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Tanzania with Flycatcher: Mahale, Katavi, Ruaha: Aug. 3 - 20, 2009


Sangeeta

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Sangeeta

As promised...

 

Expectations:

Wanted to combine something new & exciting with something old & exciting.

Cost was a major consideration because we are a family of 3 and all of us wanted to go back to Africa.

Hoped to go somewhere with few people and lots of animals.

 

Western TZ had popped up often in my research, but the prices seemed prohibitive until I came across the Flycatcher site. Had heard good things about them from some people we met in Botswana last year. Then, a very kind person posted a detailed account of his trip on Fodors and we decided to go for it. We were aware that this was going to be a no-frills kind of holiday, but hey, we were going back to Africa and that was the main thing!

 

It was a pleasure communicating with Flycatcher's Renate Jost in Switzerland. She handled our Arusha and Dar add-ons seamlessly. Our interactions with her were very relaxed and laid-back.

 

At Dar we stayed at the Southern Sun hotel - very nice, esp. after 2 long flights. They had lots of hot water, comfy beds and a very nice breakfast buffet. I was pleasantly surprised by the hotel.

 

Arusha was at Moivaro Coffee plantation. The lodge and grounds are beautiful - very lush and green with lots of colorful birds and lizards everywhere. Rooms were ok. Food was very average, not that it matters after a few G&Ts, but preferable to avoid eating dinner there.

 

Highlight: Black & white colobus monkeys at Arusha National Park. They look like wise old men wearing spectacular silken coats. The park also has a miniature version of Nakuru - soda lakes with many, many flamingos.

 

Flycatcher teams with Air Excel for their charter flights. The planes were all in excellent shape. A bit bigger than the usual Cessnas and more comfortable too. No bathrooms on the plane (which can be worry on 5 hour flights!), but we had pits stops in Lobo & Tabora en route to Mahale, so all in all, no worries on that score either.

 

The camp is basic, but comfortable - and with the same spectacular views as the more upscale camps at Mahale. We had running water + regular showers here. Food was simple, but ample & delicious.

 

And then there were the chimps... Turns out that the chimps decided to visit the area right behind the camp on both days that we went out. In addition to the Flycatcher guide, the TANAPA ranger also came with us. He was a treasure - passionate about the animals and seemed to know the personal stories of each individual chimp. It was a real privilege to be in his company. With the chimps in our own backyard, we didn't have to slog it up the mountains in search of them. That was a relief because I'm recovering from a herniated disc and had agonized over staying back in camp in case the guide told us that it would be a 4 hour hike. I think the chimps knew...

 

I knew, of course, that this group of chimps was habituated to humans - nonetheless, it was surprising to see how unconcerned they seemed to be in our presence. We watched them in the tree where they had nested for the night, and then followed them as they all woke up, slowly climbed down and ambled off. I'm convinced that one of the older females was laughing at us - she'd frown/grimace/show her teeth - make sure she caught someone's attention while she was doing it - then grin and scratch herself as if she were mightily amused. She did this repeatedly, before finally losing interest and going off in search of lemons! The babies were adorable. We spent some time sitting behind a stand of bamboo, watching them eat termites in a clearing. All in all, a "poetic" experience, as my husband puts it. Made even more special by the stories the TANAPA ranger Hussein told us about them.

 

This is truly paradise. I wish they'd upturn the itinerary and make it Ruaha-Katavi-Mahale. In addition to spending time with the chimps, it would be the perfect place to relax after a hot and dusty vacation. We went out on the Flycatcher dhow on the lake. Saw hippos swimming in very deep water - that was an astonishing sight. I didn't know that they ventured out so far from shore. It was warm in August, but the nights were cool and very pleasant. Nice evening campfires, swimming in a freshwater lake, an Amarula or two to cap it all off... I'd definitely do this again.

 

Highlights: Chimps, of course - but also the sheer beauty of the place itself.

 

Katavi: The Flycatcher camp is located on a bend of the Katuma river, overlooking the Katisunga Plains. This is a seasonal camp, with amenities that you'd find in a mobile camp. Bucket showers, tents on the ground. But we did have flush and not long-drop toilets. Food was good - we are vegetarians, so it was beginning to get a bit repetitive -but no complaints. The staff was very cheerful and accommodating.

