We generally plan and arrange our own trips. However, it is not really practical to visit the East African game parks as an independent traveler. Public transportation is not an option nor is renting your own vehicle. Most roads are rudimentary and unpaved and road signs are rarely seen between towns or even at park entrances. Negotiating the terrain requires very sturdy, 4-wheel drive vehicles that would be quite expensive to rent. But while the tourism infrastructure in both Kenya and Tanzania is not designed for independent travel, it is well set up to accommodate travelers in groups. Moreover, airfares from the US to Africa and lodging within Africa are generally considerably cheaper when booked as part of a tour.
We chose to book with 2Afrika on the basis of the high marks given to the company by Frommer's website and numerous testimonials by clients published on that site. The company offers a variety of tours. We opted for the 8-day Tanzania package termed the "Snows of Kilimanjaro." The cost, including airfare on KLM from New York, was $2180 per person. Tanzanian visas added another $50 each.
We eventually cleared customs and found our 2Afrika representative who transported us to the Ilboru Safari Lodge, a 45 minute drive from the airport for some much-needed rest. The following morning we got a better look at the tropical grounds, resident birds, and the brick, ivy-covered Ilboru Lodge cottages, each with a conical thatched roof. We were exhilarated to be in Africa again (our second visit) and we were eager to get on to our first game park. Our driver/guide for the next six days was Shabba, an affable and knowledgeable resident of a nearby village.
Our photo safari will be presented in installments in the next several issues of the magazine. We begin with Lake Manyara.
We drove back through Arusha enroute to our first game park. As is true of towns in many third world regions, the core area is pretty shabby. The fringes of the town were more village-like and more distinctly African. These areas teem with people, push carts, bikes, wagons, trucks, and vans criss-crossing everywhere among small markets and shops. The setting was further enlivened by the ultra-colorful clothing worn by the local women. There are great scenes to capture at every turn, but you are reluctant to do so unless your picture can be taken discretely. You see people selling gasoline in bottles and carrying all manner of items on their heads and in huge sacks and baskets.
As we entered into the green grasslands, we began to see the semi-nomadic Maasai in their highly distinctive red robes, and occasional picturesque thatched dwellings. We kept searching for majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro without success. It is habitually enshrouded in clouds. Within an hour beyond Arusha, the road was virtually deserted. We caught sight of some giraffes and then some ostriches. As we approached Shabba's village, we encountered one of the most amazing scenes of the entire trip. Trees lined each side of the road for a distance of perhaps a third of a mile. In the trees were many hundreds of migrating storks. We stayed here for 30 minutes, fascinated, watching these huge birds take off and glide back to their nests. It was just one of those indescribable scenes.
We entered Lake Manyara National Park late morning. This park is very lush and dense with red dirt roads and numerous streams, quite different from the Serengeti plain we had seen on an earlier trip to Kenya. We seemed to have close encounters with game at every turn in this park - vervet monkeys, hornbills, storks, impalas, giraffes, water buffalo, baboons, pelicans, ibis, herons, and kingfishers. We stopped at the lake where there were thousands of flamingoes, another unbelievable scene. All of this within our first hour in the park and not a single other vehicle in sight since passing through the gates.
At one point, Shabba called our attention to a group of tsetse flies making themselves at home in our vehicle. The four us of eyed them warily, mindful of the stories we had all heard about these dreaded pests. During the 6 hours we spent in the park we also saw elephants, zebras, dik diks, several types of eagles and numerous other bird species, including the absolutely gorgeous green and yellow bee eater. We were surprised to learn that there are more than 500 bird species in Tanzania, almost as many as in the renowned bird watching regions of Central and South America. Moreover, in jungle areas you hear a lot of birds but it is difficult to see them as they are often high in the dense jungle canopy. In the game parks of Tanzania and Kenya, however, birds are often out in the open as there are relatively few trees.
About 5:00 pm, we arrived at Kirurumu Luxury Tented Lodge. What a neat place! The tented units spread across a terraced slope overlooking Lake Manyara. Pathways between the tents and the open-air dining pavilion were landscaped with native plants, shrubs and trees. The tents did not require us to rough it. They were complete with verandas and full en suite facilities - as close as we're likely to come to an "Out of Africa" experience. Judi relished sitting on the veranda, sipping a glass of wine, and watching the sun set. While dinning, attendants spray your quarters with mosquito repellant and arrange the mosquito netting around your bed. Dinner was avocado and tomato salad, cream of onion soup, tilapia with potatoes and vegetables, and fresh fruit. A lightning storm moved through at bedtime and knocked out the lights, but who needs lights in a tent anyway.
this series on Tanzania will