Witnessing the Great Migration
Thank you, thank you, thank you for not only living up to all the testimonials, but for going above and beyond our expectations. You turned our dream “trip of a lifetime” into a reality. We have been home for a month and have yet to come down from the natural high we’ve been on since our ADS safari. At the risk of sounding like all who have gone before, here is our recap of our ADS experience.
We began planning our trip over a year ago. After much research of Africa safari tour companies, National Geographic’s recommendation led us to Africa Dream Safaris. We checked out the website and contacted ADS. Dawn Anderson was the warm and friendly voice at the other end of the telephone who was also extremely knowledgeable in answering our many questions. Everything that ADS had to offer was just what we were looking for. We knew we wanted a private safari for just the two of us as we would be celebrating our 15th Wedding Anniversary on August 3rd. We also knew that witnessing the Great Migration was a hope and a dream for us. We gave Dawn our dates for a 12-day safari and she put together the most perfect itinerary that would put us in the right place at the right time for both the migration and our anniversary.
We were now living and breathing Africa. The wealth of information provided to us from ADS was invaluable as we read through the ADS Handbook from cover to cover and checked the “What To Bring on Safari” list once, twice and over again. No question was left unanswered, including Dawn’s list for “What To Put In Your Day Pack”. The planning and anticipation became part of the fun as Dawn’s unending help and guidance began to ease my “trip”adation.
Finally, July 26, 2012 arrived and it was time to pack all of our khaki clothes into our khaki carry-on bags. We flew Delta to Amsterdam and stayed overnight at an airport hotel just to get a good night’s sleep. The next morning we boarded the KLM flight to the JRO Airport in Arusha. Upon our arrival Saturday, July 28th, there stood our ADS representatives, a welcome sight from all the chaos. They whisked us through visa and immigration, we collected our additional two checked bags, filled with donations of school and medical supplies, and were out the door while everyone else stood on long lines.
We were met by another ADS representative upon arrival at the Mt. Meru Resort. So far, ADS was proving to be a perfectly orchestrated symphony of caring people. We were given a welcome package, a fully loaded cell phone for emergencies and a briefing for the next day’s schedule, which was to include a tour of the St. Jude’s School and the Cultural Heritage Center in Arusha. Our driver/guide, Ali or Ollie (not sure of spelling), picked us up on Sunday morning. We toured the school with a lovely young lady named Tiffany and were very impressed with the work they are doing. Although no students were present, we received a, much appreciated, e-mail photo of students with the school supplies we donated and a “thank you”.
The Mt. Meru Resort was ideal for the “R & R” we needed after traveling through so many time zones. On Monday morning Ali/Ollie delivered us to the Arusha Airstrip for our flight to the Northern Serengeti. He was really terrific and waited with us until we were on board and taking off. As we neared the Kogatende Airstrip to land, this was to be the moment of truth.
Would the Wildebeest Migration be there? It was, as if “on cue”…there they were below us, looking like a trail of thousands of ants running in the same direction towards the Mara River. Could our timing have been better?
It was perfect! Francis, our driver/guide and soon to be a good friend, met us upon landing. He loaded our bags into the vehicle and we headed toward the Mara River. There, in answer to our hopes and dreams, were the Wildebeests, by the thousands, covering the landscape and following their leaders down the rocky embankment into the swirling waters. Some of them jumped, first with hesitation, holding up the line, while others jumped in with wild abandonment. We were grateful that there were no crocodiles.
They made it to the other side as we watched with a lump in our throats and tears in our eyes. What an incredible sight and sound. It was magnificent and from that point on, the magnificence never stopped.
Francis was not only a wonderful driver navigating the bumpy roads and off-roads for hours on end, but he was amazing knowing just how to get us to the right place at the right time and positioning the vehicle for the best photo shot. He was happy to share his knowledge of Tanzania, it’s wildlife and it’s terrain with good nature and always a smile. He never tired of our many questions, nor of the game drives that took us far and wide. He delighted in our photos and my constant requests to wait as I took “Just one more”. He kept us well-fed and well-hydrated with plentiful picnic breakfasts, lunches and a cooler full of bottled water. He always managed to find us a decent restroom so we never had to “check the tires”.