 

Katavi is known for its crocs and hippos, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. I thought we'd seen plenty of crocs in the Mara, but this place was in a league of its own. Some riverbanks were literally littered with huge crocodiles - and those that were not, were littered with hippos. The river was still flowing in August, so we didn't see quite see the hippo concentrations that people talk about, but the numbers were astonishing nonetheless. The park also has very large elephant herds, and we spent a delightful afternoon in the company of perhaps 200 eles grazing in the bush.

 

The park is isolated, with very few visitors, and so one does get a feeling of remoteness. The downside to this is that there are very few tracks in the park. And since off-roading is not allowed in TZ parks, this can be frustrating. On two occasions, our guide showed us fresh dog prints, but we couldn't follow them because there were absolutely no tracks in that area. Another reason why the guide may not have ventured into the bush would be the tse-tses. Truly the most vicious and malicious flies I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. They actually seem to enjoy biting you! Though I'm ashamed to confess to this, after an hour of being relentless pursued and bitten, we actually rolled up our windows and asked the guide to turn on the AC! Luckily we had a new, fully equipped Landrover, so we could do this. But I felt bad for the people I saw in open vehicles there. Those flies are no fun at all.

 

But there were no flies in camp, no flies in open areas, and Katavi certainly fulfilled my desire to be among few people and lots of animals! We could see massive buffalo herds on the horizon, but once again, no way to get closer to them!

 

Highlights: Tree-climbing lions! My first sighting of tree-climbing lionesses ever, and it was a treat.

Hippos squished together like sardines in the spring-fed pools in front of the ranger camp. I believe some of them even cut short on their foraging to get back early to their reserved spots in the pool!

 

Ruaha: Dramatic miombo and baobab landscapes. We stopped for a picnic lunch on landing here - dry and red colored sand everywhere - looked up, and discovered we'd been eating with a huge monitor lizard peering down at us from the branches above.

 

This was the least favorite of the 3 parks we visited - not because of the animals (there were lots of them) or the camp (it was great) - but because it had a zoo-like feeling somehow. When I see intersections with painted signs of sable antelopes and a "circuit" name printed on it, I don't want to follow. They also have little "picnic" areas here and there. Combine all that with a ban on off-roading and night-driving and it becomes hard to imagine that you're in the bush.

 

The best moments in Ruaha for me were the moments we spent in camp itself. The Flycatcher camp is located on the far side of the Ruaha river - a good hour drive from the main "circuits". We had impala, baboons and a colony of banded mongoose right in the camp + zebra herds in the area behind the camp. Spent a lovely afternoon watching big herds of buffalo and elephants come down to the water to drink and graze. Some great bird-watching from our vantage point too. The nights were pleasant, but warm enough to have the tent flaps all the way down. I woke up one night to "munching" sounds so close to my ear that I thought it was my daughter snacking in the other bed. (Nina, are you awake?? Now I am, she replied grumpily. Are you eating? Why would I be eating? Well, then who's munching so loudly?) Elephant and hippo prints all around the tent next morning! I wish we'd had the foresight to spend most of our time in and around camp itself, but we live and learn...

 

Highlights: 2 male lions having a little squabble with one another not 50 feet from the dining tent while we were having dinner one evening! A few snarls and growls and they walked away.

The names "Mwagusi" and "M'donya" - how cool is that?

 

Would I do it again? Mahale - yes. Katavi - yes. Ruaha - probably not. Came back to Dar via Selous. Now that looks seriously interesting, even though we only overflew it.

 

Overall, Flycatcher was a great find. For those of us for whom Greystoke and Chada are very expensive propositions, this is perfect. It allowed us to go places and see things that we could not have done otherwise. Their guiding was average (the TANAPA ranger with us in Mahale was phenomenal), but if you set your own agenda, it should be fine. No sundowners with Flycatcher, so you have to make up for it during your pre-dinner drinks! They run a generator for a couple of hours, so you can recharge batteries as needed. Happy to answer any questions anyone may have. Will post links to pictures soon.

