Hello from Tanzania!
This adventure isn’t exactly a Go With Daddy but Cory was there so I’m counting it! First, let me share that this trip was over two years in the making due to covid. Second, I can tell you this adventure exceeded my expectations even with the extra time to build up the excitement. It is a trip of a lifetime!
Here we go on the long haul to get there…two 8+ hour flights including a little hop from our town but it was oh so worth it! We arrived late at night which is always extra exciting to me as you wake up to new sights the next day. Also, Tanzania is a destination where you want to have most, if not all, of your itinerary planned before arrival. This is new to us as we usually have outline of each day then decide the night before what we will do the next day. We had a handler meet us at the airport, transport to our hotel (Mount Meru Hotel) and get us set up with our safari guides the next morning. We booked everything through a local travel agent who booked everything with Abercrombie and Kent. A&K is the best! I will probably say this many times again but the company and especially our two amazing guides, Anderson and Lucas, made our trip what it was! We were in two safari trucks because we were a party of eight. At first, I wish we were all together as our group included my family, my sister’s family and my mother. However, having two guides ended up being even better as we switched around who rode with whom each day and Anderson and Lucas each had amazing and different insight to share. We started our journey by driving through many little towns already getting our “African massage” aka bumpy (mostly dirt) roads. We took a tuk-tuk tour in Mto Wa Mbu Village with locals telling us about their market that people visit daily or twice a day as not many people have refrigerators to preserve their food. We saw shoes made of old tire rubber that Maasai tribe members wear and ate a local cuisine lunch.
On to our next stay at Ngorongoro Farm House and it was a beautiful sprawling place with thatched roof buildings, a huge garden and flowers everywhere! It’s interesting as their idea of a family room is way more space than you need but who’s complaining. The lodge also comes to ‘bomb’ your room for bugs each night. Luckily, we came during the beginning of the wet season, so bugs aren’t as big a deal yet. We’re staying at this lodge as it’s close to the Ngorongoro Crater, hence the lodge name. We waked up the following morning to drive into the crater; and, let me tell you it took our breaths away! It is a natural crater only 11 miles long that hosts MANY different types of animals. Most could climb out if they wanted as we were greeted by baboons on our way down into the crater. Some of our highlights of the day were seeing:
Jackals…They are smaller than I thought they’d be.
Maribou stork…Teddy immediately recognized from *Dude Perfect’s worst animals list; the stork is rather unfortunate looking!
Spotted eagle owl…Again, Teddy recognized and named which surprised our guides.
Two adolescent male lions…They were playing in between bites of the wildebeest they had caught.
The grand finale was the NEWBORN zebra…We saw the baby just after he had been born, watched her get up, stand and walk for the first time! This. Was. UNBELIEVABLE!
We got some rain but their rains don’t last very long. On our way out, we saw a black faced monkey with her baby clinging to the momma’s tummy. Driving back to the lodge, I am in awe of what we are in store for on this adventure!
At each of the lodges, they have buffet dinners and breakfasts. They have a spread for these meals as well as lunches that they help you pack so you can stay out game driving longer. It’s quite an excellent system they have! We got tickled at supper tonight though as we are taking malaria pills each day and you must eat them with food. Mercy, it’s a lot to remember!
Next stop is the Serengeti National Park! We packed up from our lodge headed to visit a nomadic Maasai boma which means they are very primitive and move every five years or so to find better grazing grounds for their cattle. They performed a celebration dance and songs for us as well as we met the chief. We were told by our guides who are both Maasai members that it is quite a big deal to meet the chief as there isn’t just one per boma. The chief resides over many groups. The school kids, who showed us what they knew, were all very small children as the older ones are away at boarding school. The Tanzanian children loved seeing our kids and niece and nephew; they kept saying ‘sit by me’ in their mother tongue which is different from Swahili. At school in their village, they speak their mother tongue and/or Swahili but when they go off to school, they speak English and Swahili. It’s a great system if you’re able to go to secondary school as some of your classes are taught in English only. At the boma, we visited their TINY house where four to six people somehow fit; Cory could barely get through the door with his broad shoulders. Then we went shopping at the tables around their huts full of items they had made for us to purchase…jewelry and potting pieces mostly. We found a few items to take home with us. Like I mentioned, this type of boma is quite primitive but they do have huge tanks of fresh water. My mom (who came to Tanzania 17 years ago) said they didn’t have those back then.
