minutes in the cool of the waterfall’s spray before returning back to the lodge.

 

On the walk back I was able to speak to the guide about different topics and of course about the gorillas who I would see the following day. It was a great way to understand how things work and to get an idea of the different types of gorilla families that are available to see. Unfortunately, I had done not a lot of research about the gorilla trekking and didn’t know there was such a difference with the families that you can trek and also that you can ask to see a specific family.

 

Very soon we were back on the main national park road and I was asked if I wanted to “show my appreciation” to the tourist police. I was a little shocked to be asked this because I was under the impression that tipping was something done voluntarily and not something that was asked about. I replied without thinking that “in Australia we don’t tip and that to show your appreciation is to say thank you”. Not sure if that one was actually understood let alone appreciated ;-) Considering that I just spent $70 to walk to a waterfall that was pretty lame (nice walk though) I wasn’t thrilled to have to shell out another $10/20 to tip the three people who accompanied on a walk that I could have easily have done myself (although you are not allowed to do any walks alone in the national park – I was told this so not sure if it is true).

 

I stomped up to the lodge and was welcomed immediately by the assistant manager who asked how was the trip. I told him that the cost doesn’t justify the trip and to never offer a waterfall walk to an Aussie who can see this stuff for free in most national parks in our own country. I then told him how I was asked if I wanted to show my appreciation. Not even thinking I would need money (seeing I already paid and didn’t expect to see a shop on the way had my water with me) I didn’t have any cash on me. I explained to the assistant manager that I felt the tip was expected and went to my tent to get some money. I told the assistant manager that I didn’t think it was appropriate to give a tip for a trip that I had already paid for and felt a little pressured by being asked at the end of the walk. I actually gave the money to the assistant manager and asked him to pass the money onto the guides/tourist police.

 

This put a dampener on the afternoon and I returned back to the common area with my iPad and cameras to download the photos and to make a video of the trip. The common area at Sanctuary offers a wonderful view and along with a nice cold beer it is the best way to enjoy a few hours of downtime before dinner. A local singer arrived around 6pm to sing to us as we sat around the fire that was started out on the grassed area. I was a little surprised that there were no snacks offered by the lodge whilst waiting for dinner. From my previous experiences at other lodges I was always offered an afternoon tea and an aperitivo snack such as peanuts, olives, chips etc whilst having a drink. I thought because most guests are back in the lodge during the afternoon/early evening and enjoying drinks before dinner because we don’t do game drives I expected a little more.

 

http://https://vimeo.com/83500411

 

Dinner was announced at 7pm and people made their way to their tables. There were three groups, which included two couples and myself as a single. The dinner followed the same lunchtime pattern, which offered a 3 course meal with two options for each of the courses. The meal was nice and after I made my way to the lounge area to continue to work on my photos before hitting the sack to try and be ready for my first gorilla trek the following morning.

 

Where I Stayed: Sanctuary Gorilla Forrest Camp

 

Beautiful camp but for the price and company it is associated with I did expect more with things being a little basic for a "upscale/luxury" property. It is not 5 stars so as long as people know this before arriving then you won't have a problem. Great location and views over the national park, friendly staff although they all seemed a little "lost" and not pro-active but that could be because there were only 5 guests staying and they felt they didn't need to really be pro-active. If I went again to Bwindi I would check out other options in the area to see if you can cut costs and enjoy an extra day trekking because the license costs $600. Price including all meals, laundry and drinks but not premium brands.

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4 January

 

Gorilla Trekking Day!

 

I was so excited about my trek with the gorillas that I woke up 5 times thinking I had slept in. At one stage I woke to what I thought was my butler waking me up. I heard something on my deck and sat up yelling out “I am awake” and then got up to get ready. When no one answered me back I became a little suspicious. I looked at my watch and realized it was only 3am. I couldn’t believe it and it took me a while to get back to sleep.

 

I finally woke up at 6am feeling exhausted. I organized my camera equipment and packed the two backpacks I wanted to take with me. I was unusually anxious about the experience and not knowing how long I would be walking for so I wanted to eat as early as possible before leaving for the start of the trek.

 

I was accompanied by a staff member from the lodge to the start of the trek which is about a 400m walk from the lodge. When we arrived at the assembly area I was greeted with many different groups of people coming from the different lodges/camps. I was told I was walking with the R group, which comprised of 15 gorillas including a silverback, blackback, females, junior males and some babies. My ranger would be the guide I had from the previous day, which was interesting. I made arrangements to have two porters to help me with my bags and more importantly to give me a hand on the slippery slopes if necessary.

