Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Our safari packing list

1. Clothing- For our safari and Zanzibar trip, we each brought 3 light weight long sleeves shirts, 2 pairs of long safari pants,  2 short sleeves tshirts, 2 pairs of pajamas, one light jacket or sweater- useful for early mornings and windy nights, 5 pairs of hi-dri underwears and socks. Hi dri fabric is recommended as they dry overnight after a wash vs regular cotton fabric which after 2 days of line drying still felt damp. This amount of clothing would be enough for most but not for us. None of the camps that we stayed at offered laundry service. So, self laundry it is after 4 days on the road.
2. Insect repellents- We didn't encounter a single mosquito on our safari trip but Zanzibar was another story. The spray on ones were useful to deter the bites. Lots of tse tse flies in Northern Serengeti but insect repellents did not work on them. It hurts when they sting, and itches badly later. Blood splattered when the flies were smacked. A harmless nuisance to put up with for a priceless wildlife experience.
3. Medications- malaria pills a must especially if going to Zanzibar, antidiarheal, antibiotic pills for traveller's diarrhea, acetaminophen for headaches and pain relief, allergy pills, stomach meds for indigestion or heartburn, antibiotic ointment for cuts or insect bites, anti-itch cream like hydrocortisone- useful for tse tse flies and mosquitoes bites, bandaid, chap stick, Pedialyte powder for dehydration.
4. Sun protetion- sunblock, 1 or 2 pairs of sunglasses and a regular hat to keep the dust out of one's hair, safari hat not necessary unless planning to hike.
5. Bandana- works better than disposable masks to keep the dust from getting into one's mouth and nose while sitting in the speeding safari vehicle down dusty dirt roads.
6. Footwear- a pair of sneakers while out on animal sightings and a pair of sandals for walking around the tents.
7. Wipes and a two ounce bottle of hand sanitizer plus one small roll of bathroom tissue- came in handy on the day that we were supposed to see the wildebeests migration- had to do the "bush bathroom" as restroom facilities were nowhere to be found. I must say most of the public restrooms on our trip were clean but soaps were not readily provided.
8. Personal toiletries- travel size hair shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion as some camps do not provide these at all.
9. A medium sized flashlight- useful for walking from our tents to the mess hall and dim lighting condition in the tents- all tents utilise weak solar lighting.
10. Photography gears-5 cameras (dslr, bridge and point and shoot), 5 lenses (telephoto and wide angle), batteries, 7 memory cards and two binoculars- gave the good one to our guide as his was of lesser quality.
11. Book-Wildlife of East Africa, a good reference book to help us identify and remember the flora and fauna that we've encountered on our trip
12. Playing cards and dry snacks-  a box of saltine crackers, rice crackers, chips, cookies, granola bars, chewing gums, menthos and dried fruits to keep boredom at bay on days when animal sightings were slow as well as to tide us over until meal times. Glad that we brought the snacks from home as we didn't get a chance to go shopping at the local supermarkets.

Due to the 33 lbs weight allowance per person imposed on our flight from the Serengeti to Zanzibar, we packed lighter than usual. But with the 4 of us together, we had luggage space left over after packing. If I were to do this over again, I would pack 2 extra sets of clothing and underwears just because laundry takes time to dry plus it's my vacation- time to relax not be the laundry lady.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Meals on safari