Next starts our official game hunting and we hit the jackpot (one of many times) by finding African wild dogs. Our guides hadn’t seen these illusive animals for five years now! When we found the dogs, we couldn’t follow them based on the direction they were trotting as we would have to go off road. So, we had to turn around and search for them a different way. You’re not allowed to ‘chase’ any animals in the Serengeti. Our guides knew the direction they were heading, and we caught up to them on a parallel road. It is quite impressive about how well Anderson and Lucas know the area! Every day we felt like we hit the jackpot of finding animals! Here are highlights from the rest of this day:
Warthog…They have long hair on top which blew in the wind and made me giggle and their tails stick up like little antennas when they run. Our guides called it ‘free wi-fi.’ We also saw baby warthogs; they were so cute! That was a theme throughout the trip and maybe my favorite part seeing SO many different aged animals. We visit a lot of zoos when we travel; but, seeing the animals all together in their natural habitat with every variety of aged animal all in one place was mind blowing! We saw baby zebra, lion, cheetah, warthog, topi, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, giraffe, elephant, hyrax, hippo, and hyena!!!!!
Dik-dik…This is one of the animals Teddy was most excited to see and we saw them almost every day of our trip. They’re small impala looking animals.
Leopard…He was spotted in the tree (right by the road) with a fresh gazelle carcass and an old serval carcass hanging in the tree. Nature!
Dwarf and Banded Mongoose…They were scurrying across the ground, but we saw them multiple times as well while we were there.
Topi…This deer/elk looking animal can be identified as it looks like they’re wearing blue jeans because of the dark blue patches on their legs.
ELEPHANTS…While we were watching (and not even very close to them), they backed up around the babies of their group as our vehicle scared them. This is their defense mechanism to protect their young. The African elephant might have been my favorite as you could easily detect such a wide variety of ages in their herds…so very cool! We also learned that the elephants knock down the trees. One might think, that sounds destructive; but if the elephants didn’t knock down the trees, then no grass would grow, and the herbivores wouldn’t have enough food to graze on. Crazy enough though, so many trees there are prickly to ward off animals, but it doesn’t stop elephants. Their skin is so tough!
We waked the next morning to see the sunrise on the Serengeti as our lodge, Lahia Tented Camp is located inside the Serengeti National Park. We heard lions roaring when we waked! There are no words for that sound and feeling! We made box lunches again which I touched on, but a camp chef helps you make your sack lunch for the day. By the way, it’s not just cold cuts; it’s a delicious spread of food! Each day we have switched up which guide we’re riding with as well as who’s riding together which has been super fun! Lucas and Anderson both have 25+ years of experience being guides so we received amazing knowledge from them. A guide really needs to have a wide range of skills and Lucas and Anderson had all the skills and more. They are true ambassadors for their country! Around every turn, they knew the flower and fauna and were able to identify the exact species and show us specifics in their guidebooks. They really outdid themselves!
As we drove out today, we saw a 50+ herd of elephants in the distance. Anderson told us this group was there as they’re mourning a loss of one of their members. Wow! Today’s finds included:
Impalas…We’ve seen them in different group settings: bachelor groups, harem groups (meaning a bunch of females and one male) and lastly the lone male who had been recently kicked out of their harem but not welcome back into the bachelor group yet. They have to wait a few months then the boys will accept him again.
Hippos…They are SO big and muddy! We also saw babies!
Monitor Lizard…Another fan favorite of Teddy’s was crawling across the bridge above the hippos and crocodile river/pool.
Lilac breasted roller bird…This is the National bird of Botswana.