 

After a brief movie and then a talk from our ranger who introduced us to the gorilla group we would be trekking we then made our way back to our respective lodge vehicles. I was then driven to the start of our trek, which was about a 10 minute drive outside of the national park.

 

We started our walk from what looked like a churchyard and made our way through a banana plantation, passing people’s houses and then through a clearing before we started walking up a steep incline with a very narrow track. There was plenty of scrambling over rocks and up the track but with the help of my walking stick and a hand from my porter every so often I was able to make it up the mountain. We weren’t walking under the canopy of the national park because we were actually outside of the national park and in reclaimed land next to it. This meant that the sun was beating down on us as we made our way up and it was very hot indeed with a high humidity. The walk was done at quite a pace due to the lead group of two Italians from the Alpine region of The Dolomites literally running up the mountain.

 

By the time the rest of the group caught up with the leaders we had only a couple of minutes to get ourselves organized with cameras etc before we were due to meet the gorillas. Due to my cameras I was the last one in our group to go into where the gorillas were. The porters looked after our belongings whilst we were observing the gorillas. I was still recovering from the climb as we made our way close to where the gorillas were which meant that I didn’t feel comfortable pulling out the big camera which weighed 3kgs. Instead I spent the first 20 minutes taking video with my GoPro, which proved fortuitous because the gorillas were moving quite quickly and getting good photos would have been difficult.

 

The silverback made his way down the tree he was in and scurried off through the thick brush and then a number of other gorillas including a baby came down. One of the friendlier gorillas made its way close to where I was standing and actually walked past me. She then got stuck because the group ahead of me was occupying the narrow track and she couldn’t get around. She decided to settle in front of them and enjoy a snack. The group ahead was within 2 metres of the gorilla due to the lack of space where we were. The rule of staying 7m away from the gorillas was absolutely impossible due to our location. Basically one false move where I was standing or the others in the group meant we would be rolling down the mountain. Due to my location at the back of the group it was very hard to get any photos of the gorilla. This was a shame because it meant I missed out on seeing any of the action.

 

The gorilla moved location and once again being at the back of the line and the location we were in meant I couldn’t see anything. After the initial group had 5 minutes with the gorilla I asked them to move up so that myself and another trekker could have a look. This didn’t go down too well with a number of the trekkers but I was insistent and they moved up. It helped that the trackers and a ranger were trying to cut their way through the scrub to go after the silverback. Most of the group ahead was adamant in trying to find the silverback who had quickly made off through the jungle when he came down from the tree. I was happy to stay with the female gorilla that was eating and looking relaxed sitting on the side of the track next to me.

 

Being so close to the gorilla and having some alone time with her was amazing and a very special experience. The gorilla was very calm and relaxed in front of me and this allowed for some brilliant photo and video opportunities. A blackback also came close to the female but stayed within the brush and was hard to see. The tracker tried to move some of the brush to get a better look but the ranger warned him to stop when the female gorilla left her spot and moved on to find the others in the family. The ranger said that the blackback gorilla could become aggressive when he is alone and close to humans. I was happy to just stay where I was and watch any behavior I was privileged to witness.

 

The rest of the group returned from unsuccessfully trying to trek the silverback. Our time was now very limited because we were only allowed one hour with the gorillas. Last photos were called and the ranger was asking people to move back towards where our porters were with our belongings. Some of the group were trying to stall the ending which I didn’t think was appropriate so I moved on and went back to my porters knowing it would take me some time to get organized with my cameras.

 

Once I was ready the porters and I were happy to start walking back down the mountain. This is where my experienced porter came in handy because he was able to provide me with a helping hand as we made our way down the track. Getting down the mountain was a breeze compared to going up and within 30 minutes we were at a scenic area to enjoy our lunches.

 

After we enjoyed our lunch with a view it was a quick walk down through the banana plantation and back to the meeting area where the cars from our respective lodges were waiting for us. The group made their way back to where we met at the start of the morning and we were given our certificates for completing the trek. I then gave a tip to the ranger, my two porters and the group consisting of the trackers/tourist police. I then made my way back to the lodge to enjoy the rest of the afternoon relaxing and going over the footage and photos from the trek.

 

http://vimeo.com/83499039

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I think you had the right idea about appreciating the gorilla right next to you instead of chasing off after the silverback. Sort of a "bird in the hand" situation. :)

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@@SaminKaz

 

This report is terrific. Love the videos; shows so much more of the entire experience than just a few photos. I love all your info as well. Did they provide the porters and you or did you have to book ahead? Did they provide walking sticks; I can't imagine you carrying one on the airline, but I'd never know!