Staples for breakfast were toasts, eggs cooked to order, bacon or sausage and fruits, supplemented with cereals, pastries, milk, tea, coffee, juices, yogurt, jams, etc.
Dinner at the camps usually consists of a soup (vegetable, pumpkin, chicken broth), tomatoes and cucumber salad or arugula salad, a meat or two (chicken, beef, lamb, or pork chop), cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, green beans, potatoes, pasta, or rice and desserts. Meats were usually overcooked to avoid food poisoning and they can be tough to chew. Most vegetables were served raw or undercooked.
The food in our lunch boxes during our safari trip were plentiful with a mix of good and bad. A couple of days, I had to give away some food to anybody who'll take them as not to be wasteful. Resources are hard to come by in remote places of Africa, so we're thankful that we had lunch boxes for lunch. We were careful with what we ate and nobody got sick on this trip. We try to eat hot foods as much as possible, were careful with cold foods like sandwiches, salads and fruits, as well as avoiding rotten foods. Wipes and hand sanitizers are a must as most bathroom facilities do not have soap.
Samples of our lunch boxes:-
Day 1 -Choice of vegetarian, ham or tuna sandwiches, peanuts, cookies, water
Day 2- Beef salad, pasta salad, sandwich (can't remember which kind), cookies, yogurt, water
Day 3- Fried chicken, cheese sandwich, crackers, chips, apple and juice box
Day 4- Grilled chicken, a slice of pizza, sandwich, one hard boiled egg, tangerine and bottled juice
Day 5- Fried chicken, sandwiches, cookies, hard boiled egg, half of an orange, cake, juice
Day 6- Fried chicken, veggie sandwich (a slice of tomato in between buns), hard boiled egg, banana, candy bar, yogurt, juice
Day 7- Cheese bread, muffin, baked chicken, apple, banana, candy bar, juice
 (Sopa) Chicken, juice box, cheese sandwich, crackers, apple, chips and juice  box

(Kati kati) Hard boiled egg, sandwich, chicken, pizza, tangerine and orange juice.

   (Kati-kati) Chicken, cookies, juice, sandwiches, hard boiled egg, cake, half of an orange
(Angata) Cheese bread, muffin, banana, chicken, candy bar and juice box. Less items because we were given the choice to omit any that we do not want from the lunch boxes. Great way of not wasting food.

Made me cringe looking at this- piles of used lunch boxes at one of the trash bins at Arusha Airport. Wish there is a better way to handle these wastes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Self drive in Zanzibar

We always rented a car whenever we could on our trips for the freedom. This time was no different. However, driving in Zanzibar was unlike anywhere we've driven before. Main roads are paved but lack street signs and lights. Forget about GPS. We've to go by buildings and landmarks to find our way around the island. It's chaotic in some places as traffic lights are non-existent. Try maneuvering the huge speed bumps while watching out for pedestrians, motorbikes, stray dogs, goats and cattles sharing the same road. Worst of all, the aggressive dala dalas, stopping and going whenever they please without any regards to the safety of other road users.
On our last night, it was after sunset when we're trying to get back to the hotel on the east coast from Stone Town. It was dark and so dangerous to drive at night- no street lights, cyclists on their bikes without head lights, pedestrians walking in droves on the road side, dala dalas weaving in and out of traffic and cattles still roaming the streets at night. Stores that were closed during the day are now open for business. Everyone was out and about on the streets that night. I was straining my eyes and head, watching out for traffic while my husband drove. Had to be the most stressful driving, ever. But, we wouldn't do it any other way. Without a car, we couldn't have changed hotel when we needed to. With a car, we could leave and go whenever we felt like it. Hiring a driver would mean a set schedule which is not for us.
 Before coming to Zanzibar, I had read articles online about road blocks and how local cops wanted "gifts from abroad".  Well, we were stopped 6 times in the first 2 days. The cops checked our temporary permit and waved us thru except for one. He took our Zanzibar issued temporary foreigner driving permit and compared it with our US issued driver's license and told us the class "c" license (for passenger vehicles) in the US is not compatible with the class "b"  temporary permit. He flat out said he wanted a "gift" for it is his holiday (Eid ul Fitr). My husband gave him 1000 Tanzania shilling, about US$0.60. He accepted and had the nerves to ask us for gifts for his five other companions sitting nearby. My husband declined. Sixty cents is not much but, that sense of entitlement is not welcoming for visitors to the island.   
The temporary foreigner driving permit for Zanzibar. We paid US$20 to the car rental company and it was ready when we picked up the car. We rented from Kibabu Cars- renters beware. It's the first time that we had to deal with 3 cars in 3 days. Paid for a Toyota Rav4 with air-conditioner and auto transmission. On arrival at the airport, we were delivered a Rav 4 with manual transmission and a window that didn't work. Kibabu blamed his "secretary" for not informing him that our booking was for an auto tansmission. We took the car as he said it'll be 3 hours before he could deliver us one with auto transmission. On the second day, the brakes stopped working. My husband floored it a couple of times and the car was still moving. We couldn't continue on the road without working brakes. A phone call to Kibabu and he had someone else deliver another car to our hotel 2 hours later.


