Tanzania Day 8 July 5

We woke up the morning of our final day to elephants grazing right outside of our tents, and a wildebeest stampede (5000 plus) fifty feet into the bush, and finally, a family of hippos at the watering hole. We could hear the hippos every night after dinner.

As we finished lunch before our final drive back to Lobo airstrip this Red-Headed Rock Agama decided to show off, doing pushups on the dining room deck.

Our flight to Arusha was about 50 minutes and took us over an active volcano (fortunately, it was not erupting at the time). We had an hour or so to freshen up at the Arusha Coffee Lodge before heading to the Kilimanjaro (JRO) airport for our journey home. Thank goodness the next 36 hours were fairly uneventful. The six of us departed company at Schiphol – Kate and Dan headed to Atlanta and then home to Nashville, Bryan and Josh headed to Paris and then home to Minneapolis, and Mary and I flew to Seattle on our way to Sacramento and then home. Everyone arrived home safely filled with thousands of images and experiences seared into our memories forever.

I’ll never forget how warm and welcoming the people of Tanzania were. They have a beautiful country. It certainly was the trip and adventure of a lifetime.

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Tanzania – Day 7 July 4

Rise and shine at 2:30 AM for a three-hour drive to the balloon launch site.

Ten of us boarded the hot air balloon for a sunrise lift off. Mary and I have been on a couple of hot air balloon rides, but none like this. The basket is on its side and tethered to a truck for liftoff. Each of us “boarded” laying on our backs. When the balloon had enough hot air we were off in a flash. More dramatic than a slow graceful liftoff like we’ve experienced in the past. The winds were too unpredictable for that kind of a launch.

Even though we’d been in the bush for almost a week, viewing the Serengeti from the air was breathtaking. The landscapes were beautiful, and seeing gazelles, a hippo pool party, and migrating zebras was just amazing. It is one thing seeing migrations on the ground. Seeing them from above was awe inspiring.

Landing was just as dramatic as takeoff. We came down still moving laterally, bounded a couple of times until the gondola tipped over. We landed just as we took off, on our sides. We finished with a mock champagne toast and a cooked to order breakfast in the bush.

Alex picked us up after breakfast as we wended our way back to base camp, seeing a large pride of lions and more zebras.

Alex served us a great picnic lunch under the shade of a big Acacia tree.

But wait, there’s more. As we made our way back to base camp, Alex let loose with an excited yell of “Cheetah – Cheetah – Cheetah!” He has really good eyes and we found this guy lolling under a tree eyeing potential dinner options across the field. He never really paid us too much attention, he was watching his dinner.

This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip!

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Tanzania – Day 6 July 3

One of the vagaries of traveling internationally during COVID is that you need negative COVID results to get out of the country AND to get back in.

This morning we all travelled to a nearby clinic to get our RT PCR tests (the results of which would meet up with us in Arusha before our departure). The planned activity for the day was a day visit to Lake Manyara. We were beat and the thought of multiple extra trips along the drive to and from The Manor was the decider. Instead, we all had massages, relaxed, ate a delicious lunch and went back to the Manyara airstrip for a 30-minute flight to the Lobo airstrip in the Serengeti .

At Lobo airstrip, we met our new guide Alex who took us on a game drive on the way to the Serengeti Migration Camp. Along the way, park rangers were conducting several controlled burns in the area to prevent runaway fires in the dry season. It was plenty smoky and I’m sure the Zebras and Wildebeest didn’t like it any better than we did.

 

One new thing we learned was the easiest way to find lions is to scan the treetops for vultures. The lions and their kill usually aren’t far away.

Bryan caught this great view of the tents we stayed in. It was an early night. We were being picked up at 3:00 AM the next morning for our Balloon Safari, which meant setting our alarms for 2:30 AM.

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Tanzania – Day 5 July 2

Up early, our guide Bachu took us to the Ngorongoro Crater, the largest caldera in the world. It was formed not by an eruption of this ancient volcano but rather by its collapse.

Fifty feet inside the park our truck (top still down fortunately) was greeted by Baboons, lots of Baboons. At one point there were likely fifteen climbing on various parts of our truck.

Later on we saw another mating Lion pair (love hurts), Flamingos, an itchy Wildebeest, Golden Crowned Cranes, Pelicans, Impala, more lions, an Ostrich having a salad, and even a Great Blue Heron visited us during our lunch break near a large lake filled with Hippos.

 

 

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Tanzania – Day 4 July 1

On Thursday during our game drives we saw a Vervet monkey and two very tired but very full Leopards. Their kill was a young Cape Buffalo who got stuck in a nearby muddy watering hole. It is not clear if these two were going to be able to eat any more of their kill. If Hyenas were to arrive, they would abandon it, as they hyenas are much stronger and would prevail in a fight over the kill. As we traveled to our lunch spot in the bush we saw a large herd of Cape Buffalo – one with a happy bird eating bugs off his face (and out of his nostrils), and had some great Giraffe sightings.

 

 

This Superb Starling joined our picnic lunch hoping for table scraps.

Stan took us back to the Kuro airstrip where our plane picked us up for a short ride to the airstrip at Lake Manyara.

A short (extremely bumpy – we know why they call riding in the LandCruiser an African massage) ride later, we checked into the Elewana Manor to get ready for our Ngorongoro Crater excursion the next morning.