 

Looking forward to more and thanks for the info.

 

:D

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When you go to register for the walk (you must pre-book the license months in advance) they will ask you if you want a porter or how many. They also offer to rent you a walking sticking but my lodge offered me this for free. The porters are approximately $20 minimum for the walk. I took two the first day because of the equipment I was carrying and didn't want to burden just one. I was more worried about my cameras than about myself. The second day I took one porter and not the big lens or the monopod which saved a lot of weight.

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Great report, thank you for sharing.

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5 January, Gorilla Trek Day 2

 

Gorilla trek day 2 dawned and I thankfully had slept well. Today I would be joined by another couple who were staying at my camp. The night before we had shared travel stories and I had shown them some of my footage/photos. They were super excited and we were a really positive and fun group.

 

We met up with the other trekkers and were divided off into our groups. Today I would be visiting a different family which was a breakaway from the larger group and didn’t have any gorilla babies. I was hoping this would be my opportunity to see a silverback up close so missing out on some babies today was not a problem. We were told that the walk would be between 2-3 hours and in the general direction of where we were the day before but thankfully we were not taking the same route.

 

The lodge driver bundled us into the 4WD and we drove out of the National Park and through the village and then down and across the little creek towards the same banana plantation area were ended up I the previous day. We then were guided to a track that made a gradual zig zag up the mountain. The climb pace was not as fast as the previous day so I felt really comfortable regardless of the time it took. We went in and out of pockets of shade, which also helped because the humidity and temperatures were very high.

 

We finally reached the top and here we encountered the typical impenetrable forest coverage and I put on my “gardener’s gloves”, tucked my pants into my socks and put on a long sleeve shirt. The guides were directing us into the forest by the trekkers who were already with the gorilla family. It took approximately 40 minutes of walking off the track to reach the gorilla family and this time we had a little bit more warning and were able to organize ourselves as a group before heading in.

 

We walked about 10 minutes from our base camp to our first encounter with the mighty silverback. The ol’boy was happily sitting alone and feeding on some leaves. He was very content with our presence and continued feeding without a care in the world. After a little while we followed him to where a female was. The silverback was towards the top of a narrow track and she came up to him and they started mating. Everyone was completely speechless as we watched this go on for quite some time. Of course everyone regressed at this stage to giggles and comments far more common from teenagers than adults as we all felt a little bit voyeuristic.

 

After about 10 minutes a searing screech came from somewhere in the jungle. All of us looked around to see what had made the sound. The trekkers said that it was from another gorilla but probably not from the same family. It sounded like a distress call and within seconds the silveback was looking around and then heading in the direction of the noise. The silverback walked within a metre of myself and to see him coming towards me was a little intimidating.

 

Soon after the female companion moved away into the jungle and we walked back towards our start point to see another female eating at the base of a tree in a lovely open area. I didn’t realize that the gorillas also ate the bark and it was interesting watching her artfully eat the bark and make her way around the base as she finished each section. Our group of 8 had a nice opportunity to sit down and enjoy this spectacle without the inconvenience of being right on the side of the mountain or with the jungle inhibiting the view. We finished our hour all feeling very privileged with the experience and especially the mating.

 

Everyone made their way back to pick up our bags and porters and then we made it out of the jungle and actually passed another gorilla group. The tourists had moved on but the trackers were still with them. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop and were moved on and back to the walking track. Once again we made great progress down and no one was interested in stopping for lunch. Back in camp we were lucky to have a nice lunch waiting for us and we were able to enjoy reliving the memories and looking at the photos.

 

Suggestions:

Take a small towel from your lodge that you can put around your neck to absorb all the sweat from the walk.

I bought some gardening gloves to use when we entered the forest so I could grab onto things without the worry of thorns etc.

I wore a singlet shirt and put on a long sleeve shirt for when walking in the jungle. It allowed me to stay cool when walking up the path/track and then after

A porter will cost a minimum of US$25 (I think but I gave mine $35 because they were very helpful)

Tips for the guides/trackers etc are given at the end and put in a community tip box.

Feel free to ask the guide to help you with taking photos if you have extra cameras etc. This could mean that you get some great shots because they are generally in a different area to you especially if there are a number of gorillas around. Plus they can take some photos of you whilst you are watching the gorillas.

Water! I took 2 litres and I drank it all.

Research the different groups to see what one has the dynamic that you want. \

Let your lodge know if you are concerned about walking for hours then ask for a group that is closer to home. They do try and arrange this depending on your fitness level but only if asked.

