Our safari couldn’t get any better than this! That’s what we declared at the end of each day only to be delightedly proven wrong. For 12 days, our schedule was filled, either viewing or participating in one amazing adventure after another. We welcomed our beds each night to wake up before dawn with anticipation of what a new day would bring. And, we were never disappointed.
Like many before us that have embarked on a journey to Tanzania, ours started nearly a year-and-a-half ago by sorting through the information provided online from the many safari companies. We were quickly able to cull the list to a select few that seemed to offer what we were looking for in terms of service and lodgings. After communicating through emails and phone conversations with all of these remaining companies on our list, it was clear that African Dream Safaris was the right fit for our needs. It was the responsiveness of Dawn Anderson that sealed the deal, who was nothing less than spectacular with her knowledgeable guidance and timeliness in thoroughly answering all questions, no matter how mundane the subject.
Our first stop was in the Northern Serengeti. After landing, our two families (four adults and three children ages 10, 11, and 13) met our guides Ellson and Russell. Within a few feet from the Kogatende Airstrip, we began our journey, one of seemingly nonstop viewing of animals. Before stopping for our first box lunch, we had already seen impala,Thompson’s gazelle, zebra, hyena, warthog, nile crocodile, hippo, vultures attending to a wildebeest carcass and an abbreviated wildebeest crossing of the Mara River. By the end of the day, we were able to mark down 26 animal species along with a number of different birds. We also gained incredible respect for Ellson and Russell and their depth of knowledge of everything Serengeti.
While in the central Serengeti, we took a balloon excursion recommended by Dawn Anderson. We awoke at 4:15 in the morning with the hopes that the ride would be worth the early rising. And it was. We felt privileged to be able to enjoy a vantage point that most don’t get the chance to see. It was amazing to see the tops of the acacia where vultures were nesting, hippos actually running, the balloon basket scattering a herd of Thompson’s gazelles and Cape buffalo close and personal. We touched down near Moru Kopjes where we enjoyed a champagne toast and an English breakfast under the canopy of a towering acacia tree.
I could not write this without mentioning our visit with the Hadza tribe. We woke up early to hunt down the Hadzabe, a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe we understood was living in the Lake Eyasi region, where it is estimated that just 1000-1500 exist. On this morning we visited a group numbering 20-25, bringing them food saved from our collective lunch boxes, nuts and candies. We didn’t know what to expect, but had hoped to see how they hunt and understand their way of living, and maybe find some mutual commonality. Boy, did we get that and more!…It sure wasn’t Disney.
I have to admit I was a little intimated and initially didn’t know whether we were welcome there or not. We learned their greeting and shook their hand. The size and strength of their hands left me hoping even more that they were a friendly bunch. Not to be worried. After a little time around the fire making some arrows, the younger warriors got up and went out to hunt food. They walked fast and we ambled as gracefully as a bunch of city people do amongst the brambles and acacia bushes set out to grab hair and any clothing items that come near enough for them to ensnare.
They found their kill, then proceeded to begin the process of making fire. It was then that their mood lightened as they sat there and cooked their parrots and squirrels over the fire. They offered out to our group with a couple of the more adventurous eaters who sampled. They have made a conscious choice to stay true to customs of their tribe for reasons that only they can understand. It is a hard life that they live and I can’t fathom how they are able to endure the day-to-day, however, for now they continue to do so.
There are so many highlights and I can’t really go into too much detail with ever having the hopes of finishing this letter, so I will simply list some of them here below:
- A lioness moving her 4-5 day old cubs from one hiding spot to another and having to cross the road immediately in front of our truck.
- ‘Cat day’, where we saw a leopard walking across the plains to cross the road directly in front of our car and comfortably sit down on the road next to us, a cheetah kill a Thompson’s gazelle, two serval and plenty of lions.
- Watching a lion and lioness pair prepare to attack an injured wildebeest. Seeing the amusing human-like dynamics play out between the lion and the lioness as he realizes that the lioness is not doing her job of hunting and he is left to unsuccessfully make the attempt.
- Traveling across the open plains then stopping to watch a large herd of elephants and the enjoying baby elephants playing like children.
- After a long journey to Ngorongoro crater, spotting a rhinoceros. Then, waking up early to be the first in the park (staying a Lion’s Paw is the best way to arrive early) and finding another rhinoceros, then watching and appreciating the expertise of Ellson to anticipate the movements of this allusive creature in order to gain the best view.
- Waking up in the morning to the sound of lions calling right outside the tent.