This was the replacement- a 1990's Suzuki Escudo, cheaper in rental price than the Rav4 even though we were not reimbursed for the price difference.  The exterior looked fine but the interior left a lot to be desired. The only thing new was the radio player which had an English station playing Mandarin songs and gave Mandarin lessons as well. The next day while on the way to Stone Town, its gears malfunctioned. The gears worked but we didn't know how to use it per Kibabu when we called him again. Maybe so, but we were never told how the gears were supposed to work.
The 3rd car was still an Escudo without a working air-conditioner, delivered by yet another chap. Made me think the cars did not belong to the car rental company but to individuals who were willing to lend the cars to the company in exchange for a small fee. Just my observation, I could be wrong.
All three cars were delivered to us on empty tanks each time. We had to fuel up before we can drive anywhere.  The first two times, we returned both cars with 1/4 tank of gas in them. With the third car, we only fueled the amount that we figured we needed for the last day. What a way to make money for them and for us to waste our vacation time. We ended up not visiting as much of the island as we'd liked. It took three times the effort to get things done almost right around here. Patience tested!

Thursday, September 25, 2014


This was not the airplane that flew us from Kogatende Airstrip in the Serengeti to Zanzibar (ZNZ). I just thought it interesting to see the pilot unloading the seats from one plane and moving them to another. He was going back and forth a few times loading and unloading the seats. Ours was a 12 seater Coastal Aviation flight. Took 5 hours to reach Zanzibar with stops in Lake Manyara and Arusha. We left our campsite at 6 am and were at the airstrip by 7:45am for the 9:45am flight because our driver thought our flight might be early. Well, the flight was delayed for an hour. The airstrip had no waiting lounge so we just stood around in the field waiting for a pilot who's willing to take us. Asked at least 5 pilots and each one said we were not on their passenger lists. Finally, our pilot came and said he could take us to Arusha then someone else would take over our flight to ZNZ. But, once in Arusha, it turned out that he'd be taking us all the way to ZNZ afterall. Even though it was a small plane, the ride was smooth and  the views from the sky was spectacular.

Butterfly larvae from the Butterfly Farm. A small cooperative that helps to boost the livelihood of local farmers. Too bad that the day we were visitng, it was pouring down hard. Was not able to take pictures of the beautiful butterflies in the outdoor farm.

The Rock Restaurant- average Italian style seafood fare, reservations a must. Come here for the stunning ocean view and walk barefooted in the clean, soft white sand.

Outdoor seating area for the restaurant. Nice to be here at noon to see the different shades of blue seawater. Closer to the beach are seaweed farms but further out, I see people snorkelling in the water and a couple of fishermen diving for octopus. Happy local kids nearby singing and goofing around.

Paid a small entrance fees to the Mtoni Ruins. Interesting palace where the famous Princess Salme was born. We had lunch next door at the Mtoni Marine Hotel- good western style food at their ocean view restaurant.

Narrow alleyways of Stone Town. Great for strolling and window shopping. Of course, street peddlers were everywhere but they didn't bother us too much when we said, "no, thanks" to whatever they're trying to sell.


Dhow boat
Hookahs at the Africa House. Came here for afternoon snacks and views of the Zanzibar coast on its second floor balcony cafe.
Mercury House 