 

http://vimeo.com/83557040

Edited by SaminKaz
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6 January, transit day from Bwindi to Nairobi

 

7 January, Nairobi Day Trip and transfer to Kilimanjaro

 

Months leading up to my adventure I read every blog and Trip Advisor forum post about the places I was going to visit. The information I gained from this allowed me to do things that I had not originally included in my trip. This was especially the case with the plans for my overnight stay in Nairbobi.

 

Many people wrote about their visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to see the elephants and then popping over to see the giraffes at the giraffe centre. These two things were on my to do list but after reading about what David Sheldrick does on their website I learnt that I could also adopt an elephant and it would allow me a more personal visit in the afternoon and to meet my "adopted ele" if she was housed at the orphanage.

 

With this in mind I went through with the adoption process, wrote to the centre and secured a slot to visit in the afternoon after I had visited in the morning during the general admission.

 

I arranged for a full day's car/driver through AirCab and was met early to start our day. My driver was a lovely guy who enjoyed a chat and helped me out with taking photos of me (the bain of a solo traveller). I felt very safe with his driving and he was able to provide good company and insight into living/working in Nairobi especially since the terrorist attack. I always appreciate a local's viewpoint instead of the propaganda provided by the mainstream tv news networks. It really allowed me to understand the situation and to see how skewed the media reports were.

 

Our first stop was to see the elephants so off we went. The trust is situated in Karen and borders the national park. Entrance is permitted between 11-12 when the nursery inmates come in for their daily mud bath and bottle feeding. It is best to arrive a little earlier due to the large numbers that visit during this time. There is a small admittance fee and I gave a little more to help with the amazing work they do there successfully hand rearing the orphaned elephants.

 

Once through the entrance area you walk through to the elephant enclosure, which is roped off. Try to get a good spot and to be wary of the sun position so that your photos will be well lit. The place fills up pretty fast so stand your ground otherwise you will be pushed around especially when the elephants arrive. The ground is red dirt so don't make the same mistake that I did by wearing light colours. The elephants do splash around in their mud bath and this can sometimes create splashes. The elephants are on a set schedule and know exactly what they are doing. It is wonderful to see such intelligent animals being looked after so passionately. There are three different groups that enter the enclosure over the course of the hour. They range from very small babies up to 5/6 years of age. At no time did I ever feel threatened and the elephants are more interested in their two bottles of milk and playtime than interacting with the throngs of tourists enjoying the spectacle. That being said I did have an inquisitive male come over to say hello and I did get to pat him before he was lead back to the group by one of the keepers.

 

http://vimeo.com/84413506

 

After an hour the elephants are lead away to continue their normal daily routine and the tourists disperse. I then went over to the giraffe centre which is very close by. Combining these two activities can by done in a morning. The giraffe centre has no set hours so tourists either visit there before the elephants or after. Once again a small admission fee is charged and tourists are free to roam around the area at their own pace. The giraffe feeding area is set up on stilts so that visitors can be eye-to-eye with these majestic creatures. Guides offer advice, information and the all important "pellet snacks" to feed the giraffes. The general consensus is to feed only one at a time and if you want to pat them then make sure you are feeding them (a couple of them are a little moody). Great photo opportunities can be had and the ubiquitous "giraffe kiss" can be had by putting a pellet in your lips and the giraffe taking it from you. Definitely an interesting experience with plenty of laughter being had by everyone sharing this experience.

 

I really enjoyed the giraffe centre and the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a drink in the surroundings. It also allowed me to wait until tourists left who were visiting like myself after seeing the elephants. There is a looping video about the giraffe centre and documentaries about giraffes that can by enjoyed whilst drinking. This is another special place that shows how important the work that these dedicated individuals do.

 

http://vimeo.com/84413846

 

The afternoon was now fairly free until I had to return back to see my "adopted" elephant so I went to a local shopping centre in Karen to have some lunch. The Galleria Shopping Mall is a very modern property that was heavily fortified. Security checked our car and allowed us to enter. I was in need of some memory cards for my camera so I went off to find some before joining my driver for a late lunch. The coffee shops provided some nice food and lovely refreshing drinks to combat the heat of the afternoon.