Hope this wasn't too long...

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I wish they'd upturn the itinerary and make it Ruaha-Katavi-Mahale. In addition to spending time with the chimps, it would be the perfect place to relax after a hot and dusty vacation.

 

Why don't they upturn it? The flights? Because your description of Katavi does indeed sound relaxing.

 

I don't think the zoo-ishness of Ruaha would put me off, especially if there weren't too many tsetses.

 

Thank you for the report and not too long at all! Very much looking forward to your photos.

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Atravelynn

Oh great, you wasted no time. I've only read the title so far.

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Atravelynn

Wise old men, what a great way to start. You wanted something old, and colobus are always exciting. Did you do a morning or an afternoon Arusha activity and was it all in the vehicle?

 

No second OJ the morning of the departure flight-check.

 

Flycatchers has the same view as Mahale?! I figured it would be second rate only because of the price. What a nice surprise.

 

Tremendous luck with the chimps and it appears you were in need of some luck this time around. Way to go chimps. Can't beat poetic and a paradise. Maybe you can further illustrate by posting some poetry in motion clips or photos. Are the lemon trees naturally growing or were the chimps raiding the camp's fruit trees?

 

Long sleeves at Katavi-check.

 

That's great you saw so much at Katavi. I understand that inability to pursue possibilities. No off roading where I recently returned from in Murchison Falls either. Way to go tree climbing lions!

 

Thanks for the comments on Ruaha. Perhaps those signs weren't for you and tthe animals had to read them to find their way to your out of the way tent. I hope Mwagusi and M'donya settled their differences.

 

Flycatchers seems like a winner from your report.

 

How many people were on your departure? When did you first have to meet up with Flycatchers? The night before or the morning when you left for Mahale?

 

Thanks so much for the helpful comments.

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks for the report, Sangeeta. Glad you had a great trip! Surprised about Ruaha, though glad you enjoyed the entire trip.

 

Regards,

Hari

 

PS: Please post a few photos when time permits.

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Flycatchers has the same view as Mahale?! I figured it would be second rate only because of the price. What a nice surprise.
And it has the most picturesque location of all three camps, because the mountains are closest to the beach there...

 

Don't forget the superb guiding by TANAPA guides, without "interpretation" by a white guide.

 

And their dhow can swim? For half the price? What a surprise... :P

 

 

 

 

Only one drawback: you can't tell your friends the exciting news that you visited the same camp at which Bill & Melinda Gates stayed before... :P

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Thanks Sangeeta for the report. I am also recovering from a herniated disk so would be interested in how you managed it with rough roads and whether it was aggravated much. Mine is in the neck, perhaps the location of the damage and how long since it was first damaged would make a difference to your comfort level.

 

This trip you have just finished is one I am considering so found it very interesting, especially the comments regarding Ruaha.

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Sangeeta

Hi Lynn,

To your questions:

 

We did a whole day at Arusha National Park, and yes, it was all in a Flycatcher vehicle.

 

No second OJ the morning of the departure flight-check.

Wise move - otherwise you'll be like my daughter and risk visiting the loos at the Lobo airstrip! Wouldn't recommend that. But the little airport in Tabora is fine and I think they need to refuel there before continuing.

 

Flycatchers has the same view as Mahale?! I figured it would be second rate only because of the price. What a nice surprise.

Indeed they do - it was a lovely surprise for us too. When we went out in the dhow, we passed by both the other camps, so I can tell you this with some assurance.

 

 

Are the lemon trees naturally growing or were the chimps raiding the camp's fruit trees?

I'll try and post some pics this weekend - waiting for some camera help on my end. About the lemons... it seems that some portion of the current park actually had villages on it - these villages were relocated when the park became an officially protected site. So there are a lot of fruit trees in the foothills of Mahale. In fact, when we walked through the Japanese research station areas, it was brimming with fruits. Hussein, the ranger, told us that there was some talk about getting rid of "non-native flora", but it's been a controversial suggestion because the chimps have really come to rely on them.

 

Long sleeves at Katavi-check.

Yes, yes and yes! Make sure you take a couple of THICK denim shirts. Thin long sleeves, the tse-tses know those well!