We saw the “Big Five”, the “Serengeti Seven”, the “Migration Collection” and some of the “Rare, Bizarre and Quirky”. We lunched as a pride of lions snoozed under a tree. We had a picnic breakfast early one morning at the kopjes and encountered two lionesses and their four cubs. We observed and photographed them for over an hour. We came within 50 feet of a leopard in a tree and were mesmerized as it came down from the tree and walked in front of us.
A Cheetah demonstrated her stealth and speed in capturing a Thompson Gazelle to feed her two cubs. We delighted at the sight of a one week old baby Elephant with her elders. We could barely tear ourselves away from the rollicking of the baboons and vervet monkeys. Seeing Giraffes was always a “high” and the Zebras were a favorite. We never tired of or took for granted any sighting. It was non-stop adventure and awe.
Our itinerary took us from the remote Northern Serengeti to the Central Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Crater to Lake Manyara and Tarangire. Most of the time we were out all day with early morning wake up calls of “Jambo” and a tray of coffee and cookies delivered to our tent by the Maasai who escorted us to dinner the night before. We enjoyed a glimpse into the life of a Maasai with a tour of one of their villages in the Loliondo Region of the Northern Serengeti.
They sang and danced for us and we bought some of their beautiful craftwork for gifts and souvenirs. With Dawn’s expert help, we experienced a wonderful variety of accommodations and enjoyed the company of other travelers during sundowners and dinners in the evening. The two Lemala Tented Camps, one at the Mara River and the other at the Ngorongoro Crater were ideally located and made a great “Out of Africa” adventure.
Buffalo Springs Tented Lodge was a wonderful choice located in the Northern Serengeti high on the hills of Loliondo with stunning views of the valley below. The warm and friendly staff welcomed us with a song and a dance. Upon arrival, at each accommodation, we were greeted with fresh scented, ice cold towels and glasses of ice cold mango juice, which was delightful after a dusty, yet exhilarating, day.
The Bilila Lodge was pure luxury right in the middle of the Central Serengeti. Our beautiful, luxurious suite looked out on a natural watering hole where Zebra, Eland and Baboon, just to name a few, gathered to drink.
This was the perfect setting for celebrating our anniversary. Francis joined us for dinner that night and, with ADS, commemorated our anniversary with a cake and a song delivered by the entire restaurant staff. Gifts from ADS, crafted by the Maasai, were a complete surprise and very much appreciated. Thank you, ADS! Plantation Lodge, a coffee plantation, was
casual elegance with green lush grounds located between the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire. We had a beautiful suite and the service was impeccable.
From this location we were able to tour the FAME Clinic and their new hospital. We met and dined with Dr. Frank Artress and his lovely wife, Susan. Their hard work and commitment to the people of Tanzania is wonderful and inspiring. We gave them the medical donations we had brought and hope to be able to do more in the future.
Our last two night’s accommodation was at Swala Tented Lodge, which we highly recommend as the best place to end a safari. It was located in a remote corner of Tarengire National Park. Luxury-in-a-tent and every detail perfectly thought out defines Swala Tented Lodge. The staff were absolutely wonderful and extremely attentive in making us feel most welcome. We even had lions roaring right outside our tent at night to enhance this perfect ambiance in the bush.
So many times during our safari it was confirmed to us that choosing ADS was the right decision, especially when we passed another vehicle with eight people packed inside. When the day came to return to Arusha for our flight home, we discovered that KLM had changed our seating and separated us by 44 rows.
Juliet, at ADS Tanzania Headquarters, came to our rescue and KLM returned us to our original seats together. Thank you, Juliet! When it was time to board our flight we looked back and waved good-bye to Francis, waiting to make sure we were ok. He had become our friend and now, sadly, we had to leave. Thank you, Francis! My husband and I have vowed to come back to this magical place with it’s warm, friendly people, magnificent plains lush with animal life and nature at it’s best. It gets into your soul and becomes a part of you. Thank you, Dawn Anderson! Thank you, ADS and the entire staff for the wonderful, incredible safari experience that will forever be our “trip of a lifetime”.
Ronnie and Martin Roitman
Monarch Beach, California