 

We then returned back to the David Sheldrick centre for our 5pm appointment. The afternoon visit is limited to a small group who have sponsored an elephant and registered to visit. The afternoon visit consisted of approximately 10 of us. We were welcomed and given a guided tour of the property with informative commentary about what the trust does, the types of animals they have (including a blind rhino) and how the elephants are looked after. The dedication of the keepers is paramount in replacing the elephant's lost mother and helps the elephant adapt quicker to his/her new environment. The welcoming factor of other elephants is also a huge help with this and many friendships are cemented with a new arrival. The evening arrival of the three different groups and how they go to their own enclosures is really sweet to see. The keepers feed the elephant, they might have a snack on some tree branches and then it lays down, is covered with a blanket and within minutes the sound of snoring is heard throughout the area. I didn't expect to see anything like it and the elephants must feel so secure/happy to fall asleep so peacefully and quickly. A joy to behold.

 

After such a special experience I enjoyed a drive around Karen and went to see Kibera which is the largest slum in East Africa. The housing commission reports that the population of this area is between 500,000 - 1,000,000 people. The sheer size of this settlement is amazing. My driver offered information from a local's point of view which was really interesting to hear. The local's call this a "city of hope" and the friendliest slum in the world. I definitely never felt threatened and constantly welcomed by people walking past me when I stopped to get out and have a look. As a foreigner I really appreciated the opportunity to see this area instead of being "protected" from this harsh reality that many travel agents don't want tourists to see.

 

 

Then it was off to the airport as I was catching a flight to Kilimanjaro. A fantastic day with diverse activities done and the opportunity to support groups helping the wildlife to the best of their ability.

 

Suggestions:

 

  • A donation of $50 to support an elephant for one year will allow you to visit in the afternoon for a more private visit. Excellent opportunity to get up close and personal to your "adopted" elephant, to see a blind rhino, to meet the staff and see the eles returning to their beds in the evening.
  • Spend some time at the Giraffe Centre waiting for the crowds to leave from the end of the elephant viewing time. The cafe offers cool drinks and some shade to enjoy watching the giraffes from a distance before visiting when the initial crowds have dispersed.
  • AirCab offered a reliable and safe service for my day's sightseeing. The driver was kind enough to help with photos.
  • I spent some time at a shopping centre in Karen called The Galleria. It allowed me to get my hair washed/blowdried, have a nice lunch and do a little bit of window shopping. Nice place to get some essentials if you need anything before flying/driving out from Nairobi.

Where I Stayed:

 

Palacina Residence & Suites Nairobi

 

This is would have to be the nicest place I have stayed at during my three visits to Nairobi. The room had a small lounge area and a balcony as well as a large bathroom with a spa bath and a walk-in closet. The space was extremely comfortable considering it was just me.

 

There was new development of additional residences and suites being built during my stay which was a little loud and started early in the morning. Best to keep your side window curtains closed to prevent any nosey builders enjoying a look in.

 

The breakfast in the morning was fantastic and nothing beats some freshly cooked eggs and bacon to start your day right. I did dine with only another table being occupied so the service was fantastic and plenty of space to sit. Front office staff were also very helpful, genuine and happy. They did not charge me for the bottle of wine I opened that was very old and undrinkable.

 

The location of the property like nearly all hotels in Nairobi does require you to use a taxi or hotel car service to get anywhere. This would be my only problem. Excellent place to stay in Nairobi with all the creature comforts of home plus more.

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Thanks for the comments and appreciation of the report. I think it is great to look back at these kinds of trips and to reread what you did and relive the memories. Makes the time pass quicker until the next trip!

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@@SaminKaz

 

Really enjoyed your videos....great film ing of the silverback.

I noticed a rather large backpack on the guide. Is that your camera equipment or other stuff? Just curious what you carry on the trek.

Thanks!

 

I have an adoptee at Shedricks; they are such an amazing group of caring and concerned givers.

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On the first trek I took a D7100/50-500 and a D90/18-300, Canon50x, 2 Go Pros with selfie sticks and a monopod. This was distributed over two porters plus food and drink. I was worried we wouldn't be up close but as you can see they were nearly on top of us. I didn't use the 50-500 so much because I was shaking too much when we first arrived and couldn't hold it steady. Worked well because the GoPro caught a lot of the action.

 

The second day I took the D7100/18-300, 2 Go Pros and a Canon50x bridge camera that shoots awesome video as well.

 

I gave the Canon both days to rangers to use and to see what they could get. Nice to get a different perspective. Then I carried my own water and a lunch pack along with my gloves, shirt, hat etc.

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Very useful and engaging report. Were you able to ascertain the history of your "adopted" elephant? Such as how it came to be at the orphanage, for example.

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Enjoying your report with all the details. Excellent videos. Thanks for doing this.

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Cool report.Liking all your personal thoughts.

