After a horrible start in Ethiopia, I was ready for enjoy our safaris, though my diet was restricted due to the African cuisine. French fries and beer became my “go to” meal. The fries were well cooked, and the beer was sterilized!
After an uneventful night at a Johannesburg airport hotel, we flew on through Nairobi to Arusha, typically the gateway to Mount Kilimanjaro. But for us, an overnight stop on the way to Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater for some safari action.
I almost forgot to tell you about our flight attendant, named Ikeda, as in the Japanese surname, and the famous fruit stand in Auburn. Her step father is Japanese, and she was adopted at an early age. The names got even more interesting, when our driver appeared the next morning. Guess his name? Hillary!
This jumping off point also introduced us to the little French family (parents, and two kids just like the parents), perhaps the most obnoxious people I have ever encountered on my travels around the world. Why? Well, they were all very short in stature, and all spoke in that “sing songy” way with their heads bobbing from side to side. Quite loudly, and at the same time! They seemed to take over no matter where we were! We had the misfortune to run into them at numerous airports through south central Africa.
Never would I describe our trip as “roughing” it, since the lodges were quite superior, newly built, with great staff. And I was finally able to eat regular food! Our host was Mr. Willie (pictured with him), a local businessman who builds sustainable lodges and safari camps across Tanzania. But you would never by looking at him. A tall, friendly and modest man, we never had to pay for any champagne or wine during our two night stay.
Now, the only problem with our safari was our driver, Hillary. A nice man, he just drove too slowly and carefully for our liking. We were always the last SUV (only two of us and Hillary) to arrive at an animal sighting. The drivers keep in contact with radios, to alert everyone to major animal sightings. You can imagine the frustration for Mr. Mike, aka “The Gearhead”, thinking he could drive us around much more efficiently. But the last arrival meant we were the first to leave for the next big sighting.
But something seemed strange. We noticed that most of our fellow safari lovers were either older couples, or young women. Most we talked to said their boyfriends and husbands were not interested in safaris! And it seemed not to matter, whether they were Americans, Europeans, or Aussies.
BTW, stay out of the more remote regions of Africa if you do not like small planes. Our next two flights, from Ngorongoro to the Serengeti were four or six seaters! While great for sightseeing from the air, the planes hardly inspire any confidence in safety or comfort. At least the little French family was not on any of our flights!
Changing planes is a rather random affair. After disembarking the first flight, we were told to wait in a cyclone fenced “holding” zone. Not until they announce your name and flight can you board, and figure out what is happening. No electronic or manual flight boards, no public address, no staff! It is primitive and efficient, as long as you don’t need the toilette, or something to eat or drink. Yes, the noisy, short French family was there, leaving us doomed to follow a similar path through safari land, though not on our exact itinerary or hotels!
No sooner did we land on a remote landing strip, get processed through their “immigration”, than we headed into the national parks filled with animals. I think that first sighting, whether elephants, giraffes, hippos, or deer became a defining moment on this trip. Actually, it was a bit overwhelming.
We realized we were hungry, after over half a day on the road, and driving through the game parks. Hillary immediately uttered the word, “picnic”, much to our surprise. It turns out everyone was headed to a picnic area, under the trees, one of the few places we were allowed to set foot on land. Best of all, the safari company packed a huge lunch for us!
The charm and mystery of Africa was quickly dissipated when Hillary asked if we wanted to visit the Maasai tribes, the only people allowed to live in the crater. There would be a hefty fee for doing this. We were tired, and decided to skip it. As we passed some hunter gatherers, we noticed something they had in common with us and every tourist on the continent of Africa. Each had a cell phone glued to their ear as they herded their cattle back to their ranch!!!!
But I will say that our first stay at Mr. Willie’s was very welcoming and comfortable, hardly roughing it.