 

No off roading where I recently returned from in Murchison Falls either.

Really looking forward to reading your report. Did you go to both Rwanda and Uganda?

 

I hope Mwagusi and M'donya settled their differences.

Love that! Mwagusi and M'donya they shall now be!

 

How many people were on your departure? When did you first have to meet up with Flycatchers? The night before or the morning when you left for Mahale?

We were 5 in our group (3 of us, plus a friend and her nephew) and a very nice Swiss couple - so altogether 7. Things appear to be very slow this year. All the camps were being "furloughed" for 3 weeks (at the end of August!) after our departure. Hope things pick up soon.

We had Flycatcher do our Dar & Arusha add-ons as well, so we met up with them as soon as we got of the plane in Dar.

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Sangeeta

Katavi is one of my favorite places (if not my absolute favorite). I have been there twice, in 2003 and 2007 (for one week and 12 days, respectively), and I have to say that we did quite a bit of off-road driving there. However, this occurred mainly in the remote SE of the Park, far away from the main Ikuu/Katisunga central area, and we always had a TANAPA ranger with us. ANd truly we got hammered by tsetses in certain woodland patches!

 

Oh, I wish I'd known that! How were you able to organize a TANAPA ranger to come with you, ....? Did you go by yourself on both trips or with an operator? Having a ranger along may be just the way to do this legitimately. Lynn, perhaps you can talk to Flycatcher about trying to get someone for you. That will really enrich your experience in Katavi.

 

I am also recovering from a herniated disk so would be interested in how you managed it with rough roads and whether it was aggravated much.

Twaffle - all I can say is that Africa seems to have cured me! I injured myself in Feb. and while it had improved somewhat by Aug., it was proving to be an excruciatingly slow recovery. I was really on tenterhooks before this trip - esp. the Mahale portion of it. Turns out, all that walking and jostling along bumpy tracks actually made it better! Came back from a long plane journey (DAR-JNB-IAD) with no pain for the 1st time in over 6 months. My doc. tells me that being away from my desk did it, but I think it was Africa. Jokes aside, though, mine is in the lower back, & perhaps that's a little bit easier to manage than a herniated cervical disk. If you can wait until it resolves, I think you should.

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Thank you Sangeeta, my pain has gone now. Just managing the things which may aggravate it. One of the exercises I have to do to speed up recovery is to bounce on one of those gym balls. Maybe that is much like bumping along on a safari drive.

 

I won't be going until later next year so I'm hoping for complete recovery and strength by then.

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Atravelynn
Hi Lynn,

To your questions:

 

We did a whole day at Arusha National Park, and yes, it was all in a Flycatcher vehicle.

 

So they'll do your pre-scheduled safari activities. You don't have to seek out another company.

 

No second OJ the morning of the departure flight-check.

Wise move - otherwise you'll be like my daughter and risk visiting the loos at the Lobo airstrip! Wouldn't recommend that. But the little airport in Tabora is fine and I think they need to refuel there before continuing.

 

A loo on the ground would even be ok with me, I just don't want to have a need in the air.

 

Flycatchers has the same view as Mahale?! I figured it would be second rate only because of the price. What a nice surprise.

Indeed they do - it was a lovely surprise for us too. When we went out in the dhow, we passed by both the other camps, so I can tell you this with some assurance.

 

 

Nyama rates it as the best view. That's great!

 

Are the lemon trees naturally growing or were the chimps raiding the camp's fruit trees?

I'll try and post some pics this weekend - waiting for some camera help on my end. About the lemons... it seems that some portion of the current park actually had villages on it - these villages were relocated when the park became an officially protected site. So there are a lot of fruit trees in the foothills of Mahale. In fact, when we walked through the Japanese research station areas, it was brimming with fruits. Hussein, the ranger, told us that there was some talk about getting rid of "non-native flora", but it's been a controversial suggestion because the chimps have really come to rely on them.

I see, interesting dilemma.

Long sleeves at Katavi-check.

Yes, yes and yes! Make sure you take a couple of THICK denim shirts. Thin long sleeves, the tse-tses know those well! Thanks for the thick sleeves suggestion or I would have worn thin ones.