 

Regarding the walk and the extra charges and the tipping, I am no expert on Uganda (even though Game Warden asked me to write an article about it) but I can tell you that (possibly with s[ecial individual exceptions) if you go walking in the national parks in East Africa you almost certainly will be required to take an armed ranger with you, and there will be a cost for this (usually $10-20 depending on park and country). This person will also be your guide usually in Uganda, and will be knowledgable and qualified, which is good because in Kenya and Tanzania the ranger often does not even speak English and is unlikely to be much of a guide, so you have to take a separate guide if you want guiding. In Bwindi and other areas adjacent to DR Congo you also have to take an additional armed paramilitary person with you. Nobody will really tell you why (a bit of a scam or really for protection) but the reason there are so many spare paramilitary people in the park is the danger of armed groups coming accross from DR Congo, either for poaching or for pillage. My impression is that there is very little of either at the moment, but that is ostendibly why they are there - to protect you "in the highly unikely event of...."

 

I agree the tipping thing is disconcerting and annoying (why expect everyone will take a wallet into the impenetrable forest?) and really the lodge should take care of it and tell people they have done so. But then the paramilitaries and guides would only get an extra 1-3 USD tip, which I think is actually quite adequate in Uganda for that kind of circumstance. FWIW everybody I saw was perfectly fine if there was no tip forthcoming. I am guessing that was not the case for you since you felt obliged to give.

 

You are toally not alone with this situation in Uganda anyway.Saw it at least three times in my short time there.

 

Love your comment about the 50-500. Yes, definitely too much lens for a gorilla trek in every way!!

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8 January – Ngorongoro Crater

 

My flight from Nairobi was uneventful apart from being an hour late in departure. Considering complaints from others about the airline on Trip Advisor I was just thankful to be leaving and arriving in Moshi so I could make my departure for Arusha early the following morning.

 

Kia Lodge was a basic property close to the airport and adequate for the 4 hours I had before my scheduled pickup. My priority was to juice up all my batteries, have a quick shower and distribute my heavy luggage so that I could try and get everything on the plane. The constant fear for anyone with photography equipment is the weight. My camera bag alone was 12kgs and this was what I was supposed to have in total. My soft-sided luggage was nearly 15kgs because of the two tripods I brought with me. So I distributed the cameras so that I would be carrying the "big" one under my jacket and moved the tripods to the end of the luggage so that when they weighed it the heavy end would naturally be hanging off the scales. Luckily when I went to Uganda the scale machine wasn't working so everything was just sent through with check-in assistants rough estimates.

 

The first rays of light quickly meant that I would be needed in the departure area for my andBeyond transfer to Arusha. I was the only guest driving down that morning and I enjoyed the company of a lovely local driver in a comfortable andBeyond 4WD. The drive was the first time I could witness how an African morning started. People walking to work and school, women carrying items on their heads, congregations of people around shops and the mist slowly lifting as the sun rose higher. The road was really comfortable and a main thoroughfare for tourists transiting from Kili's international airport to Arusha and beyond into the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater NP. The areas main source of income (flower farms) outside of the tourist industry also use this road to transport their shipments to the airport.

 

We arrived at Arusha Airport well before our 10am departure time and I enjoyed the company of the local cafe lady who made me a lovely cappuccino and a fresh muffin. Slowly tourists started to arrive for the various charter airlines that fly into the Serengeti. Thankfully, my luggage was deemed acceptable and my driver said not to worry because they don't weigh it again after this departure. A big smile erupted over my face with a sigh of relief.

 

Soon after we were told to assemble together for our departure. We were a mix of people that were being dropped off at different airports. First stop was Lake Manyara and this would be my base to then drive into Ngorongoro Crater and andBeyond's flagship property Crater Lodge. The flight would then fly in a loop around the Serengeti dropping off guests at various camps throughout the park.

 

An uneventful takeoff with our pilot and co-pilot allowed me to take some great video footage of the beautiful countryside below. Although I have now been on a few small planes during my travels there is always that worry with any kind of bumps whilst in the sky. The young co-pilot was obviously learning and building up his flight hours whilst being responsible for the lives of those behind him. The "captain" was just hanging out and keeping an eye on the controls and enjoying the view. My seat behind the co-pilot allowed me full access to the entire proceedings. The couple next to me were obviously novice "small" plane flyers and looked pretty nervous.

 

We finally made our way over to Lake Manyara and banked incredibly hard because the co-pilot must have miscalculated the distance needed to land. Everyone held their breath and we came in for a very fast landing. I was thankful for just getting off at this stop and putting my feet on terraferma.