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Tanzania – Day 3 June 30

Early the next morning before breakfast, Stan (with rifle – just in case) and a spear-carrying Maasai warrior met us for our morning bush walking tour. It was a beautiful start to the day and very cool experiencing the bush as everything woke up.

We saw many of the same animals from the day before, but new additions were Hyena, and a male and female lion couple on honeymoon. Apparently their mating lasts seven days, every fifteen minutes. They must not be very fertile.

After breakfast we visited the local Maasai Boma village. The chief was out with his cattle but several of his wives and tribe members were there. Their houses were small, dark and way too smoky from the cooking fire.

The day continued with a game drive with more Zebra, Impalas and Lions.

At the end of our day we were driven to the top of an area called Sundowner Hill by the locals. The camp surprised us by being already set up with some hors d’oeuvres, wine and cocktails, and an amazing 360-degree view for watching the sun set. Afterwards, we drove back to camp in the dark and were able to see more Lions, waiting by a water hole for unsuspecting prey, and other nocturnal African creatures such as Bush Babies.

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Tanzania – Day 2 June 29

We stayed at the Arusha Coffee Lodge located on a 100-acre coffee plantation. After breakfast and an orientation with our outfitter, Sky Safari, we had a short coffee plantation tour, had a chance to visit some local artisans, then transferred to the Arusha airport for a 25-minute plane ride to Kuro airstrip in the heart of Tarangire National Park. Our pilot Tom is standing next to our ride nicknamed IKI (because of his tail numbers).

 

 

Right after we landed, a one elephant greeting party decided to check us out. He kept wandering towards us right until the plane fired up. That scared him off.

We piled our gear into a Toyota LandCruiser which would be our safari ride for the next two days. Our ride from the airstrip to the Elewana Tarangire Treetops camp (as you can see below, the rooms are actually in the trees – this is Kate and Dan’s cabin and the inside of ours) was only about 30 miles but took us 3 or 4 hours.

By the time we arrived at camp, we’d seen Elephants, a Tawny Eagle, Impalas, Wildebeests, Jackals, Zebras, Hippos, and Ostriches. Our guide Stan sure knew how to jump-start the safari. Amazing.

 

 

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Tanzania [tanzaˈni.a] – Day 0-1 June 27-28

What a beginning to a trip. Tanzania requires(d) a negative COVID test valid within 72 hours upon entry. Delta requires a valid one upon boarding. In most cities that is not possible given the delay in test reporting. We didn’t know this until in three cities our posse was denied boarding. We started over, new tests, new paperwork, etc.

Frantic calls to an amazing travel agent, Sandy (https://www.travelleaders.com/travel_agent/agent-details.aspx?id=1262 and we were rebooked 72 hours-ish later.

This place isn’t easy to get to. What a cluster. It was tempting to bag the trip but I am so glad that we didn’t. It was probably the most amazing travel experience I’ve ever had.

On Saturday night, June 26, we drove two hours from Calistoga to a hotel near the Sacramento airport so we could catch a 6AM flight to MSP. At SMF we presented our new negative COVID test results, and Tanzania Visas and were allowed to board. At MSP we met our other hearty travelers (Bryan and Josh from Mpls and Kate and Dan who flew up from Nashville). Our next stop was Schiphol (AMS) and then after a couple of hours layover, the final leg to Kilimanjaro airport (JRO).

MSP to AMS was uneventful, layover uneventful, AMS to JRO uneventful (except for the delay while they loaded water onto the plane. From the amount of time it took, we figured they were using an eyedropper to load the water). But wait, there’s more.

At JRO it became interesting. We landed an hour late at 9:00 PM. The optional rapid COVID test for $25 was no longer optional. The required customs form was unknown to us, but there were badly xeroxed copies available on the table to fill out. We were also photographed and fully fingerprinted, etc. etc. It was easier entering Cuba or Russia.

After all of that we were greeted by our driver, Nosoro, and finally arrived at our hotel via minibus at about 11:30 PM. They offered dinner, we declined. Time for bed.

Here is our trip route, the posse at MSP, our cabin and our room.

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Arcachon Bay – Day 7

Oysters! We took a bus from the pier to visit Arcachon Bay, sample recently harvested Oysters and have lunch bayside. What a fun day trip.

When we arrived the tide was pretty high. All we saw of the oyster beds were these “sticks” poking out of the water. We took a boat over to the other side of the bay where there were a lot of Oyster cottages, owned only by active Oyster farmers. We had a tasting (about 6 each) while enjoying the view and his description of his farming.

By the time we finished our lunch just down the bay, the tide was almost out (a difference of about 7 feet). It was easy to see the oyster beds now (they grow in the green cages). At low tide the bay is only 15 sq. mi. compared to 60 at high tide. It is hard to envision that until you see all of the stranded boats in the bay.

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Paulliac – Day 6

Time for the left bank, or Rive Gauche, home of the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bordeaux_Wine_Official_Classification_of_1855).

We were docked in Paulliac but toured the Medoc from north to south. We saw Château Margaux (Premiers Crus), Château Lafitte Rothschild (Premiers Crus) and stopped for a tasting at Château Marquis de Terme (Quatrièmes Crus).

We had a lovely dinner at Chateau Kirwan (Troisièmes Crus). It was a catered by our ship’s kitchen staff who had to haul everything to the estate for a dinner for almost 200 people. It was an amazing feat of planning and execution, given that they weren’t given access to the property that day until 4:00pm and we ate at 7:00pm. Oh – the Chateau Kirwan estate wines were excellent!

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