Lionesses and 4 cubs…This blew my mind when we came upon this group! I had really wanted to see a lioness (which we had already seen twice very close to the side of the road) but see this group with cubs took the cake! Upon seeing the lioness pride with cubs, Bea said she could “stay here for hours.” There were a few mothers and four cubs, and they all nurse all the cubs as they have their babies at the same time. There were two cubs that kept fighting over milk! We watched these ladies and babies switch positions so many times and some even almost sit on each other. After one lioness stood and growled, I knew it was time for us to move on!
So, each day I wake up thinking there’s no way this day can top the day before but somehow it still happens! We woke to yet another unbelievable sunrise with a lion growling in the distance! We saw SO many animals as soon as we left our lodge…topi, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, zebra, wildebeest and elephant, impalas (jumping with great hang time I might add!) and vultures standing over a wildebeest carcass. For our extra entertainment of today, we were driving along when a lone cape buffalo hiding in the bushes decided we were a threat; this is common for them to be aggressive when they’re alone. The buffalo turned his head toward us and began to charge! Luckily, our guides are no stranger to these behaviors so a start of our truck and honk of the horn redirected the buffalo but not after I got a bit nervous!
The wild part about the wild is that you never know what you’re going to see at any moment! As we drove and trying to avoid a muddy rut (in the dirt paths), we almost ran over a baby Grant’s Gazelle lying in the grass; her momma had put her there for safety while she grazed. I was so worried since we exposed his hiding spot, but the baby was able to run back to his momma. We even saw a hunt of a serval chasing a mongoose. The mongoose jumped into his hole just before he was caught. The chase was still so cool to watch especially how fast the serval ran! There are so many birds in Africa too; I guess I just didn’t think about the animals in the sky. We saw lots of kori bustard bird, different types of hornbills, secretary birds, tawny eagle, superb sterling bird with bright iridescent blue feathers, gray heron, African red-billed hornbill (aka Zazu), slate colored boubou (mimic bird like portraited in The Lion Guard) and loads of guinea fowl. Speaking of The Lion King and The Lion Guard, they obviously did their homework and have given us a true representation of who lives at pride rock; it really has been incredible to see it match up so well. I also have a much better appreciation for the birds at our zoo now after seeing them in the wild. It makes more sense why some birds reside in the same enclosures at the zoo because they live together in the wild too!
Our last night at the Lahia Tented Camp came with a surprise celebration! The staff (cook, front desk ladies, masseuse, Maasai men, etc) all came out dancing and singing with a cake; we assumed it was someone’s birthday from another group. No, as the cake read, it was a “Goodbye and Welcome Again” party for us! We all joined in the fun dancing around especially Teddy who did the worm; the staff LOVED that! This particular staff were the most welcoming, even though everyone we have met in Tanzania has been incredibly hospitable! They are so proud of their country and appreciative of us for coming to visit. I truly hope that we treat guests in our country the same way. I forgot to mention about the Maasai warriors who walk to/from our rooms after dark. These men carry spears as they know how to defend against an animal attack if need be. Going back to our room tonight, we saw a baby impala sitting by our house. The Maasai warriors said they would have to shoo him away as the baby could bring predators into the camp. Thankfully, we saw the baby impala the next morning, so he made it through the night. I know it’s the circle of life but it’s still sad to think about the baby animals getting eaten. Our guide said most animals eventually get eaten…. normally as a young animal or older, slower animal.
As we left our lodge this morning, the staff alerted us to an incredible find of a nocturnal animal. Nocturnal means an animal that is awake at night and asleep during the day. This Large-Spotted Genet was sitting in the rafters of the lodge entrance; I cannot believe they found him especially as he heading to bed!
Giraffe…Another animal that has been fascinating to see a variety of ages all at once and to see them in the wild. When you look closely through your binoculars, you can see the scars on their faces (much like the lions and lionesses). These animals are warriors in the wild! There was also a baby giraffe in the herd who was quite curious about our trucks; it was funny to watch! Also, we saw yellow-bull ox pecker bird riding the giraffe backs as they eat the bugs off of them.
Hyena…They have been a staple most days seen wallowing in mud pits.
Tree hyrax…The animal Teddy was most ecstatic to see as he said it’s his favorite African animal! The guides got a chuckle as I think it’s a common animal for them to see. Regardless, the hyrax didn’t disappoint especially since we saw some babies too.