 

I thanked the pilots and disembarked the plane to be welcomed by my guide from andBeyond. The couple next to me on the plane were going to be my travelling companions over the next 3 days. They were on their honeymoon and travelled from Haiti. We were a great group with plenty of jokes and banter starting immediately. We were welcomed with the standard welcome table of drinks and snacks. This is an awesome way to get to know your guide, ask questions about what to expect and to also let them know about your own expectations especially for experienced safari visitors.

 

After packing up the table we were soon on our way to the crater. The road was well paved and the morning routine was well on its way. The small towns dotted along the drive were full with locals hanging out and inspecting the new tourists on their way to Ngorongoro NP. Our drive allowed the Haitian couple to understand a little bit about what they were going to see and to provide some warnings about what not to do. Henry and I shared some stories with them about things we have encountered and lots of laughter allowed the drive to go quickly. We reached the entrance to the NP and were told to lock up the car due to the baboons that live in the area and have become very adapt at getting into cars and stealing items. Henry went off to register us and the Haitians went looking for the baboons. These animals are the only ones that I am weary of and have plenty of "interesting/scary" interactions with them (particularly at Victoria Falls) so I had no desire to go and find them.

 

Everyone returned and we made our way through the national park along a dirt track to Crater Lodge. We stopped at the Crater Lookout for photos and to see where we would be heading that afternoon. I just couldn't believe I was finally here. Lots of planning and prep had finally come to fruition and I shed a little tear of joy as I took some photos. When looking at such an amazing natural location it allows you to feel very small and insignificant. The magnitude of the caldera was incredible and understanding how it essentially is its own mini ecosystem that sustains so many varieties of animals is fascinating.

 

Back on the road again we followed the crater edge until arriving at the entrance to Crater Lodge.

 

http://vimeo.com/84512070

 

Where I Stayed: Kia Lodge, Moshi

 

“Good basic accommodation close to the airport”

Basic lodge that provides accommodation close to the airport for late arrival/departures. I arrived late at night and left early in the morning so I didn't use any facilities apart from my room.

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These animals are the only ones that I am weary of and have plenty of "interesting/scary" interactions with them (particularly at Victoria Falls) so I had no desire to go and find them.

Not to derail your thread, but if you have any time to work these stories in, you've certainly got my interest.

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10 January – Ngorongoro Crater Afternoon Drive

 

There are moments in my life when I truly think I am having an outer body experience. Normally it is associated with travel and sports experiences I have dreamed of seeing and then done everything in my power to reach that goal. Today was one of those days. The planning and research I have done has given me a little taste of what to expect and I knew that Crater Lodge was going to be special.

 

The car arrived at the gates and we were welcomed by a friendly security guard who waved us through. The honeymoon couple were dropped off at their lodge (there are 3 on the grounds) and I was driven around to my lodge. The welcome committee were out in force and the sounds of their singing was a real reminder of where I was. This special display is such a treat and always brings a smile to my face. I was greeted with a drink and a cool face cloth to wash off the days dust and grime. My bags were whisked away to my room as I was taken to the lounge where I would sign my life away ;-) My personal butler then escorted me to my room which was the second one away from the main lodge.

 

We entered the room and that is when it hit me just how extravagant this place really was. Like many others have described the design is Versailles meets Masai. A large bedroom with a lovely fireplace and sitting area was enhanced with a lovely balcony overlooking the crater. It then led into the bathroom area which housed a massive freestanding bathtub with its own view, a huge open shower was behind this and of course a separate toilet with its own view. Unbelievable!

 

I made my way back to the main lounge where I enjoyed a quick bite to eat and then packed my gear for our afternoon drive into the crater. The crater is really its own mini eco system. Supporting all of the animals who rarely leave it during their lifetime. Of course the apex predator is the lions and there seems to be a healthy pride co-habitating with the other big cats, hyenas, rhino, hippos, elephants, giraffe, zebra, impala and many types of birds including ostriches. It is a very beautiful area and something that many people do not have the opportunity of seeing.

 

The Tanzanian government recently increased the park entrance fees considerably as well as the amount of time a car can spend in the crater to try and protect this fragile ecosystem. There is also a limit on the amount of cars at a sighting and where the cars can drive. Unlike private reserves we could only drive on the designated roads which does limit the animal viewing.

 

I would recommend people to start their safari at The Crater because it gives you a taste of what is to come and allows you to appreciate more off road adventures and closer interaction with the animals in the other parks.

 

The afternoon drive was really just an opportunity to have a quick look around. The time it takes to get into the crater is about 45 minutes and there is a time limit to when the last car can enter as well as when you leave the crater. This can mean having to drive pretty quickly to make sure you have left by closing time. The drive back to the lodge is a long and bumpy one. Definitely make sure that everything you own is strapped down, sports bra on and hold on. Finally we made our way back to the lodge for a welcome hot bath and then sundowners on the deck before a lovely 3 course dinner.