- Russell spotting an impala on the ground in the brush giving birth. A concerned giraffe comes over to help, scaring the impala away and causing her to run away mid-birth.
- That ‘aha’ moment when we understood the carrion animals and their much appreciated job as janitors of the Serengeti while watching a massive group of vultures feeding on a zebra that perished on the side of the road. I remember the immense patience of Russell while he patiently explained the hierarchy of the vultures and their specialized functions so that I can record it in my journal.
I couldn’t imagine a better trip (other than being able to witness a larger wildebeest river crossing) and the time spent in Tanzania will always be remembered as one of the best adventure vacations ever. There is a saying in Tanzania, which is “You come here for the animals, but you come back for the people.” This is the truest of true statements about Tanzania and also of ADS.
Our many thanks to Dawn Anderson who helped us get there; Michael, Kikoti and the other ground team in Arusha; to the men who could write the book on professionalism Russell and Ellson, our drivers and friends for a lifetime; and to Jonas at Seronera Sametu Camp and Edward at Lion’s Paw Camp, who kept us in hot water and fed us some of the most appropriate and delicious meals.
I’ve never been so impressed with a company that are intertwined so prevalently with our travel memories. It is also our first experience where the company continues to stay in contact with us after our return. Asante Sana ADS for a trip of a lifetime!
Peter, Allison and Zachary V.
Boca Raton, Florida
Safari Dates: July 29 – August 9, 2014
I have been dreaming of going on an African Safari for most of my life. It took me almost 50 years to make that dream into a reality, and now I can hardly believe it is over.
I feel so blessed that this adventure was shared with my husband Lance, and my two daughters Chelsea (15) and Haley (11). We are all crazy animal lovers and all interested in learning about new cultures. This trip could not have been any more ideal for our family. I have to say that Dawn helped us to plan the perfect itinerary and we loved every minute of it!
Our adventure started in Arusha where we had the incredible opportunity to visit the St. Jude school. We spent the day visiting classes, eating lunch with the children, playing games, and learning all about this wonderful school which provides an opportunity for the most impoverished students to get a superior education. At the end of the day, we rode the bus home with a young student- Jennifa and visited her home.
We were overwhelmed as all of her friends, family and neighbors greeted us with songs and cheering. We were invited into her humble home for tea and snacks and talked with her parents (through and English translator). We were almost in tears when we left and we all hugged and cried as we told them we would like to sponsor their daughter in school this year.
The next day we flew off into the Serengeti on a small plane. We landed in the Grumeti air strip and were greeted by Petro our cheerful Safari Guide. He gave both my girls the biggest hug and said that we would have a great time together. Immediately upon leaving the airstrip we saw hundreds of wildebeasts and dozens of baboons. We were so excited to start our journey deep into the Serengeti.
On the ride to our first lodge- we saw giraffes, zebras and dozens of other animals. It felt like a dream. We arrived at the Mbalageti Tented lodge and were greeted with fresh juice and cold cloths to wipe our faces. We could not get over our luxury accommodations. Our family tent was like a small palace with an expansive deck looking out into the wilderness. We cooled off in the pool and took a nap before dinner. The buffets were all fabulous and it was fun to chat with other guests about their safari experiences.
The next day we got to see our first lion pride and spotted a beautiful leopard and even a cheetah. We spent time watching the hippos at the Retina pool. It was mating season so we saw two male hippos fighting, we even saw some pink babies and watched the hippos wallowing and grunting in the mud.
The Four Seasons Lodge, our next stop was like stepping into a travel magazine. We had fun at the beautiful pool where we could watch the elephants come drink at the watering hole. At one point- there were 37 elephants surrounding the area and even a one week old elephant baby that had been born on the property the week before. The staff there (and in all the lodges) were so kind and helpful. One morning a baboon visited us on our balcony. Haley thought that was so funny!
We continued our game drives and could not wait to see what the day would bring. The great migration of wildebeests and zebras was amazing to watch throughout. Petro, of course was so knowledgeable about the animals and we admired his respect and love for them. Lance and I chatted with him about Tanzanian culture, history and life. We all became great friends. He called Haley, my youngest the Safari boss and he teased Chelsea about her music. We learned about his family as well and I even got to speak with his wife on the phone.
We headed off to the Ngorongoro Crater and stopped at a Masaai village for a couple of hours which was truly a highlight for me. We were greeted by a the chief’s son (who spoke English.) We danced together, toured the village and got to see the boma huts where they live. We learned about their life and even visit the small school made of sticks. The children were so interested in us and we showed them pictures on our camera. We sang to them and gave each one a high five. It was AMAZING! I think it gave Chelsea and Haley a new appreciation of our life in the States.