Leopard…Same leopard was still in ‘his’ tree but this time we could see him better and he had clearly eaten that gazelle clean!
Lion and Lioness were sitting together like a couple. What a treat! Lucas said it looked like they were on their honeymoon as their noses were all but touching. They were just sitting basking in the sun looking like they didn’t have a care in the world!
I forgot to mention too that there is no fencing in the Serengeti National Park. So you are truly out with all the wild animals. However, this is the beauty of The Great Migration. The reason the animals can migrate through Tanzania into Kenya and back is because they’re not locked in anywhere. The animals follow the rain and green grazing grounds. The Great Migration is the reason we came to the Serengeti at this time to witness it; 1.3 million wildebeests and 500,000 zebras migrate each year. As far as the eye can see, there are wildebeests and zebras! The interesting thing about these two animals is wildebeests always move in a straight line and follow one another. Zebras are a bit smarter and always have animals in their group looking in different directions as to be on the lookout for predators. Fascinating!
Upon arriving at our final lodging of the trip, Lake Masek Tented Camp, a porter and Maasai warrior met us at the gate to get our bags in a wheelbarrow and we walked. All our lodges’ staff have greeted us with refreshments and a briefing about the place. Again, they have all been so hospitable. All our rooms have been pretty far from the main building, but I think it’s because we have been given family rooms which are bigger and are located at the edge of the camps. Luckily, this lodge has outdoor and indoor showers unlike the last one that just had outdoor! Our guides, Anderson and Lucas joined us for supper again tonight and we learned more about them and their families. My favorite part was hearing their favorite animals as you know they’ve seen one of all of them. Anderson’s is a giraffe because they’re so graceful even though they walk on stilts. Lucas had an interesting story as to why the cheetah was his favorite. On one particular safari he was driving an open truck and a baby cheetah jumped on the hood and stood nose to nose with Lucas! The cub then decided to sit on the roof along with his three other siblings for about thirty minutes before they followed their mom somewhere. I’m not sure what I would’ve done nose to nose with a baby cheetah!
When we waked up on our final full day of game driving, we didn’t have to go far to see animals as there were dik-diks and guinea fowl grazing outside our room. We saw another reason the Serengeti is so unique is that these wild animals share their home with nomadic Maasai tribes and their cattle. Today we saw many groups of boys (usually around 12-14 years of age) shepherding their herds of cattle. At night they build temporary fencing around to keep the herds safe as well as themselves as the warriors stay with the cattle.
Hartebeest…Another elk looking animal, but we haven’t seen as many of them.
Cheetah and her three cubs…This group had hyenas all around them and the momma cheetah did not like it! She moved her cubs around as she kept watching the hyenas. We watched for a while and the cubs were so curious! There are only about 200 left in the Serengeti. Even less there are <100 black rhinos left here but no ranger will say exactly how many because of poachers. The black rhino was the only big animal we didn’t see as they’re critically endangered!
This story deserves it’s own paragraph as we came upon a lion eating (and dragging it almost under our vehicle) his fresh zebra prey! His beard was red from eating it! Hyenas were all around too as the zebra could’ve been the hyenas catch and the Lion took it for himself or they’re waiting for him to be full to have a turn. Either way, it was wild! Lucas pulled up so close to the lion and I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. It didn’t seem to bother the lion though! Lucas told us lions and elephants see our vehicle as one unit but baboons and leopards could pick out people in the vehicle. Cory kept sticking his camera out the window to get a close picture of the lion…too close for comfort for me!
Back to lodge for lunch and we saw Lesser and Greater Flamingos on Ndutu Lake. We decided to eat lunch at the lodge today and take a late afternoon game drive to see if we see something different later. After lunch, I saw Teddy sitting by himself looking out at Lake Masek. When I asked what he was doing, he said, “I’m just taking in that we’re in Africa.” I know I have referenced my son Teddy mostly in this blog and it’s because he is the biggest animal lover I know. Ever since he was really little, he has been fascinated with animals and a safari in Tanzania is the ultimate for him! He’s only eight but has a big heart and thirst to know more about all animals!