 

All in all a wonderful first day on safari in Tanzania!

 

http://vimeo.com/84459811

 

Where I Stayed: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

“Even the loo has a view!”

Everything they say about this flagship property for andBeyond is true. Amazing views, food, people and rooms. As travel/food journalistAnthony Bourdain said "even the loo has a view!". The prices match the lofty standards of this property so be aware. Most people will stay 2 nights so they have one full day down in the caldera. I thoroughly recommend Crater Lodge but understand that it doesn't represent the true "African" experience. If you don't want to rough it in any way (apart from the drive to and from the caldera) then this place is for you. My preference is a tent and hanging out under the stars around a fire listening to the sounds of the bush.

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9 January, Ngorongoro Crater

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/79649861@N06/sets/72157640358558283/

 

The next morning I rose super early because I wanted to be the first person in the crater. I convinced the newlyweds that they would enjoy the experience and it was always better to be early in because the animals were more active. Henry our guide drove us down and yes we were the first in line, waiting for the gates to open. He went through all the paperwork with the national parks staff and as soon as the gates opened off we went.

 

Our first encounter was a very hungry lioness. Henry thought she had just given birth and was not spending all her time looking for food because of the cubs. The morning light filtering down through the clouds, the proud stature of the lioness and the view beyond her was amazing. Such a wonderful way to start the day. The lioness slowly crossed the road and made her way around the side of the caldera continually looking down into the crater floor for any opportunistic chances to catch breakfast.

 

We made our way down onto the crater floor and started driving around to see what we could find. The sunrise was spectacular and thankfully it slowly started to warm up. My Haitian friends were completely unprepared for the weather and were wearing flip flops, shorts, singlet shirts with 2 blankets wrapped around them each. They certainly weren't prepared for the fresh mornings especially around the edge of the crater.

 

The animals also started to wake up and greeted the morning sun eagerly as they started preening themselves, going to the water sources for drinks and also keeping an eye out for breakfast or to make sure they were not going to become breakfast. We went and visited a hippo pool which is always a laugh considering how they poo on each other and their tails fling it around like a helicopter blade, we found mating lions which were a little too far from the road to get any good photos/video, ostriches preened themselves showing off their stunning legs to us passers by, hyenas walked around trying to catch the scent of death from the night before, rhino stayed clear of the roads trying to enjoy their solitude even though many of us were watching from afar and bull elephants and buffalos eyed us cautiously as we drove around.

 

It was a very relaxing drive and I considered this part of my trip to be devoted to just watching and enjoying because the proximity to the animals was never going to produce the photos I wanted to keep.

 

After a few hours of animal watching we made our way to the picnic area beside a large pond which was inhabited by hippo and crocodiles. The birdlife around here was fantastic and they bombarded us constantly looking for crumbs and food from our hands as we were eating. These animals were thriving due to the presence of humans and were extremely bold little critters. We all enjoyed a lovely packed breakfast courtesy of the kitchen crew at the lodge in a setting that was beyond picture perfect. Soon after we made our way out of the picnic area for one last drive around the crater floor to see what we could find.

 

Without finding anything too spectacular we started to head back to the lodge. My Haitian friends wanted to purchase a Masai spear so we stopped by the "tourist" Masai village so that Henry could haggle for a spear. The village does a roaring trade and charges a hefty amount to visit what is essentially a "Disneyland" version of a Masai village. Clean, organised and ready to sell any gullible American tourist jewellery and knickknacks that are overpriced and sometimes just made in China. I refused to visit the village because I knew I was going to visit some real villages later during my trip and enjoyed chatting to the Masai who wanted to know about my GoPro cameras that I had set up on the car. It was nice showing them how they all worked via bluetooth and could be controlled by my iPad or iPod. I asked to share our drinks with them and we all enjoyed a cold beer or soft drink in the heat of the midday sun. These are the kinds of experiences money can't buy and I was very grateful to enjoy this.

 

After the exchange had taken place we continued onto the lodge. A late lunch was served and then I went to my room to enjoy the view, work on my movie for the day and catch up on some emails. The evening would entail a Masai display whilst enjoying drinks/nibbles outside and then another wonderful dinner. I felt so lucky to see and experience everything that Crater Lodge offered and hopped that the rest of my trip would be just as fortuitous.

 

http://vimeo.com/85071804

Edited by SaminKaz
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