Tanzania: A photo safari

In safari vehicle

Hosting an Iowa State alumni group on the “Best of Tanzania Safari” through Thomson Safaris is undoubtedly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I expected to see abundant wildlife – and I did – but I’m not sure that I expected the tremendous service, hospitality, and warmth of the people, nor the exhilarating “summer camp” experience that brought our group extremely close to each other and to nature. I started dreaming about going on an African photo safari more than 30 years ago, and it did not disappoint.

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Several of us arrived together at Kilimanjaro Airport late in the evening and were whisked to Rivertrees Country Inn (above) near Arusha, Tanzania, where we spent a full day and two nights getting acclimated.

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After our full group – 12 of us total – arrived, we took off on a short, scenic flight in a very small airplane, landing on a remote air strip in the Eastern Serengeti. We met our guides and drove to our first Nyumba (camp) in an area known as Enashiva. This 10,000-acre nature refuge is owned and managed by Thomson Safaris and is jokingly referred to as “Giraffic Park” because of the large numbers of giraffes that are thriving there.

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We spent two nights in Enashiva, and I was in heaven the whole time. Surrounded by wildebeest and zebras and giraffes and Thompson’s gazelles and ostrich and many other animals, we literally heard the animals around us all night long. Wildebeest are loud little dudes, I will tell you that. And zebras bark like dogs. And they both will thunder by your tent at 2 in the morning, which is the coolest way ever to be woken up. Our little group of 12 had the whole camp to ourselves and ate all our meals together.

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At Enashiva, we went out on several game drives in our Land Rovers, and we also took a morning hike through the land near our campsite – with the animals always maintaining a comfortable distance from us – and had a bush breakfast (with eggs and crepes and fruit and local honey) and a nighttime game drive to see nocturnal animals. We took warm showers in our really awesome, spacious, comfortable tents (so much better than I expected). Slept with rain pelting our canvas roofs. Drank cups of strong, hot coffee every morning, delivered to our front porch with a cheery “jambo, jambo!” by the Nyumba crew.

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We visited a Maasai women’s collaborative to see (and purchase) their intricate beadwork, and we traveled to a Maasai boma, a settlement of circular mud-and-dung homes. We also visited a school and dispensary (clinic) supported by Thomson and saw many Maasai herders with their flocks of sheep, goats, and cattle.

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Enashiva was so comfortable and delightful and magical that I didn’t want to leave, but after two days we struck out in our dual Land Rovers for Serengeti National Park. It was a long drive, but who’s complaining? We were in the Serengeti. We stopped for a picnic lunch, and saw elephants, giraffes, baboons, a mother lion (below) with her cub, cape buffalo, impala, and other animals.

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The land was very different from the Eastern Serengeti, with tall grasses and flat-top acacia trees and rock outcroppings. Our Nyumba was similar to the one at Enashiva, but there were more tents and a larger dining area. Within view of our tents were always two cape buffalo, whom we dubbed the camp’s mascots, and usually an elephant or two. On one of the three evenings we were there, so many elephants came into the camp that the crew had to shoo us away for our own safety (of course, we were all taking pictures). But I really think they were just passing through.

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Most of our time in Serengeti National Park was spent on morning and evening game drives. We saw lions every day, and those were the sightings that made us the happiest (and caused the biggest safari vehicle traffic jams). Many pairs of lions had separated from the pride because it was mating season, so we got to see some lion love.

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We also got to see a pair of cheetahs, and that was a really amazing experience. They started out as specks on the horizon but slowly, slowly came closer and closer until they walked right by our Land Rovers and to the other side of the road. I don’t think I breathed the whole time.

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On our second full day in the national park, most of our group (along with a second Thomson group that had joined us at the camp) got up at 4 a.m. and piled into safari vehicles to ride to a balloon launch site. We were there before dawn and got to watch four huge hot-air balloons inflate. Each balloon basket held 16 people plus the pilot, and we took off one at a time for an unforgettable flight over the Serengeti.

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At times we were high in the sky; at other times we were barely skimming the tall grasses and the tops of the acacia trees. It was a spectacular experience and a lovely day for the flight. We saw hippos hurrying to get into their pools, a group of lions prowling in the distance, a family of warthogs, spotted hyenas, and more. Just seeing the park’s rutted dirt roads, the animal paths, and the trees from the air was a real treat.

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We flew for about an hour, and after we landed we had a champagne toast followed by a bush breakfast (with more champagne) and a nearby lion sighting. It was a good morning, to say the least.

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The day we left our Serengeti Nyumba was perhaps the best day for animal viewing in the park. We saw literally thousands of wildebeest and zebras, plus elephants, lions, cape buffalo, giraffes, and other animals. This was a big migration area for the zebras and wildebeest, and they were everywhere. It was thrilling to see so many animals at one time.

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En route to our next tent camp near Ngorongoro Crater, we stopped at historic Olduvai Gorge for a brief lecture and box lunch. The remaining drive to our Nyumba was so surprising: The ecosystem changed entirely, and the emerging lush greenery began to remind us of Hawaii, or maybe Costa Rica. Our Ngorongoro Nyumba (below) was set in a magical, tropical place near the crater rim, and it felt like paradise.

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We were there only one night; we set out the next morning to explore the crater floor. We spent the day in the crater observing zebras and wildebeest, baboons (below) and cape buffalo. We spotted several elusive rhinos (above) and a flock of flamingos. This crater – 10 miles wide from rim to rim – is said to have some of the most abundant and largest variety of wildlife anywhere in the world.

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We had box lunches inside of our safari vehicles near a hippo pond – our guides said if we ate outside our food would be snatched by the poorly behaved birds circling the picnic area. We were happy to oblige.

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To say I was not ready to leave our animal-viewing safaris is an understatement, but as we left the crater (Please, just one more lion sighting! Just one more elephant!) we left the wildlife behind and headed for Gibbs Farm in the Ngorongoro Highlands.

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Gibbs Farm, an 80-year-old former coffee estate that’s been turned into a world-class eco-lodge, was actually a lovely place to spend the next two nights, decompressing before returning home.

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The farm had a 10-acre organic fruit-vegetable-and-herb farm with chickens, cows, ducks, and goats. They grew and roasted their own coffee (yum). The setting was even more paradise-like than the Ngorongoro Nyumba, and we all very much enjoyed sitting out on the deck, taking long showers in our comfy cottages, and eating an incredible array of fresh, exceptional foods.

After two nights of pampering at Gibbs, we headed back to Kilimanjaro Airport (we saw the mountain!) and back to our real lives. I feel so fortunate that I had this experience – and that I got to have it with such a great group. (Asante sana, you guys!)

Here are a few more of my favorite photos:

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3 comments so far

  1. Mike Beaderstadt on

    Nicely done!!! It was, indeed, magical!

  2. Tim Coble on

    Carole these are fantastic!!! Looks like a great adventure!! Glad it went well!! Cobles

  3. Haight Janet on

    Thanks for the wonderful photos and descriptions of your Safari. It was almost like being there. Keep on traveling and reporting back.


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