Forodhani Beach- busy and crowded. We were there during the Eid-Ul-Fitr holiday. Seems like the whole town came out to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month.
 Fishermen working on their boats on the beach next to the Next Paradise Resort.
Next Paradise Boutique Resort- was looking forward to a relaxing stay here after our safari trip due to the rave reviews online. On arrival, the resort downgraded our booking to 2 of their worst standard rooms. The "manager" on duty at check in was not helpful at all. Her attitude was take it or leave it- "resort fully booked" was her excuse. As we were tired from the flight plus the 2 1/2 hours of self driving from the airport to the resort, we decided to stay for the night. For some reason, both rooms had strong
 moldy smell upon entering. The swarms of mosquitoes in the rooms and dining area were just unbearable. We were not bitten once by mosquitoes during our safari trip but here we were eaten alive. Had to spray the rooms with mosquito repellant ourselves before bed. Water heater stopped working in one of the rooms, so cold water it is in that room. Noisy air-conditioner and fridge made for one sleepless night. Beach in front of hotel was alright, but keep in mind it is a working beach as fishing villages lined up the shore to the left and right of the resort. Interesting mix of goats and poultry on the beach with unsightly rundown houses next to the resort. Its location was difficult to find as it was tucked away from the main road. We drove up and down the main road for an hour before we found the side street to turn into the resort. Asked for directions from a few locals but nobody seemed to know where the exact location was. Not a single sign was posted for the resort. Food in their restaurant was on the salty side, too. We booked for 3 nights but left after one as staying any longer would be too uncomfortable. The lady "owner" (not the "manager" from previous day) was understanding enough at check out that she decided to refund our payment. We needed to make the best of our last 2 days in Africa. Of all the years we've been travelling, this was the first time we had to look for another hotel during a trip.
 Our oceanview beach villa at the Planhotel- peaceful, quiet and no mosquitoes. What a miracle. I guess it had something to do with the workers constantly cleaning and grooming the surrounding areas. Was able to finally relax and laze around doing nothing much.
                                            Decent buffet spread, enjoyed their Indian dishes.
Long stretch of clean, walkable beach in front of the Planhotel with Masai guards warding off the beach hustlers.
 We usually do not like to stay at all-inclusives but Simona, the reservationist was so kind, accomodating and made an offer we couldn't refuse that we decided to give it a try. She made sure we were comfortable with our villas from check in till check out. We were grateful for that. The rest of the staff were courteous and friendly as well. Our one bedroom villas were clean, spacious and comfortable. Huge bathroom with two great rain shower heads. King size bed was nice to sleep in until the sun rises as the curtains do not block out the sun glare. I believe all the rooms had partial or full ocean view as they were situated facing the sea on a slope down to the ones on the beach. Loved its large common areas for lounging around and enjoying the sea breeze. Since it is an all inclusive, nightly entertainment is a must. First night was an acrobatic troupe performing their art, and the next night we had dinner by the pool with a live band. All enjoyable but once in our villas, it's all peace and quiet. I couldn't be more thankful.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Day 6 and 7, Northern Serengeti

Northern Serengeti- lusher, greener, cooler temperatures with animals in larger herds than Central Serengeti. We came here with one purpose in mind and that was to witness the migratory wildebeests and zebras crossing the Mara River.

                                                    Colorful Agama lizard

Eland- the largest African entelope 
Lodging here was at Bologonja One Angata Migration Camp. Luxury tent with huge bathrooms, mosquito netted king size bed, a nice library and dining hall. But, not so good food (set dinners of overcooked meat and undercooked veggies). Nice location in the migratory path of the wildebeests and zebras but not the best location to see the river crossings as it is about 1.5 hrs away from the Mara River. Strong winds at night shook our bed and tent which made for two sleepless nights. There was no electricity in our tent on the 1st night. Was told by one of the staff that an elephant had pulled out the cable during the night. Second night came around and we still had no electricity. Another staff decided to check the power battery and yup, the battery needed replacing. One good thing about this camp was we were provided with 5 gallons each of hot and cold water for shower. It was more than sufficient for a nice warm shower.
 Wildebeests in front of the campsite
 Male ostrich looking for food.
 Flush toilet, sink area and shower with a nice shower head.
 Buckets of shower water
Red sun rising on our way to the Mara River.
On the day that we're supposed to see the river crossing, we left the campsite at 6 am and were at the Mara river by 8 am. Thousands of wildebeests had gathered at the river bank with some turning back. We stuck around for an hour and our driver didn't want to wait any longer. He didn't think that there would be any crossings that day. So, he took us across the Kenya border into Masai Mara. I'm not sure why. We didn't think to ask either as it was not in our itinerary. On the way back, we got lost in the Kuria Hills for two hours, not anywhere near the river- passed by the same Lemala Kuria Hills' sign twice. While we were lost, the river crossing was actually happening. We found this out the next day from a video shot by another family on our flight to Zanzibar. From the video, there were lots of other safari vehicles there too. I was disappointed that we missed the crossing. We should have waited by the river. Adding to the disappointment, lunch time was miserable as we had lunch in our safari vehicle with tse tse flies everywhere. Now, tse tse flies are pretty harmless but it hurts if bitten and they do suck the blood out of you. Can't forget my first "bush" bathroom experience here too, as bathroom facilities were "nada" in this area. 