 

No off roading where I recently returned from in Murchison Falls either.

Really looking forward to reading your report. Thank you. Your encouragement may spur me to finish it. Did you go to both Rwanda and Uganda? Yes

 

I hope Mwagusi and M'donya settled their differences.

Love that! Mwagusi and M'donya they shall now be!

 

How many people were on your departure? When did you first have to meet up with Flycatchers? The night before or the morning when you left for Mahale?

We were 5 in our group (3 of us, plus a friend and her nephew) and a very nice Swiss couple - so altogether 7. Things appear to be very slow this year. All the camps were being "furloughed" for 3 weeks (at the end of August!) after our departure. Hope things pick up soon.

We had Flycatcher do our Dar & Arusha add-ons as well, so we met up with them as soon as we got of the plane in Dar.

Thanks for the info! Appreciate it. I await the photos at your convenience.

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Atravelynn
Lynn needs an interpreter now. I just noticed that all the English pages have disappeared from the Flycatcher website. :lol:

Could they be sending a message?

 

Sangeeta,

All those jokes about the free African massage from the bumpy roads aren't just jokes. It cured you.

 

The above makes me ask, Sangeeta. What language was used for your trip?

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Atravelynn

I need more than an interpreter because my emails come back as undeliverable.

 

On my Google screen next to Flycatchers is a translate button that works well.

 

Can you post Flycatcher's contact email or send it to me in a PM? That brings up another question. Were you in contact with Flycatchers by phone or email?

 

Thanks.

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Atravelynn
Can you post Flycatcher's contact email
I used the same email address as given on their website.

 

So did I. In 2 years of maybe 4 messages sent by email or on the contact form on their website, I've never received a reply.

 

I thought there might be another email for established customers that I could try.

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Can you post Flycatcher's contact email
I used the same email address as given on their website.

 

So did I. In 2 years of maybe 4 messages sent by email or on the contact form on their website, I've never received a reply.

 

I thought there might be another email for established customers that I could try.

 

Doesn't fill you with confidence does it.

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Atravelynn

No, but I went through this with a company and a guide for the gorilla trip. No contact despite lots more than 4 tries in 2 years made me give up. Turns out it was prolonged technical problems and lack of proper equipment or at least that's what I was told. I'm sure that was the case from the guide.

 

FLYCATCHERS, DO YOU READ THIS? CONTACT ME. I WANT TO GO WITH YOU.

 

atravelynn (at) hotmail.com

PS. Every trip report I've ever done has been 95-100% positive. And I'm not a picky eater.

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FLYCATCHERS, DO YOU READ THIS? CONTACT ME. I WANT TO GO WITH YOU.

 

atravelynn (at) hotmail.com

PS. Every trip report I've ever done has been 95-100% positive. And I'm not a picky eater.

 

 

That should get someone's attention.

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Atravelynn
FLYCATCHERS, DO YOU READ THIS? CONTACT ME. I WANT TO GO WITH YOU.

 

atravelynn (at) hotmail.com

PS. Every trip report I've ever done has been 95-100% positive. And I'm not a picky eater.

 

 

That should get someone's attention.

 

I was thinking of putting in the full monty photo from my report for more attention, but these big letters should be sufficient.

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I think you might get people thinking the wrong thing about you if you have photo #10 and "Contact me, I want to go with you". Think about it. :P

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Atravelynn

Twaffle,

 

Oh my goodness, you are right. That would be the wrong combination of message and visual! Let's see what happens.

 

I know Southern Tanzania and Mahale were of interest to you so I'll let you know if I find out anything. Maybe Sept 2010. I think the 10th of Sept they depart from Arusha to N. Serengeti for one of their trips.

 

Sangeeta, you won't recognize your thread when you log back in.

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Nyama may be new to Photoshopping his photos but he is a master of strange symbols and smilies. In fact he is obviously a master of image and icon manipulation. :P

 

Lynn, yes I will be interested in what you find out.

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Atravelynn

And once I get my answer and share it with whoever is interested, I can tidy up this site and remove the big purple letters, etc. That should be just in time for Sangeeta's photos to go up.

 

The woman power symbol is a keeper, though.

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