We headed down into the crater and were hoping to see the elusive rhino. We lucked out and were able to find one (a bit in the distance) and watched him for some time. The Lion’s Paw tented camp on top of the crater was magical. We felt like we were in Avatar with all the lush trees. There were only 6 tents and we happened to be the only ones staying there that night. We were treated like royalty. We got to eat dinner together with Petro and visited with the staff at Lion’s Paw.
The next morning, as we headed into the crater we were fortunate to come upon a male lion lying in the road. We were in awe of this majestic creature. A few hundred yards away- his harem of 6 lionesses were planning their attack on a small herd of zebra. We watched them spread out and slowly, slowly creep along in the tall grass until they were close enough to charge. It was so exciting to watch!! The zebra were faster than we imagined and got away! Phew…
After a few more hours surveying the crater, seeing hyenas, mammoth elephants, hundreds of flamingos in the salty lake and dozens of other birds. We decided to make our way to Gibbs Farm. This was our last stop and it was a wonderful retreat for 3 nights after a week of game drives. We spent our time in Gibbs Farm sitting out on the lawn chairs, picking vegetables in the 9 acre garden, drinking coffee and relaxing. We also had a chance to tour the small nearby town and visit an orphanage. It was a great way to end our Safari experience. The last night the staff brought us a cake and sang to us in Swahili.
I feel so sad that it’s all over now, But these memories will last a lifetime. Thank you so much to African Dream Safari especially to Dawn for planning this fabulous trip for us to Petro for guiding us through the Serengeti with care and fun, to all the fabulous staff at the lodges who made us feel like special guests and the Tanzanian people for sharing your beautiful country with us and especially for your warm smiles!
Stephanie, Lance, Chelsea and Haley E.
May 27, 2014 to June 5, 2014
Now I know what Ernest Hemingway meant when he said, “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.” For eleven magical days, we couldn’t wait to see what our expert guide, Godson, had in store for us as he carefully guided our trusty Cruiser along the endless trails of the Tanzanian wilderness.
The sheer abundance of wildlife awakened a childlike wonder within. Lion, leopard, hyena, elephant, giraffe, hippo, baboon, eland, topi, kudu, dik dik, and, of course, wildebeest and zebra appeared suddenly, as if out of no-where, yet they were everywhere. While some encounters were thrillingly illusive (cheetahs hidden away in the high grasses), others were breathtakingly close and even, momentarily pulse-raising, like the time we came face to face with a great bull elephant who had no intention of giving way to our Cruiser. Quickly, Godson diverted our vehicle off-road, giving this very determined giant plenty of room to pass, as well as providing us with a great photo-opportunity!
A much anticipated wildebeest crossing taught us early-on the value of patience and filled us with a deep sense of awe for Nature’s Ways. Nothing can rival such a thunderous mass of ruminants braving dangerous waters for another day of life. That experience moved me to tears.
Another great surprise was the incredible variety of raptors and birds! Ostrich, egret, guinea, stork, flamingo, kingfisher, and songbirds flashed their shimmering colors and amused us with their antics. How do they manage to perch between those claw-like thorns of the acacia trees?
Admittedly, I lived behind my camera for the first couple of days. Then the sheer abundance of life all around me demanded that I come out from behind the view finder and absorb those moments of encounter which no photo could ever do justice. It was a decision I will never regret. While I still brought home a couple of thousand pictures, I think of them as tools to sharpen the memories I’ve tucked away as my real treasure.
The elegantly appointed tented lodges and camps provided a big exclamation point to the end of each day! Smiling, attentive staff greeted us with cool, wet cloths, pleasant drinks, and a sincere welcome (“Karibu”), then whisked us off to our tents for warm, smoke-scented showers with waters heated over open flames. Later, gathered in the crisp coolness by a crackling bonfire, we toasted the sunset then lingered over intimate, candle-lit meals underneath the canvas roof of the dining tent. With the night skies awash in stars and our seclusion broken only by the roar of a lion in the distance, we knew we were having the experience of a lifetime.
Many thanks to ADS’s knowledgeable and cheerful Dawn Anderson who spent the past year indulging every one of our questions with promptness, patience and kindness and helped shape for us a fantastic travel adventure. Asante sana, Dawn!
Elizabeth S., Clark S. and Larry O.
Safari Dates: July 26, 2014 to August 7, 2014