Upon leaving for our late afternoon game hunt, I knew we had had a full week of animal viewing and there’s no way we could possibly top seeing a leopard eating his carcass in the tree, seeing a momma cheetah and her cubs, seeing a lion eat his zebra prey or any of the other unbelievable sights we had seen. However, we were in for a surprise tonight! Here’s what we saw:
Juvenile Martial Eagle…The most powerful eagle in Tanzania that can eat dik-diks.
Family of Jackals…We have seen these guys a handful of times this week.
Cheetah and her Cub…She only had one cub which meant she lost at least one cub to a predator as she would normally have two to four cubs in a liter.
Then it happened when we came upon a pride of FIVE male lions!!!!! They were all sitting down yawning because they had just waked up in time to start hunting for the evening. They also rubbed heads together and groomed each other before all taking a potty break at the same time. ha Then they laid back down before going hunting tonight
Our drive back to lodge was quite bumpy and I was glad I took another Dramamine! I have needed one on more than on occasion here as the roads are quite bumpy as they are dirt and muddy when it rains. Dinner was with the whole crew tonight; what a way to cap off this amazing week to have Anderson and Lucas fellowship with us one more time. Cute Bea is the hostess of the mostest as she sat by one of the guides at the end of the table and made sure to ask him questions to include him in the conversation. We also star-gazed tonight; and, wow, is the sky wide open to do so there!
By the end of our trip, we had spent so much time with our guides that it was sad to say bye! They have taught us so much about their land and animals but also their language. Bea has a whole notebook of Swahili words, and she used them appropriately all week long. I think it tickled our guides that she was so excited about their language! One last group picture of whole crew by the trucks and thanking Lucas and Anderson for the best trip ever! They were so complimentary of our family and seemed like they had just as much fun as we did! Our final drive to the Ndutu airstrip and thought we’d see some animals on the way. We guessed what we’d see and, in this order…guinea fowl, dik-dik, impala and giraffe and it happened just in that order! What are the chances! Our guides joked that the animals came to tell us bye.
As we figured, our flight out of the park would be a small one and it fit twelve plus the pilot! We had a few stops before Arusha but seeing this country from the sky was just as incredible as from land. Like I said at the beginning, we waited over two years to take this trip but there is more to it. Seventeen years ago, my parents went on a similar safari in Tanzania, and it was the last big trip they would go on before my father got sick and passed away. It was an overwhelming feeling…our guides had become like family, being in this place that my daddy had been and just my new love of this country. We saw more of the great migration out our window too! I guess what I’m getting at is you can see God everywhere you turn there including all the intricate details of how each animal moves and went about their day to live in peace with the others even with the circle of life happening. It is just amazing and can only be described as “just God.”
We landed safely in Arusha and were greeted again by our handler who picked us up from the airport the week before. We had a lovely lunch at *Arusha Coffee Lodge and the kids found a playground which was great since we were about to be stuck on a plane for a long time. It was even more fun as black faced monkeys were also hanging around and one bounced off Teddy’s head during a game of tag. I guess that monkey wanted to play too!
Our next find also deserves its own paragraph as we happened upon a place called Shanga which means ‘beads’ in Swahili. This store employs people with physical and mental disabilities. You could watch the employees at their crafts…deaf ladies make necklaces and other people (some without hands) make bracelets, a deaf man blowing glass from recycled glass and people make store bags for the gift shop out of old newspapers. What a wonderful way for people that have extra challenges to be able to use their talents too! What fun to support them in their gift shop! Now back to the airport at Kilimanjaro for our long flights home. On our way though, we went through a few little towns and saw all kinds of things including mommas with their babies on their backs in a pouch, ladies carrying/balancing items on their heads, people having little shops set up on the side of the road and more. It was a clear day so we also saw Mount Kilimanjaro. This day was a long one as we woke up in the bush, took a tiny plane to Arusha, then had a full afternoon in town before a late evening flight home. If you remember me saying, then we also had two 8+ hour flights home but so worth it!
Until next time, as they say in Tanzania ‘kwaheri’ (bye)!