An overturned truck by the bridge as we cross the Mara River back from the Kenya border.
                                                Crocodiles resting by the Mara River.
The black rhino- considered a rare sighting and the last big 5 (elephant, leopard, black rhino, lion and cape buffalo) that we saw. Overall, this safari trip was a trip of a lifetime. It's been two month since we've been back. Going thru the pictures had not ceased to amaze me of the experience that we had.
Our last sunset of the Serengeti.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Day 4 and 5, Central Serengeti

 Amazing views from the top of the kopjes or rocks by the entrance to the Serengeti Park.
Serengeti- the mystical word in the back of my mind all these years. Endless plains is what it meant.  Miles and miles of plains as far as the eyes could see. Animal sightings was amazing. We pretty much saw the same animals as the days before and more but in larger quantity. The weather was dry and we ate a lot of dust through out the day on the road.

                                                               Golden breasted starling
                                             Superb starling drinking sap from the flowers.

                                                                Black heron
                                                             Hippo pool
                                                     Cinnamon chested bee eater
                                                           Guinea fowls
Two older male lions touching paws and resting together. A lion can live up to 18 years old. According to our guide, these two are probably around 15 years old. They may be old but they're still capable of hunting for their prey. Animals may be too quick for them to capture so human make an easier target for them at this age. Once they tasted a human being, they'd prefer the salty taste of the human flesh and that will keep them hunting for more. For this reason, if the lion had made a human killing, it'll be hunted down and killed as well.

                                                 The lion king and his queen.
                                                           Young lion cubs.
                                                              Egyptian goose
                                                     Secretary bird

                                                        Warthogs and hyena.

Leopard resting in the tree.

Family of elephants

                                                          Yellow billed stork

                                                      Red and yellow berbet
                                                   Von der decken's hornbill
                                                             Grey heron
Accommodation for this part of the trip was Kati Kati 70- a migrating camp site. Our driver was lost looking for it, drove around the same area (passed by the same water tank twice) for two hours before locating it at the foothills tucked away among the trees. Beautiful surroundings and sunsets. No mosquitoes or flies and lots of birds. We had 2 tents next to each other. The tents had comfortable beds, flush toilets and bush showers which was a hoot. We were limited to 20 liters or 5 gallons of water each for our shower. We had to tell the shower attendant what time we wanted our shower and he'll bring around a bucket of hot water to be poured into our shower container. Standing in the shower, one had to wet oneself then turn off the water. Lather on the soap and rinse off with the remaining water. However, I found that 5 gallons did not get me clean. I had to request for more water in order to finish off my shower. This experience made me appreciate my home shower that much more. We liked this camp better than the Angata Migration Camp. It was more basic but comfortable and had an intimate feel to it. Self laundry with one bucket of water was something I had never done before. Due to the weight restrictions set forth by one of our flights, we packed less clothing than what we normally would for a 12 days trip. Had to do laundry by the 4th day of our trip. Believe me I've never seen muddier laundry water after a wash. Nice spread of tasty food (soup, pasta, pork chops, beef, sauteed vegetables, pasta, rice and dessert) and our driver joined us for dinners.
Huge ant hill next to our tent but no ants in our tent. Barrel for shower water.
Front of our tent with one bucket of water and detergent on the table for laundry. DIY laundry using the canvas hamper and stand on the right.
                                                          Mess hall.
 Muddy water after DIY laundry. That right there tells you how dusty this part of the trip was.